After finishing all of my birth control pills, I was feeling extremely anxious about our next doctors appointment. I was due for an ultrasound and blood work…these were two hurdles I had to clear before we could move forward with injections.
Rick and I showed up to our doctors office on a beautiful August morning…truly a beautiful day. The sun was rising and beginning to warm your skin, the birds were singing, the dew on the grass was beginning to evaporate away from the sprinklers the night before. We walked hand in hand into the brownstone building, neither of us spoke. We sat in the waiting room for a few minutes, and I began contemplating looking at the scrapbooks on the coffee table to keep my mind from racing. They were filled with cards and photos from past patients who had experienced success with reproductive assistance. Before I picked one up, I heard the nurse call my name. I asked if my husband could come with me, and she said, “of course”. I was told to undress from the waist down…so sexy for my poor husband. Moments later the nurse came back into the room, dimmed the lights and began the ultrasound. She asked me several awkward questions like, “what did you do over the weekend?”, and “do you have to go back to work after this?” I’m sure it was a tactic to make her feel more comfortable while she was looking at images of my uterus…but I felt like saying, “ma’am you have a probe the size of a miniature baseball bat in me right now…I think we can skip the first date questions and just get down to business!” I heard myself abruptly ask, “so what are we looking for here today?” She kindly responded telling me that number one, the uterine lining needed to be thinned out, and number two, to look at the ovaries. I asked what would happen if the ultrasound showed cysts on my ovaries (as I have never had an ultrasound without cysts showing up). She told me if cysts were present it could cause some issues, as they could elevate hormone levels, particularly estrogen. This caused me to panic. The estrogen levels must be within a certain range in order to proceed to the injection phase. I looked at Rick and I know he could see the worry in each of my forehead wrinkles. Our nurse softly said, “there are no cysts.” HALLELUJAH!!!!!! I got dressed and we headed to the front desk to make our payment to begin IVF. It was uncomfortable to make the nearly $17,000 payment…this was so much money. So much money. I was then called back to have my blood drawn and left my husband to complete the payment. I asked the nurse if our karyotype test results were back as she drew my blood. She pulled our file when she was finished and informed me that my husband and I both had no abnormalities in our chromosomal makeup. HALLELUJAH! She told me the results of my blood work would come later today and I would receive a phone call.
Now we wait.
I anxiously waited for this phone call all day. Unfortunately for me, my career is a 24/7 role where all clients have access to my cell phone number, and on this day in particular every client wanted to call my number. Every time it rang, I felt a wave of anxiety rush through my chest. Alas, at 2:32 PM my nurse, Nancy called. I took two deep breaths before answering, and I was surprised at the length of time I allowed to pass before picking up. “This is Amber,” I said. “Hi Amber, it’s Nancy!” She had a cheerful tone and I was put at ease. She said she had positive news, and we do get to move forward! My estrogen levels were great, and my LH levels were in range. Tuesday will be the day we start our injections!
I was so excited to get home and prep my morning injection. My husband was home before me, so he had a chance to witness my OCD kick into high gear. He tends to stand back as the small tornado, known as his wife, whirls around the house. Some of our medication had to be refrigerated, so I was rustling around in all the boxes and bags making sure I didn’t miss one instructional label marked “refrigeration”. I think my husbands curiosity was peaked, and he peered into the kitchen to see what I was up to. I had our IVF calendar on the counter and the box of Menopure in my hand while reading. I set out one injection needle, one skin penetration needle, one alcohol swab, and a cap. I was reading to figure out how much liquid to pull from the saline jar, to mix with the Menopure. My husband began to get anxious that the ten minutes I had the medication out of the refrigerator was too long and I was beginning to deplete the powers of the drug. He asked that we put everything away, and I obliged. I placed the medication for the morning meticulously on the designated IVF shelf in our refrigerator, and closed the door gently. My husband and I went out for dinner that night and sent a text to our loved ones to let them know day 2 of IVF had arrived and we would begin injections in the morning. It was odd to be so excited and full of hope, because we GET to take copious amounts of medication, experience the joy of painful injections, and go on the hormonal roller coaster ride of our lives. And yet, I couldn’t have been happier or more ready.
