On the Count of Three: The Embryo Afterlife

On the Count of Three: The Embryo Afterlife


That’s what our RE instructed us to yell as the embryologist, Dr. Stout, inserted our two, recently thawed, five day old embryos inside my uterus. So we did. All of us: me, Ryan, the nurses, ultrasound techs, Dr. Dunaway and even Dr. Stout. I’m confident my mother even yelled it from the waiting room. It will go down in history as one of the most exciting moments of my life. It was my own mini pep rally in a 5x5 square foot sterile medical exam room while my legs were wide open and lady bits on full display under the bright heat lamp. Ahh, exciting times! The giggles and thrills! The tears of joy and excitement!

Y’all did know John Hayes was supposed to be a twin, right?

Well he was.

We had a total of four frozen embryos: two frozen together on day five and two frozen together on day six.  You can refresh your memory here and here of those breath holding days  

The morning of the transfer two frozen embryos were dipped in a beaker of antifreeze and defrosted. Both survived the thaw! Both were transferred! Both were rapidly growing and so were their futures and our hearts. 

Embryo Loss

They both had names. We weren’t going to find out the gender so we had two girl names and two boy names. As each day passed so did the real possibility of “ohmyholystarswecouldbehavingtwins”! The secret Pinterest board continued to fill with gender neutral nursery decor and all of the boy/boy, girl/girl, boy/girl combinations played on a loop. On the outside I remained chill. I’ve seen way too many friends have this end in heartbreak so I had to metaphorically slap myself out of this fantasy on the reg. But twins!!!

Embryo Loss

Ten days after the transfer I went in for my blood work to confirm all 9 of my positive home pregnancy tests were correct.  The nurse later called with the results saying, “It’s 211!” and we immediately began researching on what that meant in regards to one vs two babies. Then when my second beta more than doubled we just knew there had to be two in there! Google is NEVER wrong.

Nine days later was my first ultrasound. Tomorrow will be exactly two years since that appointment. The ultrasound was going to confirm how many, if any, babies were in there. Before I could even plop my shaking legs on the stirrups, Dr. Dunaway commented with his sincere and jolly demeanor that we would most likely be looking at a singleton based on my beta numbers.


Before I could process what he said we saw that he was correct. 

Embryo Loss Ultrasound

There it was! We were over the moon about finally getting this far in our infertility journey. I was pregnant for the first time in my life--something I never thought would happen during my darkest moments. But we were having a baby! A baby! A baby! A baby. Not babies. Well wait. What happened to the second one? I see the one that implanted and is thriving and growing. I see that one. But what happened to the second embryo that was already hatching and had special adhesive glue smeared on it so it would have higher chances of sticking to my perfectly thick lining? The second embryo that was growing perfectly on day five right along with the other one and was graded equally as high? Where’s THAT one? Where is the second one that will be labeled "Baby B"? Where is our second embryo? Where is my second baby?

There was no evidence that he or she ever existed on the screen. 

I was in the middle of an ultrasound with a vaginal wand pointing at a miracle and all I wanted to know was when my second baby died.

Yes. Died. Death. The definition of death is “the end of the life of a person or organism; the permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue.” 

Please don’t try and tell me my five day, 98 cell embryo didn’t die. By the definition alone it ended in death no matter what school of thought you believe in. Person or organismCell or tissue. Religion and science have to both agree on this simple definition of death. 

{Have no fear, I'm not going in to the "when life begins" or "personhood" debate because then I would have to go google more definitions and I really don't want to use this blog post as a platform for anyone's political agenda, not even my own. So please don't assume I am saying anything about politics, pro-life or pro-choice. I love you. I respect you. I don't want to know who you voted for. }

Grieving Embryos

Some people don't think of embryos as dying because to them embryos are a microscopic lump of cells, nothing more.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and belief and we should respect that. It doesn't mean we have to agree with it. In my mind and heart, that second embryo is just as real as my 16 month old son. He was once a five day, 98 cell embryo, too, remember?

I didn’t acknowledge the grief of losing our second embryo until months later. I felt it would be too selfish of me to be sad while simultaneously being pregnant---a situation I had been praying for and friends would kill to be in. Grief finds a way to make it's presence known though. During my pregnancy I would get a pain in my heart every time I saw a twin pregnancy announcement, the newborn photos, matching outfits. I often looked at John Hayes and imagined a life with his twin brother or sister next to us. I would get sad. I would cry. Then I would feel confused and silly. I mean, what in the hell are you to do with this type of loss? It’s definitely a loss but what do you have to show for it other than a picture the embryologist took and a heart full of future plans that will never happen? Oh and debt. You have that to show for it. 

Grief is such a complicated process. Society dictates most of what, who and how grieving should be done. But society can suck it on this one.  Loss is in the heart of the beholder and who are we to say what is worthy enough to be considered a loss? Miscarriage at 5 weeks or 16 weeks. Failed embryo transfer or embryos that didn’t make it through the thaw. Infertility in itself has its own set of grieving heartaches that compound month after month like waves crashing down on you until you’re so disoriented you can’t stand.

We lost so much when our second embryo died. We lost future plans. Dreams. Hearing laughter coming from their bedroom. Memories that hadn't been made yet. All very, very real. We lost years of holidays together. Hundreds of photos with Ruby and Molly being forced to pose next to the twins. Countless meltdowns. Countless matching outfits. Double snuggles. Double strollers. Thousands of band-aids and every single bedtime prayer with my two babies in my arms.

Did God Call Me an Idiot?

Those images were tough to handle so I did what any emotionally healthy adult would do: shoved the feelings deep down inside and pretended not to notice until one day in January when I was putting on mascara. Some call it a “a-ha” moment but for me it was a “well duh, you big idiot” moment. God knew what happened to our second embryo. He knew all along. He knew John Hayes needed to be an only child right now. Most of y'all know the frequency of doctor visits and specialists appointments we've made over the past year and the scary seizure incident back in October. Sleep studies, scopes and upcoming surgery. I'm still not convinced Ryan can pronounce a few diagnoses---there is one I still can't pronounce. John Hayes' second year of life doesn't appear to be slowing down in regards to medical attention and while I don't know what the future looks like, God does. I couldn't see what He was doing two years ago but I’ve never had more faith in Him than I do now. 

I know He has a plan for our two embryos currently chillin’ with Dr. Stout.  Am I anxious about their future? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t. But I know I will meet them one day-either in my uterus, in the delivery room or in Heaven bouncing on Jesus' knee with their other sibling. 

I've been asked hundreds of times if John Hayes is an only child. My answer? "Yes but he has two frozen siblings." But y'all. I'm not a mom to one. I'm a mom to FOUR. I won't say that when I introduce myself at a cocktail party but just know I'm thinking it.  So, how many children do you have?













Hush Little Baby, Don't You Cry: My Postpartum Silence

Hush Little Baby, Don't You Cry: My Postpartum Silence

Box of Sentiments: Infertility Goes Where I Go

Box of Sentiments: Infertility Goes Where I Go