Our Fertility Journey: Road to IVF
It's been a week since we completed our first cycle of IVF. The emotional rollercoaster that has ensued over the past several months is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced. It's been great, it's been awful, we've shed tears, we've celebrated, we've felt uplifted, and we've been heartbroken. We have experienced it ALL, and then some. I say we, because I didn't go through this alone. Although he wasn't always with me physically, Shawn has been there through it all, supporting me, asking questions, and doing everything he could to comfort me. My Mom has also been there from the start, helping me with shots, giving me a home to live in, and listening to my thoughts, anger, happiness, sadness, excitement, etc. This is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever gone through, and I am so lucky to have such an incredible support system of family and friends. Before I tell you everything, I feel like it's my duty to give you the full story. From the beginning. So I'm releasing the whole thing in a series of posts this week to really explain what we've been through this far.
Let’s begin by backing it up to where we left off. Shawn and I have been on this road to baby for two years and some change now. You can read my first two posts about my fertility journey here and here. I left off after my first unsuccessful IUI procedure.
After moving to Palm Desert, California in August 2020 for Shawn's job, we were referred to a clinic in Orange County where we would do another round of IUI. In mid-September, we got in for a consult with our doctor there, and it went horribly. I felt as though she didn’t try to understand my lifestyle, but rather attacked it from the start. CrossFit is bad. That’s the vibe I got from her. I should be doing, basically, no exercise apart from light walking, never lift more than 10 pounds, eat very little meat, no dairy, absolutely no caffeine, and definitely no sugar. She implied that I should have started all of this sooner, if we wait much longer to start IVF, then I’ll be risking not having any children. Basically the conversation felt accusatory, negative, and anything BUT hopeful. I'm fucking 31 years old, I was only 30 at the time, and I had started trying to get pregnant when I was 29. Come ON. I understand that this was all MY perception of a conversation that could have been taken entirely the wrong way. However, I had been with two other clinics before this, and each time I had had a consultation, the doctors told us how young and healthy we were, how we were doing all the right things, how I should tone down my exercise a bit, but certainly not cut it out, and how we had so many things going for us in this process. I felt the complete opposite from all of that during this consultation. Maybe I took it too harshly, maybe not. Who really knows? But I know that when you’re getting ready to spend THOUSANDS of dollars somewhere, you should probably feel a genuine connection with your doctor, and I, personally, did not feel that connection with this particular doctor.
Despite this less than ideal first impression, we decided to move forward with the IUI. I did, after all, receive the recommendation for this facility from my doctor back in Atlanta, who I LOVE. In all honesty, throughout the entire thing, I felt like a number. I felt absolutely zero personal connection from anyone at any step of the process there. I was driving two and a half hours each way to attend my appointments, and each time I felt rushed in and out. I had to have two separate ultrasounds to check my ovaries to make sure the drugs I was taking were working, plus bloodwork at each appointment. After the second ultrasound, I was cleared to receive my trigger shot which was administered in the office on a separate day. That was my first shot in the stomach, y'all. #mems
The day after the trigger shot, October 2, I had the second IUI. Just like the first, it was a relatively painless procedure, where they insert a catheter filled with the best of the best of Shawn’s swimmers (they clean them and process out all the non-motile sperm, unnecessary fluids, bacteria, etc in the lab) into my uterus, where they would hopefully travel up through the fallopian tubes and find an egg to fertilize. Note that there were 14 million of those bad boys injected in there, and it only takes one. After the procedure, I laid on the table for about 5 minutes, then headed home. Three days later, they started me on a nightly progesterone suppository (which was an addition to the process from last time), just in case this was my issue. Yep, suppository, meaning you have to insert it. It's disgusting. Looking back now, I would WAY rather deal with injections.
Two weeks later, I had made that two and a half hour trip to have my blood drawn for my first pregnancy test in office. Amazingly, I managed not to do an at-home test beforehand. Maybe I subconsciously knew it wasn’t going to be positive, or maybe I was too nervous to try, but I didn’t take it. Instead I waited for the call. When it came, my doctor was on the other line telling me it wasn’t good news, and my head felt like it was swimming. Even though I was never 100% confident with my doctor and how I was being treated, I still gave them the benefit of the doubt, and I truly gave the process my all. I also felt like we were doing things a bit differently this time around, and maybe the changes we were making would make the difference. After I hung up, the failure sunk in, and I had my first break down.
I took this one harder than the last, because I couldn’t justify why it wasn’t working anymore. I felt like I had done EVERYTHING I could to make it work and it STILL wasn’t working. Plus, we still didn’t have a reason WHY it wasn’t working. That night, Shawn and I had a serious conversation about what had happened and our options moving forward. We needed to decide if we wanted to do one more round of IUI or if we wanted to move on to IVF. I knew for SURE that I was done with that doctor and the clinic. That meant we would have to find yet ANOTHER clinic, which meant combing through reviews, visiting websites, waiting to get in for a consultation with someone, transferring all of my information, etc; OR we could go back to one of the clinics we had been to before.
