Friday, June 14, 2013

Wherefore Art Thou, Eggs?

April 16 

When I arrived at the clinic, I asked if Dr. P was in the office. I intended to beg that he do the ultrasound instead of a newbie intern. I figured for the amount of money I was paying this clinic, I could make some stern demands. But I did not have to ask. He was on top of it, and he was definitely more adept at looking for minuscule follicles.

He turned the display screen toward me so I could follow along as he looked. “There's your uterus right there...that's your ovary...” It all looked like a black and white lava lamp to me. He paused on a black area. “And that looks like... I'm gonna say it is, a follicle.” I saw nothing, but apparently he can see shadows and lines of follicles like safari guides can spot a gazelle three miles away. When he switched to the other ovary, he found two. But that was it. In total: three very small follicles.

By this point in my cycle, ideally, I'd have several more follicles at least 7-8mm in diameter. The one the intern spotted a week ago was now at 6.8mm. The other two were less than 5mm. That's considered almost too small to even measure. Even Dr. P was long-faced about it. He said at best we could hope to retrieve three, maybe four eggs. And those eggs would still have to go through the freezing process, the thawing process and the fertilization process, each with it's own high rate of failure, before we even tried to implant a viable embryo in my uterus. That was a long hike for what was clearly a batch of runtlings.

He mentioned the words “donor eggs.” Nope, not ready for that yet, I told him.

I was prepared for this poor result, and I suppose I was buoyed by the fact that three were better than one, but my decision was easy. I had already made up my mind that if we didn't see a much bigger, plumper batch, I would cancel the treatments for this month and try again next month. Women don't always ovulate every cycle. Also, the number of follicles can fluctuate from month to month. Quite possibly, the birth control pills over-suppressed my ovaries and to determine if that was the case, Dr. P ordered a test of my estradiol levels.

I didn't cry until the drive home. I've always heard fertility treatments can be difficult and searingly disappointing. We've all heard the horror stories that make us think the women who put themselves through it are insane. Six shots a day, failed attempts month after month, crazy weight gain and crazier mood swings. From the outside, it all seems so desperate and obsessive and pathetic. Counting and measuring minuscule follicles, checking hormone levels daily, adjusting and readjusting how much, which kinds and in which combinations of drugs to inject. It's more intensive than being treated for some forms of cancer.

Knowing this much about how our body is supposed to behave and comparing it to how our bodies are actually behaving is a real mindfuck, too. Our bodies are complex and finely tuned chemical and mechanical machines, and no one is exactly like another. Tweaking one aspect of the system, can throw off another. Other influences are also constantly at work – environment, stress levels, and simply the unique characteristics of each body. Reproduction is especially tricky. It's not a perfect system. Even with perfectly fertile young women, sometimes you get a pregnancy, sometimes you don't. That's probably why humans have a tendency to evoke a higher power when a baby happens and wonder why God is punishing them when one never arrives.

The difference between living life as a parent and going through life without a child to raise is huge in so many ways. Some people prefer not to have the responsibility and hassle of children. But people who passionately want to be a parent but cannot experience one of the deepest, most universal life disappointments a human can feel. This is the hard-wired stuff in us.

Fertility treatments in this sense can feel like playing God. We assume control over a previously unpredictable aspect of our lives. Yet still, that control can allude us. We are granted so much power, yet still we often remain powerless. In the end, something beyond our full control determines what happens.

For those of us who have trouble with lack of control, that is the hardest thing to accept. So I will spend the next month researching and doing whatever I can in an attempt to transform my body into a high-production egg manufacturing plant. It'll be like training for the follicle growth Olympics.

But most of all I will try to stay hopeful.

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