How We Navigated IVF — And Its Daunting $17K Price Tag
What an inspiration. She says, "Infertility is not something to be ashamed of."
It’s funny how most of your young life, you do everything in your power to try and NOT get pregnant. Then you get older, get married, and some of us have to do everything in our power TO get pregnant. That is something I never dreamed that I would have to experience. Infertility only happens to other people, not me. Or at least I thought …
Our journey began in December of 2016, when I was diagnosed with infertility through Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. This left me with inability to develop and regularly release mature eggs during ovulation. Hearing that diagnosis froze me. When my OB explained that PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility, all I could hear her say was, “You can’t have a baby.” How? How is this possible? The only thing in life I was ever meant to do was be a mommy. We were eventually referred to a reproductive endocrinologist, who was supposed to lead us on our journey to conceive.
When you think “fertility treatment,” you can never even begin to understand the depth of what you’re about to experience. You are only thinking of the hopeful outcome. I have to admit, I still had the mentality that I was “exempt” from this disease, and that it wouldn’t take us long to get pregnant. Oh, how wrong I was.
The Journey Begins
We began with a medicated natural cycle, using the ever so popular oral medication Clomid. From my research, this works for “everyone.” We are going to have twins! A boy and a girl, and my prayers are going to be answered. We picked out our names, we even picked out back up names! Unfortunately, I did not respond to this, or any oral medication for that matter. So that was our first sight at failure. It didn’t hurt me as much as I would have thought. My denial was still really strong at this time.
Next, the doctor moved onto another cycle that included injectable mediation. Well this is serious, I’m taking injections! I’m definitely getting pregnant! This was probably the quickest cycle I went through. Coming from the girl who very rarely ovulated, I, surprisingly, prematurely ovulated. So, another failure for us. Now this is getting real. I began to start blaming myself. What’s wrong with me? Why is, what seems like, every single person around me getting pregnant, and not me?
We had a sit down with the doctor and explained that we wanted to exhaust all of our options before moving onto In Vitro Fertilization. This was not covered by insurance at all, and we were not financially ready to take this plunge. The doctor’s response was, ‘Well do you want a baby or not?’ Well, what I do want is a new doctor, and that’s what we got.
We changed practices in the spring of 2017, where we felt instantly at home. Our new doctor was thorough, warm, kind, and caring. He immediately didn’t understand why the other doctor followed the protocol that he did. This was the guy that was going to get me pregnant, I just know it!
Our first step was IUI, intrauterine insemination, which people commonly know as artificial insemination. My husband had his semen analysis, which came out normal. This was it! I’m getting pregnant this cycle!!!
The day our medication was delivered, I was overwhelmed. Different gauged needles, sharps containers, alcohol swabs, medication vials. Our kitchen table was beginning to look more like a pharmacy than a place you eat dinner. Luckily, I responded to this injectable hormone treatment. However, I was not ready to accept what came along with it. The weight gain, the moodiness, the headaches… it was all unreal. I didn’t know who I was anymore. But I kept pushing forward. I was going to be a mommy!
My husband and I were so hopeful. Looking at how well my body reacted to the medication, how could this not work? Well, it didn’t. This was a hard-hitting failed cycle. My period showed up the night before my blood test. How is that for irony?
Throughout this time, we had a number of tests:
- Hysterosalpingogram- a radiologic procedure to check for issues with the fallopian tubes.
- Sonohysterogram – an ultrasound exam that puts fluid in the uterus to check the lining.
Both tests came back normal, no issues!
Finding A Way
My doctor had a conversation with us about IVF, the dreaded conversation we had been avoiding since day one. He truly believed that this was the way I was going to successfully conceive. Stunned, we sat there, listening to every single word he said. We have to go through IVF. We got in the car and just stared at one another. How would this be possible? The price on the paper was over $17,000. Where would we get that money?
Right off the bat, we knew there was not any other option. We were going to go through treatment at any cost. We were going to be parents no matter what it took us. There was so much worrying, tears, and fear for both of us, because even though we knew this was going to happen, we just didn’t know how.
We ended up taking out a loan to cover treatment. We were set! And we were also the proud owners of a $433 per month payment. A payment for a child we didn’t know if we were going to have or not.
