TL:WTH

The heartbeat scan went well. But I guess you can't pick up every ectopic pregnancy on every apparently-normal heartbeat scan. A week later her fallopian tube burst without warning and she was rushed to the OR.

The baby is obviously gone. She's ok.

WHAT I KNOW

I know when she told me it looked normal at eight weeks I was relieved.
I know much of what I'd been feeling before was a sort of displaced early pregnancy anxiety, rather than pure maternal grief.
I know there was still a touch of grief. 
I know she's upset but she's handling it well. So is he.
I know ultimately, I wanted it to work.

THE QUESTIONS I HAVE

When, how, how often, and with what words should I contact them?
How do I feel that we gave them the opportunity to experience a life-threatening miscarriage?
Should I feel good that we held up "our end of the bargain" - a good embryo for our recipients - or bad that we didn't hold up "our end of the bargain" - a safe uterus for our embryo?
Is three remaining embryos enough?
When will we get to find out?
Don't the stakes seem kind of high now?
How sad am I supposed to be, and how much of my sadness am I allowed to share with them in theirs?
What's the protocol for this?
What if it never works again? 



They went ahead with the first embryo transfer.

"How do you feel?" asked my friend, because I seem to have managed to pull together a small group of people who, without mutual knowledge or communication, have gone and made it their function to keep asking me how I feel. It's reminiscent of blogging, but in meat space. It's weird.

I said, "Surprised," when our recipients let us know that all six of the two-day-old embryos had survived the thaw. "Didn't know they all had it in them."

It was later I realised with a slight chill that we'd passed the point of no return. Those embryos were only ours til they thawed.

A single, "beautiful" blast was transferred on the Monday, and a second one put back in the freezer for another time. Our recipient explained all the things she was planning to help its chances (acupuncture, meditation, diet, clearly-defined periods of baby-holding and not-baby-holding) and gave us the date for the blood test. She said she was trying to keep her hopes in perspective. And me? I was telling my friend I felt fine. From this distance, without the artificial hormones, the whole process is less intense.

She got pregnant. I'm telling you like that so we can cut to the chase: at 3am last night I found myself sobbing in my living room, shuffling through my contact lists to see who in which time zone might be up and willing to talk. When I found someone, I wondered "aloud" if I was the worst mother in the world, but ultimately I had to explain that I had known it would be like this, at least a little bit, perhaps a lot. We knew and we did it anyway. That was our choice.

So I went out with my phone for a walk in the darkness. "Do you think this feeling will pass?" my friend asked me, and I said, "I know it will. Feelings always do," but then a second friend chimed in and said, "I'm guessing you'll always feel something there," and suddenly my heart was lighter, like it just then realised it didn't have to go through it all that night, because it would in any case be going through it piece by piece each day.

This morning, a third friend asked, "Do you regret your decision?" and I said, "It's too early to say yet. In my books, she's not really pregnant til they see a heartbeat, and that scan won't happen til next year." But I keep coming back to the moment I got the news, and I know it sounds dramatic and perhaps a little cliche, but my hands actually shook and I felt a light head spin, so I lowered myself onto my knees and pressed my forehead to the floor as if praying, and I focussed on my breath while I waited for it all to sink in. It took sixty whole seconds to realise I was whispering, over and over, subconsciously.

And what I was whispering were two simple words. And the words were: "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."


You mostly hear from embryo donors through glossy testimonials on agency websites. And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it means there's little to say, that donating couples are, by and large, secure and comfortable with their decision, that they signed the paperwork one morning between the school drop-off and the office coffee run and never felt the need to question their choice, let alone bawl about it online.

Maybe our numbers are so low that a strong community of voices is yet to emerge - and in the meantime, difficult to find.

Or maybe it's that few people are interested in listening, or that we don't know how to talk.

Jen put me in touch with a friend who's been through it, and a circle of people opened up to me. I've spoken to several, discussed their experiences, and drawn from the wisdom they've gained. We can tell you that embryo donation is harder than you think. And not always the right decision. And other times, despite the difficulties, it is.

Think carefully about your support network.
Find a professional who has worked with donating families - or (failing that) who has worked with relinquishing families in the more traditional adoption community.
Be clear and frank about your wants and expectations, right from the very beginning.
Expect a rollercoaster, especially if the donation works, and especially over the first few years.
Focus on the kids.
Most importantly: don't hurry forward.

I cried for every page of paperwork I scanned and emailed to the clinic, and there were pages upon pages upon pages upon pages. Then I was seized by a sudden urge to phone the scientists one last time, but I didn't, because I wasn't sure how that conversation would go. "Hi, our embryos are being transported out today, and I just wanted to ring to... um... um...?"

In the end, when the email came through to say our embryos had arrived safely at the recipients' clinic, I felt fine. Not fine like I had nothing left to say, but fine, like I could make out the shape of things to come.

--
If you're here because you're thinking about donating your embryos, feel free to get in touch. Or check out VARTA, the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, which provides this decision-making tool for those with unused embryos, amongst other resources.



...we've just touched down back at home.

I'll spare you the details and give you the summary: screening tests are super-expensive and insured only within certain geographic regions. Flights are (so much) cheaper.

What's priceless? Face to face time with key friends and family. (Those video calls will never match up.)

As a bonus, it makes me feel like I know how to do this. Makes me feel like I've survived it all before.

Eight days then home...


At first, when people said we're "doing a beautiful thing" by donating our embryos, I squirmed. This is despite a widely-used script which everywhere reinforces the idea that it's the proper motivation. Donor testimonies read:

"We wanted to pay it forward-" should that be backwards? "-and help another couple with their infertility."

"We were so excited to be able to share this gift to make another family's dreams come true."

Some time ago a friend I don't know very well visited Singapore and we caught up for a coffee, and I did that thing to her where I accidentally ended up saying a lot more about what was troubling me than she was probably expecting or indeed comfortable with. Amongst these were my thoughts on working and motherhood.

"I've applied for a full time job," I said, innocuously. "PB has asked me to enrol him in extra-curricular classes every day after school so I guess I'm not needed there so much now and... I just think it might be time." 

But she's perceptive, and there must have been something in my eyes, because she paused on the other side of the table and looked at me closely. 

"He's a great kid," I added. "What other child do you know of who's demanded more school?" I gave a small chuckle, but then I found I had to break eye contact to look out at the trees. "I mean, sure, he can be a handful... By the end of the day... sometimes we just... I don't know. But his sports coach is wonderful with him."

We sat in silence for a few seconds, then she leaned forward and put her cup on the table. "You know, it takes a fucking village," she said. 

And I nodded, because I believe her. But to do so I fight the myth that it has to be all me, all the time. I fight the myth that I should be most of his world. I fight the myth that if someone else is guiding my child - God forbid if they do it more often or more successfully - it means I'm less than; I've failed; I'm unfit. And I fight this myth not as a parent, but as a mother - even in this place and time.

At first, people said we're doing a beautiful thing for this couple by donating our embryos and I squirmed, and it's because I've been told that this is the correct reason, and also that this reason isn't good enough.

But as I talk things over I realise, with relief, that it's not actually our reason. For us, it's not about helping them. It's about accepting where we're tapped out; about working to prioritise the kids we already have; about wanting to move forward but in a way which honours our past. We're here because we have this thing to do but we've learned we can't do it all on our own. We're ready to see ourselves as part of the world's village and to let the village take on this role.

And the more I think about it, the more I come to this conclusion: it's because we don't want to do a beautiful thing that this whole plan might work out ok.


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