By early December last year (2017), I’d moved through the motions and I was ready for round 2. I had read about treating the first IVF cycle as a “trial and error” round and that you shouldn’t be too disheartened (if you can ever say that to a woman desperate for a child).
The consultant made adjustments to my drug cocktail recipe (we upped the dose to 450iu Menopur) and the protocol (we needed ICSI – see lessons from my first IVF cycle here). The clinic was closing over Christmas for a few days, so we would only be able to start the second round if my period arrived by 3 December – and lo and behold, it arrived on that very day. Aunt Flo had never been this compliant. This had to be a sign that it was our turn, surely…
The timing was perfect, we were staying in London over Christmas, I was off work for two weeks so I would have plenty of time to relax after transfer. Not that I’m religious, but this had to be our very own baby Jesus?! Another sign, surely…
Almost exactly a year ago, in early September 2017, H and I were super egg-cited [sorry bad yoke 😂] to start our first IVF cycle. After a traumatic 11 months of the miscarriage (read my letter to my angel here), the discovery that I had Asherman’s Syndrome (more here), the uterus surgeries and the various hormone therapy treatments (HRTs), we were ready. It had to be our turn now, surely…
I’d received the drug delivery a week earlier. Not knowing what to expect, I ordered it to work. My office used to be located in one of London’s largest shopping centres, so the delivery guy got lost. He called me (from a withheld number) in the middle of the afternoon and asked that I meet him down a dark alley outside Zara Kids. (Shady AF, if you ask me.) I rushed out of the office, not knowing what he looked like. As it turned out, he wasn’t hard to spot – there was one guy standing next to a HUGE box (see picture on my Instagram). Et voilà, my first drug exchange was completed.
One of the most annoying things when you’re trying to conceive is other people’s [unhelpful] comments. The number one classic (which I’m sure you’ve all heard) is: “you two just need a holiday and it will happen…”. I often feel like responding with “well, I’d prefer it if my chopped up uterus didn’t take a holiday”… but, of course, instead I smile awkwardly.
After two and a half years of operations, doctor’s appointments, ultrasound scans, drugs up to my ears and thinking about WHEN I’m going to have a baby 99.9% of the time, day and night, it turns out that what I did need was a holiday – NOT TTC, but to get away from it all.
In fact, this is the first time since the early days of our relationship that H and I actively tried not to get pregnant (and it was rather fun too 😉). With Olaf and Sven (our two chromosomally normal embryos) chilling (literally!) in the Frozen Land (read about our PGS testing here), our consultant urged us not to get pregnant during our three months off before transfer (which should hopefully be in September). I have always thought: “wouldn’t it be romantic or ironic (in the Alanis Morissette sense) if I just fell pregnant naturally midst all this fertility chaos?”
Who am I kidding? H and I have never fallen pregnant naturally (the one and only time was through IUI) so this is really a romantic notion. I’ve now changed my tune: I want a little test-tube baby Jesus.
I consider myself lucky because I have a lot of wonderful friends in a number of corners of the world. With my closest friends, I talk about EVERYTHING, but yet through this process I have felt very lonely at times. I feel that they just don’t get it. In no way have they been rude or unsupportive – in fact, they are my cheerleaders – but there is no way I can expect them to understand what I am going through because they haven’t been through the same thing. They can empathise, but it would be unfair of me to expect them to understand fully the pain and the trials and tribulations of the infertility journey.
One day when I was feeling particularly low – after my second IVF cycle had failed – one of my besties called me. She acknowledged that, having just had her second baby without difficulties, she’d never be able to understand fully what I am going through. She wondered if I’d like to speak to one of her university friends (who I knew briefly) about her infertility journey. She connected us and my friend’s friend (who lives in the US) called me one evening. We spoke for over an hour. She shared her experience of her four-year long IVF journey that ended in a traumatic birth of her beautiful baby girl. She gave me tips on how to cope through the lows and cherish the highs. For the first time in a long time, I felt a little less lonely – there was someone out there who knew exactly what I was going through. And for that I was, and still am, grateful.
… Embryo samples 2 and 5: Sven and Olaf. We have two normal embryos!! I AM SO RELIEVED.
H and I were so nervous – especially H. Normally it’s me, but this time he was pacing up and down the waiting room, so we excused ourselves and got a coffee and some fresh air before taking a deep breath, walking back into the clinic and our appointment.
Funny enough, our two normal embryos are two of the day 6 embryos (BB quality), the stragglers, and not the one which looked to be of best quality (a day 5 AB quality embryo). Elsa and Anna are out of the game (and so is Kristof). This makes me think that if we had not done PGS testing, the day 5 AB embryo would have been transferred on day 5 and would have either not implanted or I would have miscarried again. I find this fascinating.
Today is a BIG day: we find out if H and I have managed to produce any genetically normal embryos.
After three failed IVF rounds and no embryos in the freezer, we were (naturally) starting to suspect that there might be an egg quality issue. We have tested H’s Sperm numerous times, including performing a DNA fragmentation test, which showed that his sperm contain a whopping 98% normal DNA!! Considering my age, 38, only approx. 30% of my eggs are likely to be normal (the age range of 37-38: 30%-40% of eggs are normal). My AMH is 10.4 (down from 13.2 last year ☹) and shows low-ish fertility for my age, so the odds aren’t great – if 30% of my eggs are normal I’ll take it! This fact sucks, but it’s reality and we have to work with what we have. As an aside, I wish that someone had told the younger me about the reality of rapid declining fertility after 35 (it is NOT a myth)…
So, what is PGS testing?
I didn’t write an update regarding my little chicks as I had planned to on day 5 because as Ronan Keating so nicely put it “Life is a Rollercoaster”. On day 5, the rollercoaster took me up high and then, 30 minutes later, threw me back down low.
The high: the embryologist called to let us know that we had two hatched blastocysts (grades AB and BB). These two little embryos were the best looking, highest grade embryos H and I had ever produced. In IVF round 2 and The Disaster Round (round 3), we only ever produced BC quality embryos and no hatched blastocysts on day 5. A few cells from each embryo have been sent off to a lab for PGS testing, and Elsa and Anna went off to the winter wonderland [a.k.a. the freezer] for their for their beauty sleep. Saturday’s straggler had degenerated, so it is our of the game. The three remaining embryos were still developing on day 5, so the embryologist said she’d take a look at them again that afternoon and on the following day, day 6. She hoped that at least one of the three would develop into a blastocyst. I did a little happy dance.
The Low: 30 minutes after the embryologist called, my dad called. He asked if I had any news about the embryos and I delightedly told him about our two blastocysts. Sadly, that wasn’t why he had called. He wanted to let me know he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. My world crashed.