Collateral damage of COVID-19: Infertility treatment

When the governor of Minnesota closed all schools in the state last Sunday, my 10th grade students were three chapters into The Great Gatsby, had just begun to guess at the depth and delusion of his incorruptible dream. 

I couldn’t help but think of Jay Gatsby and the foul dust floating in the wake of his dreams when my IVF nurse called me the next day to inform me that, following guidelines released by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), my clinic was cancelling all embryo transfers, including mine. 

I was in a meeting with my fellow 10th grade English teachers, trying to figure out how to take our lessons online, when I got the news. The nurse began by saying she wanted to talk to me about “next steps”, and I just knew. I started crying and panicking and generally spiralling like I do when I get bad fertility news. “It’s never gonna happen, I’m never gonna have a baby,” I mumbled desperately, as my dear friend Amy stood by at a safe social distance, unable to hug me or hold my hand. I was devastated. 

In the five years we’ve been undergoing infertility treatments, we’ve hit many roadblocks. It’s common. We’ve been set back by cysts, hormone imbalances, and insurance complications. Sometimes it’s been a bad response to the aggressive medications I’ve been on; other times, my doctor just didn’t like the look of an ultrasound. What I’m saying is that we’re used to being waylaid. It sucks, but I take a couple days to mope and process, and then we make a new plan. 

This time feels different. This time there is no plan. 

COVID-19 isn’t just a roadblock. The best way I can describe what I’m feeling right now is that it’s like in movies when someone is being chased and they’re running as fast as they can, but they don’t realize they’re running toward the edge of a cliff and they have to stop really fast or rush headlong into oblivion. 

This time I can’t even see the other side, let alone the bridge that will take me there. 

The hardest part about this is that we got so close. Our first transfer was cancelled because my doctor found polyps in my uterus that needed immediate removal. The next cycle, my endometrial lining wasn’t healthy enough for an embryo to implant. But this time I was on a natural cycle (no drugs, just frequent ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor my progress) and I was off of caffeine and alcohol, I was exercising and getting plenty of sleep. I was doing everything right. 

There’s something absurd about it. After navigating years of disappointment and heartbreak, of clawing my way over one obstacle after another, of finally coming within days of reaching this goal that has been a dream for so long – to be derailed by a global pandemic? 

You can’t make this shit up. 

Which brings me back to Gatsby. I’ve been teaching this novel for fifteen years and have studied it closer than any other book, but I’m still deeply moved by Fitzgerald’s final assessment of Gatsby’s astonishing life: 

“He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him…”

Back when I had my egg retrieval in October, I really thought I’d be pregnant by now. We’ve been doing this for so long now and I’d begun to think we were almost there. How could I have known? People with infertility are used to the cycle of hope and despair that happens every month when you discover, yet again, that you’re not pregnant, or when a treatment fails. This time, I thought we’d finally made it. Every night as we’re watching TV or cleaning up after dinner my husband will put his hands on my stomach and say something like “imagine when you’ve got a little baby in there”. Until last Monday, I played along, let myself be swept into the dazzling warmth of his hope. But now, with no idea when all of this will end, my heart’s not in it anymore. 

Like many, I’m struggling with the uncertainties. I wonder if my students will be alright and when we’ll go back to work, if we’ll even have a prom and graduation this year and when I can read stories to my nieces and nephews again. 

What I really want to know is: when is it safe for me to hope again?

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