On Friday morning, my husband was apparently more invested than he let on because he woke with a start at 3:30am to ask me what the time was. I, naturally, then also woke up, saw that it was 3:30am (two hours before actual wakeup time) and then spent the next half hour trying to go back to sleep. This is by no means a complaint: I am usually awful at mornings, so I do appreciate the effort he put toward making sure that I didn’t oversleep! But you know how when it’s something unusual, your body is kind of already wired to wake up? Like if you have to wake up at 5am every morning for long enough it becomes almost impossible, but when it’s something out of the norm your brain is like, We’ve got this! Let’s go!! and you wake up before your alarm even starts to ring? It was like that.
Of course, the day I have to go in to town with sperm in a screw-top cup wedged between my boobs (since it absolutely must be kept at an ideal temperature and that’s one of the safest places) is the day that the weather suddenly dropped about ten degrees from the day before, down to a distinctly brisk 7℃. I bundled up as well as possible, but was also conscious of the fact that I am, these days, a naturally warm person and if I overdressed and registered as too hot on the temperature scan at the entrance to the clinic, then they wouldn’t let me in! Pandemic problems, eh. My appointment time was 7:50am, and while on a normal day I would cycle in, this was the day of my egg retrieval so I aimed to catch the train that would get me into town around 7:30.
I was, as ever, early. At 7:20 I stepped into the building (at least the heating was on so I didn’t have to worry about the sample cup getting cold!) and hung out in the stairwell like a suspicious loiterer until I reckoned it was more or less within the realms of acceptable earliness. The receptionist laughed when I unpeeled all my onion layers to pull out the cup and hand it over (and put my little sharps box in the basket she offered), and then it was time for things to begin.
First off was another good ol’ transvaginal ultrasound – gotta love ’em – and instead of getting dressed again I was handed a hospital gown to change into. The nurse then called me to check I managed to administer all of my medicine properly on Wednesday night, and put in an IV line. Before having my daughter, I always had awful luck with IVs both in England and Japan: ever since I was a small child they could never find my veins properly, and pretty much every time they would end up putting it into the back of my hand or even in my wrist, and it was always, always painful. I expected this time to be a challenge too, so when the nurse said, “Do you want to lie down for this?” I thought about my constant low-grade nervousness, and about how I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything properly since the previous night, and thought… you know what, yeah, lying down is a good move.
So we went to a bed in the recovery area, she plugged me in, and oh! A totally smooth and almost-painless procedure! Was this nurse magical, or has my body now magically become stickable? Not that I am planning on having lots of IVs in my arm to test this… We then moved into the operating room, where I left my hospital slippers at the door and changed into a different pair (which then got taken off moments later anyway). The room has changed from last time! Before, there was a large, brown gynaecological operating table where you had to lie flat on your back with your legs up in the air, and I hated it because it was so uncomfortable and left me feeling so much more vulnerable and exposed than even the regular gynaecological chairs do. This time, there was a proper chair! It was big and bulky, but once I got in it did all the moving for me, tilting me back and lifting the whole chair up to what I assume is also a friendlier height for the doctor. My doctor got all her PPE sorted while my anaesthetist made sure my IV lines were in the right place and lay my arms out on armrests either side of the chair. There was also now a blood pressure monitor on my right arm and a pulse oximeter on the index finger of my left hand.
“I’m going to give you something to help combat the nausea,” the anaesthetist said.
My doctor was now ready, and confirmed my details with a technician who was behind another door.
“I’ll give you the anaesthetic in a moment,” said the anaesthetist.
“I’m sorry, I know it’s uncomfortable but I need to start off with disinfection,” said my doctor, and suddenly this was all proceeding rather more rapidly than I had anticipated. I am going to be unconscious for this, right? We did confirm a general anaesthetic (全身麻酔), right? That was what the nurse had said, that was the word she used, but this doesn’t feel like that…
“That’s it, you’re going to get sleepy soon,” said the anaesthetist. “Take deep, slow breaths.”
As I mentioned last time, I’ve gone under a general anaesthetic several times in my life thus far. The sudden wash of gentle cold, the instant blackness, it’s pretty familiar. I waited for it to come. It didn’t. I closed my eyes, but through my eyelids I could still sense the yellowish lights above me. I could feel my doctor push something into my vagina, and then the lights above me swooshed upwards, like I had been covered by a satin cloth that was suddenly lifted from the middle and hung above me like a circus tent. The cloth was a shade of nectarine, and there were black stripes down the sides – no, not stripes, strips of black lace. The circus tent started to look and feel like a collage.
Oh, I thought. This is like Madoka. There’s a witch in this tent. The tent is a witch. I have to destroy the witch. I’m going to fight-
“Ms. Pippa? It’s over now, you did really well. Let’s get you off this chair, can you move your leg?”
I have a leg, yes, I thought. There are legs attached to me. The leg didn’t listen to me, though.
“We’re going to move you now. One, two, and-!”
I felt myself sliding from one thing to another thing.
