I’ve written previously about the magical experience that led to our beautiful boy Remy who we conceived via IVF. Three Christmases ago though, there was another little cluster of cells that I was nurturing and protecting. This time of year will forever remind me of our little embaby that couldn't.
This time of year is magical. If I had to pick my favourite things about my husband (of which there are many) high up on the list is his love of all things festive. When I was a kid I would listen to Johnny Farnham’s Christmas songs on repeat from October onwards, driving my family nuts. So imagine my delight to find that my man loves Christmas as much as I do and will put up with all the Christmas Cheer I can throw at him.
We eloped in October of 2015 in San Francisco and soon after arriving home we commenced IVF. We knew that we would need to do IVF with ICSI because my husband had a vasectomy whilst in his previous relationship. I was going for scans and injecting hormones to grow follicles in the morning before work, step-mummin at home, organising our ‘we got married’ party in all my spare time and absolutely killing it at work.
My first egg retrieval resulted in 13 mature eggs, two of which made it to day five (blastocyst). The embryo transfer went well and we entered the dreaded two week wait. I actually got the call to say we were successfully pregnant while I was in a two day long Executive meeting. To say that my attention to the presentation on population data was limited is an understatement, I was grinning from ear to ear. We were the lucky ones! Pregnant on the first try, with one embryo in the freezer, we were an instant IVF success story, ready to welcome our baby in August 2016.
We went along in our happy little bubble and celebrated our marriage with our family and friends. My husband would have absolutely hated a wedding. Having all eyes on him is his own personal version of hell. But I convinced him that a casual party at our local community centre our “We got married” party was the way to go. We held it on Christmas Eve, a time when my family who are mostly from country WA were more likely to be in the city anyway and a way of catching up with all our nearest and dearest for Christmas too. It was a great day. Far cheaper than a wedding and we were able to invite all the extended family and friends we wanted without the fuss of a wedding. I had giant games for the kids, a contest of backyard cricket on the oval, my own spotify playlist (cos you know I rock a playlist) for the occasion, a food van with amazing tapas and custom ice pops to be served given the summer heat.
I cradled my growing boobs and belly – unable to find a dress that fit until the weekend before the party. But I didn’t care. Bloated from the hormones. Tired from working my ass off all year in the most demanding job I had ever done. I didn’t care. I was crazy happy married to the love of my life, pregnant with our little bean. I was floating.
We don't have any pictures of our first little embryo. Even though my poor husband is actually sick with gastro (I thought he was just anxious about the party woops), these pictures are the closest thing we have. They don’t give you ultrasound pictures of babies that they can’t find the heartbeat. In the shock of what had just happened I didn't think to ask. In these pictures I'll always remember that baby we didn't get to bring home, but was part of our little family for a while.
I was six weeks pregnant at the party, so we hadn’t told anyone. Christmas came and went and we prepared for our first ultrasound just before seven weeks. The warm goop was slathered on my belly, we held each others hand excited to see our baby for the first time. There was the sack, and the little fetal pole, the yolk sac. I was excited, but the mood in the room had shifted. The technician excused herself to go get a second opinion. Silence again. They told us they couldn’t find the heartbeat, but quickly followed that it was possible it was too early and for us to come back in a week. We steeled ourselves.
Was it something I did? Had I had gastro too and not shown any symptoms except that it killed my baby? Perhaps I’d just worked too hard, been too stressed, not drank enough water, drank too much coffee? Perhaps it would be ok.
My husband must have told me a million times in that week that it would be ok, it was just too early. I googled obsessively... It was not too early. We had done IVF and so our dates were not uncertain like they might be in another pregnancy.
On the outside there was no indication that anything was wrong. But at some point in that excruciating seven days waiting, I knew. My boobs were no longer sore. The heaviness in my pelvis was gone. I held it together all week. Refusing to let the thoughts in. The New Year rolled around in a blur. But eventually the day came. The second ultrasound confirmed my suspicions and once out of the facility and around the corner, on the side of a busy highway I fell into my husband's arms and ugly cried.
I didn’t miscarry naturally, so a few days later I was booked for a D&C. We had told no-one. It was our week to have my step-kids and so my husband dropped me at the hospital and waited with me as long as he could before leaving to pick them up. I spent what felt like a lifetime, but probably a few hours, alone and waiting to have the little life I already loved so much surgically removed from me. Once they wheeled me around into the preparation area I couldn't control the silent rolling tears. A lovely nurse sat with me for a while, not saying anything just holding my hand gently. I am so grateful to her for that.
Once in the operating room we waited for my fertility specialist to arrive. A big, loud, somewhat intimidating man, he burst through the doors and grabbed my file.
As he approached the bed as they started to put me under he gently wiggled my toes through the blanket, looked me directly in the eyes and told me "Well this is shit. We are going to work it out," and I was out.
The testing showed that our embryo had a rare chromosomal abnormality. It had 92xxyy chromosomes, tetraploidy.
In our follow up appointment he told us that long before it was transferred back to my body the cells hadn't split correctly and instead of only choosing half of my chromosomes and half my husband's, it retained them all. It wasn't a genetic flaw, just a fluke random occurrence. It was not a girl or boy, it didn't get that far. In a lot of ways I think not being able to call our baby a little boy or girl helped me heal in some ways. Knowing there was nothing we could do also helped. The doctor said it was just "nature being a shit." He delivered our beautiful bub Remy the following year.
The embryo we froze from our first cycle is still in the deep freeze. We decided that while we were able financially, emotionally and physically to continue with a fresh round of IVF we would do that. The next round didn’t work at all. We had one embryo to transfer but even that didn't stick. I was starting to worry - how long could we keep this up? When would I say enough is enough? For all the ladies out there trying to conceive, it only takes one. The next round we had only one viable embryo and that one is our beautiful bouncy boy.
If you believe that everything happens for a reason, then perhaps if that embryo hadn't been the chosen one that transfer day, then we wouldn't have our perfect little boy Remy just as he is...
All photos in this post by Natalija Brunovs of We are all Stardust
(Formerly I Heart Weddings)