I have to laugh at this picture because it is a perfect example of some IVF humor.
For those of you that know me, you know I was a party girl!! The popular LMFAO song was a favorite of mine. It fit in perfectly as we crowded into our local bar with my besties, music pulsing through the jukebox so loud you could feel the vibrations in the floor. Power fisting, dancing, and screaming “shot, shots, shots, everybodyyyy”, we tossed back jagabombs with my biggest concern being how large my tab was going to be. Fast forward to today as I am double injecting hormone shots daily, the song plays in my head as though it’s teasing me. I can’t help but laugh at how much my world has changed over a short few months.
We officially began our IVF cycle on Sunday, April 27th. The whole process is incredibly confusing, so bear with me and I will try and explain it in the easiest way possible! We started off the cycle eager, prepared, and incredibly positive. I would soon learn, however that the process was much harder than I ever anticipated.
The first two days nothing major happens. Both Paul and I began by taking a one day dose of antibiotics. Dr. A emphasized that staying healthy was critical to our treatment’s success. An interesting tid bit of information is that if a male spikes a temperature over 100 degrees, he loses his sperm count for three whole months!!! So starting off with an antibiotic would kill off any germs that may be lingering.
On cycle day 3, Tuesday, April 29th, I began the birth control pill. Crazy right? I’m trying to get pregnant and they put me on the pill? This is done is so that my system can completely shut down and become totally inactive, giving Dr. A complete control over it. The first two weeks were incredibly easy as far as medications went. What was hard for me, were the changes I began to make in my life. I knew going into this experience that I was going to do everything possible to give my body the very best fighting chance it deserved to accept the IVF. I quit drinking. I began a regular sleep routine. I made healthier food selections. I increased my water intake which was already pretty high around 80 oz. a day. I cut out all caffeine from my diet. Trust me when I say this one was by far the worst! My morning coffee was a staple for my commute to work. And Starbucks! Oh Starbucks, I cannot wait to one day be reunited with a hot caramel macchiato, extra shot of espresso. But I told myself I didn’t want to look back at this experience with any regrets or haunting doubts. It was far too expensive to do so! I was more than willing to do these simple sacrifices.
On Monday, May 12th I had my first IVF ultrasound. Dr. A was very happy, the birth control pill had done its job- my system was completely shut down. Paul and I both had to give extensive blood work. Per federal regulations for IVF, we both had to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis, and numerous STDs. I had to give additional blood for what was considered my baseline blood work. Basically this was a good way for Dr. A to monitor my hormone levels and help determine my medicine dosages. I then met with one of the IVF nurses who gave me my schedule for the upcoming week. Three days of no medication followed by starting stimulation medication. This is the point in my treatment where everything started to feel incredibly surreal. As Paul and I pulled out my first injectable medication on Friday, May 16th we both stared at it for a minute before taking the plunge. Friday evenings in the past we were bonding over Jagabombs, and now we were holding a vial of Gonal F, anxiously rereading the directions over and over.
Gonal F is a FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) given in injection form. Its purpose is to stimulate the ovaries so that they are mass producing eggs. During a typical cycle, an average woman releases one-two eggs. With an IVF cycle, the doctors want the ovaries to produce numerous follicles so that multiple eggs are created. The first injection was a bit of a learning experience, but we finally got it mastered. Gonal F comes in a ready-ject pen, meaning there were multiple dosages in each one. You added a new needle to the end, turned the dial to the correct dosage and it would dispense the exact amount needed. Pinching a section of my stomach, I slowly entered the thin needle. Not bad at all! In fact, I barely felt it. I smiled, this was going to be much easier than I thought.
Once I began injectables, I had to report to the doctor’s office every 3-4 days for ultrasounds and blood work. The ultrasounds would determine how many follicles were growing on each ovary and the size of each. After six days of injectables, I was told to mix in my second medicine, Cetrotide. Cetrotide is a GnRH Antagonists. They prevent the body from ovulating prematurely and releasing the eggs before the doctor is ready for them. This injectable was not nearly as easy to administer as the Gonal F. It came in a pre-filled water syringe, a small vial of the medication that was powder bead form, along with two very long, large needles. I had to use the mixing needle to insert all the water into the medication, mix it, and then extract it all back into the syringe. Then I switched the needles out to the smaller of the two to administer the injection in the stomach as well. This needle was not so friendly. In fact it hurt like a B*tch!!!
