As a woman struggling through infertility challenges, I addressed a couple of themes that may seem mundane from a day-to-day perspective but shows incredible endurance, strength and willpower.
Women of IVF are masters of the art of waiting. We schedule daily appointments as early as 6 am in the morning before work and sit in the waiting room to get our baseline done. Blood is drawn and ultrasound is completed. It is an invasive procedure experienced over and over again deducing your hopes and spirits into one single result: is your ovaries ready or not. It is a redundant energy sucking experience especially if you have had previous IVF round failures.
“Waiting” depicts a woman sitting in the doctors waiting room. Her facial expression is open for interpretation, and I intentionally left it so that it is vague to keep the audience guessing. Is she upset? Frustrated? Tired? Bored? Pensive? Determined? Or a mix? The woman appears to be just sitting in the waiting room but if you take a second look, you will see the clocks on the walls. Timing is a major factor in IVF. Not only does the woman have to give her time and commitment to IVF, she also is thinking about her biological clock. How many years does she have left before she will not be able to become pregnant? How much longer will this IVF round take? Is it time for her doctors to stimulate her ovaries? Is it time to extract her eggs? How many eggs does she have and more importantly, how many are ‘good’ eggs? How long does it take to fertilize the eggs and if so when will they know if the embryos have made it to the successful blastocyst stage? And even if you get a few good embryos ready for frozen egg transfer, when can you know if the embryo, your potential child, implanted successfully on your uterine lining?
As you sit and wait notice the potted plant next to the woman. Simple design but if you look closer, a pretty plethora of syringes are all lined up row after row. I had trash bags full of syringes in hazard buckets the pharmacy shipped to me. I injected myself daily with various sized needles to stimulate my ovaries in hopes of getting at least a handful of good eggs. When you go in for your baseline, they draw your blood every time to review your hormone levels. They will then know if it is time for ovarian stimulation. If needles make you queasy or faint, IVF is not for you. I began visualizing myself as a walking pin cushion. My very first time I injected myself with a needle, I cried and squirmed like I was going to die. After the end of my first (unsuccessful) round of IVF, I didn’t even flinch when I plunged a progesterone filled needle in my butt cheek.
The potted plant symbolizes the uterus, fallopian tubes and the blossoming life-giving ovaries. I made the ovarian flowers orange, a nod to Sanskrit chakra symbolizing fire and fertility. It is the flame of endurance and will power that drives these women day after day in hopes of giving life. It is our willpower that keeps us going.
“Baseline” has a similar theme but stresses the emphasis on the baseline process. Going through IVF, I sat next to women that I didn’t know but felt an unsaid bond with as we all were linked by this extremely difficult challenge. Why do some experience infertility while others do not? Even though I did an MRI to check my “hardware”, countless ultrasounds and hormone tests, not even my doctor could exactly pinpoint why I didn’t release my eggs normally. I felt like my body was going against natural order. It was literally betraying me. When I went to get my daily baseline done, I would look around the waiting room and feel a small comfort that I was not alone. All of us in the room were going through this together. We were growing together, this hard experience making us stronger to weather the next storm and with that thought I felt more connected and hopeful.
“4BB” is the last art piece of this collection and most fittingly, a reflection of my last attempt at having another child. I have one son by IVF and he is my bright light in my life.
However, four years after I had my son I decided to implant my last remaining embryo. 4BB was waiting patiently for me in the Cryovault lab.
Every year a renewal letter would come from the lab, asking me if I would like to keep 4BB or terminate it. I could never bring myself to as I thought of 4BB as my other child. I started to call her a name secretly in my head. I would watch my son play and fantasize of little 4BB and my son playing together, their laughs escaping into the wind on a bright summer day.
When people know you lost a child at stillbirth, neonatal, or had a miscarriage there is a look of deep sympathy in their eyes. The empathy is palpable and rightfully so. I deeply sympathize for those who have lost children and have the greatest respect for their strength.
However, when you tell someone who has never experienced IVF that your frozen embryo did not implant, no one bats an eye. They view the embryo as a science experiment. Not really a fetus at all.
I want to stress to all that a frozen embryo is one of the sincerest acts of love there is. The selflessness, pain, and patience it takes to create that embryo is a wonder of its own. My little 4BB was my baby. I lost her. I grieve her.