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.
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.
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.
We expected the embryologist to call with an update around 9-10am this morning. I was glued to the phone, ringer on the highest volume. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Why is it that when you’re waiting for a call those hours, minutes seem so long? I’ve never been particularly patient – but if there is one thing this fertility process
has taught me is trying to teach me, it’s to be patient.
To distract myself I met a dear friend and her toddler for coffee and a walk in the park. And, of course, as soon as I stepped out of the house at 11.30am the lovely embryologist called. All six embryos are still in the race. We have five embryos with 6-12 cells, and out of those three beautiful front-runners (perfectly formed with little to no fragmentation). The sixth little runner is struggling and the embryologist doubts it make it to the finish line, but said she wouldn’t disqualify it from the race yet.
On my NHS rounds, I never got a day 3 update, which I fully appreciate is due to lack of resource. After The Disaster Round, I requested a copy of my file so that I could give the history and the data to my new clinic. We had to pay an administration fee of £50 to obtain the notes and it took 21 days – and of course when H turned up on the 22nd day, they still hadn’t copied the notes. Anyway, bygones…
The lovely embryologist called this morning with an update. One of the eggs collected had been immature, so the embryologist had performed ICSI on eight and six of them fertilized. That’s a 75% fertilization rate – above average – and the embryologist called this an EXCELLENT fertilization rate. BOOM! I am happy. H is happy. We are back in the game, baby!
Now, we just need these little chicks to keep developing into beautiful blastocysts. When I was little kid, I had a vivid imagination. I had some cool imaginary friends (in addition to my human similarly-aged friends, I should add) called Mingan and Mangan. My grandmother will recount endless stories of me (age 2) chatting away to these friends. At that young age, I (obviously) didn’t know that talking to Mingan and Mangan would be great training for my future self (age 38) when connecting with my little chicks in a petri dish. Currently, I’m whispering the following in a soft, motherly voice:
“Hello my six little chicks. You’re in the best possible place to develop into strong and healthy embryos and go on to be beautiful babies. You focus on dividing your cells at a normal rate and enjoy yourselves while you’re at the lovely lab. I’m ready to receive you when the time is right.”
I’ve been repeating this little pep talk a few times today and will continue repeating it. I believe in positive affirmations, and I’ve used them on and off during my fertility journey (and I’ll write more about that another day). They don’t work for everyone – and I do think it takes practice (whether or not you’ve had imaginary friends!) – but they work for me. They help me refocus and look forward, which has an extraordinary effect of calming me when I feel anxious. When I was pregnant I felt connected to my embryo because it was growing inside me. It’s hard to feel connected to your embryos when you’re doing IVF because sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions, going from appointment to appointment, from injection to injection… So, chatting to my embryos makes me feel connected to them. And, it reminds me of the end game: to chat to my [real life] baby.
Good night my six little chicks 🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣,