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The Infertile Embryologist

by Erin Robinson

To put it simply, my body has betrayed me. For twenty-something years, it has put forth a front of smug healthiness. “Getting over the flu in record speed? You got it!” “Punish me by playing rugby? That’s cool, I can TOTALLY deal.” “You’d like to never have ANY medical concerns EVER? SURE! I’m on board!”

So imagine my surprise when, at twenty-two, I applied to be an egg donor, and was promptly denied. Then the nurse nonchalantly told me that if I wanted to have my own biological children, I should do it by the time I was thirty, or else I’d probably miss my opportunity.

Um. Wut. Because that was definitely the phone call I wanted to get out of the blue with no warning while I was at the local zoo with all of my coworkers from my old job.

Turns out I have high FSH and low AMH, a diagnosis that causes heartache for tons of women every year. After copious amounts of research on the interwebs, as well as discreet grilling of the doctors I work with, I am sufficiently terrified. Now that I’m married, my husband and I are thinking we should attempt to start a family, like, yesterday. Because we have the information that we do, because we want some babies of our own, and because most likely, we will end up in my workplace for some assistance.

I am an embryologist. I work in the lab of a fertility clinic. I willingly chose to work in a place where I may have to rely on coworkers to examine my uterus and artificially create children for me and my husband. Ohgodwhy.

I took the job after receiving the news of the egg donor fiasco. I love my job. Every day, I get to help give women a chance at pregnancy and motherhood. I get to sort out their eggs, put them with sperm (“spermcicles” as my Russian coworker has termed them), transfer those embryos into patients, and freeze the remainders. It is incredibly rewarding to check someone’s file after the dreaded “two week wait” and see a positive pregnancy test.

But my job also shoves my own infertility issues in my face. Every. Single. Day. When a woman who is forty-four shares my current FSH level. When a twenty-nine-year-old is receiving eggs from a donor who is thirty-one. Sometimes I spend the entire hour of my commute home crying. Listening to “Sea of Love” on repeat and bawling my eyes out (for some reason, that song just punches me right in the uterus every time I hear it).

Infertility is just not fair. It’s not fair that seemingly everyone I know is pregnant. And that they all just “missed just one pill, OH MY GAWD, isn’t it so crazy, I swear he just LOOKED at me, and BOOM, now I’m PREGNANT, isn’t life just SO FUNNY that way????” It’s not fair that in my mid-twenties, I should be able to get pregnant with ease, as many times as I want. But it’s probably not going to happen that way. Diagnostically speaking, my good eggs are most likely few and far between.

My husband has been so incredible through all of this. We were dating when I applied to be an egg donor, and he sat with me, listening intently, as I pored miserably over the dismal statistics for women with my diagnosis. He still does, as I repeat that same process night after night, now that the timing is almost right for baby-making.

As I sat on the couch the other night with his arms wrapped around me and my laptop screen displaying yet another scientific study trumpeting bad news, I realized something. I want a baby. I want a baby so bad that it hurts sometimes. I want a baby every time I see one on the street, in a restaurant, on Facebook, or any of those other gazillion inconvenient places babies seem to pop up when you’re trying not to think about how you don’t have one. I want a baby every time my mouse somehow clicks its own way over to Zulily and into all the flash sales with the cute yellow chevron stripe summer dresses in infant sizes that have embroidered crocodiles on the collar. I want a baby more than I’ve ever wanted anything else. But I need my husband. His constant love and support are what get me through my weakest moments.

Infertility sucks. Straight up, it’s super shitty. It’s physical and psychological warfare. But after being forced to confront it, analyze it, research it, and go through all of its cruel “what-ifs?” I’ve realized that even if I can never have a child with half my genes that grows inside of me, it’s going to be okay. There are other options. Donor eggs are not for me (I prefer to give rather than receive), but there’s always adoption, or the childfree decision. Besides, no matter what choice we ultimately make, my husband and I have each other. And baby or not, we’re already a family.

Photo of Erin and her husband by Patrick Pike

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