Editor’s Note: In 2009, shortly after marrying her (first and only) husband, Paolo, Elizabeth Heath was diagnosed with premature menopause and resulting infertility. Paolo and Liz are now parents to a baby girl, Naomi. In this series, Liz recounts the couple’s struggle with infertility, and how they finally achieved a successful pregnancy and parenthood.
After returning from Spain, where I’d had two five-day old embryos transferred, we were supposed to wait 14 days before taking a pregnancy test. Yeah, right. After reading up on every possible early pregnancy symptom—Itchy palms? I could be pregnant! Sneezing a lot? A possible sign of pregnancy! Dry eyes? Pregnant for sure!—and waiting to feel any little twinge in my abdomen, I took a home pregnancy test. I think it was maybe a week after transfer, in other words, way too early.
The test came back negative. Pazienza, said Paolo. Be patient. I waited a few days later and took another test. By this point, I was having to drive to pharmacies farther and farther from home, just so I wouldn’t encounter the same clerk over and over again, wondering who this crazy woman was who kept taking pregnancy tests.
I probably took four tests, maybe more, before I began to accept the fact that I was not pregnant. Just to cover all bases, the clinic had me take an hCG blood test, which of course confirmed what we already knew. We weren’t pregnant.
Read Related: Facing My Infertility Part 9: A Roll of the Dice
Whaa? How was that possible? The clinic boasted a success rate of more than 60% on the first try. We were told the two embryos implanted were of excellent quality. And we’d just spent more than 7,000 euros (about $10,000)—not counting travel costs—to not get pregnant.
We were beyond disheartened. Disillusioned. Disappointed. Dumbstruck. It just didn’t seem possible that the donor egg process hadn’t worked.
Yet there we were, $10,000 poorer and still not pregnant. Salomé from the clinic offered a conciliatory phone call, but there was little else she could say or do. Luck just hadn’t been on our side this time. I could hardly look at the soccer ball or the teddy bear I’d bought for our future baby without feeling sad, stupid and completely hopeless. We mailed the soccer ball to my nephew for Christmas, and I stashed the teddy bear in a cabinet.
I went off all the meds I’d been taking to prepare my uterus for transfer, and when I got a period shortly afterwards, it was a corker. The pain and misery of cramps just added insult to injury. The friends I’d made in Fertility Friends—an online forum for women facing infertility—were a huge source of support, particularly since we’d told no one outside our immediate family that we were trying with donor eggs. I spent a lot of time online, commiserating with other women, patients of Vistahermosa and elsewhere, about our “BFNs.” (I’d learned this is one of the many codes used on infertility websites. BFN = Big Fat Negative, or a negative pregnancy test. BFP = the coveted Big Fat Positive, TTC = trying to conceive, and AF is Auntie Flo, or menstruation.)
It seemed there was a whole group of us who’d gone through our treatment cycles at Vistahermosa at about the same time, and none of us were pregnant. So put a group of hopeful women together in the same discussion forum, dash their hopes all at once, and you’ve got yourself a bunch of pissed off, conspiracy-theorizing women. How could we all not be pregnant? What was the clinic doing wrong? Should we switch clinics? It was easy to get swept up in the frenzied posts and shared disillusionment.
But I found, that as much as I was still reeling in our own disappointment, I drew some strength and encouragement from bolstering the hopes of other women. “There’s a baby out there for all of us,” I’d often write to a woman despondent at the news of her BFN, “no matter how it may come into our lives.” I had to listen to my own words, and find comfort in them.
Within a month or so, we contacted Salomé to say that we wanted to try again. She emailed me back and thanked us for continuing to have faith in the clinic. This would be the last time, we told ourselves; two tries is enough.
Within a few weeks, Vistahermosa had identified another donor for us. She was 29—just a year shy of the upper age limit for donors, brunette with brown eyes, slim, and a proven donor. As with our first donor, that’s all we’d ever know about her.
I tried to do more to prepare myself mentally for the treatment and transfer. I did yoga and meditated. I visualized myself pregnant; I visualized us holding our baby. I drank less coffee and wine. I sought out acupuncture treatments specifically to aid in fertility, and had four sessions in the weeks leading up to transfer. Paolo was skeptical. Acupuncture might not work, I told him, but I wanted to leave no semi-reasonable stone unturned.
Paolo and I made another quick trip to Alicante, so that he could leave another sperm sample. We could have used the sperm from our first failed transfer, but Out with the old, in with the new, seemed like a good motto to follow under the circumstances. This time, we skipped altogether the clinic’s bathroom/collection room, and Paolo took care of his task at the hotel. He felt confident that he’d produced a better sample minus the trauma of his last visit. We both felt relaxed and positive. Of course, we had before too, a nagging little voice in my head told me.
After dinner on the night we spent in Alicante, we went to a slightly tacky, smoke-filled casino at the city’s harbor, within walking distance of our hotel. We blew 30 euros or so on video slots. Like our upcoming embryo transfer, it would be our last gamble in Spain.