I had nightmare after nightmare the night before our first injection. I had one dream that we mistakenly injected the evening medication in the morning, and ruined the entire process before it began. Then I had nightmares of needles coming at me from every angle, and feeling the horrible pain from each one. It was a tough night to say the least…but our bodies and mind tend to deal with stress in their own way. I woke up early and turned on the Hallmark channel. The Golden Girls were always on from 6-8 AM and it was my happy place to listen to it while I prepped for work each morning. Much to my husbands chagrin, he didn’t even mention changing the channel to the local news. I can’t figure out why he doesn’t enjoy Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia as much as I do! Seriously, Betty White is my idol and I hope to be as hilarious, honest and candid as she, when I’m here age!
I chose to stay home from work on our first day of injections to make sure I didn’t have any adverse reactions or problems with the medication. Rick called to me from the kitchen and I told him I wanted to take the shot upstairs so I could lay down in bed. My husband is logical and wondered why I wouldn’t just come down to the kitchen where all of the medication and supplies resided. But I needed my things…I needed my Golden Girls, I needed my bed, and I needed my injection buddy. Our Boxer Daisy had be assigned as the designated injection buddy, although later I found out she wanted nothing to do with the process of being replaced as my baby. Rick brought all of the supplies up, and Daisy behind him. He asked me to help him prepare the Menopure injection. He didn’t need my help, but I think he needed my support. I hadn’t realized, this was stressful for him too, even though he wasn’t receiving the shot. We mixed the saline in the Menopure powder, and Rick was extremely meticulous in measuring and changing the needles.
It was time.
I grabbed Daisy’s paws as she laid around my head, rolled on my side and squeezed my eyes closed. I waited in anticipation for this horrific pain, and a wave of heat from the medication entering my body…but it never came. The injection was less than a pinch, and I felt nothing from the medication. I was all worked up and lost sleep over that! The purpose of the Menopure was to stimulate the ovaries and the follicle growth in order to retrieve eggs, when the time comes, and I know it sounds crazy, but I literally felt my ovaries responding to the medication. I was told that my ovaries would grow from the size of an almond, to the size of an orange in a matter of six days. Shit is gonna get weird.
That evening Rick made it home just in time to give me my evening injection. I laid in bed, grabbed Daisy and turned on one of my guilty pleasure reality shows. This shot had to go in my belly, but I figured since the first one was simple, this would be too. I took deep breaths and Rick went in for the injection….HOLY MOTHER! This one hurt. The tears began to well in my eyes and I now felt the medication radiating just below my skin. Rick sat with me and talked for a while. He told me that it was difficult for him to give me the first injection that morning. He didn’t like the possibility of hurting me, and there was a lot of responsibility on him to “do it right”. We were in this together, and we had to be supportive and proud of each other. That night I couldn’t sleep. I was wide awake at 2:00 AM and my body was cramping in a way I had never felt before. I had to turn on the TV for some Hallmark channel. I was shifting and turning and found myself not being able to get comfortable no matter what I did. My body just hurt.
Before I knew it, it was time to get up and get ready for work. This day is going to blow. I mustered up the strength to get through the day on only a few hours of sleep, but everything came to a head on my drive home. I sat in my car, stuck in traffic, with my swollen belly stuffed into my skinny jeans like a sausage, and began to cry. I just cried and cried. My rational self told me this was a reaction from the medication and being sleep deprived…tomorrow will be better. I’m doing this for the purpose of having a baby. This is worth it. I am strong.
8/20/2016 – Today is day 7 of IVF. Six days of injections so far, an ever growing belly and the discomfort to go right along with it. Rick has become a pro at prepping and injecting our morning Menopure shot, yet each of our three daily injections is beginning to hurt more and more. This mornings injection was painful, and Rick told me my skin welted up and bubbled. I had to rub this medication in, and it hurt like hell. It was like I was receiving a paper cut in the same location every single day, three times a day. My skin was tender and ;my muscles were sore. The evening injection of Gonal F was becoming a bit less painful, now that we had a system of taking a deep breath and then injecting during the breath out. The worst part of the Gonal F, was the taste in my mouth right after the medication went in my body. It was like sucking on a bandaid…disgusting.
