IVF - PART 1
It’s been a while since I’ve spoken about my fertility journey, because to be honest, I haven’t wanted to. If you’re new around here and don’t know what I’m talking about go here, here, here, here, here, and here to get up to speed.
Last year was a big one for me all round, but in relation to fertility, it was by far the biggest! And not just for me, for my husband too. I’ve spent quite some time processing what we went through, and getting comfortable with the way that things unfolded. Because if I’m super honest (I always am!) It broke me. Into a million pieces. And at the same time, I watched the love of my life break too.
So we’ve both been picking up our pieces, finding our way and getting comfortable with our new normal ever since.
Before I dive into the story, I want you to know something. And to break the rules on story telling, I want you to know that this story has a happy ending. It’s not all hard and heavy, there is absolutely light at the end, so please remember that! The place I’m at now is the best that I’ve ever been. And I genuinely mean that.
One more thing, I’m not sharing this for sympathy. I’m sharing it to show you that despite what happens in your life (I know there are much worse things that have happened to people, but this is my reality) you can pick yourself up, find peace within and go on to live the most vibrant life possible.
So with all that said, lets rewind.
JANUARY 2015 - THE DECISION
After more than two years of trying to fall pregnant naturally we had come to a standstill. My husband and I had done all we could naturally. Herbs, organic food, yoga, acupuncture, naturopaths, doctors, Chinese herbs, clean water. Honestly the list goes on. If it’s said to help fertility, chances are we did it!
Michael and I had spoken about IVF plenty of times before, because we knew there was a possibility that it was something we would be faced with. I had always felt that if it came to it, I would do IVF, but it was never something I really wanted to do. And the reality is, I don’t think anyone ever wants to.
Michael was genuinely happy with either way. I knew deep down he was a little more keen to do it than me, but he knew I had to feel ready if we were going to go down that path.
I’d come to a point where I couldn’t continue the way we were. I needed to step up the process, and I was ready to face the next step.
We booked an appointment with my gynaecologist, and the process was underway.
I have a history with cysts associated with endometriosis, and most of the time I’ve got a couple on my ovaries. Due to my lifestyle, they are small, and never really pose an issue.
However when under the process of IVF, being injected with hormones daily, there was a chance that they could become an issue, especially if I were to fall pregnant. It would be likely the cyst would grow with the pregnancy and could cause issues for the unborn baby and me.
That meant that in February 2015 just a few days after Michaels 30th birthday I would have a laparoscopy to remove a 4cm cyst. This is keyhole surgery, and I’d had it once before.
The harsh reality set in as soon as I knew that I would be faced with this surgery once again. Everything about the first surgery came flooding back and I was so scared.
I knew that I would be ok, but I was afraid of what I would have to go through to get to that point.
On the day of the surgery, I was a mess. I was actually deeply considering not going through with it, and it took some tough love from my mum to get my butt on that hospital bed.
At 2pm I checked in, a nervous (and hangry) wreck, but I knew deep down even though I was in a place of fear, that I wanted to be able to go through with it.
My Doctor and I were both pleasantly surprised with how well it went, and how quickly I healed in comparison to my last operation.
I believe that this has to do with my dedication to improving my health. An organic lifestyle, regular exercise that supports my body, meditation, reducing stress and acupuncture.
MAY 2015 - FULLY STIMULATED CYCLE
When it comes to IVF there are two types of cycles that you can undertake …
Fully Stimulated Cycle
This is the one with the daily injections, surgery to collect your eggs (egg pickup), fertilization of eggs and if you have any left - the freezing of eggs. They also transfer one fertilised egg back into your uterus.
Throw in a bunch of blood tests and internal ultrasounds and that’s a FSC. Two weeks later bloods are taken to test for pregnancy. And yes, all of that is squeezed into 28 days.
This is the much less invasive cycle, and is done for those lucky enough to have frozen eggs with the IVF clinic. Blood tests monitor for ovulation. At the right time, the thawed and fertilised egg is put back into the uterus. Approximately two weeks later, bloods are taken to detect whether you are pregnant.
This is a very loose explanation of how it works, and each patient is different. But this is what was true for me.
On the 1st of May 2015 our FSC begun.
Two a day for just over two weeks. Michael did these for me every time, which was a total blessing. I couldn’t of done them myself. And in some sick way, it brought us together. He was able to give me strength when I didn’t have it myself. He was a total rock, and there is no question that without his ability to do this, I would have crumbled. It’s a hard job being the husband or partner during IVF, and Michael was amazing.
36 hours on the dot, before the Egg Pickup (surgery to remove my eggs) Michael gave me another injection. This one is to bring on ovulation at the exact right point that the eggs will be ready while they are doing the surgery! The clinic are so strict about this, if you miss it, it can mess up the whole cycle!
There’s no doubt that I hated every single one of those injections, and as my hormone levels raised, and my tummy got more bruised it became harder and harder. I was wishing for those days to pass, but I knew that once they were over it would be time for the surgery. It was a really strange emotional space to be in.
THE EGG PICKUP
Luckily my appointment was first thing in the morning, so we had to be at the day surgery clinic at 6am. I was nervous, but brave and knew I just had to get it done.
Michael waited with me for as long as he could, before I went off to get ready for the surgery.
I walked into the theater and felt cold, not on my skin but in my bones. It’s such an unnatural feeling. But I told myself, you’re brave and this surgery is going to be incredibly successful.
I saw a familiar face when my gyno came in, and I felt at ease. She’s such a lovely woman, and made a joke that I can’t remember. I laid down, and within what felt like less than a minute, I had a canular in my arm and I felt giddy. My gyno held my hand as I drifted off.
