Expectations: “We’d better get a goddamn baby.”

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Now that Charlie’s IVF cycle is underway, it’s even more important that he stick to the low-carb diet the doctor recommended. For reasons which have been explained to me multiple times in great detail but that I cannot for the life of me remember, eating low-carb and high-protein reduces the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a potentially dangerous side effect of the IVF drugs. (As I was writing this, Charlie explained the relationship to me yet again, but I swear the words disappeared from my brain as he was saying them. This is emblematic of Charlie’s and my different approaches to IVF and also everything else: Charlie researches diligently–one might go so far as to say obsessively–takes notes, makes spreadsheets, and remembers what he reads. Any relevant information, no matter how tangential, he soaks up and retains. I, on the other hand, remember only things that are absolutely necessary or absolutely trivial. I know Charlie’s medication protocol–how to prepare the injections, how to dispose of the needles afterward, etc.–and I know the entirety of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” because I memorized it in eighth grade. Anything between those two extremes in importance bounces off me without ever sinking in.)

Ovarian hyperstimulation is, of course, the goal–we’re trying to get Charlie’s body to release anywhere from ten to thirty egg cells at once, as opposed to the one released in a normal cycle. But it’s important to strike a balance between not enough eggs and too many. OHSS leads to excessive fluid in the abdomen that can cause pain, swelling, and nausea. In extreme cases people need to be hospitalized to drain the fluid. We would very much like to avoid that, so Charlie doubles down on abstaining from bread and sugar and alcohol (he hasn’t had a drink since Thanksgiving) and starts eating meat for the first time in years.

The IVF doctor has also banned all over-the-counter medications, including antihistamines, as they can interact with the fertility drugs in unpredictable ways. This might not sound like a very big deal to you, but let me explain. Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that the fertility drugs Charlie took during IUI triggered a case of dermatographia? It’s an allergy-like reaction to anything that even mildly irritates the skin, leading to a horrific cycle of scratching an itch, developing hives that itch even worse, scratching more, repeat forever. Up until now, this has mostly been kept under control with Claritin. But now Claritin is off limits.

“Are you sure?” Charlie asks the doctor. “Are you sure you’re sure?” He is quite sure. No antihistamines until after the retrieval.

The first day without Claritin is uncomfortable; Charlie is having trouble distracting himself from the itching. But maybe it will get better as he adjusts. He is also forbidden Benadryl, which we both take nightly to help us sleep, so in addition to itching and hives he tosses and turns all night. In the morning, he has actual bruises from scratching himself so much.

The next day we go to a pharmacy and buy everything topical that could potentially help with itching, including aloe vera lotion, hydrocortisone cream, and that Gold Bond stuff that smells like mint. Charlie slathers himself with all of it. It doesn’t help enough. He is still itching, scratching, and on the verge of an anxiety attack trying not to scratch more and make it worse. This will continue for another week and a half.

Meanwhile, the nightly injections continue. They have to be done at the same time every night, so Charlie sets an alarm on his phone as a reminder. One evening, we’re out to dinner with a friend–let’s call her Hannah–when the alarm goes off. We car pooled to the restaurant; Hannah’s car is at our house. We did not come up with an excuse in advance for why we need to go home immediately, and neither of us is good at lying on the spot. I gesture for Charlie to go first; he does the same. Finally, awkwardly, we explain to Hannah why we need to pay our bill and go home ASAP.

“That’s awesome!” she says. “I’m excited for you guys.”

We book it back to our house, and Hannah asks if she should leave before we do the injection, but we tell her she can stick around–the actual procedure takes about thirty seconds. Afterward, Hannah tells Charlie to “think fertile thoughts” in the soothing voice of a life coach, and they make up yoga poses to increase ovulation. I feel like we could make some serious money on fertility yoga classes if integrity were no object. People who are trying to have a baby will believe in just about anything that offers an improved success rate. I’m literally watching Charlie and Hannah make up these poses on the spot, but I still feel hopeful that it will help Charlie conceive.

The last two days before we leave for Tucson, another injection is added to our nightly regimen. In addition to the shot that kicks egg production up to incredible levels, Charlie has to give himself a shot to prevent premature ovulation and keep all the eggs in his basket growing steadily until the retrieval. The second shot leaves Charlie with an itchy red bump at the injection site, intensifying his already desperate craving for antihistamines. Every evening I rub aloe vera lotion on his back. It doesn’t help enough.

“After all this, we’d better get a goddamn baby,” he grumbles.

Charlie has to go for one last ultrasound before we leave for Arizona, to make sure he’s not showing signs of OHSS–if it looks like the side effects are bad, we might have to cancel this retrieval cycle and try again another month. We would also have to cancel if there’s no ovarian response at all–too few eggs to bother with surgery.

We’re both apprehensive, afraid to hear that we’ll need to reschedule when we’ve already bought our plane tickets, but everything looks good. We board the plane to Tucson with hope in our hearts and a cooler full of fertility drugs in our carry-on luggage.

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