In case it wasn’t clear why I went back to Istanbul this summer, it was to pick up our last three embryos and see if one or two might be destined to be our child.
Spoiler alert: They were not.
I didn’t write about it as much this time. I appreciated the support last time, but it added a layer of psychic energy, wondering how to talk about things and what people might think, so I opted out this time. But I did write two previous posts about the lead-up to the transfer of our last two surviving embryos, Hey Belly Island and Jasmine and Ghost, if you want to read them first.
In the days following the transfer, I took all the advice I’d ever heard (and given to myself) about being positive, visualizing, having faith, and staying in the moment. I was proud of myself because I felt like I succeeded. I was so confident, making plans, looking forward, talking to the ‘kids’ in my belly, daydreaming about them. If it was twins, would it be two boys, two girls, or one of each? Would they have his eyes, my hands? They’d surely have his kindness, being raised by him… and maybe my poker-faced sarcasm? Ha. Payback.
Plus I had stronger pregnancy symptoms than I’d ever had before, even stronger than when I actually (briefly) got pregnant last year. My chest absolutely ached, my sense of smell was heightened, I was plagued by beautiful nausea.
After all that… I simply wasn’t prepared for a negative outcome. An hour after the blood test (more than an hour, actually; they kept me waiting, as if they wanted to postpone the terrible moment), when I saw the look in the nurse’s eye, and the doctor confirmed the bad news (“I’m sorry, it was a negative”), I felt like I’d been shot and all the blood had drained out of me. I pressed my hand against my heart as if to hold it in and tried for a few desultory moments to bargain my way out of it.
He said something about me being young and healthy, how we should ‘just’ try again. But how can we try again when we’ve already thrown three years and the equivalent of a down payment on a house at this and come up with absolutely nothing? How can we risk this horrible gutting heartache again? How can we keep gambling on this terrible roulette wheel?
And how can we not?
I managed a tight smile and a little wave to Deniz, our favorite nurse, and made a beeline for the exit so I wouldn’t break down then and there. One small mercy and grim satisfaction: I knew at that moment that I was done with that clinic. I shall never walk in its doors again or spend another second in its cutesy pink waiting room full of hope and despair. I don’t know what’s coming next, but it’s not that place.
The worst, by far the worst thing was that I knew my husband would call soon, so excited to hear the results. And I knew that I would have to crush him the way I had just been crushed.
“I’m sorry,” I heard myself say when he called, as if it were someone else saying it. “It’s not good news.”
I heard him crumple all those thousands of miles away, and there was nothing I could do, no solace I could offer.
Heavy and empty and half-blind I walked to the ferry — the ferry that was supposed to be a part of our children’s origin story — and made my way back to Moda and the flat where I was staying. I distracted myself on the internet for a while until I heard a tiny scrabbling sound next to the couch I was sitting on. I leaned over and looked down, and a wee orange kitten — no more than a week or two old — was stumbling its way to the middle of my dirty clothes pile.
I’d been studiously avoiding petting any cats on the off chance I might get toxoplasmosis, which can harm a pregnancy. Cats are everywhere in Istanbul, and a lot of them are really cute and friendly. I hated passing them by day after day when I wanted to play with them.
Now I could play with any damn cat I wanted. I picked up the little piker and saw a flea skitter from its ear deeper into its fur as I cuddled it. He was mewing pathetically, and I felt helpless. Where was the mother?
There had been a cat that liked to sneak into the house through the veranda doors, a skinny thing with huge yellow-green eyes and mostly black fur with mottled orange and white mixed in.
Sure enough, the cat soon showed up on the veranda. I set the kitten down on the hot porch and hoped Green Eyes was the mama. She ran to the kitten, sniffed it, and licked it a bit. It crawled toward her belly. But instead of settling down to nurse, the mama cat looked at me accusingly and ran toward me, hissing like a maniac. I stumbled backwards onto the bed and watched as she skulked around my room. I thought maybe there was another kitten hidden somewhere, but she just kept pacing and occasionally hissing at me, and it freaked me out.
Finally I drove her out of the room with a chair like a lion tamer and slammed the door. To my dismay, she just stared at the door, ignoring the kitten as it sat on the hot veranda panting and mewing. Every time I tried to open the door to give them water, she charged it like a madwoman. I guess she was hoping she could get her nest back somehow.
After nearly an hour she finally gave up, grabbed the baby up in her mouth, jumped onto a ledge below the veranda, and disappeared.
I wish them both well.
As for us, our IVF in Istanbul story has a stupid, pointless ending with no resolution, no particular poetry, no resonant imagery. All the ‘signs’ and story points I was looking for, foreshadowing our happy ending and infusing it with meaning, crumbled to nothing but thousands more dollars wasted, more time down the drain.
As a writer it particularly hurts, because it could have been such a great story. I could have told the kids about the crazy coup that happened just before the transfer. I imagined telling stories about that whole hot, sweaty, ridiculous summer overlooking Old Istanbul from the highest point in Moda and about their funny nicknames as embryos.