Yesterday was our first appointment to check the progress my body was making with the medication. I had my blood drawn and went upstairs for my ultrasound. The technician told me she usually starts to see her patients wearing yoga pants by day 8, as women tend to bloat by then. I told her I was beginning to feel the bloating and pressure after the first day of injections. She told me this was a good sign that my body was responding well to the medication. As the ultrasound began, the technician explained that we were going to be looking at my follicles on each ovary to see the progress I had made thus far. After a few minutes of staring at the ultrasound monitor, I was feeling like an elephant was sitting on my lower abdomen and crushing my back. Every passing moment was excruciating…I could literally feel the wight and pressure of what was going on in my abdomen, sinking down into my back and settling. The technician noticed my attempts to readjust for comfort and asked if I needed a break. I told her my back was hurting being on the table during the screening. She explained that my follicles, eggs and ovaries were absorbing fluids, and plumping up, so there was absolutely pressure from the added fluid pressing down on me as I laid there. Moments later, the technician told me I had 7 follicles on my right ovary. I was so excited for this news! The wand moved over to my left ovary for screening and my excitement began to fleet. The pressure was almost unbearable, and it felt like my organs were being pushed to entirely new locations in my body. Six follicles on the left!
My nurse, Nancy, called me later that afternoon to review my progress and the results from my blood work and ultrasound. She told me that we would most likely be focusing on the 13 follicles that appeared earlier that morning, since they were the first to appear and start maturing. I asked if each follicle contained one egg, or multiple, and she said only one. I felt a sudden sadness that I may only have 13 eggs that become embryo’s. ONLY 13…what the hell was wrong with me?? That was a huge number and I needed to check myself. My body was responding wonderfully, we had follicles and so far a possibility of 13 embryo’s…this was fantastic news and I needed to stay in the positive.
We had another ultrasound appointment on Sunday morning at 7:30. Rick and I drove to the Littleton office, grabbed a Starbucks on the way and enjoyed the beautiful Colorado sunrise together on our drive. Like clock work, I stopped for blood work and then headed upstairs for my ultrasound. Our technician found 12 follicles on the right ovary, and 11 on the left. The sizes of the follicles were also improving and reaching the 12mm mark, and ideally we needed to reach 16mm before retrieving the eggs. The ultrasound ended, I put my yoga pants back on (my go to outfit these days), and Rick had to help me put my shoes on since I couldn’t bend over anymore. As we walked out, Rick stopped to ask a question about the follicles. “Out of curiosity, what is a normal number of follicles for a woman not going through IVF and receiving all of these hormones?” he asked. The technician responded saying, “natural pregnancies only have one follicle, maybe two.” I was shocked…here I was walking around with 23!!! No wonder I was so uncomfortable, walked with a waddle and could no longer reach my toes
A few days later I was really beginning to feel like a hot bag of trash. I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, emotional and unable to focus on anything other than how I was feeling. I decided to run an errand during my lunch break at work to purchase some pajamas for the egg retrieval day. I found a simple pair of black pants with a black t-shirt, that were unbelievably soft. A sales associate asked me if I wanted to try them on before checking out, and much to my chagrin, I agreed to try them on to make sure they didn’t cut into my belly. They worked perfectly, thank goodness. The sales associate helped me check out, and she was so friendly and kind. I began to wonder if she and her husband were trying to start a family, or if they may have been struggling…would I think this about every woman who comes across my path??? I waddled back to my car with my pajamas in tow and grabbed a sandwich on the way back to the office. The rest of the afternoon was overwhelming. My body hurt. My skin hurt. I was so uncomfortable and there was no relief in sight. I had to get through a conference call, and then I could go home. I left as soon as my conference call was over, and not ten minutes after leaving my parking garage, my phone was ringing. It was Nancy, calling with our update. I answered, and she told me immediately, “you have a lot, A LOT of follicles. I had 18 follicles on the left, and 15 on the right, all ranging in sizes from 7mm to 14mm. I knew she was going to tell me I had to wait another day or two before egg retrieval since I hadn’t reached the 16mm size. Also, as predicted, I was instructed that I would have to come in for another ultrasound and blood draw the next morning, and my trigger shot may also be tomorrow evening. Finally, Nancy instructed me that I would have to introduce another shot into our schedule. Cetrotide was another medication living in my refrigerator, that we had not been instructed to use yet. Nancy told me I needed to head home and administer this medication immediately. Shit…I was going to have to give myself this injection. Nancy told me this injection could cause a rash as a side affect, and the size of the needle was larger than the others used previously. This needle was a fun 27 gauge compared to my usual 20 gauge. I went home and got my Cetrotide out of the refrigerator, from our IVF shelf. I was not used to preparing the needles, so it took me many tries to get all of the medication into the needle. I felt a lot of respect for Rick once I realized the art he had perfected. Finally I had the needle ready. I was not worried or afraid. I grabbed a bit of skin, took the needle and firmly, yet carefully put it into my belly. It was over. I did it. I’m proud…and tired.
