Archive for the ‘Successful IVF’ Category

I learned to make macaroni and cheese the first time my mother was in traction for her back, because as she lay in a hospital bed, it was me who made dinner for my father and siblings. The second time my mother was in traction, I mastered grilled cheese. By the time she had back surgery when I was in junior high, I could roast a chicken, rubbing its skin with a mixture of vegetable oil and paprika to make it crisp.

My mother’s back went out so often, one of the predominant childhood memories I have is of her standing in her blue and white bathrobe on the white tiled floor of our hallway, her upper body hunched over like an upside down “J,” her right hand holding the spot on her back where it hurt. If you floated her sideways, her arm would look like a shark’s fin. Her back pain was so bad sometimes, she would take painkillers, so when she kissed us goodbye and sent us off to school, her eyelids were sometimes half closed and her speech slightly slurred.


Heavier than it looks.

I hated that she was incapacitated, I hated that I had to make dinner sometimes because of it, and I hated that the drugs she took for it made her groggy and unavailable….until my own back went out.  I’ve pulled my back out five times in three years now – most recently last week. I was in the shower and bent down to shave my left leg when all of a sudden BAM! I had a back spasm that sent the razor flying, and I couldn’t stand up straight. As I stood hunched over in the shower, I saw that the head of my razor — which is three blades surrounded by a thick waxy wedge of shaving cream and lubricant – was lying directly under the stream of water. These razor heads cost about $4 a piece and don’t last very long, and I’d just put on a new one. I watched the water beating down on the wedge of shaving cream and lubricant, eroding it, and despite my pain, I began kicking it out of the path of the water so that it didn’t waste away.

I hobbled out of the shower with soap still on my body and took a couple of ibuprofen and lay down on the rug in the hall just outside my son, Eddie’s room. He was still in his crib, and I could hear him talking to himself. When he wakes up, he usually talks for about 20 minutes before it descends into whining – the signal that he wants to come out of his crib. I had already gone downstairs and prepared his morning bottle of milk, and I had it in my hand. I continued to lay there waiting for the last possible moment to give it to him because I knew once I did and he’d finished it, he would want to come out of his crib, and at that moment, I didn’t think I could lift him.

As I lay there on the floor, I thought of the night before when I was in a bar, half into a martini, and I was chatting gaily with a waitress about being an older parent.

“Tell your friend she can have a baby at any age!” I said, not quite slurring. “Look at me! I had Eddie at 47! It’s eeee-aaa-sy!”

The very next morning, snap! My back seizes up like a badly-oiled transmission.

It’s not even like I was lifting something heavy. But then these things never happen that way. They occur when you lean over to pick up a crumb or a strand of hair. My mother once dislocated her shoulder playing mah jong.

Laying there, I realized I had no choice but to call our babysitter, Jean, and ask her if she could come over to get Eddie out of his crib and take him for a few hours.

She arrived quickly, changed Eddie’s diaper and got him dressed for the day, as I stood hunched over and watched, my hand holding the spot on my back that was injured. I followed the two of them downstairs to the kitchen and as Jean gave Eddie his breakfast, I sat with them eating a bagel, chatting away until I felt another spasm. And a few minutes later, another.


For two days, I couldn't reach him.

Jean told me to lie down, and she said she would take Eddie to her house for a few hours. I walked with them to the front door and stood inside the screen door as Jean carried Eddie out to the front porch, down the stairs and buckled him into his stroller. As she unlocked the wheels and was about to leave, I kept trying to say goodbye to Eddie, calling his name and waving, but he wouldn’t even look at me. As she pushed the stroller down the street, Eddie stared straight ahead.

