Most people probably travel to the Czech Republic to take in the architecture or hike the mountains along its beautiful countryside. Hayley and her husband went there to (hopefully) make a baby. Here’s their story…
I never envisioned myself going through IVF at 27;1 it’s not typically something one associates with being in your twenties. But that’s exactly what I recently did with my husband in the Czech Republic. What I Did On My Vacation involved far more needles than one typically associates with vacation.2 Lots more needles, and definitely lots more uncertainty about the future.
IVF isn’t a one-fell-swoop sort of procedure. At every stage, there’s a chance you’ll have to jump ship: maybe your body over-stimulates from the drugs causing a painful hospital stay and no IVF; maybe you only get a few eggs and none of them fertilize; maybe none of them make it to transfer day even if you harvest a lot of eggs; maybe everything goes textbook-right, and you still end up with nothing after plunking down $7-20k.3
For the uninitiated, IVF involved, in our case, me taking a bunch of Very Expensive Drugs with big warning labels screeching “WARNING: MAY CAUSE MULTIPLE BIRTHS”, flying to the Czech Republic with boxes of needles and those meds in a cooler since they have to be kept cold,4 taking some more drugs which make you a hormonal MESS resulting in you crying in some Czech woods while you try to navigate signage leading to some caves you cannot find and it’s cold and oh my god why are you crying this is ridiculous but you can’t stop, then having eggs retrieved via surgery, then letting the eggs “preheat” in a lab for five days prior to being transferred back to me. When doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, IVF is a catch-all, hail-Mary-pass. In short, it’s a recipe for a very non-relaxing time.
There are so many odd moments in IVF. You know you have some clusters of fertilized cells that are changing into blastocysts, and hopefully those will make it to embryo transfer. They’re just there, hanging out in a lab, while you wander around Prague. You go to museums, but you’re barely paying attention because all you can think of are those potential children, that future that seems so impossible lately, or to borrow a phrase from Imogen Heap, that “backup makeshift life in waiting.”
Because, sure, there are multiple shots to take each day, and confusing medications with Czech instructions5…but they seem so trivial even when you’re injecting yourself. That part isn’t so bad. But to have the opportunity to see your little tiny blastocysts on a screen–that’s kind of bonkers. Most people don’t get a peek until much later ultrasounds, but IVF is different. You know more than most at this stage. It’ll keep you up at night, wondering if they’re gonna make it. That will cloud a whole day’s worth of interactions with an inner monologue of pleasestaypleasestaypleasestay. That inner monologue is really the part of IVF that’ll screw with a couple. That, and the random but important things you suddenly have to decide like how many to transfer, and signing paperwork stating what you’d like done with extra frozen embryos in the event you no longer want them, or stop paying your cryopreservation rent.6 It sounds like a minor decision, but it…isn’t. Not really. We were on Team Science, but we still sat and pondered the decision together. Nothing is entirely simple. Nothing is easy.
That’s the other thing, and I think this can transfer to a lot of medical situations in a family. Yes, only one if us had to shoot up, but both of us were thinking about that backup life we could have if only they could make it…if only, if only. While It was very much a two-of-us affair,7 it wasn’t particularly easier on one of us.8 This whole process–everything over the past couple of years, plus the IVF–has been a long test of endurance in our still-young marriage.9 No, unexplained infertility is not a terminal diagnosis, but it does mean that we’ve been in a years-long holding pattern in our life together,10 watching everyone around us get to pass Go, and continue the traditional Love, Marriage, Baby Carriage routine. Living in that gray area of not knowing if you’ll ever get resolution is hard. It’s hard on little things, like motivation, and hard on big things, like relationships.
There have been times we’ve felt so ugly, bitterly tasting the bile of jealousy and anger. When you’re going through a drawn-out medical thing with no clear reason and no clear path to “fixing” it,11 sometimes all you can do is be in that trench with your partner, be in that museum and know why they sigh a little, and grab their hand. Squeeze. Catch them. Know that they feel it too. The uncertainty, the worry, the wanting.
