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What IVF is Really Like

March 27, 2019

I wanted to share about our IVF journey, and let me tell you, a journey it was. I’m so happy to say that we got through it and are expecting a baby in November 2019.  It’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through physically, emotionally and I want to share my experience so others know wha to expect and how to make for a successful IVF cycle. I have a baby account on Insta that is an amazing resource if you want to check that out as well.

The thing about IVF is that you’re oftentimes in one of the messiest places in your life. I was anyway. I was tired after years of trying to have a baby, spending thousands on treatments and drugs and drowning in endless tears of disappointment. Even going into IVF, you genuinely do not know if it’s going to work. You trust in your doctor and try to trust in your body but you’re basically wading into the unknown and spending a ton of money in the process. The feeling of vulnerability is incredible and the process taught me so much about patience, myself, the strength of my relationship, my agility and I left IVF a different, but better, person.

I often am asked when you know whether you should start with IUI or move right to IVF and that is different for everyone and a convo you need to have with your doctor based on your fertility hurdles. For me, there were no known issues and my numbers were very good when I started fertility treatments in October 2017 so we tried several IUI’s first. The third was successful but we had a miscarriage at 10 weeks in April 2018. Knowing what I know now, and how much money we spent on IUI’s combined with treatments, meds, supplements (I guesstimate about $15K but will know when we finish our taxes), and how much time we spent, I would have done IVF sooner. That said, hindsight is 20/20…

To get to IVF, we went through 5 IUI’s with Clomid and 2 IUI’s with Puregon injections. Both of these drugs help to stimulate ovulation and the IUI is timed with this. Sperm is injected past the cervix to give it the best chance of reaching the egg. If you want to know more about our fertility journey, you can find info on our IUI’s here and miscarriage here.

I will say that IVF is different for everyone and how our bodies react to the process is unique. I am in no way offering my medical advice but sharing what worked for us. It can be a very complex process with so many things to consider, so I’m sharing what we did to get a successful IVF outcome. IVF is something I never would have thought I would have to do – I didn’t have any visible issues to treat and my case was what’s known as unexplained infertility. My egg reserve was diminished with an AMH of 0.9, but other than that, there was no medical reason that could be found for my infertility. Read this post on tests to start your fertility treatments with and what the IUI process is like.

Here are the blood tests my doctor ordered before IVF to make sure nothing was overlooked:

Hemoglobin A1C
INR
PTT
Prolactin
Cardiolipin Ab
Beta 2 Glycoprotein 1
Thyroidperoxidase Ab
Lupus Anticoagulant/DRVVT
TSH

Every IVF cycle means you have your egg retrieval (when they remove the eggs from your ovaries) and the embryo transfer (when they place the fertilized egg aka embryo into the lining of the uterus). To get to the egg retrieval, it’s a long few weeks of daily injections twice a day timed perfectly along with a lot of other treatments to help support your body and a positive outcome.These all came back normal. Note: my thyroid is hard to control and I am on Synthroid – because of this, my doctor tests my TSH often.

When we finally made the decision to move to IVF after 7 IUI attempts, I knew it was going to be a wild ride. I knew it would be very emotional and hard on my body so I put a lot of time and effort into making it successful. I didn’t take any shortcuts here…

Prep for your body is so important and this is where I looked towards both eastern and western medicine. You’re literally sinking $20-25K into IVF and for many of us it may be our only shot. I wanted to literally give it the absolute best chance for success I could and I committed to it like nothing I ever had in life. For reference, I was 37 when I started my IVF cycle.

In prep for IVF and during the IVF cycle, here’s what I did:

Acupuncture 2-3 times a week at Acubalance. This was imperative to the success of my cycle I believe. Needle and laser acupuncture works to build the mitochondria of the eggs and support/boost egg quality. Eggs have a 100 day life cycle (meaning you start growing the egg you ovulate 100 days before it ovulates), so it’s important to start acupuncture in advance and work through it during all of your IVF cycle. They specialize in fertility and were a big support – the treatments also gave me time to meditate while I laid still with the needles which helped me center myself.

