IVF part 3: survival of the fittest

The IVF process from egg collection onwards is a real eye opener.

Our egg collection process retrieved 24 eggs. Then, at the party-in-a-petri-dish on day one  23 eggs were fertilised. 15 embryos “hatched” on day three. 13 embryos survived to blastocyst stage on day five. They were all biopsied for pre-genetic testing and then frozen.

They told us that 13 embryos was a ludicrously good result. I felt confident and happy, even if I was a little uneasy at the thought that we had a football team (and reserves) sitting on ice.

Our guys were biopsied on day five and those biopsied cells were sent away for testing, to see if there were any chromosomal abnormalities.  Given our history, it was the sensible thing to do. When I received the call from my gynaecologist exactly a month after the egg collection I realised just how sensible it was.

Only two out of the 13 embryos tested as “normal”. Embryo number 4 and embryo number 6. Three were “inconclusive”. The remainder were “abnormal”. I was shocked. What did this mean? We still do not really know, except they their cell division was not normal and the abnormalities appeared to be random. I called my husband straight away. As I heard his voice I started shaking and crying, and had to babble “it’s not as bad as it sounds!” quickly so that he wouldn’t worry. I told him the news. He was gobsmacked too.

It took a few days to come around from the shock of only two of our “guys” surviving to believing that two was a good result in the end and meant that we had a real chance of finally getting off the mouse wheel of infertility.

 

 

 

 

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IVF part 2: egg collection

I opted to work from home the morning of my egg collection. It proved a good distraction from egg collection, but a bad distraction from my ban on any food or drink before the procedure. I became pretty nervous in the half hour or so before I had to get in the car. I checked I had everything I needed, which was basically nothing, about five times.

My husband was there when I walked in the doors of the clinic. We sat on the couch and waited. I was too distracted to read any of the trashy magazines, or to even really talk.

We were called into our own small room. Two nurses came in. They asked all the usual questions, “are you allergic to anything?” “have you eaten anything today” “when did you last drink anything?” They explained the procedure in brief. An embryologist joined the conversation. My gynaecologist joined the conversation. It felt like there were thirty people in a room meant for one. My poor husband slunk back from providing his “sample” to a room of chaos.

I was walked into theatre. Almost immediately I noticed a tiny little window with the embryologist sitting on the other side of it. It looked like a little coffee bar, or a service kitchen. I almost expected to see a little moustached barista with an apron pop out with a smile and an espresso. I think what really was going to happen was that my gynaecologist would pass fluid containing eggs through the window so that they could examine the eggs immediately.

I sat down on the theatre bed and was promptly hooked up to various machines. An IV drip. A blood pressure monitor. Something in my nose with some gas passing through it, probably to zap any fears away. Then the nurses passed my gynaecologist drugs and even before I had my legs in the delightful stirrups I felt myself going fairly floppy.

The procedure itself was pretty painful. With 26 follicles my gynaecologist had to make a number of incisions directly into the ovaries. I cringed and let out a little squeak with each one. I tried to focus on my breathing. Soon enough they were finished, and I was out of theatre just like that, back in my little room.

I was given some toast, and I suspect about then the effect of the drugs really kicked in. I can’t remember what was on the toast, but I do remember that I offered some to my husband. The next thing that I remember was my gynaecologist advising me that they had managed to retrieve 24 eggs. “Wow!” I exclaimed. I was so stoked. My husband laughed and said, “you do realise that is about the sixth time they’ve told you that?” I had no recollection whatsoever.

I was discharged fairly quickly. We had a prescription for some codeine and we drove around the building to the pharmacy on the other side. I waited in the car while my husband went inside. Pretty quickly things went really downhill. I realised that I was going to either throw up or pass out, or both. I shifted uncomfortably around in the car, put the seat back, but to no avail. My mind told me that I had to escape the car and lie down on the cold concrete of the car park. So out I flopped. I began sweating and my head was spinning. I frantically told myself not to spew, to breathe, to focus on lying still.