It’s now day 10 of IVF and I simply cannot control my emotions at this point. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears constantly, and for no good reason. I had another ultrasound appointment scheduled that morning and I was feeling anxious about the amount of time I would be laying in the dark room while my follicles were measured and counted. I drove myself to the doctors office and sat alone in the waiting room until I was called back. It felt like an eternity sitting in the waiting room…just me, my thoughts and my stirring emotions. I heard my name and I forced myself out of the chair to go start the process. I stopped to give blood, and sluggishly walked to the ultrasound room. The technician began counting and measuring, and the number 23 kept flashing in my mind…I knew I would have 23 follicles on one side. The technician said, “wow!!” when she looked at the screen. I said, “I’m assuming there are more today?” She responded and said, “yes, and most women would do anything to have this amount of follicles.” I was still on the verge of tears. I told myself to get my shit together, and be thankful for this blessing. 20 minutes later the technician told me she was done with the right side and would be moving to the left. She giggled and told me how thankful she was to have a radio in her room for me to listen to. She was right…how awkward would our encounters be without a little background music! Moments later “The Eye of the Tiger” started playing, and the technician said, “they are playing this for you!!” I started thinking of myself as Sylvester Stallone, in Rocky. I’m training to start a family – toughen up! I got myself over the hurdle of holding back the tears, and my emotions began to recede. 25 minutes later, we were done with the left side. I asked if we had any that made it to the 16mm size, and she responded, “no, but we did have more that made it to the 14mm mark.” My heart sank…I don’t know how much more I can handle. I went to work, and as the day went on my body was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable, swollen, heavy and pressured.
I left work a bit early that day to get a pedicure, to try and distract my mind from focusing on my physical feelings. I didn’t make it ten minutes down the road before Nancy called to give me my update. She told me I didn’t have any follicles that reached the 16mm mark (I already knew), and I would unfortunately have at least one more day of injections, ultrasounds and blood work (I already knew). She didn’t tell me how many follicles I had that day, but I needed to know. It was the one thing that was keeping me going. It almost became a competitive game with my body, “how many follicles can we get today, ovaries?!?!?” Nancy told me, “23 on the left, and 20 on the right!” There was my number 23 I had flashing in my mind earlier that day. We ended our call and I was reflecting on the work my body had done over the past 10 days. 43 follicles! 43!!!! I hadn’t heard of this many follicles before, not on any blogs, room chat groups, fellow IVFer’s. I’m so proud of me, my body and our hard work!
I documented my physical journey through photos during the injection and follicle growth period. The best explanation I have as to why this process was so difficult is, it’s like becoming six months pregnant in a matter of 12 days. There is no gradual growth process here…you just expand rapidly and aggressively. It’s manageable, but I wish I was more prepared for how it was going to feel. My case was probably extreme due to the amount of follicles, and this is not the case for everyone.