What does an IVF journey look like from beginning to end? Here, one brave mother shares her decision to do IVF, along with the highs and lows of the process...
Tell me about the decision to try for a baby – did you expect to fall pregnant easily? How did trying for a baby unfold?
In 2019, my soon-to-be husband and I had been together 10 years and knew we wanted to have children and as we were coming up to our wedding, we decided to start to try before the wedding. We were conscious that it likely wouldn’t happen month one (although I secretly hoped it would!) and could take a while to fall pregnant. We were both 32 and knew age wasn’t on our side either, especially if we wanted more than one bub in our lives. We both had siblings growing up and knew we would like our children to experience the same if possible. I honestly thought it would happen within a few months. We were both healthy, exercised regularly and ate generally quite well, so I always thought that was on our side. I had always had regular cycles and there was no reason to think we might struggle otherwise. I had this vision in my head that within a year we would have our bub, I’d be on maternity leave, and we would be living in our family bubble.
Fast forward to around six months, we decided to go to the GP and have a “once over” done. We both had some simple tests done, mainly blood and sperm checks and there was nothing abnormal that was flagging. So, we would keep trying. At this stage, I was getting a little worried. I had started regular acupuncture with a local gem called Jenna at The Fertility Suite in Manly (NSW). We were working on elongating the end of my cycle, as it was a bit shorter than the average. And I was trying to maintain a healthy mind and body. At this stage the dreaded COVID hadn’t hit so that wasn’t a difficult thing to achieve – I had read in numerous places it can take up to a year for normal healthy adults to fall pregnant, so I was willing to keep trying.
Tell me about the decision to explore the idea of IVF…
At about 10 months in, March 2020, we were in the height of lockdown, work had gone off the charts for me due to COVID and mentally it was tough. Since the six month mark, we had had some conversations about what would happen if we couldn’t fall pregnant. I am a slight control freak and like to have a plan in place with milestones to keep me focused. We had discussed that we would have all the testing done by the 12 month mark so that if it hadn’t happened we would be able to proceed with assisted fertility measures or continue to keep trying if we wanted. So, in March we went to see our fertility specialist. She came recommended from our best friends who had also used her and from the first Skype consult she was so clear in her advice and plan. She understood where we were coming from and what was important for us as a couple. We discussed what the options were and decided that checking the patency of my fallopian tubes using a test called a HyCoSy would be a good next step, coupled with a few more blood tests. Once these were all done, we met with her again in May to discuss the results. It is the most frustrating thing to be told that there are no obvious reasons as to why you cannot fall pregnant naturally. Unexplained infertility they call it. We went away to think about everything post the tests and results and met with her again in June.
In the June consult she was amazing, I left that consult feeling so empowered that the decision was in our hands. She fully consented us for starting IVF, organised the paperwork etc and we went away knowing that all we had to do was pick up the phone to a fertility nurse and we would start in the next cycle! Knowing we held all the cards was such a good feeling. I still remember that feeling leaving that consult.
What are some of the most challenging parts of trying for a baby month after month?
The most challenging part is the disappointment. The disappointment you have in your own body that just seems to be failing you month after month. The frustration and sadness you feel when your period arrives is unfathomable. It also puts pressure on a relationship. Everything is on the clock and measured out. Then you have the dreaded pregnancy announcements. The heartache is real. Of course, when they are dear friends you are happy for them but it doesn’t take away the heartache. There were lots of tears!
You started the process when Sydney was in lockdown – how did that impact your IVF journey?
Mostly we were impacted by our consults being online. Part of me was so nervous that if the outbreaks got worse that IVF would be put on pause again and delay our start, that also drove a bit of my impatience towards the end to “just get started”. Luckily my husband could join for all appointments and didn’t miss out on anything. I honestly couldn’t have done it without him and for women all over the world that had to, I feel for them! That support, whether it is a spouse, friend or relative, is crucial.
How would you describe the process of IVF to someone?
For me there was an air of excited apprehension. It was exciting to be just moving on in the process. But it is mentally a tough process. There are a lot of doubts that run through your head and trying to find a way that your life outside of IVF can be less hectic can be a challenge. And that is one of the benefits of IVF during COVID. I actually took a month off work during the cycle. My job was high pressure and I wanted to give my body and mind the full opportunity to have a successful cycle. I was very lucky that my work supported this but also that I was able to because I know that is not an option for everyone. It can also be a logistical nightmare to get access to ultrasounds and bloods on certain days and certain times. Timing is everything in IVF!
There is fun in the experience too, like the one time I tried to let my husband give me an injection and he messed it up and had to jab me twice.
How would you describe the egg extraction procedure?
