It was supposed to work

We went to one of the top clinics in the nation.  The clinic that pioneered most of the technology used in IVF.  Our doctor is THE doctor.  We went because IVF was supposed to work.

We signed on to do three retrieval cycles to try to have just one child of our own because with three, it was supposed to work.  Three sets of blood work and ultrasounds and medications and injections and surgeries.  Three weeks off of work.  And one was all it took to prove that it wasn’t going to work.

So, I gave up having a kid of my own.  I gave up having a kid who looked like me or acted like me or liked the same things I did.

And we moved on to the egg donor because she was supposed to work.  She was young.  Fertile.  Tested well.  She had 12 mature eggs.  Eleven fertilized.  Ten embryos grew.  Only three made it to blasts.  We had a 75% chance of a successful pregnancy from a two-embryo transfer.  Somehow, we fell into that 25%.  Both embryos failed even though it was supposed to work.

We’ve spent money we don’t have because it was supposed to work.  Just this last failed cycle (the donor, my labs, the transfer) was over $35,000, not including any of my medications or our travel expenses.  And none of that includes the initial testing a year and a half ago or our failed egg retrieval or the medications or any procedures done locally.  But we did it because it was supposed to work.

We picked out names.  We planned house changes.  We had dreams and plans.  Because it was supposed to work.

And now I’m so incredibly angry and hurt and broken.  And I don’t know what to do.  Because it was supposed to work.

December 26th: Test Day

Today is pregnancy test day–the day we learn if our transfer worked, or not.

I went to the lab this morning .  And then we waited.

Early this afternoon,  my phone rang.  I was immediately sick to my stomach.  I didn’t want to answer it.  This is extremely out of character for me.  I’m not a person who operates with unknowns.  I’ve always been the girl who, if I liked you, would just call you up and ask you out.  Regardless of your answer, I was okay because I knew.

Today, I didn’t want to know because I wouldn’t be okay.

The hormone levels were good.

The pregnancy test was negative.  The transfer failed.

Burrow, Baby, Burrow

I’m talking to our embryos.  At least in my head I am.  Spontaneously the mantra, “Burrow, baby, burrow,” pops up.  I guess I’m encouraging them to implant and stay.  When I’m not chanting at them, however, I’m convinced that they’re gone–that I’m not even pregnant.  I can think of dozens of things I’ve done in the last week that could have ruined it all.

So when someone asked me the other day what it felt like to be pregnant and have “babies,” my internal response was visceral: “I don’t know.  How did you feel when you were two days ‘pregnant’?  Oh, you have no idea because you didn’t know you were pregnant?  Me neither.”  Stop sharing your expectations with me; I have enough of my (and my husband’s) own, thank you.

I’m preparing myself for December 26 and the possible (some part of me says inevitable) failure.  And I already know that if that test is positive, I’ll feel the same way until the next test and the ultrasound and quite possibly until we reach the point where a baby could survive if delivered.

And, regardless of the mantra, which I think really only stuck because of the alliteration, (“burrow, embryos, burrow” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same way), I think of them as embryos, not babies.  Because they’re not babies.  They’re microscopic clusters of cells with the potential to become babies.  There are no discernible body parts.  There is no ability to survive outside of a womb.  (Please spare me any comments suggesting otherwise or sharing your theological beliefs.  You’ll likely get a response very similar to the one above.  Remember, I’m all hormonal here and can’t be held accountable for my reactions.)

More pointedly, I cannot think of the embryos as babies because I can’t afford to get attached.  My fount of hope has always been a little shallow, and the drought of the last few years hasn’t helped.  The devastation of a failed two-embryo transfer combined with only having one embryo remaining in storage would literally break me (I originally wrote “will”), and I’m already emotionally bankrupt.  I’m trying my best to avoid grieving a loss that we haven’t even experienced (yet), and detachment is the only means I have of self-preservation.

