Carolyn Zinn gazes out of the car window at the orange light peeking through the haze above the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Her husband, Larry, is driving her to Tampa for her fifth embryo transfer in a year.
"Don't let me forget to take my pill at 8:15," she says. She must take a Valium before the procedure to relax.
"Okay, don't forget to take your pill at 8:15," Larry says, his large hands planted firmly on the steering wheel.
She makes a face at him.
Carolyn is under a lot of pressure. Her client, Diane, has hired a new egg donor in hopes of increasing the chances she'll get a baby this time. Diane has also doubled down by hiring a second surrogate. Carolyn likes this new woman but worries that she will deliver and Carolyn won't.
It's hard for Carolyn to be positive with four failures piled up like wrecks behind her. If she doesn't get pregnant, she knows Diane will likely give up on her. Carolyn is not sure what she'll do if that happens.
As the car nears Tampa she silently prays:
I know I want this to take so desperately, Lord. But I also want firmly to believe you are in control and that this will only happen with your help. I just pray this is your time for us.
• • •
Today, Dr. Stephen Welden will transfer three embryos into Carolyn and two into Kimberly Lambertson-Tormey, the second surrogate.
Diane had wanted both women to get three embryos, but Dr. Welden wasn't willing to take that risk with Kimberly. At 37, she is three years younger than Carolyn. The chances of her having triplets, which is medically risky, are too high.
For a day now, Carolyn's surrogacy friends have been shooting her encouraging e-mails: "Sending positive, sticky thoughts." Carolyn thinks about those messages as she lies on the exam table, receiving the embryos.
Then the doctor, embryologist and support staff move the incubator and embryos into Kimberly's room, just down the hall.
When Kimberly's transfer is done, everyone grabs hands in a circle around her.
"Lord," Welden begins, "we're seeking you to do what's been impossible for us to do. We're asking that you take these cells and breathe into them the breath of life."
The doctor smiles at Kimberly. Her eyes are filled with tears.
"God bless you," he says. "This has got to work. Somebody is going to lose faith in me if it doesn't."
Welden isn't sure why Carolyn hasn't become pregnant. Some of the failures were understandable because using frozen embryos is always chancy. But the first and fourth transfers were performed with fresh embryos, which work half the time in Welden's experience. All of the embryos, even the frozen ones, were of good quality, and the conditions in Carolyn's uterus were ideal.
Still, Welden is philosophical. Sometimes everything can be just right and the procedure fails. Sometimes everything can seem wrong and out comes a baby.
"It really lets us know we're not in control," he says.
Later, in the hallway, Kimberly and Carolyn meet.
"Two pregnant ladies," Diane says, joining them. She claps her hands together.
"I named my embryos Faith and Hope," Kimberly says, turning to Carolyn. "You've got to name yours."
Carolyn thinks about it. She has never considered naming them. She feels awkward. She struggles, trying to think of something appropriate.
She comes up with one name: Love.
• • •
Carolyn must endure a 10-day wait to find out if the transfer has taken. She gets through it by focusing on her work at the bank and spending time with her family.
One day, she and her 15-year-old daughter, Lauren, go to a nearby stable to see their horse. They are feeding her when Peggy Black approaches.
Peggy, who owns the barn, is well aware of Carolyn's latest embryo transfer. Carolyn talks about these things to nearly everyone she knows.
"Well?" Peggy says, looking expectantly at Carolyn.
Carolyn says she doesn't know. She is holding to her agreement with Kimberly not to take any home pregnancy tests.
"I've never met someone who wanted to be pregnant so bad," Peggy says. "Now is this the last time?"
"Oh yeah, if it takes."
Peggy shakes her head.
"I mean it this time," Carolyn says. "Shoot, I'm already 40."
• • •
Carolyn is prone to migraine headaches, and she has them all the time now. The pain is like a knife in her skull, but she can't take anything for them while she's trying to get pregnant.
She and Kimberly occasionally talk on the phone, and things aren't much better for Kimberly. She cries all the time. Her stomach's upset.
Their conversations are touchy. Kimberly points out that Carolyn has given birth as a surrogate three times.
"You've done it," she tells Carolyn. "I haven't."
Carolyn has conflicting feelings about Kimberly. "I want it just as badly as she does," she says one day. "It's all I dream about — to see someone's face as they hold that baby. Now I feel like I'm being selfish."
But Carolyn knows Kimberly will be devastated if she doesn't get pregnant. That would make Carolyn feel guilty.
Please God, let Kim also get pregnant.
She tells Kimberly she has come up with a name for another one of her embryos.
She's calling it Patience.
• • •
When the 10-day wait is over, Carolyn drives to Dr. Welden's office again to get the results. Pausing at a light, she hits the steering wheel and exclaims: "Darn it God, you can do this. You can make this work."
As always, she will take a drugstore pregnancy test, then have a blood test to confirm the result.
In the doctor's office, Carolyn gives a urine sample to the nurse. "I'm too scared," she says, handing over the cup. Lenora Welden, a nurse practitioner and the doctor's wife, joins Carolyn and the nurse in a room just off the main hallway.
Now Lenora and the nurse are hovering over the test, waiting for an indication. Carolyn is sitting across the room from them.
"I'm waiting for some yells over there," she says.
Lenora looks at the test. Then she turns to Carolyn.
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8640.