By Ellyn Gelman
I don’t want to get out of bed on my 30th birthday. My soul feels bruised in some places, fractured in others. I have been adrift in the sea of infertility treatments for five years. I have ridden the waves of hope with my husband Dan, only to be pulled down into an undertow of disappointment. We have come to the end of available procedures, discharged by the specialists. We are not candidates for IVF. For us it is over, until it is not over.
“Ellyn, phone call, outside line.” My curt, often abrupt administrative assistant stands in the doorway.
“Ok” I say. I do not look up from the tedious monthly report due today.
My office reeks of cigarettes, I smoke them one after the other. I have quit so many times I no longer consider the possibility. Smoking temporarily fills the cracks inside me.
I hit the button on the phone connecting me to the outside line
“Hello, this is Ellyn.”
“Hi Mrs. Gelman, I am calling from the IVF clinic in New York. How are you?”
“Okay?” My heart begins to pound.
“Great. I’m calling because we have a new IVF procedure and we were wondering if you and your husband are interested in participating. It is still considered an experimental procedure………” that is all I hear. My mind shuts down, numb, unfocused.
We have been accepted into their zona drilling experimental program. The zona is the outermost layer of the ovum (egg) and also worth 13 points in a scrabble game. It is experimental because they have not yet had any success stories. This is how it works. Multiple eggs will be removed from my ovaries. One sperm will be chosen for each egg and a tiny hole is “drilled” in the zona layer to enable fertilization (no need for a fast moving little tail). The only thing the egg and sperm have to do on their own is, divide. This all takes place in a Petri dish during the time an embryo is usually traveling down the fallopian tubes on it’s way to attaching to the uterine wall.
“I can’t do it. I can’t handle the disappointment anymore.” I say. My head rests on Dan’s shoulder.
“Yes you can. It’s going to work this time.” Ever the annoying optimist, he wraps his arms tight around me. We debate and I cry for hours.
I concede, “Okay one time, I’ll do this one time, promise we’ll stop here if it doesn’t work.”
“I promise,” he whispers into my hair, just above the top of my ear lobe. Silently, I make a pact with God to never smoke another cigarette.
So it begins. It turns out that a fast, hard thrust of a hypodermic needle hurts less. It takes us three days to figure this out. Dan’s first attempt to inject my butt with the prescribed hormone cocktail takes two tortuous hours. I lay on our bed, pants pulled down, one butt cheek exposed.
The first hour we stare at the syringe. The needle is sharp and long, meant to reach muscle. The liquid in the barrel contains all the hope we have for a child.
“You can do it,” I say. I place the syringe in his hand. We are both graduates of a one-hour course on “how to give an injection.” Sweat is visible on his upper lip. I look at him with as much confidence as I can muster. His short dark curly hair sticks out in places, a result of his clammy hands nervously combing through it. I know this is hard for him. He is completely out of his element, but he loves me and I love him.
“Just do it, jam it in. I won’t scream, I promise,” I say. Irritation over time replaces fear.
“Let’s just go to the emergency room and ask a nurse to do this,” he says.
“Are you kidding me? We have to be able to do this. If we can’t do this, we are not meant to have a child.” I say. I know these words hurt. I am baiting him. Maybe if he gets mad at me, he will just stab me with the damn thing.
He doesn’t bite.
“Okay, okay,” he says. He repeats these same words many times. I am still lying on my side. The room smells like rubbing alcohol. He has swabbed the injection site with alcohol twenty thousand times.
“Just do it,” I say.
Finally, he jams the needle into my butt, and pulls it right back out. Every drop of liquid is still in the barrel. We stare at the syringe.
“That’s it, I quit.”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, one more time” he says and pushes the needle where it needs to go. The liquid causes my muscle to cramp but it feels good because it is done. I roll over. Dan looks like he’s going to throw up. He runs to the bathroom. Bent over the sink, he splashes cold water on his face.
“You did it!” I say.
I follow him and hug him tight from behind. It is done, only nineteen more days of this to go.
“Thirteen eggs” Dan informs me when I awake from the anesthesia. My ovaries, once the size of blueberries, are now baseballs. They hurt.
“Everything go okay with you?” I ask
“All good” he says with a laugh. “Let’s hope they pick some good ones”.
I smile. His part in this is hard too. While I am in the operating room, he goes alone into a room set aside for ejaculating into a sterile plastic cup. Then he passes the carefully labeled jar to a technician. Through it all he maintains his sense of dignity and a sense of humor.
We wait for two days.
“You have a call, outside line”
I pick up the phone, “This is Ellyn.”
“Hi Mrs. Gelman, I am calling from the IVF clinic.”
I am cold, sweaty and silent.
“I am calling to let you know that there is one fair embryo”
“What does that mean?” my voice is barely a squeak.
“Well, it has not divided as many times as we like to see by now, but if it is still viable (able to grow) in the morning, it can be transferred into your uterus. Don’t get your hopes up though, it is only one fair embryo.”
“Okay” I say.
Dan holds my hand as Dr. Ying transfers the microscopic fair embryo into my uterus. It pinches and I feel my uterus cramp. I like this doctor. He is a mixture of eastern and western medicine. He believes in visualization.
“For twenty four hour, think Velcro. Embryo is like Velcro, needs to stick to uterus.” he says.
I don’t understand at first. It’s sounds to me like he is saying WelKWo. I stare at him. He mimes Velcro. I get it.
“Remember, think Velcro,” he calls after me as I leave the procedure room. For the next week, I pray and visualize Velcro like it’s my job.
Two weeks later, our pregnancy test is positive. I am once again reminded by the IVF staff not to get my hopes too high, it is still early and this is a fair embryo. There is nothing “fair” in the world of infertility. Hope and faith is plain necessary, because the dream of having a child is too big for science alone.
We are their success story. Our fair embryo implants and develops into a strong healthy baby boy. He enters our world on July 11, 1992. All the cracks in me begin to heal the moment I hold him. I never smoke again.
Ellyn Gelman is a freelance writer living in Connecticut.