In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is no cure for infertility. Success rates of around 30%-35% aren’t the most encouraging statistics but I’m grateful we have a chance.
I wanted to write an informative post to give you an understanding of what is involved in IVF. There is a general protocol for treatment in the UK, however it should be noted that everyone’s treatment is specific to them and therefore the process may differ. I’m also not a Dr so this is a very high-level overview in layman’s terms.
The treatment begins with a synthetic hormone called Norethisterone which is taken in tablet form for a week to induce a period. 21 days later this process is repeated for approximately 15 days so that the clinic can control the start date of your IVF treatment. This medication isn’t too troubling in the grand scheme of things. Headaches, 5-6 hours of broken sleep and hot sweaty flushes were the symptoms for me. I felt like a furnace, which didn’t do wonders for my hair – I was sporting a perm most days.
In general the ovaries produce and release 1 mature egg per menstrual cycle (month). On day 21 of my cycle, hormone injections are administered on a daily basis for a period of 7-12 days. The goal is to stimulate my ovaries to produce multiple follicles which will develop into mature sized eggs to be retrieved in the next stage. Every other day I return to the clinic for internal scans and blood tests to monitor the growth of the eggs. It’s invasive and I feel like a pin cushion. The internal scans are a little uncomfortable and the injections fiddly at first, but you get used to them. Time stands still during this time as you’re waiting for the next appointment, the next scan and hoping for positive progress each time. There’s a lot going on in your body, mentally and physically so you will feel a little sensitive. You will definitely want to eat chocolate. So go for it.
Once your eggs have reached an ‘ideal’ size, you administer a ‘trigger’ injection that will release your eggs. Approx 24hrs later a procedure called Transvaginal Ultrasound Aspiration is performed to extract your eggs. A thin needle is inserted into an ultrasound guide and the eggs are extracted from your follicles. In America I was under general anaesthetic for this, however in the UK it’s done under sedation and pain medication is provided. This procedure wasn’t pleasant for me the first time. I was in quite a bit of pain afterwards and my stomach was very sore and swollen. We haven’t reached this stage so I’m hoping for a more comfortable experience this time.
Fertilisation and Embryo Transfer
On the same day as egg collection, your partner provides a semen sample so that the eggs can be fertilised immediately after the procedure. The sperm and eggs are incubated in a laboratory over 3-5 days to develop and mature. Once they reach a certain cell level (blastocyst) they are ready to be transferred back into the uterus. The number of embryos that you transfer will depend on many factors and a decision will be made with your Dr regarding this. Any eggs that you do not transfer will be frozen at this time. The embryo transfer procedure is painless. During our last transfer we could see our embryo being implanted thanks to the ultrasound camera. It’s fascinating to watch and was a positive experience for us.
Two Week Wait
If you have done any research into IVF or read any of the forums I’m sure you’ve heard of the ‘two week wait’. It’s recommended that a pregnancy test is done two weeks from embryo transfer. This was undoubtedly the longest two weeks of my life. I was anxious and hardly slept during the two weeks. I over analysed every twinge in my gut, cramps, headaches, dizzy spells. I was looking for signs that I was pregnant and generally felt like a lunatic. There’s nothing stopping you taking a pregnancy test at home during these two weeks but it’s unlikely to be accurate. I was relieved to know either way of our result.
There are many factors that impact your treatment and it’s success along the way. How your body chooses to respond to treatment is out of your control. I have been in the position where the day before we were to transfer our frozen embryo the procedure was cancelled. My hormone levels had taken a nosedive and therefore my uterus wasn’t in the ideal condition for implanting. The chances of pregnancy were slim to none. At the time I felt like a failure, it was devastating. I have learned from all of these experiences that there is very little you can do during treatment other than be kind to yourself and keep a brave face on.
Every cycle is unique to the individual, as is their experience. The team at Aberdeen Fertility Centre have been outstanding thus far and I feel fortunate to be in their capable hands. Not to mention having the support of everyone around me. I realise the above might seem a long and daunting process and it is. But focus on the possibility that it gives you. It’s hope for you and your family.