And I get it.  My lack of optimism means I’m not exactly a pleasant person to be around (or read about).  I know I’m a holiday buzz-kill.  So my instinct is to isolate.  I don’t want to poison others with my holiday unhappiness, so know that my avoiding you isn’t about you at all.  It’s about me.  And I completely understand if you want to avoid me too.

Bedroom Radio Takes on Infertility

Last night I was on Bedroom Radio to talk about the blog. I went to high school with Derek, and he was kind enough to extend an invitation to me.  He, Alex, and I touched on a lot of different infertility topics: medications, diagnoses, our process, donation, surrogacy, and IVF among others.

Derek also predicted twins.  We’ll see about that one.

Thank you to everyone who tuned in live last night.  Your support is appreciated, as always.

If you missed the live show, you can hear the recording here.  Please be aware that the language is not suitable for children.

If you want to share your story, please contact me here or via facebook.  Help raise awareness of the 1 in 8.  We’re everywhere.

The Waiting Period

Today is the first day post-transfer that I’m off of bed rest.  I’ve alternated between being overly cautious (should I really reach up there to hang that t-shirt?) and forgetting to be careful entirely.  Thankfully I’ve not done anything crazy (like hoisting feed sacks), but it only hit me after I’d remembered twice that I needed to refill the humidifier that it might be too heavy.

The reality of the situation finally hit today, too.  The last week was all about waiting for updates, tests, and the transfer.  Now that we’ve received all the results and completed the transfer, there’s only more waiting.  But this waiting is different.  It’s harder.  There’s only one unknown factor still and nothing that can be done to influence it’s outcome.  Of course, I’m still taking my meds as scheduled, but the outcome really has little to do with them at this point (my hormone levels are correct and taking the meds is routine now).  The embryos will “stick” or they won’t.

So today has left me with too much time to think.  At one point, I very nearly had a panic attack at the possibility, however unlikely, of triplets or quadruplets.  Later, I’d all but convinced myself that the transfer had already failed, and the days between now and December 26 were just wasted time to confirmation.

In the meantime, I’m trying to be productive.  There’s plenty to do around here on my far too short Christmas break (shortened even more by our seven day hotel stay).  There’s house cleaning and organizing, and picture editing, and lesson plan writing and agenda making and syllabi updating and email deleting and online course building and document drafting and training planning, and blog post writing and guest post soliciting.  There’s plenty to do to keep busy.

And yet for all the keeping busy that’s happening around here (just today I did four or five loads of laundry–I did NOT lift a laundry basket–cleaned out the fridge, worked on a meeting agenda, copied a semester’s worth of files, started lesson plans, wrote this blog post, worked with two guest contributors on upcoming posts, tried to make Christmas plans, and edited photos) the thoughts keep coming.

And then, when I checked my email for a reply from a guest blogger, I found this message from our clinic:

“Hello,

We recognize that the time between your transfer and your pregnancy test can be stressful. You have invested so much of yourself to get to this point that the waiting can sometimes feel unbearable. As such, we have found a study that has shown that reading the following statements twice a day can help with this waiting period.

During this experience, I will:

Try to do something that makes me feel positive
Focus on the positive aspects of the situation
Find something good in what is happening
See things positively
Make the best of the situation
Try to think more about the positive things in my life
Look on the bright side of things
Try to do something meaningful
Focus on the benefits and not just the difficulties
Learn from the experience

Know that we are thinking of you.”

It’s a nice message and good reminder.  And it’s much, much easier said than done.

So here’s what I’ve managed today:

  • Try to do something that makes me feel positive: Turning on the Christmas tree lights.  They make me happy.  (And are totally worth all that damn tree-fluffing.)
  • Focus on the positive aspects of the situation: The two embryos transferred were high quality.  The odds are in our favor.
  • Find something good in what is happening:  The blog.  The advocacy.  The awareness. The community.
  • Make the best of the situation: Avoiding all physical intensive labor and taking naps are definite benefits (thanks, honey!).
  • Try to think more about the positive things in my life: Editing pictures.  It’s tedious and time-consuming, but when I see that shot, it’s all worth it.
  • Try to do something meaningful: Again, the blog.  Helping other people to share their stories.  And I’ve gotten an offer to appear on an internet radio show to talk about the blog.

