Needles, as it turns out, are the easiest part of IVF

This has been a really hard week. This week, we learned that, in spite of all we have done to get here, we will be lucky to have one embryo to transfer.

Everything before this week went really well. Our nurse described my IVF cycle as “textbook.” My body responded well to the drugs, and by the end of stims,I was self injecting like a literal freaking pro. Like, standing up in my kitchen, no psych up, super-quick-injecting-because-we-had-to-run-out-the-door-to-get-to-our-early-morning-monitoring-appointment pro. I know, I couldn’t believe it, either. I mean, sure, I still had to roofie myself with a xanax to chill out enough for the IV at egg retrieval, but other than that, smooth sailing on the needle front.

Sadly, we have lost a lot since that initial victory last week. Of the 13 eggs the REs got out of me, 10 were mature (13-3=10). Then, only 5 fertilized. (10-5=5) Our nurse had prepared us for that, estimating 9-10 mature eggs and a 50-60% fertilization rate. We obviously hoped to be a positive outlier, but we weren’t shocked. She even helped us brace for the one embryo we were likely to lose sometime during their 5-day stay in the embryology lab. When we got the call that one little guy stopped dividing at 6 cells, we were sad but not shocked. (5-1=4) We still had 4, and were not expected to have any further attenuation until the PGS testing would knock out around 50%… so we would end up with 2 really solid embryos. Two chances.

Our nurse keeps emphasizing that IVF is also a diagnostic process (especially for “unexplained infertility” couples like us) so we have long been bracing ourselves to deal with the possibility that the first transfer won’t take. But with a baker’s dozen eggs retrieved, I thought we were still in the safe zone. I thought we’d be able to try again without having to go through a whole other exhausting round of stims and retrieval. And waiting. Oh the waiting.

But that’s not how our story went. On day 5, our nurse called and said we had 2 great looking blastocysts. They were biopsied and frozen. But the other 2 were a little behind- one was an early expanded blast with an intercell mass and the other was compacting and almost a blast. Everyone expected that those two little guys would “catch up” over night and would be able to be biopsied and frozen the following morning. We would still have 4. We were uneasy but not really worried.

The next day while we awaited the phone call, we went out and had the best day. For the first time in a long while we felt  like the worst of everything was behind us and we could just “play.” We were silly and funny and very much resembled the “old us.” For the first time in an effing eternity, we were not just a couple in a waiting room at a fertility clinic, or a couple that was timing every intimate encounter that used to be spontaneous and fun, or a couple who gave a crap about follicle size and estrogen levels and Menupur dosages… we were the couple that  everyone must have thought look so happy. Blissful, even. Perhaps annoyingly so.

We were not prepared for the phone call telling us that our two little stragglers seemed to have stopped dividing. It was a sucker punch. Fun day over. We went immediately home. I was too in shock to cry. I just curled up on the couch and fell asleep. When I woke up, I remembered the news, and was devastated again. Eventually I could not stay in our home any longer (on account of the walls closing in) so I put on shoes and left our apartment. I wandered around the city like a zombie for hours. Eventually, N found me at a random jazz bar eating a plate of calamari and drinking a Boston Lager. Yes, I was a tad homesick.

The next morning, I managed to get myself together to go to work to pretend to be a fully functioning adult for the day. Right as I arrived in court, while opposing counsel was trying to talk to me about something or another, my phone rang with that familiar fertility clinic number. I popped into the ante room, where my nurse told me that as we had feared, the 2 embryos we were hoping would pull through…hadn’t. She said words like “stopped dividing” and “disintegrated” and “discarded.” (4-2=2) I sobbed. Every 30 seconds or so, a different opposing counsel would pop their head in with some question and I would waive my hand and point to the phone so they would think I was on an important call and hopefully not notice what a disaster I was. But then, the judge was calling a case, and I had to run in there and actually handle a hearing. (I know, right?) I sniffled through the whole thing because I badly needed to blow my nose but was out of tissue. Mercifully, my co-counsel arrived a few minutes later and I was able to excuse myself to find a bathroom after that hearing was over.

