IVF is hard. There is no denying that. I gotta be honest, it's been a tough two and a half years for us. The process in general is wrought with ups and downs like the vomit-inducing rollercoasters you used to willingly ride as a kid. One minute you're elated and giggling like a school girl while the next you're queasy and wondering why you ever opted do that to yourself?! Yes, IVF is tough and the preceding sentence pretty much summed it all up haha. But most all of it goes on behind closed doors. So today I thought I might swing open those heavy doors and let you all into a bit of my life lately.
YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME YOUR FEARS
First, I have had to get over my fear of needles. Yes, I am what you might call a needle-phobic. Like, the kind that three nurses have to physically hold down with force while the fourth painfully jabs a needle into your shoulder. PS, that's a true story (and I scared everyone else in the lobby away with my deathly screams). And IVF will either cure you, or break you, of this fear. Between the stimulation injections, ovulation trigger shots, in-office blood draws, anesthetic poke for the egg retrieval procedure and the following calcium IV's to reduce symptoms of the ever-dreaded OHSS (hyper stimulation), I get stabbed about 60 times a cycle. Yes, I am basically my doctors living voodoo doll. "Oh, poke her with this... ok, now poke her with that," haha. But you guys, that's become the easy part. I have now been voluntarily getting jabbed with sharp objects on the reg for what feels like an endless eternity... and sadly I can't slow down just yet. There are transfers to be done and pregnancies to be had, and sometimes it takes a little pain to achieve a little tiny-footed heavenly bliss. But no one ever told me that what was in those needles would make me feel like a crazy person in the meantime.
YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH BECOMING A CRAZY PERSON
My body is now so confused by all of these supplemented hormones that I am basically a flapping fish in a puddle waiting to be tossed back into the water, wide-eyed and wondering where I am and what to do with myself next. First, I hop on some hormone suppressants to slow everything down, shut down my cycle and bring on early menopause. Woohoo, you gotta love those hot flashes. I'll be sitting at lunch with a friend and suddenly sweat is pouring down my over-heated red face and I am like, "uh, is it hot in here?" I look like I am embarrassed of something while hiding my sweaty pits ha. I've had to dress for summer basically regardless of the season. And don't get me started on what it's like living in Arizona through all of this haha.
But then, finally, the doctor decides to give me my hormones back... er, well, my hormones multiplied times a thousand. True story, Ben injected me one night as per usual and suddenly five minutes later I am bawling on his shoulder about how much I just love my dog Mini. And not the cute kind of cry... but like the snot running down my face with incoherent words pouring out of my mouth while I grasp for air kind. Basically I am just a total loon. Meanwhile Ben is just laughing sympathetically saying, "oh, sweetheart." So then, I start laughing. It's just rollercoaster of emotions, my friends.
So while my hormones endure all sorts of trickery played by my doctors with artificial cycles, my body reacts by letting me know I pretty much just shouldn't move for a few weeks. Like, I am talking don't sit down or even twist to pick something up or you'll regret it. My follicles (those things in your ovaries that house your precious eggs), are now growing to the size of grapes (20mm/2cm)... and yes, I usually have about 20 of them on each ovary. That's like basically .22 pounds of wild monkeys hanging from each side of my insides. Good times.
So finally, its time for my doctors to steal all those eggs and empty those ginormous follicles. And my body is like, wait, what the heck?! One minute it was trucking along making all of these glorious eggs and then, abruptly, the hormones stop and all of its hard work goes missing. It's a really confusing time so I usually end up sleeping it all off thanks to the nausea and ridiculous fatigue.
YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT
So what happens next? I wait. And I obsess. I wait and obsess until I finally get the report back on how everything went. There are several hurdles my little eggs have to make it through before we know how many we really got. First, were my eggs mature? How many fertilized (to become embryos)? We find this out usually the following day. Phew, ok hypothetically two down. The next hurdle: how many of the embryos made it to day 5 (the blastocyst phase of an embryo) and were biopsied? Did they all make it through the freeze? Next hurdle? How many of those biopsied embryos came back "normal?" During this entire wait it's as if time has slowed down and is moving along at the speed of Thomas the train making stops at every station. Life moves quickly for most and meanwhile I am living my life focused on one hurdle to the next. It's an exhausting marathon, my friends.
