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The IVF Marathon: What it’s like and how to offer support

I wrote this in 2014 years ago and discovered it by accident. My heart was so broken, I could not share publicly. Now I’m ready, as we need greater

It is 7:15 on a Monday morning as I arrive to the Reproductive Endocrinologist’s office. “How did my follicles respond to the stimulation meds I started over the weekend,” I wonder. I walk in and count FIFTY people waiting already — about 10% of them men, seeming to be spouses supporting their wives. My husband does not come with me anymore. We’ve “been there, done that,” so he only joins me when he is “needed,” or rather the sperm is required. Sounds so impersonal and technical, doesn’t it?

Welcome to the world of infertility.

Woman Sad Looking out the Window Infertility Struggles

I decided to write this because I’ve noticed that when I mention the letters I-V-F, people give me a blank stare. I often wonder what they are thinking.

Perhaps its…

Oh, that sucks but I have no idea what you are talking about.

I’ve been there.

I know someone who has been there.

Nonetheless, I want to share the real deal because after our four-year journey, I have become passionate about increasing infertility awareness.

Undergoing fertility treatments was not at all what I expected. I’ve been in the pharmaceutical industry for almost 20 years, where for part of that, I was a sales representative, visiting doctors’ offices everyday for two years. I was Chemistry major in college. I’m used to science and medicine.

Fertility treatments are on another planet. I was not prepared for the “IVF factory.”

Let’s get back to the doctor’s office.

A sweet, young nurse calls me in to “the room.” It is a series of cubicles filled with women getting their blood drawn. A few vials of my blood are drawn, and I am shuffled back to the waiting room.

After some time (yes, they have WIFI and I’m on my laptop catching up on emails), another nurse comes in asking me to go into Room 4. I remove all clothing from the waist down, prop my legs into stirrups and wait. A doctor (usually one I’ve never met) comes in, quickly moving the curtain that creates a barrier between my half naked body and the door. He closes said curtain behind him, shakes my hand while introducing himself, and sits on the stool.

He sticks what might as well be a dildo into my vaginal cave and digs around. (After 4 years of this, I can read the screen with him.). “Looks like your left ovary has 6 follicles and the right has none. Endometrial lining looks good for where you are at in your cycle. Nice to meet you. The nurses will call you with instructions.”

I look at my watch and give myself a high five because I timed it perfectly to arrive at work and attend my 9 AM meeting without anyone having a clue. I make sure to remove the Band-Aid from the blood draw so that I am not drilled as to where I was.

At 2 PM, the phone rings. It’s the nurse instructing, “Based on your hormonal levels, take 300 Gonal-f and 2 vials Menopur at 9 PM and come back Wednesday.”

Crap. I have a client meeting at 8:30 Wednesday. I guess I will arrive at doctor’s office 30 minutes before they open, hope I am first in line and I will get in and out. The backup plan is to take the call in the lobby, which tends to be quiet so no one will notice.

Wednesday arrives. Rinse. Repeat.

Fast forward to Saturday when I drive 2 hours away for my friend’s 40th birthday party. I bring extra meds. My head is playing this out.

We will be at the restaurant at the time I need to do injections. Let me bring extra just in case. Hopefully, by the time I actually inject, we won’t be smack in the middle of blowing out candles.

At 9:30, I make a break for the bathroom. The stall is tiny and I’m trying to figure out how to be sanitary, inject in right location, mix liquid from one vial with powder in another.

Argh. I messed up. Where is the liquid? It is not in the vial and not in the syringe. Thank goodness I brought backup and my doctor ordered extra and my insurance covered this.

I return to dinner party as if nothing happened.

Did I mention my stomach looks like someone punched me? Thank goodness it is January so I don’t have to be in a bikini! How do I explain these bruises?

Day 10. 3 AM. Inject Ovidrel to time ovulation “perfectly.” (Yes, there was that one time I ovulated right before I got to the doctor, losing the egg, money and time I put into it.)

Day 12. Retrieval Day! (Eggs removed exactly 36 hours after Ovidrel shot.)

I insist to the staff that I don’t need the anesthesiologist because I only have 6 follicles, I have high pain tolerance, my insurance does not cover it, and I am really good at yoga breathing.

As I lay with my legs in stirrups, a long, thin apparatus is inserted in my vagina. The doctor (another one I’ve never met), carefully navigates this while we all look at the screen to see my insides and at the TV screen directed at the Petri dish, where the eggs will be placed. My insides are pinched 6 times to get each egg. Imagine taking tweezers to freshly wounded skin over and over. I breathe in. I breathe out. Deeply. Slowly.

Phew. All six eggs made it into the Petri dish.

I get dressed and stare at my phone for the mandatory waiting period, then get dressed and race to work.

Soon after, I get a call. “Three of your eggs successfully fertilized. Come back for embryo transfer in two days. We will call you just before and will share how many matured.”

Transfer day!

Back in the stirrups I go. I stare at the screen and see the one embryo that actually made it this far. “All it takes is one,” they all say. One end of the long tube is in the Petri dish and the other is inside me.

Beam me up, Scotty!

Embryo inside. And now we wait.

Just under two weeks later, I go in for bloodwork, again at the crack of dawn to get to work without making anyone suspicious. That afternoon, I get the call, “Sorry. You are not pregnant. Let’s book another consult so we can discuss your protocol.”

I’m lucky. The end of my story is that after nearly a dozen IUIs and several IVFs, I now have a 3½ year old son. Most of the women I speak to endure the experience above for years, some carry their own child, some use a donor egg, some adopt, some get a surrogate, and some decide their journey is over and they need to move on. The experience is but wrenching and unique to each woman.

What I ask each of you who knows someone going through this is:

  1. Have compassion.Some want to talk about their experience and others don’t but know that THIS is what they are going through EVERY SINGLE TIME they use Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).

  2. Acknowledge and meet them where they are at. You may have no idea what your colleague, friend, family member is dealing with but completely ignoring the topic is unfair. However, be prepared she may not want to talk about it, vent one day and then never talk about it again, or she may be extremely open. Do what they need, no matter how much you want the daily update.

  3. Ask.If you are not sure what to do, ask, “How can I help? Do you want to talk about it? How can I support you?”

  4. Don’t oversimplify.While you may have the best of intentions, using phrases like — “It will happen if it is meant to be.” “Just keep trying.” “Why not just adopt (when she is not ready).” — are so hurtful. Women undergoing ART have to make impossible decisions day in and day out while it feels like everyone around them is getting pregnant without trying. This is NOT SIMPLE.

My wish is that if you are going through this and don’t know how to explain it, perhaps you can share this with someone you are comfortable with so they can begin to understand your journey. If you are someone who knows someone going through this, you read it and take it to heart.

My heart goes out to all those going through ART, whether you are a heterosexual or same-sex couple, single parent by choice, or other. Try to take it one day at a time.

Originally published on Medium.


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