“We’re going to move you again now, can you roll onto your left side?”
Yes, I have a left side. Maybe I can roll onto it. I felt the nurses slide me onto the recovery bed and then slide the transfer sheet out from underneath me.
“There we go, Ms. Pippa. You can rest now.”
But I’m awake, I thought. That wasn’t a general anaesthetic, was it. That was just heavy sedation. And then suddenly I was looking out of the downstairs window in our living room, and there was a Bernese mountain dog in our back garden. How did you get there?
When I woke up the next time, my throat was dry, so dry. One of the nurses poked her head round the curtain to check up on me. “You can have a drink in another thirty minutes,” she said.
Once I was more conscious, they brought me water, and more water, and snacks. Delicious snacks. A quick check to make sure I wasn’t bleeding excessively, a quick visit to the loo to make sure there was no damage to my bladder (because that’s technically a risk of the procedure), and then another visit to the gynaecological chair to remove the gauze that they had put inside me to help stem the bleeding. (Oh, there’s gauze in me right now? Okay.)
And then finally, finally, time to talk to the doctor about how the procedure had gone. Finally. She called me in to her consultation room and handed me a piece of paper.
“You did well,” she said. “We managed to get two eggs.”
Two. Two! Hm, two.
I’d spent so long fearing that the count would be zero. And then, I guess I had also secretly been hoping that my body had somehow magically changed following the birth of my daughter, or that the difference in medicine would have made a significant difference to the egg count (some people don’t respond very well to Clomid but do better with Letrozole, for instance). I wasn’t expecting anywhere near the 12+ eggs that seems to be more ‘normal’, but… maybe 7-8? 7 or zero, that was all I was really prepared for. Two. Two. Okay, well, I mean, at least it’s double what we got last time! Not zero. Not zero, thank god.
“Are you happy to do the same fertilisation process as last time?” she asked. I nodded. Then she continued, “We did the standard incubation before, but I think time lapse might be better.”
Time lapse incubation is more expensive, but I think she’s right; for various reasons it’s probably worth keeping a closer eye on development, and since time-lapse incubation takes photos at a very regular interval but doesn’t require opening the incubator door (thus changing the environment) it’s somewhat… safer, I guess. Every little helps?! I’ll take anything at this point.
“Alright then,” she nodded. “The nurse will give you some medicine next – antibiotics, and progesterone pessaries – and then you can go home. I’ll see you when you come back on Wednesday.”
About ¥200,000 for that visit. Thank god I could pay by card, because I would hate to walk around with that much cash. How vile is it that this is something limited to people who have spare money or who can borrow it. Fertility treatments are supposed to be covered by Japanese insurance from next month, but while right now the local and prefectural governments will reimburse about ¥400,000 in total, under the new insurance rules not everything currently doable will be covered, so it’s not exactly easy to know which works out cheaper. Ugh. The bitterness of not being able to get pregnant ~*for free*~ rears its head again.
I bought a coffee to go and went to the taxi rank to get a lift home. My uterus hurt, like dull cramps that sometimes spiked with greater intensity when I moved ‘wrong’. The pain is much better now (Sunday, two days later), and the light bleeding stopped this morning so we’re more or less in the clear, but I think I tried to do too much both days this weekend – I still get spikes of pain or discomfort now, but if my memory serves correctly I think that was more or less the same last time too and is pretty normal.
So what now?
Now we wait, part one. Part two? Which part of the waiting is this? I want to telephone them every day and ask how my eggs are doing. Did they get fertilised? Are they growing? You mean I really have to wait until Wednesday to get any updates at all? How are my eggs? Two of them this time, not the lonely one of before, but they’ll both be sitting in their own little dishes, alone. I lay awake in bed last night thinking about them. Are you doing okay, little ones? Mummy is waiting for you. Please be doing well. がんばって！ I love you already. I want you to succeed. God, the chances of success are so low. Please, at least one of you be my baby. Please be safe. I’m trying so hard to be pessimistic to protect myself but I want you to hang in there, I want you to grow. I’m waiting for you.
Only a few more days to go.
I don’t know why but I’m trying so hard not to cry after reading your entry. I’m so excited and anxious (like a sports fan supporting their fave team as a tournament… if that makes send lol) about all of this for you. I’m praying for you and your future child’s
health and joy!
I’m glad this hospital visit was successful and free of complications.
I giggled really hard at you taking off your layers upon layers to then hand over the sample. It felt like a scene in a romcom where you’re taking off endless layers to then hand over the cup like “Tah dah!”.
As per always, thank you for sharing this journey. I’m rooting for all of your happiness!!
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“ I lay awake in bed last night thinking about them. Are you doing okay, little ones? Mummy is waiting for you. Please be doing well. がんばって！ I love you already. I want you to succeed. God, the chances of success are so low. Please, at least one of you be my baby. Please be safe.”
This got me feeling all kinds of things. I love you, all of you, and rooting for you all!
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Wonderful account of such a difficult day. I love your writing.
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