The Rocky Road of IVF

My embryo at day 5

My embryo at day 5

I just dread walking into the clinic. For nearly two years I have gone in at least two dozen times. For the past 6 months most of the visits have ended in tears.

Life wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was supposed to finish school, get settled in my career, pay off the student loans, find a good husband and it would all be fine. I managed to do all of those things but it took a lot longer than it was supposed to. I live in a city with outrageous house prices which require working more than full time in order to make ends meet. Combine that with a husband who is away on business most weeks, with his own uncertainties, and my work which has a lot of last minute evening and weekend work to the tune of 60+ hours a week, and we only just barely figured out how to look after our own needs. We never seemed to be anywhere close to being able to throw an infant into the mix, especially when I am not eligible for any maternity leave and might be able to get a couple of weeks off if I’m lucky. I have never taken more than 5 days off in a row for over 10 years, usually a holiday is taking an extended weekend. Somewhere I seem to have made the wrong career choice. It’s always been a “well, this time next year things will be better”. But then it’s always the same. The thought of carrying on like this and adding sleep deprivation and child care arrangements into the mix is terrifying, so it was always “maybe next year”.

My visits to the clinic started off gently enough. I thought we just needed a little help and that we wouldn’t need to do the big ticket IVF. Well, after a few months of insemination treatments we were told that there was really no point in continuing, that we were looking at IVF. Big, expensive, IVF. It took about 5 months from that appointment until the start of the first round of IVF. My husband had switched jobs and we were hoping that his new benefits plan would offset some of the costs. It turned out to not be the case, we’d be entirely on the hook for the costs.

I knew that IVF wasn’t one of the easiest things and that there might be needles involved, but I was totally unprepared when I learned that I would be injecting myself three times a day for about 10 days. It really takes a strong willed person to be able to do that. And then there were the bills. The clinic fees were about $8000. I left the first day with about $3000 worth of prescription medication on top of the clinic fees and the stress of not knowing how I was going to pay that credit card bill when it came due.

I had a class at the clinic to teach me how to do the injections. But it never stopped terrifying me at home when I prepped the needles and realized that there was about $900 worth of medication in that needle and I had better not mess it up. (the other two daily injections cost considerably less)

I responded okay to the treatment, but had to stay on the injections for about four days longer than they had initially scheduled, with medication costs of nearly a thousand dollars a day. I had follow up appointments every two days involving blood tests and internal exams. At each appointment I was in a room with about a dozen other women all waiting their turns for blood work and ultrasounds, and no one said a word to each other. We were no doubt all unhappy to be there. Everyone is told that their appointment time is at 7:30am, but that the clinic opens at 7 so you could arrive earlier. If I got there at 7:30am I wouldn’t get out until at least 9am because I’d be at the back of the line. So I would show up earlier and earlier for an appointment and wait outside the door. If I got there are 6:45am, I’d be about ninth in line. 6:30am meant I’d be third or fourth in line. I never thought I’d be camping out in line for blood work and ultrasounds.

Finally it would be my turn for blood work, then an ultrasound. Then the inevitable prescription for another couple of days of medication. What a horrible feeling to be presented with a few thousand dollars more in bills and just not knowing when it was going to end. With each visit I’d get new bruises on my arms from the blood tests, and with each day I’d get more bruises on my stomach from the three injections per day. I looked quite beat up by the end of it.

Finally, it did end and my egg retrieval surgery was booked. They retrieved eight eggs, and every day the embryologist would phone with updates. They all fertilized and four of them made it to day 5 in great condition.

Later on we scheduled the embryo transfer. The clinic’s advice was that I needed to transfer a minimum of two as the statistics are that only 30% or so of the embryos take, and a less than 5% chance of both taking. Meaning twins. I am terrified of the idea of having twins. My husband turned a bit purple with that news, but the reassurance of the twins risk being so low, and that in fact by transferring the second one you give the first one a better chance of taking made it make sense to follow the advice.

I had the two embryos transferred and two weeks later was booked for a blood test to see if either of the embryos took. It was a very tense time waiting. While on the one hand finding the whole pregnancy possibility daunting, on the other I didn’t know what I’d do if it didn’t work, I didn’t want to face the needles again. It came as a surprise to get the call about the test results and to find out that it had worked. They booked me in for a scan in four weeks’ time and it took a while to adjust to the news, I couldn’t believe it had worked! I would have daycare to sort out, no maternity leave, no family to help me, a husband working out of town, a budget with no extra room, and work hours that can be absolutely volatile. But I was going to get it all figured out.