I don’t know how much time had passed. I heard my husband say my name in shock. He later said he felt like he had an out of body experience seeing me lying with my head on the curb amongst some dead leaves and cigarette butts. I heard a lady say, “is she alright?” and my husband replied, “yeah, she’s ok, she’s just nauseous.” Poor guy.  I refused to move for a while, until I was able to get myself into the car and stay as still as possible on the reclined seat. Off we drove.

At home I rushed myself to bed and basically conked out for the rest of the afternoon. Occasionally I would get enough will and hunger to have some food and drink, but mostly I just slept. Neither of us had expected it would be such an ordeal, or that I would basically spend the next five days in and out of bed with nausea and a feeling like my insides were pumped full of concrete and squeezed. But we had done it. Now the wait to see if any of our guys would make it began.

 

 

 

IVF part 1: the human pin cushion

We started IVF a little over two weeks ago. It was Mothers Day (the irony of this is was not lost on me). I sat nervously on the couch, dialled up 200 on the Puregon pen, screwed a needle into the end and just sat there. It’s not something that came naturally to me, stabbing yourself in your abdomen. Perhaps that is a good thing.

I think I administered the first injection a bit too fast, some residue was left on my skin. It left me feeling worried and anxious – what if I had just stuffed up our entire cycle, all on the first night?! I called my gynaecologist, he wasn’t bothered but wanted me to talk to the nurses the next day. It turns out that injecting yourself can take a bit of practice and patience.

In addition to injecting myself every evening with Puregon, to stimulate follicle (and hopefully egg) development, from day six of my cycle I also had to inject myself in the mornings with another drug called Orgalutran to prevent ovulation. Initially, the only real side effect was a heinous lump of uncomfortable breast tissue sprung up almost overnight. An ultrasound later and thankfully it was confirmed as drugs and hormones messing with me rather than anything too sinister. Probably could have done without that additional stress though.

My first scan and blood test was on the following Saturday. I went in with the expectation that we would see maybe five or so follicles. The gynaecologist used an ultrasound to start measuring the follicles she could see. “Sixteen” she’d call out to the nurse sitting at the computer. The nurse typed the measurement into the computer. “Fourteen”. “Ten”. “Ten”. “Fourteen” and so it went. I counted in my head with my heart in my mouth, “one, two, three, four, five, six…”

“OK”, said the gynaecologist, “now we’re going to move onto the other ovary”. The OTHER ovary? It seems obvious that this would be the case in hindsight, but at the time I thought that only one ovary would be producing follicles. I stopped counting after that, content that we must be on the right track.

My results showed that we had 22 follicles and I was scheduled to have another blood test and scan on the Monday morning. Things were definitely progressing, and fast. On the Monday, we went through the same follicle counting process as before. 26 follicles!! The nurses seemed nervous about the number of follicles and advised me that I would have to take an injection of Buserelin at 12.30am the following morning to “trigger” the ovulation process.

My egg collection was scheduled for 12.30pm on Wednesday, no food that morning, no water after 10.30am, bring your used needles, instruction after instruction after instruction. It was only day 10 of my cycle and it felt like I suddenly lost control over what was happening.

On the eve of IVF

It has been a long two months as I sit here on the eve of my first IVF cycle.

This month’s cycle is at an end. Clomid gave me migraine headaches, bloating, and some random sobbing, but unfortunately only one follicle. The previous month there were two follicles, and elation with a positive pregnancy test. That quickly turned to sheer disbelief and heartache as a week later I felt my underpants were wet and after quickly taking myself to the bathroom realised that it was blood. Lots of blood. Perhaps it was a chemical pregnancy, who knows. I felt myself drift into the familiar territory of grief and numbness, but the shortness of the pregnancy seems to have been mirrored in the shortness of my grief for loss #5.

The loss of another pregnancy hardened my resolve. I wasn’t prepared to let matters take their own course and wander on, and on, and on. I’m now 34 and we’ve been trying to have our second baby for two and a half years now. I’m sick of my relationship with my husband taking a back seat. The last two months we have had to wait for the hollow text message saying “it’s a good time to have intercourse for the next four days”. It’s been long enough.

