#3 - Experiencing IVF
Going through the process of blood tests and ultrasounds was an intensely nerve racking time, finally the doctor calls to get us to come in and …Discuss the RESULTS!!! Sitting down in the doctor’s office, nervous and unsure we listen to the results. My polycystic ovaries did not affect my fertility, still ovulating normally, egg levels are good and hormone levels all good. Ok well…that is good right? What a relief, I am fertile and can get pregnant! But then the doctor continues to explain the test results for my hubby explaining his swimmers were good and all the details were fine. EXCEPT the results showed incurable sperm antibodies (when the body attacks its own sperm like a virus, not a huge amount of information on why it happens).
The doctor explained that the percentage of sperm that had sperm antibodies coating the head of the sperm was so high and severe that natural conception would be nearly impossible. We were told the odds of natural conception were close to a million to one and that the way forward would have to be IVF using ICSI. The doctor gave us a bunch of information pamphlets, booklets and pricing lists to look over and told us to let them know when we wanted to start the process. It was overwhelming, we went back to the car and balled our eyes out! To us it seemed like the end of the world, like someone had just told us we might never get what we dreamed of having!
Not sure how many of you know the pricing to IVF through a specialty clinic but it is really high, I mean thousands of dollars for egg retrieval and then more thousands of dollars to fertilise the egg, grow the embryo and implant an embryo back.
We were overwhelmed, scared and could not see light to the end of any tunnel. Most of all we became eager to get a positive result and pushed through to do our first IVF cycle in the hopes that it would be successful. We just wanted to move past this anxious stage and get to the pregnant part. I was afraid, we were both upset and unsure how we would cope. We knew that the cost of one IVF cycle was all we could afford at that stage so if it was unsuccessful we would have to wait to save up enough to do it again. This created internal pressure making us feel it was really important that is worked.
I am going to explain what my husband and I went through when undergoing IVF treatment. It is not pretty and may not make for light reading if you are squeamish on medical details. So if that is you, feel free to skip ahead to the next blog post on getting pregnant!
The IVF treatment plan, for us consisted of 2 stages. Egg stimulation and retrieval followed by embryo development and implantation. Both stages were extremely fragile in the medical sense but also inconvenient for the everyday woman juggling a full time job, housework and family/pet commitments. A huge pat on the back to all the ladies going through this, it is not easy.
Egg stimulation and retrieval involved self-injections of a mixture of hormones daily, that stimulated the ovaries to produce numerous mature eggs. Ultrasounds were taken regularly to track when the follicles/egg sacks were mature enough to attempt to harvest the eggs from the ovaries. This meant every night my husband had to give me 2 injections into the stomach underneath the belly button. He had to because I just couldn’t muster the courage to do it. However, trusting your husband to give you injections after a 15 minute training session with fertility nurses would make just about anyone jumpy. So when it came time for injections each night I would lay on the couch with my tummy exposed nervously laughing and constantly saying or perhaps I was screaming “ok, ok do it!” then “NO, NO not ready!” The first night the time it took for me to let my husband stick me was a good 20 minutes of indecisive squeamishness. To the point where my husband had to take control and just get it over with.
The first two injections were fine but then I think my husband got a little too comfortable and the next needle managed to burst a blood vessel under my belly button. One of those little tiny red veins and it stung! It bled and ached. I remember becoming infuriated at my husband as if he purposely tried to hit a tiny, invisible, randomly placed blood vessel. Any way the point I am trying to make is that the process was not fun and for me it almost had me getting angry at my husband like it was his fault I had become a pin prodded cushion undergoing daily ultrasounds and bloods tests for a week. Yes, it was only a bit over a week, but this time felt like a month.
My ultrasounds showed I had around 10-20 follicles/egg sacks growing in each ovary getting close the size of a grape. So basically, I had two bunch of grapes where my ovaries were! My pelvis began feeling bloated and every day I was feeling more tired and hormonal.
My blood tests indicated I was becoming hyper stimulated by the medication resulting from my polycystic ovarian syndrome. Which meant instead of being able to continue the injections to mature all my eggs I had to stop to ensure I did not become sick. We were booked in for the egg retrieval that Friday.
I will be honest and say undergoing the hormone injections, blood tests and ultrasounds while continuing to get up every day and go to work acting normal was difficult. What was even harder was staying focused on my work. Often drifting away into my head, thinking about all the things that could go wrong.
The egg retrieval was a day surgery where local anaesthetic is applied and the medication makes you pretty drowsy but you are still conscious while the procedure is done. The doctor inserts a needle up through the uterus and into each follicle in the ovaries. The machine sounds a bit like a vacuum cleaner sucking the fluid and eggs to empty each follicle sac. I had over 30 follicles in total to be probed and emptied so it took a while.
