The after-effects of the egg retrieval were worse than the procedure itself. I had severe pain in my abdomen that left me barely able to stand up straight, felt dizzy and nauseous and just a general feeling of being run down. It never ceases to amaze me how people always think they know best. Yes of course, it is my body and nobody knows our bodies better than ourselves, however when the nurses at the fertility clinic tell you to rest, they’re not saying it for their own amusement. They mean REST. Suffice to say I was not looking forward to being poked and prodded AGAIN for the embryo transfer, however I knew it was the final stage at the clinic so tried to prepare my mind and body as best as I could.
The fertilisation process in IVF is quite a complicated one and may involve several hard decisions on your part, which we were not aware of when we started the treatment. When your eggs are retrieved and fertilised with Dave’s sample, they make an embryo, which is then cultivated in the lab before being implanted back into your womb. Depending on how many embryos you have, normally only one will be implanted back. You can, however, request two to go back in although you are generally advised against this since the chances of multiple births then increases.
When you suffer from infertility, having twins or triplets is very appealing; you’re effectively saving yourself going back potentially a second and third time for IVF and just getting it all over with in one. However, multiple pregnancies and subsequent births are almost twice as risky for people who have undergone IVF as they are for people who have conceived naturally, and the risks for natural births are already pretty high, hence the recommendation that one embryo is enough. Of course there are exceptions, i.e. age, quality of embryos, previous miscarriages etc, and of course it is your treatment so you ultimately have the final say, however the specialists advise you based on their knowledge and previous experience therefore we have found you’re always best to heed their advice. To a point.
You will either have a 3-day transfer or a 5-day transfer, depending on the quality of your embryos and how far along they are progressing. You are told that the ideal situation is to have a 5-day transfer. At day 5 the embryos have become what is called blastocysts, which are essentially embryos that are a lot further developed and have actually started to split their cells. This means that when implanted, they have the potential to attach to your womb easier and therefore the chances of becoming pregnant are higher with a blastocyst embryo than with a day 3 embryo.
However, not all embryos make it to day 5 and Dave and I were told that we might have to make a decision whether to continue cultivating our embryos to day 5 or to implant at day 3. This of course would be based on the premise that all 6 were still living. Embryos are extremely delicate and can unfortunately die at any time. Of course in an ideal world everyone would have a Day-5 blastocyst embryo, however, the risk is that if you ask for your embryos to continue to day-5, they might all die before they reach that day. And then you’re left with nothing to implant. For us, the whole point of the IVF was to get to the implantation stage then let my body take over and hopefully make a little baby for us. The idea that we might not have any embryos to implant at all was extremely scary so whilst we were prepared to take the embryologists advice as much as we could, we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
As it was, the embryologist phoned on Day 3 and told us one of the embryos was far outshining the others and therefore they would like to implant it that day. We were delighted that we did not have that tough decision to make and off we went for our transfer.
The procedure itself was pretty easy. In fact the worst thing about it was that the process is carried out using ultrasound guidance, therefore I had to go in with a full bladder. And the nurse (who is in fact our favourite nurse) kept pressing the ultrasound scanner down on my belly so hard that I really thought I was going to pee everywhere. I was silently cursing her so hard under my breath and could have kissed the doctor when he told her not to press down so hard! I was so concerned with keeping myself in check where that was concerned, that I didn’t even notice what the doctor was doing down the other end. In fact, all they do is insert a very thin catheter up into your womb and when they are in position the embryologist comes with the embryo and they push it through the catheter into the womb.
I may have mentioned this before but I suffer from pretty bad travel and motion sickness and unfortunately it always rears its ugly head whenever I have to look at the monitor at the clinic. I think it’s because it’s my body it’s happening to; I can feel them moving about inside me and then to look at it moving also on the monitor just makes me come over all queasy. So unfortunately I haven’t been able to look at the monitor for any of our visits and Dave has had to narrate to me what’s going on. Despite this however, I know that if we one day have a baby on the screen for me to look at, sickness or no sickness I’ll be looking at that monitor!
I was quite disappointed however to miss the embryo dropping into place. The doctor told Dave to keep his eye on the screen and wait for a little flash of light. He counted to 3 and then Dave said it was like a little shooting star falling down into my womb. I think at that point we both felt quite emotional. I felt like our little baby had just been delivered and now we got to take it home, nurture it, care for it and keep it warm and cosy. We couldn’t wait.
Unfortunately before we left we still had a tough decision to make. Our other 5 embryos were still living and the embryologist said that she would like to keep cultivating them in the lab until day 5 to see if we could get some blastocysts. Dave and I had opted into the freezing scheme, which meant that if we had any embryos to spare, they would be frozen and we could use them if our first IVF failed, or at any time in the future if we wanted to have a second child. The idea of having these frozen embryos as a back-up was really comforting as if our first IVF cycle didn’t work, we could just go straight to embryo transfer using one of our frozen ones. We wouldn’t have to endure weeks and weeks of the down regulators, the hormone injections, the egg retrieval etc. It would actually really cushion the blow of a possible negative pregnancy result if we knew we had a back up plan.
We questioned the embryologist somewhat over our concerns about them potentially dying before day 5 and she said although she couldn’t guarantee they would survive, she was “confident” at least one or two would make it. We decided to take her word for it and went ahead and consented to them continuing their cultivation.
You can then imagine our utter despair and devastation when the embryologist phoned on Day 5 to tell us that none of the embryos had made it and they had all died. We couldn’t quite take it in and to be honest even now we still feel shocked that this happened. We always knew there was a risk this would happen but her “confidence” had made us believe that we would at least get one to freeze. We felt completely out on a limb with nowhere to go and I felt like marching down to the clinic and punching the stupid embryologist in the face. All our eggs were literally now in one basket. This little embaby inside me was our only chance. And so we began the torturous 2-week wait.