I have to say IVF drugs are not fun. (Just in case you thought they were) Downright unsexy. IVF drugs turn you into a hormonal, unbalanced, and slightly impatient asshole. Brace yourself if you ever have to start with this process.
It is hard to prepare for how consuming this process is. It is also hard to quantify how and what is exactly impacting you the most. Is it the mood altering shots? Visiting the Dr. every other day at 7 AM to draw blood, ultrasounds, poking and probing? Trying to forget this is something somewhat out of your control? Having to end your day with stomach (or butt) shots? Being rational about the success rates, while still being secretly overly optimistic that this time it will work?
I am not alone in this process, but you tend to keep it private for multiple reasons. Which I believe, makes the experience that much more lonely.
Sharing your gynecologist visit and associated homework (AKA progesterone oil injections) is not your usual chatter of “the weekend was great – too short though (chuckle)”. Also, no one really wants to hear about these topics AND may politely follow-up on results, which, often times are negative. Net-net, not fun to share. Social norms exist for why these topics remain private. Outside feeling, you are failing as a woman.
If you have a friend, family member, or partner you know is struggling with fertility. Do everything in your power to provide space and patience. They are probably more tired than letting on, more frustrated than they care to share, and simply a little sad because they don’t have “good” news. IVF recipients power through because we are still very privileged to have access to technology and medical treatment not available to many.
Feel what you feel
No one can tell you how you will personally experience the intangible emotional roller coaster. It is a challenging mix of excitement, expectation, personal response to hormones, partner communication, and often times disappointment.
- Know it is difficult for everyone.
- Be kind to yourself during the process.
- Feel what you feel.
- Let yourself take breaks (I just took one month off). Because your sanity has value as well…
- Try to remember your actual self, not your medicated self. For me, I needed a break to get some clarity on that.
The IVF Process
Below is a quick overview of an IVF process. 6-weeks of egg retrieval, fertilization, and the first round of implantation. Depending on how bountiful your egg harvest is, you will complete cycles of implantation until you run out of embryos and then start the whole cycle again. Women’s average embryo quantity can be from 2 to 8. Implantation cycles are much less invasive, but still draining for anyone going through it.
- Pre-treatment testing: This involves reviewing your medical history, a physical exam, STD screenings, and a blood test to see if you have high, average, or a low number of eggs available for extraction.
- Hormone injections (Two weeks): The goal is to produce and release as many eggs as possible during a cycle (Usually one egg per cycle. However, you take drugs to stimulate the development of as many as possible). The first week involves a shot to increase egg production to the maximum number. After week one you start taking two shots. One for the egg production and one to stop natural ovulation (so doctors can time the extraction).
- Trans-vaginal ultrasounds and blood work: During these two weeks you go to the Dr. almost every morning to make sure eggs are developing as planned. This involves bloodwork to check hormone levels and a vaginal probe to see progress.
- Trigger Shot: As soon as everything is ready (eggs are 18mm+ and lining 7mm+) you will inject a trigger shot at home and exactly 36 hours later head back to the clinic to extract the eggs.
- Trans-vaginal egg extraction: For the extraction, you will be put under a light sedation. Essentially a 30 min nap. Once sedated, your doctor will insert a needle into your ovaries, through your vaginal wall and extract eggs, one at a time. This procedure takes about 30 min and another 30 min to recover from the sedation. During this time your partner has submitted some fresh semen in a plastic cup (the most romantic moment)
- Fertilization: The eggs are immediately fertilized to become embryos. Your embryos can be tested for any abnormalities before freezing (this is optional). I opted to test and wait for the results before the implantation. You can choose to implant right away because your uterus lining is ready. Finally, you freeze whatever amount of embryos and start implantation cycles.
- Implantation. Once results were back I started another round of shots and monitoring to prepare for implantation. If it doesn’t work out (which was the case for me this time) Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Again, these are pure logistics. Even if you can handle the logistics, ask your partner or friends to support you a little more than usual. Either at work or home. Be open to support – even the practical kind. I also have found that easier to ask for.
Read Part One Here