IVF: A Patient Perspective
Of all the treatments and procedures my husband Chuck and I experienced during our quest for parenthood, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was definitely the most intimidating. For us, IVF was the next step in an almost five-year journey to have a child. More than that, it was the step that I had initially not imagined taking. Once we decided to move forward with IVF, the road in front of us seemed enormous, just because it was so much more involved than what we’d done already (multiple rounds of Clomid, Letrozole, and IUI).
I feel like the most common source of anxiety regarding IVF (besides actually achieving pregnancy) is the shots. I was definitely no exception. I’ve always been terrified of needles—as in, my parents used to make sure the doctor’s office was cleared out before I got a shot, so no one would be bothered by my freak out. Now I was facing the infamous progesterone shot as well as Lovenox, a precaution since I’m a Factor V carrier and have had a blood clot.
I knew I couldn’t do the shots myself, so Chuck learned how to administer them. Ice packs were key; their effect was as much psychological as physical. The first time I got a progesterone shot, I was terrified. Seriously, who wants to get a shot in their butt? Add to that the fact that the needle is huge and the progesterone is in oil so it takes forever to inject, and it was like my worst nightmare was about to happen. Needless to say, I wasn’t as relaxed as I needed to be for minimum pain. Turns out that clenching your muscles is a terrible idea.
Initially, we struggled with the shots, and several raised bumps appeared at the injection sites. But, after reviewing the proper location, we adjusted and the shots got better. Despite that, my buttocks would only tolerate so many pokes. I spent the last weeks of those shots with a sore bottom. While it did get better as the weeks went by, I still dreaded the moment every night when Chuck would get out the supplies for it. My constant mantra was that they were necessary to achieve and maintain my pregnancy. They needed to be done, so I did them.
Lovenox wasn’t much better. The biggest issue with this one was that I could see Chuck while he administered it. That tiny needle usually didn’t hurt, but the idea of it plunging (overstatement) into my stomach made me panic. Some of the shots left bruises, which didn’t hurt but made my stomach look terrible.
Despite my misgivings and near panic (and sometimes hyperventilation), we did the shots night after night. If we weren’t home, we would find a discrete place to do them, like my in-law’s bedroom. One time—not so discreet—we had to do them in the car in a Tully’s parking lot. Chuck was super worried about us not having ice packs, but I just gritted my teeth and sucked it up. And then there was the unexpected side effect of the shots: Chuck felt terrible every time I winced or had a new bruise show up. As with everything else in our fertility journey, we got through it together. During my second pregnancy, I was able to ease his burden a little when I got brave enough to do the Lovenox (and later Heparin) shots myself.
The oral medications were a bit intimidating as well, mostly because I did one medication wrong during our first IUI cycle, and we had to cancel it for the month. I was nervous about doing theIVF ones correctly. Chuck and I checked and double-checked everything to make sure we were doing it exactly right. Turns out it was easy to follow CNY’s instructions, and everything went smoothly.
I think Chuck was more nervous for egg retrieval day than I was. Being under sedation is always a little scary, but I loved the description of the retrieval that a friend had given me. Her husband had gotten to watch her retrieval, and he said it was like a video game where the doctor had a controller and was picking out the eggs one by one (bloop, bloop, bloop). The retrieval went well, and the best part was that we were blessed with over 25 eggs. Even though we knew the number would decrease as the process continued, starting with that many felt super hopeful.
Before I talk about the actual transfer, I want to mention the paperwork. Something that never in a million years would have crossed my mind was the legality of having embryos stored at the fertility clinic. Chuck and I had to sign paperwork that determined custody under circumstances like one of us passing away. Frankly, it was really strange, especially because my original hang-up with IVF was having extra embryos. Now, we were signing paperwork that treated our embryos exactly like I pictured them: as unborn children.
The day of the embryo transfer felt like the culmination of all of our hopes and dreams of becoming parents. The pressure was real. What I mean was, even though we kept telling ourselves that we could try more than once, this first IVF cycle felt monumental.
One of the things I’ve always loved about CNY is the environment. Everything from the waiting room to the exam rooms to the music feels relaxing and inviting. We had barely visited the spa portion of the facility even though I’d been intrigued by many of their offerings, especially the free yoga. However, we live about an hour away, so driving in for a quick yoga session just wasn’t in the cards. Anyway, before my IVF transfer, I’d been in the spa area once—for an IUI transfer. Talk about an extra relaxing experience! Even though the procedure was the same as every other IUI, the comfy bed and dimmed lights made the tension melt away during it.
