IVF Round One: The Debrief

 In my last post I shared some of what I have learned through the process of going through IVF, in this one I’d like to share my personal experience over the last few weeks. 

One has no idea what to expect doing IVF, and in hindsight, the only thing that can be expected is that it is a wild and unpredictable ride. From the outset, things seemed reasonably positive. My AMH score was good for my age (crusty old egg reserve), I was on the right side of 40, and Dr A Squared was confident that we could expect to retrieve 8-12 eggs, 15 would be exceptional.  All the symptoms seemed to indicate that things were happening: after a week I couldn’t fit into most of my clothes (great), I had pretty bad cramping, and huge mood swings alternating consistently between tears and anger at nothing at all. 

The first scan knocked the wind out of my sails. Only 2 follicles had developed, that is, one more than would normal, and follicles are no guarantee of eggs. I had the choice of cancelling the cycle altogether, or continuing knowing that there may be a large amount of money spent, and zero eggs collected.  To add to the shock, the idea of 8-12 eggs was replaced by Dr A Squared’s declaration that these were probably my last 2 eggs ever. The fact that I had been on the pill for 20 years confirmed that any last eggs left had been preserved.  If  we were to continue, there was no point freezing them as eggs in wait for Mr Late, embryos were the only possibility. We were never going to get a better result, this was it. The end of the road had arrived. Wow. 

While his bedside manner had a lot to be desired, there was no way of sugar coating this turn of events. I reached out to a friend who had been through IVF numerous times, finally giving birth to a gorgeous baby boy at the age of 47. She reassured me that many women don’t respond well the first time, particularly after being on the pill and not ovulating for 20 years. She herself had had varying results over her cycles, and that it was a process of adjusting the dose, changing the drugs (and the doctor) to finally yield the result. My hope raised again, soon to be squashed by  Dr A Squared, who argued that neither a change of dose, nor a change of drug would help. Nevertheless, he doubled the dose for the remainder of the cycle. I also added in acupuncture, supplements, and simple yet sensible measures such as increasing water and protein intake, and keeping a heat pack on my abdomen to encourage blood to the area when possible. To my own surprise, I found a donor I was happy to use (my age, background in education and the arts, serious linguist and guitar player, looked like my cousins which was kinda weird, but otherwise would totally date him). It felt like the right choice, and one that I would be comfortable talking about with a potential child. 

The next scan revealed 4-5 follicles (YEAH!) of perfect size, ready to be collected. It was hard not to feel excited, particularly when no less than SIX eggs were picked up during the procedure. Take that Dr “Last Two Eggs”!!

But, with IVF, there’s always a but… and an until….after egg pickup, the eggs have to go through the challenge of being fertilised. My harvest dropped from 6 to 4 very good embryos. The finger crossing then continued as the embryos go on a perilous journey into transforming into a viable blastocyst, ideally by Day 5. As Day 5 drew closer, my nerves increased: my 4 “very good embryos” were now 2, maybe 3, and struggling. There was no phone call on Day 6, and after playing phone tag on Day 7 with the Dr refusing to leave a message, I knew something was up. Only one, “average” embryo had made it far enough along to be frozen; I read between the lines that its C-grading probably means that it might not survive the defrost. 

It’s hard not to be attached to the outcome, not to cling to hope, not to be devastated, not to have regret and indulge in “if only” and “what if”.  While I can (and have) made many amazing things happen in my life, I have no control over this particular process.  I have to face the sober realisation that the odds are very low, and that my body is not what it used to be. Turning 40 is not “just a number”, or “the new 30″. For  women at least, it really is 40.  Adding into this roller coaster of emotions is that of course it’s Day 1 by the time I found out this news, so emotionally I’m all over the shop. Again. The only thing that has kept me going is the close-knit group of friends who have been in touch, offering support, and following the updates. A simple text checking in means so much when you’re going through this. 

So what’s next? After a few months of giving my body a break (fancy ovarian cancer anyone?) I’m going to give it another try, on double the meds, plus acupuncture and other supplements. I’m going to clear more of my schedule, get more rest, and cut down on caffeine which can apparently interfere with the egg quality (God no cups of tea as well as no alcohol during this emotional drug-induced avalanche?).  Despite Dr A Squared’s belief that there’s no point having an FSH test to determine hormone levels, as I’m old and my eggs are old, I’m going to do it anyway. If I am in perimenopause (insomnia, poor memory and disruption to cycles are symptoms on that list) and my FSH levels are super high, then I know this is all probably useless, and can adjust my expectations and plans accordingly.

I have no regrets, and am actually am glad to have opened up this can of worms before my 40th. If my fertility is really over, I need to know that, take the time to grieve, then widen my search of a potential partner beyond those who want a family. In fact, I would need to rule out men who want a(nother) child, as painful as that may be. 

When you see me, please don’t feel that you need to avoid the subject. I’ll have my brave face and waterproof mascara on. The bruises on my abdomen may have nearly healed, but I’m still pretty broken. This is what IVF can and, for most women,  will do to you.