Expectations: The Retrieval

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We arrive in Tucson with our cooler full of fertility drugs, a comfy pair of sweatpants for Charlie to wear after the surgery (when abdominal swelling is common), and belated Christmas presents for Charlie’s mom and sister. It’s cold and wet in Denver, but glorious here. I remember from the five years I lived here than summer starts around March 1 in southern Arizona, so late January is beautiful, breezy spring.

After our Christmas party with Charlie’s family, we head for what will be home base for the next five days: my college roommate let’s-call-her-Kelsey’s house that she just bought with her fiancée let’s-call-him-Jared, which happens to be right down the street from our IVF clinic. It’s late when arrive, but we still sit up for hours reminiscing and catching up. Though we’re still keeping our IVF attempt secret from most people we know, Kelsey and Jared are among the few we’ve told. We couldn’t think of a viable way to store medications in their freezer, give Charlie nightly injections, go to our doctor’s appointments, and have Charlie recuperate from surgery at their house without them noticing.

They have lots of questions about IVF–how it works, how Charlie feels about it, how I feel about it, what else we’ve tried–but they are so respectful and genuinely interested, rather than judgmental, that talking about it is fun and even freeing. The way Kelsey and Jared ask questions and respond to the answers makes me feel like IVF is an awesome adventure we’re on, rather than a huge burden and a pain in the ass. It’s a good feeling. They’re good people. I’m glad we’re here. (PS, by the time you read this Charlie and I will be on our way to their wedding, so let’s all congratulate them!)

We talk about Kelsey and Jared’s plans for a family–they want kids too, which makes sense because Kelsey teaches elementary school and is fantastic with children. “We’re waiting until after the wedding because there’s just too much going on right now,” Kelsey says. “After we’re married I’m going to stop taking birth control and see what happens.”

“God, wouldn’t that be nice?” I say to Charlie, but there’s no bitterness in it. Although I do feel some envy toward reproductively compatible couples, I wish our friends nothing but the greatest luck and happiness.

Charlie’s last ultrasound appointment is here in Tucson, two days before the transfer. For the first time we get to meet the doctor and several nurses with whom Charlie has been communicating by letter, phone, and email for months. The doctor is a tall, wiry, friendly man who praises Charlie for sticking to the pre-IVF diet so well. “I have patients who refuse to stop eating toast for breakfast and rice for dinner even in the hospital with severe OHSS,” he says.

The ultrasound looks great–lots of follicles big enough to ovulate, and quite a few more that might make it there in the next 48 hours. We’re hoping for somewhere between 15 and 20 eggs. Usually fewer than half of the retrieved eggs develop into blastocysts, but we’re hoping to end up with 6 to 8 frozen embryos so we have plenty of chances for a baby and even, down the road, a sibling.

Before we leave, we talk with one of the nurses about the upcoming injection I have to give Charlie–a “trigger shot” to bring on the release of the eggs just in time for the retrieval. So far all the shots have been subcutaneous injections with tiny needles, which Charlie could do himself without fuss. This one, though, will be an intramuscular injection–it goes into the glute a little below the hip bone. And I have to be the one to administer it. And the needle is FREAKING HUGE. I am so afraid that I’m going to do it wrong and hurt Charlie or give him a bruise or something. I’m panicking.

“It’s no big deal,” the nurse says. “I’ve given myself an intramuscular injection before. I was scared, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.” She seems like a big hippie and gets into a conversation with Charlie about her home birth and why reproduction should be less medicalized, which, after going through all of this intensely medicalized stuff trying to reproduce, is very soothing. I’m still terrified to give Charlie the injection, but the nurse has calmed me down quite a bit.

That night we go out to dinner with Kelsey. The alarm on Charlie’s phone goes off while we’re eating, but this time we came prepared; we have the cooler full of needles with us. Apologizing to Kelsey for leaving her alone, we adjourn to the women’s bathroom so Charlie can give himself his two injections while I take pictures. “Let’s hope no one comes in,” Charlie says. “This would take some serious explaining.” No one comes in.

Later, in Kelsey’s guest house, my hands are shaking as I watch Charlie prep the gigantic needle for the trigger shot. It’s ridiculous that I’m more nervous about this than he is; I’m not the one getting stuck with that thing. Still, I can feel my breaths coming shallow and fast.

“What if I fuck it up and then we can’t do the retrieval?”

“Fuck it up how?” says Charlie. “It’s not like you’re going to miss.”

He pulls his jeans down slightly, and I clean a patch of skin below his hip bone with an alcohol pad. “Okay,” I say, taking a deep breath. “Three, two, one.” Depressing the plunger is harder than I expected it to be–I have to push hard, and as soon as I let up the pressure a little, the needle starts to slide back out. I press harder, hold the needle firmly in place for a five-count, then release. My hands start shaking again as I take the needle out.

“Was that it?” Charlie says. “I barely felt anything!”

With a vague sense of triumph at conquering this extremely minor obstacle, we climb into Kelsey’s guest bed and try to sleep. There are 36 hours left until the retrieval. I don’t know about Charlie, but I toss and turn all night. Whatever happens the day after tomorrow could change the course of the rest of our lives.

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