What they don’t tell you about IVF

It’s nearly six years since our final failed IVF treatment. Maybe the process has improved by now, but I wanted to share what it was like now that there is a bit of emotional distance between me and my experience. I should have known, when my line manager said “um, that can take a while you know”, that it wouldn’t be an easy ride. The first thing was trying to plan taking the time off to go for the check ups. We had to travel nearly 2 hours to the clinic, which meant taking the whole day off work. I’d gone part time, so that made it slightly easier. The trouble was that my cycle did not understand that I could only make the journey on Mondays and Tuesdays. You can apparently take “special leave” of up to 2 weeks for things like IVF, but you have to seek special permission and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, nor to be seen by my colleagues as skiving. So I used up my annual leave. The difficulty was that we’re supposed to book leave well in advance. How could I explain that I may or may not need to take leave this particular week or that particular day depending on how my ovaries were behaving?!

Another hurdle to overcome was my husband’s belief that it would happen naturally if we just gave it a bit more time. I’m not sure he realised that my 38 year old ovaries did not have any more time. We couldn’t have the treatment on the NHS as he already had a child from his first marriage. Not that she lived with us, or that I was anything like a mother to her, but that didn’t concern the CCG. You have to ration it somehow. The fact that it was going to cost £7000 a pop was rather eye watering. My sister tells me “IVF’s just a numbers game, you know.” Yeah, and I know how to multiply by 7.

I am awed by women who go through multiple IVF cycles. We only managed 2. Even if cost had been no object we still would only have managed 2. It isn’t the poking and prodding, injecting yourself, stuffing your body with hormones, steroids, aspirin and all sorts of other things. It’s the emotional toll. This I was entirely unprepared for. I am used to being in control, to planning everything and being highly organised. This was out of my control. First I had to take HRT and hope that it regulated my periods. On the third cycle on day 2 of my period (“full flow” not just a bit of blood) I had to get a blood test for FSH level. Only if the FSH was below 14 could I start an IVF cycle. That was the first bit of uncertainty. I got the go ahead to start injecting and began to turn my tummy into a pincushion. Tricky as you have to inject at exactly the same time every night, no matter what you’re doing. After a few days I went to the clinic to get a scan to see if I was producing any egg follicles. One or two. Increase the dose and come back in a couple of days. Mm, it’s marginal, but keep going. Time to take the drug to stop you ovulating. Arrive at the clinic on a Saturday morning for egg collection. It’s been about 10 days since I started injecting. I wake up and immediately ask how many eggs they got. Six, they tell me. That sounds hopeful. Maybe this will work after all. I feel rather euphoric (I think it’s the anaesthetic). A few hours later my tummy hurts like hell and I have diarrhoea. I think the needle might have irritated my peritoneum.

Next day we phone to ask if there’s any news. One egg has fertilised. Oh my gosh, only one? Will it survive? Will all this have been for nothing? We can’t tell, call back tomorrow. Next day, still alive and dividing. Come in tomorrow for embryo transfer. Then the dreaded 2 week wait. We waited 2 weeks. Pregnancy test was negative. I couldn’t allow myself to feel. We’d have another go.

It took a lot of convincing to persuade my husband to try again. It wasn’t just the cost. The emotional turmoil of going through another cycle was daunting. We had a break to recover. We went to see the consultant and I was champing at the bit to try again. He advised to wait 3 months and take melatonin. Apparently melatonin improves your chances. All it did was give me night sweats which smelled very bizarre. The night sweats have continued ever since. Maybe it was just the menopause and not the melatonin after all.

Second try. This time I knew what to expect so I booked 2 weeks off work to coincide with the end of the 2 week wait. Again the uncertainty at every step. Was my FSH level on day 2 going to be low enough to proceed? Yes, but only just. We started with the highest level of injections as my ovaries had been so unresponsive last time. Only one follicle developed. Still, we persevered. We can’t increase the dose because I’m already on the max. Hope that there’s an egg in there. We’ll do our best to retrieve what we can, they told me when I arrived to egg retrieval. One egg. Only one. Even worse than last time. But it looks like a mature one. We’re still in with a chance.

How do I feel? Seeing as they got 6 eggs last time and only one fertilised, I don’t feel too hopeful. I feel a bit sick. The next day we phone and it’s starting to divide. Two days later we go in for embryo transfer. It’s only a grade 3. That’s not good. Do grade 3 embryos ever become babies? Rarely. The nurse tries to give us hope. “You’ve got a lovely little blast there!”. She’s lying. A blastocyst is an embryo at 5 days gestation. This was a grade 3, day 3 embryo, barely clinging on to life.

The following 2 weeks were the longest in my life. They ended with the end of hope. I couldn’t stop crying. I went to work but burst into tears as soon as I got there. I had to take sick leave. That was it. My ovaries were finished. There was no point in trying again as I had no viable eggs left. The next day my mum and my sister sent me an article on adopting. Go figure.