Friday, April 21, 2017

Our IVF Journey {frozen embryo transfer #1}

Well, hi! Apparently I left you all on a little cliffhanger there. Sorry about that! I just thought it was a good stopping point, but it seems people wanted the novel version. :) So here I am picking up where I left off in our IVF journey. (If you are just tuning in & missed part one, go ahead & read it here.)

Being a member of an infertility support group, I have heard a LOT about IVF over the years, straight from people who were in the thick of it. I heard about the painful shots. I heard about the insane cost of meds. I heard about the terrible side effects. And I heard about the frustrating setbacks. So I prepared myself for all of it. I wasn't excited about any of that, but I was prepared to do whatever I had to do. My support group girls gave me a ton of tips, and that helped tremendously.

Preparing for the big PIO injection! I ended up not even needing the lidocaine patches or the heating pad, but I sure was glad to have it ready just in case. I did use several of my friends' suggestions and they helped so much!
All of that to say, the entire experience leading up to and including my egg retrieval was a much easier one than I anticipated. I did have a polyp on my uterus which required surgery. And Brad did have a scary result after our infectious disease tests (which turned out to be a false positive!). But after that it was pretty smooth sailing. Yes, it's a lot... the schedule of injections plus the constant appointments are just a LOT. But still, it wasn't as awful as I imagined. I didn't have any major side effects from the drugs. The shots didn't bother me. Even the dreaded PIO (progesterone in oil) shots before my transfer were fine! Every monitoring appointment (ultrasound and labs) leading up to my retrieval showed I was right where I needed to be. It went so well, far better than I expected. I felt extremely lucky and thankful. I know so many people who had a much worse experience with it all. And it isn't because I'm some kind of champ; it's just that everyone's body responds differently to this stuff.

Lupron injections to start things off!
Patches that were traded out every few days. These were to stabilize my lining to be the ideal size for transfer.
Laying everything out for my early morning estradiol shot!
I keep going on and on, but what I am trying to say is that for me, the hard part of this wasn't the physical aspect. It was the emotional aspect after it was all over. It was the two week wait after my embryo transfer as I waited for results, and it was even the weeks after I got results, that really took a toll on me. I wasn't prepared for how much this would take out of me emotionally (although I don't think it's something you can really prepare for). And again, I'm not even talking about the process leading up to my egg retrieval. I am talking about the emotions that came into play after my egg retrieval and again after the embryo transfer. Both times were about waiting for results. And while my egg retrieval yielded good results with 8 high-grade embryos, it was still a nerve-wracking time, to say the least! The worst part for me, though, was waiting on results from my transfer to find out if I was pregnant or not. And what came after that is what I pray I never have to experience again. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

This is before my first estradiol valerate injection, and let's just say I saw the needle & was feeling a little anxious!
Look at that needle! I was so proud of me! And really proud of Brad! I didn't even feel it!
Brad preparing my PIO injection. PIO day 3! He is a champ!
Because of my doctor's wait list, my first embryo transfer wasn't until January. So there were two full months without that crazy appointment and injection schedule. When I started my period in January, I called my nurse and it all began again. Birth control pills (sounds counterintuitive I know), Lupron injections, estradiol patches, estradiol shots, and the lovely PIO, as mentioned above. I always thought all of that started at the same time, but there were a few days to get used to one drug before having to add the next one. I was happy about that.

A picture of our embaby
On January 24th, we went in for the transfer! I was excited and nervous. We had a pair of embryos frozen to be transferred at the same time. I was worried about them surviving the thaw, but he came in and told me both survived the thaw beautifully. I breathed a sigh of relief. He had us sign some consents, and he gave us a picture of one of our embryos, our baby. Then the nurse came in and gave me a robe and Brad some scrubs.