And I mean, come on: 17 is my lucky number, and they were transferred on July 17, and they’d be born in 2017. How could it not work? They might even be twins, and if so, my plan to have two kids by age 36 would only be off by a year — not bad!
But all in an instant, instead of that beautiful hoped-for light, the tunnel closed in on us again. Instead of joining the world of first steps and first words and first days of school, we remain left behind, stuck in amber, spinning our wheels.
It’s hard to make plans when you don’t know when or if you’ll ever have kids or how the hell much more you’ll have to think about spending just to get the part most people get for free. (Nearly half our savings has already gone up in smoke.) We’re three years in, and we have no idea how deep this rabbit hole goes.
If there is one blessing in crisis and grief, it’s that you feel cracked open. Everything is shaken up. The routine and the predictable reveal themselves as temporary patterns. You feel, viscerally, how life can change in an instant, and you remember that you can change, too. You can look for ideas, solutions, and actions in totally new places. You can go in completely unexpected or unprecedented directions.
You see the world for the raft of uncertainties it is and you remember that anything is possible — and that whatever happens, whether it seems good or bad at the moment, you will probably never know what the effect will be in the end, if there is an end.
And there’s a flicker of understanding that, truly, the best you can do in each moment is the best you can do, and it’s really all you can do, and it’s enough. This big miraculous world is enough.
And then I made the mistake of getting on Facebook, which feels sometimes like one endless birth announcement. Two people close to me had beautiful “oops” babies around the same time my miscarried son from last year was supposed to be due. (They weren’t even trying. In fact they were trying not to!) One of them happened to ask me how I was doing at just that moment. I completely lost it. Not on her, I just got up and walked away, but the rage I felt at the universe could not be contained.
I walked to the waterfront and sat on the rocks looking out at the Old City of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara, the great soaring mosques and the Topkapi Palace, the rocky shore where Ahmed proposed, this view I’d seen a thousand times through a thousand hopes and heartbreaks, and I sobbed and sobbed at how sorry and mean and stupid this story had become, what nasty tricks this universe plays. (But hey, at least I get to have breakdowns in romantic locations.)
Ironically enough, I had just been working on a part of my novel where the protagonist hits rock bottom and loses all faith in everything. She has to learn, finally, to let go of expectations, to understand everything is fundamentally a gift, to know in her bones that you can’t always get what you want, and life is still good.
But I already know her ending. I made up her ending. I am her God, and I was kind enough to give her a pretty good one. What’s my God up to? Where the hell is all of this going? And can we move it along, please? I’m really sick of being in this stuck place. It’s gone on too long.
It’s bad writing.
So here I am, sitting in the pit with no idea how or if I’m ever going to get out. I just see the steep, dark, slippery walls and feel like if I try to climb, they’ll collapse on top of me and bury me. Right now I see no escape, no hope.
And I have to live with that. I have to learn to live well with that, because that’s life. Life is uncertainty. Things can change — or refuse to change — in a thousand unexpected ways, and that’s reality.
It’s not about a ‘happy ending.’ There is no ‘ending’ other than death. Meanwhile I have to have a kind of faith, not necessarily that everything happens for a reason, or that everything happens the way it’s ‘supposed’ to (whatever that means), but that whatever happens, I am alive, and that’s a lot, and my job really is to do my best with whatever comes as it comes.
Right now I feel too hit-by-a-truck to do anything but mark time until the shock and pain start to wear off. And that’s OK. Time heals. When you break a leg, you’re not supposed to get right back up on it. There’s nothing to do but wait and let time and your body do their healing thing.
It’s amazing how the spirit can stitch itself back together, too. Hopefully without leaving too much of a scar.
Then I suppose we’ll pick ourselves up and try to figure out what’s next.
P.S. If you’re wondering why my husband didn’t travel to Turkey with me, it was because there was an off-chance he might be detained and forced to serve out his mandatory military service because his paperwork for deferral had not yet come through. Given what ended up happening, we do not regret our decision.
P.P.S. This post is called “Journey’s End,” but it’s not really the end because we’re not parents yet. Despite feeling really discouraged, we still have hope that some day this will just be a chapter in a larger story. The summer of our discontent. Maybe even the dark night of the soul before some unexpected climax and resolution.
(Seriously, tho, I’ve got to stop thinking life is going to be anything like a novel…)
P.P.P.S. I held off publishing this for about a month, until some time had passed and things were less raw. We still have no idea what’s next, but we’re enjoying the warm, pretty summer, taking lots of sunset walks, playing soccer, cooking good meals, and we adopted a scrawny grey kitten named Mateo. A friend’s neighbor found it cornered by two big mean dogs. My friend posted about the homeless kitten on Facebook, and we snapped him up. So I guess Facebook’s not all bad.
Our cat is not so scrawny anymore, nor so timid. He’s sleek and sweet and soft as a rabbit, and getting so tall when he stretches up on his scratching post.
I got a haircut and a new thrift store dress ($17). And a pearl brooch from my grandmother-in-law. And a pedicure, but it was pretty quickly ruined when I stuffed my feet back into soccer cleats…