My husband, Bruce, came home from work early, and I remained in bed for about 48 hours, first upstairs in our bedroom and then downstairs on the futon couch, which had been opened up so I could be in the living room with Eddie. By the third morning, I was aching to hold him, but I didn’t think I could handle the weight. I still couldn’t stand up straight, and I continued to have pangs of pain if I turned or leaned the wrong way. I asked Bruce to put Eddie on the futon bed so I could have him near me. He placed the child on the far end of the bed and went into the kitchen to wash dishes. Eddie remained in the farthest corner, playing with a plastic cup holder from his old bottle warmer, despite my calling his name and beckoning him to come over. After a few minutes, he got bored and tried to get down from the futon but chose to do it on the side where the bed meets the wall and got stuck between the two. By the time Bruce heard me calling him for help, Eddie was crying.

“He’s stuck,” I said, stating the obvious.


Seconds before he got stuck.

Bruce lifted Eddie up and placed him back on the futon and began undressing him for his bath. I started to tell Bruce how an interesting phenomenon had occurred with my back in that in my attempts to avoid pain in one spot, I’d inadvertently pulled muscles and tendons all over my back, effectively distributing the pain everywhere like dots in a Seurat painting. Bruce’s response was, “He’s trying to touch his penis.”


“He’s trying to touch his penis. He can’t get to it all day because he’s in a diaper,” he said.

“Did you even hear what I said?” I asked. “I feel like I’ve been trying to talk to you all morning, but when you were in the kitchen, you couldn’t hear me because the music was on, and then the water was running, and now you’re in here, and I’m talking to you, and you’re not even listening.”

If I could sum up most of the fights in our relationship, they would sound like this: “You’re not listening to me!” And then I stomp my foot on the ground, like a petulant child. At least that’s how Bruce sees it. Me, I believe I’m a scintillating conversationalist with keen insights whose brilliance is wasted on a man who doesn’t hear me because his head is often somewhere else, and his ears seem to follow. But having been in pain for two days, and feeling frustrated and sorry for myself, instead of stopping there, I got madder.

“I hate you. You make me unhappy. You make me unhappy for him.”

But my anger was less about Bruce and more about feeling like in the last 48 hours, I had lost Eddie. I’d worked so hard from the moment he was born to entertain him and love him, and wrestle him away from my husband, to whom he seemed so naturally inclined. And after months and months of singing to him, doing vaudeville in front of his crib when he first woke up, playing games with him on the floor during the day, bringing him to the beach, reading to him, buying him soft toys, serenading him with my guitar, I indeed did win his affections. While his first words were “Da! Da!” he soon started saying, “Mumm. Mumm,” and he’s been saying it ever since. And yet in two days, I had lost all of that. There’s an accounting term called Goodwill, which is the value of a business not directly attributable to its assets and liabilities. It refers to things like reputation, the cache of its name, like Bloomingdale’s or Godiva. In 48 hours, I had lost all of the goodwill I had built up with Eddie, like what happened to BP after the oil spill. I thought of a man on my writers’ forum, who, for years, was enormously helpful to everyone when it came to computer-related matters, but one afternoon, as a silly prank, he sent people to a web site that was meant to be funny, but it wound up crashing a lot of peoples’ computers temporarily, and they got really mad. In seconds, he wiped away years of goodwill – poof! — and was nearly blacklisted from the writers’ forum.

Ironically, as my back mended over the next few days, it was not Bruce or the babysitter who took care of Eddie but my mother, who was in town from her home in Florida for a few days. She lifted Eddie out of his crib and would put him in his high chair when it was time to eat. She put him up on the diaper table and got him out of the car seat when we returned from a trip to the supermarket. She was happy to be there for him because living in Florida, she fears she’s missing his formative years.

“Do you think he’ll even remember me? He’s not even going to know who I am,” she said the day she arrived. And as she left, she said, “I hope he remembers me til the next time I see him.”

It seems back pain isn’t the only thing I inherited from my mother. There’s the constant profound fear of being forgotten.

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They say acupuncture increases the efficacy of IVF by 65%. But I’ve gone to my acupuncturist’s office so many times since my egg transfer, you’d think it was a methadone clinic. I’m counting on the idea that there’s no such thing as “too much” when it comes to acupuncture. Still, I hear an old woman’s voice in my head saying, “Stop playing with it so much. You’ll break it.”

