19 months ago. I remember so clearly how blissfully happy I was feeling the moment this photo was taken. Gary and I just finished our first round of IVF at The Kato Clinic in the city of Manila and escaped to the resort island of Boracay to await our transfer date.
At that time, I was meeting IVF with a strange mix of cynicism and hope. “It was hard but the hard part is over,” I remember thinking. Also: “Yup, life. You’re cruel enough to take mom and dad away so young, but I really don’t believe you’re so cruel to also take away this.” I just couldn’t fathom that life was trying so hard to prevent me – an orphan – from experiencing motherhood a second time around.
Maybe I should have anticipated the challenges of our reality more clearly. But, in the year leading up to the egg retrieval and subsequent transfer, we were living inside our own bubble of expectancy. CoVid lockdowns had eased. My mind was prepped. It was time. And so we did it all firmly believing we would succeed if we tried hard enough: hormones, needles, supplements, ultrasounds, meal plans, blood checks, infusions, acupuncture, icing, floating, affirmations, stretching, massages, toxic free, ultra-organic…Like I said, we did it all! At the end of our first IVF cycle, when we received a ‘Grade A’ blastocyst, I remember thinking finally we were at the end of the hardest time we would ever experience as a couple.
The transfer of our blastocyst (which by then we lovingly called our ‘one little eggy’) was successful and we were pregnant for a brief moment of so much joy. Before the end of our first trimester, however, we were told that our baby would not come to term. I don’t have the sentences for this moment. But I have the image. Gary waiting for me in the big looming lobby of The Enterprise Building and me walking out of the elevator, somehow finding his arms. We shared no words until we got home and crawled into bed. Heartbroken together.
In the weeks following the news, we waited for the miscarriage to happen naturally – as per Philippine law. Neck up, on Zoom, students and colleagues saw a smiling, put together, dedicated teacher. Off Zoom, I had on pajamas, and was surrounded by heating pads, weighted blankets, and a pail waiting for the physical and emotional trauma to come.
It became impossible to pretend the impending loss wasn’t shaking us to the core. To cope, I took time off work. But, even once the fetus passed, the loneliness and worries would not. Although Gary was suffering right beside me, I couldn’t let him in. If I did, I would also have to acknowledge his own pain, and I didn’t feel strong enough to carry his when mine felt so heavy.
Fortunately, in true Gary form, he tenderly and patiently loved me/us back to health. Imagine playlists, vacays, hand-written letters, fresh orchids, cute videos, reflection prompts… and so many cuddle sessions in bed. He even watched Real Housewives with me. This is Gary. Because of his tenderness, our bond is deeper than ever before, yet, as I write this, the tears are streaming. Because we had done it all. Because it still wasn’t enough. And because we both had to be so strong. For ourselves. And each other.
It wasn’t until March 2022 – 6 months after our miscarriage and after some healing – that we tried again… and again in May… and then again in June. Cycle 2. Cycle 3. Cycle 4. Fail. Minor Success. Fail. All during Covid restrictions.
All the while working full time, in person, for an organization that would not show grace nor space for what I was experiencing. I’ve shared so much of our story already. Yet there is so much to describe about the physical, emotional and financial burden of undergoing IVF. AND I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t admit that there is *so much more* to describe about the physical, emotional and financial burden of undergoing IVF under the administration of two, old, white, men perched on their ivory towers.
Instead, I will mention the loves that carried me through: students who unknowingly became an antidote for the hurt; joyful memories intentionally curated by friends; and our family who asked, listened, researched, and continue to believe.
Today, as we continue to prepare my body, and as cycle #5 awaits us, I feel a deep vulnerability in sharing our journey, but also empowered. I want to vocalize the joys and heartache that women experience with motherhood, and I want to share my specific journey of joy and heartache. I also want to pass on to this eventual child (I hope, I hope, I hope) an origin story that begins with everything magic is made of: science, faith, and a whole lot of love. When we finally do reach the end of the hardest time we ever experienced, I want to say – with pride and joy – “This too is (y) our story.”