Tonight I am completing consent forms. The questions ask, “do you want to dispose of any embryo with inconclusive pre-genetic screening results” and the like. It turns your mind to the possibility that we may have some difficult decisions ahead of us, or horrible things may happen to us again. It talks about CVS. I instantly think of my one and only CVS that led to a diagnosis of T21. I am doing my best to be positive. It is the best chance we have of conceiving a healthy baby.

On the bench sits a turquoise green cooler bag. Inside there are information sheets, a specimen collection jar for my husband, and two injection pens. I will need to inject myself in the stomach with two drugs, one to stimulate follicle development, the other to prevent ovulation. That’s what is making me the most nervous at this point. Stabbing my own stomach with a fine needle. Each injection costs around $300. What if I botch it up? Will it hurt a lot?

My poor husband has to deposit a specimen for semen analysis tomorrow. He said his voice quivered on the phone as he tried to say the words. I had to laugh at the sheer awkwardness of the situation, but I also feel genuinely sorry for him that he is now part of the medical hoop-jumping circus that I feel so familiar with.

Despite our history, my gynaecologist calls us his, ‘positive prognosis”, and he is confident we will get there. Fingers crossed that he’s right.

 

Ah, Clomid, I’ve heard a lot about you

I visited my gynaecologist today. I should really have scheduled to see him last month, but in my mind I was going to be able to call him and tell him that I was pregnant and that I didn’t need to see him after all. Well, that didn’t happen.

Ten minutes before I was due to drive to the clinic I was with a friend. It had taken her a couple of years to get pregnant and she’d had to have surgery due to some severe endometriosis. We had common ground in our struggle to conceive. We see each other at least once a week, have a coffee and let our kids run amok together in the playground.

As we were leaving she told me – she was 14 weeks pregnant. Fourteen! I saw her every week, often twice a week. She had known for such a long time and hadn’t said anything. Presumably because it was just too awkward. It made me feel really let down. And shit. And upset. Was it really so hard to tell me?

I was happy that she had become pregnant so easily. And I tried not to let it bother me that she hadn’t told me sooner. But I cried all the way home to our place before getting in the car and driving to the gynaecologist. I wish she’d told me sooner. Before today.

My gynaecologist asked about how everything had been since my surgery in November to correct the Asherman’s. I said it all seemed OK, perhaps my cycles were a bit shorter than usual, but that was about it. He said I should start on Clomid. Ah, Clomid, I was wondering when that might pop into conversation. It seemed that every infertility thread I read mentions Clomid.

Alright, well what do we need to do? He explained I need to take the drug on certain days of my cycle, have a scan on day 10, and then they advise you when to try and conceive. The last step in normalcy of our already regimented sex life was about to be removed.

He advised me that it could increase the likelihood of twins, as though that was a bad thing. I understand that there are greater risks in pregnancy with twins but TWINS! I would be so extraordinarily happy if we had twins.

And he wanted my husband to have a sperm count test. I had to have a giggle at the thought – my husband was having a laugh with a friend a few weeks ago about being asked to perform into a plastic container, presumably giving him some grief about it. How awkward.

The realisation hit me: more tests, more drugs, more appointments, more tests, more drugs, more appointments. I was like a long-term medical experiment. My son wasn’t going to get a sibling until he was at least four. I would have been absolutely crushed had I known that at the time he was born. Now I am just numb with disappointment and a weak positivity that one day things will happen for us.

I took the fertility booklet, the scripts, the blood test forms, and cried. My son asked me what was wrong and gave me a pen and paper and said if I drew with him I would be happy again. What a cute guy. No wonder I want another one so badly.

 

A new journey: peeing on a stick

I didn’t think when I started writing this blog that I would be writing about peeing on a stick. I also didn’t think I’d have another two losses after our first miscarriage (well, three if you count the fact we were having twins on one of those occasions). But here I am.

Peeing on a stick. Not terribly graceful. Not something you’d discuss over the water cooler at work. Initially, peeing on a stick for me meant using a pregnancy test. It’s ludicrous what I put myself through. I get myself a FRER (or First Response Early Result) test, so that I can test at the earliest possible time. Never mind the fact that when I have had a positive result (so, five times before) I’ve never got a positive test before my period is due. I tell my illogical and somewhat deranged self, “maybe you could get an early result! Why would you want to wait if you could find out early!” And so it goes on.

