Last night Andrew and I wrapped up my 11 days of stims with a HCG trigger shot right in the booty. (For those of you unfamiliar with IVF- that means that for the past 11 days I’ve been getting shots that are full of hormones that stimulate the growth of multiple follicles containing eggs in my ovaries. On the final day of stims you get an extra “trigger shot” that signals to your body to finalize the maturation process of the follicles and prepare them to be harvested at the egg retrieval about 36 hours later.)
As much as that shot was a (literal) pain in the butt, I can’t even tell you how relieved I am to be at this point. This IVF cycle has certainly been a journey that I really never wanted to go on and has pushed me to my limits in ways that I certainly did not anticipate.
Sitting here, 15 hours prior to my egg retrieval, I can’t help but think back on the past two and a half months that brought us to this point.
If you’ve been following along our journey, you know that Andrew and I used our final frozen embryos for an FET in Northern California prior to our move to Los Angeles at the end of May. We found out in early June that the cycle had failed and not produced a pregnancy. We would need to complete another fresh IVF cycle if we wanted to try again.
I began my search for a new RE almost immediately and found one in the Beverly Hills area that looked promising. We had a ($150) consultation with him and he laid out a really great plan for us that we felt super comfortable with. A new medication protocol. New Supplements. Additional Testing for Andrew. Acupuncture for me. Plus we really liked his bedside manner- he was direct yet compassionate and very up to date on best practices.
The testing that he recommended for Andrew was done through a local Urologist who specializes in male factor infertility. He is apparently the best of the best. And also he doesn’t accept insurance. But you get what you pay for, and we were content knowing that we were in an expert’s hands. We already knew that our semen analysis was abnormal with pretty low (at times 0%) sperm morphology. However, even the most bizarrely shaped sperm can still yield a normal pregnancy provided that the DNA inside the sperm is normal. While we’ve had at least 5 or 6 semen analysis, we’ve never had the DNA itself tested. So we shipped off a sample to Boston and waited for the results. I figured (as usual) that everything would come back normal and we would continue our IVF with ICSI as we planned.
In the meantime, I started a new job, settled into my new life in LA, and gave my body some time to recover from the last FET. Everything was going smoothly- until Andrew found a lump in my right breast. A LUMP in my BREAST! Do you know how fast my brain can jump from “everything in life is just fine” to “oh my gosh I am going to die without children”???
Although my line of thinking was a bit dramatic, my concerns about the lump were valid. Any lump should be checked out, especially considering the amount of hormones I have been on and planned to begin again. There are tumors that are hormone sensitive, so obviously I needed to rule out any chance of malignancy before proceeding with my treatment. I made an appointment with the Cedars Sinai breast center and was seen within 48 hours. The lump was a simple cyst. Totally benign.
After that scare, things settled down and were really calm leading up to starting IVF again. This is the advantage of having done this before- I wasn’t overly concerned about my medications, about pre-cycle checklists, or really about anything. We joked about how I was in denial that this cycle was even happening- but really it did feel that way. I didn’t spend much time obsessing over the details like I did my first time around. I tried to put the entire cycle out of my mind and knew that the necessary pieces would come together.
Our new protocol allowed us to skip birth control and down regulation, which is great because I really hated that part of the process during Round One. I was just waiting for my period to come so we could start stims when Andrew got a call from the urologist. Test results are in and the sperm DNA is highly fragmented. Like really, really badly fragmented. The doc told him that if we were to do a another IVF cycle with these sperm conditions it would likely fail and could we please come in right away to discuss all this with him.
Andrew and I were on opposite sides of town but we met at the urologist’s office within an hour. I was heartbroken truly. I love my husband so much and I have my heart set on carrying, birthing, and raising his children. I remember the exact moment as a dating couple when I realized that not only did I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him, but that I wanted to have his babies. My dreams were slipping out of my fingertips and gosh, it hurt so badly. Andrew, also, was clearly upset by the news as we sat down with the doc, fully expecting him to guide us toward options we aren’t really open to.
Instead, he suggested a procedure called TESE. It’s a surgical procedure that harvests the sperm directly from the testicles. (Ouch). By getting the sperm right from the source, the DNA is less likely to be fragmented and more likely to result in a healthy pregnancy.
TESE doubled the cost of our IVF this cycle, but we’re so relieved to have this option. Plus, Andrew felt bad last time that his only job was to take a Keflex and provide a semen sample. Now we can say that he most certainly did his part to contribute.
