Going through IVF is not really fun. Before you even get to the egg retrieval, egg transfer, or getting results – you must first dutifully endure vaginal exams, blood draws, and hormone stimulation. There is the juggling of your schedule trying to make it to the fertility clinic every two days, and the stress of making sure that all of your medications arrive on time. Plus, the ambiguity of how you’re going to react to all of the hormones is a constant anxiety. I can honestly say that going through an IVF cycle is not the end of the world, but I sure wish different parts of the process were easier.
Believe it or not, I think the vaginal exams were the least emotionally invasive part of the whole IVF process. You get a magically lubricated wand inserted into your vagina for a brief period of time while the doctor looks at your ovaries and uterus. The exams were physically invasive and mildly embarrassing if you hadn’t shaved or done any upkeep “down there” in a while (although I’m pretty sure the doctors could have cared less about the tree growing between my legs). But for me, a person who does not ovulate frequently, getting answers about ovulation and follicle growth outweighed any sort of trepidation or discomfort I felt during the exams. And to be honest, the majority of those exams were not painful in any way. Yes, it is necessary to put your legs in to the stirrups and scoot your butt to the very edge of the table, but the exams were nothing compared to other aspects of the IVF process. Especially when it came to the blood draws and the hormone shots.
I should mention that I hate giving blood. I have tiny veins that burrow deep into my skin whenever anyone mentions the word “needle”, and the only way I can give blood without pain is with an experienced phlebotomist who is used to sticking needles close to tendons. I knew that giving blood at the fertility clinic was going to suck, so I tried everything I could think of to make it easier on myself and the nurse. I drank tons of water, made sure to eat well before each office visit, and I even tried working out just prior to my visit to make the veins pop. No such luck. My veins predictably rolled or shrunk anytime the nurse tried to take my blood. I was poked 14 times to draw blood 7 times over 14 days. I had blood drawn through my hands, wrists, and the crooks of my elbows. I only had 2 veins that would consistently give blood, meaning that scar tissue built up and taking blood became even harder and more painful. (Stupid veins!) I asked if it was possible to draw blood from my leg since the veins in my arms didn’t want to cooperate. Apparently drawing blood through the legs is for emergency situations only. I even asked to go to an outside facility to have the blood drawn but was turned down again due to time constraints. So for me, the blood draw was definitely the worst part of the IVF stimulation. I often left the clinic with bruises on my hands and wondering if my cries of pain freaked out any of the other patients. I really hoped not.
And then there were the hormone shots and the many, many boxes of drugs. When everything arrived at the house, I was pretty intimidated by the sheer amount of medication I was expected to inject into my stomach. I initially thought there was no way I could take all of those drugs, but I was quickly corrected when it became clear I was going to run out. On average, I took two shots a day for 13 days and was prescribed Gonal-F for follicle stimulation, Menopur for follicle stimulation, Cetrotide for ovulation delay, and Pregynl as my trigger shot. By the end of the cycle my stomach was bruised and pockmarked in a lovely “u” pattern around my bellybutton where I had to inject. It was very sexy I’m sure.
Out of the four medications, Menopur was definitely the worst. It burned while being injected, and my husband and I didn’t understand that injecting needles quickly versus slowly made a huge difference in pain levels. For a few nights I was in agony as my husband slowly inserted each needle into my skin and then jerked it out violently at the end. Sadly, it took us three or four days to finally seek out some pointers while each night I was pissed and crying, questioning why the hell I had to do this.
And while we finally did get some relief by learning how to properly insert the needles, we knew the big needle was coming. I’m talking about the one and a half inch intramuscular trigger shot. I was really nervous about that needle. Not only was it longer, it was thicker too. And frightening. My heart raced as I watched my husband prepare the trigger shot. I was convinced that the needle was going to hit my hip bone. I procrastinated like you wouldn’t believe coming up with stupid reasons why we had to wait just a few minutes longer before I received the shot. Finally my husband managed to calm me down and administer the shot. I was amazed when the trigger shot didn’t hurt at all, and I couldn’t believe how close I had come to panicking. It was only after it was all said and done that my husband admitted to being freaked out too, and he also thought the needle was going to hit a bone. *sigh*
Luckily, I didn’t notice any crazy emotions while I was taking the IVF meds. I’ve read many posts where women reported feeling like they were loosing their minds while on the medication, but I never felt erratic or crazy. Mostly, I just felt tired and leery of taking shots and giving blood. I think that the IVF process could be easier for a woman with large veins and someone who is very knowledgeable on how to give the shots, but you never know. Everyone is different, and everyone is going to have a slightly different reaction to the medications and the stress of undergoing IVF. Was the stimulation portion of IVF the end of the world? No. Do I want to do it again? Not so much.