BY NICKY ELLIOT (GUEST POST)
I have written this as a kind of guide to what happens during an IVF cycle, as I find there isn’t much out there on the detail of what to expect & I really would have benefited from knowing exactly what was going to happen.
Trying to have a baby is easy for some, not so easy for others. If you fall into the latter category it can quickly become an all-consuming pursuit. In an age where women are successful and independent it’s hard to face that some situations are beyond our control, and yet that’s fertility; we hand it back to Mother Nature and after likely decades of expressly trying not to get pregnant, we expect it to happen instantly. And when it doesn’t? It can be confusing, isolating and downright painful.
I started trying to get pregnant as soon as I got married in 2014. Three years later I welcomed my daughter into the world, and there had been what felt like a chasm of time between those two dates – of trying, and trying again, ovulation tracking, sex schedules, paying attention to body temperature and cervical mucus. Exhausting, and for me ultimately futile.
Considering IVF was not a decision I took lightly, and nor is it a miracle cure for infertility issues. It doesn’t always work, but after investigations we knew we had ‘unexplained infertility’ i.e. there was no specific issue for myself or my husband – it just wasn’t happening. I’m still not sure if that made it easier or harder to process. We knew that we had a decent chance of IVF working based on my age and our ‘vital statistics’ with regards to fertility, and we could have kept trying on our own, but the clichéd biological clock was ticking, and we decided to start IVF in early 2016.
IVF: three little letters that can feel heavy. There is a preconception of hormones and injections and it feels like a massive undertaking. For anyone considering it or about to go through it my only advice is to take it one day at a time. There are hormone injections, and the amount and strength of those depend on your specific needs, so it’s different for everyone. For me the idea of it all was far worse than the reality, and taking it day by day got me through it – twice!
The IVF Cycle process is broken down into roughly five phases (and these may vary depending on your protocol so don’t panic if yours is slightly different to the below). Down regulation is the first phase, where you start injecting to counter-intuitively ‘quieten’ your ovaries before the next phase, which is called stimulation. It’s what it sounds like – stimulating your ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible in one cycle. If you normally produce one or two eggs per cycle then you’re aiming to produce one or two dozen here, so this is where the discomfort can come in.
You know that pre-period bloat? Multiply it. You do feel bloated, windy and uncomfortable but it’s for a very limited time. You might also feel insanely emotional – the hormonal storm that is occurring thanks to a massive influx of hormones is not to be underestimated BUT it is manageable, as long as you go easy on yourself, limit your expectations of what you can do during that time, and make sure your partner is understanding, supportive and completely on board with the process. As with everything to do with bringing babies into the world the hard work is down to you. My husband was an awesome support in this time, and that helped me get through it all knowing I could have as many meltdowns as I wanted, without judgment. During these phases you’ll be scanned regularly via an internal ultrasound to check on the progress of your follicles (which contain the eggs). When the time is right the doctor will tell you do a trigger injection which triggers ovulation at the exact right moment to prepare for the next phase – egg collection.
Once the follicles containing your eggs are the optimum size and you’ve done your trigger injection you’ll be sedated about 36 hours later, and the doctor will remove the eggs from the follicles. This step terrified me but it was like having a nice sleep – I went through this process twice and didn’t feel a thing either time!
When you wake up you’ll be told how many eggs were retrieved – some eggs may be immature and some follicles empty, but the ones that are good to go are put together with your partner or donor’s sperm and left to do their thing! There are fertilisation reports in the subsequent days where you’ll hear how many eggs were fertilised, and some of those will likely drop off and stop developing, while others will go from strength to strength. If possible your doctors will aim to put what’s known as a blastocyst back inside you on day 5 after your egg collection – a blastocyst is a fertilised egg on its way to becoming an embryo. This may happen at the time or the blastocyst can be frozen and transferred after a break if necessary which was the case for me.
Embryo transfer is the next phase – a tiny tube is passed through your cervix into your womb where the doctor will use ultrasound to find the perfect spot in your uterus to put the blastocyst. You might be able to give your little guy a wave on a screen before it goes in (it’s about one sixth the size of a dot drawn with a ballpoint pen at this point, so you see it under a microscope!). And then you’re good to go and the final phase – the two week wait – commences.
This can almost be the hardest part even though the hormones and prodding and poking are over. Now you’re on high alert for every twinge and every feeling. Are you pregnant or is it period pains? Has it worked or not? There is absolutely no way of knowing and it can be stressful wondering and waiting to take that pregnancy test. For me the best way to manage my anxiety in this period was to take it relatively easy, but keep up my usual routine, and to give it back to Mother Nature – I lit a candle for my blastocyst every day and just looked at its picture. I told that bunch of cells that we loved it and were ready to welcome it into our family.
I’m one of the lucky ones and in early 2017 we did just that when our daughter was born. In 2019 we started the process from scratch as our remaining embryos from our first cycle didn’t take, but a second fresh cycle got a great batch of embryos, and we now have two amazing children to keep us on our toes!
For anyone who is considering IVF there are many things you can do to prepare yourself physically, and the ‘right’ things to do on that front are different for everyone, but to prepare yourself mentally I would just say – be prepared to go easy on yourself, to trust the process, and to have hope. If it doesn’t work and you hoped it would you won’t be any less devastated, so don’t beat yourself up for having it. Alexander Pope said “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” My advice is: if it’s there, hold onto it.
Did you know all about IVF cycle, and what goes into them? Have you been through IVF cycles yourself?
YOU CAN FIND NICKY ON:
WEBSITE: WILDER ONES