How does it feel?

“There is a life to be lived right here in the waiting.” –@morganharpernichols

Before we began I spent a lot of time worrying (and being actually terrified at one point) about what it was going to be like, what I was going to be like. Having gone through the first half now I can say that it was not what I was expecting in the sense that it was not as bad as I expected. I had definitely allowed my mind to get the better of me before we began. So I started off on a pill called norethisterone for 10 days which was okay initially then it made my breasts so heavy and I had the worst backache for a couple of days but after that I was fine. The backache was something else and I’m still traumatised about it now! A few days after the pill I had what they call a withdrawal bleed; the whole point of the pill is to induce a bleed so that IVF can start from a baseline when your uterus lining has shed. At the end of bleeding, I would say on the 5th day, I was instructed to start the first course of injections (Bemfola) and I was to inject myself for 10 days every night. Of course I did not inject myself! My husband did – because I can’t even look at the needles when I’m having my bloods done. I also thought it would be a way for him to feel involved in the process and feel a sense of utility in all of it. On the 5th day of Bemfola, I was instructed to start another course of injections (Cetrotide) to be administered every morning. Both these injections had to be done within a half an hour window of the same time each day so we did 5am and 11pm which suited our life/work perfectly. Over the course of these 10 days, I had 2 scans; one on day 6 and another on day 10 (which was meant to be my last day on injections but they wanted me to do 2 more days of stims (stims = injections). The scans were done at intervals; Day 1 scan – after withdrawal bleed to make sure uterus lining had thinned; day 6 scan – I had 24 follicles; day 10 scan – is when I found out that I had too many follicles and there were going to apply the freeze protocol to prevent ovarian hyperstimulation; day 12 scan – after an extra 2 days of stims for my eggs to mature I was given a date for egg collection. By day 12 I was definitely feeling the effects of the stims, my ovaries were full and it was slightly uncomfortable but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was then instructed to take a trigger shot injection (Buserelin) that night and my egg collection date was exactly 36 hours later. On the day of the egg collection, I felt awful – I felt nauseous, I was VERY hormonal and I just wanted it to be over and done with.

The egg collection for me was by far the worst part of IVF (first half anyway!). I was already quite hormonal by that point and now looking back everything just seemed overwhelming to me in that moment. We were asked to come in an hour before our appointment to do more paperwork and prepare for the collection. I was given strict instructions not to wear any jewellery, nail varnish, deodorant/perfume or anything with a scent or alcohol in it. I was also told to bring some bedroom slippers and a nightgown. When we arrived we were taken to our own private room and I was asked to change into the hospital gown. It was at this point that hubby had to go and do his thing and provide a sperm sample. When he got back we were called into theatre (is that what the room is called?) and I kid you not there were about 7 people in there and when you are hormonal, lying down on this bed while they strap your legs in position, with all of them watching over you and doing different things, IT IS TERRIFYING. I was so scared I was tearing up when they were asking me to confirm my name and details. When they asked my hubby to leave the room, I almost unshackled my legs ready to follow him out. I understand all of these people need to be in the room, like the anesthetist, nurses, consultants, but I feel like they should all come in once you’re knocked out because it was the most intimidating feeling and made me worry even more about what they were going to do to me. Anyway, not before long I was completely knocked out and got woken up when it was all done. At first, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and they kept trying to wake me up (at one point I even held my eyelids opens like they do in cartoons, which made them all laugh), when I did eventually snap out of the slumber they were asking me questions and I could not speak. The words were playing in my mind but I literally could not speak – I was trying to move my mouth but I don’t know what was happening no words were coming out. The combination of realising this lack of speech and suddenly remembering where I was and how I was feeling before I got knocked out, the shock of it all sent me into inconsolable tears – I justcouldn’t stop crying. I got even worse when I saw my husband and it was just coming out of me like a waterfall. I think for much of the IVF process I was keeping it together (because I was actually okay) but something about going through a procedure like egg collection makes it VERY real that hey girl, you’re an IVF patient and this IS a big fucking deal.