Laying on the surgical bed facing the TV screen the scientist would go through the fluid and find all the eggs. Every time she found an egg she put it under the microscope and it would appear on the big screen. It was amazing to see my little eggs in such a way. They had retrieved 19 useable eggs that could be fertilised. I was wheeled to the recovery area feeling incredibly faint and half asleep to lie down and have a rest. The pain I could feel was similar to period pain but higher up and shaper.
The nurse then pulled my husband away as it was time to make his contribution and then we we sent home so I could recover. The pain was intense and none of the medical staff told me not to lay flat on the bed. So after going home and attempting to sleep for a few hours in bed my left arm started to get sharp pulling pain that would pulse to my finger tips and then disappear. I assumed I had slept funny so thought nothing of it and continued to sleep. Within an hour my shoulder blades and neck were in intense agony. It was like these random pulse that would tense up my muscles and cause ridiculously intense pain. My husband thought I was having a fit and called the clinic. The doctor explained I was experiencing referred pain because I had laid flat horizontally. The bleeding from where my ovaries had been pricked for egg retrieval had moved and was pressing on nerves reflecting to these other point in my body. I was in tears and would scream every time the pain reappeared. Luckily the medication we had on hand from the doctor and repositioning me to an elevated lying position soon relieved the pain. I was scared of the pain reoccurring so I slept elevated for the next week. Scariest pain I had ever experienced especially as it was unexpected and I had no idea why it was happening.
Meanwhile back at the clinic, they had to inject each of my eggs with one of my husband’s sperm and put them in an incubator to develop. The goal was that each embryo had to reach a certain developmental stage each day to stay in the running to be considered viable to use. Each day we were given an update to tell us how many embryos had made it. We went from 19 embryos on day 1, to 11 embryos on day 2, 6 embryos on day 3 and 5 embryos on day 4. The drop in the number of embryos each day was huge, and with the 8 embryo drop off on the first day I was devastated thinking that that level of drop off each day would result in perhaps no useable embryo! That weekend was draining, every minute passed slowly.
At last, the big day 5! The results were in and we were told 4 embryos had made it to the stage needed and one embryo could be frozen on day 6. That gave us a potential 5 embryos in the freezer! YAY!!! Unfortunately, because of the over stimulation to my body we weren’t able to implant an embryo in that same cycle so we had to wait another month. But it wasn’t that simple, at this time it was December and the Christmas and New Year closure period meant that the clinic would not reopen again until late January. I knew that according to my cycle, that would mean I would lose the ability to use January to get pregnant. So we had a big wait ahead.
Christmas holidays felt depressing as we had done all the hard work but still had to wait and see what would happen next year. The waiting game was incredible hard for me, I am the kind of person who likes to do everything as I think it up and hate hesitation. This was killing me on the inside.
When February finally came and the clinic was open during a cycle I could work with we began what they call a frozen cycle. This is when they ultrasound your ovaries to monitor what stage your body is at and when you are going to ovulate naturally. Then once ovulation takes place they wait about five days (remember my embryos in the freezer are 5 days old) and then the implant one.
We had the call to come in for the embryo transfer on a Saturday where they unfreeze one embryo that will be inserted into the uterus and if successful will implant and result in pregnancy. We went back into the same operating room and the TV screen was on. The scientist then put our little embryo under the microscope to see before inserting. It was incredible! We got to see this funny little cluster on cells floating around on the big screen. The transfer was fairly quick and we were told to go home and continue activities as normal. In 7 days (Monday week) we would come back in for a blood test to reveal if it was successful.
I felt so bizarre, knowing that there was actually an embryo inside me that we had seen on the screen was really hard to comprehend. We went on with normal activities as prescribed by the doctor that included gardening, housework and couch surfing. But my headspace from the past months of unsuccessful natural conception, bad test results and IVF procedure had all taken a toll on me. I was moody and convinced that the transfer would be unsuccessful and nothing would ever turn out right for us! I began acting like I knew the answer was going to be negative. The weekend before the blood test my husband went and got a pregnancy test from the pharmacy. He figured I was already moping around the house and would either continue this way for a real reason if the result were negative or my mood would lift if the test were positive.
I took the test, the test showed two lines straight away! We were ecstatic, I was screaming and my husband had a grin from ear to ear. Then I started to think, maybe it was a false positive because of the extra hormones I was on to increase the likelihood of the transfer being successful. I took another one. This time the second line was even darker! The blood test the next day confirmed it, we were finally PREGNANT! WoooHooo! We were thrilled. After getting the phone call while at work I was so happy. All of a sudden this burden of weight felt like it was lifting and the sun was coming back out. We were finally going to experience the next stage! I was finally pregnant!