Part II: I Said Yes — 10 Things I Learned As An IVF First-Timer


This is Part II in a series of blog posts by the author who has chosen to stay anonymous during her fertility journey. Click here to read Part I.

I am writing this one day before my egg retrieval, so needless to say, we said yes to IVF. Since my last blog about the decision-making process leading up to this point, it’s been an extremely long and emotional month since signing the many dotted lines and beginning the numerous self-injecting medications. I have felt more emotions at one time than I could have ever imagined — fear, anxiety, hopelessness, sadness, confusion, hope, disappointment, etc.

Before I share 10 things I’ve learned as a first-time IVFer, I’d like to take a minute to explain what starting IVF really means: It means you are about to learn the true meaning of patience. This is not a fast process, especially with the myriad of tests, shots and appointments. It means you sign as many documents and “consents” as you would taking out a car loan. Only these questions require thought and emotion, and relate more to what your choices are around your eggs, frozen embryos and procedures. It means you spend a large portion of your life savings or max out your credit card if you want more than one chance at this working. It means you agree to give up some of your favorite things, albeit a short timeframe like hot baths, exercising and drinking — all no-nos when doing IVF. It means you could feel like crap once the meds make it into your blood stream, which for me was on day three. I didn’t want to do anything but go home and get in bed. This was hard for my 5-year-old son to see and understand.

I know I sound like Negative Nancy — I blame the hormones. I’ve seriously been on an emotional roller coaster since my doctor started me on the max dosage of meds based on my age and ovarian reserve.

Everyone responds differently to IVF — you could be reading this right now and have had a different reaction to the drugs or a different retrieval experience entirely. But perhaps the things I’ve learned about IVF will help someone else also going through this journey for the first time:

1. You take birth control before you can even begin a cycle. That seemed counter-productive to me given I was trying to conceive, but as doctors described it, they want to calm everything down inside. This entailed waiting three more weeks to officially start, and since I haven’t been on the pill in a very long time, this was the first shock to my system that left me feeling crappy before starting the real drugs.

2. You may require additional procedures before you can begin IVF. For me, I had to have a hysteroscopy to remove some uterine polyps. I had no idea that polyps can cause many problems when trying to conceive, so I hope this is one less hurdle the embryo has to get past. This also delayed the start of my cycle.

3. IVF is expensive. Really expensive. I’m sure more people would do it if they could afford it. My insurance covered nothing, so the price tag was a big part of my reservation in going on this journey.

4. Depending on your dosage and course of treatment, your medication could cost more than a single IVF cycle. How could one injection cost $300, and I have five boxes worth? It also gets delivered in a giant box with a makeshift cooler, as most meds must be refrigerated.

5. Mixing medication is overwhelming. I messed up at least once a day for the first week and cried each time I dialed the nurse line to figure out what went wrong. It’s bad enough that you must inject yourself every night, but you also have to remember different dosages, mix with different diluents, powders, switch needles, refrigerate leftovers, etc. This was the most stressful part for me because I had three shots a night and two required mixing. The first night, I used the entire bottle of diluent instead of 53 units — it didn’t all fit in the needle so I knew something was wrong. The second night, I confused which bottle was the completed mixture and which was the diluent. They don’t appear any different once mixed with powder, so be sure to label them.

6. The vaginal ultrasound will become your new best friend. Every few days, you do blood work to measure your estrogen, and the ultrasound shows follicle and lining growth. It’s not the most comfortable feeling, but it’s not painful. The doctor will rattle off numbers that indicate the number and size of your follicles. This is the result of those stimulating injections and how your body responds. They like to see them larger than 16mm.

7. You could run out of medicine. At one of my last appointments which occurred on a Friday, the nurse asked me if I had enough medicine to get through the weekend. I assumed I did since they called it in, and I never really did the math on quantity. I went home and checked and realized I’d run out of two drugs on Saturday but I was told to continue them through Sunday. I had to place an order that afternoon which was overnighted, and again, it arrived in a cooler.

8. The trigger shot is the most important injection you will do. When your follicles are ready, your doctor will prescribe the trigger shot to prompt your eggs to be released. This is the “money shot” because you have exactly 34 to 36 hours to retrieve the eggs, and your retrieval will be scheduled based on this time. Mine was at 9 p.m. sharp, and I was in for the retrieval exactly 34 hours later. The science behind all of this is mind-blowing.

9. The egg retrieval is stressful. The procedure itself didn’t worry me — I knew I would be out and not feel a thing — it was more the fact that I’ve spent weeks getting my body ready for this moment only to wake up and find out that the doctors were only able to retrieve three eggs. I knew I only had 5 or 6 follicles going in, so I wasn’t expecting a lot. Yes, three is better than zero. Everyone says it only takes one, and it’s quality over quantity, but I would have felt better with more eggs.

10. Then you wait for a report card. My little embryos that were fertilized and on their way to maturity have seven days to reach blast stage, and if they make it, we will receive the optional PGS testing for chromosome abnormalities, which adds another two weeks to the process. But, given my miscarriage history and my age, it was worth the additional peace of mind.

I know I’m through the worst of it, but there is still a long road ahead until the transfer. Despite my raging hormones and fear, I still believe IVF can be worth it. Time will tell! Stay tuned…


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