So what is it really like going through IVF? Here’s my story.
In vitro fertilization. IVF. Those three letters carried so much weight the first time I uttered them to my husband. After all, it was the big one, the last treatment we were willing to try before abandoning our path for biological children. I knew IVF was a big deal, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the toll it took on our lives in so many forms.
The Physical Toll
“IVF, that’s the one with all the shots, right?” A friend asked me this after I confided our struggles. Viral photos of ultrasound pictures surrounded by syringes filled my mind as I confirmed that yes, IVF would be a lot of shots. I had given myself trigger shots as part of IUI, so I thought it would be like that, just on a daily basis. I was so wrong.
I was giving myself several shots a day, drawing up syringes in my kitchen, and dialing up hormones to stab into my stomach. My husband doesn’t do well with needles, so a wonderful friend and neighbor came over every night after my transfer to give me progesterone shots in my backside (talk about a good neighbor!). I was waking up early in the morning for transvaginal ultrasounds and blood draws several times a week as the doctor monitored my follicle growth and hormone levels.
The retrieval and transfer themselves were physically challenging. I experienced some abdominal pain after the retrieval. I expected the transfer to be similar to IUI, but I found it much more painful given how full my bladder was for the transfer.
The bloating I experienced was minimal, but many other women experience significant bloating, even enough to make them look several months pregnant. I gained weight throughout our two cycles that even years later was difficult to shed. The internet is filled with women on message boards claiming to have gained weight from IVF, but I’m pretty sure stress and stress eating played a role in my weight gain.
The Financial Toll
We were incredibly fortunate that my husband’s insurance covered IVF up to a certain amount with a prescription coverage cap. We were able to have two fresh cycles covered completely, but we exceeded the prescription coverage and paid about $5,000 out of pocket for medicine. This was a significant amount of money for us, and reaching the lifetime cap on our IVF coverage was one of the reasons we did not pursue a third round.
Many couples save, borrow, and crowd fund their IVF funds, but we could not pursue those options while knowing we would be spending thousands of dollars on a chance when two rounds had given us a total of six eggs (yes, only six in two rounds) and one miscarriage. The financial requirements were the most humiliating and frustrating to me. Why did some have to spend thousands on a chance to get pregnant when it seemed everyone around us was getting pregnant in their first month or two of trying? Which brings us to …
The Spiritual Toll
My husband and I were married in a Catholic Church, though neither of us considered ourselves fairly devout. We were what my grandfather called “Chreasters” –we went to church on Christmas and Easter, if even that. Infertility took a wrecking ball to that faith. We were well aware of the church’s position on assisted reproductive technology, but we decided to pursue it anyway. I wish I could say that we held fast to our faith and believed God would lead us through the treatments, but I could not understand why God would allow us to have this incredible science if we weren’t supposed to use it.
My own faith and trust in God has moved from religious teachings to an agnostic approach. I found my strength was not in praying to God but in praying to my departed loved ones to guide us through fertility treatments and eventually adoption. I truly believe they guided us and walked alongside us.
The Emotional Toll
IVF felt like we were finally admitting that there was a problem, a real one, when it came to getting pregnant. Even though we’d already been riding the roller coaster of trying to conceive for almost two years with tracking temperatures, checking mucus, and waiting two weeks, IVF magnified the anxiety and fears I had of never being a mother. Because it seemed like such a big deal, every shot became The Most Important Thing I’m Doing Today. Every ultrasound and blood draw was a feat in holding my breath. Every update from the nurse caused me to transform into a court stenographer. It felt like if I didn’t let IVF consume my life, I didn’t deserve to have it succeed.
But it didn’t matter. Our first round failed, and our second round was successful, but I miscarried two weeks later. We walked away from IVF completely shattered, feeling like we’d never be parents. Our story has a happy ending, a bit different from others we know who had success with IVF, but we know how lucky all of us are to be parents. And that’s the emotional toll I still carry. I know how easily it could have gone the other way, how easily I could still be childless. My grateful, humbled heart continues to carry that every day.