I had always grown up thinking that my life would progress in the natural way: flirting, dating, marriage, kids. There was no reason to believe any different until I got to be 40 and took stock: I wasn’t in a relationship and was just making enough to get my first solo apartment in Watertown. Three days after I had moved in, someone pinged me from eHarmony, a site I had recently joined. I had never had extraordinary luck with online dating and thought that it was a sign that I was supposed to meet someone through more traditional methods (this excludes set ups by my parents). Nevertheless, we connected and after he successfully crawled through deep, emotional trenches left by years of bad dating, I let him into my heart and my life (thank god for therapy). It wasn’t until we had gotten engaged over a year later that I went head-to-head with a concept I had only considered in theory: In Vitro Fertilization.
I’d been raised to use medications only when necessary so the thought of chemically tinkering with the plumbing was more than a little unnerving. But, after several months of trying to get pregnant the natural way, I found myself at Boston IVF Waltham getting the rundown on the process with my husband. This began with the statistics. The only one I heard with great clarity was that even if I went through the entire process, there was only a 20% chance of getting pregnant given my age. 20%. And it would drop again once I turned 43…which was less than a year away. I had always thought that IVF would be a safety net in terms of getting pregnant. I just didn’t realize how dinky the net was going to be by the time I would consider using it. But, I sat, listened, and, after conferring with my husband, decided to take my chances given the circumstances and go down the rabbit hole.
Clomid Challenge – This is the first test I encountered which gauges how much of an egg reserve is present as well as the quality of the eggs. FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) levels are measured at certain times during your cycle after the Clomid is taken. High FSH levels would show that the body has a poor reserve/quality of eggs and would not respond positively to IVF treatment. The rub: even if a person had normal FSH levels, it would not guarantee that IVF would work. In my case, I had a decent reserve so they moved me on to the next level.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) – As it was happening, I thought of two people going to a high school dance: nervous but hoping to discover one another. Ovulation hormones are used to stimulate the ovaries and blood testing is frequently done to track when the ideal time would be to trigger ovulation. Once the trigger has been injected, it’s time to get the sperm prepared before it is manually placed in the uterus by the doctor for the party. Now the blood testing being done is to see if there’s been a love connection.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) – Getting here meant that the party didn’t go so well for my guests. So, again with the ovulation hormones, the blood testing, and the trigger. And, as with IUI, my husband had to provide some swimmers. The difference with IVF is that I was knocked out so that they could harvest my eggs and add the swimmers manually in a petri dish – almost like an arranged marriage. From that point, we waited to see who the best couples were before placing the top 1-3 back in my uterus for the ultimate game of “Survivor.”
I may be glib about the process, but it’s no walk in the park. Sticking yourself with a needle every night at the same time for almost two weeks (during one round) can call for some serious gymnastics depending on where you are. I happened to be in the bathroom of a Peter Pan bus traveling to UPenn when I administered one of my first shots (luckily, times have changed so that I didn’t have to administer that shot in my caboose). Having to get blood drawn every few days was no party either, especially since I have small, hard to find veins. Tip: always drink a ton of water before you go to get blood drawn. It helps, it really helps.
The road to understanding my body’s responsiveness to the hormones was as fascinating as it was frustrating. It took three rounds of IVF and a bout of ovarian hyperstimulation to determine what level of drugs yielded the best results. At one point, I produced two dozen eggs and none of them made it to the dance. My jaw was still on the floor as I was told that there was less energy to distribute to that many eggs so it was actually better to have fewer eggs. So I began to take CoQ10 (a naturally produced energy that decreases as we age) and heeded the recommendation to back off on working out until I was only doing 30 minutes of moderate walking a day. As someone who was used to being pretty active and needed an outlet to blow off steam, this was tough.
[to be continued – Next Stop: The Mind]