Infertility affects 6 million couples. In vitro fertilization (IVF) has become more and more common. Yet there’s still so much stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it. Most women who decide to do IVF don’t arrive at the decision without significant thought. To be real, some women (and couples) have been through hell and back before the possibility even comes into play. Infertility isn’t something I’d wish on anyone. It can be a murky, scary, and very isolating place.
My husband and I decided to try IVF after an exhaustive few years where nothing else was working. After much trying, tracking, testing, and 8 failed IUI cycles, we were advised that this was our best chance at having a healthy baby. We reached a point where there was nothing else (using our own DNA) left to try. If you haven’t read my previous post you may want to start there.
Growing our family had been my number one priority for so long.
IVF has the highest success rate of infertility treatments and I was ready for the big guns.
Still I was intimidated. Admittedly, I thought the whole thing sounded pretty clinical. Despite all I had read on IVF pre-treatment, many things surprised me about the process.
Please bear in my mind my thoughts and advice below are strictly based on my personal experiences.
10 Things I learned through IVF treatments:
1.You are stronger than you think.
Needles aren’t fun, but it turns out they aren’t the most horrifying thing either. When I was younger I was so afraid of needles I didn’t have the courage to get my ears pierced until I was 18. I would have definitely put myself in the category of needle-phobic. When we decided to do IVF, I knew I had to get over it. It turns out the injections were the easy part. It was the emotions I sometimes found difficult to navigate. I felt vulnerable in a way I had never experienced. I reminded myself that the end result we were hoping for far exceeded the means.
Chances are going through IVF - no matter the outcome - will teach you how strong you really are.
2. Anticipate curve balls and keep your schedule flexible.
Typically, the two major events during the IVF process are egg retrieval and embryo transfer. While there are different protocols, you’ll most likely take a concoction of medications to prepare the ovaries for egg retrieval. It’s a time of hopeful, but stressful anticipation. You may be going in for daily doctor appointments to monitor how your body is responding to treatments. My doctor was about 25 minutes away, and I was there everyday sometimes for a few minutes and some days much longer. I lightened my work schedule because I didn’t want any added stress.
My doctor provided me with a calendar of when to take the various medications and injections and an estimate on expected retrieval date. When my body responded surprisingly quick, my transfer was moved up by several days and it ended up falling on Thanksgiving morning. I was grateful we hadn’t planned anything that year. And we were beyond thankful for the nurses and doctor who worked that holiday.
It’s not uncommon for IVF to be paused because of things like hyperstimulation of the ovaries or thin uterine lining. This can be incredibly disappointing. I’d been warned about these complications out of the gate. I tend to thrive off of a schedule and was happy to have a heads up that things don’t always go as planned. If you’re like me, you may already be planning your baby’s birthday before IVF. Try to stay open though - if things change you’ll be glad you were mentally prepared.
3. You will want to prep your body.
There’s a lot of info on things you can do that fall into what I dub the “can’t hurt category.” The process is so emotionally and financially daunting that I decided to do everything in my power to potentially influence a positive outcome. I saw an acupuncturist, stopped running, practiced gentle yoga, and concentrated on eating warming foods to “warm” the uterus.
I was addicted to researching. So anything I came across - even if it was anecdotal - was worth a shot if it passed the sniff test. I’ll never know if any of these things helped us get pregnant, but I know they didn’t hurt.
4. The process was less clinical than expected.
This was truly one of my biggest concerns. Yes, its obviously an assisted means of conception. However, I was repeatedly pleasantly surprised by the personal care we received. This is why finding a team of doctors and nurses you trust is key. We were fortunate to have an extremely experienced doctor, who also happens to be a warm human being (If this isn’t the case, don’t be afraid to switch. I did previously). Kind doctors and nurses will get you through. There are so many harrowing aspects to IVF. Your medical team should not be one!
You will likely talk to your nurse almost every day for a few weeks. They’re typically the person who explains how to give injections, makes sure you have all your medication, and explains the numerous IVF acronyms.
5. You may feel or even look pregnant.
Some of the drugs used mimic many pregnancy or PMS symptoms. During my first round of IVF I walked around feeling like my ovaries weighed half my body weight and were going to burst (they didn’t). I often felt more hormonal than a 15 year-old girl who just got dumped. Things that wouldn’t normally get to me did, and I felt like my body wasn’t my own. Staying focused on the reason for all of this discomfort helped immensely. So did occasional venting, dark chocolate, and old episodes of Arrested Development.
6. It’s not your fault.
For whatever reason its easy to blame ourselves for infertility struggles. The truth is it’s no ones fault. I often wondered if somewhere along the way there was something I had done or was doing that was making a healthy pregnancy so difficult. I didn’t, and I wasn’t. Whether someone struggles with PCOS, ovulation issues, unexplained fertility or they feel they waited too long to try, I’d like to see us treat infertility as the blameless condition it is.
7. You may become closer to your partner.
While I can see how the inverse could be true, I ultimately felt closer to my husband through the experience. While some women choose to give themselves the injections, we decided my husband would do it. It made me feel like that part was a team effort. He learned from our nurse how to handle needles like a pro, and though I know it was difficult for him to see me bruise and sometimes bleed, it was actually a bonding experience. The schedule is a little gnarly because timing matters for many of the injectables. There were days both us were rushing home from work to make sure we stayed on schedule. It was stressful, but when you’re working towards the same goal with someone you love it can be a good kind of stress.
8. A sense of humor goes a long way.
Going back to #7 - I believe that sometimes our stress can be mollified by comedy. We made it a point to keep the mood light when we could. Whether that was through jokes about our dining room looking like an episode of Breaking Bad or funny movies.
9. Hindsight will always be 20/20
Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell the me from a few years ago to relax, but here’s the thing – it’s easy to think that now. IVF worked for me. It doesn’t work for everyone. I know that I kept a positive mindset and did everything I could to help the process. But so did a lot of women who aren’t as fortunate as I have been. This is why I would not advise anyone who knows someone struggling with infertility to tell them they “just know this will work”. Offering support is great, but sadly there are still no guarantees.
10. In the end, it was all worth it
That’s an understatement.
For the first six months of my daughter’s life, I found myself constantly whispering in her ear, “are you real? are you really here?” I was in a state of awe.
I wrote most of this article sitting next to my sleeping four week old second daughter while listening to our toddler play tea party with my husband. IVF worked for us - twice. The fact that I’m able to write this, and shed even a glimmer of light on what brought us our babies has me feeling beyond blessed.
The 400+ injections, the purple bruises, the days my heart broke over every pregnant woman I saw in Target are now behind me. My heart goes out to anyone struggling. You are not alone.
And to those questioning the different paths it can take to become a mother I would tell them… one day it won’t matter so much how. It will be more than enough that they are here.