IVF is a relatively short procedure,12 but the longer-lasting stuff…that anger we feel, like when Lily on How I Met Your Mother said she didn’t like being a mom and wanted to run away13…that’s taking some time to process. I don’t really have any advice for that, but I’ve read a lot of books. As the wonderful Lamott puts it in her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, “I wish there were shortcuts to wisdom and self-knowledge: cuter abysses or three-day-spa wilderness experiences. Sadly it doesn’t work that way. I so resent this.” Yup.
Ultimately, it seems like that aspect of this whole shebang might just take time. Things are going OK for me so far in this still-continuing IVF process, but I feel no slack in the familiar pangs of bitterness, longing, and the “why on earth?” It’s clearly going to take longer than six weeks to move past all that. The IVF itself though? Not so bad at all. I vaguely recall waking up from my anesthesia after surgery to mumble to my doctor that it “wasn’t as bad as my wisdom teeth.”
The best thing for us throughout this time has been learning how we cope with Capital-S Shit. Advice: Just be available. Don’t isolate yourself from your partner, even if you’re withdrawing socially elsewhere. If you’re a friend wanting to help those close to you with this or any sort of thing in the realm, realize there may be no quick-fix balm.14
Really, the best anyone can do is to, if I may quote Regina Spektor, begin to hope. Don’t give up, or let the anger ruin everything you enjoy. Every time I think of that possible future, I think of Stella telling Ted his future wife is trying to get there “as fast as she can.” If you’re going through anything, dear reader, I hope that you can hang onto that idea too, this holiday season especially. Hang onto hope, hang onto good friends,15 and just hang on. Your future might be coming just as fast as it can.
Begin to hope and all the colors start to change beneath the light
You might forget that the world’s so sad
You might forget that things are awful bad
And it’s alright
— ∮∮∮ —
- At 26, I didn’t expect to be denied an adoption application either, but that happened too (because at 26, my and I husband have a lot of school loan debt, and they care about that stuff. Just in case ya wanted to suggest adoption as what we should be doing–we tried, we failed, IVF was our second choice. Movin’ on!) ↩
- At least my vacations. ↩
- Typically in the US you can spend $10k for one try, and if it fails you’re just out $10k, OR you can spend $20k and you get three tries, and if all three fail, you get a refund–though if it works the first try then you’ve paid double OH WELL! I went to Brno because the whole trip+IVF came to substantially less than the typical US $10k minimum. Also note, the $10k usually doesn’t take into account about $2k worth of medications that I can practically promise aren’t covered under insurance. So I should probably amend it to a typical $12k minimum risk, none of which is probably covered. ↩
- And frantically buying Red Bulls you’ll never drink as fill-in ice packs when there are delays in your travel. ↩
- Thank goodness for YouTube tutorials. ↩
- You can have them randomly thaw by taking them out of a controlled environment, or you can donate them to science. ↩
- Though different from the typical baby-making method. ↩
- Surgery aside. ↩
- Together since 2006; married 2010. ↩
- Sometimes seemingly moving backwards, like when we moved and sold our home in part because we knew we could only afford IVF by doing so. ↩
- Even if IVF works, infertility is still ours to have and to hold, technically. ↩
- About six weeks for me. ↩
- “Fuck you,” we said politely to Lily. ↩
- Even a successful procedure won’t erase all that came before, may not mend all the fences, may not erase bitterness over loss whether it’s pregnancy loss or the long-term loss of intimacy, and definitely will not, in my case, plant us magically back in the house we loved in the city we adored near friends and family we miss; one can only hope that the struggles and sacrifices are worth it; success is not a magic eraser. ↩
- If I’ve learned anything from IVF, it’s that I have some incredible friends and family — thank. you. all. ↩
Photo by: zbdh12