The scary thing isn’t the bruises of IVF, it’s sharing a photo of your far from flat, stretch mark-filled tummy on the Internet.
Yes, the bruising and soreness and feeling crappy 110% of the time sucks. But such is stimming. I leave this here for posterity, to say these bruises may be the wounds of war necessary to finally get a baby.
Good luck, IVF sisters. I’m with ya.
Spoiler alert: Infertility is expensive. I often feel like not only does my body not cooperate, but neither do my finances. Some lucky people make babies for free, ya know?
Thankfully, my absolute favorite resource, FertilityIQ, wants to help ease the financial burden of IVF. To celebrate helping 250,000 people with their doctor and clinic reviews, they’re giving away a $10,000 IVF grant — cha-ching!
The best part of this, in my opinion, is that to be entered to win, you just have to log on to the site and review your doctor or clinic. You’re helping someone else find the right doctor for them, which is awesome, and potentially pocketing $10k for your next (or current) IVF cycle. No need to pour your heart out telling your story, or creating a video for someone to judge. Just submit your review by March 9th. Read the details here and spread the word.
If someone that I referred wins the grant (I mean, how amazing would that be?!), I’ll also get $2,500, of which I will donate half to someone I know who doesn’t have the means to try IVF to build her family. Because pay it forward, right? This community supports their own!
Good luck, and thank you to FertilityIQ for offering this generous grant!
*This post is not sponsored, I’m just helping to spread the word!
Friends, the day has arrived (finally): Day one of my stim cycle. Let’s grow some follicles and make some good quality eggs, shall we?
Pending the results of this morning’s progesterone check, I begin Lupron injections this evening. Here’s a fun refresher on the types of side effects I may experience during this phase of the cycle: fatigue, increased sweating, headaches, acne, trouble sleeping… Oh boy! During my first cycle nearly two years ago, I wrote about the frequent urination hitting me hard by day 8. Guaranteed that one pops up again.
Knowing what to expect physically and emotionally during a stimulation doesn’t make me excited to start injecting myself with hormones every night, but it does give me some comfort. One of the most difficult mental hurdles last time I did this was overcoming the fear of the unknown. Perhaps no two cycles are alike, though?
Mentally, where am I? That is, of course, more complicated. Knowing that I can get through to the egg retrieval is one thing. I can handle tired, peeing a lot and crying at the drop of a hat. After the retrieval, though, the next six days are out of my hands. I’ll wait to hear how many eggs fertilize and grow to blastocyst stage. Then the embryos are biopsied and shipped for PGS and I’ll wait some more. That wait, though… that’s going to be the toughest one. It determines our next few months, our entire path for moving forward. Will there be any normal embryos? If so, how many? If not, how will I feel? Will I want to move right into adoption, or will I need to grieve the loss of my fertility?
None of these questions will have answers for at least the next month. As we get dangerously close to April, no less. The worst month of the year.
So stay tuned for some fun!
(I really love Happy Endings. Can you tell?)
PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening) is a complicated topic. While I knew we would opt to use PGS during our upcoming stim cycle prior to a transfer very early on, I didn’t know much about it. I’d watched an animated video on the website of the laboratory that my clinic uses for PGS, and it felt a bit Schoolhouse Rock-esque, without the clever puns and music. This video could have used those. I felt like I knew the basics of what happens to the embryo/blastocyst during the PGS testing, the lab counts chromosomes, … blah, blah blah… and then following testing my husband and I would see a report on our embyros each characterized into two neat little columns — normal or abnormal.
At least some of that was correct.
I’ll say before I move on that I am not usually one of those infertiles that spends hours in the middle of the night on message boards comparing IVF stories with other women. I’m not passing judgement on the women that do that, mind you. For me, and my mental health, I have to sometimes turn down the fire hose of infertility information. I very much pick and choose when I consult Dr. Google or the message boards because when I know too much, my anxiety hits dangerous (read: 1947-era padded room, straight jacket) levels. Too much research can cripple me. I try to be well-informed about my treatment options and protocols, and I think I am, but I know my limits. I’m good without knowing that Jane Doe in Oregon also had a Lupron-down protocol resulting in 20 eggs at her retrieval and then experienced this freak thing… yeah. I, personally, don’t need to know. I advocate for myself but I also trust my doctor and the greatest nurse on the planet.
