I apologise for doing a Frank N. Furter and leaving you all waiting in antici…
…now were were we? Ah yes. The embryo transfer. A quick recap—last you heard I’d spent two months snorting and shooting up hormones, my egg collection had happened, the egg fertilisation had happened, and they’d put one flimsy little nine-cell embryo into my womb, with the plan of waiting two weeks to see if it took hold. What I didn’t tell you was that I was also devastated because out of seven harvested eggs, only one had managed to fertilise, so there were no backups. If this one failed I’d have to start the whole painful process all over again. And I wasn’t sure I had the strength.
Please accept the large gap between updates, leaving you in suspense, waiting to find out what happened next, as a clever simulation of the Two Week Wait. This rare measurement of time, otherwise known on fertility chat-sites as the TWW, has only ever been experienced by those unlucky few who know the pain of having to wait two weeks to find out if their IVF embryo transfer (or insemination or IUI) has been successful or not. During these fourteen days time somehow magically bends, warps and spirals, and becomes longer than a long piece of string tied to another long piece of string tied to a really fucking long piece of string tied to a long-bean. A very long bean.
For the first four days I was relaxed. I was convinced it hadn’t worked (how could something so small survive all that?!) and so other than being irrationally paranoid that if I strained too hard while doing a poo
I might squeeze the embryo out, I wasn’t really thinking about the Two Week Wait. Then on the fifth day, at 5am, a fluttering feeling in my womb woke me up. I’d felt this sensation before. I lay in bed feeling sad, making peace with the fact that my period on its way. When by mid morning no blood had appeared, I stupidly turned to google. Of course there were pages and pages of women saying that they’d felt a fluttering sensation on day five which had turned out to be the embryo implanting in the womb lining. The only thing worse than a Two Week Wait is adding Hope to the mix. For the next five days I swung from elated—I have a headache. I’m pregnant!, to distraught—I’ve got a zit. I’m getting my period! The emotional rollercoaster was wearing me down.
At the end of the fifth day, while walking home from work, my period cramps finally began. By the time I walked in my front door there was blood in my knickers. I called S. and put the bottle of wine I’d been saving for an emergency into the freezer, and sat down and cried. After S. and I had finished the wine we went out to the pub for more. I drank a disgusting glass of cheap chardonnay while staring miserably at the floor. I told everyone I saw at the pub that night that I’d just suffered a miscarriage, because that’s what it was for me. I had had a life inside me, and now I didn’t. I’d had a painless, very early term miscarriage: the embryo had died before it could even implant itself in my womb. A year or so before I’d started the IVF treatment I’d read a tender and lonely academic article about the importance of recognising failed embryo transfers as miscarriages. The author spoke about her need to have her loss acknowledged with the same gravity as non-IVF embryo deaths. This thought stuck with me when I talked to ___ about her five fertilised eggs that had all died in the petrie dish before they could be transferred to her partner’s womb. Her eyes welled up as she told me, and I realised that this too was a kind of “external” miscarriage she was grieving. The loss of an embryo, whether it is two days or five weeks old, and whether it is in the womb or in a dish, is still a loss. A heartbreaking, heart-wrenching loss. In addition, I’d come across another article which heavily critiqued the traditional “rule” that a pregnancy shouldn’t be publicly announced until after the first trimester miscarriage danger-zone has passed. If we keep our pregnancies a secret, then who will be there to support us through our grief if the baby is lost?, the article asked. This got me thinking about the danger of silence, which invariably only serves to isolate people from support. I’ve already had first-hand experience with this shroud of secrecy myself, in the shape of several friends who I know are reading this blog, but who have avoided actually talking to me about it. I can’t help but wonder if this is related to how we are taught that the agony of trying to conceive should be kept private. I believe this idea of privacy is intrinsically linked to shame. We are taught to be ashamed if our bodies struggle to conceive, and we are taught to be ashamed if we lose the baby, as though somehow this is a failure on our behalf. I suspect I will hear from these friends as soon as I announce I am pregnant, because of course then the shame will be lifted.
And so with all of this in mind, being the feminist crusader that I am, I immediately began to make my pain public, sharing my story around the pub. I told three different friends I randomly ran into, who I only vaguely know, that I’d just had a miscarriage, and then I started on the whiskey. And then went to the toilet and realised the bleeding had stopped, put down my half-empty glass, and quietly slunk out the back door and went home to bed.
It had been awful, but my brief reprieve from the Two Week Wait rollercoaster had also brought with it a welcome breath of relief. And now, after making peace with the fact I was miscarrying I had stopped bleeding again and was straight back on that nasty ride: my breasts are sore and swollen—I‘m pregnant! Or I’m about to bleed. Somehow I made it through the final days without going completely mad. I sullenly presented at the clinic on the fourteenth day for my pregnancy blood test, though I told the nurse she may as well not bother. I could feel my period waiting in the wings.
The clinic was supposed to call at 12 with my results. At 12:30 I started pacing my apartment, while S. chatted on in the background, trying to distract me. At 1 I checked my phone to make sure it wasn’t on silent. At 1:25 I realised I had barely eaten all day, but when I tried to eat I felt too sick to chew. At 1:45 S. suggested I call the clinic myself, to find out what was going on. I cried and said that if it was good news they’d have called by now, so what was the point? At 1:50 I called them, but they were engaged. Same again at 1:55. After Two Weeks of Waiting, those last Two Hours were the worst. By the time I got through to the nurse I was shaking with nerves.
What was your last name again?…hmmm. Zwalf. Ok. Let me just go find your file.
It took my last skerrick of strength not to scream: for fucksake Susan, just get it over and done with and tell me I’m not pregnant!
Eventually she came back on the line. Holly. We’ve got some good news for you.
Oh shit, I thought, as I stood there in shock. What the hell am I going to do with a baby?