Immediately after this conversation with Shawn, I texted my friend Melanie from Houston. I knew she had previously been through two successful rounds of IVF, and I knew she could answer all of our questions about embarking on that journey. Four days later, I called her and we talked for over an hour about the ins and outs of the process, what to expect, and I talked her through our thought process on all of it. She made me feel like I could really do this thing. I had been so intimidated by the thought of IVF that I really didn’t look too much into it. I had thought for so long that if we just kept trying we would eventually be pregnant. Obviously something wasn’t right. We were going to have to do something different, something bigger. Our instincts told us it would be a better investment of money to forego another round of IUI, which only has about a 5-20% chance of success anyways, in order to get started with IVF. We could take the money we would have been putting into another round of IUI, and put it towards a cycle of IVF that increases our chance of success to anywhere from 40-70%, given my age. IVF could also offer us some insight as to why I still couldn’t get pregnant. To me, it felt like a no-brainer.
We developed a plan. We were coming up on the holidays. I was working at Lululemon, and LOVING it. And I definitely wanted to continue that through the holidays. Shout out to all my friends at the Palm Desert store. I miss the hell out of those people and that place. Plus, I needed a break. We had done two cycles of IUI, essentially back to back, and I was feeling drained. Shawn and I needed to reconnect and have some down time during Thanksgiving and Christmas. We needed to relax and have fun again. Shawn also felt like his project could be up in late January or early February (at the time…LOL, that project is still going on), and it felt like that would be perfect timing. We would move me back to Atlanta so I could go back to my doctor there for IVF, and I would live with my mom for a few months while he traveled to the next project. Eventually I would finish up treatment and join him in the next city. Living with my Mom seemed like the perfect scenario, because she's a nurse. With all the injections and drug protocols associated with IVF, I knew having my Mom there as a resource to help me sort through it all would be invaluable. I would also have the support system of the rest of my family, and all my friends back in the Atlanta area during that time.
In early November, we scheduled a telemed appointment with Dr. Hasty, my doctor back in Atlanta, to discuss our plans. She agreed with everything we had decided and told us she was happy to welcome us back to the clinic there and get us started with IVF. In the meantime, she recommended that we do an at-home genetic carrier screening test. It would tell us if we happened to be carriers for any genetic diseases. The one we ended up taking screens for hundreds of diseases from cystic fibrosis to muscular dystrophy to diseases I never even knew existed. If we were carriers and matched on anything, our embryos could be screened for those diseases before they were implanted. If an embryo did happen to have a genetic abnormality, it has a higher chance for miscarriage. Dr. Hasty also suggested that I give acupuncture a try. It definitely couldn't hurt, and since there is some research showing increased success rates involving acupuncture during fertility treatments, I thought “why not?”
We ordered and completed the genetic carrier screening over the holidays. It was SO gross. HA! We literally had to spit in a tube for what felt like an eternity, because you had to fill it to a line that required an EXCESSIVE amount of saliva. The instructions also say that you couldn’t eat or drink for a certain period of time before completing the test, so your mouth is all dried out out like the damn Sahara Desert. I mean, it was just not pleasant. But we did it, sent it in, and got our results back a few weeks later. A stupid amount of money and two tubes of spit later, we found out we didn’t have any matches, and we ruled that out.
I started acupuncture at the beginning of December 2020, and have been going weekly ever since. I love it. Most of the needles are painless. Every now and then I get one that hits in a spot that sends a little shock through the muscle, but nothing crazy, and a few minutes into the session I won’t feel it at all. Laying there in total stillness for an hour, I am able to clear my head of all the garbage that may have piled up in there throughout the week. It’s like an incredibly relaxing meditation session. My doctor in Georgia, who specializes in fertility, explains all of the points as he is treating me and how they are connected to different organs for blood flow, or how they help balance the body's different systems, or how they are related to fertility, etc. I love how knowledgable he is and how he involves me in each treatment. He also has kept up with me throughout the IVF process by asking about my appointments, and expressing concern about how I’m doing after procedures or during drug protocols and how I’m balancing exercise with how I’m feeling. He’s been so great. Pro-tip- research your acupuncturist (really all of your doctors) and make sure they know their shit. Because when they do, it makes SUCH a difference.
I’m going to leave off here for today, because I think it sets us up nicely to go into the start of our IVF journey in my next post. It's kind of insane to think about, because at this point I was thinking, damn, I've been through so much already. Maybe IVF is more invasive, more in depth, requires more steps, time, and energy, but I felt like there was nothing you could put me through that I couldn't handle. And yes, that's proven true, but I was, by no means, prepared for everything that was about to get thrown at me. All I knew at that point was that I was so beyond ready to make a baby with Shawn, that I would literally put my body through ANYTHING. So I was a little nervous, of course, but I was excited to get started, hopeful about getting some answers, and I couldn't wait to see this thing work out for us. I also truly believed that this was it, that we were meant to do IVF, and it was going to be our answer. If you think what we'd been through up until this point is a lot, wait until the next part. It’s been a damn ride, I’m telling you.