It’s time for our IVF orientation. I guess I was expecting a small group, maybe some stray ladies and me and Dashiell, all seated in, like, a conference room with the shades drawn. I imagined being very bored. I did not imagine being greeted by wide tables laden with snacks.
YES! Of course there are snacks! When you spend a bunch of money somewhere, they feed you! Coffee or tea at a hair salon, champagne at the diamond counter, and a spread of cheese, fruit and bottled water at the fertility clinic. I pile my plate high, with that desperate feeling I get when I’m around free things surging through me.
A smiling woman approaches as I build a massive cheese and fruit pyramid onto my plate. She hands us a bound handbook titled "IVF Orientation" that is stuffed with additional handouts inside.
“Thanks!” I try to collect myself. That little part of me that always feels like it never belongs anywhere thinks that maybe they’ll think I’m just an IVF orientation crasher, here to scam some food. Do I look like I person who can afford this?
Clearly this isn’t a dull meeting in a cramped conference room.
It’s a nominally catered event held in a theater. Trying not to lose any grapes from my plate, I follow Dashiell into the venue.
Immediately I see a lez couple, and they see me, and we exchange a really cute "Hey, we’re lesbians having test tube babies" kind of smile of camaraderie. I think they look familiar, but it’s probably that they just look like lesbians. We hike up to the back and take our seats. I can’t wait to show Dashiell the lesbians.
“Dashiell, there are lesbians!” I hiss. ”Did you see them?”
“Um, those ones right there?” She hisses in an even smaller, hissy voice, pointing to the seats directly in front of me. We are facing the back of a short, butch haircut seated beside the back of a longer, femme hairdo pinned up in the back with a claw.
WOW, I mouth silently, then whisper, “We are everywhere!” I point down to the dykes in the front that I smiled at. “No, them, look at them.” I then realize that one of them attends the same self-help society that I do. That’s where I’ve seen them! Double awesome.
As I’m staring at them, another visible lesbian takes a seat right behind them, transforming the single lady that had been sitting there from an invisible femme to a raging gay. The orientation is shaping up nicely.
Actually, though, the percentage is pretty small. Once the thrill of queer-spotting fades, I realize there are three of us homo couples in a vast sea of straights. Once again I’m surprised by the straight face of the fertility industry.
The orientation has the form of a lecture, and tonight’s will be delivered by a Dr. Murakami and –- Dr. Waller! Yes! Me and Dashiell look at each other and smile proudly. There are probably about 12 doctors working the clinic, so it feels special that ours is one of the ones delivering the information tonight.
Dr. Murakami is up first. He is in hardcore teacher mode, and is immediately disappointed with us all for not participating. I remember this is a teaching hospital, and he probably stands there a few times a week addressing eager students antsy to out-smart one another and impress their teacher. Not this crowd.
This crowd is a bunch of middle-aged heterosexuals tired from their 8 hours at the J.O.B., a little exhausted by their pregnancy fails, a little scared and nervous and hopeful and overwhelmed by what they are about to step into. No one is optimistically raising their hands to answer Dr. Murikami’s questions.
The doctor maybe catches on a bit, and brings up some of the issues we might be collectively having.
“This can be a very stressful time between partners, and also friends and family. There are feelings of depression and anxiety.”
He clicks the clicker in his hand, and a picture of the infernal in-house psychologist we will have to have a dumb session with pops onto the screen behind him. She has mad curly hair and plum lipstick. She looks a little eccentric. Maybe it won’t be too bad, but I still resent it.
“There is a high risk of loss of pregnancy in the population we serve,” Dr. Murikami explores the myriad of reasons we all feel so bummed out. He then moves quickly forward to the science, the nuts and bolts of what will happen to our bodies.
Dashiell and I are already pretty well versed in this thanks to our meeting with Dr. Rosen, but it is amusing to hear Dr. Murikami explain it all via a surfing metaphor.
“Do any of you surf?” he excitedly queries the crowd. We look back at him blankly.
“No? Maybe? OK. Think of Mavericks, the big surfer contest. Think of all the eggs in the ovaries as surfers. They are waiting to catch the big wave. Only one surfer can catch that big wave! When one surfer catches the wave, the other surfers are eliminated. With IVF, all the surfers catch the wave!”
Previous to the surfer metaphor I had been trying to refrain from psychotic note taking for this here blog. I was trying to be present, with Dashiell, holding her hand. Sort of cuddling into each other. But I had to get this down. I let go and furiously scribbled the surfing metaphor onto my napkin.
There is a lot of talk about how the doctors will "rescue" the eggs via the medicines and procedures. Eggs that would have otherwise died, right, so I suppose they are being "rescued," but it is an interesting word. The eggs aren’t really being rescued because they are not meant to survive, so the language makes the doctors sound sort of benevolent and heroic, rather than like subverters of the natural rhythms of the female body. And also, what tends to get rescued in our culture? Female bodies. Hmmmmm.
A picture of an egg gets flashed onto the screen. It’s actually beautiful. It looks like a flower, or a sunburst. It just radiates positivity. The egg is in the center of a web of cells Dr. Murikami likens to worker bees, with the egg as the queen. The cells feed the egg, and they also catch and trap any sperm, keeping it close to the egg.
“Out of 10 eggs, one will fertilize,” he shares the sort of grim statistic. He pulls a green laser pointer out of his lab coat pocket, and shines it onto a new slide, one of a fertilized egg. It looks like a meringue. “If we weren’t concerned about risk, we’d be putting 10 embryos in all of you!” he chuckles.
The doctors fertilize the eggs and then watch them for six days, making sure they develop nicely. The embryo is coolest-looking at three days, a symmetric group of bubbles layered upon one another. Whichever one looks best by day five gets implanted (I think this is correct). By day six, the embryo has split into what looks like two distinct cells.
“It’s up to the embryos to implant,” Dr. Murikami says. I doodle on my napkin, "You can lead an embryo to the uterus but you can’t make it implant." You really can’t! In fact, some embryos just keep drifting along, right back up the fallopian tubes and, whammo, you got yourself an ectopic pregnancy. Even a natural fertilization process can lead to such a situation, but the risk is higher with IVF.
“The embryo gets lost and doesn’t know how to get back to the uterus,” he says. For this reason, women getting IVF have to stay close to home at the start of the procedure. Your tubes could rupture, and it could rupture on an airplane, like the one women who Dr. Murikami uses as an example. “She had to have emergency surgery to save her life.”
Dr. Murikami pulls up a slide of percentages. The age of the egg will determine the likelihood of a successful IVF. Dashiell is in the top percentage -- "Below 34." She’s lumped in there with freaking 16-year olds! Yeah! I feel so grateful, and also burning with urgency. She’ll turn 33 next month. This year is IT.
The power point presentation flips to a new slide, illustrated with a snowman. “We have a big problem with orphan embryos,” Dr. Murikami says. Orphan embryos!
"They are embryos that have been abandoned by the parents.” Again, with the language. Why does everything sound so sort of fairy-tale? I imagine the abandoned embryos hiking through the frozen freezer, searching for a womb, meeting some magical creatures along the way –- a talking speculum, a nervous needle?
“We do not know what to do with these embryos,” he shrugs. “Once they’re stored, they can outlive you. It is why we are now so anal about making you consent to what you will do with the embryos.”
Not to sound like a fucking Christian or anything, but -– what if "life" does "begin" at conception?! I mean, as far as abortion goes, I’m okay with snuffing out that life at that stage. That possibility doesn’t interfere with my feelings about abortion. But the thought of there being some sort of weird life eternally frozen like that? Creepy! We have to make sure to destroy all our embryos once we have the baby! Sorry, kids!