Longing for family and Oregon
written by Susannah Bradley | illustrated by Allison Bye
The picture on the video screen was dark and grainy, blurry around the edges with three disks at its center. It might have been a satellite image of planets in a distant solar system, remote and mysterious as fate. And in a way, it was. As I lay on the surgical table at Portland’s Oregon Reproductive Medicine, staring at my three tiny embryos on the screen, I willed those planets to become my new world. Fate, luck and nature had all failed me in my quest to become a mother, and so it was up to science.
The surgical team finalized its preparations, and I watched in awe as the doctor drew up each microscopic fertilized embryo in a pipette for transfer back to my body. I didn’t feel a thing as the transfer took place, but psychically, it was huge. If the transfer “took,” I would soon be the mother of a baby … or three.
The embryo transfer is the last step in the arduous IVF process. After weeks of injections, ultrasounds and blood tests, eight eggs were retrieved and cultured in ORM’s lab. By the fifth day, three embryos had formed, and the clinic prepared them for transfer. After that, there was an almost unbearable two-week wait to find out if the process had worked.
I’ve spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, but I came to Portland for IVF because Oregon Reproductive Medicine’s success rate for people my age was among the highest in the country. While my husband was working in Northern California during a brief career detour, I spent the two-week wait falling in love with Oregon, my embryos, and ultimately the idea of a home among the sheltering trees. I made bargains with the universe (“If this pregnancy takes, I promise to …”) and saw auspicious signs everywhere I looked. Red-haired twins shouting “Happy New Year!” on Hawthorne Boulevard in the middle of July. Clouds shaped like horses gamboling in the sky over Hood River. And on a quiet morning in Forest Park, the deer who stopped and watched me watching her on the trail filled me with a deep sense that everything was going to be fine.
While my embryos were going about the work of dividing and implanting, I was discovering neighborhoods, wandering through parks, and eating a lot of pizza, pastry and ice cream. I was making myself at home.
“Just wait until the rain starts,” people warned. “Everyone loves Portland when the sun is shining.” But this was love, and I knew better.
Two weeks later, the call came on a Tuesday morning. One of the three embryos had implanted, and we were going to be parents. I joined my husband in California and made all of the usual preparations for the birth of our son, but I missed Oregon the way you miss a person. I looked out our kitchen window at the arid hills of the Diablo Range and wished for green mountains and lush forests instead. If home is where a family’s story begins, then our family’s home couldn’t be anywhere but Portland. My husband agreed, updated his resume, and before long we were hunting for a home for our fledgling family.
Now, we’re raising our son—and his two younger brothers—in a ramshackle treehouse in Portland’s Southwest hills. Our boys love rain puddles and slugs, and falling asleep to the calls of coyotes and owls. They are Oregonians with a deep appreciation for our state’s natural treasures and a sense of wonder for the beautiful place we call home. My oldest boy loves to hear about the month I spent alone, discovering the places we now explore together, willing him into existence and making promises to the universe to be the best mom, if given the chance. I’ll always be grateful to the team at Oregon Reproductive Medicine for that chance—and for showing me the way home.