I have done this before. IVF sends me to a strange place, a somnulent introspective place. It was easier to cosy into this mindset before the twins, to be quietly self-absorbed and selfish about hours of sleep and leafy greens and nibbly snacks of brazil nuts at perfectly placed intervals in my day. Last time I immersed myself in modernist poetry, joined Fertility Friends, told my workplace about my many hospital appointments without sharing precisely what they were for.
This time I haven’t done any of that. This time it is just another aspect of my day, a rush from the office to hospital and back again, a race to make up the solution and stab it into my stomach when I get home, my reward: bedtime cuddles with my babies.
If this round works, the twins’ sibling or siblings will fertilise around the time of their first birthday. A gift to them. A second chance for me.
Last time I remember staring at babies in the supermarket, researching names; trying to put myself in a maternal, nurturing mindset, to psychologically tell my body to become a warm, hospitable sanctuary. This time I have two babies in my home, albeit only babies for a few more weeks. If I hold them tighter, will it increase our chances?
In the middle of the night I sit up and wonder: am I soured from past experiences? Is my womb too scarred, too bitter? I am not the mother in whom I would choose to grow.
I look for signs, find them in the dying leaves or the parakeets that swoop overhead, chattering, in the park. Last time we confirmed a pregnancy as the daffodils bloomed, we welcomed the twins as the trees began to shred and that felt right. How strange to do things backward this time. I start to wonder: if it worked last time, is it dangerous to deviate? Should we wait? To wait feels intolerable. We press ahead.
I have fallen in love with somebody who does not even exist yet. I begin to think of my body as an unlocked door: Tap, tap. It’s me! Can I come in?
Welcome, welcome, little one. Please come in. Please be.
It hurts. Not the needles, which are fine (though the nasal spray is vile) but how the medication strips you emotionally so that another woman’s pregnancy can sting like it’s your loss. It hurts and I breathe through it, I give the nurse another smile when she asks how I am. I count my follicles alongside the sonographer and wish on them like they are stars.
I remember how well this worked last time and it brings a flash of comfort before I consider the statistics: what’s the likelihood of success the first time round again? Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. It has to work.
I find myself falling in love with surprising people: the phlebotomist who has conquered my difficult veins, the nurse who is so kind to me that I almost cry. With the receptionists I am overfamiliar; I want to be their best friends, these gatekeepers. I want to be on the inside.
A retrieval under general anaesthetic. I tell them that the walls are losing dimensionality and wake up in the lift, still talking. There is more pain but less bleeding than last time. It is not unbearable and fades quickly. On my first visit to this clinic, back in March, my sonographer described the entire medical staff as ‘bonkers’. They are that, but they are also tremendously kind. That evening, I send a flurry of emails to various line managers outlining the various ways in which staff have gone above and beyond. I hope that it makes them smile.
I have come alone and scarper about an hour after the surgery, keen to return to my family and tell Kirsty the good news. On the train I smile at everybody. Besuited commuters smile back; they are bewildered but polite. Somebody offers me a seat and I laugh. It may just be surgery bloating but if this were a novel it would be foreshadowing. A seat on the train, and then a baby. On the other side of London my eggs are fertilising.
Kirsty begins knitting immediately. Superficially it is a purple woolly hat the size of my hand, but for her it is more than that: it is an expression of hope.
One embryo or two? We try to weigh it up: Two embryos mean a higher chance of twins. One embryo, one baby, would make for a safer home birth. But we have loved having twins and I love my embryos already; I want to give another baby a chance. We decide on two, but I think that just one will stick. I hope that at least one will stick.
We have named the baby. It sounds silly and superstitious but I ‘knew’ that the twins were boys and I ‘know’ that this one is a boy too (and then, I think, we’ll get a girl). He’s not even in my womb yet but he has a name. Come in, little one, come in. Snuggle down.
How quickly does an embryo develop and divide? In the days that follow we feel as though we are coming apart. Unlike my last clinic this one prefers not to disturb the embryos every day, and we miss that morning telephone call updating us as to how many of our babies made it through the night.
Day three, eight-thirty a.m. A call from the clinic chills my blood. The embryologist reports that there are still four perfect embryos, ‘top quality’. They cannot decide which two are the likeliest to survive. They recommend waiting two more days to see, to let them develop or die. It’s good news, it’s good news, but as I put down the phone I want to cry.
The twins’ birthday passes in an agony of waiting.
An embryologist tells me that my blastocysts are beautiful. She asks me if I am sure that I want two transferred to my uterus, if I am sure that I am comfortable with the risk of more twins. I look at them on the screen, my blastocysts. They look like passionfruit seeds. They are beautiful. I tell her that we hope that they will both take and develop, that we would welcome more twins. I want to say ‘they are potential, not risk’ but I think of the statistics and the words die on my tongue. Yes, with twins come danger. But this is a path that I have trodden before. I strip off my tights and boots and lay back in the chair.
They tell you that the embryo transfer is comparable to a smear test. The indignity, yes, is the same. But they don’t tell you how it makes you aware of the hard ball of your own cervix, how as it is gripped it feels like a strange, bruised fruit. The doctor asks me if it hurts. The nurse strokes my hand. I tell them that it’s supposed to hurt. That this prize is worth fighting for. They give me a picture of the blastocysts to take home; they are strangely messy, exploding from themselves. They remind me of me. I hope that one will survive but what are the chances? IVF doesn’t work every time.
The wait to test. When people think of IVF they think of invasion and indignity, of needles and synthetic hormones and appointments and pain. They do not realise that IVF is two-thirds wait and frustration, that the intervals in which one can jab a needles into one’s belly are a welcomed relief. After all that, they send you home to wait.
So I wait.
I squeeze my boobs so often to check for tenderness that they become sore and then spend hours worrying at the conundrum: do they hurt because I’ve brutalised them, because of the drugs or because I am pregnant? I drive myself mad.
I poke progesterone suppositories into intimate bodily cavities and dribble wax and think to myself that if I had just married a man I wouldn’t have to do any of this nonsense.
I wait some more.
I hyperfocus on my uterus. Does it feel normal? I forget what ‘normal’ felt like. Every pinch and tug, twist or cramp catches my breath in my throat and sends me scurrying to google.
I promise myself that I won’t test early. I buy some tests anyway, just to keep in the house. Just in case of an apocalypse or a poor crop of tests this season. Better to be prepared.
It is a Saturday. Outside it is raining and the fallen leaves are turning underfoot to a soggy brown mush. It’s a dismal sort of day, a do-nothing day. It’s not the sort of day in which one finds out that one is pregnant. It’s not the sort of day for good news.
But it’s raining outside and here we are with two tests.
There is a list of reasons not to test: the rain, the leaves, it’s too early, it’s not the first morning urine. There’s no reason to test except that we are bored and the sky is grey and we can’t take the babies out in this.
Usually, Kirsty is my voice of reason but she just shrugs her shoulders. So I test.
And there you are.
You, whom we love already. You, who clung on and burrowed in and survived, who makes me crave sweet things already. You, sibling to the twins, tiny new addition to our family. Proven in a word, flashing up on the screen faster than we thought possible at 5 days past a 5 day transfer: “Pregnant”.
You are here.
Welcome, welcome little one.