Monday, August 13, 2012

Needles (and what's inside them)

I occasionally write about my struggle with infertility. It's good for me, and maybe good for some of you out there, too. Feel free to skip if you're not interested. If you are, you can read more from me here and find resources to help you or your loved ones here.

"How bad are the needles?"

That's what everyone wants to know about my infertility injections. How large they are, how painful they are, how weird it is to stab yourself as if it's no big deal.

Answer: it's pretty weird.

The lovely Mia Wallace demonstrating a fair but frowned-upon reaction to a syringe

The thing is, though - you get used to it. Like anything else.

For my first IUI, I couldn't get over the hilarity of the presentation. Imagine this: a large cooler arrives at your house filled with high-tech ice packs and boxes of syringe "pens." Sketchiness meets high-tech, right on your doorstop. Accoutrements include dozens of alcohol wipes and just what you've always dreamed of owning: your very own Sharps container. This is going to be fun!

The syringe pens go a long way in making this is as easy as possible. Old-school versions of this protocol included a lot more know-how on the part of the patient. But in 2012, I simply dial up my prescribed dose, grab a handful of tummy (not that I have a handful), and go for it.

Inserting the needle never hurts as much as you think it will. Sometimes there's a tiny drop of blood, but not often. Bruises are common, but as I said, you get used to them. If the worst part of this treatment were the actual injections, I'd be a happy girl. Here's what's not the worst part: not the needles, not the near-daily trips to the infertility clinic for "transvaginal" ultrasounds (if those sound familiar you're probably recalling these right-wing idiots), not the insemination itself, and not even the waiting for the positive or negative pregnancy test. The worst part (for me) is what's inside those needles, and how it makes me feel. That's what makes me dread the next injection. The prick and the ensuing bruise are manageable, but the 24-hour rollercoaster each one prompts inside my body is no joke.

Looking at my needle one night, full of dread

Here's the basic schedule: Every night for a week or so, I inject what in (very) layman's terms are basically steroids for my ovaries. This is why I have to have such frequent ultrasounds; the doctors are closely monitoring follicle growth and how the dosage is impacting number and size. Too many follices that are too large, and it's dangerous for me; too few and too small, and they'll increase my dosage. They're looking for way more and way bigger follicles than most of you reading this have in a regular cycle, but not so many that I'm in the hospital or auditioning for a reprisal of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight."

Looking back at my first IUI in January, I can now tell it was going to be a bust because I didn't hurt enough. My dosage was really low; the docs needed a baseline to see how my ovaries would react to the medication. I felt a little tired and crampy, but nothing terrible. By the time my dosage was doubled for my next two IUIs, I'd be flat on my back as much as possible. I become a swollen, aching, sore-to-the-touch patient with zero energy and zero clothes that fit. I try to keep a bra on at all times, because taking it off hurts so badly that it's not worth sleeping like a normal person. The fatigue is so strong I can barely keep my head up after 4 p.m. Concerts, dinners out, meetups with friends, all cancelled. I can barely get to work on the worst days. My sister asked me for a physical equivalent of the pain, and I told her it was like a heated metal corset being slowly cranked tighter... and tighter... and tighter... for a week.

Being weightless in a cold swimming pool over the 4th of July was the best feeling I'd had on the meds since January. I read nearly an entire novel floating in that pool. The minute I stepped out, though, the weight of my own body on itself was crushing. Also crushing: having to grimace and recover when your nephew jumps onto you for a hug; looking pregnant while trying desperately to be pregnant only not being pregnant; overhearing breastfeeding discussions and knowing that, no offense ladies, my boobs hurt about 100 times worse than yours do, only I'm not allowed to talk about them. (Thank goodness for forgiving dresses.) 

But there is an end to it. The "steroid" regimen is never more than ten days. When the doctors think the time is right, I take the "trigger shot" that also arrived in my high-tech yet sketchy cooler to force ovulation in 24-48 hours. The day after the shot, we do the insemination. And then we wait. And my body ever so slowly tries to recover.


  1. I did the same regimen and wish I would've thought of the pool! I'm not going to offer advice or suggestions just going to say you're brave and strong and fabulous. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey.

  2. I'm thinking of you and your husband- I hope this all turns out. I'm sorry you have to go through that, it sounds absolutely exhausting.

    Thank you for sharing your journey- I have a lot of 'facebook' friends that are having fertility issues, it's nice to have a little perspective on what they may be going through, makes me a more empathetic person.

  3. It's amazing how fast you can get used to needles - just a quick prick. But the other pain from the drugs sounds like quiet torture.

  4. gah this commenter is messing me up, i keep trying to say "hang in there!"

  5. Ok I figured it out. Hang in there, Maggie-it's sounding like you are going through rough times-the best preparation for being a parent most likely, you'll be far ahead of the rest of us when we were first parents!

  6. I hate that this is so hard on you. Please let me know when you're in need of a pick-me-up (in the form of a morning coffee date, or bivalvey happy hour).

    Also, do tell about that forgiving dress. You're so lovely in it.

  7. oh man, this sounds awful. i've heard that the side effects are terrible but your description makes it seem worse than i imagined! it sounds like you are keeping a good attitude about it, though. hang in there!

  8. Oh, I feel your pain. I did the exact same regime with all the shots and steroids. My body didn't react for months, and then all of a sudden it over-reacted and I got something like 30 follicles on each side! Hyperstimulation. I ended up in the hospital for a week being monitored for bloodclots with the possibility that my ovaries could rupture, making me infertile. It's very scary. Not to mention how awful my body felt and how miserable I was emotionally. The whole process sucks. I'm so sorry you are having to do this. I'm very proud of you though, because it is worth it, even though it's hard, and it's great that you can share your journey. Feeling like I was "alone" through it was really difficult. You're AMAZING! Hang in there love.

  9. So sorry to hear about the pain, but appreciating your bravery and honesty about the whole process. Thinking and sending lots of positive energy!


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