The worst part though is waiting for a non-existent positive result. I sit there in the bathroom. I squint. I move the test into the light. I tilt it.  I throw it in the bin. I get it out again. I repeat the charade for what feels like a squillion times until I have given myself a headache from focussing so hard and trying to make something exist that doesn’t: that elusive second line. Sigh. Not this month.

Last month we tried an ovulation predictor kit for the first time. I didn’t even know what OPK meant on my Fertility Friend app until last month. I’m not sure why, but I decided to go top shelf. We got a Clearblue digital test. It promised to give us our four most fertile days for optimal “love making”. My poor husband. “Love making” at the moment is more like a scheduled requirement than a recreational activity.

My period came and went. So I opened the Clearblue test. Yikes, it looked complicated. The instructions suggested I should have started testing the day before. Not a great start. I told myself I would start the next day. And then I turned to my old favourite Google and asked some questions: when to test, how long do you need to hold on before testing, morning, afternoon or evening… so many questions! I decided that I would aim to be consistent at least and test in the middle of the day, after holding on for a couple of hours each time.

First day of the OPK… nothing. Second day flashing smiley! I looked at the instructions and it meant… high fertility! It was early in the piece, only day 11. I was pretty sure I usually ovulated after day 14 so didn’t pay too much attention. The next day another flashing smiley. We were at a music festival all day and all night long. Maybe I’d done the test wrong I thought. It did say to use first morning urine and I’d ignored that.  In any case, we were absolutely exhausted, I hoped that we would have more opportunities.

On day 14 I was at work. I wondered how many other women have to attempt to smuggle an ovulation test into the cubicle at work. It wasn’t exactly discreet, I had to shove the test up my jacket sleeve and then walk to the bathroom. I hoped my boss didn’t call me into his office. My arm was abnormally rigid.  I took the test. The results take a good five minutes to show, so I decided I would go back to my desk and then surreptitiously look at the test in my desk drawer.

Thankfully no-one cottoned on to my bizarre behaviour. The elusive solid smiley appeared! According to Clearblue that meant ovulation was imminent. It was like receiving the call to arms. Turns out that two years of trying for your second child can make you pretty determined to conceive.

The next two weeks were spent wondering if I’d stuffed up the test. I don’t think I did, my period arrived exactly two weeks after the test claimed I ovulated. Sigh. Back to peeing on a stick again.

 

 

Another year on

I got my period today. In a moment our chances for conceiving this month evaporated. I felt myself slump and fade into a moment of sadness.

That moment was nothing thought compared to the meltdown I had yesterday when I took a pregnancy test and, even with the strongest squint, there was no hint of that big fat positive. I cried so much. I felt myself being dragged back to the lows that followed our termination. So much pain, and anger, and sadness, and helplessness. It sucked. I thought we were doing so well and then, bam.

I could feel myself having an angry imaginary conversation with a friend. Yelling at them that they had no idea what it was like to nearly lose your job because your mind is elsewhere for months on end, to feel physical pain in your heart every time you saw a woman walk past with a perfectly round baby bump, to sit alone with your thoughts for hours trying to guess whether this month might be the month that the nightmare comes to an end. I felt so angry. So trapped in an endless shitty nightmare.

I did my best to imagine all the people in the world who are in a shittier place than us. To be grateful to live in a beautiful country, in a nice house, with a wonderful and supportive husband, and to have a gorgeous son. I feel guilty sometimes how self-absorbing this journey to pregnancy is. I know it frustrates my husband. I can understand why.

Today, though, I am resigned to the fact that 2016 holds no hope for us. I’ve changed my focus to that arbitrary line in the sand that is 1 January 2017. A new year.

A year ago I thought the same thing about 2015. My husband and I sat down beside the river at my in-laws holiday house and wept quietly on New Year’s Eve, knowing that the end of the year meant the closure of a chapter of our lives, but also meant that our little ones were gone and drifting further away from us.

Come on powers that be, haven’t we been through enough? Please give us a leg up and let 2017 be the year that we welcome our second perfect baby. I’m not ready to give up!