It’s been a hot minute since I have sat down and updated you all on our fertility journey. We share the entire journey on Instagram (check for all my saved IVF highlights), but I wanted to write it all out and share our full experience with you. The last time I wrote, we were going in for our first embryo transfer. In this post, I also share our entire background with conceiving naturally and miscarriage.
We began our IVF journey in October of 2018. This came after conceiving. naturally and miscarrying three times. It was then time to intervene on the process and ensure that we were using genetically good embryos. Our doctor believed that we were producing more genetically abnormal embryos, resulting in my body miscarrying them before eight weeks gestation. Doing IVF with genetic testing would give us the opportunity to transfer a genetically good embryo. Our best shot at keeping a pregnancy to term.
People try to prepare you for what IVF is like. They warn you about the mood swings, emotional breakdowns and the physical toll that this experience takes on your body and mind. But to be honest, I was so shocked as it began to unfold. What you see depicted in the media and movies is nowhere near the actual journey. I like to call that “Hollywood IVF.” Glamorous movie stars announcing they are pregnant with the help of IVF and the beautiful babies to follow. All the glitz and joy, but lacking the raw, unedited experience to get there.
It was at this point that I knew I had to be transparent. God placed this on my heart and it wouldn’t budge. I kept going back to it. To the idea that sharing our experience was just what society needs. I vowed to be as open as I could. Over time, this became more and more. I quickly learned how important this was. How many women needed it. Women who relied on seeing it firsthand. On seeing the raw and real experience. On being open shown the truth. So, we did.
I’m going to start by describing the IVF process from egg retrieval to frozen embryo transfer. Following that, I will share what happened each step of our journey.
** I strongly advise beginning acupuncture if you know that you are going to begin IVF and do it throughout the entire process. We did this with our most recent transfer.
Step 1: Egg Retrieval – What is it? How does it work?
The journey began just like they all do. We had our consultation and medication training to prep for our first egg retrieval. So, what is an egg retrieval? It is a procedure that extracts mature eggs from the ovaries and then fertilizes them with sperm outside of the body. Sounds simple, right? Well, there is a lot of prep work that goes into such a task.
Prepping with Birth Control
First, the doctors have to prep your body for the retrieval by starting you on birth control on day 3 of your cycle. Going on BC does two things: It aids in your ovaries responding better to the stimulation drugs. It also provides the doctors a way to regulate the timing of your cycle and medications. You are on these for roughly two weeks.
At the time of your next expected period, you will go in for a baseline ultrasound and blood work. They are checking your estrogen levels and to make sure your ovaries look good. They want to make sure you don’t have any cysts before moving forward with the stimulation phase.
So what is the stimulation process like? This process includes a nightly injection of Menopur and Gonal-F (ours was a mixture in one syringe), which helps to prepare naturally occurring hormones in the ovaries to help grow your follicles (which the eggs are extracted from). You do these injections anywhere from 8-12 days depending on how your ovaries respond. During this time, you will continue to go in and see your doctor for blood work and ultrasounds to check the process and growth of your follicles. These visits are quick and painless.
The injections are administered in the abdomen. They have a fairly short needle. The only real complaint I have with these is that the medication burns when it goes in. But, it’s quick! I don’t experience a lot of emotional or physical side effects while on these medications. However, you want to be as clean as possible during stimulation. No alcohol or caffeine! And due to the ovaries getting larger, you are restricted to only walking. No working out! You could develop ovarian torsion (the twisting of an ovary) and you want to avoid that.
Once your ovaries are ready, you will do what they call a “trigger shot” 36 hours before your egg retrieval. This is an HCG shot that stimulates the final maturation of the eggs before they are retrieved.
Egg Retrieval Day
On the day of your retrieval, you will be advised to not eat or drink anything because of the anesthesia. When you arrive at your clinic, they will get you hooked up to an IV and begin fluids. The procedure itself is fairly quick. They take you back the operating room and place your legs in stirrups (like you would for an exam). Within a minute, you are fast asleep and they are extracting your eggs.
