Tag Archives: embryos

Alas, poor embryos. I knew them …

My quest for motherhood is like looking for red Skittles, i.e., good-quality eggs, in a bag of many colors. They're there; we just have to find them.

With the number of steps involved in the in-vitro process, I was bound to forget at least one. This would be the call from the andrologist on the status of the remaining five embryos.

I first Googled the phone number as I always do with unprogrammed calls and saw that it came from the hospital’s lab, my hospital. Neither the Mr. nor I could figure out why they were calling. Then, the message on “the status of your embryos” freaked me out even further. I figured it’d be about cost or storage options or how long we thought we wait before tapping into the frozen reserve. I called back immediately to find that neither assumption was true.

It was about the status of our embryos.

Retrospectively, it felt like what would happen in the hospital when a nurse would call family members about their loved ones. They never say, “Mrs. K died.” Instead, they talk about the status of Mrs. K’s condition and how the family should come in. If you’ve ever experienced the activity surrounding someone’s else death in a hospital bed, you can always tell what you’re in for just based on the cryptic language used when they call you. But this was no nurse; the woman is an andrologist. She was compassionately matter-of-fact but obviously not a patient-care practitioner. I don’t hold that against her. I appreciated the information and her willingness to repeat it until I was sure I understood.

Essentially, there are no longer five embryos. Before the transfer, there were seven. The best two of those — the ones dividing evenly with proper cell shape and most likely to implant — were transferred last week, three days after fertilization.

Three more simply didn’t reach the blastocyst stage, meaning they “failed to progress” to Day 5. (Blastocysts are more likely to survive the freezing and thawing process for a another transfer than “younger” embryos.) Another embryo became a blastocyst but then began dividing unevenly and soon “arrested” as well. These are the types of fertilized eggs that never would’ve implanted in the first place. Yet, it’s still feels a little bit a little bit depressing that they didn’t make it and that there aren’t more additional mini-me possibilities.

Yet there is room for rejoicing because one survived to the cyropreservation (freezing) stage and is expected to be there when we need it. Also, in perspective, the loss of three embryos makes sense. Embryo survival is closely linked to egg quality, and my unexplained infertility is blamed on a diminished ovarian reserve. That means that of all the eggs I have, I only have a few that are of good quality. The majority of them probably aren’t as likely to undergo fertilization and endure a full term. The in-vitro route makes the existence of those eggs more apparent.

Imagine it this way: you have a bag of Skittles, and only the red ones count. You could blindly stick your hand in the bag for one at a time, hoping for a red one. However, the more efficient way would be to grab a handful and pick out the red ones while avoiding the rest, which would likely be the majority of the bag. In-vitro fertilization is my efficient handful into motherhood.

The quest feels a little more daunting right about now with just one backup, but I’m trying not to let it shake me. I will not buy a home pregnancy test to try to get an early result. I will not obsess about any twinges or odd feelings. I’m just gon’ ride it out and pray for two more days.

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Send in the Embryos

This is a copy of the screen-grab image from the ultrasound at the moment of the embryo transfer.

It wasn’t on purpose, but I’ve been silent for a few days reveling in Thursday’s embryo transfer. It was nothing short of fascinating. It felt sacred and holy, an unexpectedly spiritual few minutes.

And that’s in spite of the intimate experience with an unfamiliar but funny doctor and his clueless intern. Bless her heart, I knew she bordered on inept because of preoccupation with the internal ultrasound probe that wasn’t part of this particular procedure. As instructed, I showed up with a full bladder. That meant an external ultrasound, but she’d missed the memo. (And sadly, she’d worked at the same hospital I had in the exact same position but on a different floor. I knew she should’ve known better.) When the doctor kindly corrected her, she pretended her gooped-up probe didn’t exist. To be nice, so did I. I even took shallow breaths so she wouldn’t lose her place with the external probe on my abdomen. I can’t take full credit for my behavior, though. My super-nice Mr. sat on a stool to my right, and his influence mellows me. Also, I didn’t have the benefit of the privacy sheet normally granted with exposure of the goods, and it’s hard to be critical with your hoo-hah on display. Fortunately, my monkey socks provided a nice diversion until the show started.