Finally, I got my period and the go ahead to start my shots. It still didn’t feel real that it was happening again. The good part about doing an IVF cycle a second time is that you know what to expect. But the bad part about doing an IVF cycle a second time is that you know what to expect.
I knew I would feel bad on the hormones. I knew my emotions would be out of wack. I knew my abdomen and butt would feel tender from the shots. I knew I would live my life in 12 hour increments of waiting for my alarm to go off, signaling it’s time for my next injection.
The first week of stims flew by like it was nothing. Apart from one or two hard days, I really felt like things were pretty smooth and easy. It got harder as time went on. My ultrasound revealed an unimpressive number of follicles and I was disappointed that this new protocol wasn’t getting me better results. Then they didn’t grow as fast as I wanted them too- meaning that I would have to add another day of stims (meds are about $500 a day) and wait longer for this process to end.
My emotions this time around are in stark contrast to last cycle. My first cycle was filled with so much expectation of hope and excitement. With every single injection my anticipation grew. I pulled out my markers and made a poster that said “Pokes for Pregnancy” and hung it on my refrigerator. Every time I had an injection or a blood draw I would draw a tally mark to keep track. I thought it would be a cute addition for the baby book! I could so clearly see the positive pregnancy test that would come at the end of this, the ultrasound where we finally saw more than an empty uterus, the children that would come from all the effort we were putting into this. I could see it, taste it, it was mine.
This cycle is different. This cycle I’m tired. Tired of the doctor appointments. Tired of the blood work. Tired of the injections. Tired of the well-meaning advice. Tired of the disappointment.
And truthfully, I’m surprised I’ve gotten here. I never thought I’d be someone who wasn’t excited and full of expectation for each next step in this process. I’ve always been a person who hangs onto hope tightly and looks for the miraculous in impossible situations. But it’s gotten to the point, where I really can’t maintain that positive energy on my own.
The emotions in this process are real. And they’re real tough too. The feelings of bitterness and jealousy, of disappointment and discouragement are frequent visitors for those of us walking through infertility. I’ve always had a policy on these feelings though. They are unwelcome guests- and though I know they will frequently show up uninvited, they aren’t allowed to stay for long. The last thing in the world I want is to make a cozy little home in my heart for discouragement and all it’s friends.
It just seems that with this cycle, my lack of enthusiasm for a positive outcome has left a little bit more room for my more unsightly feelings to hang out, get comfortable, and overstay their welcome a bit longer than I usually allow.
It’s a pretty terrible feeling to spend the day with these house guests- and I’m pretty determined to make sure they know they aren’t welcome to officially take up residence with me. The thing is, I normally chase these feelings away with my zeal for positivity, with my hope for the impossible, with my faith that all things will work together for my good. It’s my BIG, LOUD faith that chases these guests away. It’s the over the top, enthusiastic faith that I so accustomed to in my life- and that seems to be missing the past few weeks.
This is the faith that I was convinced would bring me my babies- this never give up faith, this never entertain negativity faith, this meditate on truth at all times, visualize your miracle, speak out scriptures, and be constantly mindful of God’s faithfulness faith. It’s enthusiastic, cheerleader faith that says “if I can muster up enough trust in God, then I will see my miracle.” And it’s great to have that fire in you, but gosh it takes a lot of energy to maintain.
And truthfully, I’m at the end of my own energy, my own enthusiasm. And I certainly don’t feel like I can muster up enough faith to contrive my own miracle.
But in the midst of this, I’ve been left with something much more simple, but something I believe is even more powerful than big, loud faith.
And that is Mustard Seed Faith.
This mustard seed faith has been the theme of this cycle. It’s a faith that completely takes the pressure off of me, my thoughts, and actions, and puts it right back in the hands of the One who is in control of this all anyway. It’s the little seed of faith that says that even though our sperm are highly fragmented, even though my follicle count is low, even though statistics may not be in our favor, the God of Miracles is still on our side and it’s through Him that I have the strength to carry on.
Today Andrew underwent his TESE procedure and the doc was optimistic about the outcome. Tomorrow I go back for my egg retrieval. The embryologist will inject Andrew’s sperm into my eggs- and our little embabies will be conceived and given time to grow before being placed inside my body to develop for the next nine months until they’re ready to come out as little human miracles.
And just like these tiny little cells have the potential to grow into a full sized babe, I fully believe that my little seed of faith (however small it may feel) can grow into a HUGE Miracle. And I know that when we get that miracle, I won’t be taking any credit for making it happen.
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.