This morning, as my acupuncturist took my pulse, I stared intently at the side of his head, looking for some sign, any sign, that I was pregnant. I had no symptoms at all. I wondered if he could hear something in the pulse, maybe even the baby’s heartbeat.  He looked up at me startled, like one might be if they were sleeping and woke up to find someone leaning over them, staring.

“Same as last time,” he said.

“But did I sound pregnant last time?” I asked.

“Could be,” he said.

He went on to tell me about a woman who felt signs of pregnancy – sore breasts, dizziness, fatigue – and then after a few days, all the signs went away. She feared she wasn’t pregnant. And then the night before her pregnancy test, she started spotting, and she had an incredible craving for broccoli, the same craving she’d had in her prior two pregnancies. Now, on top of not feeling queasy or having sore breasts, I wonder why I don’t want broccoli.

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My friend Debbie emailed today. Cornell found her a donor, too. And Debbie’s is also a dancer. This can mean only one of three things. 1) Cornell only has one very tired donor. 2) The donor egg nurses were lying around last night with a bottle of wine, fabricating a dossier for Debbie’s donor, and they were too drunk to remember they’d already used the occupation “dancer” when they’d fabricated a dossier for mine. 3) Cornell is selling Debbie some of my frozen embryos.

I find the last option the most offensive — not because that means she’d be carrying my husband’s child but because we’re not going to get a cut.

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Went out to dinner with Trish, who has a friend undergoing IVF. She said the friend was supposed to have received the results of her pregnancy test today but that she hadn’t heard from her. Not a good sign, Trish said. I feel like a cow on line for the slaughterhouse, and I can hear the screams of those who’ve already entered he building.

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Perhaps I do have parental instincts. I noticed a mosquito bite on my arm had blown up into a welt. Ordinarily, I would have thought, “Oh, no. It’s cancer.” This morning, I thought, “Oh, geez. I hope I didn’t give the baby cancer.”

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A man moved away from me on the train today. He was sitting next to me and then suddenly, he turned his whole body in the opposite direction. And then as if to punctuate the gesture, he slid over the little tackle box he had on the floor in front of him. I wondered if he was put off by the bandage on my arm. I was at  Cornell this morning for my bi-weekly blood test. Maybe he saw the bandage and for some reason thought I was a drug addict. I tend to leave the bandage on several hours longer than I have to. It makes me feel special, like I’ve been through something terrible, and here I am, plowing ahead with my life, brave face and all that.  I get queasy at the sight of my own blood, but I’m sentimental about the byproducts of my medical procedures. I had open heart surgery when I was 11, to repair a small hole in the wall between the upper chambers of my heart, and somewhere in the far reaches of one of my closets is an envelope that contains the green cap from that surgery, a card from my hospital roommate Stacey Stoddart, and the gauze and snipped sutures from my incision.

I looked over at the man to get a better look at him. As I turned toward him, I glanced down at my bandage and was horrified to see it was covered in blood. I must not have put pressure on it long enough. The blood had stained all the way through. I looked like a hemophiliac. I felt like a leper. I wished I had a sign that said, “”This is from a blood test. And I have nothing you can catch,” the way Canadians wear their national flags on the back of their knapsacks so no one will think they’re American. But then I thought, what the heck? I could have been in trouble here, bleeding to death, and this guy’s first response was not to help but to run.

I glanced down at his tackle box and noticed several of the compartments were filled with multi-colored pushy-pins, like one might use on a bulletin board. Oh, boy, I thought, you must be very, very important. What are you, head of the Department of Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey? No, wait. I know. You’re trying to get back on your feet after having been laid off three times, and unable to afford high-tech software, you figured nothing says Power Point presentation like a box of pushy pins. Oh, no, I’ve got it. Your wife walked out on you for being such a wuss, and she took your son with her, and the only thing she left behind was a map dotted with hundreds of pushy pins and a note that said, “We’ll be moving here.”