Just prior to the procedure, Dr. Funny Man passed the Mr. a good luck greeting card from the entire RE office. “Beautiful,” he said, “a family photo.” It was an image of the two embryos set aside for the transfer. And yeah, they were the most beautiful set of eight- and nine-cell embryos that ever existed. OK, it sounds weird, but the idea that these little babies could turn into real babies was just amazing to me. I think I’ve stared at that photo every day and several times a day since. I made it portable by taking a picture with my phone, and I look at that even more.

That picture might have been all I needed to see, but my excitement — while trying not to breathe too much for the Dr. Bailey intern reject — grew when the doctor pointed out everything on the screen. Amid the plumbing was his needle aimed at the ideal place. “Do you see me? Are you ready? Are you sure?” He yelled something to invisible people through talking through a hole in the wall and told us, “Bombs away. One, two. There they are.”

Two small somethings on the screen came through the needle and just sat tucked away right where they were placed. I cried a little staring at the movement I saw. I couldn’t look at the Mr. because it would’ve become a full-on Oprah ugly cry. And even though I felt it, crying just seemed a bit premature. I was fully aware, though, that whatever life that would come from this process would spring from something greater than a few doctors practicing medicine.

Regardless of the criticism surrounding infertility treatments, what I saw represented the presence of God in all things, including in what has been called “gravely evil.” Science only takes us so far; the rest really is up to God. And there ain’t nothin’ evil about that. Jerks.

Not the Octomama

ABC used to have a show called “Dinosaurs.” The youngest animal of this family referred to its father and, well, everyone else as “Not the Mama!” With that and seven fertilized eggs, a.k.a. embryos, ripe for implanting, let me say this once and for all as nice as I can muster:

Remember this "Dinosaurs" baby whose phrase was "Not the mama?" Let's take it a step further: not the octomama. I'll smile to be polite, but your octojoke really isn't funny.

I am not and will not be the freakin’ Octomama — not in a box, with a fox or eating lox. And no, I’m not even the septomama. Say it with me: Not. The. Octomama. Repeat as many times as needed to realize that any “jokes” related to Nadya Suleman aren’t funny and probably won’t be for anyone who has to undergo fertility treatments.

Weeks ago, The Mr. and I had a very detailed conversation together and with the hospital-provided therapist (a requirement for the in-vitro fertilization process at my particular facility) before arriving at the decision to implant two embryos at one time. So, even though we have been blessed with a singing group, a small basketball team or a volleyball team plus one, no doctor in his or her right mind would implant all seven. Here’s why:

  • Implanting more than the recommended number according to a potential mother’s age is like Russian roulette, not only with the chances of a live birth, but with the mother’s life. More babies, more problems (read: complications).
  • The greater the number of embryos in utero, the greater the likelihood that one or more of them might have to take one for the team. (I offer my apologies for attempting to soften the blow of reality.) Essentially, too many kids in the tub might force parents toward the decision of which ones stay and which ones have to be aborted to prevent the death of all. That’s real talk.
  • If multiples make it through pregnancy, the existence of many increases the risk of premature delivery. That’s days, or even, months in somebody’s NICU. It’s like a car accident. It’s one thing if it happens; if it occurs because your own recklessness, then it’s dumb.

We decided on two because, like most couples, we feared the risk of transferring one and having an unsuccessful cycle. We were adequately informed concerning single-embryo transfer, or SET, an industry-wide recommendation that all it takes is one, but we opted to roll this dice anyway. Aside from that, I really would love to have twins. Boys or girls, one of each, or a set of kittens with my nose and his eyes — any combination would make me happy.

As for the remaining five, we’ll literally have them on ice in case the first two don’t make it. (They’ll be frozen.) Should that happen, we’ll start again with two more. Or if we’re successful right out the gate, our frozen reserves will remain until it’s time for more children. Beyond the family size we choose, we’ll donate the rest to another couple who isn’t as fortunate as we’ve been to get to this point.