The nurse wheeled me into the recovery room, and I carefully slid from the gurney to a hospital bed, making sure not to let any of the embryos they’d just put inside me pour out onto the floor. We’d just paid $18,000 for them. I imagined that scene in “Annie Hall” where Woody Allen sneezes into a pile of cocaine.
The nurse handed me my discharge instructions but told me I had to rest there for 30 minutes before I could go.
“We can’t find your husband. He must have stepped out,” she said.
Ever dependable Bruce, I thought. I went to nearly all of my blood and ultrasound appointments on my own. When I had minor surgery in preparation for the IVF, he had to work. He wasn’t even going to be able to come today on account of his job. If he’s not back by the time I’m ready to go, I’m just leaving.
Just then, I could hear the couple behind the curtain next to me.
“It was racist,” the man was saying to his wife. “I’m telling you. She didn’t have to say it like that.”
It was the man with the pock-marked face and his Chinese wife. I recognized their voices from the waiting room –or at least his voice. I’d hear him grouse, and then his wife would respond in a low murmur that was inaudible. They had parked their baby carriage on one side of the room and sat in chairs on the other, as their daughter stomped back and forth in front of them. When the mother was called in for her procedure, the girl wailed. The father escorted her out into the hallway without touching her hand.
I looked down at the photo they’d handed me in the surgical room of the two embryos they’d just put inside me. They looked like coins, the size of nickels. They were in the blastocyst stage, an indication of how many times they’d divided since being fertilized. Being 46 years old, I used a young egg donor because the chances of my own eggs being healthy enough to carry a pregnancy was less than 1%. My 20-year old donor was so fertile, she produced 22 eggs for me alone — at Cornell, most people share a donor — meaning she probably made almost twice that many. A healthy woman in her 40’s might produce six or eight — and oftentimes many of them are damaged. The doctors were able to fertilize 17 of the 22, and the chances of success with such a young donor are so high, they only transfer two embryos at a time, to avoid having multiple births.
I’d been through this with my sister, a year ago. She made the magnanimous gesture of donating me some of her eggs. The problem was, she was 41, which is pretty old in the egg business. I remember the photo of the embryos using my sister’s eggs. We had used four that time. The embryos were fragmented, like a beehive. These new embryos had little bumps and brown spots, like a map or a pizza crust, but they were more uniform. No fragmentation. I took that as a good sign.
But these embryos weren’t just from a young girl perhaps in need of a little cash. She was a ballerina. A bonafide, professional ballerina. And she knew how the ovary-stimulating drugs tired her out. She had to make sure she “cycled,” as they call it, during a down time in her busy dancing schedule. I imagined her embryos swimming around inside me like synchronized swimmers, wearing white bathing caps and doing the breath stroke. Except the music I kept hearing was Alvin and the Chipmunks, singing, “All I Want is a Hula Hoop…” I just hoped they would continue to dance for nine whole months. And if they wanted to rest, they could do it that point.
“How much longer do I have to lie here,” the girl in the bed on the other side of me said.
“Five more minutes,” the nurse said.
“I really have to go to the bathroom,” she said. “And could you draw those circles on my butt again, so I know where to give myself the shots?”
“I’ll be right there,” the nurse said.
She drew the curtain in my cubicle.
“You can go now,” she said.
“But what about my clothes? My husband has my clothes?”
“They’re probably out in the waiting room. You can change in the restroom out there,” she said.
I got up and slid across the floor like an apparition, trying not to jostle the embryos. As I emerged from the recovery room into the waiting area, I saw my husband, Bruce, sitting in a chair reading, a big bouquet of roses next to him.
“The woman behind the counter said she’s been here 10 years, and she’s only seen two men bring roses,” Bruce said. “I was the second.”
I picked up the bouquet and cradled it in my arms, making sure not to break the stems.