You will wake up drowsy and kind of out of it. They will monitor you for about thirty minutes and then you are all set! The rest of the day is spent at home taking it easy.
Fertilization, Blastocysts and Genetic Testing
Now comes the hard part… waiting! After the eggs are introduced to the sperm (which is collected that same morning), you wait to see how many fertilize. From there, how many continue to develop into blastocysts. By day 5/6, whichever embryos have made it to the blastocyst stage are biopsied (if you choose to do genetic testing) and frozen. Some women do fresh transfers and would transfer an embryo 3-5 days later. However, we needed to genetically test ours. The biopsies are sent out and generally you hear back about 7-14 days later.
Step #2 -Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) – What is it? How does it work?
While you wait to find out the results of your genetic testing, you will begin to look towards your frozen embryo transfer (FET). An FET is a procedure where a thawed embryo is placed into the uterus in hopes to become pregnant. At this time you will have also started a new cycle and have had a period. You will go back on BC until it’s time to move forward with the medications.
Prepping for the Transfer
Next, you will begin estrogen. This can be in the form of pills, patches or suppositories. I had patches that I placed on my lower abdomen. The estrogen helps to ensure a healthy endometrial lining. During the first two weeks you are on estrogen, you will experience a lot! First, you will notice abdominal bloating and weight gain. Alongside that, you will struggle with your emotions, irritability and mood swings. You will be expected to go in for a couple appointments to check everything, but it is far less than the retrieval process.
Once you have been on estrogen for two weeks, you will begin progesterone in oil (PIO) injections five days before your transfer. These are administered in the upper gluteus area. I advise asking your doctor for numbing patches (Senera patches) to place thirty minutes prior to your injection. The needle for this is a lot longer! It looks super scary but the medications don’t burn when they go in. So, that’s a plus! They advise you to insert the needle quickly, but we have found that inserting it slowly works for us.
The progesterone will aid in developing a nice, thick, lining for that embryo to attach to. You may experience bleeding at the injection site, bruising and a sore backside. I suggest rubbing the area (like you would get a muscle knot out) right after the injection and using a heating pad immediately after. This will help!
On transfer day, you will be asked to drink a lot of water and take a small sedative an hour before your procedure. They want your body to be calm and your bladder to be full. If you are doing acupuncture, you will start that an hour beforehand as well.
They will take you to the OR and again place your legs up in stirrups. This time you are fully awake and aware. They will begin by placing an external ultrasound on your abdomen to find your bladder. If it looks full enough, they will insert a speculum and then clean off your cervix. Next, a catheter is inserted to pinpoint where they will be transferring the embryo. They are pushing on your bladder the entire time which is extremely uncomfortable. It just feels like you’re going to pee yourself. No biggie. 😉
Next, the embryologist will come in with a second catheter (containing the embryo). They will insert and release the embryo into the uterus. You can see it happen on the screen in the room. It’s pretty cool! And that’s it. You’re done.
If you are getting acupuncture, you will go back to your room and do it one more time before going home. You are advised to go home and be relaxed the rest of the day. You are told that you can resume your regular activities the following day but to be conscience of what you do. You are to act like you are pregnant. They also ask you to not work out or have sex.
Post Transfer: Waiting, HCG, Ultrasounds
Two days post transfer, your clinic will draw your blood and make sure your estrogen and progesterone levels look good and no changes need to be made to your medications. You resume ALL meds until you know if you are pregnant. If you are, you continue medications until the end of the first trimester. Yes, injections too!
About nine days later (depending on your clinic), you will go in for an HCG blood draw. This will tell you if you are pregnant or not. From there, you will go in every 48 hours for HCG level tests to make sure your levels are rising appropriately, followed by ultrasounds. If your pregnancy continues successfully, you stay with your doctor until 12 weeks. At that point, you are sent to your regular OB!