So while I knew I’d move forward with PGS almost regardless of my research, I still wanted to learn more about it. If anything, I wanted to confirm that I was making the right call about doing it, and gain confidence that we’d have some clear answers after the tests were complete.
Where did I land? Well, I will say that PGS is (still) the absolute right step for us at this point (more on that in a bit). But, dayum, I got schooled.
First, all hail FertilityIQ. Their online course on PGS is the absolute best, most comprehensive resource on the subject I’ve found. If you’re considering this as part of your treatment plan, take 30 minutes to watch their helpful videos and read through their detailed written material. Deborah and Jake, the founders of the site, host the videos and I’d like to be friends with them. They’re clearly knowledgeable (fertility clinic vets so they totally get it), but they also include interviews with doctors on both sides of the aisle in this PGS debate. The course has easy to understand patient examples, visuals and just a ton of great information. Honestly, it’s not only worth your time, but in my opinion you owe it to yourself to understand the intricacies of such a complex fertility topic.
This post isn’t sponsored by the site, nor do I have any relationship to it, I am just a big fan. Also, I probably don’t need to mention this but I am NOT. A. DOCTOR. I am a fellow infertile sharing her experience.
Remember when I said that I thought after PGS all of our created embryos (and Kristoff) would be put into two nice little black and white buckets? Nooope. Because mosaic embryos are a thing. As a woman lumped into the unexplained infertility category I’ll say they are a potentially confusing, frustrating thing. I don’t need more unexplained science, world! I need answers. The FertilityIQ videos and text were extremely helpful in explaining not only what mosaicism is, but that there are questions I need to ask my clinic about their policies on identifying these gray area embryos. (Aside: And because I now knew to ask this question I got an answer about my clinic’s policy! #winning)
What this all comes down to is that I’m glad I did the research on PGS. While the idea of mosaic embryos does kinda make me want to cry in the corner, simply because it’s just more uncertainty when I’ve had my fill of that, I’m glad I’m armed with this information to better advocate for myself and my future blastocysts. I can ask the questions of my clinic, talk to a genetic counselor if I’m in a position where we only have mosaic embryos available, and then decide what’s right for us. If any of that happens.
Here’s why PGS is right for us at this moment in time: I’m 36. I’ve had two miscarriages, a chemical pregnancy and three failed embryo transfers (with a total of five embryos). Other than chronic endometritis, three years of infertility treatments and countless tests have not brought us any closer to a baby. This road is ending for us soon, with or without a biological child. I’m tired. We’ve reached our debt ceiling. PGS will allow us the best possible opportunity to have that baby. We will carry more debt with us because of it, but we’re going for broke this time (perhaps literally as well as figuratively). This is it.
If there’s one thing I feel really positive about heading into this last stim cycle, it’s the decision to have our embryos tested. And honestly, I really need that sliver of hope.
I’m a few days from starting my period. While nothing tops the two-week wait (TWW) on the anxiety scale, the time waiting to start your next IVF cycle is also stressful. In early January my husband and I repeated our lab work, and I had my 8,000th mock transfer and saline ultrasound to ensure all systems were go to start my last stim cycle. Other than a high TSH (thyroid) level, I’m all set. I wasn’t that surprised that my thyroid check was elevated since I’d been off my hypothyroidism meds for about 10 weeks because it conflicted with the prescribed appetite suppressant I was on for weight loss.
[Quick update on the weight loss: Somehow I’ve managed to quell my emotional eating inner demons, and am down 29.5 pounds! I picked up good habits and flipped that elusive switch that allowed me to rethink how I approach food. Particularly sugar. Perhaps the only person more surprised with my progress than me is my husband who knew all too well how unlikely I was to follow-through with this. It certainly has been challenging, but it’s pretty nice to feel like I am crushing. it. in just this one aspect of my life. Having said that, I’m about to stim again with hormones aplenty, so we’ll see what I’m made of over the next few weeks.]
It feels like there’s nothing but waiting. It’s often infuriating. Particularly in those rare time frames when I actually feel physically and emotionally ready to go down the IVF rabbit hole again. Like, ya know, now.
