Just what the HELL is IVF?
By Carly Naughton
Have you ever wished that IVF could be de-mystified by someone that understands exactly what you’re going through? Who has been in your shoes wondering the same things and asking the same questions.
Carly has been there and done that and here she explains… Just what the HELL is IVF?
What is IVF? I speak about it constantly, we hear about it on the TV and through other mums, but just what the heck is it exactly? I get asked this question A LOT! So much so that I figured I would just write a blog about it.
Firstly, I am no doctor. So what I am telling you is knowledge I’ve gained through my lived experiences and also what you can probably find if you Google a little. Secondly, every person’s IVF journey will be different. Treatment is dependent on your fertility issues, your hormone levels, how you respond to previous cycles, your age etc. So what is true for me may not apply to you, so make sure that if you are having difficulty conceiving that you make an appointment with a doctor.
Let me begin by telling you what IVF is not. So often I have other same sex couples telling me their stories (which I love!) and many begin with ‘oh, we did IVF too!”. This leads me to then ask ‘what clinic did you use? Who was your specialist? Did you do an antagonist or long down regulation cycle? What medications did you have to take and did you get sick? How did you find the donor selection?’ and I am usually met with a blank stare, then ‘oh no, we used a friend and a turkey baster at home’ (also, most people don’t actually use a turkey baster, they use a syringe which you can get from a chemist)…
Ok, as much as I love people sharing stories with me, and I am happy that you were able to conceive without much hassle, I feel like if you are at the point in your life where you are ready to raise and educate our future generations and are capable and mature enough to become parents then you should at least have the knowledge to know the name of your method of conception, particularly as one day your children will ask. For example, what I have just described would be at home insemination using a known donor. People seem to assume that IVF is the umbrella term used for any method of conception that is not sex between a man and a woman. This is not IVF.
If you are using artificial insemination, meaning the sperm is injected directly into your womb by a specialist, you have not done IVF. Yes, you did go to a clinic, yes you may have selected a donor from the clinic’s list. You may have done this with your natural cycle, or you may have had some help along the way by means of giving yourself injections, some of which are even sometimes used by women undergoing IVF, and this is definitely harder to do and more invasive than at home insemination. You may have fertility issues which is why the specialist recommended that you do IUI (which is what this process is called, short for intrauterine insemination) and I appreciate this process was hard. The medications are a bitch. You would have gotten bloated and moody and it certainly is not easy to inject yourself daily. And yes it may have cost you several thousand dollars. But this is not IVF.
I have many same sex couples message me who assume that they need to do IVF, as they are not aware there are other options available to them to conceive. I will tell you what I tell them. Your first stop should be Google. Research what options are out there for same sex couples to achieve a pregnancy, there are many! IVF is literally the end of the line (unless we talk surrogacy, egg donation, adoption etc).
After Googling, you should be armed with a bit more knowledge and have a few questions. Your next stop will be your GP. They can talk to you, get you to track your periods (which you can begin doing right now), they may send you for a few simple tests. Then once you have done this you may or may not decide to see, or figure that you need, a fertility specialist. From there you can do more detailed tests if needed, or if you figure you are a mighty fertile warrior, you can opt to try AI. Or if you don’t see the specialist, you may decide to try at home insemination first and see how you go. It also all depends on your choice of donor. Whether you choose known or anonymous, this brings about a whole new range of questions and options, which I won’t get in to today!
If you are still reading, then I guess you want to know what is next? Well, you have tried all other options and failed. Looks like you are a prime candidate for IVF baby! IVF is short for In Vitro Fertilisation. In Vitro means performed in a test tube, or other place that is not inside a living body, so there is your first hint. Now I am going to condense the hell outta this for you, because if you are reading this then you have access to the internet and can read further yourself. IVF is a process that involves using medications, which are weekly or daily injections that will stimulate your ovaries to produce more than the usual one egg you have per month. The aim is to get quite a few in hopes to freeze more for the future. For me, these medications result in severe headaches, tiredness, nausea, bloating, mood swings, cramping, diarrhoea and loss of appetite. Some women have no side effects at all. Depending on the type of cycle you do, you may be injecting for as little as two weeks, or maybe four. It all also depends on how you respond to the hormones, which will be closely monitored through regular blood tests and ultrasounds.
Once you have injected a literal cocktail of hormones into your now bruised and bloated belly, you’ve had your scans and bloods and everything is moving along as it should, your doctor will check your follicles which will give an indication of how many eggs you potentially have (as generally most follicles should contain an egg, though of course this can also be a mean way of giving false hope). You take your final needle, called a trigger shot and you sit back and bake those bad boys to perfection. It is time for your egg collection, or EPU! Depending on your clinic, this can be done under twilight sedation where you are awake (this also means you are either really tough or really crazy) or my preferable method of being knocked the hell out! Your doctor will insert a needle up your va jay jay and into each follicle inside your ovaries to collect any eggs. I was told they do this a couple of times each follicle and rinse them to ensure they get all eggs that may be hiding out. So if over the next few days you wonder why it feels like your girl bits are bruised and battered, it is because they are. The fun thing is that once the fluid is drained, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you are no longer bloated. LOL just kidding! The fluid fills back up again! Yay! So now you feel sore as well as bloated, but hey, at least you get an idea of what you will look like when you are six months pregnant.
