Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strike one and two

It's hard to describe the utter despair when IVF doesn't work. There's the hollow feeling you're already used to, the one that's come at the end of every single month... for years. That hollow feeling you're already used to came even after the medications and interventions and procedures designed to prevent it. And it came again, and again, and again. Relentless emptiness, with each IUI, with each "maybe it'll work naturally after all" last hope. That's the feeling that leads you to try IVF in the first place, despite the extreme cost and the extreme toll on your body. So when you finally jump into IVF and at the end of the cycle - after a month of down-cycling, after weeks of stimulation and monitoring, after egg retrieval, and after embryo transfer - you're still not pregnant? It feels like everything you know - the floor of your universe - has just crumbled beneath you.

The floor of our universe crumbled twice.

Our first IVF cycle was in September. We hadn't planned on doing it then, actually, but our original doctor moved and our new doctor thought we should jump in. T gets a quarterly bonus that was coming that week, which helped us piece together the funding and make the unexpected - almost impulsive, really - decision to go for it. We were 100% out of pocket for IVF - zero insurance coverage, like a large portion of IVF patients. Because of that, timing the cycles are a financial decision as much as a health or scheduling decision. You've seen what all the meds look like for an IVF cycle, which represent one portion of the cost. The others are fees for ongoing monitoring, the retrieval procedure (which involves anesthesia), time in the lab while the eggs become embryos, the ultimate transfer back inside the body, and then the freezing of any leftover embryos. Understatement of the year: these costs add up quickly. The cycle itself was manageable - although learning to mix the shots was new (the fancy - and easy - injectable pens I'd always had with IUIs are more expensive than mixing the medications yourself, and since we were paying out of pocket I had little choice this time but to beef up my chemistry skills). I had dear friends visit and a big work event to plan while I was stimming, but I managed. By retrieval day, I was ready - I could barely walk I was so bloated from the medications and engorged ovaries. I was knocked out for the retrieval, in which a needle punctures the ovaries and sucks out the fluid containing all the eggs you've harvested. When I woke up I realized I was telling the nurse about our new puppy Eleanor. They write how many eggs they retrieved on your hand for you, so you can see it when you wake up (since you likely won't remember when they tell you). Here was my hand that day:

Of the nine eggs they retrieved, five stopped progressing over the next three days and four were deemed usable (results that are about average, by the way). By transfer day - which was also T's birthday - we transferred two embryos and had two more to freeze. We were happy with the results. I had to work a large outdoor event the entire next day (dubious decision, even though I had my doctor's permission). I was to go back in ten days for a blood test, but we started testing at home after about a week. Because IVF was new for us, I didn't know what my symptoms might mean. Just like many of you might have experienced, when a possible pregnancy symptom could also just be your period starting, IVF symptoms are an exaggerated version of "normal" events. You're also still on medications that make you feel tender/swollen/ouchy, so it's really impossible to know anything based on symptoms alone, and you can truly drive yourself crazy trying to interpret them. We got a hint of a positive one day in those ten days, but it was gone the next. Blood test: decidedly negative. Doctor's orders: take a month off to rest my body and decide what we want to do.

By November, we knew we were ready to use our frozen embryos. A frozen cycle is much easier physically than a fresh cycle, for the simple reason that you don't need to stimulate the production of eggs. It's a lot cheaper for that reason, too (finally!). My body would be rested and ready for the "frosties," we told ourselves... maybe the lower stress from a rested, umstimulated body would do the trick. We were pretty peppy throughout the entire cycle, actually - busy enough not to be counting down the days, which helped a lot. Our transfer was in mid-December, and our spirits remained sky-high. It was Christmas, we were trying something new, my body felt great on only one medication, and everything seemed rosy. I had tons of symptoms - symptoms that again could be either a period coming or a medication side effect, but they were something, and I felt different than I had during our fresh IVF cycle. We waited and celebrated the holidays with family. Despite the daily negative home tests, we  were still sure this was it. The day before Christmas Eve, though, my temperature plummeted, and I knew we were done. That realization was twice as hard as September's... probably the lowest point in our entire process. When I went in to the clinic on Christmas Eve morning, I knew it was a lost cause. Another negative blood test. Merry Christmas to us... I was emotionally numb for weeks.

Our drive-by of the Washington Monument on Christmas Eve morning, en route for another negative blood test. (By the way, all my scenic National Mall Instagrams over the last year, always early in the morning? Always a doctor's appointment.)

I came down with an awful cold/flu between Christmas and New Year's. Maybe I was so heartsick, my body decided it would join in, too. We'd had enough. 2012 was our hardest year together or apart... just nothing we wanted to repeat again. We rang in the New Year on the couch watching a movie, holding on to each other as if we were all we had. On New Year's Day, we did every good luck superstition we could think of. 2013 just had to be better, we kept telling ourselves... it had to.

Do I sound mechanical writing this now, a little numb? If so, it doesn't surprise me. I think our only way to survive was to shut down some of it. I wish now I had written my way through it, but I also know that was more than I was capable of at the time. Getting through each day, having a career, having the semblance of a social life (even it was painful to go through the motions)... after all of that, I didn't have anything left at the end of the day. Thinking back now, I may be forgetting just how raw everything was. The one thing I do know, though - more important than our eventual good news, actually - is that we survived. But I don't wish it on anyone.


  1. Knowing the eventual happy ending doesn't make this any easier to read. I can't imagine how tough it was to go through. Your strength in facing this is amazing. I'm so glad 2013 has been a better year.

  2. Thank you for sharing all of this. I'm sure it was hard to write and relive, but I'm so glad you told your story. I completely understand waiting to paint a complete picture of what you went through to get that little baby instead of just glossing over the tough and dirty parts. After going through something like this, it's so hard to be completely carefree about it. You struggled, you earned that baby! You should be so proud of yourself and your body for getting to this point. It's amazing, isn't it? I know it's not something you can ever believe while you're in the midst of it, but it all seems to work out like it should. Once you're holding that baby in your arms you will know exactly why you had to go through it all and that you were meant to wait for that baby. Oh, hindsight. I'm so over-the-moon happy for you guys.

  3. Oh, my heart breaks thinking about that failed IVF and FET. Your little one was fought for so hard. I think it's tough to know when to write through the hard things and when to let emotions settle some. I, for one, am so glad you chose to share part of your struggle with the world. You give me hope, so thank you.

  4. I found you through your champagne wednesday crew and have been reading your blog off and on ever since. I left DC around the time you arrived. We had a similar journey to our son, but I wasn't brave enough to share. Thank you for doing what I couldn't.

  5. Maggie, this is so good. And if it is cathartic for you to write, it's so helpful for others to know that there can be a happy ending (beginning) at the end of it all. Much love to you three.

  6. This is breaking my heart - but I'm so glad you're sharing. Sending you love and hugs through the internet. It's like during these months I could kinda feel that you were going through stuff even though you weren't talking about it.

    I'm so glad there is a happy ending.


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