A Journey Unlike Any Other
To all of the couples who have had retrievals, transfers, and IVF schedules postponed or affected by the Corona virus outbreak my heart breaks for you. IVF is no small or easy journey; it takes a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical state. It’s beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. It’s expensive and stressful. It’s all the feels at once every single day.
My journey with the Fertility Center of West Michigan began after my son was born. I suffer from secondary infertility. My son was conceived naturally and born in May of 2012. I began doing hormone therapy to conceive again a year after he was born. Unfortunately every pregnancy I had resulted in a miscarriage. We did several months of hormone therapy and endured four miscarriages. Unfortunately we never made it to IVF, instead my then husband and I divorced in 2016. I remarried in 2018 and in January of 2019 my Husband, Matt, and I began working with the Fertility Center again doing the hormone therapy for 6-months, which again resulted in another miscarriage. It was time to step up our game.
After taking a break in April of 2019, Matt and I decided to travel and take some time away from the constant thought of trying to get pregnant. It had become a chore and that can be so hard on a marriage. When December rolled around we decided to get on the IVF list and signed up for March of 2020. During this wait I began doing something for myself, I started taking a close look at my own health and began to prepare my body for pregnancy. Starting IVF at 35 years old made me a senior citizen in this setting. My body had changed immensely since my first pregnancy. So I began working with my coworkers at Grand Rapids Natural Health to address my thyroid and hormone issues as well as my food sensitivities and stress. I began weekly acupuncture sessions that I planned to do all the way through IVF and into pregnancy. I was working out to build my body’s strength to carry a baby and to create healthy habits I could continue into my pregnancy. I also began sharing my journey with the world via Instagram.
Sharing my journey was very important to me. Working in the health industry I notice too often that these sensitive topics are not spoken about enough and I wanted to share my story in hopes that my own vulnerability might help others along their journey. I wanted to empower women to talk about their pain, their loss, and their sadness instead of hiding it from the world. I found once I started to share my journey that there were so many others like me out there. I didn’t feel that I was carrying that burden alone anymore which was incredibly comforting.
When February arrived they started me on birth control. During this time we did our mock transfer and Endosee. I was thankful for the mock transfer because it calmed my nerves and answered a lot of my questions in regards to how the procedure worked. Since I have undiagnosed infertility an Endosee was performed to make sure that my uterus looked healthy and had no underlying problems that may prevent me from getting pregnant. We then met with Dr. Young and our nurse who walked us through every detail of our care during this process. Since my problems weren’t about getting pregnant, but more about keeping a pregnancy, our plan was a little different than what they were use to seeing. They decided, because of my age and history of miscarriages, that they would transfer two embryos. Our chances of twins are now much higher since twins are on both sides of our family, my age, this being my second pregnancy, and because we are transferring two embryos. As scary as that sounded we took our chances and agreed to the two embryo transfer. From there we waited for my period.
During our wait I began getting myself organized, ordering medications, supplements, syringes and needles for injections, and sharps containers, all of which were provided by our pharmacy. I found so many wonderful resources along the way to help me organize and reduce the stress of injections. My favorite was My Vitro. My Vitro is a small business that have created organizational items that help make the process of IVF a bit smoother. I was so thankful for their Caddy and mat. It helped me organize everything I needed everyday in one place. They also offered the gel hot cold pads to use before and after injections to ease the pain of the needle pokes. They were a great resource for support since they were a couple who had also been through the IVF journey and created products they wish they had had when they were going through it.
When February 28th arrived I began my injections. I started with two evening injections. The Follistem and Menopur injections were used to increase the number of follicles and to help with the quality of the eggs. I did these every night between the hours of 6pm and 8pm in the belly, until I was instructed to stop using them on day 10. Alongside these injections I had blood work and Ultrasounds every other day to measure my progress and determine exactly when I would be ready for my trigger shot and retrieval. On day six of my cycle we introduced an injection of Cetrotide, which was also administered in the belly daily in the morning hours between 6am and 10am. Cetrotide inhibits the premature LH surge to prevent ovulation from occurring while the follicles are maturing. By March 6th my ultrasounds and blood work had become a daily routine instead of every other day. By March 7th I was done with my Follistem & Menopur injections, and by March 8th I took my last injection of Cetrotide and was instructed to take my trigger shot. The trigger shots consisted of two injections, hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadatropin) and Lupron, one in the belly and one in the muscle of the upper thigh. These two injections were used to trigger ovulation, help the eggs to mature, and make it easier to retrieve the eggs from the ovaries.
Monday, March 9th I had my last ultrasound and no injections that day which I was so thrilled about because I had a really hard time with the injections making me physically ill, causing migraines and vomiting. Everyone reacts differently to the medications and they all have different side effects. Some women don’t have any trouble with the medication, others do and that was just how my body reacted to them. Our retrieval was scheduled for the morning of March 10th and we were ready to rock. The procedure went beautifully with the successful extraction of nine eggs. Three of the nine were immature; six were mature and ready for fertilization. We did a two-day fertilization process and ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection), a technique for in vitro fertilization in which an individual sperm cell is introduced into an egg cell. We were thrilled to hear they all fertilized beautifully.
Thursday, March 12th was our transfer date and our two little embabies transferred smoothly. After our transfer we would continue injections of Progesterone up to the day of our pregnancy test. If we were not pregnant we would stop taking the progesterone. If we were pregnant we would continue injections for 11-weeks in the muscle of the upper booty. Progesterone is the hormone that is needed to maintain the lining of the uterus and to help support a pregnancy. Now it was time to go home, rest and wait.
After our transfer was complete, our 2-week wait had begun but I had never anticipated what would happen next. That Friday morning, I woke up to the school closings due to the Corona Virus. Our State was gearing up to take action against the spread of this deadly virus that seemed to be doubling in cases overnight. By Monday morning I read with tears in my eyes a message from the Fertility Center of West Michigan that they were suspending initiation of new treatment cycles and strongly recommended patients consider canceling upcoming embryo transfers due to lack of data on the risk if pregnancy complications when COVID-19 is acquired during first or early second trimester of pregnancy. My heart sank. I was terrified for my embabies who just days earlier were tucked into my uterus, and devastated for all the mamas out there that I had met and connected with along my journey. They had supported me every step of the way, they had become sisters and friends throughout this time and now in an instant their worlds, hopes, and dreams came crashing down.
The same day that we were informed that the Fertility Center would be postponing future cycles and transfers, we found out we were pregnant. It was a bittersweet experience at first but I have decided to make it the light that has come out of these dark times. People are dying, losing jobs, and unable to hug loved ones but through it all I was able to finally create life amongst all the turmoil and that is the most beautiful thing in the world. I am taking this time at home and resting, accepting this time as an opportunity to bond with my son before he has to share me with another baby and that is such a gift. I am taking care of my mental, emotional, and physical health and working hard to create a healthy environment to grow a baby in. April 7th is our first ultrasound and my husband will not be allowed to attend it with me to keep down the amount of exposure at the clinic. As disappointing as that is, I am thankful that they are taking these precautions and count my blessings everyday that we have even made it this far because I know so many would love to be in our shoes.
So I ask you to be gentle with yourself, be forgiving, and be kind. Allow yourself to break down and cry, you have earned it. But also be strong, be safe, and be vigilant because your time will come. Take this time if you are able to show yourself some self-care. Eat healthy, exercise, and brain dump into a journal so you can sleep soundly at night. Reach out to me, or a friend along the way, when the days get hard because you are not alone and your story needs to be heard so that others do not feel alone in this time of isolation.
Jen Smits is the Office Manager at Grand Rapids Natural Health.