Hopefully, you were harvested like a well fertilised field of corn and you bore an abundance of eggs, and hopefully they are decent quality too (oh yeah, because sometimes they aren’t!). These guys will then be put with the sperm and either fertilised ‘naturally’ or you will have ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) where one sperm is injected straight into your egg, which of course costs more money. IF, and yes this is a big if, your eggies are fertilised, they will live in the lab for three to five days and be closely monitored to see how they are progressing. You will then receive a phone call daily to update you on your babies. For me, this is always a phone call I dread as mine die off faster than a Britney Spears marriage. This part is also hard emotionally as it is completely out of your control, out of your body and you are so far away from your babies.
Yay, you survived and now it is time for your embryo transfer! This is the easy part, the doctor/embryologist will bring your embryo/s in, stick a catheter up your fanny and bam! You are now possibly pregnant. Easy right? Of course it isn’t! You’ve already been shoving nasty little pessaries or gel up your giney (or butt) for the last few days, which has solidified into this feral greyish sponge-like stuff that the doctor has to fight their way through. This stuff also happened to fall out a little in the shower last night but don’t stress, it is soft enough to toe down the drain hole. This progesterone will hopefully help make your uterus a nice, happy place for your baby/ies to stick to. This part doesn’t hurt, doesn’t involve injections and is a happy time…for about two seconds. Then you have to leave the lab. Which means driving home, which is terrifying with a new potential baby on board. OMG and the thought of wearing a seatbelt over your stomach! It won’t get any easier either. The next two weeks is the dreaded Two Week Wait, where you will try and fail to live a normal life and not be paranoid at every moment. That idiot that hits your shopping trolley, causing the handle to hit your stomach just potentially killed your baby (obviously this isn’t medically accurate, but in your head it so is). The speed bump leaving the clinic, totally made your baby fall out. You watched a horror film and jumped, the adrenaline will cause a miscarriage for sure. So enjoy this relaxing time and take it easy, the pamphlet from the clinic will no doubt tell you to chill, enjoy a glass of wine and a normal lifestyle, which is the exact opposite of everything you will be doing.
This bring us to the make or break point of your cycle, you’ve been afraid to move for two weeks, collected any pieces of grey sponge that fell out your vageen and tried hopelessly to shove them back in there in case they were crucial to this cycle working and now it’s testing time. I’ve no doubt that you’ve been peeing on more sticks than a wild bear in the woods the last few days. You are hoping that the second line was not from the leftover remnants of your trigger shot (because that a-hole can give you a false positive). It is blood test day. You go in early in the AM then sit around killing hours with your mobile in your hand, but held away from your stomach obviously because Google told you mobiles will cause miscarriage, or at least give your unborn baby three kinds of incurable cancer. The call from the nurse arrives, and this is where you find out whether this entire process which zapped all you hopes, love, money, energy, soul and spirit worked, or if it was all for nothing. This is it, everything was for this moment and nothing will take back what you are about to hear from your nurse. It’s not like a home test, you don’t just need a couple more days to be sure. It is final.
I could then tell you of the million other things that could go wrong. You may have had a cancelled cycle because you overstimulated. You may get pregnant but the nurse could tell you that your hCG levels are too low and you will lose the baby in the coming weeks, you may get pregnant then overstimulate (because that can increase your chances resulting in OHSS, Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndome, whihc is super fun and will leave you with so much fluid around your organs that you can hear yourself swishing as you move. Oh and it’s super painful and you won’t be able to breathe, just another great part of IVF).
Hopefully this will help you understand why when people tell me they did IVF, and they didn’t, my eye will start twitching a little. I am not wanting to take anything away from your journey, your pregnancy and your baby, but IVF is brutal. It is one of the hardest things for a woman/couple/family to endure and is not even a guarantee of a baby. What IVF is, is incredibly awe inspiring; it invokes strength, courage, determination and a sisterhood amongst women who push their body and soul to its absolute limits and back again. I admire every woman who has ventured this path and come out the other side. IVF will change a woman forever, one way or another.
Carly is a Monash IVF patient who shares her journey on her blog – perilsofapassableparent: Parenting, failing and trying to conceive.
Just what the hell is IVF was originally posted on Carly’s blog and has been published here with full permission.
You can read more about Carly, her partner Alee and their adorable little boy Oakland’s journey on her blog.