• Love in the Age of A.R.T.

    “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said to the room, as I lay on my back on the exam table in position, knees up, heels resting in the stainless steel stirrups. “It’s a good day to get pregnant, don’t you think?”

    Dr. S and his physician assistant, Iris, were standing shoulder to shoulder perusing my chart, both dressed in blue scrubs. Their eyes smiled at me above their surgical masks.

    “It is!” said Dr. S. “It’s a wonderful day to get pregnant.”

    I left the clinic feeling hopeful — it was the only way I’d found to go through IVF, by staying open to hope — but I knew the odds were against us. This wasn’t our first attempt at an embryo transfer. We’d tried in December, with two of the embryos resulting from our first round of IVF. We went together to the clinic and the two embryos selected by Dr. S as having the best chance of success were transferred into my uterus, in the hope that at least one of them would implant in the uterine lining, which had been prepared through daily hormone injections for conditions to be optimal on the date of transfer.

    I’d felt unreserved, unabashed hope after that first procedure. I even had some symptoms of pregnancy for several days — I felt sleepy all the time, and my breasts were sore. But those symptoms had disappeared before my visit to the clinic for a blood test, ten days after the transfer. I’d told myself not to worry when I woke up one morning feeling normal, not sleepy, with my breasts no longer sore. I’d told myself it didn’t have to mean anything, but I knew. When Dr. S called me at my office to tell me the news, I knew he would say the test was negative, and he did. He asked about the symptoms I’d mentioned, and I mumbled through my tears about the breast tenderness I’d felt for several days, that had gone away. He said probably one of the embryos had started to implant, but didn’t fully take. I held the phone receiver to my ear, sniffling. It was actually a hopeful sign, Dr. S said. And because we had leftover embryos in cryostorage, we could try again. The odds of success were not as good with the frozen embryos, but we had them, and there was nothing to lose by trying again.

    I went to the office breakroom to make a cup of tea. My boss’ administrative assistant was there, and when she saw my face she thought I was crying over some office drama that was going on at the time. She told me not to worry about it. I said, “Oh, I wasn’t crying about that.” I explained that I was trying to get pregnant, and I’d just found out I wasn’t. “Oh, honey,” she said. “Do you think you’re just working too hard?” For a split second, I wanted to push her out the window. “No,” I replied, “It’s not that.”

    The failure of our first IVF attempt was devastating to both of us, but when we picked ourselves up, we agreed there was indeed nothing to lose by trying again with the frozen embryos. As my husband said, we’d already been through the worst that could happen. My next visit to the clinic didn’t feel as momentous as the first attempt but I was trying to approach it with the positive attitude everyone insisted it was important to maintain. My husband and I had agreed it would be easier for us both to pretend as much as possible it was a routine day, so instead of coming with me to the appointment, he went to his job and I was going to mine after stopping off at the clinic.

    And then I was getting in my car after the procedure, feeling hopeful (or trying to), but realistic (or trying to be). Doing the internal emotional dance of fertility treatment, trying to balance between objectivity — impossible, because you’re human — and hoping against hope.

    It was time for the “10 at 10” program on KFOG, San Francisco’s classic rock radio station. Every morning at 10:00 AM the station played ten songs with a theme — ten songs from the same year, ten songs about the same topic, ten songs with the same word in the title — and for Valentine’s Day the songs were about love. The first song began to play as I pulled out of the clinic driveway. I had a choice of freeways to get from Palo Alto to San Jose and I opted for I-280, The Most Beautiful Freeway in the World, so I could drive through the green, rolling hills listening to love songs…

    “I’m so in love with you, whatever you want to do, is alright with me-ee-ee…”1

    “Be quiet. Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry…”2

    “If you’re looking for love in a looking glass world, it’s pretty hard to find…”3

    “No wind, no rain, no winter storm can stop me…”4

    That IVF attempt wasn’t successful, but the next one was, and we had twin boys. We discussed whether or not to tell them how they were conceived and decided not to keep it a secret, so when they were learning about “family life” in fifth grade at school, I took the opportunity to tell them. What they were taught in school was how it worked most of the time, I said, but some people, because of a health condition or some other reason, aren’t able to do it that way, and they sometimes get help from doctors, and that’s what we did. The mechanics weren’t so important, I told them. People who make their families through assisted reproductive technology are like any other parents, they love each other, and want to make a family together.

    Song credits:

    1. Al Green, Let’s Stay Together 
    2. 10 CC, I’m Not In Love
    3. Roxy Music, Mother of Pearl 
    4. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

      • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      • February 18, 2020 at 1:05 am
      • Reply

      I am adopted, my older granddaughter needed some help to come to be, two out of my three kids were blessings from my ended marriage as are my youngest two grandchildren. My philosophy is that a) blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood and b) however your family comes together, it is as real and valid as love can make it. <3

      • Stephanie Schonian

      • February 27, 2020 at 6:44 pm
      • Reply

      Lovely piece, Alexia…..thank you for sharing so authentically….

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