IVF, disappointments and a story still to tell.

In July 2015 I snatched back control of this life of mine. I feel like I have been playing tug of war with something unseen for years now, so it felt oh so good to flex those muscles and do some thing that would bring us the closest we have been in a long time to the “p word”.

We began our ICSI cycle (our specialist felt this would be the best approach despite decent sperm analysis as our unexplained infertility means we are all left guessing what may or may not be happening) sailing smoothly through the stimulation injections. Well, as smoothly as you can when you inject your stomach several times a day, forcing it to puff up to ironically pregnant looking proportions, ovaries are tender, your hormones are a-raging, tiredness is overpowering and you are wrangling with strong emotions. By the time I was ready for egg collection, which fortunately didn’t take long, I could sense how full those throbbing ovaries had become. Even sitting down needed some preparation time just to get in the right position to be comfortable. With the help of gonal f I created 24 mature eggs. I was a bit of an egg heroine apparently, and I came away feeling I could hit this infertility thing across the head and never see it’s ugly face again. The only downer was that my progesterone levels were raised, and meant my lining was out of sync with the growing embryos so a fresh transfer was cancelled. I was annoyed and disappointed, but in hindsight realised how much my body had been through and felt it was good to have some recovery time before a transfer.

It’s a weird time when you wait to hear about fertilization rates. How many mini forms of life have we made? We willed every one to hang on and literally fight for life. One day passed and we found out that 18 had fertilized normally. Amazing! Big sigh of relief. It seemed my body had done me proud and I gave myself permission to relax a little. It is hard to not become attached to these bundles of cells; thinking about how our daughter also began life this way. The overwhelming, mind blowing possibility that one of these early embryos could be the one, left us in a spin of both excitement and fear. At day 3, 13 of our embryos were looking good and we had every reason to feel positive that, finally, we were on the right course. We were nailing this ICSI cycle! The lab rang me on day 6. It was so late in the day, I was seriously worried something had gone very wrong. They delivered the news that 3 had made it to blastocyst stage and they were happy with how they looked. In all honesty we were a little disappointed that our numbers had dropped so rapidly. The embryologist told us that with our initial numbers, they would have expected around 6 to make blastocyst. Our specialist had also put us forward to have any blastocysts PGD tested, so we froze all and had several weeks to mull over questions, disappointments and fears. Do we have a chromosome issue that caused so many to arrest before day 5? Will we be left with any useable embryos? Do I have an egg quality issue even though I have a high reserve? Does my husband have a sperm quality issue despite his count and motility looking normal? Can our ICSI cycle be diagnostic in anyway?

3 weeks passed and I thought I was coping well with the uncertainty. Another call from another embryologist brought a surprising flood of emotion when I heard that 2 out of the 3 blastocysts were absolutely chromosomally normal and one was inconclusive for chromosome 6 (which puts the ball in our court as to whether we use it or not. They don’t know either way if it is normal or not). To know we had 3 useable embryos and that we went through the stimulation round with something to show at the end was a massive relief. I realised how totally spent I was emotionally with all the drugs, the waiting and the desperate hoping. I would not have been ready to throw myself into another stim round at that point, so was grateful for this ray of sunshine. The eye of the storm. A medicated frozen transfer was scheduled for my next cycle. For a few weeks life was good and full of possibility again. We allowed ourselves to dream.

We were ridiculously excited at the arrival of cycle day 1. After several months of waiting (thank you to my mild PCOS for a 45 day wait) I felt close to finding the end of this journey. I even felt I sensed somebody was close by, on their way to us even. I felt that this was it. After years of unexplained subfertility, overcoming stress and anxiety, acupuncture, becoming healthier in mind and body, clomid, ovulation induction and now IVF, surely this would be the moment? Surely we have done everything to prove to the universe that we are ready? My body responded well again to the drugs and my lining thickened up nicely. The transfer of a excellent looking, already hatching blastocyst went perfectly. I remained calm and positive, visualising what was happening inside my body until 7dp5dt. Pink blood. One spot. Fuck. My mind went into a spin. I talked myself down, telling myself if could be a good thing but after that the anxiety just took hold. I was afraid of what the following few days would bring. Two days later some more spotting. Hardly anything, but red. It was over. My period was coming. But, hold up! And here is the mind bending shittyness of this experience … all spotting disappeared. 10dp5dt and I was all clear. I didn’t feel like my period was coming and I allowed myself to feel a glimmer of hope. After all, with the two week wait any symptom could mean ANYTHING. Perhaps I was still in with a shout. We couldn’t take the suspense anymore so we decided to take a home pregnancy test. I was due to have my beta the following morning and wanted to be prepared for that anyway. It was depressingly stark white. I was red with anger. I made a sound that I can’t describe. A scream or a growl. I was green with bitterness and envy. I wanted to message my friends and tell them how lucky they were and how they would never know anything close to what I was experiencing. I was black with sadness. How can this still be happening? How can I have not learned my lesson? How am I still na├»ve enough to think things will be different?

I’ve done this so many times that I can run through the emotions in break neck speed and get myself functioning again. But it is so much harder when you’re doing all that science can offer you, the stakes are higher, you believe once again and yet the result is still fucking negative. What do I have to do?

I felt hope and belief leave me like a river flowing down a valley. Can I put myself through this again? I don’t know. Probably. Maybe. Can I walk away from it? Yes. No. I wish I could but I don’t think I can. Can I leave my frozen embryos? Certainly not. But I’m not sure I can stop the rush of hope leaving me either.

My specialist was surprised we didn’t have a successful round. With all our results and stats, I think she thought we were going to be a big success story. I don’t think failure is in her vocabulary though, so we are doing an endo scratch next week to increase implantation chances during this next transfer. This is good I think. We aren’t doing the same thing expecting a different result. I have learnt my lesson there. But, sigh, more questions. Is implantation our issue? I always felt in the early years of this journey that we were having failed implantation, but we were also very stressed out at the time. Miss Acupuncture tells me not to let that worry take hold. She thinks we are simply unlucky and that it is a numbers game for us. ‘One day you will hit jackpot,’ she encourages. I wish I had the same unquestioning faith.

In the meantime, wish me luck as I jump aboard the FET train again. Our journey is unfinished. Maybe we will reach our destination this time …