I Left My Heart (Well, part of it anyway) in San Francisco


Thanks to one of my college roommates, Missy B., for sending me this picture from her recent trip to San Francisco!

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you have been introduced to some of the places, other than Kentucky, that I consider to be my “home”, for part of my heart can be found in several places.  I’ve written about the sanctuary of the trails I run on and shared about “the house that built me” at the University of Dayton.  Now, it is time for me to welcome you to another revered place that I call “home”-San Francisco, California.

Like most people and places who have left imprints on my heart and filled my mind with vivid memories, I discovered San Francisco in an unconventional way.  I didn’t go there for vacation.  I didn’t go there on a business trip or for a conference.  I didn’t go there to visit family or friends.  I went there with the sole purpose of getting pregnant.

My five-year infertility odyssey began in Louisville and ended happily in San Francisco.  After two unsuccessful in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles as a patient of a local infertility clinic, I was diagnosed with an early stage of cervical cancer.  Suddenly, my two-year quest to get pregnant had to take a back seat to dealing with surgery and recovering physically and emotionally.  During my recovery, I began to explore numerous options for becoming a parent, such as adoption, surrogates, and another round of IVF, in the event that I was given medical clearance to venture back into the world of infertility treatment. Doing research about my options gave me something positive to focus on while I was in medical limbo, and it gave some small sense of control over the body which seemed to betray me at every turn. 

My research led me to a renowned reproductive endocrinologist (RE), Dr. Christo Zouves, who practiced at an infertility clinic located in San Francisco.  So, almost a year after the cancer diagnosis, I found myself undergoing the familiar paces of the IVF process in an unfamiliar place.  Going to San Francisco felt like being set up on a blind date.  I was wary but hopeful, and I did not know what to expect at all.  That said, from the moment I arrived in the city by the bay, it was an immediate attraction, and the love affair began.

I was absolutely smitten with the gorgeous scenery, the diverse cultures that all co-existed among the winding, hilly streets, the delicious culinary offerings, the unique architecture, and all of the famed tourist attractions, such as Alcatraz, the cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc.  I quickly learned my way around the city during our first extended stay, as there was a lot of down time between medical tests and procedures, and I took full advantage of it.  I loved being able to walk almost everywhere, and since mass transit has yet to make its way to Louisville, BART became my favorite mode of transportation.  I settled into a comfortable routine that balanced undergoing medical treatment and exploring the city, and I soon had a new “home” that eased the stress of infertility and that made my heart and mind expand in unexpected ways. 

That first trip to San Francisco was not to be our last.  In fact, it was twelve years ago this month when I was in San Francisco for IVF #5, which resulted in the conception of our extraordinary oldest daughter.  She is far and away the best souvenir from a trip ever!  So, San Francisco definitely holds a very special place in my heart for that reason, but there is more to it than even that.  It also holds the distinction of being the only place I have been to in the world that I thought I could leave Louisville for, and while there, I felt like I was cheating on Louisville in a way.  If the cost of living were not so high, I probably would have relocated there after my initial introduction to the city and its people.  Even though I did not move, it moved me in countless ways. 

In May 2004, I returned to San Francisco to undergo a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) to bring our infertility treatment to a conclusion.  I was now the mother of two incredible little girls, so, this trip was markedly different from the other ones.  I had fulfilled my dream of becoming a mother, and I was there for closure.  It was time to move on with the next part of my life, which did not include blood tests, injections, immunological treatment, egg retrievals, embryo transfers, and all of the other many requirements of infertility treatment. 

I was by myself on this particular trip, and I relished having a week alone in a city that made me feel so very welcome, safe, and alive.  When I reached the hotel, I couldn’t unpack fast enough, as I felt like my heart would burst with joy upon being back there, and I just wanted to go lose myself in the city.  I wanted to sit by the fountain in Ghirardelli Square and sip hot tea while I read a book.  I wanted to be amongst the hustle and bustle of Union Square.  I wanted to stand at the center point of the Golden Gate Bridge, with the cars whizzing by me on one side and the water of the Bay soothing me on the other side.  I wanted to be entertained by the street performers on Fisherman’s Wharf.  I wanted to walk for miles and never see the same people or sites twice.  So, off I went to do everything I wanted to do, and I fell in love all over again.

During that week, my then husband would call me daily, and before hanging up he’d jokingly say, “You are coming home next week, right?”, and I always teasingly would hesitate before responding in the affirmative.  I missed my family, but I loved my “home”.  I just wanted to take all of the sights and sounds of this beautiful safe haven to my actual home, and more than that, I wanted to bottle up all of the joy I felt when I was there as a keepsake to treasure.  When the time came for me to leave San Francisco, more than any other time when I departed, I was overcome with sadness, the kind you feel when you bid farewell to a loved one and are not sure when you will see one another again.  It caught me off-guard, and it definitely surprised the airport shuttle driver who came to my door to help me with my luggage, only to discover me in tears and hyperventilating.  Fortunately, he was very kind, albeit confused as to why I was so upset to be returning home, and he didn’t charge me extra for helping me with the emotional baggage.  As the plane departed, and I caught sight of the city in the offing, I said a silent “good-bye” and wondered when I would ever return. 

The wondering comes to an end in a few days when I make a brief, but long overdue, trip to San Francisco.  This will be my first trip there that does not involve medical treatment of any kind, and it is a trip of various contrasts.  So very much has changed in eight years since I departed in a torrent of tears, both in my own life and in the life of the city, and I am excited about visiting old haunts and discovering new ones.  I am ready for closure related to some unfinished business and welcome the new opportunities that await me.  I am over the moon at the thought of getting to see my dear, sweet, beautiful friend, Wendie, who met me in San Francisco on more than one occasion to support me during infertility treatment, and I am looking forward to meeting new people.  As my pen pal recently said, “It’s time to create new memories”, and so it is indeed. 

That’s another story . . .

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