The bill comes every month, and it goes right into the pile, along with the power and cable bills, the mortgage and gas. It gets paid every month, but unlike the other ones, this one always gives me a moment of pause. This bill is from a lab about 10 miles from our house, where we are paying to store two frozen embryos.
Back in early 2008, Josh and I had just finished up our first round of IVF, which ultimately produced four “stunning” embryos, according to our reproductive endocrinologist. One was transferred back into my artificially-enhanced uterus, and three were put into the freezer. Nine months later, our healthy, beautiful daughter was born, and 11 months after that, another embryo was thawed, transferred, and eventually grew into another gorgeous baby girl.
And so there are two. Two daughters, two frozen embryos. Two parents who still aren’t sure if we want a third child. We go back and forth. We wonder together whether #3 would be a boy or a girl—I’m convinced we’d have a son. (I was just as certain that both of our daughters would be boys, which is why I can tell you the names and qualifications of every mohel within 25 miles of our house). We imagine the joyful chaos of a big family, and wonder if we’d even stop at three. Then we see the girls playing so well together, and we worry how a third child would change everything. More often, though, we’re just so tired and overwhelmed that we can’t imagine how we could possibly manage the logistics, cost, and lack of sleep that go along with a new baby. We’re just not sure.
We’ve decided not to decide until our baby turns 2 in June. Most days it’s not on my mind, but then that bill comes, and I can’t help but think about those embryos. I remember laying on that examination table, my ankles in the stirrups (a position I had assumed so many times in the prior months that it was no longer uncomfortable or even notable), waiting for the transfer to happen. Minutes later, the screen on the wall across from me blinked on, and I saw the embryo. It was just a clump of eight cells, with this funny little tail sticking out (I’m still not sure what that was, but I spent much of my pregnancy wondering if our child was going to be born with a nubby appendage at the bottom of its spine).
Yes, those were just cells we were looking at, but they were also hope, they were our dreams for a family, dreams that had gone unanswered through over a year and a half of negative pregnancy tests and inconclusive blood draws and ultrasounds. Those cells were potential, potential that became a blonde preschooler who will only wear tank-tops and wants to be a ballerina more than anything, and a feisty toddler who wanders around the house in oversized sunglasses and eats her weight in broccoli on a regular basis.
(Watching those cells become my daughters, first on an ultrasound screen and then right before my very eyes, has not changed my stance on a woman’s right to choose, and that’s not what I’m writing about here. If anything, it has strengthened my belief that reproductive choices are incredibly personal and should remain as such, and it has increased my empathy for those who have lost pregnancies or had to make the most difficult of choices.)
I wonder what we will do with those embryos. Will we try again? Will I go through another round of hormone treatment, and then wait anxiously to learn if the embryo has survived the thawing process, to learn if the pregnancy has taken or not? Or will we donate them to research, our chosen destination for any embryos that remain after we are done having children?
We don’t know, and I don’t know when we will know, although I hope it’s sooner rather than later, as I’m not getting any younger. I don’t know how we will make the decision, what insights we will have, what factors we will consider. Ultimately, like so many of life’s most meaningful choices, it will be a leap of faith, no matter what we decide. Until then, every month when I get the bill from the lab, I take a moment to stop and think about our four embryos, what they have become already, what they may yet become , or perhaps, what they might not become.
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