Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Haven’t posted in what has felt like ages, but the last two weeks have been full of absolutely incredible highs and lows. I just have not been able to orientate my thoughts, couldn’t line anything up to write down on paper. Couldn’t line anything up to articulate online. Didn’t want to talk. Didn’t want to be honest. Apologies this is a long post. If you want the short version:
Found a surrogate - found my eggs - disastrous embryo creation - The Dad Dream hangs by a thread.
Now for the long...
First the fantastic bits: I received The Call! A surrogate lady has offered a GTK! Naturally I said yes. The GTK is going to be for a year mainly in part due to the fact that the woman has a very young son, at the moment and wants to wait until he’s a bit older.
Tuesday just gone was a day full of possibilities, as we both met in London, our second time seeing each other since the Surrey social and there,
The morning after the The Call, my fertility clinic emailed me to say that had matched me to an egg donor. I had started that week without surrogate or eggs and by mid-week I had the option of both.
I arranged to go to London the following Tuesday morning for the embryo creation. Afterward I meet her family. It all felt so right, everything had seemed to fit together, almost all at once and later that afternoon, lying on the grass watching her son chase pigeons and laugh at dogs, The surrogate and I talked about our hopes for the embryos, how we would navigate the year ahead, and as I thought about them growing inside her, I suddenly just felt this overwhelming sense of relief, that I was finally going to be a dad, that it had all crystallised in this one moment, that someone believed in me that much to see me through this, and I brimmed with pride.
I was thinking of those embies, sparkling in the first light of fertilisation, ready to decide which ones would grow, which ones would rest, which of those eggs by increasing odds would bow out and let others take the crown as potential glints in my eye.
I had imagined, like my last round of IVF that I perhaps would get 5 or 6 embryos. I called and smiled at her as the phone rang
The phone clicked as they put me through to the embryologist. 12 eggs, they had collected 12 beautiful eggs! Now mixed with my sperm, I imagined them as a grid of 3 by 4 .....12 dots of life under the embryoscope grid.
Over the next few days I crested on the hope of that 3x4 grid of dimples, and wondered what names I would choose (for I always previously named my embies, no matter their fate). I even named eggs in my previous IVF prior to fertilisation, and thought of Alaska, the first ever egg to *not* make it during my last round: a darling, so fragile and beautiful she was put out into the cold when deemed too young to be fertilised. I imagine Alaska wrapped up in a coat of frost, singing her swan song, a Finnish lullaby about rebirth, as they put her to one side. I wondered if any of the new eggs or embies would suffer the same fate, but was confident given the health and proven fertility of the donor, coupled with the encouraging readouts from the charge of my own ‘light bridge’, my carefully reared spermatozoa, bolstered by 2 months of Brazil nuts, zany zinc supplements and “Morning David Gandy” missives, the male model who smiled reassuringly at me from the packet of Welmann vitamin tablets over breakfast. “Go on son,” he would say. “You got this.” Yes. I would make glorious healthy embies. Sure I might lose some along the way but the Lion’s share would be fine. It was not essential to my masculinity to know I could create life. And yet it bolstered me in a way that the entirity of my gay and childless adult life never had. I was ready for this. The embies would maketh the man!
“Mr. Watkins, it hasn’t gone perhaps as expected.” The embryologist on Wednesday, the tone of almost upbeat reassurance clashed so harshly with the realty of his words.
I stood in the car park at work, desperately trying to unpick the jargon of what he was telling me. All I could retain were the numbers. It was a simple breakdown. There was a two digit number (12) and every calculation that happened after involved a minus sign that stripped this number down, leaving me less and less eggs.
Let me break it down for you.
Of the 12 eggs, 5 weren’t mature, (how childish of them!) and had not broken through some kind of chalk barrier. What chalk barrier? What does that mean? They were too young to know any better. They were immature. Undisciplined. Reckless. The term ‘not viable’ would be used several times on the phone. ‘Not viable’ was how they told you that the donor had given you a dud. ‘Not viable’ was how they gently broke it to you that another oocyte didn’t even get out of the starting blocks. It doesn’t matter why David …you only have 7 left. Lucky 7.
Lucky for some. The embryologist went straight to the chase. He told me then that I had 3 fertilised eggs. But how from 7 to 3? Not more losses, please no... Would they all become like Alaska? 12 minus 3. Alaskan’s ......all 9 of 'em? Out in the cold?
9 eggs. 5 not viable and 4 that just did nothing. There was no nucleus, no movement towards a secret key hole in which the sperm swam through, no unlocking of mitosis, no division, no damn splitting. They did not split within themselves, they did not bid each half farewell, they remained forever whole, a single obstinate cell, quite the opposite to how my heart now felt, cleaved in two, bleeding down the phone as I tried to remain optimistic, accepting every single offer of condolence the scientist could embellish within his clinical tone.
“4 of the mature eggs didn’t fertilise Mr. Watkins. We’re not sure what happened.”