I then sat back in my seat, content I had wounded him as he had wounded me.

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I don’t know what’s more exhausting: negotiating two contradictory thoughts trying to occupy the same space  — I am so pregnant; I am so not pregnant — or orbiting that space endlessly for five solid days. I’m like a yellow jacket with orange soda. I go here and there, visit friends, live my life, and within seconds, I’m back buzzing around that can of soda.

The brain of a yellow jacket is equal to that of a woman undergoing IVF

The only peace I got today was lying on the acupuncturist’s table. I was relaxed, thinking about the soup place across the street and how I hoped they would finally return to the regular miso soup and get rid of that dreadful looking seafood miso they’ve had lately, and I remembered how when I was there the other day, I watched one of the chefs scoop out half a dozen dumplings from a pot of steaming water with an elongated strainer. There was a pile of fleshy, rubbery dumplings in the strainer, and he kept tapping it against the edge of the pot, trying to shake the excess water off. The next thing I knew, I was picturing someone scooping the twins out of my uterus with an elongated strainer, flipping them up and down in the metal cage to get out the excess water.

That was the last thought I had before my acupuncturist’s wife flipped the light on and said, “Hi, Ca-ren. How you fee-ling,” in that sing-song way she always says it just before she starts removing the needles and dropping them in the little bucket. She hadn’t even gotten to the last needle when I was already back buzzing around the orange soda.

Truth be told, I’ve always obsessed about things, from turning in a bad story to wondering why a friend failed to answer an email. I had a therapist who called it “ruminating,” no doubt on the list of character traits of the mentally ill. The only way I know to shut it off, short of a baseball bat to the head, is drugs and alcohol, and right now, both are verboten. There’s a part of me that hopes I’m not pregnant so I can get back to my vodka martinis. The prospect of going nine months without alcohol must be how a new marathoner feels at the start of a race. How am I going to make it through Father’s Day with Bruce’s family, or Joshua’s bar mitzvah, the writer’s conference, the pig roast in July, Kathy’s 50th birthday with all of Bruce’s college friends, let alone my work day tomorrow. I love vodka. I miss it terribly.

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magnolia in full bloom

The magnolia tree outside my window has several buds that look like they’re about to bloom. It doesn’t look right. The tree already flowered in the Spring. I wondered what happens to a tree that blooms out of season.

Last night, my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate a victory he’d had at work. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I looked in the ladies’ room mirror, I noticed how yellow my teeth had gotten. I thought, my child will only know my teeth as yellow. He’ll never know I once had white teeth, and dark brown hair — without gray streaks — and boobs that stood upright. He’ll point to my face and say, “Mommy, what’s that?” as he stares at the brown age spot that’s developed in front of my right ear. And I’ll think, this is what happens when you bloom out of season.

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I think I caught a glimpse of my donor. I can’t be sure. It’s an anonymous process, and they go to great lengths at Cornell to make sure the donor and the recipient don’t meet. But they had me go in for bloodwork and ultrasound very early one Saturday, the day before the donor’s eggs were retrieved, and there was only one other woman getting bloodwork that day, and I know she was a donor because the blood nurse asked her if she’d just had her trigger shot. She said yes. In fact the nurse asked me if I’d had my trigger shot, which was disconcerting. The shot — an injection of the hormon hCG  — triggers the eggs or oocytes to go through the last stage of maturation, before they can be retrieved. Egg recipients, like me, don’t get this trigger shot. Egg donors get the shot. It’s always frightening to be reminded how little the medical community knows us, and that the only thing keeping doctors from amputating the wrong leg is the big “X” they’ve spray-painted on the target limb.

I told my friend, Trish, that I thought I saw my donor but that I wasn’t certain.

“And then you looked down and saw she was wearing ballet slippers,” Trish said.

I hope it wasn’t her. She looked nothing like me.

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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.

My Beautiful Blastocysts

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?”

Transfer Day Roses

“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.

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