I was pretty excited that our IVF transfer was going to take place in that soothing atmosphere. When we got to the office, I was given a white robe and directed to the locker room. I’d always imagined what it would be like to be one of those people who wear the robes at hotels fancy enough to have them. Now I knew! The locker room was beautiful—everything was clean and aesthetically pleasing from the bathroom stalls to the giant showers. I slathered on my Peace and Calming essential oil and left the locker room to find Chuck.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw him in his one-piece blue jumpsuit. Honestly, I couldn’t believe they had one tall enough for him (he’s 6’4’’). A nurse took us to a room, which included one of those lovely beds as well as an ultrasound machine, table with medical supplies, and a door into the embryo room, as I will call it. By now, my heart was scampering in my chest.
The nurse gave us a picture of the two embryos that we would implant. I treasure that picture. Someday, I’ll tell Chase that he was the “strongest of the embryos” since he was the result of the two best ones. We also talked to Dr. Kiltz, who asked us if we had any questions. His energy filled the room as he patiently answered whatever popped into my head.
Then, for a few minutes, we were left alone. I sat on the bed holding that picture while Chuck stood nearby. He knew that I was slightly terrified. In true Chuck fashion, he resorted to one of his greatest skills: the ability to make me laugh. He strapped on his mask (he already rocked the cap over his hair), and said, “Embryo, I am your father.” When the nurse came back in, I was still giggling.
Soon after, Dr. Kiltz returned with the embryologist. What I hadn’t expected was to be able to watch the implantation. The nurse held the ultrasound wand in place while Dr. Kiltz did his thing. The skinny tube that put those two precious embryos in place was very clear on the screen. Our day 5 fresh transfer only took a few minutes.
Dr. Kiltz asked us again if we had questions, shook our hands, and whirled off to his next task. I went back to that welcoming locker room and changed back into my street clothes. As we headed home, the experience almost felt surreal. We were once again at the beginning of the two-week wait.
Two weeks later, my phone rang and CNY Fertility popped up on the screen. For the last five or six IUI cycles, I had avoided the calls and left the responsibility of finding out the result of the pregnancy test to Chuck. For some reason, I answered the phone this time. I was standing upstairs in the hallway while my students worked in the classroom. When the nurse told me that I was pregnant, I shrieked then bolted down the stairs out of earshot of my students. I tried not to hyperventilate as I asked her to repeat the news.
When I hung up the phone, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of the nurse’s words. All I wanted to do was drive to Chuck, tell him, and fall into his arms. Instead, I dialed his number—I just couldn’t wait—and told him the news over the phone. We got the hug in later.
Two years later, we did our second IVF cycle. The transfer day was very similar. The biggest difference was the longer wait to get the procedure done. We’d done our first transfer on a Saturday, and the office had been fairly empty. This time, it was a Tuesday, and it was bursting. My biggest worry that day (besides making it back to work on time) was which doctor would do my transfer. I’ve met Dr. Corley, and I liked him very much, but I didn’t want to rock the boat since our first transfer had worked. To my relief, Dr. Kiltz walked through the door that day to do our frozen embryo transfer. This time our two perfect embryos grew into our twin sons.
I’m really glad that we had that low-key Saturday experience for our first transfer. I really got to enjoy the atmosphere and relax. Knowing what to expect the second time made the hiccup of having to wait a bit easier. The world of fertility treatments is so indecisive. Treatment plan after treatment plan is just guesswork based on science and previous cases. I don’t think anyone can say with 100% confidence say that any one approach will work. Look at the percentages. As impressive as they are, nothing is a guarantee. Our bodies our too complicated, our emotions and environments too fluctuating. All we can do is prepare the best we can and hope.
That’s what I hope this article has done for you: give you a little insight into what it was like to have IVF. I have always been an asker of questions because I crave knowledge; I want to know as much as I can before I experience something. While much of my first IVF transfer day was a nice surprise (like the picture and the ultrasound image), I know that I would have gobbled up any description I could find of what the process would be like.
I hope that your IVF ends like mine did: with a successful pregnancy and a snuggly baby. Even if it doesn’t, don’t lose hope. There’s always another plan, another option, another adjustment. Hope is what gets us through, and hope is what will lead you to your path to parenthood.
Written by: Ashley, patient.