There’s an app called Timehop that I love. It takes you on a daily trip down memory lane, showing you photos and videos ‘on this day’ style. With the sheer amount of photos and videos on our phones it’s easy for things to get lost in a sea of forgotten moments, so I love this app and particularly love looking at the boys from when they were tiny.
One of the photos this week was ‘on this day’ three years ago. In it, Gavin is wearing scrubs and a cap and looks like a doctor – although we were both highly amused at this and never understood why they made a bald man wear a hair net instead of a mask of some sort as all his hair is in the form of a beard on his face..! I’m wearing a hospital gown and hair cap and we’re smiling to the camera. Nervous and excited.
Looking at the photo brings it all back, the feelings of that morning. It’s the day of our third Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) in 2016 – our second attempt at a brother or sister for Embryo One, then 18 months old and more commonly known as Rian! Granted, it wasn’t as scary as the first one was, with everything to win but everything to lose as well. It cushioned it slightly to know that whatever happened, we have one absolutely amazing child already thanks to the treatment. But only slightly. The fear is still there.
I could understand how some might look at the photo and see how unromantic the process seems, this way of creating a life – cold, clinical, scientific. When we ask our parents as children, ‘where did I come from?’ they’ll usually say things like, ‘you were made from love… ‘ and hope that holds off more complicated questions about the process..! But, somehow, being told ‘you were made in a lab’ might not have the same warmth to it.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
I sometimes get asked why I still write about IVF and fertility. Shouldn’t I have moved on by now? I have two children now, shouldn’t it all be in the past? The answer is, IVF isn’t just a process you go through and then move on from. For me it certainly isn’t anyway. I look at photos of the time from when we did treatment, or hear songs that were on the radio at the time, and they just remind me that I still remember and feel all the same feelings. I won’t be able to forget it or move on, because it’s just part of who I am now.
And of course it’s physically, emotionally and mentally hard to go through, that’s no secret. But honestly, there are some good things about it.
When you do the treatment you get a very special glimpse into a world of magic. Science too of course, but lots of magic. The science only takes the process so far, the rest is down to whatever you happen to believe in. I became fascinated with it all, the processes, the science, the things they can do and see.
When you do IVF, and all going well, you meet your babies right from the word Go. For us, we got seven embryos from one round of IVF in 2013. We had to freeze them all straight away – usually with a round of IVF a fresh transfer of the embryo is done to the womb. It was outside our control, however I welcomed the wait, it’s a lot to take in and your body and mind take a significant whack of things happening to them in the space of a few weeks. We saw images of the eggs becoming fertilised.. anyone old enough to remember the ‘Look Who’s Talking’ movies will remember the opening credits where the child is conceived. It’s like that! You see the sperm bouncing off the outside of the egg, then one makes his way in, and boom! An embryo, just like that. A new life beginning right in front of your eyes.
I’m simplifying it now of course, but I don’t mean to sound too flippant about it. It’s highly nerve wrecking at the time, hoping day to day that things go to plan. This is where the science fades a bit – you have to hope nature takes its course for most of what happens around this part of the cycle. But there we were, with seven little embryos. How amazing to see your own children being conceived?
Back to the day of the transfers. You have to prep your body in advance, you take hormones to help your womb be at its best before they put the embryo back, you need a good thick lining that the embryo can implant into and hopefully stick around in. It’s no a barrel of laughs, but nowhere near as invasive as the prep for IVF itself.
And that brings me back to the photo. We arrived at the clinic knowing that our waiting embryo had been defrosted nicely (there’s a small risk of this not happening), and I wondered about which embryo they chose that morning to defrost and why. Who could it turn into?
I think about them. I think of them as pre-babies. Really, they’re a collection of cells, but that term just doesn’t justify it enough for me.
‘Where did we come from Mam?’ a question I anticipate. ‘From a lab’.
But so much more than that. It’s not cold and clinical, it’s more than scientific. IVF is a fight, from start to finish, and no fight can ever take place without a passion. You were made in a lab, created through a passion that was born from…
The photo was taken on March 3rd 2016. We arrived at the clinic, changed into the gowns, laughed at Gavin’s hair net which he placed over his bald head, and were escorted to the theatre room. A large screen on the wall suddenly came to life, and there, a live feed from the lab microscope, was Embryo Number Three as we knew him then. We hoped, and wished and off we went home to wait for two torturous weeks to find out if it would all be worth it.
Nine months later, we saw them again. Ten fingers, ten toes, ten billion cells and wishes and hopes, all gathered together in one little bundle no longer Embryo One or Embryo Three, but Rian & Alex.