But now I must go back to being productive.  There’s still plenty of house-, school-, and photo- work to do around here, and it all needs to get done regardless of what happens in the next eight days.

Bedrest Day 2

Today’s the second day of bedrest. Yesterday I had Valium to get through part of the day, but it wasn’t too long before the lower back ache started.  Even pillows under my knees didn’t help.  And it’s hard to see the tv or read a book with only one flat pillow under your head.

But today is a whole new adventure. I’m currently lying on my back, with my knees folded, in the back of my car as we drive the five and a half hours home.  I’m crawling in and out through the back trunk which has gotten some interesting looks at gas stations.  Aside from the lack of scenic vistas (my ceiling is really quite boring), it’s not too awful.

Early into the road trip, the IVF lab called with the embryo update.  Unfortunately, of the 8 remaining embryos, only one continued to develop to the blastocyst stage and has been frozen. The others were not even close and have been discarded.

In total, 3 of our original 12 eggs made it to the transfer stage.  That’s 25%.  I’m not sure how that stacks up in IVF averages, but it does means that we’re less likely to be able to have multiple pregnancies with the same embryos. It means we are less likely to have full-biological siblings.  It means that if this transfer doesn’t take, we have only one more chance that will require the one remaining embryo to survive thawing and transferring. It means if neither attempt works, we’re back to square one, deciding if we have the strength to go through the financial and emotional stress of finding another donor and starting again.

And I’m already hearing it:

This one is going to work.

It only takes one.

You have to think positive.

And while all those things may be true, also true is that for many, many infertile couples that “one” comes only after many, many failures, or never at all.

So please forgive me when I don’t want to talk about being pregnant two days in.  Or how unbelievable it is that we only had one embryo left to freeze (about as unbelievable as a 32 year old being too old to produce any viable eggs).  Or how I should just wait because this is our Christmas blessing.

All I really want to do is not think about it at all until December 26.  And maybe not even then.

 

 

Transfer Day

Today was the day.

We arrived at the clinic a little before 6:30 a.m.  After having blood work to check my hormones levels, we headed upstairs to surgery.

We met with a surgery nurse who explained the procedure and gave me a very low dose of Valium which helps relax the uterus and prevent cramping (and also makes me a little light-headed, like I’m drunk).

A short while later the ultrasonography tech and the fertility doctor on duty arrived. The tech confirmed that my bladder was appropriately half full (necessary for the ultrasound to help guide the transfer).

The doctor confirmed our embryo numbers: 12 eggs thawed, 11 fertilized using ICSI, and 10 still growing after assistive hatching.  Assistive hatching is a procedure where a tiny bit of acid or a laser is used to create a hole in the “shell” of the embryo.  Embryos must  break through this shell to continue to divide and grow. However some the procedures used in IVF can make that shell tougher.

Today, 2 embryos were developed enough to transfer. The remaining 8 will continue to grow and will be evaluated for freezing tomorrow. We’ll get an update phone call tomorrow or the next day from embryology to tell us the grading of the remaining embryoes, how many were frozen, and how many did not continue to develop appropriately and were discarded.

The doctor also asked how many embryos we wanted to transfer. We said two.  He encouraged us toward one, explaining that in the case of donor eggs, they prefer one as the risk factors with twins are serious (premature labor, early delivery, etc.).  However, given our conversation with our doctor earlier in the week, we elected to stay with two to increase the odds of success.

A few minutes later, the ultrasound tech and doctor along with the embryologist returned.  After prepping me for the transfer, we were able to see our embryos.  As you can see, they’re both well-formed and tightly packed.  The one on the left is also beginning to hatch.

IMG_2863

The transfer procedure took only a few minutes. The doctor used a speculum to gain access to my cervix and, guided by the ultrasound, threaded a tiny tube through my cervix and into my uterus where he placed the two embryos.

