A pregnant woman standing in a bra and black underwear before her ultrasound and the Yolk Sac ultras...
Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Watching Hcg, Hoping For A Yolk Sac, Hoping For A Heartbeat — The Milestones We Take For Granted

Romper's Trying project follows five women with very different stories through a year of trying to conceive. Where discussions about fertility often focus on the end goal, they'll document what it's like emotionally, physically, and spiritually before you get there — the anxiety, the hope, the ovulation kits, the tests. How do you function when getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term isn't a given? Read on for one woman's answer to that question.

Dese’Rae has been undergoing fertility treatments since 2017. In January, she welcomed a son, carried by her wife. This is the sixth installment of her Trying diary. You can read the previous entry here.

We tend to simplify the getting-pregnant process: conception and then a positive pregnancy test a few weeks later. But for those of us who have lost pregnancies in the past, or who are undergoing fertility treatments, the journey from not pregnant to "expecting" consists of many, many milestones. The following is a month in the life of an IVF cycle, starting from Day 0, IVF Retrieval Day.

Day 0

Using a giant, terrifying needle, the doctor retrieves eight eggs from my ovaries, more than ever before. While he does that, I have a glorious Propofol-induced nap. Remember: this is my fifth IVF cycle. I’ve been around the block a few times.

Day 1

Over the next three days, the embryologist will call with daily updates on embryo growth. Today’s update: after sperm is introduced, six of the original eight eggs fertilize and become embryos.

Day 2

All six embryos are still dividing! At this stage, they are 2-3 cells each, which is right on track. Taken to its logical extreme, I’M PREGNANT WITH SEXTUPLETS OUTSIDE MY BODY!

Gameface; six little embryos, six little hopes. Photos courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Day 3

We lost one overnight, but five embryos are still going strong. Sometimes, the doctor will choose to transfer embryos on Day 3 — usually if they’re of lower quality. Otherwise, the doctor will choose to let the embryos grow for another two days before choosing the best one and transferring it back into the body. The doctor chooses to wait. We won’t get an embryo update tomorrow.

Day 5

It’s transfer day, betches!

I’m 35, and I’m the last girl born to my family. It’s been all boys ever since. My mom told me to think pink, so I have extra pink in my hair, a strong lady on my shirt, pink undies, and pink shoes for luck.

We’ve got one solid embryo to transfer. Embryo #2: that’s the horse we’re betting on.

Day 7

On transfer day, there were three or four embryos that looked like they might be freezable if given another day to grow. The embryologist called yesterday to let me know that none of those four made it. So, even though this cycle looked great on its face, the outcome was no different than past cycles: we got one good embryo out of the deal, just as always before.

If it doesn’t work—as in, if I don’t get pregnant—I have to stim again and do another retrieval, et cetera. Because this cycle seemed so promising, I was really looking forward to a much simpler and less intensive frozen cycle next go around if this one didn’t take.

I’m getting really tired of this. It’s exhausting and invasive and eats up all your time and brain space, and I think my ability to do it is nearing its natural end.

Day 9

I start testing early. I never can wait for the official blood test. From reading online forums, I know that four days past transfer is likely the earliest I could possibly get a positive test. The pee stick comes back negative.

Day 10

I get the faintest possible positive on a pregnancy test. I don't know how to feel. I'm in disbelief. I'll keep peeing on sticks over the next few days to see if the line gets darker.

Day 13

I’m hesitant to share the positive pregnancy result, because it’s stirred up all kinds of feelings in me, and they’re difficult ones.

There will never again be a time where a positive pregnancy test elicits joy; instead, I feel trepidation. A positive pregnancy test is just the beginning. Now, I have to get regular bloodwork to confirm that the embryo is growing appropriately, starting tomorrow. It won't be visible on an ultrasound until I'm 5-6 weeks pregnant, so blood is the only way to know until then. This is when things started to go bad last time. I’m just trying to stay calm.

Day 14

A formal blood test confirms the results of all 45 (hyperbole, but just barely) sticks I’ve peed on. My hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin — the "pregnancy hormone") level is 44 today — lower than I expected, but still within the normal range for early pregnancy, according to the doctor.

I have another blood test (called a repeat beta) in two days. For a good prognosis, my hCG levels should double to 88 or so by then.

You can never test too many times. Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Day 16

The bloodwork came back good. My hCG levels went from 44 to 89. I remain healthily pregnant for now. Doing another beta in two more days for peace of mind.

Here are some hot dogs. I'm counting them as my first official craving.

First official craving. Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Day 18

Repeat beta #3 came back at 209! Our goal was 148, so this little embryo is an overachiever. The first ultrasound is next week. We should (hopefully) be able to see a gestational sac by then.

Day 21

Yeah, I’m gonna be the human who takes weekly photos of her belly. I worked too hard to get here not to be super basic about it. Sorry, not sorry. I'm five weeks pregnant as of today.

Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Day 23

The ultrasound went really well today. We have a yolk sac! This brings us to 12 percent or less chance of miscarriage. Fingers crossed for a heartbeat next week.

Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Day 25

I’m just so tired all the time. I'm completely drained. Cooking a human is hard work.

Day 28

Had one of the best naps of my life with this fool yesterday. All I want to do is sleep right now.

Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Of all the cycles I've been through in the past year, this one has been the most difficult on my mind and body. I was so resigned to it not working that it felt like I was slogging through everything.

It's strange how it took me throwing all caution to the wind and being truly okay with not carrying for this to finally work.

The hormones left me in a fog. I feel like I lost the whole month of July — just poof, gone. Very few memories of things that happened, and little productivity. It’s hard to be productive when you spend so much time driving to and from a clinic an hour away, then an hour or more for the appointment, and so on. The meds were hard to push through too, but they worked better than they ever had — except that the end product, as usual, left me with only one embryo (and luckily, so far, it seems like we got our golden egg). But the hope I had for all those other embryos — it hurt to hear that not a single one made it on day 6.

It's strange how it took me throwing all caution to the wind and being truly okay with not carrying a child for this to finally work. I know that’s not how biology works, but it’s an interesting coincidence, nonetheless. And it makes the success all the more complicated for me, psychologically.

Day 29

I'm six weeks pregnant today. This is when many folks find out they're pregnant, but I've known my little embryo from the first. So far, pregnancy is lots of dry mouth and lots of fatigue. I'm bracing for the real deal.

I had a dream last night that I bled, so good thing ultrasound is tomorrow. I’m super nervous — what if there’s no heartbeat? It would destroy me.

Obviously, the experience of being pregnant versus being the partner is different, but I didn’t expect it to be different both physically and psychologically. When Fel was pregnant, I just knew in my heart that everything was okay with Gus, even though she was consistently worried from week to week. Now I’m feeling that really hard.

Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Day 30

Heartbeat achieved! The embryo is measuring 4 centimeters in length, with a heart rate of 132 beats per minute — right on schedule. This early in a pregnancy, you don't hear a heartbeat; instead, you see it — a steady flicker of light in the darkness. I was so nervous this morning, worried that little flicker wouldn’t be there for me.

Photo courtesy of Dese'Rae L. Stage

Now there’s less than 5 percent chance of miscarriage. It can still happen, but the lower probability comforts me some. I'm starting to believe pregnancy can be for me, starting to imagine my belly rounding out, wondering what I'll wear, fantasizing about feeling this baby move for the first time.

Maybe pregnancy can be for me.