"For the past six years our single surviving embryo has been in stasis."
In a few days a big part of our lives will be no more. For the past six years our single surviving embryo has been in stasis; frozen in time. Here, but not here. The promise and whisper of another precious life, yes, but also its spectre.
The paperwork we can no longer ignore tells us that on Thursday, 10 October, its time will be up. And my husband and I must face the final hurdle of our infertility. Letting go.
My head says, yes. My heart’s lost its voice (plaintive bleating aside). Here’s why: this embryo comes from the same ‘batch’ that yielded us two healthy sons. If its brothers are anything to go by, then this frozen pea is one tough nut.
Oh, the power—and predicament—of one. One embryo propels you out of your inertia. It forces action. One says, “Go on. You know you want to.”
Of course, I could have gone through with the transfer and, perhaps, given my boys a welcome sibling, but at 44 it just doesn’t feel right. Because while it most likely wouldn’t have worked, it might have; and there’s nothing salubrious about going through a procedure, while all along hoping that it fails.
It was with no small irony that we were once told that the best-case scenario for couples going through IVF is completing your family and not having a single embryo left in storage.
As I wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald last year, this statement came back to haunt us every three months when another ‘storage bill’ would arrive in the mail. Ruminating on the dilemma of what to do with our embryo, one option we considered was ‘adopting’ it out.
But again the insurmountable challenges (i.e. the blood tests, compulsory counselling, red tape, ongoing ethical and emotional ties etc.) and not to mention the reality of having our sons’ genetic sibling out ‘there’ somewhere proved too much for us.
And we’re not alone. It’s estimated that about 90 per cent of IVF clients ‘choose’ not to donate their surplus embryos to other couples, while even less donate for research.
Such dire statistics have helped shift the mindset of Sydney journalist Prue Corlette and her partner Aaron Sharp. Corlette and Sharp, who have two-year-old twin boys via IVF and six embryos in storage, told Fairfax earlier this year that when the time feels right they’re hoping to donate their embryos to research.
“If people didn’t donate to research, then they would never discover anything and we would never have had our boys,” Corlette says.
Corlette and Sharp certainly have my admiration. It’s a worthy final act; full of wonderful karmic intention. And yet I simply can’t leave our embryo to science. Of course, I know it’s selfish and churlish, but in my defence once again I present my bloody, obsequious, trembling heart.
This embryo carries every microcosm of our longing.
So when my husband suggests we take the embryo home I feel something close to peace of mind for the first time in a long time. While we aren’t sure if it’s possible, for days afterwards we’re buoyed by the idea of holding in our hands this final link in our family chain.
To their eternal credit, the nurses at the IVF clinic don’t seem to think I’ve lost my mind. Within minutes of shooting off an email, I receive a call from Lee*, who assures me that it won’t be a problem. It seems that while the clinic doesn’t strictly advertise taking home the embryos, several former clients have done just that.
So as we edge ever nearer to that implacable date, I go over and over the scenario of driving to the IVF clinic for the last time (but this time with my three year old in the backseat), and departing with the final paperwork, good wishes and…what? Perhaps a small, indiscreet box?
And on the weekend, we’ll try our best to explain to our boys the significance of that precious cargo. We’ll grapple with questions big and small (and not only from our boys); such as how something so miniscule could have left such a mark on our lives and how they might remember this noteworthy, yet still-to-be-fully-grasped moment of putting to rest a living memory.
And then we’ll search for a nook in the garden that’s bathed in light.
*Not real name.