The Emotional Rollercoaster Cliché that is IVF
Looking back, I can only laugh at how easy I thought it would unfold.
In September 2016, my husband and I decided to move ahead with IVF after 3 failed IUIs (intrauterine insemination) over the course of the past year.
I remember thinking confidently, “OK. We start the fertility drugs in a couple weeks. I’ll do an egg retrieval a couple weeks after that, then we’ll transfer an embryo, and I’ll be pregnant by the end of October!”
I celebrated nearing the end of already three years of infertility with a glass of prosecco. “Bottoms up! Drink now, because I’ll be pregnant in a month!”
If you haven’t guessed yet, that didn’t go according to plan.
How does that old saying go? “It’s not the destination but the journey.” I’m going to take a wild guess that Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson never endured infertility.
Sometimes that journey downright sucks, and it’s not one I will ever remember fondly, that we can “laugh about it later.” No amount of toxic positivity is going to change that. Even when there is a happy ending… eventually.
Getting on the roller coaster…
My IVF journey can only be described as an emotional roller coaster.
My very first attempt at IVF almost ended up being my last. In September 2016, despite having already spent more time than I would have liked in a fertility clinic, I really didn’t know or perhaps more accurately, BELIEVE that IVF wouldn’t be a quick fix. You’re paying big bucks, right? But that doesn’t mean any guarantees.
I did my first round of stims, only to discover that I hadn’t produced any eggs. I didn’t even make it to retrieval. Whatever cocktail of fertility drugs I had taken, ended in a bust. Diagnosed with low AMH as my ‘infertility diagnosis’, it was predicted I wouldn’t be a super producer of eggs. I just didn’t think I wouldn’t produce ANY!
Our doctor was surprised, himself. He alluded to the fact that this could already be the end of the road for us, but he was willing to try again if we were, planning to do embryo banking (doing several retrievals to create as many embryos to freeze as possible). But first, I’d have to make it to retrieval.
Please keep your hands, arms, and legs inside the train at all times…
My drug protocol was changed, and the optimistic me was replaced by a more hardened, realistic me as I watched October turn into November and no pregnancy, like I had so naively predicted.
Yet I made it to retrieval in November which was definitely a win. I remember retrieval day was on election day in the US. I was groggy and tired the rest of the day and went to bed early. I remember asking my husband the next morning, “so, who’s the President?… TRUMP won?! GET OUT OF TOWN!”
I did another retrieval in January and between both procedures, we had 6 embryos to freeze. This was a fantastic number given how dismal things looked in September after our canceled protocol. My body was tired and we decided to call it quits on the retrievals.
But I knew the embryos still had to go through PGS (Preimplantation Genetic Screening) and surely we’d lose some, if not all of our hard work. Yet, I allowed a sense of cautious optimism to creep in.
At the top of the rollercoaster…
Our PGS results came back, and the doctor exclaimed over the phone, “you’re an egg rockstar!” All 6 embryos were chromosomally normal. I was elated, we could now move onto a transfer.
But really, this left me with more questions than answers. Why then, did I struggle to get pregnant in the first place? I ovulate. I have a textbook 28 day cycle. I was diagnosed with low AMH, a hormone level indicative of a low egg reserve. But so what? “It only takes one egg”, right? AMH can also be indicative of poor egg quality. But I just had 6 rockstar embryos pass PGS.. So what gives?
And we drop DOWN…
We did our first transfer in April, and beginner’s luck was not in our cards. The transfer was successful but resulted in a chemical pregnancy. I was told I’d lose it and sure enough, I did over Easter weekend. Good Friday isn’t so good when you’re bleeding out at a family function.
We went head first into a second transfer that resulted in a big fat negative.
My husband and I decided to go to California for a vacation. We needed a reset after back to back disappointment. But we had 4 embryos left. Our doctor said he felt confident there was a viable pregnancy in that batch of embabies. This gave me hope.
It amazed me how fast the time was going. We were already approaching a year since we embarked on IVF, and still no pregnancy. I did an ERA procedure (Endometrial Receptivity Analysis) that August to see if we needed to change how long I took progesterone before a transfer and based on my cycle, we weren’t able to proceed with an actual transfer again until October.
Now we’re upside down…
October 2017 wasn’t a good month.
My father in law was terminally ill and had been since June. His illness was progressing quickly and he was gone by the end of the month. Before his death, during a routine ultrasound to check my uterine lining in preparation for my third embryo transfer attempt, the technician noticed my right Fallopian tube was “as swollen as a sausage”. It was blocked so badly that it was caught during an ultrasound of my uterus.
What?! I had previously passed many sonohysterograms, so this was a huge blow. Not only was my transfer canceled, but I was immediately referred to an OB who booked me for a laparoscopy in December.
In retrospect, not having to endure a transfer and two week wait during a very difficult time in our lives worked out for us serendipitously. We had enough going on, I didn’t need to add secret clinic visits on top of the chaos.
My laparoscopy resulted in the removal of one Fallopian tube, the blockage being diagnosed as a ‘hydrosalpinx’. These are potentially dangerous since they can leak fluid into the uterine cavity and wreak havoc on a pregnancy, or prevent one all together.
The good news was that I was able to try a transfer after my next post-surgery cycle, so we did.
The ride is over. Please disembark…
While we didn’t have beginner’s luck the first time, the “third time’s a charm” luck pulled through.
I did things differently this time. I did mindset/meditation work daily on my commute. I changed acupuncturists and I worked with a practitioner who had also struggled with infertility herself and persevered. I even saw a fertility hypnotist that my new acupuncturist hooked me up with at her clinic for a free, small group workshop.
We did a deep meditative exercise where we channeled our future baby to come to us. “It’s OK now, I’m ready to meet you and bring you into this world.” It sounds like gibberish, but it was an extremely powerful experience.
I’m not saying to readers still riding the roller coaster to, “try what I did and you’ll have a baby!” Or, “you’re simply not thinking positively enough!” I’m sure you are doing all that is in your power right now, and what’s right for YOU. If I have learned anything, it’s that there is no one size fits all plan of attack to starting a family. I’m explaining in an effort to share my truth, and because at the time, I felt a need to take control as much as possible in a situation where I felt powerless.
We transferred our third embryo in February 2018 and welcomed our son that November.
I think despite the differences in our infertility journeys, we can all relate to the fact that they are emotional roller coasters. They aren’t clear, straight lines. They have many emotional highs, uphill battles, deep, devastating lows, and speed bump after speed bump. But as much as the ride makes you sick, you line up and get back on.
I had a son. Two now, in fact. I am one of the lucky ones. But it’s still so surprising to me how hard it is to leave infertility behind, and it’s left me with scars that will alway stay with me. I’m still triggered by pregnancy announcements…“you had sex to get pregnant? That’s freaking adorable!” <Insert eye roll and sarcasm here>.
I don’t want to conclude my story with, “and I’m a stronger person because of infertility and you will be too!” I actually don’t know if I’m a stronger person. And I mourn the time lost going through all of this, like the trips we didn’t take because our lives revolved around infertility procedures. I grieve over the toll it took on my body, mind, and wallet.
Infertility sucks. There’s no need to sugar coat it. Sometimes, just acknowledging it and allowing yourself to feel all the feels is OK. My kids were worth it – but I deserve to still be pissed about it all – and so do you, no matter where you are in the process.