We are now in the Contracts phase of our match with the couple who is adopting our embryos...they said yes, and switched to a more donated-embryo friendly clinic, which to me was an amazing leap of faith.
Last week we received two large square boxes in the mail labeled "LABS" with a maroon-and-white beaker logo on them. In these boxes, one for me and one for Bryce, we have two square styrofoam coolers, four blood collection vials, a sterile urine sample cup, and paperwork explaining that we are to call a blood lab in advance of getting our samples taken to see if they will ship samples to another lab for processing, and that all payment is billed to Nightlight Christian Adoptions and they have prepaid FedEx slips, so it's all taken care of.
Why, might you ask, do we need to get blood and pee tested again? Because they need an infectious disease panel for the FDA, to show that our embryos are safe and free from infectious disease.
Oh, hilarity. We have done the infectious disease panel multiple times when doing donor cycles, and yet it's either not in the medical records that were sent over or a newer one is needed.
Except these embryos were created in 2014 and 2013... so, um, why would our infectious disease panels NOW say ANYTHING about those embryos? I guess if we don't have HIV or Hepatitis now, we didn't have it then? Plus I can assure them that we most definitely DO NOT have TB, since we are tested yearly on that one for adoption. We really hoped that our records would reveal the panels they needed, but then they sent us the kits which led me to believe that our records came up empty, and so today we went to a blood lab that I called in advance to bring our bulky, awkward kits that we would have to explain.
Luckily it wasn't busy, and I panicked at first when the first phlebotomist asked, not in a snotty way, "And what made you think we send these out to another laboratory?"
I immediately said, "Tammi in Client Services, I called yesterday." And so that shut down the possibility of being shut down.
But then the next hurdle was the packaging -- the kit required bags be filled with "wet ice," and they did not have any wet ice. I joked that I wished I had known that because I have about a zillion freezer packs in the basement freezer leftover from medication deliveries, but even those wouldn't have worked. 4 pounds of wet ice per kit was needed. Luckily, they were good problem solvers and suggested that after they drew the blood and collected the pee, that we should go to the nearby grocery store and pick up a bag of ice, and then they would package it all up for delivery. (Of course, when we went afterwards, there was a choice of a 7 pound bag or an 18 pound bag. We needed 8 pounds, and Bryce at first was like, "Can't we just make do with 7?" and I snapped, "NO! I am NOT doing this again if less than 4 pounds means the samples are compromised somehow. They will just have to figure out what to do with an extra 10 pounds of ice." I just don't understand why it jumps from 7 to 18... shouldn't there be a 10 pound bag or something?)
Thankfully I did the urine first because my bladder is apparently anatomically no smaller than anyone else's (per all the ultrasound techs who've ever seen my uterus and ovaries, which is no small number), but it fills QUICKLY. Then it was time for the blood.
I let the sweet older lady know that I have crappy veins.
"Oh no, you don't have bad veins. Let's not go into this with the thought that you have bad veins. Today you have good veins," she said to encourage me.
We'll see about that, I thought as I smiled at her. Then I realized that I have completely forgotten which arm is my better arm, right or left. And I realized that there's been such a long break since I was poked so frequently that for all I know, I have spectacular veins now.
She found a vein (I remembered it to be one of my good ones) on the outside of my right elbow pit, and while it took a minute to start to fill, and she had to press on my arm to keep it filling the tubes, it did the job.
Things took a surprising turn though while my blood was slowly seeping into the vials. I discovered that my eyes were also slowly seeping.
I sat there, after looking away and breathing out slowly when she said, "just a little pinch now," knowing that it would be a slow fill, and thought about all the times I've sat in this exact kind of chair, with a zillion different phlebotomists coaxing my veins to produce a steady stream of blood.
I thought about how the results were never quite what I wanted them to be.
How my estrogen was too low or too high.
How my betas were either nonexistent negatives, or low -- too low to be encouraging for the ectopic, and the low end of normal for our uterine pregnancy that ended, the final death knell being sounded from a call after I sat in a chair like this, hoping against hope that my bloodwork would return high, that I wasn't miscarrying, that I had some kind of subchorionic hematoma like all the other people I knew who bled early and still got a baby in the end.
I thought about how this was the LAST TIME I would be sitting here, in this chair, giving blood for something embryo-related.
The finality got me. This was the end of a long and sad era, of 7 years of sitting in these chairs and offering up my wretched veins for no good reason, in the end.
It's also the beginning of a new one...I hope that this couple is successful, and that I gave blood for the last time for a GOOD reason, that a child or two or three results from our efforts and hard work and heartbreak, just not one that will be ours. A child who wouldn't exist if not for giving away the material that will lead to a pregnancy, we hope, because I couldn't be a good home and we are just so burnt out on the whole infertility process. Let this sweet young(er than us) couple take the torch and carry it home.
Unfortunately, all I could think on while my blood was filling the vials over the course of minutes was the end. And the silent tears just rolled down my cheeks.
