Where have I been, dear readers? All these months I've been coping with the reality of infertility and focusing on getting through two cycles of IVF.
As I sit here, in bed, recovering from my oocyte retrieval this morning I feel like I'm finally ready to write about what IVF has been like for me.
Most people I've talked to typically have no idea (or a very vague idea) of what In Vitro Fertilization is and the cost it takes emotionally and financially on a couple. Like everything else to do with women's bodies and health, we just don't talk about it. That shit is private yo.
But you know what? How is that fair? So eff that. If you're dealing with infertility, or know someone who is, this post is for you. Because you are NOT alone.
As I've written before, the absolute shock that my body isn't doing something that a) I have fought long and hard to PREVENT for all those years and b) everyone else seems to be able to do simply by sneezing is a constant grieving process that I relive every time I hear a colleague or friend is pregnant, every time I see a happy little family with their child, every single step of the IVF process. For most people conceiving is a very intimate and magical process filled with fun times and orgasms.
It took months to accept that our 1% chance of conceiving each month meant that our options were... IVF.
In Nova Scotia IVF is not covered by medicare. No matter that our infertility is a medical condition. Or that the Nova Scotia government bemoans the decreasing birth rate and losing it's young families. Or that other, more "cosmetic" surgeries are covered. Nope, in order for us to conceive we had to fork out 6550$ to BEGIN the IVF process.
Thankfully, MAGICALLY, my insurance provides coverage for most of the injectable medication... otherwise the final tally would have been closer to 14-16k. For ONE cycle. In a country where healthcare is "free", I find it deplorable that conceiving a baby is like purchasing a car. Only with more needles.
In all, this cycle we will have spent close to 8,000$ just to TRY to conceive.
So. What exactly happens in an IVF cycle? I mean, you know it's a "test tube" type sitch, but the deets!
Step by step breakdown:
1. Have period. Call the clinic to tell them the date of your "day one". Pay the clinic 6550$. Cut out caffeine (sob) and alcohol, ingest a ridiculous amount of supplements, like 25 pills a day. Do yoga 6x a week.
2. Day 21: start Suprafact Nasal Spray 5x a day. This will cause your body to go into a sort of "menopause". Yep- don't want your body doing anything it naturally does on it's own. Set 5 alarms on your phone. For two weeks you can be found awkwardly snorting up hormones since you HAVE to take the nasal spray at the exact times during the day. Awkwardly excuse yourself from your clinic sessions with clients stating you "have to take medication now". Take while driving and hope you don't cause an accident. Break the vial on the hospital floor outside of a conference and breakdown sobbing in front of colleagues. Repeat.
3. Down Regulation Check: Go in for blood work to check whether your body thinks it's in menopause. Since you have a phobia of needles, this is the beginning of a lovely relationship with the blood work nurse. They have foamy sperm shaped stress "balls" (hah) that you can squeeze. It's hilarious.
4. You get a phone call from the clinic that yes, you are good to start injections. Pick up said needles at the pharmacy. Now starts the GOOD STUFF.
5. That night you start injections. These hormones are meant to make your ovaries make a RIDICULOUS amount of eggs. Like your ovaries may swell up to the size of oranges. The first time around I only had 1 needle a night. Since I have a phobia of needles I thought this was the worse.thing.ever. The second time around I had 2 needles for four days followed by 3 needles for 8 days. In total that is 33 needles in twelve days (including the final "Trigger" shot). This is where the cost can skyrocket depending on how much medication you need. What we learned from the first failed cycle is that my ovaries just really don't like the hormones and are like "eff you guys". Which meant I ended up on the max meds (hence the 3 needles per night). One medication, saizen (human growth hormone, which is terrifying- I know) wasn't covered and cost us 1600$ for a week. I feel so thankful that the rest were, otherwise we likely would have been out 700-800$ a day for 12 days.
(My nightly trophies. Two of the needles involved mixing the medication with a saline or bacteria-free water solution. The "pen" was pre-mixed. In all this took approximately 30min per night).
I am also so thankful that my husband is such a phenomenal person. He did such a great job. I had minimal bruising (which is a miracle), I got hugs and kisses after each injection and he was my steady calming force when I cried at the injustice of needles vs orgasms each night.
Every night you are reminded that THIS is what you have to go through just to conceive.
6. Every other day during injections you go in for blood work and vaginal ultrasounds. to check on how well you are responding to the meds. For me this was so stressful, since each step we were informed just how I wasn't responding. When the nurse informed me I would actually be moving forward to retrieval I actually sobbed on the ultrasound table.
(my ultra sound from Tuesday. This is the left side, only showing half of the follicles. The follicles are the large black holes. In reality they were between 17-20 millimetres (1.7-2.0 cm). Neato eh?)
The neat part of this is you get to see the follicles growing in your ovaries on the ultrasound. This time around I had one monstrous follicle on the right (we named him Arnold) and 10 on the left.
7. Once the follicles have reached a good size (and you are bloated and feel nauseous and uncomfortable) they deem you ready for "retrieval". You get a "trigger" shot that you are to take EXACTLY 36hrs pre-retrieval. Not five minutes more or less. EXACTLY 36hrs.
8. You get one entire day of NO MEDICATIONS. It was bliss.
9. Retrieval. This is what happened today. I went in to the clinic at 8:30am for acupressure (see- needle phobia). Then we went into surgery prep. I was terrified. All of it is overwhelming and scary- from the hair nets, hospital gowns, slippers. The nurses were lovely and super kind in the face of my holding back tears of fear and hiding the iv from my sight. The wheel you in an operating room where the Doctor (Dr Ripley.... hah!) uses a ultrasound probe with a long thin needle attached to go through the vaginal walls straight to the ovaries and suck out all the follicles and fluid. Thankfully drugs are involved.
(this little gal is one of six oocytes sucked out of the follicles today. Andrew grabbed a pic with my phone. Andrew thinks she could kick some serious ass. I agree.)
While this is happening the embryologist shouts out the number of eggs she finds. Some follicles may not have any eggs (or oocytes). My count: six. As soon as that first egg was found I started to cry. I think it looks like either a weird mould spore or a gorgeous sun of life.
10. Your partner does his "thing" and they fertilize the eggs. (or they use a donor if your partner is a "she" :) ).
11. You get daily calls on the status of how the eggs are doing, which ones were successfully fertilized and how they look. They actually RATE THEM on a scale of 1-20. I hear this is stressful, since it is likely quite a few won't make the cut. Since every single step of this process has been a battle for us, I just hope 1 or 2 make it to the end.
12. Since your body has no idea what the hell just happened, you have to take progesterone vaginal suppositories (3x a day) AND estrogen (estrace) pills (2x day) to keep up that uterine lining. GO UTERUS. This would continue until 11th week of pregnancy if you manage to be successful.
13. Transfer day: This happens at day 3 or 5 post retrieval. They pick the best 1 or 2 embryos and put 'em back in the uterus. This will likely be a much less of a big deal compared to retrieval. Yin yoga will be my jam at this point.
14. Wait 16 days for a blood test to reveal whether or not it worked.
Start all over again if this fails.
There you have it. I know one day I will look on this whole horrible "adventure" and think (hopefully): it was worth every single gods damned needle. Andrew and I have only grown closer because of it. I couldn't have done it without him.
I also have a completely new perspective on just how lucky people are to have children. No sleep? Complete change in lifestyle? Responsibilities up the wazoo coupled with no more private time? BRING IT.