That is the entire IVF process from start to finish. I thought it would be helpful to have it all laid out. Now, I will share about our journey and what has happened!
Our Journey with IVF to Date
Egg Retrieval #1 – October 2018
We had our first egg retrieval at the end of October last year. From that retrieval, we retrieved eight eggs. Out of the eight, three made it to the blastocyst stage. After genetic testing, we only had one genetically good embryo.
This wasn’t a huge surprise to us due to our doctor’s position on our case. Two out of three being genetically abnormal went along with the thought that our miscarriages were likely due to our embryos being abnormal then as well.
Transfer #1 – January 2019
We transferred our one good embryo on my 31st birthday! January 18th, 2019. We were sad to discover that we did not get pregnant from this transfer. Our doctor was pretty surprised by this. While we know that IVF percentages indicate that many transfers are unsuccessful, he was left feeling unsettled that it did not work considering my age and good lining.
Egg Retrieval #2 – March 2019
We approached the second retrieval with a positive outlook. One failed attempt wasn’t going to slow us down. We were ready to move forward. So, we had our second egg retrieval.
The only change to this round was that my doctor started me on double the amount of stim meds. However, after blood work 48 hours later, he had me return to the normal amount I was on the first go around. Everything else remained the same.
This time, we retrieved a total of 19 eggs. More than double what we retrieved the first time. Everyone was so happy! However, knowing about our embryos still made us super nervous and cautious of getting too excited. We were very worried about how many would come back genetically normal.
By the end of the six days, we had five genetically good embryos and one mosaic embryo. A mosaic embryo is found to have normal AND abnormal cells. So, we knew at this point that we had five to work with. Of those five, we discovered that three were boys and two were girls.
We were surprised that we had so many good embryos. We began to question the theory about the majority of our embryos being abnormal. But…. we put it out of our minds and appreciated the fact that we had five to work with this time!
Endometrial Receptivity Analysis (ERA) – April 2019
Now that we had some embryos to transfer, our doctor wanted to really make sure that we were set up for success. He was still a little unsettled about our first transfer not taking, that he suggested we do an endometrial receptivity analysis (ERA). This is essentially a “mock transfer.” You prep for a transfer (yes, ALL the estrogen and progesterone), but instead of transferring an embryo, they take a biopsy of your endometrial lining and send it out for testing.
Why do an ERA? This analysis tests the lining to make sure that your body is in the “normal range” of receptivity for a successful embryo implantation. If you transfer an embryo at the incorrect time, it can cause a transfer to fail.
So, what is the procedure like? It’s super quick which is good news. It can be done in a regular exam room. Your doctor will simply clean off your cervix and then “scratch” the lining with a little tool. They send it off and let you know the results within a week.
We discovered that my body was ready for implantation twelve hours earlier than the average woman. This would then alter when I began my medications for the next transfer. We started 12 hours earlier. That’s why I do my shots in the morning and not the evening.
Transfer #2 – May 2019
We were pumped and ready! We knew that our shots were higher with the ERA results. We felt like we were set up for success. My blood work was perfect and my lining was textbook. That day, we transferred one genetically good embryo. However, we were again unsuccessful. This was shattering.
It was shattering for multiple reasons. First, just the emotions and energy that go into a transfer are enough to devastate you. But knowing that one of our sweet embryos we prayed about was gone, was really hard as well. We didn’t ask which gender they transferred, nor do we want to know. I find it easier to not know any of those details.
Now that we had two failed transfers, our doctor was even more upset. He told us that it’s uncommon to have two failed transfers in a row and that he wished he knew what to do. Hearing your doctor tell you that they just don’t know what to do has got to be one of the worst things I’ve experienced throughout this whole process. I think he was shocked. He even suggested that maybe it would be helpful to get a second opinion. At this point, I didn’t know what to do. We decided to sit down and discuss what to do the following week. Emotions were high during this call.