After, I went out into the waiting room, because it was Bryce's turn now (and that guy has AMAZING veins that fill vials in SECONDS, which is simply unjust). And there, in the waiting room, was a woman who looked green about the gills because she was downing the disgusting liquid necessary for a glucose test. She was pregnant. I know that blood labs are full of pregnant women, but I had just hoped for a moment that the only other people who would be in there while we were would be the nice elderly lady who apparently has to get blood draws frequently, because she was apparently well known by the staff.
Bryce saw my face and the residue of my blood draw tears and he said, "Are you okay? DID SHE SAY SOMETHING TO YOU?" and it was funny, because he was all ready to do battle for me, to go tell that lady what's what if she had said something insensitive, or unhelpful to me about our situation. But she didn't. She was perfectly nice and I didn't bring anything up. But the simple words "are you okay" always just tip me over, spilling what I'm desperately trying to keep bottled until the car over and down my face. I managed at first, "yup. I'm okay. It's not that." but that he pressed me, and said, "Did it hurt?" and I was like, "NO. It's NOT THAT. It's SOMETHING ELSE." and then he got it but it was too late and I started to sob and ran out of the office into the hallway, a horrified Bryce following close behind to make sure I was all right, probably surprised to see these violent tears that used to be so regularly shed make a reappearance.
I couldn't keep it in anymore, this feeling of sadness, of relinquishing our last bits of the hope we'd held onto for so long even though in relinquishing we are giving these embryos the best hope possible. They are getting the chance to BE. It's just not IN ME, or FOR US, and while we are good with that, it STILL HURTS. The end result of 7 years of trying to have a family and failing spectacularly STILL HURTS. We are very excited for the possibilities of adoption, but the fact that we had to renew our homestudy and we haven't had a profile call in 4 months now STILL HURTS. It's a cumulative thing. You can't go through what we have, over and over and over, disappointment after disappointment after disappointment and loss after loss, losing pregnancies and body parts and genetic material twice over and then the possibility of pregnancy at all, and NOT feel the hurt.
I was just shocked it was so visceral, and that it was nearly PTSD-like in the way sitting there, getting my blood drawn for a reproductive reason, just brought EVERYTHING up to the surface and made me really dive deep into the enormity of our decision, and the culmination of everything that is leaving us hopeful for our own family through adoption, but mourning all the things that will never be for us. Mourning the ability to be pregnant and manage that process, to have the prenatal experience ourselves. Mourning our ability to parent without thought of our child's loss, their first family's loss, and that our joy in finally becoming parents is tempered by the loss of the person who brought our child into the world, for whom our child's birthday will be a source of pain, possibly a source of what-ifs. That we will always be one of two sets of parents to our child, and parenting is simply more complicated for us because you can't sweep all that under the rug and pretend that it's the same. It's not.
The wave just washed over me again, and again, and again, and I couldn't face going back into the office. So I stayed outside while Bryce did his part, and then moved further from the door as the older lady and the pregnant lady started waxing poetic on pregnancy and delivery and stories from daughters and sisters on all things pregnancy, something that will definitively never be my experience.
I have made peace with all these things, but being at peace and being able to NOT FEEL the hurt that goes with them is not the same thing. You can be at peace and still be hit with the loss, just not all the time. I'm sure these triggers will lurk throughout our life, because adoption is a wonderful way for us to become parents, but it is not a cure for infertility and it will not suddenly make things okay, just as finally becoming pregnant and holding a baby doesn't erase the infertility wounds for those who are successful in that way, eventually. It is ongoing.
I gathered myself together by the time Bryce came out, but I felt tired, almost hungover from the emotional expenditure. I went with him to get the ice but had him run it in. I know I will have to go to blood labs for cholesterol screenings and the like, that I can't avoid their offices forever, but I just couldn't face going back in.
Now that this piece is over, all that's left is to sign and notarize the contract, and then probably sign and notarize one more form for the transit of our embryos, about halfway across the country this time. Once the contract is signed and mailed in and processed, those embryos are no longer ours. They are the embryos formerly known as ours. We will get to know what happened to them, and that is worth so much to us. I'm sure there will be more days when I fall into a sobby mess over all this -- if the transfer doesn't work I'll be sad, but also if the transfer DOES work it will be incredibly bittersweet. I will be happy that we could give these embryos a shot, that we could help this other family grow into more than two. And I will be so, so sad that I couldn't do that for us. Like today, it will catch me and throw me into a place of grief and sadness. And like today, it will ebb and recede like the tides, leaving me exhausted but okay.
I am exhausted. I am okay. Grief is not linear. Maybe tidal is a good way to think of it...these particular tides aren't regular, but they come, and they go, and as much as they erode they also build you back up. It's a new kind of okay, and one that will shift and change just like the tides shift and change beaches, not in a way that's static, but one that's utterly dynamic.