Could he be any cuter?! :)

Excited and ready!
The transfer process is a lot different from the egg retrieval. Brad was able to go in with me, and I wasn't put under anesthesia for it. We went in a room that looked like an ultrasound room. I got set up in a chair/bed thing just like ones in an ultrasound room. The process itself is very quick and painless, much like an IUI. I could see on the screen when my little embryos dropped into my uterus. It was a surreal moment; it took my breath away. After it was done, the ultrasound tech and my doctor waited in complete silence for the embryologist to let them know it was a good transfer. The embryologist yelled through the connecting door, "all good!", everyone sighed with relief, and we were done. I was wheeled out again, and Brad drove us home. Actually, we stopped so he could run in and pick up Zoe's for lunch. I also talked him into running into Barnes & Noble next door to pick up a book I had been wanting! Thought it would help me pass the time during my two week wait. Not quite two weeks, and yet the most intense two week wait of this infertility journey so far. My doctor puts his patients on bed rest for three days after the embryo transfer. I was lucky to have visitors to help pass the time! The first week wasn't too terrible. The second week my emotions were all over the place. 

Stork socks from a sweet infertility sister & prayer partner... so cute!
Mom & sister visit!
I am normally not one to take pregnancy tests at home. They're always negative, and that is just the worst. I would honestly rather find out I'm not pregnant by starting my period. However, my blood test was early Friday morning, meaning they would be calling me that afternoon with the results. I didn't want to find out at work if the results were negative. So I decided to take a pregnancy test the night before my beta. That way, if negative, I could react however I needed to react in the privacy of my own home. I grew antsy and ended up taking a test at home a day or two before I had planned. I was, in a word, terrified. Absolutely terrified. I can honestly say in all of my years of infertility, in all of my two week waits, and after all of my IUI procedures, I have never felt quite like that. I think because it felt like the closest we had ever been to our miracle. And I felt like if the results were negative, I would be sick to my stomach. I so desperately wanted this to be our YES. 

 I remember taking the test. Afterwards, I grabbed it without looking and got in bed so Brad could give me my PIO injection. He didn't know I had taken it. I gave it a few minutes then looked. I didn't see two lines. I felt my heart plummeting. I looked again about ten seconds later and saw a faint second line. So faint that I had to show Brad and get him to tell me if there was actually a faint line or if I was just imagining one. He confirmed there was indeed a second line. I texted a picture to my infertility sister Lindsay and she confirmed there was definitely a second line! I would not say I was excited at that point. I got excited yes, but the first emotions were more along the lines of shock and disbelief. But it kept sinking in deeper and deeper. I allowed myself to feel that joy, and of course I felt so thankful. Because I already had a miscarriage three years ago. Surely God wouldn't allow me to go through that again, would He? 

I took this selfie the day before my blood test, because I was convinced I was pregnant and had no real reason to believe yet that I would miscarry. There are happy tears in those eyes & that is probably the biggest smile I've had in a long time.
That Friday I went for my blood test. By this point, I had taken several home pregnancy tests, which all showed positive results. My nurse called that afternoon and told me I was indeed pregnant and that I needed to come back in a couple of days for another blood draw. That is nothing unusual, they do check every few days to make sure your hcg is doubling as it should. Then I asked her what my hcg level was. She said it was 31.6. My heart dropped. I said, "oh, that's not good is it?", and she assured me, "no, it's okay, it just needs to have doubled when you come back on Tuesday.". So I continued to hope and pray. I realized the embryo could have implanted late, as sometimes happens with frozen embryo transfers (as opposed to fresh). I got in touch with a friend who I had heard had an initial hcg of 20, but kept increasing, and she gave birth to a full term baby boy. She helped reassure me. We told our parents and siblings and a few friends we were pregnant. We were excited. I was still terrified, but had to believe the best. 

