What I Wish I Had Known Before My 2 Rounds Of Failed IVF
“When is my next appointment?” I asked the nurse as she looked up at me, holding the probe that — just moments ago — was up my vagina.
“I don’t know, the doctor will look at the results over lunch and call you later,” she responded nonchalantly. My mind raced with thoughts. Do I need to cancel my client calls tomorrow morning?
Shortly after lunchtime, I got a call from the nurse. “Your follicles are growing quickly, you need to come in tomorrow and the two open times we have are 8:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m.,” she said. I had important calls scheduled for both of those times. I knew that no matter what, I would disappoint or inconvenience a client.
I started my in vitro fertilization journey in 2019. I had no idea how disruptive the procedure would be. I had no idea that I’d lose thousands of dollars of potential business income and risk damaging professional relationships. And to top it off, I would have no guarantee that it would actually work.
I was just shy of my 39th birthday at the time we consulted a doctor about IVF. My husband, Jason, and I had recently married and we had been struggling to conceive naturally for nearly one year.
While I have a teenage daughter, Jason didn’t have any biological children of his own. After a failed intrauterine insemination, we were initially hesitant to try IVF due to the time and financial investment. We ended up deciding to try just one round. Thankfully, my husband’s employer offered IVF insurance for some of the costs, and after discussing our options with a reproductive endocrinologist, we decided to move forward.
During my initial 12 days of IVF, I had to follow a complicated medical protocol. My particular IVF approach required four separate types of medication that had to be carefully prepared and administered. This includes medications for ovarian stimulation, medications for oocyte maturation, medications to prevent premature ovulation, and — if you have a healthy embryo — medications to prepare the lining of your uterus.
This meant that every morning, I took multiple pills. Throughout the day, I wore a patch, and each evening, I mixed medicines to inject into my stomach.
I had a bag of needles of different sizes. Using the bigger needle, I would mix two vials of powder with a saline solution. With a separate needle, I drew up the medicine from the vial and injected myself. To keep track of the process, I kept a special IVF calendar on my nightstand. And to make sure I was wearing the right patch, I wrote the date on the patch, since I had to change them every other day.
All of this was just for the first 12 days. The protocols to prepare my body for the embryo transfer were different and just as complicated.
I was constantly terrified that I’d mess up the process and waste thousands of dollars of medicine. Along with the complicated pharmaceutical protocols and unpredictable, last-minute doctor appointments, I also experienced insomnia, emotional hormone fluctuations, bloating, and constant pain from the injections. Many of my eyelashes fell out.
About five days into my second round of IVF, I received a call from a business partner, asking if I could cover a client consulting project for her. While I was delighted to help, I instantly checked my appointment calendar.
My husband and I had chosen to keep our IVF journey private. But worried that I’d sabotage our partnership, I ended up telling her about my unpredictable IVF schedule.
“I can help you if I don’t have a monitoring appointment that morning, or if I can get my monitoring appointment at 6:30 a.m., but I won’t know that until 2 p.m. the day before,” I told her.
Unfortunately, she needed an answer for the client that same day. That “no” cost me several thousand dollars. As an entrepreneur who needed the money for IVF, this was a hard pill to swallow.
What I was least prepared for, however, was the emotional toll this process would take on me.
In the first round of IVF, I produced just one embryo, and that one wasn’t genetically normal. In January 2020, Jason and I decided to try IVF one final time. We were thrilled to hear, just a month later, that I had two normal embryos. But days later, all elective medical procedures were put on pause because of COVID-19.
Despite having two embryos ready, we had no idea when (or if) the procedure would continue. At this point, I was approaching 40 and knew that each day that passed was diminishing my chances of a successful pregnancy. At the time, social media was full of posts about the upcoming lockdown baby boom.
“Not for us,” I remember thinking.
In May, we finally got clearance to continue the treatment. I started taking various medications to prepare the lining of my uterus for the embryo. Eight days after the transfer, I went to the clinic for a blood draw to see if my embryo transfer was successful. The nurse called a few hours later: “Great news, you’re pregnant!”
Because I had a history of pregnancy loss, I had to schedule blood draws every two days with the clinic. This meant even more schedule shuffling.
A few weeks in, my doctor phoned to tell me that my hormone levels had dropped and that I was in the process of miscarrying. I was devastated and confused. I had three pregnancy losses before, but I didn’t expect this to happen with IVF and a genetically normal embryo. We grieved this loss over the summer.
Two months after the miscarriage, I started the complicated medical schedule again. A few days after my second and final transfer, I learned my final embryo didn’t take.
This was almost more heartbreaking than the miscarriage. It meant our journey was final and wouldn’t end with a baby. I had spent two years investing money, time, energy and hope into this process.
At this point, Jason and I had decided to stop the IVF treatments. His employer’s insurance only covered up to a certain dollar amount and the emotional and physical toll of the treatments had become almost unbearable.
If I went through another round of IVF that was successful, I’d likely have a baby at 42, making it a high-risk pregnancy. Also, given my history of unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss, we didn’t want to pursue IVF again unless we had answers for the consistent losses.
For me, choosing to end IVF was the best decision, albeit a gut-wrenching one that I question nearly every day.
Not only did I desperately want a baby with my husband, but I often feel like I’m cheating him out of a child. “He could have married someone younger,” I sometimes think.
In a world where women have been culturally conditioned to believe our worth is tied to our fertility, it’s not surprising that I had these thoughts. The world is built for heterosexual couples who choose to have children without medical intervention. Seeing this in the media and growing up in a religious community meant that I took on this narrative as my own.
But Jason and I are working through this together. We know that conceiving a baby doesn’t make a marriage successful. Instead, we are lucky to have found each other, and Jason is a wonderful stepdad to my daughter, Hailey.
For many families, IVF is a gift. For others, it doesn’t go as planned. Nevertheless, infertility treatment is something that everyone should have access to rather than only those who can afford it.
Dr. Stephanie Gustin, FACOG, reproductive endocrinologist and advocate for infertility warriors everywhere, shares her advice for people preparing themselves for IVF. “Give yourself grace. For many, IVF feels like very high stakes. It is expensive and often a culmination of years of trying before taking the plunge. But the reality is you can only do so much. Follow your medicine calendar and ask questions. Beyond that, be kind to yourself and your body. You are doing everything you can possibly be doing, and more,” she advises.
When my friends who have chosen to use IVF ask me for advice, I give them two words: “radical acceptance.” It’s important that you accept that you cannot control any of it: the timing, the appointments, or the outcome. Looking back, I wish I had cleared my work schedule for the duration of the treatment and focused on better self-care.
IVF looks different for everyone. The important thing when going into an IVF treatment is creating realistic expectations that prepare you for the best — and the worst — it has to offer.