My boyfriend, Tom, and I had been dating a few months and always had a great time together, cooking, walking and laughing. We tried a different Brooklyn pizzaria every week, and made the best grilled cheese sandwiches and sweet potato fries together. But during our camping trip with his friends, something felt off. I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
The day after we returned, Tom asked to talk to me.
"I don't know how to tell you this."
"What?" Uh oh. The uneasy feeling in my stomach deepened to dread and then panic.
"I think you are great. But I need to end this."
"I can't really explain it. There's nothing wrong with you. Everything is great with you. But I just can't do this."
"I don't understand, " I answered angrily.
"I don't really understand it either. But I know I've never wanted to be friends with an ex before but I really want to stay friends with you."
"Gee, thanks," I said bitterly. "I already have a lot of friends."
I was furious. Why would a person break up with another person if she was so great? Clearly he was lying. Asshole.
The morning after our breakup, I woke up and suddenly knew, with great clarity, that I was done putting my life on hold. For anyone. Or the lack of someone. I would make my own dreams come true. I didn't need anyone else anymore.
I felt oddly liberated. And a lot less angry. Dating in NYC at 35 had been a disaster. It was like I had a flashing neon sign above my head saying, "warning: biological clock is ticking." Men my age were dating much younger women. There was a much smaller pool of educated men than women. It felt like an impossible game.
I was done playing games. I was taking my own life into control.
A few months later, Tom agreed to my request to have a follow-up conversation. He explained there was nothing I had done wrong, he could just sense that I had been looking towards the future and that we wanted different things. I felt a strange relief and grattitude.
There was nothing wrong with me. We just had different paths. My bitterness was gone.
A weight was lifted from my shoulders. And the truth was, he was right. I did want more. He had understood me more than I had realized, more than I had understood myself. He had set me free.
That day after the break up, I thought was going to buy an apartment for myself in New York City. Choosing what I wanted, without regard to anyone else's preferences. I looked at a few places, but after three weeks, I knew what I really wanted was not to buy an apartment. It was to have a family. On my own.
Tom had set me free to pursue my wildest dream. But in truth, it wasn't really a new dream.
At age twenty-five, I had stumbled upon Jane Mattes' seminal book, Single Mothers by Choice, in a bookstore and bought it, despite the hefty price tag and my relative poverty. I devoured the book and then put the idea on back burner, because I entered a five-year relationship shortly thereafter. When that relationship ended, I spent several years actively dating, hoping to find a lifelong partner, but each time a relationship ended, my brain immediately reverted back to Plan B: to have a baby on my own.
So this break-up with Tom wasn't so different. It's just that this time, there was no reverting back to Plan A. I was done with dating and ready to make my dream a reality.
I restrained my normally enthusiastic nature and committed to waiting until the following February to actually start conceiving a baby. Just to make sure I wasn't rushing this decision.
While I waited, I started seeing a therapist, just to "clear the decks," mentally, and make sure I was in the best possible emotional state for making this decision. I agreed to let a former subletter share my apartment during the day while I was at work, as a way to save money. And I started charting my fertility signs each day.
A few months later, I first visited my wonderful fertility doctor, Dr. Trivax. I thought it would be a good experiment, to see how I felt going to a fertility doctor, and was relieved to find that I felt nothing but joyous excitement at beginning the process.
Dr. Trivax diagnosed with PCOS, a common hormonal imbalance that was preventing me from ovulating, and started started me on a medication to try to regulate my hormones. That February, I took my first fertility medication, Clomid, and had my first attempt, turkey-baster style, at getting pregnant, with the help of a donor. I was so sure it was going to work... and was amazed at how disappointed I was when it did not.
I did three more cycles with Clomid and then one with injected fertility medications. Each one failed.
I thought I was prepared for failure, having told myself that it can take a heterosexual couple twelve months of attempts through intercourse before medical intervention is typically called for. But it was hard not to be disappointed. And the side effects of the fertility medications, especially the injectible ones, were intense. Lots of mood swings. I was sad a lot.
After the fifth failed cycle, I told Dr. Trivax, "that's it. If I am going to have all these side effects anyway, I want to increase my odds and move to IVF."
He agreed and in October, I started injecting myself with multiple medications a day. Each day, I went to the doctor's office before work for blood tests and ultrasound exams. I felt like a big science experiment but all those needles and medicines were worth it if it meant achieving my goal. The hope was that I would produce 10-20 eggs that would be surgically removed and artificially inseminated with the goal of later returning one or two healthy five-day-old embryos to my uterus.