rear view of woman standing in balcony during sunset

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

I still remember how I felt that first day N and I sat down with an RE and heard about what was coming – like a deer in headlights who had also been shot in the gut. Back then, despite the 3 years we had spent trying to get pregnant, I still thought we didn’t REALLY have a problem, so to hear about all of the (what sounded like) extreme medical interventions we had in store was overwhelming. So severe was my needle-phobia, that I remember feeling like I would never even get through the battery of tests, never mind any actual treatments. When I learned that I’d have to come in for regular, sometimes daily “monitoring appointments” wherein yet more blood would be drawn, I burst into tears.

But we were going to try IUIs first, and aside from those monitoring appointments, it sounded pretty doable. Take a pill for 5 days, come in for monitoring, and then IUI day! Boom. That sounded like an appropriate level of medical intervention for my understanding of the direness of our situation.

After the first round failed, my RE thought we should boost our chances by adding some injectable meds. I remember when that seemed impossible – to endure shots in my stomach. Oh to be that young, innocent girl again!

After the next 2 rounds failed (with the pills and a couple of injections), my RE thought we should try “all injectable” rounds, (since we still had 3 rounds of IUI to go before our insurance would kick in for IVF) which means no pills, just injections, and more frequent blood work. I remember when that seemed impossible, a daily injection and regular blood draws. I also remember feeling so optimistic about it the first time – I felt I was being asked to do SO MUCH, that it just HAD to work. My beta test was scheduled for a couple of days after my 35th birthday – that rubicon in time where everything about a woman’s fertility treatment and pregnancy magically changes overnight.

I was so excited to receive what I knew would be wonderful news, that I decided I’d take an at-home test the morning of my 35th birthday and would have such a happy marker in time. So sure was I that I’d receive wonderful news that I actually ordered from Etsy a little gift to give N to tell him the good news, as well as a little gift for each of the 3 sisters between N and me. I emailed back and forth with the artisian crafting the gift for N to make sure I’d receive it in time for the great news I was sure I’d be receiving.

The night before my 35th birthday, I couldn’t sleep. All of a sudden, my doubts were getting the best of me. Instead of the hope I’d carried for the week and a half prior, I went back to the emotional trauma of the dozens of months where I’d seen only 1 pink line on the stupid stick, and the disappointment and sadness that followed. Why would this time be any different? It wouldn’t, I became sure of it, and down I spiraled into a deep pit of dispair. From that awful place, I wrote a letter to “Future Baby,” a letter that is so raw and pathetic that I won’t share any part of it on here, even in this rather raw and pathetic post. I wrote about the unfairness of it all. My longing to be a mother, to “meet” this baby to whom I kept writing these ridiculous letters. I wrote in desperation. I wrote in fear.

After writing the most cringeworthy 3 pages in the history of writing, as I was spiraling and felt out of control, I sent a late night text to my dear, dear friend W. To say I have depended on this woman for the past 2 years would be such an understatement that it’s actually insulting. This woman has dealt with my bullshit on almost a daily basis. That night, as every other, she said all the right things, and somehow duct taped my heart and brain back together enough that I was able to get some sleep and take the pregnancy test in the morning. I remember when it felt impossible to put on my big-girl clothes and go to work to adult all day after seeing that effing single pink line yet again.

Looking back, I think that 48-hour period surrounding my 35th birthday and the past 48 hours have been the darkest in this journey. Like the shittiest bookends on the shittiest bookshelf in the world.

Once upon a time, I thought that the needles would be the worst part of this crappy road, especially since I am (or I was) so terrified of every single injection. Now, I’d stick however many needles into whatever part of my body I needed to, from now until eternity, if it in any way guaranteed our happy ending, our child. So while it turns out that needles are actually the easiest part of IVF, the hardest is the battle being fought in the midst of this uncertainty for my heart and mind.

Now, I sit here wondering (in a bone chilling fear kind of way more than a contemplative kind of way) not only whether we will have any decent embryos THIS CYCLE, but if we are capable, with our old-ass parts, to cobble together a decent embryo EVER. Like, maybe the reason i haven’t gotten pregnant up until this point isn’t because we hadn’t tried IVF yet, but rather, because it’s actually physically impossible for us. 