The only surety was that nothing did. What a slump. Slit me open! I felt filleted and splayed. Turned inside out. Guts piling up upon my shoes. Long sickening worms of anxiety extruding from my every pour.Don’t tell me you’re not sure what happened. Explain to me why I can’t be a dad. Look me in the eye and tell me why I can’t be a father! Am I somehow, in my soul not viable?
3 left. “And what of the 3? “ I asked him, walking quickly now away from the office across the parking lot to the broken down hedge that divided the bank of run down council houses from the school field. I felt like I was standing on the edge of my own hell, surrounded by the grotesque normality of a working day. I pushed myself to ask again “What of the 3?
“One became erratic, was developing, abnormally….it…well… we needed to put it aside.”
I had, it seemed created an abomination in the petri dish, some kind of creature, with two nuclei. A fantastic homunculus, awesome in its rebellious start, but too tumour-like to be kept. I imagined the scene from The Thing as a heated wire is thrust sharply into the vitreous, forcing the alien goo to show its true colours and leap to attack.
I don’t care I thought, I don’t care…I’ll take it anyway! I’ll take the goo. I don’t mind I will love it and keep it out of the light, and be its dad. I will grow it myself if needs be. Give me a jam jar, and an airing cupboard! Don’t set it aside. Don’t you dare set it aside!
“It is not viable, Mr. Watkins. It would never have survived in the womb”.
I saw myself in that moment, not as a future father, but a constant widow of fertility. Every egg I would ever meet would always be just another Queen Alaska and bid me adieu from its frozen throne. Always and forever bound to say good bye to the ones that were ‘set aside’. How could I possibly give a name to anything anymore? I was sick of trying to make something mine.
And so I was at down to 2…
I waited for the next two days, for the call of Day 3, to see how ‘the little divided ones’ as I could only call them were doing. I didn’t want to feel attached anymore, to feel devoted to these developing oocytes, knowing the odds that I was given - a 40% chance of fertilised eggs making it to blasts.
For if 40% of 2 was less than one, my chances of fatherhood now seemed so dark, so remote.
Day 3 arrived on Friday, and the call came through as I sat fixing a hearing aid from a little girl in the school office. I took the call outside and was buoyed by hope when the embryologist said the two eggs were ‘top quality’ Day 3 embryos, and then there they were again in my mind’s eye, legacy, my family….
I now give them embies names retrospectively, Flex and Flo after my clown fish for they would be strong and beautiful and they would keep each other company under that embryscope, their own private anenome. I remembered I ended the call with a sense of calm, my hands no longer shaking, my nerves had been frayed for 3 full days, and I had begun to drop things, plates, jars of curry paste, take-aways that had spilled across my kitchen floor because I had been too low to cook. I went back to the broken hearing aid, and collected the small pieces of tubing, and casing that had fallen about where I had worked, where I had waited nervously for the call that would tell me everything would be ok, that my life could begin again. That I would have something to give her. That I could pull through. That I wasn't just a joke of an IP wrapped up in a broken fortune cookie with an ‘it will get better’ tag line.
I told those I cared for about the good news. "Top Quality". I declared it proudly to Mum and Dad and all my friends, like it was the golden nugget of truth that would save us all and they were all so pleased yet although I was genuinely glad, I felt strangely ashamed. Embryo inadequacy. And so we waited for Day 5.
Day 5: Yesterday...
Flex didn't make it. He had died during the night. It was gentle and quiet but there was no longer any mitosis, no movement forward, no progression and there was a technical term the embryologist gave me, that I couldn’t remember as I sat in the car and turned on the windscreen wipers, despite there being no rain, because I needed something predictable to focus on... and I watched those wipers swinging their way back and forth across the screen and I fancied that they might wipe me clean of this fear, the fear that I would have none, and no-one. No embies. No names. No baby. No chance. They had all but promised to take Flo to Day 6 but it was up to her to race through the night.
Day 6 - Today
We have blast off! They froze Flo. Darling Flo who held on in here for the whole week. Sweet baby Flo, and her little morella, and she had tried so hard to get there, tried so fucking hard to stay alive…and though they graded her B-/C, I talked to her gently and told her she had an A for effort.
She was now my only shot, my one chance at bringing her home, of pulling her down from the sky, where she sat, wrapped in a beautiful papoose, made of ice crystal swaddling that glinted no matter how bad I felt. Poor little average embie B-/C. Flo. A* for attendance. A* for just turning up.
All this time, this journey, this chance, for one shot. At the end of days ….1 little shot.
I don’t know how to express how scared I am. I felt before this that I had only just arrived here. Now I feel it could all be gone. There is no more IVF for me. No more 14K laying around. All else now is budgeted for expenses and for the Dad Dream. There will be no more eggs. No more brazil nuts. No more embryscope, other than the footage I have of 12 little eggs being ‘set aside’, of 2 little fertilised embies dying, and of Flo, slowing growing weak and fragile before she was caught.. in time.
Before this week things felt for me like...an arrival of sorts. That eager sense of anticipation when you touch down in another country, another land where things are the same but different. Touch down, Anticipation. Momentum. Celebration. Hope for the first time that I could actually taste. Hope that I could actually gnaw on. It was everything all at once. And it tasted so good.
Now it just feels like I'm starving for her survival.