Well, due to my PCOS, my body outdid itself. Dr. Trivax harvested not 10-20 eggs, but fifty-two eggs. The nurse told me afterwards that this was their second highest retrieval ever.
That sounded like a thing to be proud of but it had a big downside. I woke up a few days later in excruciating pain and profoundly dizzy. My abdomen was swollen and tight as a drum. I crawled to the phone and called my doctor's office and was instructed to come in immediately.
Luckily, my friend Jessica was staying with me, because I was so dizzy I could barely walk. She called a taxi and I somehow made my way downstairs with her help. She sat in the front seat of the taxi so I could lie down in back. We made it upstairs to the doctor's office and I bypassed the triage area and walked straight to the back, teling the nurses I had to lie down immediately.
They put me in an extra exam room and exchanged worried glances as they checked my blood pressure. It was abnormally low, which explained my profound dizziness. I was clammy and sweaty, groaning in pain from time to time. When they needed me to sit up, I had to lean against one of them for fear of passing out. The pain felt like the worst constipation of my life but I didn't have to go to the bathroom. It was my baseball-size ovaries pressing down on my lower abdomen. They gave me Tylenol, the strongest medication they had, but it did nothing. I tried using the bathroom but that didn't help and in the bathroom, I got so dizzy and boiling hot -- instantly drenching my clothes in sweat -- that I had to lie down on the bathroom floor.
The nurses brought me a rolling desk chair and helped me get back to my exam room. Hours had passed by this point, all the other patients had left, and they were ready to leave. The doctor in the office that day was not my own and seemed reluctant to get involved. So the nurses asked me what I thought should happen and I smiled weakly, because it seemed so obvious, as I said,
"You have to call me an ambulance. You can't send me home like this." Finally, my nurse practitioner background had come in handy in my fertility journey: you have to call an ambulance if your patient can't walk. Of course.
The ambulance was duly summoned. The EMTs seemed embarrassed that I was only partially dressed -- it hurt too much to have anything touching my belly -- but I couldn't have cared less. Just moving onto their gurney hurt. Riding over potholes on an ambulance gurney was excruciating. Worst of all was being forced to wait hours in the emergency room for pain medication and a room upstairs, despite the fact that my doctor had sent orders for to get me admitted and to start pain medication immediately. When the nurse -- who appeared unbelievably cruel to me as she casually strolled around the emergency room eating a sandwich and chatting with friends while I writhed in pain, my medication waiting -- finally brought me a pain pill to swallow, I promptly vomitted it back up. My body was so maxxed out on pain that I couldn't tolerate even a pill in my digestive tract.
Finally I was transferred to a room upstairs and given a comfortable bed and adequate pain medication through an IV. The residents pumped me way too full of IV fluids and I swelled up even more, but I didn't care. I was just grateful to be out of pain. They gave me medication for dizziness, too, and it made me so sleepy I could barely pry open my eyes even when the doctors came to check on me.
Two days later, I was discharged, my belly so swollen I looked four months pregnant. I was sent home on bed rest. There was no way I could transfer an embyro back into my uterus at that point because becoming pregnant would have made me even more sick with the Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome than I already was, and it could have have been potentially life-threatening.
So I had to wait. Meanwhile, the embryology lab successfully inseminated 36 of the 52 eggs, and twelve 5-day-old embryos were successfully frozen. The IVF cycle, despite my illness, had been an amazing success. I was thrilled. All the trauma and lost time had been worth it.
Luckily, getting my period immediately reset my hormones. My belly shrank back to its normal size and I returned to work. And I had a big decision to make: how many embryos to transfer. Should I transfer two, increasing my odds of pregnancy and also increase the risk of twins, or play it safe with one?
I was embarrassed to admit that having twins sounded amazing to me. I thought I would like having two children, and had lived with twins in college and in San Francisco, always envying their special bond. As a former neonatal ICU nurse, I had taken care of up to four newborn babies at once. I figured that "just" two couldn't be that hard. I ultimately transferred two embryos. In hindsight, that was a mistake on my part. While twins are indeed magical, twin pregnancies are high-risk for both mother and children, and the impact of two simultaneous children on my finances, emotional health, and energy would have been intense.
Ten days after that transfer, in the upstairs bathroom of my cousin's house during a racuous family Thanksgiving celebration, I took a home pregnancy test. I was terrified. I couldn't bear another disappointment after all I had endured with the IVF procedure.