What had once started off as an easy, walk in the park process quickly shifted to a painful, dreaded experience. The injections had to be taken at the same time every evening. My life now revolved around a timed schedule. I was told to prepare myself to be hormonal and cry at the drop of the dime, experience crazy mood swings, and be irritable. However I luckily never experienced any of these symptoms. I did feel nauseous, have raging migraines, and severe back pain. I was not allowed to take any extra medication other than Tylenol for my symptoms. My stomach started to develop several small bruises at the injection sites, swelled, and became very sore to touch. I began to dread my daily injections. I kept telling myself it was for a good cause and to suck it up, after all it was only for 11 days.
I brought up these concerns at my next visit. Dr. S, a partner at IRH who was filling in for Dr. A while he was on vacation, explained that because of the stimulation medications, my ovaries were extremely large and inflamed. Due to the size of them, they were pushing all my other organs up against my back as there was no room for them. This is why my back was throbbing. On the plus side, as he performed my third ultrasound he said “Beautiful. Just absolutely perfect.” I now had 17 follicles ranging in size from 12 to 16 mm. He then scheduled my Egg Retrieval for Tuesday. Next we were taken into another room for our Egg Retrieval education class. An IVF nurse came in and explained the whole process and went over my medication calendar and timeline for the next three weeks.
Sunday evening, May 25th, I gave myself my final injection. After 11 days of injectables, I was especially excited to have this portion of the process completed. This injection was Ovidrel, a Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG). Ovidrel stimulates the release of the egg or eggs in my case, during ovulation. The timing of this is very critical. It had to be given as close to 11:30 PM as possible. I was only allowed a 15 minute grace period either way. If I missed the time, I could potentially jeopardize the entire process.
Tuesday, May 27th we went into IRH for our Egg Retrieval. Paul had to help walk me into the doctor’s office as the Valium they had prescribed was kicking in full force! They took us to the surgical wing of the office and had me change into a hospital gown and began my IV line.
Despite how uncomfortable and much pain I was in, the excitement seemed to take over my body. Okay maybe that Valium was a little stronger than I thought! The last thing I really remember was telling nurse Ricia that I loved the clouds on the ceiling of the room. She laughed and said she was about to make those clouds dance for me. After securing the oxygen tube in my nose, she pushed the drugs through my IV to help put me in a brief sedation. While I was under, Dr. A went in with a very, very large needle and with the help of the ultrasound, slowly extracted all the eggs from each ovary. Can you now see why I needed the Valium and sedation? When I woke up about 20 minutes later, I was being wheeled back into recovery as Paul was coming back from doing his business. In case this needs further clarification, his job is to go watch an “adult film” and collect his “swimmers” in a cup. After spending about an hour in recovery we were released to go home under bed rest conditions. Before we left though, Ricia informed me that they had retrieved 16 eggs!!! She said I was quite the over achiever as this number was far higher than average. From here, the embryologists mixed my eggs with Paul’s sperm in little petri dishes to allow fertilization to occur.
The next morning I received the anticipated call from IRH. Out of the 16 eggs that were retrieved, 15 of them were mature. Of the mature eggs, only 5 had fertilized and became embryos. I tried to not get disappointed with the number; 5 fertilized embryos was a great number, and it only took one to work! We had five baby Roses thriving in petri dishes! The lab would continue to watch the embryos develop. If they felt they could make it all the way to a blastocyst stage (a more developed stage of the embryo) then they would perform a 5 day transfer on Sunday. However if they felt unsure of the success rate of making it to blast, they would perform a 3 day transfer on Friday.
Friday, May 30th we got the call from IRH to come in for the Embryo Transfer.
Dr. A greeted Paul and I with a large smile on his face. He showed us a picture of the two embryos he selected to transfer back. They were both Grade 1, 8 celled embryos and they were BEAutiful!!
Dr. A began to do a little dance and started to sing “Transfer day, it’s transfer day, Everybody’s happy-it’s Transfer Day”. The entire room began to laugh. I say entire room because there really is no privacy at all where infertility treatments are concerned. The actual transfer was quick and painless. Using an ultrasound and a catheter, he guided the two embryos to land on the exact spot in the uterus he had minutes ago pointed out.
As I was experiencing tremendous back pain, excessive stomach bloating, and cramping since my retrieval I was under strict orders to take the next two weeks super easy. My stomach had literally swelled up to look like I was four months pregnant. The pain got so bad I could barely get out of bed one day and almost made two separate trips to the ER.