Reduced my stress levels. We often forget that we need to take the pressure off of ourselves to allow our bodies to work efficiently. As a type-a person who runs a business, this was so tough but I knew I couldn’t do it all. In prep for my IVF and during, I scaled back on work and social commitments, and allowed my schedule to have plenty of white space. I also didn’t know how the IVF drugs would make me feel, during my stim (injection) period, so I had a skeleton schedule and made sure to allow myself to rest and just focus on myself. I gave in to the fact that I didn’t need to be a hero, and that this was the most important thing I would ever do… then made peace with it and truly surrendered.

Eating a proper diet. Not fun, but really important to the success of IVF and healthy eggs. Acubalance has a great fertility diet you can follow but basically it’s cutting down on your carbs, dairy and sugar, and focusing on anti inflammatory foods and lots of veggies. I totally had cheat meals but overall was pretty strict in adhering to a healthy diet and lost 20 lbs in the process.

Meditation and massage. Getting into a zen mindset meant meditation as often as I could do it. I listened to Circle and Bloom which is a paid download and Belleruth Naparstek which you can find on Apple Music. I also went to massage as often as possible to nurture my mind and body.

Therapy. I went through an intense period of anxiety during my IVF injection period due to the meds and situational things that were happening in my life. It was a very scary time and I even got an Ativan prescription. I also saw my family doc for a prescription to a SSRI anxiety medication – I was feeling very out of control and scared and felt like I needed something to get through. I never filled it and never used the Ativan, but felt better having something on hand. The hormones you are taking can truly make things unbearable… if you have these feelings, just know they are normal. My clinic includes one therapy session with a therapist of your choice during the cycle, and I visited her at my lowest point. This was extremely helpful and I feel like it flicked a switch for me in my mindset and got me on a healthier path, emotionally.

It helps to have an amazing doctor and clinic. I’ve been so happy with Olive Fertility and my doctor there.

The Stim Phase:

This is the part where you start your meds. To being the cycle, I went through a period taking estrogen to quiet my ovaries and prep them for the meds and stimulation. Once that happens over a few weeks, the shots start. These are taken 2-3 times a day in the stomach and at first, I was terrified. I remember spending 10 minutes with the needle ready to go and in absolute tears. Poor Roberto. I will say that needles are my biggest phobia and by the end of IVF, I didn’t flinch. In terms of pain, I didn’t do anything for that – many recommend icing prior to, but I didn’t find them painful and other than a few bruises, it was ok. It was EASY to do by the end of it. It’s amazing what you can force yourself to move past for the greater good!

Over this period of 10-12 days, you are monitored closely by blood and ultrasound tests to check on your progression and every appointment is nerve racking because you are waiting to hear how the drugs are working and how many follicles are developing. You pray that the doctor will tell you that they are abundant and there is no norm. I went in for my first ultrasound to find that 15 follicles we’re developing and when measured they were all growing around the same pace – good news because it means when it’s time for retrieval, they have a better chance of being at the correct maturation. Because of my age and my low egg reserve, we were not expecting such a strong number here and I believe the work I put into preparing for the cycle and doing my acupuncture had a huge effect on this. I also believe my doctor got the medication dosages correct for me which doesn’t always happen for everyone. You’re on pins and needles (literally) waiting to see how many follicles mature and to get the date of your retrieval booked. I just wanted this to be over and to get those eggs out safe and sound. After about 12 days on stim injections, finally, it was time and they give you a trigger shot exactly 32 hours (I think) before your retrieval. This is an HCG hormone shot and this one made me feel so sick that I had to cancel with a client and that’s my personal hell.

Medications used during stim injections:

Rekovelle

Menopur

Orgalutran

Retrieval:

Retrieval happens in the fertility clinic, and I was very nervous. Because I wasn’t going to take the Fentanyl (this is the drug they give you to almost knock you out and deal with a little of the pain), I opted to have Acubalance come in and do some laser pain treatments before the retrieval. They also give you Ativan for stress and I was a big fan of that. You go into the room and the doctor is quick about it – they inject a local anesthetic into the wall of each side of the vagina because this is how they access the ovaries. I didn’t feel the needle nor did I feel the suction penetrate the wall of my vagina to suck out the eggs from the follicles which I believe was thanks to the laser acupuncture I received pre-procedure. Now, the suction of the follicles was painful but honestly, it was something I could do again in a heartbeat and it was over very quickly (again, thanks to a very skilled doctor). We were able to get 12 eggs out and I was very happy with that number!

