So you are about to start IVF….. CONGRATULATIONS! IVF uses the most up-to-date technology to get you pregnant in a jiffy. But there are a few things you might want to know before you start.
In no particular order:
- Are you tired of sleeping through the night? Do you wish you could wake up every night with soaking pajamas? Is your partner bored of being married to a rational individual? Do you want headaches tinged with tinnitus, or hot flushes that make your face red and blotchy? Well, thanks to your downreg drugs, you can! Just a once daily injection can bring on early menopause and make you feel 55 — years ahead of schedule! Side effects may occur.
- Hysterosalpingo (HSG) -contrast sonography. An ultrasound scan where they inject dye into your fallopian tubes to check they are not blocked. Eye wateringly painful, and totally unexpected. There’s a reason they advise you to take ibuprofen before you this procedure. DO IT.
- Also unexpectedly painful – the egg transfer. Not the transfer itself, which is done with a syringe with a thin tube attached to the end. But the jacking open of your lady bits with one of these sadistic tools? THAT is painful. It looks like something invented by a man, no?
Now to be fair, some women don’t experience any discomfort during this procedure, or they compare it to a smear test. But I am here to testify – and give fair warning! – that this may hurt a bit. Lou sobbed throughout the entire procedure, which took a full 5 minutes. I don’t know whether it was the speculum positioned badly, or if it was cranked open wider than normal. Either way, it required chocolate and a nap afterwards.
- If you are needlephobic – IVF will either cure you…. or break you. Counting the downregs, stims, trigger shots, blood samples, and even the anesthetic for egg retrieval, I estimate you get stabbed about 70 times per cycle (on the long protocol). To add insult to injury, most of the those you have to stab yourself. We filled 2 sharps bins with needles and syringes, and almost ran out of belly space to inject onto. Also, never in your life will you feel more like a drug addict. I hope.
- By the end of stims, each follicle is 2cm in diameter. About the size of a green grape. Assuming the average woman has 8-10 follicles on each ovary, that equates to two bunches of grapes hanging out in your ovaries. God help you if you have poly-cystic ovaries, and will grow as many as 30 on each ovary. You may have heard it is painful, and it can be, but the worst part is how you can actually FEEL your ovaries, heavy and stretched to the max. Don’t even THINK about wearing heels, exercising (especially crunches – OW!), or doing anything that requires you to be on your feet for more than about an hour. A hot water bottle is worth its weight in gold, plus it encourages growth. And as strange as it seems, all you will want is for them to get BIGGER! Which leads me onto the next point…
- Waiting and obsessing. Once you get on the IVF rollercoaster, it starts to feel more like one of those kiddie trains they have at the zoo that goes about 2 miles an hour and stops at every station. Time magically slows down, and your entire perspective on life flies out the window. You used to be a laid back, casual person who didn’t care for plans or looking into the future, but now you have developed a desperate preoccupation with your next appointment, next injection, next prescription, pregnancy test, next scan, next _______ (fill in the blank). Whatever the next thing there is to do with the IVF, that’s the next defining moment in your life. I can hardly remember most of these crucial moments, but I certainly remember that my work (which I loved) became at best a distraction, and at worst irrelevant. Exercise can provide a good focus, and so can meditation, holidays, and socialising with friends. Try to keep yourself busy, and remember:
- If you’re journey into fertility treatment takes you straight to IVF (as opposed to via IUI, boosted ovulation, or other) as ours did, you may at first feel overwhelmed by the lingo. From your first visit, the doctors and nurses sound like they are speaking another language. And don’t think that internet will help! Blogs and fertility message boards are even worse with the lingo, and you will just come away all like:
It is ANNOYING. But then again, you feel you should be an informed IVF consumer, or an “expert patient,” and of course, if you love to Google like me, you won’t understand half of what is written on t’internet about IVF without knowing some of it. So you resign to learn this ridiculous language. There are two main types of acronyms: the medical acronyms, such as ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), AMH (anti-mullerian hormone), ET (egg transfer – not the alien), and the message board acronyms, such as BFP/BFN (big fat positive/negative), POAS (pee on a stick), TTC (trying to concieve) and 2WW (two week wait). I wish I could signpost you to the ultimate lingo guide, but I never found one. Eventually you just work it out, and then the truly most annoying thing happens: You begin to use it yourself. SMH.