On our fridge
That weekend was agony, as you can probably imagine. But I kept praying and trusting and hoping. This baby would be due in October, which is the same month our first angel baby was due. So to be pregnant again with a baby due at the same time, to me, felt like coming full circle. It felt like redemption. And yet, when I went back on Tuesday for another blood test, my hcg had dropped down to 24. I was thankful to receive that news on my lunch break. I had just sat down to eat when my phone rang. My nurse sounded heartbroken. She told me when to come back for another blood draw, because at that point they have to make sure it gets back to zero. I hung up the phone and the tears began to fall, as I felt a mixture of hurt, anger and heartbreak. I couldn't eat my lunch. I called Brad, and then I texted a few people who were waiting to hear. I couldn't call them because I knew if I had to say out loud what was happening, I would start sobbing. I had to go back to work, so I had to let them know but I couldn't talk about it. So I sent them a text telling them I was so sorry to have to tell them this but that the pregnancy wasn't viable. I told them I was sorry because these are people who want to be grandparents to our children and who want to be aunts to our children. It was a few friends who had been praying for me for this entire infertility journey. These are people who wanted this to be a viable pregnancy for me as badly as we wanted it. So I had to let them know and not keep them waiting. But then I got myself together and went back to work. I registered patients for the rest of the day while inside my heart was shattered. I texted the coworkers that knew so they would know without me having to say anything. I couldn't tell them even though they were there, because I had to keep it together. I had no paid time off to miss more work, so I had to just make it through the rest of the day. I don't remember that night though. I just remember crying all the way home. 

Over the next few weeks my hcg would not drop to zero. It would go up and down and up and down again, but never up enough to show a viable pregnancy. It was strange, because when I miscarried three years before, my first hcg was high and it doubled every time just as it should. I didn't know then until an ultrasound that I would miscarry. And then once I miscarried, my hcg gradually and fairly quickly dropped to zero. But this time the number started low, so I thought getting to zero would be a quick process. But no. It wouldn't go down. I was concerned I would have to have surgery or be put on methotrexate injections, which I did not want to have to do. This is all a really hard reality when you are waiting to miscarry, because it feels impossible to move on emotionally when your body is stuck physically. They were concerned the embryo was stuck in my tubes. This process of waiting for my hcg to drop was as every bit as emotional and difficult as my wait to find out about our embryos after my egg retrieval and as my wait to find out if I was pregnant after the transfer. Different hard, but equally hard. I definitely grieved. And even as I write this, a few months later, when I am doing so much better spiritually and emotionally, reliving it as I write it brings it all back. It was hard and it is still hard and I am still grieving as anyone would. 

So we are moving forward. The upside of all of this is that I do have remaining embryos, so I do not have to start all over. I have friends who have had to and are having to start all over with another egg retrieval because they had one embryo and their transfer didn't work. I never would want them to to think that I think my pain is in any way worse than their pain. It is all tremendous pain. So I am very thankful for our remaining embryos, and I hope and pray with all my heart that our next transfer will make us parents. I covet your prayers as well.

Today is Day 1 of National Infertility Awareness Week, so I will be posting about it throughout the week as much as I can. Usually when I write about our journey, I am asked why we don't consider adoption or surrogacy. While those are beautiful options, we are confident that we are walking this out exactly as the Lord has directed us to do. I do hope to share with you soon why we have chosen this route and why we are not taking other avenues in our journey to parenthood, if I can get up the courage. :) Love you all and appreciate you reading my story and praying for us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our IVF Journey {egg retrieval}

Well, it's been quite awhile since I've written anything here. Every time I go to write, I just don't know where to begin! I guess that's what happens when you stop blogging... life happens and then there is just so much to say, you can't figure out where to start! Last time I wrote was 8 months ago and that's just ridiculous. A lot has happened since then in our infertility journey. A LOT. A whole lot! So I thought I would start blogging again by updating you. If you want the bullet point version, feel free to click at the infertility tab at the top of my blog; I have updated it! But here I'll give you the long-winded version. :)

The last time I wrote about our infertility story was in April 2015. We had done 3 IUIs and had gotten pregnant on our third one after 3 years of trying to conceive. We were heading back for more treatment the last time I wrote. I did continue with IUIs, because honestly that is all we could afford. IVF was financially out of the question. And since our third IUI worked, we both felt strongly that it could happen again. So we did three more IUIs in the summer of 2015, and they all failed.

(IUI = Intrauterine Insemination. To put it simply, this is when they get a sample of the husband's sperm & inject it directly into the wife's uterus when she is ovulating. More details here.)