The day the IVF meds arrived was a day I will never forget. The FedEx driver had to help me carry the box in the house. I could not believe my eyes! Our medical station, aka our kitchen table, was no longer big enough to house all our medicine. The number of syringes was endless, the sharps containers were humongous, the vials of medication were nonstop. Could I do this?
I decided that this was probably the most important thing I was going to do in my entire life. And IF this was successful, I was documenting EVERYTHING. (notice I added that ‘if’ in there, yeah, the doubt had now come to live with me).
Our first cycle was a fresh embryo transfer cycle. I would prep my body for what I known as an egg retrieval. Remember how I told you PCOS never allowed me to develop mature eggs? Well, all those non-mature eggs just sit in my ovaries. They are known as follicles. One of the injectable medications I was on, Follistim, would help to make the eggs mature. And not just one of them, ALL of them. The doctor also had to make sure I wouldn’t prematurely ovulate, so I was also injecting myself with Lupron. On top of that, we got to a point where we were also using Menopur.
All of these medications combined take a toll on a person. My body wasn’t my body any longer. I literally couldn’t take it any longer. I read a quote online that said, ‘The strongest women become the strongest mothers even before their children are conceived.’ Well, that’s all I needed to hear. It didn’t matter anymore. All my crying and complaining was going to stop. I had to be strong. Strong for myself, and strong for my husband. Which, I haven’t really mentioned, is kind of awesome. Throughout this entire process, he had been so overly involved. He played the role of fertility medication administrator, punching bag, nurse, therapist, and husband. And when I tell you, infertility tests your marriage, it TESTS your marriage.
We finally made it to the day of our retrieval, which is basically almost a surgery. You get in a gown, they run an IV, and you wait to be the next one called. My husband, who was by my side constantly, could not be with me. This scared me. Knowing they would be sticking needles through my vaginal wall into my ovaries, then sucking all of the eggs out on both sides didn’t give me comfort at all. All I could think about was the fact that I needed them to get enough eggs to be fertilized. I could not go through this again!
In recovery, with my dear husband at my side, the doctor came out to tell us they harvested 19 eggs. Hearing that brought so much joy to my life! 19! That’s a huge number!!! What people don’t understand about IVF is, 19 eggs doesn’t mean you’re going to have 19 embryos to transfer. We used ICSI, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, on all of our eggs. Only 14 of the 19 fertilized normally. Still, 14 is a good, strong number.
We now wait the 5 days, because this was a 5-day transfer. The embryos had to become 5-day blastocysts before being transferred into my uterus. This was Tuesday. On Wednesday, the embryologist called to let us know we had 9 embryos that were continuing to develop normally. Awesome, I was overjoyed!
On Friday, the doctor called… I was experiencing something known as OHSS, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This was attributed to the medication, and was so incredibly painful. The doctor explained to me that even though we still have the 9 embryos, and we could still do the transfer on Saturday, he advises that we freeze the embryos and wait. I immediately felt all the blood drain from my body. Wait? I have come this far, went through all of this, and now I have to wait some more? If you are going through IVF, you need strength, hope, determination, and most of all PATIENCE. He said that even though it could implant normally, and I could carry a successful pregnancy, I could end up hospitalized, and he really thinks for my well-being, we freeze the eggs and let my body heal.
I hung up the phone in my classroom, and began to cry. My husband is such a voice of reason, and really made me realize this was for the best for us long term. So, I agreed. We would freeze our 9 embryos and wait. I was in a good place with my acceptance. Then Sunday rolls around. The phone rang at 9:00 a.m. It was the doctor’s office. The physician’s assistant informs me that they are going to freeze my remaining embryos at my request. She also informs me that we have only 2 left. You heard that right. 2! What happened to my 9? I just had 9 on Friday, how can the number dwindle in 2 days!! Complete devastation set in. I cried for hours upon hours. I never thought I would recover from that phone call. I only had 2 precious embabies left.
Another speed bump. I was continuing to get older, and I still wasn’t a mother. Why is this happening to me? What did I do in my life to deserve this? This sent me into a very dark place. I stopped attending family functions because I couldn’t bear talking about what was going on, and who understands anyway? I didn’t want to go to holidays and risk seeing other MOMS with their children. I just wanted to sit at home, and wallow in my sorrow.