Transfer #3 – July 2019
When we met with our doctor the following week, he came up with some ideas. He truly cares for us so much and I could tell he spent time thinking about next steps and would he could change the third go around. They were little things, but worth a try. He had two suggestions for this next transfer. First, he wanted us to do acupuncture. I hadn’t done it up until this point and he strongly advised that we try it this round. I had so many people tell me to do it, but it’s just never been something I was interested in and kinda shrugged it off. At this point, I would try anything!
The other suggestion that he had was to do an endometrial scratching to hopefully aid in a successful implantation. So, this is an ERA (which I explained above) without the biopsy. His thoughts were that this could help the lining be a more optimal environment for the embryo to successfully attach after the transfer.
So, we did as told and prepped for our transfer. We had the endometrial scratching and I went to acupuncture once a week. We went in for the transfer on July 31st. Our acupuncturist (AcuHealth) came to our doctor’s office and did a session before the transfer. Once the procedure was complete, he concluded with another session. We went home and prayed for this transfer to work!
From that day, I did everything I was told from all my sweet followers: wore socks, only drank/ate warm things, ate pineapple core, Brazil nuts, avocados…. I took it easy but didn’t stay bed ridden. I was so focused on allowing that little embryo to attach! I went to acupuncture and I tried to stay relaxed. I prayed. Prayed, prayed, prayed….
Last Friday, just nine days after the transfer, I received a positive HCG blood test. We are pregnant! While this is extremely exciting news, we are also very nervous. Having lost three pregnancies perviously, we are obviously worried of it happening a fourth time. All we can do is pray for that sweet little baby to keep growing big and strong! It is out of our control and it’s all going to be according to God’s plan.
I went in for my second HCG test yesterday and my levels look good so far! They went from 192.9 to 1,051.8 only 72 hours later. I am keeping everyone updated on Instagram and will come back on here and share soon.
Coping With IVF
I often get asked how we are able to stay positive and what kind of advice I can give someone going through the pain of infertility. Here are my thoughts…
You Are Not Alone
First and foremost, it’s so important to know that you are not alone. One in eight couples struggle to conceive and/or carry a pregnancy to term. So knowing that you are not alone on this journey is super important. Give yourself grace. If you are blaming yourself, please stop. Cause that just breaks my heart! You did not do anything to cause a miscarriage. You are not to blame for being unable to conceive naturally. Psalm 139:14 states, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God created us just the way we are. Don’t lose sight of how amazing you are. Infertility does not define you. It’s just a part of your journey. It’s a part of making you stronger.
Put Your Faith at the Forefront
I don’t know where we would be without our beliefs. Knowing that God has His hands in this entire process has made the journey more bearable. Ultimately we know that all will be done according to His will. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know the inside scoop along the way. As hard as it is, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Romans 8:28 All we can do is pray for our hearts. Pray that we can stay strong throughout this crazy infertility journey and never lose sight of His love for us. Cause, that love is strong! His promises are infinite. This song has helped me a ton in the past few days.
Share, Share, Share
I cannot encourage this more. I have found so much comfort and peace from being vocal! I am so glad that I opened up and began sharing our story. I have had the privilege of meeting so many amazing women who are also working through their own infertility. Being able to discuss fears and have questions answered has been such a huge support to us. If you are going through infertility and bottling it all up, please consider finding a person to share your heart with. A friend, a support group… someone! We are not meant to go through challenging times alone. We are meant to be a community and support one another. To pray for one another. Let others know and pray for you on your journey. I promise you that your mind and heart will feel so much better if you open up and share!
Thank you so much for all of your love and support. You have no idea how much it means to have this community alongside us on this journey. Your prayers are truly felt and appreciated. They mean the world!
If you are struggling with trying to conceive, in the midst of IVF or know the heartache of losing a child, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I am here for you and would love to be a place for you to turn to. You are not alone. You are not meant to do this alone. Please know that I am here. Praying for you always.