Did you know that 1 in 8 couples suffers from infertility? And many more struggle to add to their family without the official diagnosis. While infertility will always be unfair and frustrating it absolutely should not be isolating. The more it is discussed and stories are shared the better we can all come together to support those battling infertility – whether it be you, your best friend, sister, a coworker or daughter.
An Inside Look: Facing Infertility with IVF
Courtney Ruge @andthencomesbaby
Our story starts out like so many others—just a young couple with a simple dream to one day be parents. We were married a year before we began the (unknowingly long) journey to starting our family. We tried on our own for months to no avail and finally decided to take the next step with a fertility specialist. “There are few options,” he said. So, we started with the easiest one—intrauterine insemination (IUI). “You get three chances,” he said. We used them all, plus one. Four attempts later, our hopes and dreams of being parents dangled by a thread. “Would this ever actually work?” I thought to myself. “What if I never become a mom?” A few weeks after our last attempt of IUI, we met with our doctor. And that’s when he said it. Those three little letters. IVF. Chills ran through my body as tears filled my eyes. How could I ever do this?
Preparing for our Cycle
It took awhile for reality to sink in—for me to accept that our path to parenthood would be filled with strict injection schedules, multiple doctor visits and very, very little sex. But once I became acclimated with our new “normal”, it wasn’t so bad. The cycle started with 27 days on birth control—to calm and reset my reproductive system—and two rounds of antibiotics to prevent infection prior to retrieval and embryo transfer. And, I hate to admit it, but this was the worst part for me. The antibiotics were awful and so hard on my body. And I just mentally couldn’t get over the fact that I was taking birth control to prevent pregnancy—wasn’t that the idea here?!
I survived the dreaded BCP and antibiotic prep and made it to stimulation phase. In short, my body pretty much became an egg factory. My husband would inject me with hormones every 12 hours for 10 days in an effort to produce numerous follicles in my ovaries. The more follicles, the more eggs…the more eggs, the greater chance you have at success. (Some women experience severe cramping and bloating, but I never did. Sure, I didn’t always feel like myself but the hormones weren’t nearly as hard on my body as I was expecting. Oh and the needles, THEY ARE SO TINY IT IS RIDICULOUS. You can barely feel them, I promise.) On the last day of stimulation, my nurse counted about 10-12 follicles and said we were measuring just perfectly. That night I was to take the trigger shot and two days later I would come in for the egg retrieval procedure.
I will NEVER forget this day. Honestly, it felt like Christmas morning. I woke up at 5:15 a.m. and practically jumped out of bed and danced into the shower. We arrived at the clinic before the sun came up—I requested the first procedure, if possible, and got it. (Apparently no one else was begging for their ovaries to be punctured over and over again with a small, needle-like vacuum to extract their potential future children.) After strict instruction from the nurse, I stripped down and changed into my surgery gown, booties and hair cap and was quickly hooked up to an IV and given a nice cocktail of midazolam and opioids for conscious sedation during the procedure. I was lucid long enough to take a quick pic for our Instagram blog, but that’s about it.
About an hour after the procedure, the doctor came into my recovery room and said he was able to extract seven follicles. In my foggy state, I thought, that’s it? Most women my age have 15-20, if not more. I didn’t have the energy at the time to think more about this, but to me, the number seemed low.
The next day the nurse called with an update. Five of the seven follicles had mature eggs in them. (Me: THAT’S IT?) Then she said, of those five, four fertilized. (Me again: WHAT. ONLY FOUR.) She said that we had to wait five days to see how many would make it to a blastocyst (an embryo with approximately 150 cells). For now, my transfer was scheduled for Tuesday at 11:00, with arrival at 10:45. She said that if there weren’t any embryos left to transfer they would call me and the cycle would be canceled. (Me: WHAT. YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS.)
The next five days were probably the longest of my life. I spent the majority of my waking hours on Google trying to figure out how many fertilized embryos typically make it to the blastocyst stage. I searched forum after forum for a little hope—but no luck. Everything I read stated that approximately 20% of embryos make it that far. Now, I’ve never been good at math, but I knew the numbers didn’t add up. 20% of four is less than one. I was terrified. What if we went through all of this for nothing?
They give you Valium to take one hour before your procedure, but I’m pretty sure my husband wishes they had given us a few extra for the hours before that. I was ball of stress from the second I woke up. I was so scared the nurse would call and give us bad news. We just didn’t have enough embryos, I thought. There’s no way. But, the morning crept on and my phone stayed silent. At 10:30 we left the house and headed to the clinic.
We arrived and were escorted back to the procedure area. Again, the nurse instructed me to suit up in a surgery gown, booties and cap, but this time my husband got to do it too. We headed back to the same procedure room as before and were greeted with smiling faces. The nurses handed me a photo from the lab tech—two embryos made it to day five. My heart literally melted.