But this is where I feel I have been stuck lately. As many of you know, I endured my second egg retrieval this past September (I say endured because you really just have to bear down and get through it). It was so uncomfortable and painful that I swore never to do it again. I reached my breaking point. I cried and I cried while hurled over the toilet after hyper-stimulating (OHSS). For those of you who don't know, which I am assuming is most of you, this means my ovaries hyper stimulated in response to all of the hormones, making my ovaries enlarge, abdomen bloat to the size of the Titanic and my insides fill up with fluid in places where it should not be. I gained 8 pounds in one day of fluid and bloat and it took over a month to fully subside. But, in the end, it apparently it had all been for pretty much next to nothing.
The day of our egg retrieval we were elated to discover they had captured 21 eggs! That was a HUGE improvement from our first egg retrieval where they only captured 11. For that one day we were over the moon! But then, the next day, we got our first report: only 11 of those 21 eggs were mature. They were shocked, and so were we. How did that happen? And worse yet, only 6 of them fertilized. We had gone from dancing in happiness to crying in disappointment in a minute flat. And that's how these things go. But we decided to hold our heads high and hope for the best.
A few days later, we were off to Hawaii to celebrate our anniversary. But that's not to say our minds weren't off of things. The whole vacation my heart kept leaping every time the phone rang. Finally, we got the call while in Montana. Of those 6 that fertilized, only 4 made it to day 5 and were biopsied. Of those 4 embryos, only 2 were "normal," meaning, chromosomally normal. We were devastated. We were at a wedding and I had to escape to a room to cry. My doctor usually likes to implant multiple embryos during our transfers to enhance our chances of pregnancy, so we only had enough for one transfer. If it didn't work, we would have to do another round of retrieval all over again. Or say, it did work, and a few years down the road we wanted to have another? We would have to retrieve again then... except I'd be older and my eggs wouldn't be as cooperative and as good of quality. Thus, we were stuck: we had to do it all over again. Ugh!
Our embryologist took the month of October off, so I had the month to prepare myself mentally (and physically) for another round (which is when I traveled to Europe). We started this next round at the end of October and recently had our third egg retrieval on the 21st, a few days before Thanksgiving. And oh my gosh you guys, I am soooooo glad it's over. And guess what?! We did wayyyyyy better (thank goodness). We captured 24 eggs this time, and of those 24, 21 were both mature AND fertilized! Holy crap! That's SOOOO much better than September's little 6! And two days ago we found out that of those 21, 15 made it to day five fertilization and were successfully biopsied! Hooray! Now we are just praying that they are all "normal." (We will find out later this week).
YOU HAVE TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR GOOD OR BAD NEWS
But one of the hardest parts of all is the dealing with the news. Whatever news that may be... the good and the bad. During your stimulation cycle you're waiting for the go-ahead to move forward with the transfer, or the retrieval. Is your body ready and responding well to the medications? Yes? Ok, let's celebrate! The next thing you know, you're waiting to find out how many embryos you got. And good news or bad news, you have to roll with the punches.
If, down the line, you're ready for an embryo transfer, you're wondering if you're pregnant or not. Did the transfer work this time? If so, how many are in there? Yikes! And it's awkward celebrating or crying on the phone with a near stranger who delivers the news to you. But if it was successful, oh my gosh we're pregnant and celebrating with endless hugs, kisses and happy dances!! But then we're waiting around for the next ultrasound and suddenly we get news that we've miscarried... and we're on the floor crying. It's an endless rollercoaster. You have to mentally prepare yourself for whatever comes and while, hoping and praying for the best, know that it's possible it might not turn out the way you want this time. You just have to hold your head high and tell yourself that it's ok, you can try it all over again... because it will all be worth it in the end.
So, the most important part of it all is to NEVER GIVE UP. Because one day, you will get that happy news, and the news that comes after will continue to be happy... and happy... and happy... until your little bundle is finally here. And we truly can't wait for that day. We know it's coming. We know we're meant to be parents.
Until then, we'll keep poking... and going crazy... and laughing... and crying... and waiting... and obsessing...
IVF is hard. There is no denying that. I gotta be honest, it's been a tough two and a half years for us. The process in general is wrought with ups and downs like the vomit-inducing rollercoasters you used to willingly ride as a kid. One minute you're elated and giggling like a school girl while the next you're queasy and wondering why you ever opted do that to yourself?! But most all of it goes on behind closed doors. So today I thought I might swing open those heavy doors...