Brennen: “You have one whale of a blog post to write.”
Me: “No kidding.”
So I started writing, and I wrote a lot. There was so much to say and so many updates to give. As Brennen explained in his blog post, our transfer on November 15th went as smoothly as it could have. We had a good looking embryo and all my hormone levels were in check. All that was left to do was wait out the next few days until my first hCG blood test.
Now, for the post-transfer breakdown.
For the first few days after the transfer, I hung out in a hotel room with my mom in Memphis. It was miserable. Not because of my mother, no, but because it was a hotel room. And I was having some pretty intense post-transfer symptoms. I knew from the day after the transfer that this one was different than Round 1. I ran a low-grade fever off and on from Wednesday to Saturday and experienced much more cramping than I did after our first transfer. My hips were also not adjusting well to the progesterone injections either. They were so sore which is not ideal when you’re basically sitting in a bed all day. Oddly enough, when we switched to some larger needles from our first transfer, the hip pain got much better. I never imagined that I would be thrilled to see a larger needle! After Memphis, we spent the weekend at my parents’ house for some much needed distraction. And just like that, half of our 10-day wait was over, and by Sunday, I was feeling a little more like myself.
One of the first things they tell you is to not take an at-home pregnancy test. And I promised myself that this time around, I would wait on the blood test. But Monday morning, before I knew it, I found myself peeing on a stick at 6am. Brennen claimed he didn’t see anything so he went back to bed, and I hopped in the shower. When I got out, I saw an ever-so-faint line. My heart skipped a beat. I collected myself, hid the test in my make-up bag, and went about the rest of my day. Well, I tried to at least. I could not wait to get back home and take another peek at that test. I blew through the door at 5:00, unzipped the bag, pulled out the test, and said, “Oh, shit!” Not the words I expected to come out of my mouth, but it was a good “Oh shit!” I was looking at a dark pink line, almost as dark as the control line. Now, I know there is such a thing as an evaporation line and not to trust a test past a certain amount of time yeah, yeah, yeah. But I have used my fair share of ovulation test strips and pregnancy tests to know that a line like that doesn’t appear for nothing. Without a doubt, there was some hCG in my system at 6 days post transfer. I tested again. Another pink line – not as dark, but evening urine is much less concentrated than morning urine. I called Brennen and asked him to meet me at a local mall for their Christmas open house. I was happy and hopeful and just wanted to spend some time with my husband. After all, there was a possibility that it would only be just Brennen and me for a few more months. Once we met up, I showed him the lighter test, the one from that evening. He said, “Holy crap!” – the PG version of my reaction. We promised ourselves not to get overly excited and to proceed with cautious optimism. We still had a few days to go until the blood test. We planned to celebrate and distract ourselves by shopping (my idea), but work and the evening’s excitement had exhausted me. Plus, the cramping was getting to me so much that it hurt to button my pants. So rather than risk anything by walking around the mall with my pants undone, we went back home. I rested – husband’s orders.
Then, that night around 9:30 I developed a rash all over my body. Actually, it’s not fair to call it a rash because it wasn’t raised or bumpy. It itched but mainly because it made my skin warm. It was more like my entire body was blushing in splotches. Lucky for me, Benadryl was safe to take. It eased the itching AND helped me sleep.
I didn’t take a test that morning. Believe it or not! But it’s because I thought I didn’t have any. So, what did I do after work? I bought some. I tested when I got home and saw a faint pink line. I was still feeling pretty good. This time, I didn’t tell Brennen. His reaction was so precious in the parking lot of the mall the night before that I wanted to capture it the next time I showed him a pink line.
After work, Brennen and I met at my best friend’s house for her to take our Christmas card pictures. And I figured that while we were there, I would use an extra test she had at her house. Convenient, right? I also wanted her to capture Brennen’s reaction which she did…beautifully. There was without a doubt a pink line. The problem was…it was lighter than the lines I had been seeing. Brennen chalked it up to a different type of test, a cheaper one; and after Christmas card pictures we grabbed a bite at one of our favorite restaurants to celebrate. When I told the waiter I would just be having water, I saw Brennen grin. He was so excited. But I wasn’t quite there. I was nervous about the lighter pink line. He kept telling me to “Be happy,” but when I explained how overwhelmed I was and how I needed to see a blood test before I would let myself get too excited, he understood. He calls me the pessimist of the relationship. I’d say I’m more of a realist. Still, we talked about baby names, grandparent names, and the whole timeline of the pregnancy over dinner. Like Brennen said, “We’ve talked about this stuff before, but this time it’s real. How crazy is that!”
