As of right now, I am 25 weeks pregnant. It’s a big milestone, as that means that if I were to go into labor, my baby would have a chance of survival. I cannot express how happy I am to FINALLY be in this position. Pregnancy is something I thought I would never get to experience, and to be able to do so is a massive blessing. It wasn’t easy, though. After 10 years of trying with no success, my husband and I had to but the “In Vitro” bullet. Over the past decade, we had tried everything from hormones like Clomid (AKA the Devil Drug), Femara, to IUI (Artificial Insemination) to just relaxing and going on vacation. Absolutely nothing worked. At this point, heading into my late 30’s, the “are you two EVER going to have kids?” questions were really becoming commonplace, and to be honest, my friends and family constantly saying “relax, it’ll happen” was really having the opposite effect. Something had to be done. After what seemed like my 769th doctor’s appointment, and my latest AMH level being at .9, my third (yes, third) fertility doctor told me that IVF would be my only chance of getting pregnant.
(Here’s a great article explaining AMH levels: https://www.letsgetchecked.com/articles/amh-levels-explained/?imp=cpc&imp=cpc&gclid=CjwKCAjwlYCHBhAQEiwA4K21mwbY0npHDpFGW81Fq8EO2TOU4RTl5cjIHOE-7wRpUTdxh3rOko2QqRoC7_kQAvD_BwE My levels are below normal for my age, thanks to Stage 4 Endometriosis cooking my eggs over the past 15 years.
I’m going to be honest, I really, REALLY didn’t want to do IVF. At all. It’s crazy expensive, invasive, there’s a TON of needles and medicines and hormones involved…and it’s NOT GUARANTEED TO WORK. It’s like 30-50% for a woman under 35, and over 35? Ha. It’s like 25% and lower. Not the kind of odds I like to bet $20,000 on. My husband, bless him, was ALL for it. For weeks I cried, pouted, questioned if we really wanted to have a family or not… it was a tough time for me. I even had my one and only panic attack while trying to decide what to do. In the end, I realized that I had to do it, not just for me, but for my husband and our family. At least I could say I tried, and years from now I wouldn’t regret not giving it my all. So, we decided to go for it, and looking back, the only thing I wish (besides it being cheaper) is that I had more information going into it. I am definitely a “Doctor Google” kind of woman, and I found plenty of fertility blogs, but nothing to fully prepare me for what to expect. And another thing, I didn’t really know anyone aside from a couple of acquaintances who had gone through it, so there wasn’t many people who I could ask questions to, or who I could relate to. So I’m going to break this down for any woman who is thinking about doing IVF. I wish I had this info a couple of years ago!
First of all, IVF is stupid expensive, and most insurances don’t cover it. My husband is Active Duty Army and Tricare covers a lot- but not IVF. However, if my husband wanted to become a woman, Tricare would cover that. But becoming a father? Yeah, you gonna have to pay out of pocket for that, son. (Hey, policy change, anyone? Hello!) So, for us to do one round of IVF, we had to pay $13,750 plus medicine, which was in total, another $5,000. Some Army wives told me they managed to get their meds covered, but my doctor was not having it. Something about insurance fraud? I don’t know. So, basically, $19,000 per round, and the first embryo transfer is free. After that, it’s on average $2,500 to transfer each additional embryo, granted you are lucky enough to have more than one to transfer. If not, you get to start ALL over again. Now, there are companies that do IVF loans, but they have high interest rates, and usually go only 24-36 months, so you’re looking at another mortgage in payments. If you are able to, a personal loan is a good way to go, and you can get better terms. Definitely shop around!
I noticed that a lot of celebrities do IVF and act like it’s no big deal. That’s because they can afford to do a zillion rounds and it not affect them. But us regular people? Yeah, it’s expensive AF.
After that sticker shock wears off, it’s time to get into the meds. So, for the $5,000, I got 10 days worth of meds (Gonal F, Menopur, and Lupron) that I got to take for 10 days. You would think for five grand, you’d at least get a buzz. But no. Just daily injections in the stomach and lots of bruising, but that’s it. Oh! And you can’t really do anything fun for those 10 days. No working out, no sex, no travelling (as you have to have ultrasounds every other day to check on your eggs) which would have been great to know in advance. I was told three days before I started the meds that I had to chill out for almost 2 weeks. What happens is, all those expensive meds make you grow a ton of eggs, and it makes your ovaries massive, and then you risk twisting one in something called “ovarian contortion” which could end up meaning you lose your ovary…AND you don’t get your money back. So, you just take lots of meds and grow eggs for 10 days, and not drink. I asked the nurse if I could at least have wine, and she totally bitched me out for even asking. Way to patient shame. I was lucky, though. The meds didn’t make me feel crazy or anything, unlike Clomid, so it wasn’t a bad experience. Just a really boring ten days with no fitness, no horseback riding and no wine. So, just a heads up with all that!
