What I've Learned After 6 Failed Rounds Of IVF
In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
The day my husband asked me to marry him, four years ago, I stopped using contraception. We both wanted kids as soon as we were married. Plus, I had been on the Pill for more than 15 years and I knew it sometimes took a while for a woman's cycle to return.
But 12 months later, I still had yet to have a period. I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea — due to overexercising and stress — and was instructed by my endocrinologist to stop exercising, increase my BMI, and decrease stress (hard to do in the lead-up to a wedding!). So I made those changes ... as soon as the wedding was over.
But after three months of eating whatever I wanted and drastically cutting back on exercise, my period was still MIA.
I was 35 and we were impatient, and so we saw a fertility specialist. Our first stop was SO-IUI (Super Ovulation and Intrauterine Insemination). This involved injecting myself daily with all the hormones my body was not producing naturally to grow follicles. Then, when ovulation occurred, the sperm was inserted manually by the nurse into just the right spot to meet up with the egg.
When this failed, we went straight to IVF with high hopes. It’s amazing how excited you get about a 40 percent chance of getting pregnant — when in reality, there’s more chance of it not working. That was the case with us: six IVF cycles (four fresh, two frozen) ... and so far nothing but big fat negatives.
Looking back, the first IVF failure was the hardest to comprehend. With every subsequent failure, you come to expect it more. It gets harder to hope. You get more numb. For the first few IVF cycles, I put on a positive front for my support crew and my husband; no doubt he did the same for me. But now, we’re more honest with each other — you need to release all the pain in order to be positive about the next step in the journey.
I'm now 37 and I’m terrified it’s not going to work.
The crap thing about IVF is that there are so many things that can go wrong along the way. It’s like being on a roller coaster: One day you’re flying high because you’ve got a good number of eggs to collect; the next day you’re at rock bottom with your heart in your stomach because most of them didn’t fertilize.
Being the type-A person I am, I wanted control of the situation at all times. I’ve spent hours researching everything I could possibly do to get a positive outcome. I’ve tried acupuncture, endometrial scratching (to regenerate my lining), intralipids (which kill off "natural killer cells" that can attack the embryo), baby aspirin to stop blood clotting, every single supplement under the sun vaguely related to fertility, castor oil packs for blood flow to the uterus, DIY hypnotherapy, foods to help increase lining, implantation, blood flow … you name it, I’ve tried it. It’s tiring.
The truth is getting pregnant is a numbers game, like playing the lottery. If the machine keeps punching out the wrong balls, you don’t hit the jackpot. It’s taken me a while to get my head around this. I’ve been demanding to know why it’s not working; what can we do differently next time, Doctor? Why, why, why? But all we can do is keep trying.
I'm now 37 and I’m terrified it’s not going to work. It's like the universe is playing a cruel joke on me: You can have an amazing husband who wants a huge family and would be the most incredible father — but you can't have your fertility.
The truth is that some of my life choices have gotten me here. At 20, I wouldn’t have needed IVF to get pregnant. At that time I was doing everything I could to stop it from happening. I could have chosen a life that involved early parenthood — but it would have made a mess of my career and I would have missed those character-building experiences, like traveling the world. I don’t regret a thing.
My advice to families going through the same experience as me is to give yourself a break. I forced my husband and me into back-to-back IVF rounds because I was so terrified that my "advancing maternal age" was the biggest issue. What ended up happening is my body stopped responding to the medication and we needed to take higher and higher doses to grow the eggs. Anyone who has done IVF knows that the higher the medication dosage, the lower the egg quality. Your body and your mind need a break in between cycles to get off the emotional and physical roller coaster.
Secondly, I encourage anyone who has experienced IVF failure to ask more questions, push for more testing, and if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with your clinic then change. Choose the clinic with the best success numbers — it’s worth paying extra for.
Finally, try to always keep laughter in your relationship. Both partners feel the pain during fertility treatment — and the best thing you can do is stay playful, have fun, and laugh every day.