Our Infertility Journey: Tips for IVF
It has been over 2 months since I shared our infertility story with all of you and I figured an update was long overdue. But before I get to that…
After hitting publish on that post, I was instantly overwhelmed with all of the love and support that both Finn and I immediately received. The day the post went live, I was working in a coffee shop reading all of the comments and was just sitting there sipping my latte and sobbing. I’m sure I got some interesting looks. Ha! So many of you went out of your way to write thoughtful comments, send us emails, and even send us letters and good luck charms in the mail (all of which I wear to every single doctor’s appointment!). We have read each and every one of your messages together and it’s amazing knowing that we have so many people thinking about us, praying for us, and sending good vibes our way. Sincerely, thank you from the bottom of my heart for providing us with comfort, acceptance, and love during this trying time.
What is IVF?
Last we chatted, we were just starting IVF (in vitro fertilization). Before going through fertility treatments, I really didn’t know anything about IVF so I’m guessing some of you guys might not really know how it works. Here’s my non-scientific explanation for what happens.First, you’re given lots of shots to get your body to produce as many eggs as possible all at once. Normally, your body produces one egg every month. But when you’re going through IVF you want to get as many eggs as possible, so you take drugs to help with that. In fact, your ovaries (which are normally the size of a thumb), grow to the size of tennis balls (yes…they get huge and painful. More on that later!) Once your eggs get large and mature you then have a procedure to remove them all (i.e. egg retrieval). In the lab, those eggs are combined with sperm to create embryos, the embryos are frozen, and (sometimes) sent off for genetic testing. If you have normal embryos, you then put one back in about a month later during a procedure called FET (frozen embryo transfer).
Now that you’ve got a general idea of what goes into IVF. Let me chat about our IVF experience.
Our IVF Experience
After our failed IUI, our doctor immediately recommended we make the jump to IVF. Honestly, I was excited to start. Which may sound weird, but after trying for so many months, I felt relieved to jump to the most advanced way to get pregnant, knowing I was doing everything in my power to make it happen. So I went in with a positive attitude, on a mission to make this work for us.The first “big” thing that happens is a ginormous box of medications arrives at your doorstep. Actually, I had 2 ginormous boxes that arrived. I remember opening them all up and thinking…how the hell are all of these meds going to go into my body in the next few weeks?! Syringes, shots, saline, gauze, pills, sharps containers…it’s like a pharmacy all up in your place. It was overwhelming and a bit scary, but Finn and I got it all organized and just took it one day at a time.For my protocol, I was on both oral medications and shots during my “stim” phase (when you’re growing all of the eggs). During this time, you can’t workout or do any heavy lifting. Because your ovaries are getting so large if you do anything too strenuous they can twist which would be veeery bad. So taking it easy is key.
I’m not afraid of needles, but I’m certainly not a fan of them (who is?!). But even if you loathe needles, you get over it very quickly undergoing IVF. The first night of shots was pretty scary for both Finn & I…neither of us knew what we were doing at all! You just watch these little videos, you mix up the meds on your own, and you go for it. I think that first night took us about an hour to do 2 shots and we were both petrified we did it wrong.However, you quickly become pros at it and now we can do a shot in a couple minutes. Finn does all of my shots, but if he has to work late or isn’t around, I learned how to do them myself (at least the ones in my stomach, the butt ones are too advanced for me!) And now that I’ve been doing them daily for 3 months, I’ve even done them in bathroom stalls, in cars, all over the place!
Anyways, back to stimming. So normally you stimulate your body for about 10-14 days before you have your egg retrieval. I stimmed for 21 days. Holy smokes. By the end of it, I was at the doctor every single morning for blood work and ultrasound just waiting for them to tell me that we were done and could have our retrieval. But my doctor wanted me to get as many eggs as possible, so we kept going and going (and ordering more meds and ordering more meds). My estrogen levels were off the charts, I felt horrible, and my ovaries were humongous. I legit felt (and probably looked) like I was 4 months pregnant.
But finally, after 21 days she said we were ready for our egg retrieval surgery!
My Egg Retrieval
I went into egg retrieval excited, but also nervous. Because I have PCOS, my doctor was expecting us to get lots of eggs (the more eggs, the better). However, it’s really hard to make an accurate prediction in the weeks leading up to your surgery. I went in just hoping we could get any healthy little eggs outta there. The procedure itself is fast and you’re under general anesthesia so I don’t remember a thing. I just remember waking up and asking Finn how many eggs we got. When he told me we got 29 eggs, I cried (like ugly sobbed) and said…”29 eggs. That’s perfect. It’s one less than my age.” To which he replied, “Casey, you’re still 29.” Yes, I was still pretty loopy! But 29 eggs, I was absolutely thrilled.
I then came home and recovered for 2-3 days. Because they got so many eggs, I was in pretty bad shape. Essentially every egg retrieved is a puncture wound in your ovary (to paint you a picture, the ultrasound lady told me that your ovaries end up looking like smashed meatballs by the end of it. Yikes), so my abdomen filled up with fluid. I had to rest and eat as much sodium as possible (say what?!) to get the fluid in my body to go down. Luckily, after about 2 weeks I was feeling back to normal. But those first few days after retrieval were kinda scary (& very uncomfortable).
