My previous two posts have been so damn heavy…
So I thought it would be nice to change gears and talk about… school. IVF school.
Preparing for the IVF process is overwhelming. Before ever entering a fertility clinic, months (or years) of trying to have a child to no avail leaves couples juggling the existential question of whether or not they will ever have a child. Then there’s the financial hurdle to confront: are they even in a position to pay for IVF? Then, once they decide to move forward, a couple is hit with an incredible amount of information. They’ve got multiple appointments a week (eventually every day), blood samples to give, medications to take, an egg retrieval, and the big one: shots (and in all fairness, almost all of the blood sample, medication, and shots burden falls on the woman). An IFV newbie knows only that there are a lot of shots, administered at home.
Fortunately for me and Melissa, our fertility clinic offered a class to help prepare us for this daunting process. What we didn’t realize, however, is that while a class is great for preparation, it’s sort of like peeking over a giant cliff before you dive into a huge lake below. You want to know what’s ahead to ease your stress, but looking ahead ends up doing the opposite; something that up to that point was theoretical is now laid out for you in material form.
As we’ve written before, the IVF process is one of isolation. A couple goes through it with only themselves, their doctor, and some nurses. But when we walked into IVF class we walked into the fertility clinic’s conference room with two other couples. One would think that finally sharing a room with fellow couples who know exactly what the others are going through would lead to a sort of kumbaya, coming-together moment, but nothing like that happens (at least, it didn’t for us). Every couple keeps to themselves. There is no handshake, no icebreakers, no “nice to meet you.” We all came in with our heads down, ready for business, avoiding eye contact.
It was as if we were each wary of invading what is a very private process for every couple involved. We all came into the class with baggage, and we knew every other person in the room had their own baggage but in a different way. Their story is unknown and known to us at the same time, and we avoided each other out of a sensitivity to the delicateness of everyone’s situation. Each infertility scenario is completely different. Statistics don’t mean anything, what happened to someone else doesn’t mean anything. To meet and bond with another couple means taking the risk of seeing their positive result when you could be stuck with a negative one. It’s as if we’re wary of sharing the luck, good or bad, we may be headed for.
The nurse handed out sample schedules, providing a sense of what the weeks of the IVF cycle would look like in terms of daily doctor's visits, medications, and injections. We were given what resembled an epipen and some hypodermic needles to look at and handle. Immediately, we were a little bugged out. The nurse explained that Melissa would need to give herself nightly shots and, eventually, I would have to get involved, administering a big fat needle, right to the ass cheek, every night for two weeks straight.
As the nurse explained things, I tuned in to my heartbeat. I could feel it gradually increase, both in speed and pressure, as the session went on. I caught myself sighing every few minutes, taking deeper and deeper breaths, and I realized I was simply trying to catch my breath, normalize my breathing, which had grown erratic from the stress. At moments in this infertility process I’ve had to stop and wonder, “Geez, we have a blog, I’m so stressed out, I’m irritable. I mean, it can’t really be this bad. We’re going through a thing. It’s months of our lives. It will be over at some point and life will go on. Am I just being over the top with this?” But as I sat there in the IVF class, and took stock about how, literally, each sentence the nurse spoke ratcheted up my stress level just a little bit, I realized that this is exactly what had been going on, day by day, since I got my first diagnosis from my urologist in September, and in actuality, even before that, as month after month went by with disappointing pregnancy test results for me and Melissa. I finally saw that this is what infertility is. It’s bad news, frustrations, questions; each drop is tiny, but tiny drop by tiny drop these stresses fill the well of your subconscious.
One poor guy in the class had a lot of questions, and each time he asked a question he was visibly more stressed out. His hands would go through his hair, he would take deep breaths, and his eyes would open wide in shock at each answer he got and each needle he saw. When the nurse got to the big needle he looked like he was going to puke. As I reflected on his visible stress, coupled with the stress I sensed in myself each time I sighed, I realized us guys were taking it, at least on the exterior, way worse than the women. The women are forced to carry the weight of the process in terms of shots, hormone changes, and bodily impact, but it seemed it was the guys who were visibly exuding fear.
The class ended much how it began: no goodbyes, no parting gestures of any kind. We all walked out of there slightly more prepared but even more nervous than before. In that moment I realized: we wouldn’t meet these people, we wouldn’t share our stories, and we wouldn’t leave on the same road. But the roads we set out on would be very similar, fraught with many of the same hurdles, the same fears, the same anxieties, and, we hoped, the same happy ending.