Morning. I’m just stepping in briefly to welcome today’s guest post. One of our lovely readers is bravely opening up about her experience of undergoing IVF and the multitude of emotions that entails. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always successful, and I have every bit of admiration and love for what she has been through. She has asked if we can keep her anonymous but will be commenting below so please do feel free to ask any questions or leave comments as usual.
Statistically, 84% of people will fall pregnant within one year. I am extremely impatient by nature and when we started “trying to conceive” (urgh – anyone else hate that phrase?!), I used to take comfort from that statistic. But what happens when you’re on the wrong side of the stats? For us, who officially fell into the unexplained infertility camp, it meant IVF.
For many, IVF is seen as the magic bullet to infertility. Yes, it sounds expensive and inconvenient but worth it for a guaranteed baby –in certain countries, you can even choose what sex you get. The reality is that the success rate is on average less than 30% and when faced with those odds the feeling of hopelessness is just crushing. NHS funding in this area is extremely limited, often restricted to just one cycle and has in fact been withdrawn completely in certain boroughs. We soon learnt that one cycle is often needed as a diagnostic tool just to know what the hell is going on. There are so many variables in the process (or more accurately, opportunities for it to go wrong), one shot is rarely enough.
I cannot rate my IVF consultant highly enough yet our first cycle felt like a disaster. We started off on what is known as a “long protocol” which meant weeks of injections to put my body into a menopausal state (hello hot flashes, night sweats, random bleeds and RAGE) before stimulating it to produce a number of eggs (hello painful, angry ovaries and bloating). Typically, and depending on age the aim is to produce between 10-15 eggs per cycle. Despite close monitoring and an increase in my drugs part way through I produced 5 which already felt like a failure.
Before the eggs can be fertilised, they need to be collected. For me, this was one of the most painful things I have ever endured. Although you are highly sedated for the procedure itself, once this wore off I was in agony. At this stage in the process it is still possible to convince yourself that its going to be worth it though and that night I indulged guilt free in wine, cake and pizza after months of feeling like I was ruining my fertility whenever sugar/gluten/alcohol passed my lips.
Eggs are usually left to fertilise overnight so I spent that 24 hours watching my phone like an unexploded bomb waiting for the call to find out how many had actually fertilised and were ready to move onto the next level in this torturous game. I cant describe the crushing disappointment when I was told only one egg had fertilised. This was a complete curve ball for us given that we had no known male infertility factors and given my age (under 35) my egg quality should have been good. One of the main aims of IVF is to produce a number of embryos (fertilised eggs) so that you can pick the “best” one to be implanted. Unfortunately for us, we now didn’t have that choice.
Our lone embryo was implanted after 3 days of monitoring. It was rated as “good quality” and so a flame of hope was ignited that we would be one of the lucky ones who overcame the odds and got pregnant after producing just one embryo. That flame of hope is a b@st@rd by the way. Embryo transfer is definitely the best part about IVF. Its a bit like a smear in terms of process (legs in stirrups, clamp holding everything wide open) whilst a nurse carries out an ultrasound on your stomach so the consultant can see where to place the embryo but the magical part is seeing your three day old potential baby on a screen before it is sucked up to be placed inside you. Definitely an emotional time although the process also requires a full bladder so there is an underlying feeling of not trying to pee all over the consultant whilst his head is between your legs.
Those who have “tried to conceive” (URGH, URGH, URGH) will know all about the two week wait where post ovulation you count down the days until you can accurately test and find out whether you are pregnant. Its pretty much the same principle for IVF but in addition you take further drugs in the form of progesterone pessaries to ensure the lining of your uterus is optimal. These can go in either the front or back passage or as my nurse told me “best to mix it up so neither area gets too sore”.
Its impossible to describe how you feel when you’re staring at a stark white pregnancy test and you’re faced with the realisation that your cycle has failed. Immediately afterwards I was distraught but there was also this weird sense of relief that I was off this nightmare rollercoaster and my body would return to some sort of normality. Then the drug comedown kicks in (I was on steroids at the end of the cycle and definitely felt withdrawal) and it all just feels bleak. I was utterly drained and just did not know where to turn – it made me question everything and there was also the added blow that we had just wasted the best part of £10,000 on what was essentially a gamble with rubbish odds.
Why were we working to provide for a family that we might not ever have? What was the point in living in a house with three spare bedrooms? Why are we even married? People try to offer solutions “have you thought about adoption?” “oh yes, because that’s such an easy process – think I’ll pick out a baby tomorrow”. All I wanted to do was scream, break things and cry. I hear of people that go through difficult times and can pick themselves up and block it all out. Turns out, I am not one of those people. I think my biggest achievement in the weeks afterwards was watching a month’s worth of TV in a weekend. It all just felt so utterly unfair. How can something which is literally SO easy for some people that “accidents” happen seem so impossibly unreachable. We knew that our only realistic hope of getting pregnant would be another cycle yet getting back on the treadmill of scans, tests, injections and procedures felt horrifically daunting without any guarantees of a better outcome – in fact, now faced with the knowledge that I produced so few eggs and my husband’s sperm and my eggs appeared to repel each other, it just felt pointless and a complete waste of money.
I found one of the most difficult parts of IVF to be the feeling of isolation. For the majority of people who haven’t gone through the process, it is very difficult to comprehend how emotionally and physically draining the whole thing can be which makes it very difficult to talk about with friends and family. Those who you do talk to, tend to want to “look on the bright side” rather than the uncomfortable reality. And believe me, when going through infertility and a failed cycle, there is nothing worse than being told to “think positive and it will happen” as if my mood somehow controls my womb – the basic underlying message being that my attitude is somehow impacting the overall outcome and I am actually to blame.
My husband’s colleague asked me why the process was so tough – “is it the injections?”, “was it painful”, “was it tiring?” etc etc. It was like trying to describe what water tastes like. Physically, its undoubtedly an extremely tough slog (although I know some people who have said they sailed through). Before, during and after I underwent repeated internal examinations – its become second nature to strip off during medical appointments and I’ve had to stop myself taking my jeans off at a visit to the dentist – so its undoubtedly invasive but its also so much more than that.
Mentally, I’ve felt alone, hopeless and with a never ending draining monologue of “what next/what if”. All areas of my life have been impacted or put on hold. I would like to say my marriage is stronger but I found myself resenting my husband when I was going through endless injections, invasive tests and nerve wracking scans whilst his entire contribution was producing a sample. Work-wise, I used to think of myself as ambitious but instead passed up job opportunities so that I was able to take time out for IVF easily. And sadly friendships have been lost as I felt the need to isolate myself from potential pregnancy announcements (also known as “baby bombs”) and happy families – I feel like a horrible person as I often resent others’ happiness even though it has no impact on my own. Overall, I have definitely lost who I am and I am not sure when I’ll get that back.
But I’ve also learnt how strong friendships can be and will always remember my heavily pregnant friend visiting me after my failed cycle to just listen to me sob and not offer me platitudes but instead make it clear that she completely understood if I couldn’t cope with seeing her for a while or meeting her new baby. It felt like such a relief for someone to actually understand the blackness without trying to find a solution. I’ve also learnt how much harder other people have it. For us, its taken two rather lengthy, highly medicated, expensive and painful cycles to become pregnant but for many I have met along the way, their outcome is likely to be very different. And that’s the toughest part. You just do not know how many cycles it will take, when is enough really enough and will there always be that sense of regret from not trying one more time. You are basically trapped on a rollercoaster that you cannot get off unless you hit the jackpot or accept childlessness.