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Just Our Luck

“Promise me, Barbara, you’re not going to wait until your forty-three to start trying to get pregnant,” I remember my gynecologist saying to me when I was thirty-nine. Well, I made her proud and got pregnant easily when I was forty-one. Then I got pregnant again at forty-two. Only trouble was, both pregnancies ended badly. My husband and I chose to terminate each one due to genetic abnormalities.

It’s been a tough road dealing with our “bad luck” as our doctors put it. The bad-luck factor was a shocker on many levels including:

1. That the medical profession actually uses the expression “bad luck.” 2. That I have always been a lucky person. Well, let me rephrase that. Eventually, I have always been a lucky person. (For instance, after my first marriage ended, I found and eventually married the man of my dreams.) And 3. That my body failed so miserably in creating a healthy baby—not once, but twice.

I never thought much about pregnancy before my own. Only that it would be—apart from labor perhaps—an effortless experience. This is what I knew from every pregnant woman who came before me, every magazine article and every book. It’s amazing how many happy, breezy, pastel-jacketed pregnancy books there are, but very few when you receive “unexpected news when you’re expecting”.

Our first pregnancy was Down syndrome, our second, Trisomy 18 aka Edwards syndrome. Both occur more commonly as a woman’s age increases. “Age related” has become a familiar phrase and a difficult concept to accept. Part of me still doesn’t fully accept it. I never looked my age and reasoned, “If my outsides look ten-years younger than my biological age, shouldn’t my insides look just as good?” Apparently, this is not how it works.

After our second termination, my husband and I went to grief counseling and I was the only forty-two-year old among the twnety- and thirty-somethings. As the twenty-eight-year-old woman shared her experience (also Edwards syndrome), I began seeing my age as a blessing.

When you’re part of the older set, prenatal screening is strongly encouraged. Both times I opted for chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which can be done at ten weeks rather than amniocentesis, which is usually performed after the sixteenth week. Both times I took some comfort that we were able to know earlier rather than later. This young woman didn’t have early testing. By the time she knew and made her heartbreaking decision, she was in her eighteenth week.

Following our last pregnancy, my gynecologist recommended we try in vitro fertilization (IVF). The logic being the embryos created in a petri dish could then be screened for genetic disorders including Down and Edwards syndromes before they were implanted in utero. This prescreening process is called pre-implantation genetic screening/diagnosis (PGS/PGD) and it sounded pretty good to us.

Thankfully, my insurance offered a one-time $10,000 maximum coverage, which almost covered the cost of one IVF cycle—PGS/PGD not included ladies! Aside from the mind-boggling procedure and an overwhelming number of acronyms—IVF, PGS, PGD, HGC … —we thought we’d take a deep breath, center ourselves with a little NBC, HGTV, ESPN and jump into the deep end of human reproduction.

After finding out I had “decent ovarian potential”—Yo! DOP in the house, ya’ll! (My husband made up that acronym)—after oddly named procedures such as “sonohysterogram” and “trial of transfer;” after vaginal ultrasounds, sonograms, blood tests, shots in the belly and much more, the results were in: I produced four eggs that were “retrieved” during the egg retrieval procedure or what I like to call “The Great Egg Hunt.” However, from those four, only two eggs were able to fertilize with my husband’s sperm.

Our doctors advised against PGS; we simply didn’t have enough embryos to risk sending to the lab for the invasive genetic screening. Though we did receive good news: both embryos were “grade one” meaning the cells were dividing normally and all looked great. Three days later our embryos were transferred from sterile petri dish to healthy uterine lining. Now, it was nightly progesterone injections in my buttocks and waiting it out.

Two weeks later, I got the call that I was not pregnant. Again, our doctors suggested we try on our own, unless we decided to use donor eggs. After all, the first two times were simply “bad luck.” It didn’t mean we would have the same outcome yet again. Third time’s a charm, right? Or was the IVF considered lucky number three?      

So, here we are. I am now forty-three. I guess the phrase is “We’re trying, but not trying.” But if you’re trying not to try doesn’t that really mean you’re trying? I’d rather not think about it.

I recently went through the bathroom cabinet and got rid of every last ovulation stick. Although by this time, I know my body well. I am intimate with the fertility signs it gives me. I am doing my best to concentrate on enjoying my sex life again and dealing with the fearful thoughts that tend to creep up on me—the fear of getting pregnant and not getting pregnant.

As we try/not try, my husband and I recently met with an adoption attorney and have decided to move forward with the adoption process. At this point, I don’t know how we’ll grow our family. I only know that we will.

Because we’re lucky that way.

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