One last scary hurdle stood between us and my eggs. I had to take a shot that would tell my ovaries to finish up the eggs and get ready to release them.
At this point I was totally used to shots. I had been giving myself a shot in the stomach and one in the thigh every night for weeks. But this last shot was of a different flavor. I’d been doing subcutaneous (under the skin) shots. Subcutaneous needles are tiny – thin and 1/2” long. This shot was intramuscular. Into the muscle. To get all the way in there, intramuscular needles have to be 1½ inches long, and they’re not delicate, or thin.
Even worse, the recommended muscle for this kind of shot is in the upper outer quadrant of your buttock, so it’s almost impossible to give to yourself. Sandy was going to have to give me a shot.
Sandy was terrified, so I tried my best to make it easier for him. When he got home, I had already mixed up the injection, drawn it into the syringe, and was waiting with alcohol pads, a fresh needle, and an online instructional video. The online instructional video directed Sandy to insert the needle in a “quick, dart-like motion” and actually showed someone jamming a huge needle into someone’s upper butt cheek. This did not look possible. Even worse, after inserting the needle, you’re supposed to pull back on the plunger a tiny bit to check for blood. If you get blood, you’ve nicked a vein and you’re supposed to pull out and start again.
I leaned up against the counter, shifted my weight to my right leg to leave the left butt relaxed, and worked up my nerve as Sandy did a few wind-up throws of needle towards ass. And then, it was done. He actually used a quick, dart-like motion and plunged the needle into my butt. It didn’t hurt any worse than any other needle puncture I’d had recently, He pulled back on the plunger and, thank god, no blood. In went the medicine, out came the needle. The puncture didn’t even bleed much. Done.
The next day, no medications except an antibiotic and the bitter pill of having to wait and do nothing for a whole day. The day, like many days this month, was a total loss. I tried to focus on work, to be concerned about jumpstarting my new freelance career, to think my new website was important. But I couldn’t think about anything else but the eggs.
On egg retrieval day, the clinic had asked us to have Sandy “produce” at home. One time, the nurse told me, a guy had gotten to the clinic, gotten performance anxiety, and not been able to produce. They had to cancel the poor woman’s cycle. At least at home he wouldn’t feel time pressure from all the other guys in the waiting room.
We arrived and waited with a bunch of other nervous looking couples in the waiting room. All the women were, as our xeroxed instructions had told us, wearing stretchy sweatpants and warm socks. The husbands were probably, like Sandy, holding a plastic cup full of their own semen in their pockets.
They called us back and put us in a tiny prep cubicle. There were forms to fill out, I got weighed, they took me to pee. A nurse came in and offered some advice to Sandy about post-op. “She’s going to keep asking you the same questions over and over because the anesthesia causes short-term memory loss. She’s going to keep asking you how many eggs they got.” I made a mental note not to ask this question, and definitely not to ask it over and over again.
When it was time, they walked me next door to the procedure room and got me up on an exam table. Instead of the normal stirrups I was used to after six months of seemingly constant ultrasounds, this table had complicated looking full-leg stirrups. I eyed them warily, but luckily nobody told me to hoist my legs up there. People were rushing in and out, asking my name and checking details on my chart. The ultrasound tech who just a few days ago had said my uterine cavity was the best she’d seen all day showed up and proudly told everyone “she’s one of mine.”
Then the anesthesiologist came in an inserted an IV line. Moments later, everything started to look very jerky and confusing. Then I woke up back in my bed, baffled at how I’d gotten there.
I was woozy and confused and freezing cold because of the anesthesia. I remembered clearly that the nurse had said I would repeat myself and keep asking how many eggs they got, and I tried valiantly not to. Much to Sandy’s amusement, I did anyway.
Turns out, they got 18, a great number. Apparently, the doctor had popped his head in right afterward and said to Sandy, “It went great! We got Chai!” Sandy, in hospital mode, not synagogue mode, stared blankly as he worked hard to parse the sentence, but eventually got it.
After the nurses determined that I could pee and that I wasn’t bleeding, they sent us home with instructions about which medications to take and what to expect. Mostly, they counseled a day of bedrest. It was a lovely relaxing day, except for the aching soreness that is pretty typical after they poke your huge ovaries with a needle over and over. French toast, the BBC miniseries of Vanity Fair, and a lot of heating pads made everything bearable. By the next day, I was still sore, but starting to feel pretty normal.
They called the next afternoon with the fertilization report. Of the 18 eggs they’d collected, 17 had fertilized, which was very encouraging. We had bypassed IVF hurdle #1 (getting eggs) and now were past hurdle #2 (getting them fertilized) with flying colors. Now we were left with hurdle #3: turning that embryo in the test tube into a baby in my tummy.
Traditional IVF protocol is to transfer the embryo(s) back to the uterus three days after fertilization. At our clinic, they told us that if we had a good number of healthy embryos, they’d prefer to wait until five days after fertilization, to give them a better shot of choosing a viable one. (The vast majority of embryos that are simply genetically non-viable die before they even get that far).
After three days, we still had fourteen strong-looking embryos, so we took the clinic’s advice and held our breath for a fifth-day transfer.
[Next: Part VIII]