A few minutes later the doctor came in and took a look at the photo. “They aren’t quite blastocysts yet, but we’ll transfer them both anyways.” (Me: PANIC. What do you mean they aren’t ready yet?) He went on to explain that one embryo had over 100 cells and the other embryo was lagging and had about 50 cells. He said the bigger embryo probably would’ve made it to a blastocyst by the afternoon, so it was fine. He said the other one probably wouldn’t make it unless it was in the perfect environment (my uterus) and it wouldn’t survive a freeze, so we might as well transfer that one, too.
So, in they went—my little embabies—and after 30 minutes of rest, we were instructed to head home and lounge for the day. No running. No jumping. No sex.
Two-Week Wait (TWW)
I am no stranger to the two-week wait. But this one was different. I was emotionally drained. I was tired. And I was beyond anxious. I felt normal for the first couple of days. No cramping, just plain ol’ me—until Saturday. Four days after the transfer I started to get cramps. You know, the ones you get before your period. And I panicked. I cried. A lot. I am not proud of this, but I was a wreck. I told my husband, “I’m 30 years old and I’ve been getting my period for more than half my life. I know what it feels like, babe. This is it. It didn’t work.” Doom and gloom clouded my mind. Yet, a few days passed and my period still didn’t come. The cramps subsided a bit but I still had that sinking feeling that it was right around the corner.
Eight days after the transfer I caved and took a home pregnancy test. Most clinics will tell you NOT to test at home and if you do, wait until 10 days after the transfer. But I couldn’t take it anymore. As soon as I started the test, my stomach dropped and I instantly wanted to stop. I didn’t want to know anymore. I was scared out of my mind. I sat in the bathroom in complete terror as I watched the test strip. The longer I sat there, the more I wanted to take it all back. Why did I test today? It’s way too early. A minute or two passed and there was only one pink line. I decide to leave the bathroom and get some coffee for my husband. My heart was still racing.
I took the coffee to the bedroom and watched my husband snooze soundly. How would I tell him that the test was negative? I sat on the foot of the bed and tugged at his leg. “I have your coffee, babe.” He rolled over, eyes closed. “Well, what is it?” he said, still half asleep. I walked down the hall to the bathroom and picked up the test.
HOLY. CRAP. There was a second line. I mean, it was faint, but it was there.
I ran down the hall, turned on the light and said, “I think that’s a line! Is that a line? Babe. Is that a second line?”
HCG Blood Tests
You’re not really pregnant until the doctor tells you that you are. So, on Monday, 13 days after embryo transfer, I went to the clinic for blood work. I told my nurse about the positive pregnancy tests we had over the last couple of days. (Four to be exact, because of course I couldn’t just stop at one. I had to see the line get darker, and it did.) She was excited for me and said that the blood work will be the determining factor as to whether or not the pregnancy is viable at this early stage. A few hours later she called back and said my HCG level was 265. I was SO relieved. It’s real. I’m pregnant.
Two days later I had to go in for another HCG test to make sure that my numbers were doubling, as that’s a sign of a good, healthy pregnancy this early in the game. I told the nurse, again, how nervous I was. I explained to her that I just didn’t really “feel” that pregnant. She assured me that not all women have symptoms this early and that I could just be one of the lucky ones. I still didn’t believe her and left the clinic feeling uneasy. But two hours later I received the call. My HCG more than doubled and was at 652.
What It’s Like to Be Pregnant After An IVF Cycle
Scary AF. I can’t speak for all women who make it this far, but for me, it’s like you trained for a marathon for months and you finally made it to race day. But when you get there the route is nothing like you planned for. You don’t know the turns, the hills, the flats or where the next water station will be. But, you lace up, run and enjoy every minute of it anyways.
And as for us, our journey has truly just begun. It’s still so early that I sometimes forget I’m pregnant. I’m definitely more tired than usual, my stomach is queasy in the morning and I feel cramping and bloating from time-to-time, but it’s really not that bad. Sometimes I worry that my lack of symptoms is a sign—a sign that our baby stopped growing and that I will miscarry. But I can’t do that to myself. I have to trust that God has our back—that he has a plan greater than any of ours.
In a few weeks we’ll have our first ultrasound where we will (hopefully!) hear our baby’s heart beat and finally get to lay eyes on the tiny little speck of a miracle that has been growing in my belly. We pray that from here on out God watches over us and keeps our little one safe.
Want more of our journey? Follow us on Instagram >>> @andthencomesbaby
And for anyone who is facing infertility or considering IVF and has questions/needs advice, please feel free to contact me via direct message on Instagram. I know how scary and overwhelming this journey can be… but you don’t have to go it alone.