I remained flat on my back with my feet slightly elevated higher than my head for an hour. Then we were sent home to the hotel.  I slept for several hours courtesy of the Valium and now remain nearly flat on my back for the next two days.

Our nurse has also called with my “beautiful” lab results, so I’ll remain on the same med regimen (Levothyroxine, once a day; Aspirin, once a day; prenatal vitamins, once a day; Estradiol, twice a day; Endometrin, three times a day; four Vivelle patches, every other day; and Progesterone injections, every other day).

On Monday I’ll be able to resume most normal activities (except those on the list of things I’m not allowed to do).  And now we just wait until December 26.

1 Day to Transfer

Tomorrow’s the day.

The only thing that happened today was a phone call from the acupuncturist to confirm that I will not be doing acupuncture tomorrow.  My nurse and I discussed acupuncture earlier (which is used to increase blood flow to the uterus and for relaxation), and since my blood flow is good according to the Doppler scan during my ultrasound, we’ve decided not to have the procedure.

In meantime, I’ve also received my post-op instructions, which adds to the ever-growing list of things I’m not allowed.

Things I’ve not been allowed for……forever.

  • Caffeine including the obvious coffee, pop, and tea and the less obvious and more depressing, chocolate
    • try being a teacher mid- to late-semester (or really, anytime) without caffeine
  • Any kind of headache/ache medicine including Aspirin (except as prescribed), Ibuprofen, and Aleve
    • I can have Tylenol, but like I said…teacher.
  • Alcohol
    • Though I never was much of a drinker, knowing you can’t have any mid-semester with a giant stack of poorly executed student work to grade…
  • Antihistamines
    • Dear lord will allergy season never end this year.
  • All tobacco and social drugs
    • Okay, so this one isn’t really a sacrifice in my world.
  • Herbal supplements and vitamin cocktails (excluding prenatal vitamins)
  • Any weight loss program
  • Weight-lifting, high-impact aerobics, or abdominal exercises
  • Pulse rate higher than 140
  • Too much sun
  • Hot tubs and saunas

Additional restrictions since starting transfer meds

  • Any other medications unless cleared by the fertility clinic
    • Great timing worst eczema-outbreak I’ve ever had.
  • Swimming
  • Taking a bath, especially soaking

Things I’m not allowed post-transfer (in addition to everything above)

  •  For the first 48 hours (approximately)
    • Sitting upright
    • Climbing stairs
    • Lying on my stomach
    • Elevating my head above 45 degrees
  • Until the first pregnancy test (at least)
    • Any heat on my abdomen, including a laptop
    • Lifting anything greater than 10 lbs.
    • Having sex
  • For the first trimester
    • Traveling by plane

And we all know the restrictions only multiply if the December 26 test is positive.  So we have our fingers crossed for life without chocolate, Dr. Pepper, and soaking in the tub.

2 Days to Transfer

This morning the lab called with the Day 3 update on our embryos.

Of the 12 frozen eggs we had, 11 fertilized on day 1 (read more about day 1 here).  As of this morning, 10 of those 11 are “going well.”  One did not cleave (begin to divide) between days 1 and 3.

Seven of the 10 embryos are doing “very well” with cell numbers between 6 and 10 (the expected number for day 3) and a 3% or less fragmentation rate. Fragmentation describes the little particles left over from division (think crumbs). Highly fragmented embryos are less likely to continue to develop.  The use of ICSI greatly reduces fragmentation.

The remaining 3 embryos are a “little behind” in term of cell numbers but are “perfect and on point” for fragmentation.  Therefore, it’s possible that these slower embryos will continue to divide and develop but may just a day or so behind the others.  This is how we could end up freezing additional embryos after the first batch as discussed in 4 Days to Transfer.

This good progress means no Day 3 transfer, so we’re still on track for Saturday.  Tomorrow, we’ll hang out all day, and Saturday we’ll arrive at the clinic at 6:30 a.m. for blood work to check my estrogen and progesterone levels.  Then we’ll head upstairs to the surgery center for the transfer.  Then we hold our breaths and wait for the pregnancy test.