Happy Thanksgiving! I took another test that morning. Still a line! It was light, but it was there! We coasted through Thanksgiving Day in default mode, unable to really think of anything other than the blood test I would take that night. Even the turkey wasn’t enough to distract us! That evening, I had my blood drawn for my first hCG test. The 20-minute wait for the results was the longest 20 minutes of my life. We filled the time with talks of Black Friday sales and the food we ate that day. And finally, a number – 17.87. It was low, but it was above a 5 which was good! We FaceTimed Brennen’s parents who squealed with excitement then drove on to my parents’ house. The rest of the evening was spent sharing the news of our positive with my family members still in town for Thanksgiving. We weren’t expecting to share so quickly since the number was low and another test was due in 48 hours to verify an increase, but when it’s Thanksgiving and you’re a part of my family, secrets don’t stay secrets for long. We were excited. Our families were excited. And even though there was still doubt in my mind because of the low number and light pink lines, we had never been this far before and shared the news anyway. Still, the words “I’m pregnant” didn’t quite roll off my tongue. It didn’t seem real. I opted for the safer, “We got a positive!”
I held my belly as I went to sleep that night and prayed so hard that our growing embryo would become our baby.
I tested again Friday morning before I called the clinic to report my hCG level from the night before. The line was still a light pink, which was worrisome. The on-call nurse didn’t seem concerned that the number was low. The most important thing was how it increased over the next few days. She instructed me to do another hCG test Saturday night, 48 hours from the first. The rest of the day was a blur, but I’m sure there was some football and leftovers in there somewhere.
As if it were a full time job for me now, I peed on a stick that morning. The line was barely there. At that point, our moods shifted, and we had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. With nothing else to do except sleep, I crawled back in bed, apologized to God for the things I was about to say, and vented to Him about the unfairness of this all, questioning “Why us?”
By that evening before my blood test, we had accepted that the level had either decreased or showed little change. Results came back – 19.54. At that point, we went ahead and let our families know that the pregnancy didn’t seem promising and that the number had not doubled or even come close to doubling over the 48 period as it should have. We were preparing them, and more so ourselves, for the worst.
I didn’t even bother with a urine test. In fact, the one the morning before would be my last for a while. I reported my number to the nurse who didn’t seem optimistic but asked me to continue my medications and test again in 48 hours – Monday. That day I tried to do my best Googling to learn about low, slow-rising hCG levels. Unfortunately “low” and “slow rising” are pretty vague search terms. Some message boards had women worried about their 58 hCG. I read where women were concerned because their hCG hadn’t doubled but had gone from 180 to 300 in 48 hours. Looking at my report that read 19.54, I thought, “Cry me a river.” Brennen did his fair share of Googling too, and on the drive home from my parents’ house we found ourselves dwelling on the uncertainties of this transfer and any transfers to come.
In a torrential thunderstorm, we made our way to the hospital Monday night for the third blood test. At this point, we were going through the motions. We didn’t have much hope for the embryo that was inside of me and figured it was only hanging on because my hormones were being controlled with pills and injections. To our surprise, we saw the biggest increase we had seen in my hCG level so far – 28.38, about a 40% increase from Saturday. Still, a 28 at this point was not great, but there was still a shred of hope that we could hang on to. We drove back home in a steady mist of rain, and suddenly, I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I became angry. I didn’t want to keep spinning our wheels and exhausting ourselves on assumptions. We didn’t know why my hCG wasn’t rising like it should. We didn’t know what the doctor would say or do next. We didn’t know when the next transfer would be or if there would even need to be one. We just didn’t know. Then, I remembered something I learned after Round 1. You have to let go of the things you can’t control. There was nothing we could control at that point other than progesterone injections and Estrace pills. Everything else needed to be let go. So before we crossed the Madison County line, we agreed to do just that.
I reported the 28 hCG to the clinic this morning. The nurse agreed that the level wasn’t rising as it should and wasn’t as high as it should be. We expected that our doctor would tell us to stop all medications, but we guessed wrong. My doctor called yesterday evening and told me he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel as long as the hCG was still rising. He recommended another hCG test the next day and hoped that the 28 would evolve into a 50, or there about. We chatted for about 30 minutes about my symptoms since the transfer – the fever, the rash, the cramping – and discussed what to do next. If anything, continuing to measure my hCG may give us some insight into what’s going on and how it could affect the protocol of future transfers.
My hCG doubled. Finally! 56! Still low for this stage, but it doubled! What the heck?! That’s really all we can say. We don’t know what’s going on. Our emotions are in total limbo. We’re thrilled with the increase but understand that the number is still low, so we’re guarding ourselves. I don’t mean for it to sound so crass, but I can’t let myself get too attached just yet. It’s a defense mechanism…because all of this can be so hard to deal with.
We never expected to be here. We thought we would have a positive or a negative at this point, not the in-between. Sunday night as we were lying in bed, I told Brennen, “I never even considered being at this point – the space between.” Naturally, he responded with the chorus from Dave Matthews’ The Space Between, and in no time we were both singing the song in our best Dave impressions. We didn’t know all the lyrics, and we don’t even know what the song means, but we found comfort in the line “The hope that keeps us safe from pain.” That’s what this embryo has given us. We had never seen a positive pregnancy test in all our years of trying until this embryo. We weren’t even sure implantation was possible until this embryo. And a few months ago, we didn’t even think we could make a high-grade embryo, and this little guy is a 4AB. Still, we don’t know what is ahead. But this little embryo, even in its short existence so far, has already given us more hope than we’ve ever had – the hope that keeps us safe from pain.