You may know someone who has gone through IVF and have heard about the infamous shots and other aspects of the treatment. Chances are that unless you have gone through infertility, you haven’t been exposed to the depth of what this process really entails. Join me as I take you on a tour of what it is like to struggle with infertility and undergo the oppressing, all consuming IVF process.
The IVF process, from start to finish
Tour stop #1: You enter an office filled with pleasant, smiling clinicians. As much as you don’t feel like smiling because you’re there for a situation that doesn’t even spark a grin, you can’t help but smile because everyone is so nice! As you wait in the lobby, you notice couples that look just like you, and in that moment you realize you could probably sit down and have hours worth of conversation with these strangers. They get what you are going through. You meet your doctor and your hope is reignited from all of the past hopeless months. Now it’s time to get knocked up!
Tour stop #2: You endure a variety of testing, some simple, such as blood work, and some incredibly uncomfortable, such as a Hysterosalpingogram that looks at your Fallopian tubes. While this procedure is quite uncomfortable, it is pretty cool to see your Fallopian tubes up close and personal…it’s always worth trying to find the positive in everything, right?!?!
Tour stop #3: Testing is complete and you receive the results from all of your tests, some that day, and some over the course of a couple days. Once your doctor is up to speed on how your “plumbing” is working and what your hormone levels are doing, it is time to meet to discuss the next steps. You meet with your nurse so that you and your spouse can sign consent forms and receive medication protocols. I do have to mention that it is quite weird declaring your wishes for your embryos should something happen to you and/or your spouse before being able to transfer them…I’m just saying. When you receive your medication protocols ,you get a little giddy inside because it’s getting real, and you’re so close to beginning the new adventure to start or add to your family!
Last, but not least, your nurse trains your significant other on how to administer your shots—the kind in your belly as well as the intramuscular shot that will be given later on in the cycle as you prepare for your embryo transfer (in our case we always did frozen embryo transfers). The abdominal shot is super easy. Just pinch up a pillow of skin (in my case, an extra fluffy pillow of skin…the medications always prompted my body to pack on a few pounds!) and quickly insert the needle in and done! The intramuscular shot is not as easy. Here’s a little snapshot of how my husband’s intramuscular shot giving training went:
I am standing in my nurse’s office with my pants and underwear hanging off of one butt cheek. My nurse and husband are behind me (definitely not the most comfortable position to be in by the way.) My nurse says to my husband “Mike, I have drawn an area for you to aim for, you’re just going to throw it like a dart!” As I stand there with my butt cheek exposed, my nerves are increasing by the minute and causing every muscle in my butt cheek to tense up. My husband is an engineer and has absolutely no sense of medical care, and knowing that he is going to throw a 22 gauge (aka large and long) “dart” in my butt cheek, all I can do is close my eyes and pray for the best! He throws, he lands, and OWWWWW, it hurt so badly. I take a deep breath and remind myself that getting this shot twice a day until my blood work and then for up to eight weeks if I get pregnant, will all be worth it!
*I do have one word of advice for all you ladies who have to endure this monstrous needle. Make sure that your nurse draws the “bulls eye” on your butt cheek in permanent marker so that your significant other knows exactly where to “throw the dart.” A few cycles into it, my husband got pretty confident that he was a professional “dart thrower;” however, my butt cheeks proved differently. Each cheek became so bruised and sore…I just knew something wasn’t right. I showed my nurse and she kindly started chuckling and informed me that Mike had been “throwing the dart” a little too low! Needless to say, the “bulls eye” was drawn back on immediately! In addition, be sure to invest in a great ice pack that lies on the butt cheek nicely—you’ll be icing it a lot!
Tour stop #4: You set up your medication delivery date. When your own home mini-pharmacy arrives, you feel like a kid in a candy store excitedly opening up all of the tools that are going to help you conceive, and you feel totally legit when you pull out your personal sharps container! The process is still so new that you can’t help but to find it thrilling in a weird sort of way!