IVF consult, July 2016

Fast forward to October of 2016. At this point, we had been trying to conceive for over five years. I was seeing a new doctor since mine had retired. When he told us my chances of success with IVF versus IUI, I started really desiring to do IVF - for the first time in our entire journey. I wasn't ready before, but suddenly I was, and God provided a way for us to do it at the same time. A few days after our consult, a close family member offered to pay for a round. To say this was a blessing is a huge understatement, and I definitely do not take it for granted! My insurance doesn't cover anything infertility-related, and it was hard enough saving money for each IUI. I know plenty of people who have had to take out loans, but that really wasn't an option for us. So we are truly thankful! We did end up paying a nice chunk of it out of our own pockets, but we never would have even gotten started if it wasn't for this person. So grateful! I fully believe this was God's plan for us, so He made it possible.

(IVF = Invitro Fertilization. This is when the eggs and sperm are put together and fertilized in a lab. That is extremely simply put because that's not what this post is about. I just am usually asked the difference when telling our story, so I thought I would include a quick definition. If you are interested, it explains it in more detail here.) 

Surgery Day, October 3rd

My doctor has his patients do a saline ultrasound before an IVF retrieval. At mine, a polyp was discovered on my uterus. He told me it was best to remove it surgically because it can interfere with implantation. Well, by all means! Don't want anything interfering with that! I had the surgery on October 3rd, and it went very smoothly. In surgery, he found multiple polyps that weren't seen on the ultrasound, all of which he removed. The surgery experience start to finish was a very positive one. I had never had surgery before, so I didn't know what to expect, but the nurses that took care of me were outstanding!

Shots Shots Shots! (Preparing for egg retrieval.)
Lots and lots of monitoring appointments to make sure your body is responding to the meds as it should.
I had planned for Brad to give me ALL my shots, I just didn't think I could give one to myself! But I had to work late once so I brought it to work with me! I was excited & proud of myself for getting it done without any trouble! Ha!
Brad was a champ in all of this! He gave me the majority of my shots & he always mixed up the menopur for me (shown here). I couldn't have done all of this without his help & support!
I once had to give myself a shot while at support group. I got my friend Lauren to join me for some moral support! And honestly, to make sure I was doing it right! I believe it was the menopur which requires mixing powders and such.

In late October, I had my egg retrieval after weeks of shots! I was so nervous about it because at this point I was 38 years old, and I was well versed in how your age affects your eggs - both quantity & quality. My body had been responding so well to the drugs, but that didn't guarantee good eggs. So I was incredibly overjoyed and grateful when my doctor retrieved 15 eggs. When I was wheeled out of surgery in a wheelchair, my doctor was waiting & he said, "15?!!!" and gave me a high five. Felt good knowing he was as excited about that as we were!

Exciting night - I got the trigger shot. This is done when your body is ready for ovulation. The shot causes you to ovulate at the exact right time so that your eggs are being released when the doctor goes in to retrieve them.
Egg socks for egg retrieval day! :)
Retrieval day!
The next few days were full of anxiety and hope, as I waited to hear how my embryos were doing. And it's not like I was busy at work; my retrieval was on a Friday so I took the weekend to rest. So I was home with not a whole lot to do besides wait for the phone to ring! You cannot even imagine how this feels unless you have been through IVF. Not just infertility, but IVF. It's a whole new ballgame. I am not downplaying the emotions that play into IUIs because they're certainly real and intense too. But good grief. Waiting to hear results on your precious embryos is, in a word, terrifying. Those are your BABIES, and I don't think you realize the fullness of that until you are at that point. I remember they told me that I would hear from them on Saturday. When I didn't, I basically went hysterical. Ha. I laugh now but it's true, and it's not just me. They called me early Sunday morning at which point I cried from relief. It took five days to get our final results, with updates about every other day. Nerve-wracking is putting it lightly. But we ended up with eight high-grade frozen embryos. We were both thrilled with that number, and so incredibly grateful.

To Be Continued...

Sorry to end abruptly, but this is too long already and it's a good stopping point. Everything leading up to our egg retrieval went very well. Next I'll tell you about our first embryo transfer. Stay tuned!