The next week you wait for phone calls from the doctor on your numbers. After retrieval, they analyze and figure out how many of those eggs were mature (22 in my case). Then they combine them with the sperm to form embryos (21 of ours came together!). Then you wait 5 days to see how many make it to blastocyst stage. This is where “the survival of the fittest” really comes into play. Those little embryos are fighting to live and many die off every day, which is totally normal. After a week of our little guys fighting, we were left with 6 embryos. We sent those off for genetic testing and found out that we had 5 little embryos that were normal and ready for us.
5 little “embabies” as we like to call them. We love them so much already.
Tips for IVF
Now that you know how my IVF journey went down, here are some of the tips and tricks we learned along the way. If you’re going through IVF these might be helpful (or if you have a friend on this path, you can forward her this post!)
- Get Your Partner Involved: The truth is the woman has to do 99% of the work during this process. But Finn was involved every step of the way, constantly taking care of me and staying on top of my medications. There is so much to keep track of and he was in charge of letting me know if we were running out of certain things. He also prepped and administered all of the shots every night (which was no easy feat). Get your partner involved in the process because this is a journey you’re on together.
- Stay Organized: Your meds, shots, and the dosage changes constantly so it’s up to you to stay on top of it. It’s also up to you to make sure you never are frantic and running out of a certain medication that you need right away, so always monitor how much you have left. Finn created a spreadsheet for us and we literally checked off each medication and shot I took every day. Get organized from the start and you’ll be happier throughout your IVF journey.
- Find a Clinic you Love (& One That is Nearby): You are going to be at the fertility clinic non-stop, so make sure you like it there. The first place we went was huge and it was incredibly impersonal. I love our new place because it’s small, intimate, and every single nurse and person working there knows me by name. I’ve cried to just about every nurse there multiple times and they’re all genuinely involved in my care. Plus, I love my doctor and trust her completely. I also want to add that you should try to find a fertility clinic that is convenient for you (if at all possible). I go to a fertility clinic that is in my neighborhood that I can walk to and it’s amazing. During this process, you’re at the doctor for monitoring just about every other day (including weekends!). Not to mention, that your appointments are usually last-minute because it’s all based on how your body responds to the meds. I can’t imagine having to drive an hour to a clinic (although I know so many women have to do that), so try to find someone you love who is nearby.
- Keep it Fun: This process isn’t fun…at all. But it’s up to you to make the most of it. Finn would prep the shots every night and we would play music when he gave them to me. It was like a little dance party in the kitchen and it made this shitty situation a tiny bit happier. Whether it’s your own dance party or getting coffee and a donut together after doctor’s appointments, find your own way to bring some happiness to the situation.
- Bring on the Salt: Stock up on Gatorade and salty snacks for after your retrieval. I know, it sounds crazy but that’s what my doctor recommends to help bring the fluid down in your body. I pounded so much Gatorade that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to drink it again. I also had my mom bring over chips, pretzels, peanuts…every salty snack you could think of to eat while I recuperated.
- Feel What You Need to Feel: This is my most important tip…feel whatever emotion you need to feel. Some days are going to be horrible and you’re going to want to cry and feel sorry for yourself. Let yourself feel that. You will be incredibly hormonal and you’re going through a really tough situation that isn’t fair. Watching other women getting pregnant without trying sucks, and it’s okay to be a little angry inside (I legit can’t even go on Facebook anymore). So all of your emotions are valid…the good and the bad ones.
Where We’re At Now
After the embryos are tested, you get your body ready for embryo transfer. In my case, I was giving myself tons of estrogen every day to get my uterine lining nice and “fluffy” for the embryo to make a home. For me, I wore estrogen patches on my stomach, still had shots in my stomach, oral meds, and vaginal meds (gross…but apparently it’s more effective that way.) Legit every which way you could shoot me up with drugs, I was doing it. You usually do this for about 2 weeks, your body is monitored, and when it gets to the right conditions you have your surgery to put the embryo inside.
Our transfer was scheduled at the end of April…a few days after my 30th birthday. To give us one last fun weekend before the big day, Finn surprised me with a trip to Scottsdale. I drank my final glasses of champagne, relaxed with spa treatments, and just spent some much needed happy time with my husband before our transfer.
But…our transfer was canceled when we got home. My body reacted negatively to all of the estrogen and my uterus filled with fluid, making it a bad place for an embryo. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I was a mess. My head knew that it was logical to cancel because I wasn’t providing the perfect environment for the embryo, but my heart was broken at the thought of waiting more time to meet our baby. We are charging ahead though. Figuring out what went wrong and gearing up to try again. Because that’s what this process is….a lot of ups and downs. We are holding onto the belief that it will happen for us one of these days. It may seem like a long ways away right now, but one day I’ll be able to hold that baby of ours.
And until then, thanks for cheering us on and having our backs. We appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know.
Our Infertility Journey
I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.