It’s not until I hear the sonographer’s soothing voice that I realize I’ve fallen asleep in the dimly lit ultrasound room. The first time I did IVF, I was so wired and taut with nervous energy that I’d count all the holes in the perforated ceiling while this same technician prodded at me with what I called the “cold wand,” more clinically known as a transvaginal ultrasound machine. Back then, about six years ago, I wasn’t sure if I could conceive at all, so every appointment was a breathless mixture of nausea and potential that kept me anxiously staring at everything and everyone, hoping I could will myself pregnant just by being alert. Now, I have two small kids, which means I’m too exhausted and I already know exactly how many holes are in the ceiling without looking.
I’m honestly a little embarrassed by all this, not because I regularly fall asleep at my fertility doctor’s office these days, but because I’m doing this all over again. I feel like an imposter, like I shouldn’t be here or that I’m being selfish or greedy for wanting more of something I’ve already been given. Especially now, considering, you know, the state of the world. It’s not what you’d call logical, but then again maybe nothing is when it comes to kids.
Fertility is something I always took for granted, assuming it would be like it is in the movies, one slipup and, poof, you’re pregnant. When my husband and I started talking about it and trying seriously, I was flabbergasted by my inability to do something I’d always been assured would be easy.
People will tell you about how isolating and lonely infertility can be, but it’s hard to really quantify how alone the process makes you feel. Back then, I felt weird talking about it with friends who hadn’t experienced any of this, so I didn’t talk about it at all. I held my breath as people around me posted baby announcements on social media and showed up at baby showers with a smile that only seemed pained if you looked very closely.
Then in 2017, after years of various failed treatments, I got pregnant with my son on my first round of IVF with a fresh embryo transfer. It was a grueling, physically taxing, and emotionally draining process that was quickly erased from my memory as soon as I got that first positive pee stick. Eventually those frequent, tentative visits to the fertility doctor were replaced with routine appointments with an OB/GYN. Having it work so quickly gave me a false sense of confidence about the process — when I tried for a second child, the disappointment caught me so off guard, it nearly crippled me with pain. It took two more frozen embryo transfers for it to stick, and it was so jarring to be back in that quixotic rhythm of heartbreak and disappointment, of hoping for the best and then bracing for the worst, that I promised myself after that pregnancy it would be the last time I put myself through the fertility ringer.
Turning 40 a few months ago made me think a lot about time, about how I wanted to spend it and with whom. I had a bit of a sliding doors moment, imagining the various ways the next few years could play out, and I kept coming back to my kids. I wanted to try for one more; I wanted to lean into the fullness of our family — I’m one of three kids and so is my husband — and I started to really see the beauty in how those different dynamics have played out over the years. Yet every time I try to talk about it out loud, I feel like I have to justify the choice because I’m already a mother of two. Were it not such a difficult and deliberate process, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to make excuses, but rather than have to explain myself, I started isolating myself in the same way as when I first started treatment.
But unlike six years ago, I’m now answerable to two small people, and every appointment, every procedure, is time away from them. It all feels very different now because of that. All of my early-morning appointments are a struggle, knowing I could be spending more time snuggling in bed with my kids or helping them get ready for school and day care. There are days I think about just not going altogether, berating myself for being back in this position by choice.
I’ve grappled with how much to tell my very young kids about why I might be extra moody (chock-full of meds) or seem sad (the grief when a transfer doesn’t work out). For the first embryo transfer I did, they gave me a photo at the clinic of what looks like a dot in my uterus, and I hung it on the fridge as a hopeful gesture of success. I explained to my 5-year-old son a bit about what it was — or, rather, what it was meant to be. Luckily, by the time it had failed, the ground was starting to de-thaw and the fertile earth, newly teeming with bugs, was far more interesting than whatever was happening with my more barren landscape. I didn’t mention anything to either of my kids about the next transfer, but they saw me break down in tears when I got the call from my clinic that that, too, had failed.
One weekend it all came into stark relief when my husband was out of town and I had to bring both kids to two of my appointments for blood work and ultrasounds. Wrangling them in the bright waiting room of a clinic was like a comedy of errors as they fidgeted and ran around, my daughter belting out a rendition of “Old MacDonald” that made the nurses laugh. As difficult as it was in certain moments, it also reminded me why I’m doing this in the first place. Both of these amazing, loving, kind, funny people came as a result of my commitment to frequent, early-morning appointments, to my ability to withstand all of the poking and prodding and disappointment. The gentle way they inquired about the Band-Aid on my arm post–blood work buoyed my faith in the process and in my family.
It’s made me want to handle it differently, to do it better this time, for them. I don’t want to just be transparent — to talk about it, to admit how badly I want it, and how hard it all is — I want to feel not alone. I want them to see me as a whole person, someone vulnerable but also resilient, who is open to both the hurt and possibility that risk can bring. Just as I hope they’ll be someday. As my last frozen embryo sits at the clinic ahead of my final transfer in a few days, I want to throw off the shame and reclaim everything good about being honest and raw about the things we desire to everyone in my life. I only wish I’d done this years ago.
More From This Series
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- What We Never Say About Parenting