For Science

by Charles Miller on March 12, 2012

For the last ten days, my primary responsibility in life has been stabbing my significant other in the arse with needles. To explain why, we should probably go back in time to 2009.

Scene: Atlassian's San Francisco apartment. Charles is preparing to walk up the road to buy a pregnancy test kit, after a week of concern that somewhere, at some point, we got a little careless.

Donna: So if we are going to have a baby… what do you think we should call it?

Charles: “Oops”?

The test was negative. Looking back, though, that was the day our conversation changed from “Should we have a kid?” to “We should have a kid.” Because now it had a name. And that name was “Oops”.

I recently discovered that the rest of my family has taken to calling this potential child “The iBaby”.

As fate would have it, and thanks to one or two boring but not at all uncommon medical issues, implementing this decision wasn't nearly as easy as we hoped. It was time to USE SCIENCE!

Step One

Step one is several months of ‘give it one more try (kind of) the natural way’. This involves a course of pills for the woman (possible side effects: hot flashes, stomach aches and mood swings) to stimulate egg production on a predictable schedule, and the kind of strictly regimented timetable that manages to take all the fun out of something that's usually quite enjoyable.

This is the step where they warn you about the increased chance of multiple births. I'm not sure the doctor appreciated my suggestion that we would keep at most two and sell the rest.

Step Two

Step two is where the fun really begins. My naive understanding of IVF up to this point was “Well, you get an egg, put it in a dish with some sperm, maybe poke it with a needle to start things off? Chemicals? Er… then put the embryo back in… er… at some point?”

I was mostly correct, but missed one important problem. To get the biggest chance of success you need much more than the paltry one egg that a woman will produce at a time. The solution to this problem is a metric fuck-tonne of drugs.

Drug number one (daily, days 1-X) stimulates egg production. It comes in the kind of multi-dose syringe-pen that diabetics use for insulin. Drug number two (daily, days 5-X) comes in a set of more traditional-looking single-use syringes, and is the antagonist that stops the over-stimulated ovaries from releasing those eggs too early. Both drugs can be self-administered by injecting around the stomach, but it turns out getting your boyfriend to stab you in the arse twice a day is the preferred method.

Likely side-effects: depression, rashes, headaches (compounded by the fact that you're not allowed Ibuprofin) and enough injection-related double entendres to script a Carry On movie.

During this process the woman must go into the clinic every two or three days for blood tests and an internal ultrasound. (long plastic wand, condom, lubricant, and the warning “this will feel cold and gooey”) The ultrasound is to monitor the development of follicles on the ovaries in which eggs may or may not be growing—there's no reliable way to detect if there are eggs in there until they go in to fetch them.

Eventually, when the follicles are getting close to 2cm across, you get the call from the clinic telling you that day X has arrived, and letting you know exactly (to the minute) when you need to deliver the final "trigger" injection (standard syringe, same side-effects as all the others). Two and a half days after this trigger, you are scheduled to come in for “Collection”.

In our case, tomorrow.

Step 3

Collection is the first part of the process that necessarily involves the male half of the relationship, and it goes somewhere like this:

  1. The woman is given a local anaesthetic. A doctor pushes a needle through the wall of her uterus, extracting eggs one by one from the aforementioned follicles.
  2. Halfway through this procedure, the man is given a plastic cup and sent off into a room full of dirty magazines.

Donna feels this is somehow unfair, and has been trying to convince the medical staff to find at least something they can do to me that involves being stabbed or probed.

Once collection is complete, there is a five day wait while they introduce sperm to eggs in the hope that they get together to form viable embryos. In the event that my sperm just swims around looking confused, wondering when they'll be allowed to go play World of Warcraft and trying to find the spot in the dish with the best WiFi reception, this introduction can also be performed manually.

Step 4

Five days later, the woman returns for the final procedure where the best embryo is implanted back into the uterus, and many fingers are crossed that it all works out and eventually we will have something that can resent our interfering in its life. The remaining embryos are frozen just in case we need to try again later, or if we need them to form the basis of a race of cloned super-soldiers that will save humanity.

So if there actually are eggs there to extract, and they get along well with my sperm, and develop into a viable embryo, and are successfully implanted back into Donna, and none of the billion things that can go wrong after that point do actually go wrong, then you're starting to get an idea of just how much funnier the choice of “Oops” as a placeholder name has got every day since I came up with it.

Previously: Performance Reviews: A Guide for Fellow Sufferers

Next: The Showstopper