The downtime between completing one cycle and starting another always varies wildly. In my case, it’s almost always been months when it comes to IVF. I did my first stim (and fresh transfer) in June 2016. In fertility terms, that’s probably 25 potentially good eggs ago. Who knows if it was one of those “wasted” eggs that was the golden one?
Then we did our first FET in November 2016. Bust. The second FET didn’t happen for another ten months. Then I got a little bit pregnant. While money was probably the most significant factor in that span of time, getting answers to why three perfectly normal-looking embryos in an otherwise healthy woman simply didn’t stick (spoiler alert: it was endometritis) was also on the list. Not to mention my emotional health.
Moving into this last cycle, we’re already several months removed from the chemical pregnancy, and we’ve decided to leave our last frozen embryo from our OG stim cycle in the freezer (we’ll test Kristoff with his future embryo sibs). Which, another aside: If Kristoff is the ONE embryo that turns out to be genetically normal after PGS I think my brain may actually explode.
While the Clomid made me insane and pack on the pounds, at least IUIs keep the pace moving. I knocked a bunch of those out in a couple of months.
So we’re into another year of this waiting. Year five. We’ve reached the five-year milestone in infertility even before we did in our marriage. How’s that irony. Just delightful.
Whether you know me personally or not, I was you. I was at the beginning of this supremely shitty journey once.
A brief aside: I kinda hate the word journey. It’s both overused and trite, particularly in the context of infertility. It implies a destination ahead. And many days, you’ll have one. A baby in your sights. Some days, though, that destination may need to be relief from the physical and emotional pain you’re likely to experience. I’m truly sorry that you’ll feel this hurt.
When I was where you are on this road (that word somehow feels a bit more natural to me), I had few resources to talk me through what was to come. That was lonely, and it sucked. I hope that you’re able to take an exit ramp long before where I am now, but no matter where you depart, know that you’re never alone. Infertility is probably going be the most alienating thing you ever experience. It has been even more so than the chronic depression I’ve struggled with, although I’ve found they go hand in hand for me.
If you’re reading this, then you’ve likely found that within a few Google searches you can find others online like you. I urge you to use the web wisely, though. Seek out forums, communities and blogs that can be a source of strength for you. Just read, or share your own experience. Step away when the web becomes alarmist. Reading others experiences can be helpful, but do your best not to let these stories trigger your own fears. You’ll have created plenty in your own brain. Don’t fuel them. Remember that every woman is different and none of us have all the answers. That thought alone will probably land somewhere between comforting and frightening, and that’s okay.
When you’re ready, share your thoughts and feelings with someone. That person can be your partner, but it doesn’t have to be. Not every partner will be able to relate to the myriad of thoughts and feelings you’re having. That’s okay, too. They may grieve losses and manage anxieties differently than you do. It can make you crazy, but give them space to process infertility in their own way. It’s their struggle, too. Instead, or in addition to, seek out a therapist, a family member, a friend — whom ever you can feel comfortable and safe with. Resolve offers many peer-led support groups across many cities. When you find one, I urge you to give it a try. Talking aloud does help you feel less lonely. The strength of the women I’ve met in my local group can prop up the world. I’m grateful I can share in that.
This road may get scary. I’m sorry for that, too. I hope that those periods of fear are brief for you. If you do feel yourself wearing a little too thin, though, put yourself first. Advocate for yourself with your doctor. Ask the questions. Sometimes a little more information or a less jargony explanation can help ease your fears. Remember that the end goal of a baby isn’t the only thing that matters. You do, too. You’re here now, and this road is hard.
Sometimes you will feel afraid and empty, but you’re not a failure. What your body can or cannot do doesn’t determine your worth. I’ve spent far too many sleepless nights and dazed commutes focusing on how my body has failed me. Those thoughts only multiplied my frustration and left me drained of hope. Never once were they productive. Remember to be kind to yourself.
I don’t yet have a happy ending to my story to share with you. You’ll hear a lot of stories about how your friend’s cousin’s stepsister-in-law got pregnant after she stopped trying and relaxed. Each one will probably make you want to scream and curse. That’s okay. I hate hearing them, too. The majority of people who offer these stories have no idea what you’re navigating right now. They just want to offer their support. If someone who loves you asks if they can do anything for you, tell them what you need. Or at least ask for homemade brownies during your next two week wait. Those never hurt.
You can do this. So can I.
Your fellow infertile sister,