I woke up in recovery groggy and confused. I called the nurse over and asked her to give me a massage. The things you say when you first wake up from surgery! (In one of my previous operations I had gotten angry at a nurse for ‘stealing my paper undies’ and was babbling about home and away) She looked at me like ‘this isn’t a day spa!’ But due to the surgery my lower back was really aching. She didn’t give me a massage, but brought me a heat pack, which soothed my pain.
As the breath filled my lungs, I looked down to my hand and saw the number ‘6’.
‘6’ eggs retrieved.
I was still groggy, but I felt a little disheartened. I was hoping for more, but I knew that 6 was a good number too!
My gyno came to visit me with the news of the surgery. While they were doing the egg pickup they hit a problem in the way of a cyst. They ended up having to drain it in order to collect the eggs, but the cyst had compromised some of the eggs, hence the lower count than expected. (In the ultra-sounds leading up to the surgery, it looked like I had about 12 eggs)
She was still happy with what was collected, but let me know that my recovery would be a little harder considering that the cyst had been drained.
While I was in surgery, Michael gave his sperm sample, and our eggs were fertilized and incubated that day.
It was a lot worse than I had expected, and it wasn’t until a week later that I really begun to feel like myself again. As I said earlier this was because they also had to deal with the cyst as well. I’m told the typical downtime after an egg pickup is a few days.
Because we only had a few eggs, and they were progressing through incubation as the doctor had hoped, she opted to transfer a day 3 embryo. Normally they wait until day 5 when the embryo goes to blastocyst (the next stage in cell development) but as my doctor said ‘your embryo has a much better chance in your beautiful uterus, than in a science lab!’
So we transferred. It was awkward, uncomfortable and somewhat special. Much like a pap smear that went for 10 minutes with an audience. (Cringe worthy right?)
It's fair to say I lost my dignity during IVF.
The two weeks that followed were limbo. Hoping for the best, expecting the worst, and trying to get on with life.
When you invest so much into something physically, emotionally and financially, it’s hard to separate yourself from it. I don’t actually believe you can. But I tried. So did Mike.
Around day 20 of the cycle, I felt different. I felt I’d come alive. I was vibrant, had energy and was feeling incredibly positive.
I would soon find out this was because I was pregnant.
The time came for blood testing and my reading came back with low levels of HGC – the pregnancy indicating hormone. This was great news, but the levels were low, so it wasn’t a confirmation just yet.
We had to wait another 3 days to test again.
This was by far the most challenging part of the process, no one could tell us whether I was, or wasn’t pregnant. But all we could do was hope for the best.
Before the next blood test, I had some bleeding. I was so upset, but the clinic reassured me that it didn’t mean that I wasn’t pregnant.
The second blood test was done, and I waited for the afternoon phone call. I was at my girlfriend Ange’s place when the clinic called. The words I’ll never forget ‘ Your levels have increased, which indicates you were pregnant, but we are quite sure that you have miscarried’.
Ange could tell that something was going on, and when I got off the phone, she asked if I was ok. And weirdly I was. Looking back now, I can see why she was concerned. I literally hung up the phone, and continued with the conversation we were having. I was in total shock.
It wasn’t until Ange said, maybe you should call your husband! That it had even crossed my mind.
I left and shared the news with Michael.
We had to wait another 3 days before they could do another blood test to confirm that we had indeed miscarried. It took days for me to process what had happened. One minute they thought I was pregnant, the next they didn’t, the next the did, and then finally, we weren’t.
It was an absolute emotional roller-coaster that honestly, and a total blur. All I remember is one morning I was getting dressed and it hit me like a brick wall. I fell apart, slumped on the floor and in that moment my heart shattered. I lost my breath, the tears flowed and the words ‘I want my baby’ were on repeat from my lips.
Michael held me tight with no promises that it would be ok, with no words of wisdom, nothing inspiring. Just ‘Me too’. And together we sat in the pain of the little one we lost.
As I sit here now and write this, tears stream down my cheeks. Because when I go back there, I remember the pain. And even though I’ve found peace, I’ll never forget the moment when it finally caught up with us both.
But when it was right, we picked ourselves up, found our strength and looked to the positives. We had each other and we were both healthy.
Before we knew it, we had accepted the journey and we were back to our usual selves. Or rather we had adopted a new normal.
THE FROZEN EGGS
In the midst of the first cycle, we also found out that of the remaining 5 eggs (1 had been implanted) only one had survived.
This was pretty heartbreaking. To know that I had been through all of that, to only be given one more shot, was tough to swallow.
We could do another FSC, however I had said from the beginning that I thought I only had one in me. And that’s still true.
But, it was another shot, and it was more than we’d had in the past.
We decided to take a break for a few months, until we both felt on top of our health again, before we opted to use our last egg.
In general, through the process I felt quite good. I had 5 acupuncture appointments that month, I made sure I was getting lots of greens (to help keep my liver clean from all of the medication) and I really listened to what my body needed in every moment.
It wasn’t until after the cycle that it hit me. My whole chest and back broke out in acne, I had a cold, an upset tummy, my period (fun!) and nausea – ALL AT THE SAME TIME! My body was purging, and I needed to let it out.
This was also a time of emotional grieving for me, and despite the desire to shut the book on it, I really sat in how I felt and let myself cry when I needed to.
I honestly believe that was the biggest part in my healing process. And meant that I was able to return to the land of the living a whole lot quicker!