Molly, Spencer, Charlie, and Pierce just after all four [finally] got home for the first time.
July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first successful IVF baby, was born in England. My kids were numbers 5,345–5,349 of IVF babies born. But not in England. And not really. I made up those numbers. I don’t know for
sure. I can’t find the data. Some info on the internet says 5 million babies have been born via IVF ever, but I also found their source material which said 5 million babies have been born with ART, which is every kind of assisted reproductive technique. So it not only proves you can’t believe everything you read on the internet—whether it says Daily Mail or NBC news in its name—but that also no one seems to be telling how many test tube babies there have ever really been. At least Louise knows she was number one, and we know ours weren’t. Nor tenth. Or one hundredth. Or the last. But ours were born. And they’re not even “test tube” babies. They’re Petri dish babies, but that doesn’t have a nice alliteration. Drives me crazy when I hear ignorant journalists report things inaccurately. All the time reporters write or say (even on the Today show—not that I watch the Today show) “the doctors implanted the embryos….” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Doctors transfer them. (Or they try. But I’ll get to that in a sec.) The embryos implant themselves, if they feel like it. If they’re going to give living a try and jump onto the side of the uterus and burrow in.
The daughter of friends of mine is (well was, now) an infertility doctor who was about to transfer a pipette full of little embryos into the uterus of her patient. I can’t tell you the amount of work, money, sacrifice, physical trauma, emotional torture, and all ’round trouble it takes a woman to get to that moment. The hopeful patient was on the table, prepped and ready to receive the tiny clumps of cells, and the doctor probably patted her on the knee and gave her a smile of reassurance. Then the doctor reached out behind her to receive the slender glass tube—and her nurse holding the pipette was in the exact same space the doctor moved into. Their hands knocked each other, the pipette flew, and it hit the floor, shattering into a million pieces, the embryos unretrievable in the mess on the tile. I think that doctor might now be making coffees at Starbucks just to have a less stressful life. (Believe me, even being a barista at 6:30 am in Manhattan isn’t as stressful as dropping people’s babies on the floor.)
The whole IVF thing feels very precarious at times. The rest of the time, you just try to ignore it and watch “Star Trek: Next Generation” reruns to get your mind on other things. The first time we had IVF, our doctor didn’t have cryopreservation yet (the ability to freeze eggs) so we had to decide what to do with all the embryos. We had eight little tadpoles in the Petri dish our first attempt and didn’t want to put any down the sink, so we said transfer all eight of them. I had a really (I mean really) bad reaction to the meds and procedure, so after almost dying and a two-week hospital stay, it felt pretty amazing that I got pregnant. But it didn’t go so well and after a few weeks I miscarried. So after a while, we decided to try again, but with a whole lot of very close monitoring and adjusted med dosages. This time, it was a hard decision to decide how many to transfer because using eight from before had resulted in zero babies. Our doc had gotten cryopreservation in the meantime so we had options. But as they were rolling me into the OR to transfer the clusters of eight to twelve cells we’d later name Charlie, Molly, Pierce, and Spencer, the microbiologist stopped my gurney and said the “extras” weren’t perfect enough to freeze. So we decided to put them all in—again, not wanting to wash any down the drain. (Actually, we’ll never know if Charlie, Molly, Pierce, or Spencer were in the first set or the “extra” set added last minute.) After the procedure, which included a two-inch incision in my belly to directly access my fallopian tubes, I went home to recover. And watch Star Trek. And to count the minutes while monitoring my status to see if I was going to suddenly bottom out like the previous time that sent me to the hospital to almost die for two weeks. Nothing stressful or precarious there.
This second time, I had relatively mild symptoms—echoes of the previous debacle but nothing that wasn’t tolerable and manageable. With a lot of rest and Star Trek episodes, I got through it. And it wasn’t long before the pregnancy test was positive. It was never not precarious, but by taking it a day at a time—and sometimes a minute at a time—we persevered. And now that they’re 23, I’m thinking maybe it’s all going to work out.
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