What could have been. What never was.
After nearly two weeks of waiting, my curiosity got the best of me.
It was Valentine's Day, and two days later I was scheduled to take a blood test to find out if the embryo transfer worked. But it was already past when I would have gotten my period, and I decided I couldn't take it anymore. I bought the cheapest pregnancy test I could find at Walgreens and locked myself into a Chipotle bathroom to pee on a stick.
Three minutes later, two pink lines appeared on the screen -- the first positive I've ever gotten on a pregnancy test.
"Holy shit," I texted to my best friend Alyssa, accompanied by a picture of those two pink lines. We texted excitedly back and forth for a few minutes, joking about how funny it was going to be for a Chipotle employee to find a positive pregnancy test in the bathroom trash on Valentine's Day.
A few hours later, I texted her again to walk back that excitement. When you do IVF, there's a good chance of a false positive on a pregnancy test because of all the hormones they give you throughout the process. In those intervening hours, I had done a little research about the half-life of one particular hormonal shot I had taken, and I realized that it probably wasn't fully out of my system yet. The pee tests only show whether or not you have the hormone in your body, not how much of it you have in your body. So, with that positive test I could have been pregnant, but it also could have just been the last remnants of the shot. It wasn't a definitive no, but it wasn't a yes either.
"Well, I'm not not pregnant," I said.
Two more agonizing days of waiting followed, and then I finally got my blood test. A nurse called that afternoon with the results.
"You have 500 units of hCG in your blood, so you are definitely pregnant!" she said.
Oh. My. GOD. IVF WORKED. The rest of that day is just a blur to me -- the sound of my mom screaming on the phone, excited texts from friends. wide-eyed "I-can't-believe-this-is-actually-happening" type looks exchanged with my husband. I changed the Period Tracker app in my phone to pregnancy mode, and all of a sudden I had a due date: Oct. 23.
My fertility doctor continued to monitor my hormone levels and did an initial sonogram at Week 5, which showed the gestational sac. Ten days later, I was back in the office for one final blood test and sonogram, after which I would be discharged into the care of my regular OBGYN.
Except, I never got that far. "We have a problem here," the doctor said, his voice sounding grave.
The term for what happened is "blighted ovum." It's a type of miscarriage where a fertilized egg never develops into an embryo but manages to implant into the uterus anyway, or an embryo stops developing in the first few days after implantation. In my case, since I know our embryo was developed in a lab, it was the latter. The sonogram screen in front of me still showed that gestational sac, but nothing more. "You're seven weeks and two days," the doctor said. "We should be seeing a baby by now, but there's no baby there."
So, here I am today as I was in the beginning. I'm not not pregnant. My body is producing hCG; I still haven't gotten a period. An embryo is implanted in my uterus. But it's a husk. An empty shell. There's no baby there.
And likewise, I am the husk. As I ticked off Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, I read various by-the-week pregnancy descriptions that somewhat whimsically likened the baby to food products. Your baby is an apple seed! A sweet pea! A blueberry! But none of that was really happening in me. It was all a fantasy. There's no baby there.
In another dimension, I have an appointment on Friday to hear the heartbeat. In this one, my appointment is for a D&C. I'm waiting for my uterus to be as completely empty as I feel right now.
Is it a pregnancy that never will be, or a pregnancy that never was? None of it had ever felt real to me because I never had any of the classic symptoms -- no vomiting, no nausea, no exhaustion. Did it really happen? Did it count?
It was something I had, but also something I didn't have, but should. And it's hard to articulate exactly just what that feels like -- this in-between space, this not not pregnancy.
I have nothing and yet everything to grieve.