The way egg collection works, is by draining the egg follicles that the injections stimulated and the eggs are contained in these follicles. I had an amazing egg collection result of 20 eggs!!!! I owe this amazing result to my faith, my high AMH and I think as well to the supplements I was taking during stimulation and 3months prior (which I bought at the Fertility Festival in London for £90 for 3). There is some research out there that retrieving more than 15-20 eggs does not improve pregnancy outcomes so we are just so pleased to have that ideal number from the get-go. Back to the day, after all my crying which went on for about 30minutes, the nurses brought me some food because, oh yeh I forgot, you cannot eat past midnight the night before egg collection and you cannot drink water past 2 hours before egg collection but food was the last thing on my mind but my hubby forced me to eat. I then realised that I was having a bit of bleeding down there so I put a liner on and I peed (something they made sure I did before leaving). Getting off the bed and peeing was painful so I just moved at snail pace. Not long after I peed we were released to go home and I was advised to take a few days off and just rest my body. My egg collection was on a Thursday and on the Friday the clinic rang me to confirm that 19 eggs had been fertilised and 13 embryos had made it to day 1 and that they would call me on day 5/6 to confirm how many made it to freeze. On day 6 the clinic rang again and this time I was back at work and I had spent the last few days just worrying about the outcome out of our embryos… but won’t He do it… the clinic confirmed 10 embryos made it to freeze meaning we had only lost 3 embryos over the 5/6 days. I immediately called my husband and we were both just in shock and deeply grateful after so long to be at this point now, with viable embryos waiting for us. I thank God for his intervention and his promise.

When they say a story is too good to be true, it usually is, in our case more like too good to carry on. As a result of producing so many eggs, our transfer (putting the embryo in my womb) which was meant to take place 5/6 days after egg collection was cancelled due to a standard protocol they follow that if you have 18 or more follicles of 11mm+ in size, it’s an automatic freeze to prevent ovarian hyperstimulation and the negative effect it can have on implantation. I could have been pregnant by now (if this cycle had been successful) but the clinic wants to make sure that my body recovers from all the stimulation and resets before we continue the process again. So that’s where we are now, in the break in between and actually it has been really restorative having this break, although I was upset initially. And there is research (although not conclusive) that suggests that freezing all embryos for later transfer might improve implantation and pregnancy rates and increase the safety of IVF. It is an odd place to be though… so close and yet not quite there yet… and we will have to do more stims (injections) to prepare for the transfer and then there is the worry of losing embryos in the thawing process but I learnt very early on with all things infertility, to SURRENDER, to God, to what is meant to be – will be, surrendering to our medical professionals because they do this everyday, surrendering to the present. I try and just focus on one day at a time when it comes to IVF and as it stands we don’t really know yet when our embryo transfer will be, and you know what, that’s okay.

I am finding it A LOT more difficult now to be ‘not-pregnant’. There is something about trying to reconcile being an IVF patient with the fact that others are having babies naturally, JUST. LIKE. THAT. Your friends, people you know, and it’s everywhere. Don’t get me wrong I am very happy for my friends when they fall pregnant, carry to full-term and give birth to healthy babies but each natural pregnancy is a reminder that I am not a mum yet and that I won’t be able to fall pregnant naturally – it is actually heartbreaking and that is not to take away from someone else’s joy, it is a strong realisation of the lack of it (in the form of a baby) in my own life. Being an IVF patient, without your success yet is SO damn hard to live with when you have to live it in the real world of other people having babies seemingly easier/quicker. The raw honest truth is that it always makes me feel better when someone’s pregnancy has a backstory of infertility, because I can relate to it then. And that’s REAL – If no one else will say it, let me be the one to say it. In addition to all this, I now have people/family asking me about children. Much of my turmoil with infertility was internal for pretty much most of the 3 years but now and I realise this is because we have been married over a year now, people bring up babies all the time. Every family gathering I have been to in the last 6 months almost all the women who know me like that have asked me 2 questions; ‘How is married life?” And ‘Where are the babies?’ This one particular incident literally happened 2 weeks ago at my mum’s… if you know me you will know I like wearing loose clothing and flowy shapes, anyway, one of my mum’s friends made an assumption that I was pregnant because I was wearing a kaftan and literally my mum had to come up to me and scrunch the kaftan to one side to show my ’no belly’. This is a true story. And listen I’m not mad at all this, I’m actually not and in fact, I actually couldn’t stop laughing at the time. I mean yeh partly because of the audacity of it all but I realise as Africans we think we mean well when we do this, the women in our lives want to be encouraging about having babies and this is how they communicate this. What upsets me is the fact that it is never the right time and place for me to educate people on infertility and it’s a whole entire culture to dismantle. My mother’s generation is from a different time and I cannot be angry with them for what they know or don’t know. I know a lot of people my age who don’t know anything about infertility especially those who have had natural pregnancies and they too cannot be expected to understand the sensitivities of infertility. Unless we educate them.

All this to say, there are compounding elements that are making me feel more ‘not pregnant’ than ever before and making me question when? and if ever? but I still choose to practice compassion, towards others and towards myself. I make every effort to honour each day as a gift, for there is a life to be lived right here in the waiting and one day, soon enough, I will be a mamma.

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