And now we wait for fifty-eleven-million years until the PGS results come back…

12 thoughts on “Needles, as it turns out, are the easiest part of IVF

  1. foster advocate justice says:

    Hope it is good news for you both. I am in the beginning of infertility and trying to fix it and all that. We tried for several years before finding out I had PCOS….it stinks but keep your head up!

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  2. 1plus1 says:

    Don’t lose hope, I was in the exact same spot as you are a few months ago. I only ended up with one genetically perfect embryo after testing. That embryo was transferred and now I’m pregnant. It can happen even with just one. I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines!

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  3. Theresa Litchfield says:

    After being told you will never be getting pregnant because of endometriosis and all the scar tissue (at 16) and a few surgeries, even after being married, so I gave up on that dream, I prayed. I went through every horrible thing that they had out there 30+ years ago to help women get pregnant, and wanted to give up but the time I said this is when I became pregnant with my son, and it was a very tough pregnancy. Spent much time in the hospital because I couldn’t keep anything down. At the end you forget all of that when you hold that child in your arms. I want and pray every night for you and Jamie to have that feeling. Please keep the faith.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erika C says:

      Thank you for that, Tracey. I appreciate your ongoing prayers and support. Also, I appreciate your willingness to dig into those times of grief and sorrow in your life to relate to and encourage me- I imagine that it would be very difficult and triggering to revisit those times. We continue to pray for our baby, and hope we will be able to meet him or her soon. But even if that never happens for us, we know we serve a good God who is FOR us and has something else for us.

      Please do keep petitioning our Father for us. We appreciate so much that you are joining us in this! ❤️

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  4. Emily says:

    Wow! It’s as if you were writing my autobiography! The only exception is that I know why I couldn’t have a baby. It was my “fault.” I felt completely broken. I could never be a “real woman” if I couldn’t bring life into the world. After all, isn’t that what separates us females from males? I was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis (the worst kind) AND PCOS AND Issues with my cervix. After trying for three years unsuccessfully with medication, surgeries, etc. we were referred for IVF and told this was our ONLY hope. Our insurance didn’t cover ANYTHING beyond diagnosis. All meds and interventions were out-of-pocket. So not only was I broken, I was bringing a financial burden onto our family. I felt so much guilt and pressure. I felt guilt because my husband’s family’s escaped the Holocaust only to have the last male heir marry a barren Christian girl with no money. I begged him to divorce me and find someone who could give him children. We went through our first round of IVF only to have all five of our fertilized embryos die. I was ready to end everything. I am not Catholic, but I do believe Mary is special among women. I got down on my knees crying, begging Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to hear my plea to be a mother. I imagined only she would know my despair. I wanted her to take my burden to her son, and ask for His mercy on my behalf. I had a few incidents happen after that to make me KNOW that God was listening. Things that sound crazy to the average person. But I promise, they DID happen. And they could never be a “coincidence.” I decided that I had the strength to try IVF one more time. I got pregnant with twin BOYS. Twice the blessing to carry on the family name. We were beyond happy with our twins and when they were 15 months old, I discovered I was pregnant NATURALLY!!! Our doctors told us we would unlikely have a baby of our own and that we would NEVER have a baby naturally. Well “Never” starts First Grade next week. That’s right, THREE baby boys! God showed me through all of that pain that He loves me and I am never alone. I learned HE is God, even when medical intvention fails! I know now, that this was a lesson in TRUSTING Him.

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    • Erika C says:

      Emily- reading this comment made me weep. My gosh the pressure you must have felt during those uncertain months and years. I’m so glad your story ended happily.

      Also, I too feel that this process is forcing me (kicking and screaming) into a place of deeper faith. Not just faith that God will grant my petition, but faith that God is good regardless of the (potentially heartbreaking) outcome.

      Thank you for sharing some of your story with me. It is so relatable and encouraging!

      Like

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