On scan day, I was kept waiting in the ultrasound for at least half and hour, feeling very nervous. I had been fretting about what if there were twins. It was a huge relief to at least find out it was a singleton, but then the bad news. It was small and the heartbeat wasn’t as fast as it should be. It didn’t look promising. I left that afternoon on the one hand feeling elated that I had been able to see a creature with a heartbeat, but sad that I might not be able to keep it.

At the scan a week later there was no heartbeat. It was over. I had a somewhat positive approach to the news, not happy about it, but feeling that if it wasn’t meant to be, far better for it to happen sooner rather than later, at least I’d be able to try again. I then had to prepare for the horrible and inevitable miscarriage. It was nearly a week from knowing the embryo was dead until it passed. I will spare all the gory details of that event.

I had been told that I could try again on my next cycle. During the nearly two month wait, I had pondered my next move. I didn’t want to use my frozen embryos and have the same thing happen, only much further along, and then find out I had left it too late and have my body not cooperate. After a lot of research and discussion, I decided that the wisest course of action, in order to have a backup plan, was to create more embryos to try again. If I went straight to the frozen embryos I would have no chance at all of having a sibling. As much as I despised the needles and could ill afford the treatment, I knew that my future self would be upset with my present self for not having a well thought out plan.

I handed over my credit card and started the injections. At my first appointment the news was grim. My ovaries weren’t responding very well. I should come back in two days to see how it went. At my next appointment they called off the IVF. I went home in tears. It was so upsetting to learn that my reproductive system simply wasn’t up for the task, and I cried for days. I was told that there was another medication protocol that we could try in another month to see if it would go better. Another visit, another $10K on my credit card. At the first follow up visit I learned that I had a cyst and one ovary was therefore choosing not to participate, but the other one seemed to have 5 follicles. Okay, I could handle that, it was going so much better than the previous round. On the next visit, bad news. It was down to two follicles. The clinic doesn’t like to proceed unless there are at least three so there were some tough decisions to be made. We decided to give it a little while longer in case it improved. Another couple thousand in prescriptions, and lots more tears. There was no improvement at the next appointment, but we decided to give it a go and were ready to book the egg retrieval.

My husband hated seeing all the bruises and said “after this, it’s done, right? You can’t keep going through this, I don’t like how upset it all makes you. You’re in such bad shape after every visit. They’re preying on you to get you to have more procedures.” I hate this as much as him. Not only am I going through a lot physically, but I have no idea how we’ll pay for it. I don’t know what else we have to sell to raise money for the treatments. Every visit sees an additional $2000, $5,000, $8,000 added to my credit card and that just compounds the stress.

I was in such a haze when I awoke from the surgery, I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or not but I was so thrilled to learn that they retrieved three eggs rather than the two that were expected.

The embryologist had great news the next day that all three had fertilized. I had real hope that finally this might work. The fourth day is the critical one, where a lot of them drop off, and where the last time my eight had become four. I was very nervous that morning. The news was that I had one very good embryo. A bit of a disappointment but I knew what I was up against. I was booked for an embryo transfer and at that appointment heard that a second one was coming along and that they would be able to transfer two of them.

I was very optimistic over the two week wait for the blood test and the results. I knew that the odds weren’t great, but I had a great embryo and surely it would pull through. So what a terrible disappointment when the day prior to the blood test I had terrible PMS. It was no surprise that the blood test was negative, but it was still absolutely devastating. It left me in tears for days.

I don’t know what my next steps are. I am booked for a hysteroscopy (biopsy) next week. I don’t know if my reproductive days are over or if I still have a chance. I will burst into tears if anyone broaches the topic with me. I had no idea this journey would be filled with such crushing disappointment. My nature is such that if I get knocked down I pick myself up and keep trying, I don’t give up. it’s what got me as far as I’ve gotten in my career. I am now over $35,000 into this journey and am facing financial problems if I keep going. But I can’t give up, I’m just not wired that way. I am really dreading more bad news and being told that it’s done, my journey to start a family is over. That, to me, would be the worst possible result.

Michelle

2 Comments

  1. I had no idea you were going through this. What a terrible emotional journey for you. I wish I could have been there to just hang out and let you vent.

  2. I just read your post and really feel for what you are going through. Tomorrow when my kids stress me out like they do everyday, I will just be thankful instead of stressed. I wish you the very best of luck!

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