A month went by, and I was finally feeling better. We visited the doctor. We talked about the fact that we had 2 embryos left. And he was so optimistic because we had 2 tries. To maximize our chances, because again, we only had 2, he suggested we do a test called an Endometrial Receptivity Analysis. This would give him an idea of whether or not I had a receptive uterus, or in laymen’s terms, if I could carry a baby. The test would also give him a window of time, down to the minute, as to when my best chances were for implantation after a transfer. What? That is like playing God. What kind of sorcery was this? Well that is all we needed to hear. Regardless of the price or the fact that insurance didn’t cover it, we were doing it!
In order to take part in the ERA test, we had to complete a mock frozen cycle. I would follow all the procedural steps, including medication, as if I were going through a true frozen embryo cycle. The day I would go in for a transfer, they would take a biopsy of my uterine lining, and send it to a lab in Spain. The results would take 2 weeks to return.
2 weeks! How in the world does someone calmly wait 2 weeks to see if they can carry a baby? We were going crazy. What if my sample got lost? Naturally, being the person that I am, I had to call Spain to make sure they received it. All was well! Then, 2 weeks later, we got the call. Mind you, I was still scarred from the Sunday morning call about my embryos, so I was scared to death. Finally, a small victory! I had a receptive uterus! I wanted to call everyone and scream it from the rooftops! I have a receptive uterus!!!!! Who would have thought this would be the celebrations you would be having in your 30s??
Well, the time had come. A true frozen cycle. I took this cycle so incredibly serious. I followed every single old wives’ tale I could find (eating pineapple, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, no caffeine, eating Brazil nuts, and all the fertility superfoods). If someone on Pinterest told me to do it, I did it! I wasn’t messing around. After a month of prepping my body for the transfer, Jan. 12, 2018, had finally arrived. We were so incredibly nervous and scared. This could be the day that changes our lives!
After speaking to several friends who went through IVF, and the research I had done, I did know the chances of a first-time transfer weren’t great. Plus, I was only transferring 1 embryo, so honestly, I was being a pessimist. A pessimist who is married to the most extreme optimist there is. Go figure.
At 1:15, we were in the surgical room. It was time for the big show. They showed us the most beautiful embryo to ever exist, and then began the transfer. My husband watched as they sent the catheter through and dropped off that embaby right in my uterus. It was truly amazing. After the procedure, my eyes were glued to that picture. I couldn’t put it down.
The doctor advised us to be on 2 days of bed rest. I took 4. I was serious about this. I was also serious about my diet. I limited myself to no carbs, no uncooked veggies, no sugar, no red meat, no cold liquids, you know, because the internet told me so. I also kept my feet warm, warm feet, warm uterus! This was my full-time job now.
I haven’t previously mentioned the 2 week wait. The dreaded 14 days in which you have to ultimately wait to see if you’re pregnant or not. It doesn’t seem long, but when you’re in the situation, it’s an eternity. During this time, you could expect some symptoms, although some people do not. Cramping, spotting (implantation), sore breasts, etc. The only thing I was feeling was the ginormous intramuscular progesterone needle we had to stick in my rump each night!
The Good News
Jan. 22 finally arrived. We woke up so early to be at the doctor for 7 a.m. blood draw. Then you play another waiting game. I told you, I wasn’t kidding about the patience. Hours went by and finally at 12:15, the phone rang. It was him. We didn’t know what to do. In that moment you just freeze. I answered the phone. The doctor confirmed it was me he was speaking to, asked how I was doing, and cut right to the chase. “You’re pregnant.” What? Excuse me? The words I waited so long to hear, I finally heard. I couldn’t get the phone on speaker fast enough. He continued speaking and all I could hear was “you’re pregnant.” He could have told me the world was ending, but all I heard were those 2 words. My husband and I will never forget this moment. We hung up the phone and just held each other. Our lives were about to change.
So, this is my story, struggling as the one in eight people who are diagnosed as being infertile. To me, this was something God put me through, because he felt I was strong enough to handle. The struggle is part of your story. Infertility is not something to be ashamed of. I have chosen to document my entire journey for the sole reason that people document the lives of their children and put it on social media for everyone to see — why shouldn’t I document the lengths I have gone to conceive a child? I am not out of the woods yet, we are almost 13 weeks pregnant, but for now, we are enjoying the small victories, and are blessed with every moment of the pregnancy. We are dreaming of the day we get to hold our baby in our arms and truly say that “we beat infertility.”
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