Truth be told, I have wondered for the past two months whether to even write about this one. I don’t want to wallow in poor-old-me status or have people give me their sympathy. When I post anything about our fertility journey since died Teddy, or in fact anything about losing him, it’s never for anything other than trying to connect myself to others who might have been through a similar experience. Whether it be to offer them some comfort, or find some for myself; I am not sure? I think it is most likely a case of simply not wanting to feel like the “only one”. Which I will admit, I often do when I see other people having babies and making it look as easy as shelling-peas (as my Mum would say).
We did IVF, again. Spoiler alert; I am not pregnant. After the complications and miscarriage earlier in the year we had pondered on whether the time would be “right” to try it again. My hormones after our loss had been (to say the least) complicated and had not returned to what were considered “normal levels” until June. We had begun our IVF cycle in January; so half a year had flown past and we were essentially right back where we had started. After a couple of normal monthly cycles we embarked on the now unpredictable (thanks to my body) road of IVF once more. A process of nightly injections, keeping secrets from our loved ones, and cancelling plans at last minute because I couldn’t face it/ didn’t want anyone to ask why I wasn’t drinking or (even worse) assume I was pregnant/ said-plans clashed with injection timings and the logistics were just too tricky to contemplate.
This cycle (which began in August) was a “long protocol” of 6 weeks of treatment. Meaning on day 21 I began injections to shut-down my hormones (essentially tricking my body into a menopause-type-state and preventing ovulation). I was eating the right things, taking the right vitamins and drinking hot ginger and lemon like my life depended on it. Two weeks on and I began second nightly injections of a drug to stimulate my ovaries. After my check up scan and during my first week of stimulation drugs we were off to Cornwall, which felt like the perfect place to escape the pressure and expectation of it all (that I had quite clearly piled on myself).
One week on and I returned for another scan to see how my ovaries were responding. Tick; brilliantly. We were over one hurdle. I returned 48 hours later for another scan. Wait; how can they be responding too well? This wasn’t in the plan. I had been considered a low/slow responder in previous cycles. I had developed just one singular (big) follicle in our first cycle at the end of last year; forcing it to be cancelled a few days before what should have been our egg retrieval. During the cycle at the start of the year they had collected just 10 eggs from me and only 3 had fertilised into embryos. How on earth were my ovaries choosing to do this, now?
With 52 follicles looking like they were growing by the day and a set of ovaries that actually felt fit to burst; I was sent home with a lower medication dosage and with instructions to rest and drink 2-3 litres of water a day. “Well at least it can’t be cancelled this time.” I thought. I had too many if anything? When I returned to the hospital that Friday the news was better; I think there were 10 less follicles of what is deemed “mature” size at that stage; but still, over 40 was pretty huge. I was warned that once they performed egg collection on the Monday that I could become poorly with OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome). I was also told that if they collected over 25 eggs that any embryo transfer date would be automatically cancelled as I would be deemed too “high risk” for the OHSS to progress and worsen. Fair enough; it is a serious condition and I wouldn’t want to put my own health, life even, at risk.
After another weekend of rest and water; coupled with a little celebration from me as I administered my trigger shot after 4 weeks of injections, Monday rolled around and we were checked into the hospital by 7am. We settled in, I made the same jokes about the sexy gown and my love of surgical stockings. I was taken to theatre, sedated and the next thing I knew I was chatting to a doctor in the recovery room as I came around, and was practically begging him to tell me that they hadn’t collected more than 25 eggs. He didn’t know; that was news for the embryologists to deliver. They wheeled me back to the room where the familiar scene of my husband waiting with all my favourite snacks and drinks awaited me.
A little differently this time, I was on a drip. The nurse assured me it was just because of my high risk of OHSS and that they needed to keep me hydrated. About half an hour passed before an embryologist came to see us. 28. TWENTY-EIGHT bloody eggs! I should have been over the moon, but I wanted to burst into tears in front of her. Not because it wasn’t wonderful, not because I didn’t see those as twenty-eight wonderful chances of us becoming parents again; but because this marked the end. Seven long weeks into this cycle, and the curtain simply dropped down on us. No transfer, no opportunity of pregnancy; no hope. I cried as soon as she left the room, as my husband stroked my head and reminded me to try and eat and drink. The nurses who kept returning to check on me said that it might not mean no transfer and that I could be monitored, but I knew they were just being kind and optimistic. The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur of sickness and vomiting, fainting to the floor and another drip to hydrate me, before we were allowed to go home later that day.
By the time the evening came and I was (still) lying in bed, I knew I didn’t feel right. I felt like I was running out of room under my ribs; as if my tummy was expanding at a rate of knots and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My ovaries physically ached. All of this felt so far removed from our last IVF cycle. I felt battered and bruised by all of this; not to mention really sick. The following morning wasn’t much better. my appetite had left the building, everything made me nautious (quite cruelly it was reminiscent of everything I had experienced in my first trimester of pregnancy with Teddy). The embryology call came. 23 had fertilised. I was so happy. My tears of despair turned into ones of elation, and in that moment all I could think about was that rugby team (and reserves bench) of babies that were growing in the lab.
As the week went on, it became quite clear that an embryo transfer wouldn’t be happening for us, this time. I was swelling to the size of a small village and could barely move from my bed. Each day we received an update call on our little embryos. Then, once day five had come and gone, every one that they were able to were put on ice, for now. I will be honest, at this point it felt like a relief. No more drugs, no more interference; a chance for my body to recover from this. I knew the last thing I could physically handle at this point was a baby-on-board; the risk to my health was too great.
As the cycle ended the following week and my period finally came after two months of treatment, I felt like I could finally breathe out; literally and metaphorically. I had been desperately holding it together for those last two weeks since egg retrieval. Putting on a “brave face” (again). I finally felt ready to cry. Oh, and did I.
When you put your everything into the hope of an outcome that you both want so badly, and it ends all too abruptly, it’s as if that final bit of hope is taken away from you. Now, two months on, I realise that isn’t the case. I’m starting to look up again. You see, we have fourteen little rays of hope waiting for us; just on ice.