I was single, doing IVF and dating. Many women freeze their eggs, hoping to find Mr. Right later so they don’t have to stress about finding Mr. Right Now. But I was beyond those Misters. By my late 30s, I was ready to be a mom, even if solo. I was trying to get knocked up with anonymous donor sperm.
But just because I’d found Mr. Right in a Vial and was no longer dating to find the biological father for my future child, I didn’t have to stop dating.
It takes about two weeks to medically prepare for in vitro fertilization: daily hormone shots and multiple appointments to make sure my ovarian follicles are growing at the right pace to the right size. Then, if all goes well, my eggs will be surgically extracted from my ovaries. If I were to go on a date during these two-ish weeks, I’d have to keep looking at my phone. Not to be rude, not because I’m bored. (Although I might be). Not because the restaurant is mediocre and I’d rather be playing fetch with my cat. But because I have to be home by 9 p.m. sharp to inject myself with fertility medications.
Let’s imagine the date isn’t a dud. Let’s imagine it’s going swell. If I pick a cafe a short walk from my apartment, my welcoming bed is mere blocks away. If I were to bring my date home, there might be lusty groping up the stairs, lips meeting at the landing, stumbling through the door over said cat, shirts unbuttoning, until, “Wait on the couch. I won’t be long.” He sits down. I enter the kitchen and turn the lights bright, because it’s hard to fill syringes otherwise. Once the meds are mixed and ready, I hunch over to get a hefty roll of stomach fat, wipe my skin with rubbing alcohol, pick up each needle, take a breath, hope I don’t hit any capillaries and stab myself. When I’m finished, about 15 minutes later, I saunter sexily to the couch with a grandma-style hot water bottle over my belly to ensure the meds absorb. “Hey, there, handsome …”
If I’m feeling real sassy, I could let him do the honors, this man I just met. Sidle up to him on the couch with needles in hand, provocatively lift my shirt and say in a low, breathy voice: “Poke me.”
Either scenario equals a very hot first date. Obviously.
But neither of these scenarios will happen. Because during an IVF cycle, the follicles in my ovaries grow so big it’s hard to stand up straight. My bloated stomach makes me look early-stage pregnant. I’ll find it challenging to walk without discomfort, and a strange, deep, aching heaviness will take over my loins. I must do everything slowly. No twisting or jerking. Making out on a couch is impossible.
So I won’t bring anyone home during an IVF cycle. But even if I do go on a date during this time, what does that conversation look like?
Me: “What are you up to tomorrow?”
Him: “Just work. The usual. You?”
Me: “Oh, just the usual, too. After an anesthesiologist knocks me out, my eggs will be extracted from my body and put in a petri dish with an anonymous dude’s sperm. You want to go out again next week?”
I probably won’t say that, because a) it’s too vulnerable, and b) how do those sentences even slip out of a mouth? Although I know, intellectually, that there’s nothing embarrassing or shameful about needing IVF, my heart reacts differently. It’s hard not to feel as though my body is broken when it won’t do the thing I thought it would do easily: make a baby. It’s hard not to feel as though my lady parts are tainted for non-baby-making, pleasure-specific activities, too, such as sex. It’s hard not to feel as though there’s something wrong with me, period.
If I were just freezing my eggs, it would leave open the possibility that the date sitting across from me could, one day, fertilize those eggs and become their father. But because I’m ready to get pregnant right now, and using donor sperm to do it, that door is closed. Maybe that’s a relief for both me and my date. Maybe it’s not.
Once my eggs are extracted and fertilized, the embryos will grow in a petri dish to see which ones become most viable. At this point I have two choices: I can freeze the embryos and transfer them later, whenever I’m ready. Or I can transfer them into my uterus now. If I do that, I’ll enter the dreaded “two-week wait.”
After a transfer it takes about two weeks to find out whether I’m pregnant — whether the embryos implanted in my uterus and kept growing. During these two weeks, while my body recovers from the egg retrieval, I’m generally anxious and distracted, wondering — Am I pregnant? Am I not? And I’m even more bloated from the hormones I must take daily (pills, suppositories, lozenges, shots) that are meant to help keep me pregnant before I know if I even am.
Many single women have articulated the challenges of dating when the biological clock is shouting, the immense pressure it puts on any relationship, the stakes it creates for first dates: Is this guy dad material? Does he even want kids? Does he want them soon? Like next month? When I stopped searching for someone with whom to start a family and decided to do it on my own, I assumed that pressure would disappear. No longer would “Are you the One?” hover like an annoying gnat over every interaction.
That particular gnat did, indeed, die. But once I decided to try getting pregnant by myself, a slew of new insects took its place: When do I tell a suitor that I’m aiming for a baby? Do I wait to see if IVF works and reveal it then? How do I start a relationship with someone when I’m hoping, very soon, to be pregnant with a child that’s not his?
I didn’t think I’d have to navigate dating-while-doing-IVF for very long. I assumed I’d take a brief break from dating, get knocked up quickly, and then be in the land of dating-while-pregnant, a beast all its own.
But that’s not how it went. I tried getting pregnant, unsuccessfully, for a couple years. Battling infertility became a full-time job on top of my full-time job. More attempts, new drugs, new tests as my doctors tried to determine why it wasn’t working. Unfortunately, fertility meds are phenomenal at killing libido. So I wasn’t jonesing to get laid at a time when I couldn’t fathom adding dating — logistically and emotionally — to the mix. I did go on a few online dates, but it felt strange, as though I had a secret life — my full-time infertility job — that I couldn’t admit.
Doctors have finally determined that, for reasons unknown, my uterus won’t let my embryos implant. I still have frozen embryos left over from the IVF cycles, but I can’t get pregnant. Now as I begin pursuing surrogacy, a new set of complicated questions will soon be hovering over the experience of dating while another woman is pregnant with my kid. I don’t know if those questions will be more like gnats or like unexpected butterflies. Regardless, I’m ready.