One of the parts of the IVF process that I was least looking forward to was the dreaded drugs; more specifically the hormone injections. I feel like all the way through this process, every new section has been a complete eye-opener for Dave and I, and we continually say to each other “we didn’t know we had to do that!”
Our information evening from way back in January is still a bit of a blur; firstly I was full of the flu so my head felt like it was being constantly beaten with a mallet, but also I just remember the doctor going through every stage and thinking to myself there’s no way I’ll be able to do this! I remember leaving that session feeling tired and emotional and completely unequipped to deal with what was to come.
If there’s one piece of advice I would give to couples contemplating IVF, it’s to do some research beforehand into what it entails, as you have no idea how complex, long, mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting it is. The worst part for me has been that you never get a break from it; once one part is over you’re straight onto another part and have all the worry, pain and stress that comes along with it.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I consider myself a complete wimp when it comes to anything medical, although since being in the IVF treatment programme I’ve actually discovered strengths I didn’t know I had. And according to the nurses, I’m by no means a wimp compared with other patients, so it’s always nice to have that little confidence boost!
The first stage of the treatment is to start your ‘down regulator’ tablets. These are used to temporarily turn off your ovaries so that the clinic can have control over your ovulation and the maturing of your eggs. Naturally, messing about with your system like this (especially when you’re a woman!) can play havoc with your hormones. However, apart from feeling really tired and developing a swollen face, I was pretty lucky in the grand scheme of things.
As with everything else, Dr Google can be a blessing and a curse. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve typed “is this supposed to happen during IVF” into the search engine, and of course you’re hit with thousands upon thousands of articles, blogs, message boards, fertility centres etc all giving their two cents worth. In some ways it was reassuring that I didn’t appear to be suffering on my down regulators half as much as other women were, but on the other hand, sometimes I think you’re best just to get off the internet and focus on your own experience and stop comparing yourself to others. We are so lucky to be going through this in an age where an abundance of information is available to us at our fingertips, but you can get really caught up in other people’s stories, and as I’ve said many times before, this was a time for us to be selfish and focus on our own story.
I took the down regulators for 12 days and then had a baseline scan at the clinic just to check everything was as it should be, which thankfully it was. Throughout all of our scans I’ve been told that I’ve got an excellent thick lining (apologies for people who find that TMI!), which again I’m sure is down to taking Co-Enzyme Q10 for the past 8 months (see my previous post Cracking Up – Part 2).
So then we were sent home with the dreaded hormones and the ridiculously complicated instructions, ready to start our egg stimulation, referred to as “stimming”.
Our first injection was Gonal F and this used to stimulate your follicles (eggs) to grow and develop. Now I have never had a fear of needles and getting blood tests or travel injections has never bothered me. The Gonal F injection itself looked quite scary as it was a pretty big pen-like contraption but the needle itself was tiny, so I didn’t think I would have any issues in self-administering. Ha ha, how wrong I was. You’re advised to give the injections in your thigh, stomach or bum. Luckily I have plenty of padding in these areas (I knew not being a skinny minnie was going to pay off one day), so I sat with the thing hovering over my thigh for a good 5 minutes saying “Right, right, ok, ok, I can do this, it won’t hurt, it won’t hurt”. Dave suggested counting me in, at which he promptly received a ‘look’, so that was him told.
In the end, I just couldn’t do it so it was Male Nurse Reid to the rescue, and I barely felt it. We decided then and there he would be on duty for the remainder of the injections and I think overall he actually relished his job. He’s definitely got the right personality for it and I beamed every time he told me I’d been a “good girl”.
This wasn’t going to be nearly as bad as I thought, what a breeze! Oh how wrong could I be? After 5 days of this injection, I then had to add in a second one, called Cetrorelix. This is used in conjunction with the Gonal F to prevent a premature ovulation from occurring, called an LH surge. Basically it ensures all your eggs remain in your ovaries as opposed to them being released, which would be the natural way of things.
This injection had to be pre-mixed before it was injected, which in itself was a brain teaser! It was now time for Dave to take off his nurse hat for a minute and don his engineers hat while he worked his way through the instructions. I know it might sound terrible that I left all this up to him, but in the grand scheme of things he gets off pretty lightly throughout the whole process so it was the least he could do! And Dave has the right temperament for these types of tasks; I would have thrown the instructions in the fire within minutes.
The Gonal F went in first as usual, no problem, followed by the Cetrorelix in the other thigh which was decidedly much nippier! I could also feel it was a bigger needle. You also get a little bleeding after this one so have to sit with a tissue on for a little minute. I instantly decided I hated this injection. However, as with everything in IVF, you can moan about it as much as you want but the bottom line is if you want a baby, you have to grin and bear it. So this was our nightly routine for the next 12 days.
As the days rolled on, I felt worse and worse. My stomach was really bloated and tender and I just felt really horrible. I could never quite put my finger on what was wrong, but I felt that way before you get the cold or flu, shivery, scratchy throat, my skin was a mess, my hair felt horrible and the tiredness was overwhelming. Looking back, it was all a bit of a blur but I spent most of the second week in my pyjamas dozing on the sofa. Thankfully I didn’t seem to have the mood swings that the nurses warned us about, but I just felt so run down, it was awful. My appetite came and went and I just wasn’t interested in doing anything. I felt the best thing to do however was just listen to my body, rest when I needed to, eat when I needed to, drink plenty and try to keep positive. I did a lot of meditation and watched Michael McIntyre, but it was a challenging time.
During this time we went to the clinic every couple of days for a scan. As mentioned in a previous post there is a danger of OHSS where your ovaries over stimulate and you can become very poorly, so the checks are necessary. They can also lessen your dosage if your ovaries are filling up to quickly; however all of our scans thankfully went according to plan.
Of course, the biggest concern is how many follicles are growing. As time went on I could feel my ovaries getting bigger and heavier so I knew there was definitely something happening. The awful irony about IVF is that there are many times when you look and feel pregnant, but unfortunately it’s just the hormones doing their job. All of my scans showed a good amount of follicles growing for each stage of development and I was kept on the same dosage the entire way through. Our last scan would determine when our egg retrieval would be. We had always been given a provisional date however they sometimes leave you a couple more days just to allow the follicles to grow a bit more. But we were perfect and on course for our egg retrieval as planned. Now it was getting very real! The egg retrieval day is considered the biggest day in IVF, and we were going in with a fighting chance.
The ideal amount of follicles before you go to the egg retrieval stage is between 10 and 15 and as close to 20mm each as possible. On our last scan we were showing 12 follicles, 9 of a good size and 3 more that could potentially still catch up in the few days before we went for the egg collection. No wonder my stomach was so large and bloated! The nurses were really pleased, as were we, and now it was just the wait for that dreaded day. We were moving forward and in a fairly positive way, so we were excitedly nervous for what the next few days would bring.