The last few days of injections are the most uncomfortable. Four injections a day is a lot, and the skin on my stomach looks red and irritated, with a couple of bruises. My well-being is noticeably affected and I feel incredibly uneasy in my own skin, along with an all-too-familiar general feeling of hopelessness.
On days 9 and 10, I can feel extra weight in my lower stomach. There is a pulling sensation and I look several weeks pregnant. The last hormone injection is planned for Day 10 at exactly 9:30 p.m, so I set an alarm and leave a festival early. The shot needs to be administered exactly 36 hours before the surgery.
Day 11 is a Sunday, luckily. I take it very easy and, while I have to keep injecting anti-thrombosis medication, knowing that the hormone treatment is over is a relief.
On Day 12, the day of the extraction, I wake up at five. I am not allowed to eat or drink anything past midnight, so my mouth feels dry. I feel a very strong pulling sensation in my lower stomach. Everything feels heavy. I have 24 follicles inside of me, filled with fluid and egg cells, with a diameter of 2cm each. I imagine this is what a pregnancy feels like in the early stages. I manage to shower and pack everything on the list the nurse gave me. Food and drink for after the procedure. Slippers. My passport and my treatment plan.
Once I get to the clinic, everything happens very fast. I am asked to confirm that I have followed the injection plan as it was given to me and that I have not eaten or drunk anything and given some papers to sign. I scan them hastily. I am well aware this is not a sensible thing to do, but I feel anxious.
The nurse leads me to a hospital room and asks me to change into my surgery gown and to cover my hair. I change and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, shapeless gown, shower cap and all. Never looked sexier, I think to myself.
I am taken to the OR. It doesn’t look much different from a regular gynecological practice, except for the scary-looking tools near the chair that I purposely avoid looking at. No need for too many graphic details, I am worried enough as it is. The anesthetician is very nice to me when I tell her I’m a little scared. She places the needle and says “That is completely normal. Just think of a nice holiday.” I mentally teleport myself to a beach in Bali and manage to briefly ponder how truly amazing modern medicine is – the incredible speed at which anesthetics kick in! – before passing out.
I wake up in the hospital room. I feel a bit fuzzy but immediately text my best friend to let her know everything went well. I then decide to nap for a bit longer. When I wake up for the second time, I feel as good as new. I get up to go to the bathroom and a nurse rushes into the room. “You shouldn’t get up so fast”, she tells me off. She refuses to let me lock the bathroom door. I ask her when I can leave and she firmly informs me I am being kept in the clinic for another two hours. At this point, I am alert enough to feel annoyed. Two hours?! I have work I could be doing, you know.
But I quickly resign, laying in bed, leafing through magazines and happily munching on my raspberries and apple. Waves of relief wash over me. Everything feels so peaceful. I’m going to have a child. Whatever happens, I’m going to have a child.
The doctor who performed the operation comes in to check on me two hours after I wake up. “We have extracted 19 oocytes, of which 15 are healthy and usable. That is a very good number, congratulations. I hope you won’t need them, but if you do, they are here waiting for you.”
I smile at him broadly. In that moment, I am so relieved I could cry. I won’t need to save up money and go through this whole process again, 15 useable cells are more than enough for a successful fertilization. It’s as if there is a helium balloon expanding in my chest. There is so much lightness and hope.
The doctor warns me my fertility will be heightened for another couple of months and advises me to be particularly cautious if I do not wish to become pregnant at the current time. He also instructs me to continue injecting the thrombosis medication for another week, and adds it would be prudent to avoid exercise for two weeks. I feign indignance and disappointment (“Two whole weeks!? Is that really necessary?”), thank him and say goodbye.
That afternoon, I don’t do much, other than relish the feeling of certainty and freedom.
In the two weeks after the surgery, I can still feel the effect of the hormones. Once the lightness and relief fades, the dysthymia is still noticeable.
There are three particularly strong impressions that stay with me.
The first is a deep, deep feeling of gratitude towards my body. Here it is, perfectly healthy, at 24 years old, in spite of my terrible diet and exercise habits. So healthy that even high doses of hormones do not faze it, so healthy that it produces 15 egg cells on command, so healthy that an hour after general anesthesia, I feel ready to jump out of bed and get back to my everyday life. And here I am, stupid, ungrateful, brainwashed me, looking at it in the mirror every morning before I step in the shower, chastizing and criticizing and picking it apart. Hating the breasts that are going to nourish my child, and the arms that are going to carry her before she learns how to walk, and the legs that will run after her when we play. A bump here, a dent there, too much fatty tissue. I vow to do better, and over the next few days and weeks, I do. I stop checking how many calories my exercise sessions burn. I try harder to avoid sugar. I take time to moisturize my skin. I still think bad thoughts, but quickly add to them, at least I am healthy.
The second is a whole newfound appreciation of single motherhood, and my own mother by extension. Going through hormone therapy and surgery without having anyone to come home to or cuddle, without having anyone to surprise you with flowers or chocolate, without a shoulder to cry on, was really, really hard. Imagine going through a pregnancy alone. Nine months of hormone-induced mood swings, nine months of cravings, and sickness, and medical check-ups, and appointments, and forms to fill out and kindergardens to sign up for. Alongside full-time work and with absolutely no-one to lighten the burden. And then eighteen years of trying to raise a kind, respectful, caring human being, with no-one but yourself as a role model. I cannot fathom the strength this must have taken my mother. I don’t know if I have that kind of strength in me. I realize that if I want to have a child five years from now, I need to grow that strength.
The third is a much more general sense of no longer needing anyone. I feel a huge amount of tension and anxiety melt away. I stop waiting for messages and calls. I stop going on dates that I know are hopeless. I stop pondering on what people say and how they mean it. Instead, I write and sell two articles. I take a 20 hour Photoshop class and I finish a multimedia project and take an exam. I go out clubbing, just for the fun of it, and I hug strangers. I learn about cryptocurrencies and open an investment wallet. I book tickets to a conference. I send out applications, I keep my apartment clean and I make plans to sell clutter at a fleamarket. I plan and throw a birthday party. I go to workshops and meet-ups and networking events. By myself.
My mother still thinks I’m insane for putting my body through this, and spending € 3.500.
For the peace of mind alone, I would have paid twice that.