It was nothing short of magical. It was also bizarre and like nothing else I have ever experienced. I remember Brad and me sitting on either side of Belinda as we waited out the mandatory one hour post procedure recovery time. How did we get here? How did we come to be supporting (in her recovery) this absolutely wonderful woman who just donated her eggs and yet was a complete stranger just under 3 months ago? How did we come to embrace the woman (ie "the egg donor") we absolutely did not want in our life? It's crazy and surreal and almost 48 hours later I still can't get my mind around it.
Brad and I woke up at 4:00 AM because we needed to drive an hour to pick up Belinda and then another hour to get to the clinic and still arrive not too much after 7:00 AM. Belinda didn't need to be there until 8:00 but both Brad and I were supposed to be there at 7:00. This makes it all start out feeling very odd. Usually Brad goes in at 7:00 and then we both go back for my retrieval. But here we are - the three of us - all with our own appointments - trying to make a baby together.
Brad gets called back first. All good on his front.
Then I go in and invite Belinda back with Brad and me. I figure it is only fair and she might be curious to see what is going on with my body. My lining looks great and we get to see that lonely follicle again. All the other follicles look like balloons with all the air sucked out of them. Interesting, but uneventful.
Belinda gets called back to be prepped for retrieval. I go with her and leave poor Brad waiting by himself. Belinda gets the "what to do after retrieval" speech (and yes, she does know to use protection), gets her vitals checked, and gets in her lovely hospital gown. We wait until the anesthesiologist comes to collect her. We hold each other a lot during this time. She is worried that she won't make us enough good eggs and I am worried about how I will feel when it is not me they come to collect. We are each other's support system.
Soon the anesthesiologist shows up and goes through his routine. Belinda is escorted back to the operating room. One of the nurses tells me that she can't believe how much Belinda is like me. "She looks like you, but the questions she asks - it's just what you do." Her expression indicates she is pretty amazed.
Twenty minutes later I am by Belinda's side as she is waking up. We get the report - 17 eggs! It is more than we expected. Belinda is so giddy, but also still a little drunk. She soon has all the nurses in awe. She is so up beat. She yells a friendly, "Hello Peggy!" when her nurse passes by a crack in the curtains. Peggy comes back to see if everything is ok. "Sure. I was just saying hi! Woah . . . maybe I shouldn't have had that bottle of wine for breakfast!" I ask Peggy if Brad can come back now. Brad shows up shortly and when Belinda sees him, she sits up and shouts "Seventeen Eggs!!" and puts her arms out to give Brad a big hug. Her joy is infectious.
Belinda keeps trying to get out of bed, so finally 3 nurses come to help her move from the bed to a recovery chair. They help her up and try to keep her decent and she pauses to stretch her legs. It was hilarious. All of us - including the nurses are doubled over with laughter. She puts her right leg up on the bed to stretch, then her left leg . . . then her right leg again, then the left. The nurses prepare to settle her in, but she is not done yet. First she needs to stretch her quads by pulling each leg, in turn, behind her. The whole time the nurses keep trying to keep her gown closed behind her. Everyone is enjoying her mirth and spunk.
She finally sits down and Brad and I pull up a chair on either side of her and we talk about whatever. Every time a nurse comes in to check on her, she tells Belinda how amazing she is. Brad and I just nod and agree. It is a good bonding time for all three of us. I am enjoying the moment so much I decide not to sully it by thinking about the reason Belinda is here with us in too much detail.
By coincidence, we are the only retrieval that day so the nurses aren't needed to be elsewhere assisting other patients. Brad and I have also been going to this relatively small clinic for a while so everyone knows us and very much wants us to be successful. They are excited that, though they know it has been hard for me, donor eggs will be the answer. And they love Belinda. So when we get up to leave, we are surrounded by all the nurses who take turns giving each of us a hug and wishing us good luck.
We walk out of the office buoyed by good feelings. On the way out of the building, we stop to get some Tylenol 3 for Belinda. Brad goes to get the car so she doesn't need to walk - although I suspect she could have ran around the block - we insist that she takes it easy. Of course, I intend to pay for the drugs as we expect to pay for all her expenses related to this donation - the gas money to drive an hour each way almost a dozen times to the clinic, the cost of babysitting for those days (unlike some thoughtless fertility patients, Belinda wouldn't dream of bringing her kids to an appointment), etc. I realize quickly that I don't have my purse and Brad is getting the car. I ask if she can just add this to her list of expenses and we will pay it all together. She looks at me somewhat guiltily and says, "I don't have a list of expenses. It just didn't seem right." I am very touched and I decide we are going to have a serious talk on the way home.
On the way home we get chocolate croissants and coffee. We have some light banter about the amazing experience we just shared. "So. Let's talk about at least covering your costs for helping us." It quickly becomes obvious that we are not going to win this one. "I always had other errands to run when I was in town - why should you pay for that?" and "I have traded out for much of the babysitting." Were a couple of her arguments. "But you have done so much for us!" we cry. She concedes to let us pay for her IUD removal. Finally, I tell her, "Let us treat you and your husband to a weekend at a B&B - a nice weekend with a really nice dinner and all the extras!" She thinks for a moment and accepts. We are all satisfied. Mostly. Brad and I were already planning on getting her some sort of nice gift so it is not as much as we wanted to give her, but it will do.
