When I found out that I could not get pregnant naturally, I felt broken. I knew it was not my fault, I knew no one was to blame and I knew that doctors and science could help me. And yet, I couldn’t help but feeling extremely sad. I cried very hard for a whole night, and then I started gathering information about IVF.
When you start the treatment you are scared, you are vulnerable, and you feel alone. Everyone else at the clinic seems to know what to do and where to go, what documents to bring along and what deadlines to meet. Doctors speak quickly and you try to memorize everything they say, to write it down as fast as you can. Other patients in the waiting room chat among themselves: they have met before, they make jokes and exchange feedbacks about the treatments and medical procedures. You try to listen. This girl on my right is scheduled for her fourth embryo transfer… Fourth? Wait! What went wrong? What happens? You want to ask, and you are not usually shy, but you keep your eyes down and not engage.
A silent army of women
Quickly enough, though, you become one of the “old” ones. When you start coming in every other day for transvaginal ultrasounds and blood test, once you’ve learnt where all the elevators in the clinic take and what the names of the doctors are, you begin to feel more confident. But it’s not just that. It’s that you soon realize that you are not alone. There are so many of you, like a silent army of women who get up early every morning to get the hospital before going to work, who give themselves shots in the stomach every night, sometimes even twice a day, whose arms are blue for all the blood tests they took and who endure a dosage of hormones that affects their moods and their bodies.
So it was no longer me. It was us. And it is so important to be able to ask the others about how they feel, because you just don’t understand what is happening to you. One day your breasts hurt, the next they don’t, and you start wandering “Is this normal? Are they supposed to hurt? Is something wrong?” But even then, even when we understand that we are not that different and that we can share, our experience is so personal. Ovarian stimulation is supposed to make your ovaries drop more than one egg. The more the better, for you will have a bigger chance that some of them will be fertilized. Some of the girls I spoke to had produced between 6 and 12 eggs, some even more. My follicles’ count the first time around was three. The doctors retrieved two eggs, only one of which seemed mature. But the in vitro fertilization was not succesful, I’d have to do it all over in three months, allowing some time for my body to cleanse.
The second time around
I hated the shots. I hated the hormones. And I did it again. They say you should not give it too much thought, just go on with your life. But that’s such useless advice. It fills your brain the same way it fills your time, with all the trips to the clinic, remembering the nasal spray every eight hours and being home in time for the evening shot. You do think about it all the time. And you start taking more care of yourself, because you need a healthy body. You need it to be strong, to endure and be ready for the next big step.
Longest week of my life
I won’t get into the egg retrieval procedure, I will just say that while I started off fearing anestesia, by the second time I knew the anesthetist was my best friend. And this time, after the in vitro fertilization, we had one embryo, or better said, a zygot! A microscopic cell that after 24 hours had divided itself in four parts and that the doctors were ready to transfer in my uterus, hoping that it would find it comfortable enough to attach itself and grow. And thus began the longest week of my life. After the embryo transfer they tell you you can get up, you can pee, you can walk, you can go home and lead your life, just try not to lift weights, and maybe watch your diet: no white carbs, no sugar, no dairy and no yeast. So you try to do as they say, but every step you take you know there is that minuscule spark of life inside of you that might or might not became your so much wanted baby. Oh, and if you thought the shots would finally be over by now, you really had no idea. Yes, this is when you start taking progesterone, lots of progesterone. And if things go the way you want them to go, you’ll keep injecting yourself and inserting progesterone gel in your vagina for the next 11 weeks.
Medicine made the miracle
On the eight day after the transfer I had to go get a blood test in the morning and call the clinic in the afternoon: they’d tell me if the hcg levels were good and if so, I’d have to keep testing and monitor their growth. This is how you attest a pregnancy before you can even see anything through an ultrasound. That morning I could not concentrate on anything, I had cramps in my stomach for how nervous I was. At 2pm sharp I was ready to call but I decided to wait 1 minute so as not to seem too desperate. 60 interminable seconds.
And then the news was good.
Which didn’t mean I should cheer yet…but it was good.
I could not believe it and I cannot believe it to this day, that I just entered the 18th week. I am happy. I am so happy. But I feel that joy must be kept at check. I am all too aware that everything can change from one day to the next for no one’s fault. I feel I need to respect this miracle of medicine and life.
One last thing
This is probably the most important thing I have to say, though it comes last. IVF is such a strong emotional and physical experience for women that I felt I had to speak from this point of view. But most of us have a man by our side, someone who has to go through the pain of seeing his loved one suffer, struggle and be extremely vulnerable. And they have to be strong, for us. They have to be there when we need to be comforted. But this is an emotional time for them too. They too want this baby, they too are scared. And they don’t usually meet each other in waiting rooms where they can talk. Plus, I doubt they would anyway, they are men, right?!
Well my partner was by my side every day, he gave me all the shots till I was comfortable enough to do them myself, he cooked for me everything I thought might be good for me, he was patient when I was nervous and loving when I was sad.
They say that when babies don’t come naturally it takes a toll on the couple. It might be true, but it wasn’t true for me. All in all, it took us three years to get pregnant. The last one was the toughest, but I feel we grew so much stronger as a couple. I wish every woman could be as lucky as I was. I hope we are all able to grow caring, respectful young men and girls who find kindness attractive.
But most of all, I wish all the women who are struggling to see their efforts rewarded. And remember, IVF sucks, but it also works. Blessed be all the doctors, scientists, biologists and researches who make medical progress possible.