Recovery from the retrieval includes a lot of rest, and a lot of bloating and feeling uncomfortable for a good week, which I wasn’t expecting. I was told to eat salt and drink lots including coconut water and Gatorade, so I did! During this period, you’re so nervous about how many embryos you will get. You receive a call from the clinic letting you know how many eggs fertilize and then how many grow into 5-6 days… it’s awfully torturous waiting for these numbers because you want as many as possible.

We ended up getting 7 high quality embryos frozen… my doctor said she wasn’t even expecting such a strong number! Something we went back and forth on is genetically testing the embryos. We consulted my doctor who recommended doing the testing if we had 8 or more because otherwise, the cost of transferring should the embryos not succeed would be less than testing them first. I figured that if we were to get pregnant naturally, we would do the regular testing at 10 weeks so what was the benefit to doing it before the embryos were transferred? Looking back, now that I am 6 weeks pregnant, I would prefer the peace of mind knowing that this baby is genetically healthy. I do regret not testing and I pray we made the right decision because these 6 weeks aren’t something I want to do again should we have complications.

The Embryo Transfer:

A week or so before the transfer, our doctor performed a “scratch” which is a biopsy of the uterus lining to check for infection and to ready the area where the embryos will implant. I will be honest, this was VERY painful but very quick and well worth it for the better chance it gives you.

We opted for a frozen embryo transfer (FET) to allow my body time to recover after all the IVF meds. If you follow me on my baby Insta account, you know how back and forth we went about transferring two vs. one and literally made the decision the day before. My doctor urged us to do two, and because her goal is to get us pregnant, it increased those chances. It also increases the chances of twins when you transfer two making it a 30% chance both would take and 80% chance one would take. I was sure I would only transfer one but after weighing all the possibilities, Roberto and I ultimately decided we would do two and see what the universe had in store for us. Transfer day is probably the easiest day in the whole process. The weekend before our transfer on March 5th, I was truly in the best mood I’ve ever been in. I was on cloud 9 and so excited to bring these babies into being. All I could think about was that these little souls were ready for their time and on Monday we would bring them into the world so to speak. It was magical and I wanted to be in a truly happy state of mind for the transfer.

Acubalance was on site for pre and post transfer acupuncture which helps with stress and implantation. The procedure was one of the coolest experiences. The embryologist comes into the room with your little babies and you get to see them on the big screen. Your watch as they are placed into the wall of your uterus and I would say the pain is non-existent. After, it’s more acupuncture and then home to rest and relax! We got McDonald’s fries and my fave sushi on the way home and it was Netflix and chill in the truest form possible. I also scheduled downtime for 3-4 days after to really let my body do its important work.

Medications before and after transfer:

Estrogen pills

Prednisone (steroid)

Progesterone suppositories (3 times/day)

Low dose Aspirin

One round of antibiotics

After:

All of the above except the antibiotics plus 1mg Progesterone injection every three days (note: these are not fun and administered by your partner. It helps a lot to use a heating pad with a gentle massage after)

Post Transfer:

That dreaded 11 day wait post IVF Transfer is truly torturous. I waited 5 days before I did my at home test and found out I was pregnant but didn’t believe it fully until I went in for my HCG blood test at the clinic… it confirmed I was indeed expecting and had a strong hcg level of 470 and 4 weeks pregnant. I went in for a 5 week HCG and got a strong level of 6700! I feel like I’ll be holding my breath for a long time with this pregnancy… it’s so hard after miscarriage and so hard after fertility treatments because of how hard it was to get here. I am still on all meds per above until I believe 10-12 weeks of pregnancy.

Resources:

Books: It All Starts With The Egg and Making Babies

Test strips: Ovulation test strips

I often get questions about how I’m able to share with vulnerability and honestly, it’s been an honor to support others struggling with fertility and it’s been a release for some of my anxiety by really putting myself out there and sharing my truth. You need to know there is NO failure or shame in infertility.

We are excited to share our pregnancy journey with you as it comes… as always, the ups and the downs. Thanks for your support and love and please comment with any questions here!

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