Next step- the egg retrieval! After one of the ultrasounds, the doctor will decide your eggs are ready to be harvested, and you get to take a trigger shot to release them. The next day, they put you under and harvest your eggs. I had fifteen, which was really great for a 37 year-old! I felt like a rockstar, and felt pretty jazzed about life that day. Exepct for the new informaton given to me by the nurse that I had to not work out for another 2 weeks- which I did not listen because at this point, I didn’t give a rip what happened to my ovaries at this point. I got my eggs…I was good. My fifteen eggs got to join up with the sample my husband provided, and the next step was to see if any embryos were made. The next day, the doctor called me and told me that five embryos were made, and that now we had to wait a few says to see if they survived. Usually it’s a 50% attrition rate, so that didn’t really bode well for me. A few days later, only two embryos remained, and it was suggested that we get them sent off for genetic testing, given my age and my endometriosis. My doctor didn’t sound too excited about my chances, and told me that I probably shouldn’t do another round. (You know it’s bad when a doctor turns down another $20,000!) I did appreciate his honesty, but it was devastating to hear that, and I cried for days. Another things they don’t tell you… coming off the Gonal F and Menopur cold turkey can make you kind of a crazy pants for a few days. Your hormones go bananas, and it’s a stressful time to begin with, and it was just a crappy couple of weeks trying to regulate and mentally adjust to everything, It’s totally normal- just something no one had told me about.
Now if you are doing a Fresh Embryo Transfer, you’d get your embryo(s) put back in within a few days and do the “Two Week Wait” to see if you were successful. I did the Frozen Embryo Option, as if more common with my age. So, my two embryos got sent down to Miami to be genetically tested, which is $200 per embryo. It’s totally worth it, as it gives you so much important information- as in our case, only one embryo tested out normal. Our other had a few extra chromosomes and would never have survived the transfer. It turns out, a lot of miscarriages and failed embryo transfers are due to genetic and chromosomal abnormalities, so knowing which embryos are more likely to take is a good edge to have going into a transfer, so you don’t waste time, money, and more emotional torture. We also found out our lone embryo was a boy, and since he was our only embryo, our doctor suggest a “Mock Cycle” in preparation for our transfer to optimize our chances.
What’s a Mock Cycle? More meds. So, basically, you pretend like you’re going to have an embryo transfer, and you get more medicine for a week or so, and then you get an endometrial biopsy to see how your uterine lining is responding. Once they look at the biopsy, the doctor will know the optimum day to do the transfer. So, basically, just optimizing the chances for a successful transfer. And yeah, that’s an extra $600. So, the meds (Progesterone) for the Mock Cycle are cheaper…like a couple hundred bucks as opposed to thousands, and you get them in your backside by way of a 1.5 inch needle. You also get Synera patches to numb the area prior to getting the shot, plus I got to put blue estrogen pills up my lady bits 3 times a day, which turned my underwear blue. I absolutely panicked the first time I saw it, and trust me, it’s a thing. Get used to it. As for the biopsy, I was told it was painless, and that’s an absolute lie. I was NOT prepared for that torture device (having endo, I think it hurt more than it should) and I screamed bloody murder and almost kicked the nurse in the head. So, take something beforehand, just in case. It took about thirty minutes to calm down, and I was sent on my merry way. The doctor then scheduled my real embryo transfer for February 1st, 2021, about 6 months after the process started. (Covid 19 and holidays threw a monkey wrench in our timing plans)
Ok, so the transfer… they take a catheter and send the embryo up into your uterus. You are supposed to do it on a full bladder, and that was kind of hellish, but you just do what your told because you really don’t want to mess things up! There’s a lot at stake. You actually get to see it happen on the ultrasound, and there is a literal flash of light when the embryo is released. It’s really the coolest thing. The you go home and wait ten days… which was the longest 10 days ever, and you can’t work out and you can’t drink! By the way, alcohol free wine is absolute crap. If anyone wants to make a booze-free wine that tastes halfway decent, I would happily invest. Anyhow, it was a long 10 days, but so worth it after that phone call came saying that the blood test was positive. I literally collapsed to the floor in tears- good tears! After ALL that, it actually worked. After you test positive, you go again in a few days for another blood test, and then six weeks later, you get released to your OB/GYN. Oh, and you get to have those giant progesterone butt shots and estrogen pills in the lady bits for eight to ten weeks- until your body starts making progesterone on it’s own. It’s just a precaution, and your butt will look like moldy bread with all the bruising. It’s normal. And apparently so is more cellulite due to the extra estrogen and progesterone. It’s all totally normal, but I admit I was a bit freaked out at first. It happened overnight, I swear! It’s not a big deal, but just another thing to be aware of.
Looking back, I honestly didn’t think it would work… but it did. And knowing what I know now, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. But I do think that fertility doctors should prepare their patients more for what is to come. At least mine could have! That was one of the hardest parts for me- that, and not having anyone to really talk to about it with. I have amazing and supportive family and friends, but I had no one close to me who knew what I was going through, and it did get kind of lonely sometimes. But overall, it’s totally worth it. It’s a gamble, but isn’t everything else in life?
Anyhow, I hope this helps prepare someone for the crazy, emotional, needle-filled journey that is IVF.
Roll the dice, and be prepared. Good luck!!!