Livin’ On Prayers and Needles: Our IVF Adventure


{Links for “You are my favorite reason to never give up” tee and rest of the outfit at end of post}

For those of you who have been following along and those of you reading for the first time, it’s important to emphasize that it was a miracle in and of itself for us to be at this point where In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was even a possibility. Without interventions, we were given a 0% chance of conceiving. With interventions, leery of throwing out percentages, doctors basically alluded that it was a coin toss if we’d ever have sperm to work with. If sperm were able to be extracted, we’d fall in the same position as any other couple undergoing an initial IVF cycle: between 25-40% success rates depending on age and other variables.

And so then it began {and this blog was conceptualized}, as we were about to start living ‘On Prayers and Needles’. Not the Bon Jovi kind of “Livin’ On A Prayer” either. More like constant pins and needles, except the needles were literal, not a figure of speech.

After receiving some relatively positive news after our last semen analysis in Decemeber, it was decided that we would move forward with testicular surgery (Testicular/Epididymal Sperm Extraction/TESE) and a corresponding IVF cycle.  This meant undergoing two procedures on my end: a sonohysterogram and an endometrial biopsy (the first of which is common protocol, and the latter being more of a clinic-specific practice thought to improve embryo implantation).  I know everyone is different and pain thresholds vary greatly, but in my experience these procedures were more physically painful than any other part of the IVF process (and comparable to the type and degree of pain/discomfort I felt when undergoing a Hysterosalpingogram, HSG, test many months prior).  I don’t know whether I tend to downplay the pain and symptoms endured during my IVF cycle because I was just so grateful to be going through the process or if I had an easier experience and higher threshold. It’s probably a combination of all three and an innate mind-over-matter attitude (Learn more about my all-natural delivery ? & Michael’s Birth Story over the weekend!) However, I found them to cause fleeting (as they’re all quick procedures) mild to moderate cramping that was bearable with the recommended ibuprofen dosage.

After these, we were given our protocol (an overwhelming paper of medicines and schedules that looked somewhat foreign) in January.  It was that contradictory battle of excitement and nervousness that just hung over me, like a storm cloud, unsure which emotion it would evoke at any given moment.  I was overcome with the same feelings the day the box of pills and injections arrived at my doorstep.  It didn’t help either that the plan wasn’t exact, meaning that there was a broad range of when I would start the meds, when I would trigger, when the eggs would be retrieved and transferred.  For an over-planner like myself this left for even more duress, but at the same time I felt like my whole future was at the tips of my fingers; I could almost taste it.

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I began first with birth control.  Then on February 8th I took my first Estradiol pill and started Follistim injections in my stomach.  For us, my husband had been giving himself these shots for over a year and a half, so it was an easy decision that he would inject me. It was a lot to balance with work and our schedules. The shots needed to be administered around the same time every day and monitoring, which included bloodwork and ultrasounds, was basically every other day.  I was fortunate to have understanding bosses who let the 5 or 10 minutes tardy in the am go.  I’d try and be the first one at the fertility clinic for monitoring at 7:30, but almost always failed to do so, given the 20 minute commute each way and typical Northeast winter weather.  I’ve included details that I kept of monitoring below.  To be completely honest, there may be a few missing, but at least they can serve as some point of reference if you’re undergoing monitoring yourself (because you can bet your you know what, I would’ve given anything to see someone else’s monitoring when I was going through it) & sorry to those of you who feel like you’re deciphering ancient hieroglyphics!

2.12.14: Estradiol 172 pg/mL, RIGHT OVARY 2-8mm, 1-9mm, 1-11mm follicles, LEFT OVARY 4-8mm follicles

2.14.14 Happy ❤️ Day to Us! Estradiol 304 pg/mL, RIGHT OVARY  1-11mm, 2-12mm, 1-13 mm follicles, LEFT OVARY 1-8mm, 2-13mm follicles

2.17.14 Estradiol-not recorded by me, RIGHT OVARY 1-11mm, 2-13mm, 1-16mm, 1-18mm, LEFT OVARY 1-13mm, 1-14mm, 1-18mm

2.18.14 Estardiol-not recorded by me, RIGHT OVARY 1-13mm, 1-16mm, 1-18mm, 1-20mm, 1-21mm follicles, LEFT OVARY 1-10mm, 1-13mm, 1-20mm, 1-21 mm follicles

I can’t seem to find the specifics of when I added the Ganirelix injection, but Ovidrel trigger was 2.18.14 around 10 pm and IVF retrieval was scheduled for 2.20.14.

An important part of our story that differs from almost everyone (something like 1%) is that you must remember 2.20.14 was not only our egg retrieval day, but also had to be the scheduled date for my husband’s testicular surgery (TESE) in order to conduct a fresh transfer.  We woke up that morning, with not one, but two huge feats.  Living ‘On Prayers and Needles’ took on a whole new meaning that day.  We began first thing at the urologist’s.  The light humor and casual conversation amongst us and the doctor and nurses helped some of the anxiety subside, but minimally.  I mean to put it all out there-my husband’s nuts were being cut into.  Our destiny laid in the outcome of this surgery.  Were we going to leave knowing there were sperm to fertilize the eggs that’d be retrieved later that day or would the eggs have to be frozen (most likely indefinitely) since no viable sperm could be found?  That’s one heavy question and I don’t think I could do justice in putting into words its implications.  Needless to say we went in that day as we had the last year and a half-cautiously optimistic.  Surgery began.  I was in a room diagonally across, with the door slightly ajar.  As the minutes went by, I began pacing back and forth in front of the door which my husband was behind.  I eavesdropped, I prayed, I teared up, and I tried to breath.  Then a nurse came out and escorted me to the main waiting room.  I tried to read her face, when I saw the doctor sneak out briefly.  “Nothing on that side,” he said as I was shuffled along.

