Monday, November 10, 2008

My IVF Journey: Years 1 and 2

IVF. So sexy, right? I mean, just look at that image.


My husband and I went and saw our doc after we discovered we weren't conceiving quite as easily as those frisky teenagers would have you believe it is to do so. After some tests, we were thrilled to learn we qualified for free IVF treatment, because yup, the tests confirmed it wasn't going to be as easy for us as it is for some. There were also of course the inevitable accompanying feelings of disappointment that came with this revelation - which often resulted from comparing the new proposed method of conception to the usual and more common alternative. While IVF is, as we've established, very, very sexy...there's a lot to be said for the way things have been done since Adam "knew" Eve. For starters, you can be in the room when your baby is made.

We got past that. Emphasing the positives went a very long way. For starters, we weren't going to have to pay for this miraculous aid - incredible. My heart goes out to hopeful parents who have to save money to go through what we did. Further, what a blessing to learn so early we would benefit from a fertility clinic's help!  (This still didn't make it fun news.) I was 24 when we turned up at their door - how many women have had 5 years marriage by then to establish what we had? Yes, I married young. Yes, I think my LDS upbringing has a lot to do with me being the youngest muchacha at the clinic. As I read through trends and statistics relating to the procedures I was about to dive into, it was reassuring to know that I belonged to the age group with the highest success rate on every table and graph.

We then took our place on a waiting list, and counted the months until it was our turn to be a part of the wonderful world of science labs, and our DNA hangin' out in them.

Chapter 1:

The purpose of this post is not to delve into every little detail of what IVF involved for me, but to highlight a few events and lessons I learned...and have saved up, desperate to share with others who may benefit from them. Namely, lessons I wish I'd found when I spent hours searching the internet about IVF.

When our turn came, we were given a special care pack. I liked to call it my "Jabs bag". Really, I only thought the name each time I retrieved it. Alternatively, my "Bag of Trick Sticks".

I, (one and the same Angela who at that time had to lie flat for a blood test, else it is at the nurse's peril), began injecting myself daily with what I think of as the "Hormone Stopper", and visiting the hospital for blood tests to ensure it was indeed doing that job. Then I got to start a second daily injection with a fancy pen, a jab I like to think of as the "Egg-maker" - as its job was to get me to produce more than the usual one-a-month egg, and it could safely do so now that the former injection was making it safe (for all involved) for me to have more than the usual once-a-month hormones that go with it. Oh, and more blood tests, to check the egg-maker was doing its job too. In fact, in between every sentence read "more blood tests and scans". Also, "take pills" should be sprinkled throughout.

Sadly, Chapter 1 came to an early end, as Mr. Egg-maker got over-zealous and made way too many eggs. You see, 12-15 active follicles doing their job would have been a dream - that's plenty to pull eggs from, safely lose some, and still have enough to feel happy with the outcome.  I had more like 50 follicles get on board.  But because my body was spread so thin trying to give about 50 possible future embryos what they needed, they were of a poorer quality, and a small number were viable.  After 8 eggs are retrieved, only 5 were successfully inseminated (via ICSI).  But...because my ovaries had gone grapefruit size, I wasn't able to be impregnated with one of 'em right then (which is the ideal).  They all had to be frozen (another thing to put them through that they may not survive). The super-young woman who all of the professionals had hoped would have at least twice as many embryos to show for all this, had a handful in the freezer, and was going home -- sore, hurt, confused, and very unpregnant.

Chapter 2:

More pills.
More time.
Thaw 1 -- didn't survive.
Thaw 2 -- didn't survive.
Thaw 3 -- didn't survive.
Thaw 4 -- survived.
We came back in and had it put in.

Now time to wait for the blood test to see if I remained pregnant (since I technically was, when I left the clinic).

Wait we did. We're pros at waiting. Right?

The test was negative.

For those lost on the math, with 3 of the 5 fertilised embryos not hacking the deep-freeze-and-thaw biz, and one not stickin' after goin' in, we were left with one potential bun for my the freezer.

We were asked to wait for my "next cycle".

I know, I know, you're catching on. Need I write what we did?

We waited!
And waited.
And waited.

Chapter 3:But my "next cycle" didn't come.

So we waited. Maybe all the drugs and whatnot had messed regularity up?

We waited.

It was getting very late.

Time to pee on a stick.

Time to discover we had conceived naturally. (And get more blood tests - of course, else the jab ladies might miss us!)

Near to 15 weeks on, I feel safe to tell this story. I also feel elation. And indigestion...and a host of other reminders.

We did the "unlikely" (but clearly not impossible - oh the prayers of gratitude), and still have one embryo on the freeze.

While we know that anything can happen, and things are never 100% certain (whether past that first trimester mark or not), we are excited and looking forward with hope.

So now I come to the points I wish I had found online, and so now wish to share:
(proceed at your own risk)

  • Poking yourself with a needle in the stomach never gets fun, but boy can you get good at it. It's all in the pinch baby! Pinch your skin hard so that all you're thinking is "I'm pinching myself", and the needle slides in no trouble. It's puncturing the skin that's hard, after that, you're fine.
  • The balance between having faith things will work and preparing yourself for reality is IVF's tight-rope. I believe in doing both, over and over. Repeat the statistics to each other, and the possibilities (we did it out loud together), but always believe you can beat all odds anyway, and say that. If you don't, you don't, and you knew that might happen - but at least you had some excitement instead of 100% anxiety.
  • I recommend choosing a select few to bring into your "inner circle". The ups and downs of IVF are more frequent than you'll expect, and you will want some dear friends to celebrate and mourn with - but keep that circle tight - as the journey is too intricate for all.
  • Develop a "defence phrase". People don't mean to offend when they ask why you don't have kids, or when you will. Coming up with a phrase you pull out routinely can help. Mine became, "We're involved with a fertility clinic". This worked just as well when people asked, "Won't you guys be pregnant soon?" and "How are things going with that?" I'd just repeat the phrase. It was juicy enough to satisfy most, but vague enough that it gave away no timing.
  • Finally, my greatest comfort was my belief that eternally, all of this would be okay. That even if IVF never worked, or worked very late, mortal timeframes didn't matter. As Haki and I watched friends marry and have two or three children in the time we had been married, I would catch myself thinking about "Where we were at" and "Where we could have been". My younger sisters had babies. Then, I would feel myself wince when people younger than me (and I'm so young myself!) would talk to me as though I was so naive, with a tone of "you don't know anything yet, because you're not a mother". What made all of that go away, was knowing that after this life, Haki and I will raise up a family, and mortal timeframes do not matter. That comforted me. After my miscarriages (pre- prologue) and failed IVF transfer, being told it was "God's will" (while perhaps true), didn't comfort me. Being told "Something must have been wrong" or "It will happen when it's supposed to" also did little for me. What did help, was knowing, absolutely, that motherhood would happen, definitely, eternally. What also helps now, is the assurance I feel that tender mercy was shown towards me and my husband after we did "all we could do".
I am now a boss at blood tests.
And we have three children, all conceived without IVF.  
I know not everyone's story ends this way, but I can tell you that I have felt more than compensated for every related sorrow with the joy I know now.
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