- So now you’re pregnant? Most excellent news! But you’re still on the IVF rollercoaster for now… because guess what? Remember how you took those downregs to shut down your cycle and bring you early menopause (see #1), and then you took stims, the hormones that made you produce lots of eggs (see #5)? And then you had the eggs removed from your ovaries then put back all fertilised (see #3)? In doing this, the doctors created an artificial cycle and played all sorts of trickery on your body. At the end of your IVF cycle, your body’s is going along, happily making eggs, then abruptly the hormones stop and suddenly all the eggs go missing, and just as suddenly, they come back and one or two happen to be replicating at an alarming rate. Your body is not quite sure what’s happening, while it’s flapping about trying to figure out what hormones to produce and how much, your fragile little embryo needing to be nurtured by your uterus, and your uterus need progesterone to do this. So you take progesterone supplements, until week 15 of pregnancy, when your body has created the placenta. The progesterone Lou took were pessaries, like these, that dissolve inside your body.
Two of these bad boys are inserted into the front or back passage (your choice, we recommend front!), twice a day. For 13 weeks. That’s 364 reaches into the nether region. And unless you want leakage, you need remain prone for 20-30 minutes after insertion. It’s OK at night, but in the morning it means waking up early to put in your pessaries. It isn’t painful or irritating, but it is tedious. And it does give you some early pregnancy symptoms, such as painful breasts and bloating, which during the 2WW can be a total mindfuck. I recommend keeping wet wipes beside the bed, and carrying some panty liners in your bag.
- Around week 7, you will go for an ultrasound scan. And if you have a little scare, you will get a couple extra scans. All scans before 12 weeks are done transvaginally (dildo cam) as baby is still very small. The dildo cam is used throughout IVF, and after the first time it’s really no big deal. Number 9 on my actually list relates to what can show up in the scans. Flatulence. Basically the ultrasound can see if you need to toot. This can be fairly embarrassing if, when the ultrasound tech is prodding you with the dildo cam, she tells you she is struggling to find the baby because there is too much gas in the intestines, and asks what in the world you ate last night! This happened to us three times. So let this be a word of warning: avoid beans, lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, or Quorn before a scan. Vegetarians beware.
- So you make it to 12 weeks, discharged from the IVF clinic and into the general antenatal clinic. Everything is going perfectly well, so it is surprising to be told that due to the IVF the pregnancy is “high-risk.” I do think this depends on local hospital policy. But at our hospital, we were told that despite Lou being young and healthy, and the baby growing beautifully, we need to be monitored more closely, and care would be doctor-led rather than midwife-led. We might get an extra scan (yay!) but, due to an increased risk of stillbirth, they will induce labour between 39-40 weeks if it does not happen spontaneously (boo!). Therefore, we are very unlikely to give birth in the birth centre or use a birthing pool as we had hoped. It seems a little unfair that after so much medical intervention to get where we are now, that we may have yet MORE medical intervention 9 months down the line. I thought we were a “normal” pregnancy now. But instead we are facing a pretty high chance of artificial induction and possibly C-section. We are hoping the obstetrician will use his judgement as the pregnancy progresses, to assess our individual risk. And so the IVF journey continues…
I know fertility treatment can be a very difficult thing, but it’s healthy to keep perspective and see the funny side of things, so read this post with all the humour and light-heartedness that I intended, and I hope you learned (or can relate to) something on the way.
And it goes without saying, that we would do it ALL again in a heartbeat – and we probably will!