Dr. A said I did all I could do to create the embryos, and now it was up to them to do the rest. They now had to hatch out of their outer shell and attach themselves to the uterine wall. Once attached to the wall implantation can begin. After implantation begins, the cells that become the placenta and fetus begin to develop approximately one week post transfer. I had my beta blood test scheduled for two weeks after my Embryo Transfer on Friday, June 13th. This is the only way to accurately determine pregnancy with IVF. Until then I began taking Progesterone suppositories (we won’t even go into these!) three times a day to help support any pregnancy. So we just kick back and wait!
To make the dreaded two week wait go faster, I downloaded a few new books on my tablet, re-watched a favorite TV series from the beginning, and made dates with friends to keep busy. I was still extremely uncomfortable and in a lot of pain. If this didn’t work I was not sure I could endure another fresh IVF cycle again. People had warned me how intense it was and how physically hard the medications were on the body, but I still felt duped! I was not prepared for how sick I felt or for the level of pain I experienced. The whole process was far more trying and enduring than I ever imagined. But as soon as the doubt crept into my mind, I pushed it out. If this was what I had to do to create a family, I would do it until the doctor’s told me it was no longer safe, or more likely we ran out of money. And on the plus side, our other 3 embryos made it to the blast stage and were all able to be frozen for later attempts. I knew I did everything I could to help this work, and I had no regrets.
Unfortunately we never made it to our June 13th Beta test. Good old Aunt Flo decided to come instead, which rarely happens while you are on Progesterone. IRH had me come in immediately on Wednesday, June 11th for my Beta to make certain I was not pregnant before switching my protocol up. As I left work for a quick doctor visit, I felt numb. I really believed that it had worked. I did everything that was asked of me, and even took extra steps to help make this work. I received the phone call with my results at 4:25 PM. My levels were less than 1, which in infertility terms equates to what we call a BFN (Big Fat Negative) on the pregnancy scale. I was truly heartbroken.
Everyone has different beliefs on conception. Some believe a baby is created the minute fertilization occurs and an embryo is created. Others believe a baby is not created until it becomes a fetus which occurs around 8 weeks. Or some believe it’s not technically a baby until it takes the first breaths outside the womb. I believe that a baby is created the moment the embryo is. To me, we had lost two little babies. Two little souls that we never got to meet, never got to see this world, and would never grow up, were now on their way to Heaven. I finally had a good melt down a few hours later. I felt lost. Crushed. Defeated. Hopeless. You put so much of yourself into the seven week long IVF cycle that when it doesn’t work out, you feel like you have nothing left to give. I knew I had to regain my positive attitude before I took the next step of a FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer). But I was exhausted: physically and emotionally drained.
The past 14 months began to weigh very heavily on me. I used to think being a mother was a right of any woman. But I was wrong. It is a GIFT. Just because you are a woman does not guarantee you the GIFT of motherhood. The truth is there are millions of women who will never be able to experience the joys of motherhood. I mentioned before that infertility affects 1 out of every 8 couples. 44% of those couples will end up seeking medical intervention for the disease. Out of those who seek help, 65% will end up having a live birth (Resolve.org). This means that 35% of those affected with infertility will sadly never be able to experience the joys of parenthood, unless they seek the adoption route. Which for those of you that do not know, adoption costs run anywhere from $35,000-$50,000. Although I know remaining positive is critical to my treatment, I also have to be realistic. At the end of the day, this simply may not work for us. After all, we just had by medical terms, the perfect IVF cycle and it failed. We still have 3 frozen attempts and two fresh attempts left under our contract. However if those all fail as well, that would be the end of the road for us due to financial reasons. There was no guarantee that we would become parents, all we could do was hope, pray, and trust the process.
But if you know me, you know I am incredibly stubborn to the point I can be bull headed. Whereas this can be a major flaw in other situations, it is my saving grace in this one. I refuse to let this beat me down. I will take the time I need to grieve my losses, but I will not let this defeat me. Every step back, every frustration, every ounce of pain, and every tear shed is just going to make the end result that much more worth it. I will appreciate the gift of motherhood when it happens to the fullest extent as I know that it is not a guarantee. And when that day comes that I finally get to hold my baby in my arms, I will smile and know that this extremely painful journey was all 100% worth it.
“Don’t forget that you are human. It’s okay to have a meltdown. Just don’t unpack and live there. Cry it out and refocus on where you are headed.”