By K.K. Goldberg
If we could fall in love online, then just maybe, we could make a baby in a dish.
That’s what I told myself after three years of agonized infertility. Nothing could soothe the ache of so much failed babymaking, except perhaps the strength I felt in my marriage. I would never have found Ken anywhere but cyberspace — he’s a physicist, I’m a writer — so maybe our DNA also needed technology to meet. We would be a modern family in every way. With my 40th birthday looming, we both agreed: it was time for a reproductive hack.
The move into medical measures felt like a capitulation. I’d always preferred “natural” interventions, like acupuncture. Wheatgrass. Prayer. Denial. We’d planned to make a baby Paleo-style, and I’d birth it that way, too. I distrusted doctors, with their needles, wands and scalpels. I had a reality-based aversion to the high expense and low odds of fertility treatment, in particular IVF. I also harbored irrational biases. “I’m not a bread machine,” I’d say to Ken. “I don’t want a bunch of doctors dumping ingredients into me to force up a loaf.”
“I get it,” Ken would say, though he longed for children, too.
Then one day it struck me: my objections to IVF echoed my once-upon-a-time resistance to online dating. In my single days, meeting someone via the Internet had seemed so… unnatural. Wasn’t I supposed to find a mate at a party, the bar, the office? Not that I went to any of those places. Still, the notion held sway, as forceful as the idea that babies can be made with only two people, through one instinctual act. Naturally.
Nevertheless, my courtship with Ken had launched server-to-server, distinctly high-tech. Our relationship quickly went analogue, and two years later we merged our networks forever. At our wedding, we should have toasted those unknown armies of coders who brought us together. Cheers to DARPA, for inventing the Internet. Database programmers, bless you for the digital yenta that is JDate. It took legions to engineer the most natural love I’d ever known.
It turns out courage from one life success can be mortgaged into strength for the next risky step. Ultimately, that’s how I relented to IVF. The doctor said it would be our best chance. In a weird way, IVF felt like fate, too — I’ve noticed the things I rail against almost have more power to emerge, as if mere mentioning, and certainly ranting, tempts fate. If fate exists, it has a sense of irony. For example, I’d always scoffed at huge, double strollers — but I’ll get to that in a minute.
After we paid the fertility clinic in a virtual transaction, our drugs and needles shipped overnight. We picked them up at a UPS store — thank you, commercial pilots, and bless you, drivers of boxy brown trucks; you were our storks. We unpacked our hormones into the refrigerator — thank you, inventors of ice. Then began nightly shots, which Ken prepared over a complex spreadsheet — thanks, Excel, for keeping track — and at last there’d be tears, jokes, injections. I would never claim IVF was romantic, nor was it ideal, but the intimacy of endurance, together, was sometimes profound.
Weeks later, at the fertility clinic, minutes away from the final “transfer,” we still did not know how many viable embryos we’d have, and whether to put in two. We knew we were open to twins, but also afraid of all that could go wrong.
“I guess I’m going to make a major life decision with my pants off,” I said to Ken, “on ten milligrams of Valium.”
“I’m sure that’s how a lot of people get pregnant,” he said back.
At last our doctor whirled in with pictures of our 5-day-old blastocysts, two white blobs, one big, one small. Thank you, clinic incubator, for the awesome daycare.
“I recommend transferring both,” our doctor said.
Ken and I quickly agreed. The conversation took 10 seconds. With IVF, there was still the random element, a moment where desire trumped reasoning and our middle-aged selves embraced a teenage attitude to chance — perhaps in line with nature’s plan after all.
Then the small, sterile room filled with people — Ken, the nurse, our doctor and two techs. The mood was upbeat. We were trying to make a baby, no matter how clinical, no matter the crowd.
Except we didn’t make a child, we made two. Twins. During the grueling pregnancy that followed, I often thought of our twins as the product of IVF, not nature. The only respite I had from the angst and discomfort of my high-risk gestation was glimpsing the babies on the frequent ultrasounds — thank you for that, inventors of sonography. Seeing my sons on a screen, I’d feel stunned with excitement, with tenderness.
Pregnancy complications required a C-section at 36 weeks. By then I’d forgotten about birthing at home in bed while Ken grilled root vegetables for the midwife. I would have an unnatural end to an unnatural pregnancy.
I grasp all reasons why C-sections are both common and condemned, but my twins were breech and transverse, and my particular gestational complication was associated with stillbirth. Death, too, is a natural process, one that as parents we wanted to cheat. In that light, the science of a surgery, the option of a C-section, is nothing short of sacred.
On the scheduled day, at the hospital, my twins were born a minute apart in a crowded room, just as they’d been conceived. A team of waiting protectors surrounded them — two surgeons, two pediatricians, three nurses, an anesthesiologist, Ken, and of course, me — exhausted, thrilled, scared, and relieved.
When I finally held my sons, I basked in a love so primal, so organic, that the world fell away. Then the world fell away for real, as morphine knocked me out. Thanks, big pharma, for that needed break.
It still startles me that people make babies with sex. Privately. Intimately. Easily. I feel like I spent a year at Reproductive Burning Man: with masses of people, piles of drugs, and anticipation of a final, cathartic event. Though people say technologies like IVF unnaturally control things, the opposite is true. It opens you to whole new levels of randomness, hazard, surprise and wonder. I speak lightheartedly of things that often cause anguish because I was lucky — lucky in the outcomes, but also, as I see it, lucky to live in a time when technology tempers fate.
From JDate to IVF to C-section, science let us script the command line of nature. Without it, I might be solitary still. This family we built, with tons of support, is the grace of technology. Two years later, I no longer think of my sons as a product of IVF. I think of them as a gift from God.