It is 2am and I’ve just woken from the craziest of dreams. A glass dish on a counter was bubbling with a mass of transparent spheres. Tiny balls, all jostling for position. They were glowing lilac from within – bursts of purple light pulsing from them, as if they had beating hearts. The balls began popping out of the dish, jumping like popcorn, before rolling off the counter to be dashed on the floor. I come to with a jerk, sweating, unable to blink away the image, and I lie still until my heartbeat has lessened and the vision has gone.
Behind me, Dom’s snores are puttering like a distant pneumatic drill. I lift his hand from my waist, place it gently behind me onto the mattress and swing myself out of bed. At the open window, I look out over sleeping London. Only this is still the height of summer, the corker of 2006, and the city is not asleep, but vibrant, with the revving of car engines and stray pub-goers laughing on Gloucester Road behind the houses opposite. Beyond them, beyond the mass of Imperial College, the duck egg bricks of the Natural History Museum and the holy pillars of Brompton Oratory, not so far away, in the basement of a Knightsbridge clinic, nine of my eggs lie in a Petri dish. Precisely nine of Dom’s sperm – hopefully none of the abnormal ones – have been sucked up into a pipette and injected into these eggs. In one of the many books I’ve amassed, I have read that they are immersed in a culture medium, which includes some of my own blood. The dish is safe and warm inside an incubator, where conditions reflect those within my body – embryos need to be nurtured until settled in their natural habitat.
The balmy air ruffles my dressing gown against my skin. I stand and observe the moon, full and hanging harvest-like in the dusty sky, taking me back again to that night in Brussels. This will be our moon, this will be the one we will draw down for ourselves. I close my eyes and visualise the glass dish, isolating each of the eggs inside the flat vessel in turn. I imagine tiny spheres, not purple but iridescent orange, like iced kumquats I once saw on a Christmas card, and I send them vibes. One by one. In the morning, we will know how many have made it through to fertilisation.
It is 9am and I am sitting at the kitchen table on my second coffee. At my feet, Silkie has given up on her walk and lies flopped with her head in her paws, lead by her side. The phone sits precisely midway between my balled-up fists on the table. Every so often I span my hands out in measurement to ensure it is exactly halfway, nudging it back to the perfect location if not. I gaze down at its buttons, the eight is fading more than the others and I begin to run through everyone we know, ticking off with a flick of my fingers those who have an eight in their phone number; my mind has to be busied, it cannot bear the state of leisure. When I get to ten, I give up and shunt my thumbs and fingers back into fists to concentrate on that call.
The phone rings once and my fist opens, reaching for it. It’s Jackie.
“Hi sweetie. How did it go?” Her voice is unusually soft.
“Jacks, get off the frigging phone will you? I’m waiting for them to call me.” I press the red button and then ram the handset to my mouth again. “Sorry. I’ll call you back.” But, of course, she’s gone and it rings dead.
I stab at the green button to check if I’ve missed their call, but there is no message tone, so the phone takes up once again its ominous position on the table.
It’s 9.22am when the clinic calls. “Hello, Mrs Wyatt, how are you feeling this morning?”
“How many have fertilised?” My question snaps itself out at her.
“We have five embryos. Still at the two cell stage, but we hope they will develop into three or four cells by tomorrow morning.”
“Five? But we had nine eggs.”
“That’s actually a good result, Mrs Wyatt. We normally expect only half the eggs to fertilise.” So I’ve got half an egg more than normal. “We’d like you to come in tomorrow at 10.30am for the embryo transfer please. You’ll need a full bladder, half a litre of water an hour before should do it.”
After I hang up I punch in Jackie’s number.
As always, she’s cut me some major slack. “How ya doing?”
“Five embryos.” My voice is flat.
There’s a gaping pit in my stomach and I’m blinking back the tears, but still even I smile at this. Of course she has not the slightest notion; I could have said as many as twenty – or just two, and she’d still be on the end of that phone buoying me up.
“How can you drop a huge dollop of sperm onto nine ripe eggs in a confined little dish and not have all of them fertilise, Jacks?”
I don’t tell her that the sperm have actually been injected into the eggs. Not for us some cute tadpole wriggling its little heart out to get there first, Dom’s sperm have received the ultimate leg up, head first into the core of the matter. And yet still four have failed on their mission; a fact so incredulous that it’s still whirling around my mind.
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Bittersweet, at times funny, and always emotionally raw, this is by far the most moving and honest novel you'll ever read about IVF and its impact on a marriage.