I sat in that waiting room all alone, my heavy head resting in my trembling hands.  I was numb.  How could this be?  Why was this happening? After all of this, why weren’t we finally getting something? What’d we do to deserve this? All I could do was pray.  But I couldn’t even remember how to pray the rosary.  The words escaped me. Everything escaped me in the next hour or so, especially my cautious optimism.  I googled the words and kept reciting.  “Hail Mary, mother of God…” Even the rosary was reminding me of what I may never be…a mother.

My husband came out, looking uneasy.  It didn’t look good.  They didn’t see anything immediately but would further examine the sample.  Honestly, I don’t even remember all that transpired from the time we left the doctors until the time we were 2 minutes or so out of the parking lot and my husband’s cell phone rang.  I know he apologized.  I know we both couldn’t fight back the tears.  Then the phone call that restored our cautious optimism:  in 1/1000th of the sample they found a handful of sperm.  He thought there was bound to be enough to perform Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which is essentially extracting one sperm and injecting it into a single egg to fertilize.

From then on, our IVF journey took on a whole new aura.  It became almost like a beautiful dream.  It’s not to say that it was easy, but it was amazing.  I dressed for the retrieval, parted ways with my husband for 15 minutes or so, and laid there as a stunning anesthesiologist asked me to count backwards, while classical music played in the background.  I just remember waking up and everything was white.  It seemed like angels were singing above me, their white feathered wings blocking my view.  I came to it rather quickly, especially once I learned that eleven eggs had been retrieved.

Cautiously optimistic we continued ‘On Prayers and Needles’.  The progesterone shots began.  Funny side story-I didn’t think my husband needed to change the needle on the progesterone shot since it already had one very large one.  Needless to say, the nurse was left speechless that I was able to endure that…in my behind (??Kim K. who?! ?).  Even after that, the progesterone were the worst of the shots for me as they caused the most pain/bruising and burning.  We alternated sides which seemed to help some.  That was a Thursday, so we both took the next day off to recover.  I felt as though I had lost a fanny pack of golf balls (best way I can describe the feeling of carrying all those eggs), but my husband was obviously still in a lot of pain.  Then we received an email that 6 of the 11 eggs retrieved were mature enough to perform ICSI.  Of those 6, 4 fertilized (Remember that # when reading future post, My IVF Tips).    Exhale.  Some relief physically and mentally.

The next day, a Saturday, we both went to work at my husband’s retail business as usual.  I anticipated a phone call for an update on the embryos, but wasn’t prepared for what came next.  The number was still 4, with 3 of them looking quality enough to transfer…the next day. Day 3?  Almost everything I read said Day 5 so they’d get to the stage of blastocysts.  This couldn’t be good.  Why couldn’t anything be easy?  This wasn’t what I planned on my head (Damn head-still won’t stop planning after all this).  The woman on the other line assured me it was just in the best interest of the embryos to be back in the most natural setting.  I went on to ask how many of the three we’d be transferring and she said that’d be discussed tomorrow before the transfer.

This rollercoaster of highs and lows that is fertility was the most difficult part for us during our cycle.  It wasn’t the shots and the pills, the monitoring and the blood work.  It wasn’t even the procedures.  It was the constant good news, bad news, good news, bad news.  You have eggs, but we can’t find sperm.  We found sperm, but only some of the eggs were mature enough.  They fertilized, but need to go back in asap.

So Sunday it was; Transfer Day.  It began with consultation with the doctor to review the embryos.  At this point he crossed out one of the four to give a visual of what was left to transfer, 3, and transferring all three was what he recommended for the best probability, especially since we were open to twins.  He assured us that we wouldn’t have triplets and so it was decided gameday-so not the plan!

Or should I say, so not my plan.  Clearly, though, it was God’s Plan (look for a future post discussing God and Infertility).  It was all God’s plan in my eyes and in hindsight of course.  Laying in that surgery room, hand in hand with my husband, watching our three embryos be transferred into my uterus (essentially the exact moment Mikie was conceived) was nothing short of heaven on earth…and our doctor, our urologist, the nurses, the embryologists are all truly angels on earth.

So we met the dreaded two week wait (TWW) after almost two years, but we made two promises to one another:  no googling and no pregnancy tests before Beta 14 dpt (days post transfer): March 10, 2014.  Obviously the longest two week wait in history sans the instant gratification of the Internet.

I received the call while at work, from a nurse who holds a very special place in my heart.  All her guidance, all of the doctor’s and urologist’s hard work, all of our prayers and needles had been worth it and were culminated in that moment.  I was even able to relay that we we’re pregnant to my husband myself-something I’d always planned doing.  It was a memory in which time stood still for us, but we knew to remain cautiously optimistic as we weren’t out of the clear yet.  So we remained living ‘On Prayers and Needles’ (Progesterone needles and suppositories to be exact?)!




“You are my favorite reason to never give up” {Shirt from Etsy Shop Jumping Jack, Pants from Two Little Kings Leather boots from Love Jules Leather }

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