Tour stop #5: It is time to begin taking your medications. Your medication has to be administered at certain times at the same times each day. No matter where you are, if it’s time for a shot, it’s time for a shot! I’ve had to do my shots roadside, at weddings, and several other random places. If I was going to be away from home during my designated shot time, I carried my favorite travel companion, my little insulated cooler that kept my shots that required refrigeration cool.
Your first set of shots are meant to stimulate your ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible for the egg retrieval. All throughout the stimulation process, you’re visiting the clinic every other day or every two days to track the progress of your “egg making” and get blood drawn to check your hormone levels. How do they check the status of your “egg making?” You guessed it, a “lovely” vaginal ultrasound. By the time you’ve completed an IVF cycle, there is no shame in your game. You never thought you’d see the day when stirrups became your friend, but after this process, you become the stirrup queen.
As your ovaries are working overtime and producing a surplus of eggs, they are also getting larger in size. By the time you’re close to your egg retrieval date, you are as bloated as can be and feel like your ovaries are the size of cantaloupes. Your lower abdominal area is so sore and swollen due to your egg-filled ovaries and the only thing that fits are elastic waistbands.
Tour stop #6: The day has come to retrieve your eggs. You waddle back and sign consent forms with the anesthesiologist. You’re taken into the procedure room, an IV is put in your arm, you’re put to sleep, your eggs are retrieved, and then you wake up and it’s all over…except the part where you have to come out of the anesthesia. After our first retrieval, I found the pain to be slight, but more so just a lot of discomfort; however, with our second retrieval I found the pain to be intense and nauseating. There is nothing “nice” about a needle being inserted up into swollen ovaries to collect several eggs. On a positive note, however, it is a great excuse to go home and cuddle up on the couch and spend the rest of the day watching your favorite movies or getting lost in a good book.
Tour stop #7: After your egg retrieval, your eggs are taken to the lab to have their first meeting with their conception counterpart, sperm, and hopefully fertilize. On day five (or near that time), you receive a call from your doctor letting you know how many of your total eggs retrieved actually fertilized and made it to day three and then to day five.
Tour stop #8: We always did frozen embryo transfers so after the retrieval, we had to let my body run it’s course to prepare for our transfer. I got a couple weeks “off” and a really heavy and painful period, and then started back up on the plethora of medications, pills, and shots. I would then count down the days until our transfer.
Tour stop #9: Transfer day arrives and it is SO exciting! You complete the intake forms and even get to see a picture of your embryo—of course you immediately fall in love! You’re taken to the back and asked to remove your clothes and put on your embryo transfer suit–a hospital gown, hair cap, and footies. You are walked into the procedure room where the lights are dim and relaxing music is playing. Your doctor walks in and it is show time!
The embryologist displays your wiggling embryo moving around on the microscope on the TV in the procedure room. It’s the first time you actually meet your little one and the feelings that circulate through your body is incredible. In the moment you see your little wiggly embryo, you know all of the testing and the shots were worth it. The embryologist places your embryo in a catheter and provides it to the doctor. Your sonographer positions the ultrasound wand on top of your belly to help the doctor guide the catheter and accompanying embryo into your uterus. Within a few minutes, out pops your little embryo into your uterus and the countdown begins to see if your little wiggly “speck” will burrow in and call you uterus home for the next nine months.
Your sonographer provides you with copies of your first “baby” pictures of your embryo. And remember all of those medications I mentioned earlier, one of them that you take after the transfer is extra special. After the transfer, you have to take a vaginal suppository of progesterone to help with implantation. Not only is the whole idea of sticking a pill “up there” unpleasant, but what goes up that isn’t absorbed by the body, must come down…yeah, ewww!
Tour stop #10: It’s time to settle in and wait ten days until you go back in and have your blood drawn to see if you’ve conceived.
While I’ve endured more infertility procedures than I wish, each one of them had moments that I’ll never forget. I share my experience with everyone to increase awareness of the process. I share it to help friends and loved ones understand what an individual struggling with infertility goes through when pursuing IVF. There is nothing easy about infertility, but having the support and compassion of friends and loved ones is such an important part of the whole process.