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I can not in good conscience recount our entire fertility journey with you here; not without figuring out how to condense almost a decade of frustration and folly into a single blog post. Suffice it to say, after what were already two long years of trying while pinpointing my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and infertility diagnoses, my husband Chris and I had our first appointment with a proper fertility clinic on November 15, 2015. Luckily, today may mark the end of our struggles to conceive.
We are incredibly fortunate to already be parents to a ridiculously sweet little girl whom we adopted when she was only two days old. Our Patricia Cloud Partlow will be four in a few weeks, and I'm hoping that she will still be close with her new sibling, despite the age gap. I don't anticipate that being a problem, because my little brother is four years younger than me, and we are insanely close. Cloud does have a sister who is one year older than her, who we are trying desperately to set up a meeting with, but that's another story.
Our current fertility clinic, Reproductive Specialists of the Carolinas, was founded by a Black female physician named Dr. Matrika Johnson, who we followed from a facility called REACH. One of the things that staved off our treatment for a few months, was that she herself had undergone IVF and took maternity leave to have her sweet baby girl. Of the many, many hiccups we had along the way, that was definitely worth the hold, and we are so happy for her. What's more, Dr. Johnson brought another clinician into her practice since her return, a fellow Black woman named Dr. Luwam Ghidei.
For a gross oversimplification that is bound to make Dr. Johnson cringe, there are essentially two major steps in an In-Vitro Fertilization cycle: egg retrieval and embryo implantation. After numerous blood draws, ultrasounds, pills, and daily shots in my stomach, I was ready for my egg retrieval surgery October 14, 2022. And it is actual surgery! They basically knock you out so they can stick a huge needle through your vaginal wall to pierce your ovaries multiple times so they can vacuum out each mature follicle.
Phase One down, my retrieval resulted in an astounding 26 eggs, the single ONE upside to having polycystic ovaries. Of those, 14 fertilized, 8 passed genetic testing, and 4 were ideally viable embryos. Dr. Johnson asked if we wanted to choose the baby’s sex, but Chris and I are both happy to leave that to chance. This shocked me a little, because with a wife, daughter, three female dogs, and his little sister living with us at the time, I thought for sure he would jump at the chance to have a little more testosterone in the house. The doctor said she would just select the absolute best looking one, and this is it:
After having another surgery to remove a polyp from my uterus on December 13, I headed back to the UK. I'd left my job in mid-November and had been stuck in America since early March due to immigration delays, but those are also both stories for another day. Chris, Cloud, and my sister-in-law Emma were able to visit me once in late September for about four weeks out of that nine month span. This is when Chris left a little bit of himself with the clinic. I find it so wild that I could essentially go through the process of making a baby with my husband even though he is over 4,000 miles away!
I spent a month back home in Ipswich at the start of 2023, but was anxious to get back to North Carolina to wrap Phase Two, the Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET). We didn’t want Cloud to miss any more daycare, and as a now-unemployed, self-proclaimed writer, we didn’t want to pay for two extra plane tickets, dog/house-sitting, and all that rigamarole, so I asked my brother-in-law Steven if he would like to come to America with me. CLICK HERE to read all about our adventures in getting to the Queen City, and to watch his entire two-week trip in under ten minutes.
Having begun the FET prep, these last few weeks have been all about tricking my body into laying down the best possible uterine lining and maintaining specific hormone levels for the optimal chances of the embryo making itself at home. I had to start by taking estrogen pills three times a day. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because this balanced out my PCOS or what, but I love taking Estradiol. I feel so much more 'normal' and feminine; my appetite regulates, brain fog goes away, the mental roadblocks to my motivation quell and it's easier to work out, my skin feels softer… it’s great, apart from all the crying.
There’s tons of that, and for absolutely no reason. I cried doing an Apple Fitness routine to Beyoncé songs. I cried during commercials on Nickelodeon; and not those famously sad Thai ones, like, for Polly Pockets and shit. I cried hearing about what should have been a funny story about a friend’s friend’s close call with a Malaysian stripper. I do not know this person, and they came through unscathed with both kidneys, but still. There were instant, profuse, visceral, bitter tears for a total non-event.
Now, imagine how deeply wrecked I feel over actual sad things. Presently, I’m seeing Alzheimer’s ravage what’s left of my step-mother Cookie’s mind, and watching my father navigate all that. A couple I’m very close with are splitting up. It was recently the one year anniversary of another dear friend's wife's sudden passing. I’m so so far away from my child. I tell you what; there is no way in hell I'm watching any more Last of Us for quite some time.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks into this, and Dr. Johnson added in a daily shot of even more hormones, yayyy. This is the part that’s always portrayed on television and films whenever IVF is depicted: the ass injections. Well, you may recall that I am here by myself. It’s not very easy to give yourself shots in your own butt cheeks, and so I chose to utilize the other approved intramuscular injection region, the fronts of the thighs.
Let me tell you a little about these shots. They are THICC! It’s progesterone suspended in freaking OIL so they have some real staying power in your muscle. The shot itself is a bitch, but the absolute worst part comes a few hours later when the entire area becomes an inflamed, crampy, knot of pain. This is how my thigh looked after the first one.
After a few days, THIS is how it felt. I literally could not walk, and it still hurts as I type this.
I haven’t had that degree of bruising since, but the pain compounded enough that I taught myself how to twist around in the mirror to stick those shots in my bootie meat, which has been painful, but at a much more tolerable level. So several more blood draws and ultrasounds later, and Dr. Johnson scheduled my FET for today, March 1. Here are a few tips to help you avoid some of my mistakes:
Make sure you have all your sharps well ahead of time. CVS Caremark sent my progesterone vials, but no syringes, and I didn't notice until the day I needed to start my shots. I don't have a car, and so my lovely father went around to pharmacy after pharmacy and brought me exactly what I needed within my very strict timetable.
FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS! The FET is an outpatient procedure that doesn’t require any anesthesia, but they do give you a Valium to help ease some of the pain and discomfort. The team instructs you to have a ride home, which I took to mean that I could get an Uber back since I wouldn’t be the one driving. Nope. Luckily, my Dad came in clutch yet again and drove right over.
It’s worth repeating: FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS! They tell you to have a full bladder, which I thought I had done a really good job with. Nope. Dr. Johnson had to insert a catheter and… reverse urinate (?) saline into my bladder so that she could see what she was doing on the ultrasound. That doesn't feel great.
Overall, things went very well, and I was able to actually see the little pocket of liquid with our embryo inside my uterus, which was quite magical. I go back for bloodwork next Friday, March 10 to discover whether or not our teeny chia seed is happy in its new home. If not, we are lucky to have at least three more embryos left so that we can try again. If so, then whoo hoo!!! I’ll continue my estrogen pills and daily progesterone shots for another 12 weeks and work with the NHS to plan a delivery in the UK at the end of the year if fate continues to be kind to us.
I know It’s probably more apropos to temper expectations since there are no guarantees with any of this, but fuck that. I am so incredibly happy and humbled to be the vessel for this little speck of possibility for however long I can, whether that’s nine days or nine months. But wow. It is all incredibly overwhelming in a good way. Welcome to day one of what I know will be an extraordinary life, little one. We love you!
…Aaaaaaand I'm crying.