You read the title, so let’s get straight to it: In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), at least my own personal experience, with some levity from perspective. My husband and I decided to go for IVF when we felt it was our last resort at the time. If you’re asking, “Did you try having more sex? Did you try going on vacation? Why not just adopt? Did you try that cream/oil/powder/drink/shake/stretch/sock/guru?”…. then just know this is not a place for judgement, and YES, WE TRIED pretty much ALL THE THINGS.
We really wanted to have another child. We wanted our amazing daughter (who was a surprise pregnancy after years of trying) to have a sibling, and she was already old enough to ask for/request/demand siblings. The potential sibling age gap was getting bigger and bigger. We were deep in unexplained secondary infertility (i.e. Unexplained Infertility— The Revenge), and so we started the process.
As a professional actor and producer, not only was I putting on literal and figurative masks of characters I was portraying in fictitious situations while building my career, I was also getting quite good at this craft in real life. We were doing everyday things, la dee da… But in reality we were also going to do this big thing called IVF (all while keeping up the façade of all-is-fine-we’re-just-waiting-for-the-right-time-to-try-for-another-kid).
I needed to inject myself with even more hormones for this thing. More chemicals.
This time, I get to jab myself with hormones made from the urine of menopausal women! Who wouldn’t jump at the chance?! The doctor decided we’d try a different kind of hormone this time since all the rounds of hormones were a monster-maker (me being the monster) during the previous series of [failed] rounds of IUI’s. One of my biggest deterrents of IVF until then was the full anesthesia I’d need to do for the procedure, at least for the egg collection/extraction. I’ve done it before, for a D & C, and it was a bit traumatic. But then my doctor said that won’t be a problem! I could get only local anesthesia and be awake without the pain from the “meddling” down there. What a revelation! I can handle that! Seems easy and doable. So it was a go. We prepared ourselves for the hormone-pumping before the big egg-suction day which no longer seemed scary.
My hormone injection system:
- Find a comfortable time at night, at home, when nobody (except my husband) would know what I was doing.
- Read the hormone-mixing instructions [each time] and wonder [each time] why the hormone-making people assume I’m a natural wonder-chemist who can do this without any prior professional training. Clearly I could poke the wrong place or with the wrong amount of pressure. How is this method approved??
- Mix the hormone concoction, feel like a wizard (without the fun parts), alco-wipe my tummy, finger-measure the distance to my belly-button (and really?!?! Fingers are NOT precise measuring instruments! That’s why there are rulers and standard measuring systems!)
- Squeeze to get a plump landing pad for the needle. Wonder if I’m squeezing enough/correctly/at the right place (even if I finger-measured it already).
- Poke in the needle, convince myself this is all for the greater good as I push in the chemicals/urine-hormones into my body (WTF?? How could this be normal?? Why do humans have to procreate like this?? This isn’t f*kd, this Is VERY F*kd!).
- Pull out the needle, discard the needle as if it’s been banished in a long-overdue dramatic way (fully knowing there will be another one of those suckers tomorrow).
- Cry (a mix of relief, stress, anxiety, confusion, hope).
- Deep breath.
- Move on with whatever I was supposed to do at that time (but also obsess over what just happened, if it was done correctly, what are the failure rates if I DID do something incorrectly, and contemplate the oddities of modern fertility and the future of humankind).
- Repeat the next day, same poke-time, same poke-channel…
The egg extraction day was naturally full of mixed emotions as well. And then came a nice plot twist. When sitting with the anesthesiologist right before the procedure (just to go over the protocol and ensure I was identified, prepped, etc.), I realized the anesthesiologist was talking about full anesthesia. What?? I told her I was reassured that I could do local anesthesia for this. “Oh no,” She replied, “We don’t do that. And trust me, you’ll want the full body anesthesia. They’ll go in there with utensils that could cause real damage if you flinch or move during the procedure.”
That made sense, but I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t initially sign up for that. And yet there I was, wearing only a paper-thin apron-robe, shower-cap thingy and footies, really not having a choice at the matter. Could I discuss this with my husband? Or at least tell him? He wasn’t there with me because it was just a mini-waiting room for all us half-naked girls going into the procedure. He was in the waiting room next door. And by “door”, I specifically mean “sliding door,” because that’s what it was. So I decided to talk to him through the sliding door. There we were, husband and wife, full-dressed man in front of barely-covered woman, talking to each other about a surprise change of plans of bringing a human into the world, all in increments of half-sentences. Because the sliding door kept sliding open and shut. As we talked (in half-sentence increments), I was freaking out at what was going to happen during the extraction. In retrospect, this situation with the added sliding-door effect was pretty hilarious.
My husband assured me all will be fine, and I went back to my seat awaiting my turn to get my eggs sucked out.
Fast forward through crying and perspective-finding, it was my turn. I went in completely shaking, a combination of feeling very cold and lots of nervousness. Fast-forward through the odd identification process and the anesthesia… I woke up to find myself in a recovery room with other girls, and a nurse adjusting a huge silver hose under the blanket near my feet. It was blowing hot air because the nurse there was awesome enough to see how freaking cold the room was. My husband was there, we waited until all the anesthesia wore off and we were good to go (don’t worry, I got dressed first). Now it was all up to the lab folks to mix up my egg harvest with my husband’s sperm milkshake and make the best of it.
Coming back to the embryo transfer was a better feeling, no anesthesia to freak out about.
It was strange that the doctor doing the transfer was very talkative. I mean, dude, you’re technically working on impregnating a woman (via her vagina that’s RIGHT THERE), and her husband is also RIGHT THERE… I’m not sure now is the time to get to know each other in this space, even if you’re trying to make us feel comfortable. But if we thought THAT was awkward, the prescription (and description) of vaginal hormone pills I was to take for the next few days was a nice icing on the surreal cake. That was our round of IVF, which after the nerve-wracking Two Week Wait ultimately failed and there was no pregnancy. And that was clearly difficult after going through so much, but my husband and I knew that IVF was not a 100% success route.
I’m not trying to scare anyone from IVF, or make it look awful, because it isn’t. It is in actuality a wonder of modern science that’s enabled so many different people around the world to have children. I just think it’s important to have these experiences available for everyone. At the time, I did not have a clue about getting more information, or having it so readily available online or through social media or through any type of supportive group or community. If I had known I could easily access IVF information like I can today, and would find so many others’ stories about IVF and the process and what to expect, the good and bad, etc., then I would’ve gladly devoured it and probably would’ve felt more prepared, or at least much less alone.
If you’re reading this and have gone through IVF, hats off to you. Really, it takes a lot to do this, you may not even realize it. So I give you all the deserved high-five’s, fist bumps, pats on the back, applause, cheers, and hugs. I know we already have lots in common. If you’re about to go through IVF, first time or again, hats off to you, too. Really, it takes a lot to do this, but you got this. And know you have many out there who are cheering you on even if you don’t know it. Though I highly recommend you connect with people if you haven’t yet, at least one person, me included, to share in the inevitable highs and lows of this path. It’s extremely helpful. And if you’re reading this and have no past/future experience with IVF, please know someone close to you is, has, or will be, even if you don’t know it. Give them all the space and cheers and hugs.