HILARIOUS! Now I know that is not what you were expecting and I was so nervous going into in but they gave me the green whistle (yes like the one we see on Bondi Rescue) and I had a right jolly old time on it! One of the nurses described it as being “champagne drunk” and that description hit the nail on the head! I was fuzzy and my memory of it is fuzzy but I do remember it all – maybe not everything I said (my husband had to remind me – I became a right chatty catty and I loved everyone!). I felt a little discomfort as the needle was inserted but I was quite intrigued by the whole process – they had a big screen so you could see what was happening. Each follicle is pierced and each egg extracted. Fascinating. The nerves kick in when you learn how many eggs were collected. You spend weeks injecting yourself and having ultrasounds to track the follicle development and it all cumulates on this moment, so it is high stakes.
What about when the embryo was implanted?
I decided that I wanted to have a day five fresh transfer, which meant that the embryo we transferred was not tested. I was in two minds on this decision and my reasoning was well, it is the same odds as if we had gotten pregnant naturally. Now for other women who have had experienced loss I am sure this mindset would be totally different. I had never managed to fall pregnant and therefore didn’t know what my body was and was not capable of. The lead-up to the day five transfer was nerve-wracking. We would get phone calls daily and photos of how our embryos were tracking and they would choose the strongest to transfer. In total we had 6 blastocysts make it to day 5. We froze five and transferred our little “Buddy”. You get a blood test on the day before to check hormone levels and my progesterone was looking like it might be too high for transfer. I was quite anxious about the thought of it not happening as I was so ready for that transfer. Thankfully on the day, all was good and we went ahead.
It was such a quick procedure, quite anti-climactic actually (probably because there was no green whistle antics this time). I got on the bed and they used ultrasound to guide the tube with the embryo in. We got to see it all on the big screen again and it was such a beautiful moment seeing that tiny white spec (blink and you miss it!) being dropped on the ultrasound. And off we went home.
How would you describe the two week wait?
The TTW is seriously mentally challenging – it’s basically a mind f**k. I was off work at that time and so I planned lots of things to keep me busy and keep me from going to buy a pregnancy test and testing too early! All I wanted to do was pee on a stick, so I didn’t have any in the house! I would also recommend that as a strategy – I will admit I did end up testing the night before we were due the blood test. I organised museum days, walks, lunches, dinners, read, cooked and listened to lots of podcasts! In hindsight, perhaps being at work would have been good because the distraction would have been welcomed.
What I would say is that I discovered Facebook groups for people going through IVF and I wish I hadn’t. They drove me a little scatty. That is just my personal experience. I found reading about people testing constantly from day 3 or 4 post-transfer was making the mental challenge harder! There were so many amazing stories on those forums though that I loved to read but during the 2-week wait for me I found it likely wasn’t the best place for me to be.
What about giving birth during COVID – how did it change the experience?
Our little boy arrived two weeks before the current delta outbreak in Sydney. There were restrictions on visitors (1 at any time) but that was it. Again, I count myself lucky because in other areas and other countries this was not the case!
Did you feel supported by friends and family?
Rightly or wrongly, we didn’t tell family. We made this decision for the first round because we are both Irish and all our family live there. We didn’t want to create any unnecessary angst for them so far away. There was enough going on in world with COVID there at that time that we felt this was the better option. However, once we told them we were pregnant, we told them about the IVF.
We did tell a couple of friends here who were great. We needed witnesses for paperwork, plus one of my friends had been through the process so knew how it felt! She was great actually, didn’t project her experience too much on mine because I think it will be slightly different for everyone but was there for me all the same in the right ways! But we kept the circle small at that time.
Why do you think there is such stigma around fertility?
Despite progress in our world, I think there are still expectations of women that you follow the traditional path, get married, buy a house, have babies. That path is no longer linear, it has all sorts of forks and bumps in the road, and I think society in general hasn’t quite caught up to it! If you can’t fall into the linear form, there is societal pressure on you that there is something “wrong” with you and therefore creates a stigma. I honestly believe it is getting better and the age of social media, even with all its evils, can help with this. There are so many wonderful women sharing their stories, practitioners in fertility are more present on social media and we are suddenly discovering that there are more people than we know that have had similar (silent) journeys. So, I do think it will change.
Was there anything that helped you throughout your fertility journey that you’d recommend to other women?
I started acupuncture with a practitioner who specialises in working with people who have fertility issues. I worked with her on my vitamins/minerals too and she was a fountain of knowledge! If nothing else, it was really relaxing but I do think it really helped me on my journey. Inform yourself as much as possible and go to your fertility specialist with key questions you really want to understand. BUT there is a limit to the amount of information you can take in before it drives you mad! Most importantly find some time to look after your mental health. It’s so important. For me, especially during lockdown, it was a sunrise walk each morning and it filled my cup to start the day!