We have a nice drive home, stopping by to pick up her kids who are at her good friend's house. We learned that morning that her friend, Sarah, was very much opposed to Belinda doing the egg donation, "You would sell your children? Would you sell your son too?" Eventually, Belinda was able to describe the situation that made the process acceptable to Sarah. Now Belinda wants us to meet Sarah - I think in part to show her what kind of people benefit from the kindness of egg donation. Brad and I are a bit nervous, but more than game. We talk for an hour. I think Sarah can tell how excited and grateful we are. She seems excited too. When we are done, Sarah gives each of us a hug and wishes us lots of luck.
We take Belinda and her kids home. We help Belinda in to her house - we had picked up take-and-bake pizza on the way home and she has a couple of bags for the kids. We promise to keep her updated and thank her again. We hug one more time - all three of us in a group hug.
As I walk out the door, still feeling all the glow and love and amazement of the day I think, "I never want to see her again."
Yes. That is exactly what I thought. Although I had read enough studies to know that most people in my situation (TTC their first child with DE) want nothing to do with the donor once the retrieval happens, I really didn't think it would be me. That would make sense, I told myself, for people with an anonymous donor. Maybe more true for people who want to forget that they needed a donor - like the ones who never plan on telling their children. It won't be me. I have embraced this. Did I not decide to find a known donor? Did I not choose to embrace and support this known donor - and accept her support in return? Was I not, just this morning, feeling like we were an amazing team of three?! Perhaps I only embraced Belinda and called her a part of the team while I needed her eggs. Perhaps I wanted to feel close to Belinda because I wanted to feel close to her eggs. Perhaps a part of me knows that I need to distance myself from Belinda in order to fully embrace the resulting embryos as mine and Brad's. I don't know. I do know that my warm feelings and desire to be close to Belinda before retrieval were genuine.
That night, Brad gave me the first progesterone-in-oil shot. It felt so strange. How could we be here when I didn't have retrieval that morning? Brad felt even more out of the loop. We had gotten used to a certain flow of events. The BCP's, the belly shots Brad would give me, the hope and excitement as I went in for retrieval and then the post retrieval drugs. This time the post retrieval rituals seemed detached somehow. We were still laughing and shaking our heads at the events of the morning. Again we wondered how we got to this point after we innocently started trying to conceive more than five years ago. Sometimes it is hard to take in - the things you have been willing to do, the unwished for events that you learned to embrace, the next best option you decided was no longer on the "will not do" list - all in a quest to have a child. A quest others achieve by simply falling into each others arms in a moment of passion. It boggles the mind.
The next day (yesterday now), I reluctantly called Belinda to give her the fertilization report. I was reluctant because I didn't know if I even wanted to talk to her. The conversation went fine and because I wanted to blog about my feelings - before and after the retrieval - I needed to let Belinda know first (before she read it) how I was feeling. First, I reassured her that we will continue to be in touch - even if it is only via emails through Brad. I let her know that my feelings about things may change. Then I told her my thoughts as I walked out of her house the day before. I held my breath for her response - I didn't want her to think I was no longer grateful. I wanted her to understand that, to me, it didn't diminish our previous closeness.
Did I mention that Belinda is an amazing person? Her response was, "I have been feeling the same way." "I realized", she continued, "that I had done what I signed up to do and now it was time to move on." She said she didn't need to be at our transfer (something we had talked about before) because we no longer needed her support. I told her that I invited her to the transfer not because we wanted her support but rather because I thought she might be curious how the rest of the cycle goes." (You know me, always trying to educate.) As I told her this, I realized I wasn't feeling threatened by her coming like I was earlier that day. I told her she is still welcome or if she just wanted updates, that would be fine too. "Do you still want updates?", I asked realizing that she might want less to do with us than I had thought. Yes, she still wanted updates. We talked a bit more, making sure there were no hurt feelings and we understood each other. We decided we would continue to be open and honest about how we were feeling as events progressed.
I hung up the phone and wondered if this was the first conversation as we transition from donor/recipient to friends or from donor/recipient to acquaintances.
That night, Brad and I drove to our clinic so we could wave at our embryos from the parking lot. It has been a ritual to visit our embryos every day between retrieval and transfer since our first IVF. I don't think that they can sense our warm thoughts and expressions of love from five stories below, but maybe that can. Either way, it helps us feel more connected to them. Last night was no exception, but it was different. We both felt more distant from our embryos than in past cycles. For me, it was obviously about the eggs not being mine. For Brad, it was because the usual rituals prior to retrieval didn't happen for him. Still we sent our warm thoughts. We asked them to be strong and to take care of each other. We told them that we loved them. I reminded myself - and Brad - that those embryos know us. They know Brad because it was his body that grew the sperm. They know me because the eggs felt the love and support I had for Belinda while they were growing. They already know our energy and now they are waiting to come home.