Our second round of IVF was going ahead; a fresh transfer so my body was going to go through it all again but we were feeling surprisingly positive.
It was time to let the clinic take control.
This time, I felt like we were the top half of a swan, gliding through the water, with the staff at the Zita West Clinic being the legs, paddling us along, making the decisions for us. This was in huge contrast to our first round, where I felt like everything had to be led by us, which I found especially stressful and exhausting. Naturally though, despite having much more confidence in our treatment, we were still incredibly anxious.
It felt like a last chance but, subconsciously, day by day, even though I didn’t recognise it at the time, I was entering a different head space.
In June 2017, I started taking the contraceptive pill for about three weeks (to prevent cysts) and I also had two intralipid infusion drips in an attempt to begin dampening down my Natural Killer Cell levels. I had no idea what this famous ‘mayonnaise’ drip would be like. For my first visit, I asked my wonderful Auntie to come with me for moral support; Craig needed to be in work as much as he could. It was calming to have the company for the train journey and to have someone to sit with at appointments. This procedure became something she and I did together for the duration of my time as a patient at the clinic; it’s special quality time together I shall always hold dear in my heart. I know she would say that she learnt a lot about IVF during this time too.
The drip itself isn’t painful. I would arrive at the clinic and be ‘hooked up’ to it and then have to sit for an hour or so whilst it ran through. I grew to even slightly enjoy these sessions for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the chairs were those really comfy reclining type which forced me to sit back, relax and switch off (as much as you can during IVF).
Secondly, the nurse who treated me when I attended (always on a Friday) was amazing! Her name was Moyo. She was exceptionally warm and friendly and my Auntie and I would sit and chat away to her, making the time fly by. Over the course of the next few months, I developed a lovely relationship with her, finding her manner professional yet also very comforting. With genuine care for the ladies she was treating, her familiar face, each time I attended the clinic, was helpful to me, putting me at ease.
Thirdly, I got to meet other women on a similar journey to me. For some, it wasn’t time for chatting, preferring to sit privately reading or listening to music but others really opened up and shared their stories.
I had finally found people like me; all of a sudden, I didn’t feel quite so alone or like the odd one out anymore.
After three weeks of taking the contraceptive pill, I was told to stop and to wait for my period to arrive. When it did, I phoned the clinic first thing in the morning. I was booked in for a scan the next day which thankfully gave us the ‘all clear’ to start the follicle stimulation drugs, along with some others.
It is an understatement to say that I was relieved there were no cysts and that everything looked alright to begin.
I don’t want to make this blog too medical and full of complicated drug names however, for the purpose of this particular one, it is quite important.
For those going through similar, they will understand and probably be able to relate to a lot.
For those reading this hoping to gain a better understanding of IVF, I am fairly certain that it will highlight just how complex the process is and the enormity of what couples facing IVF go through. I hope you’ll bear with me – this is the dampened down version!
On day 1 of my cycle, the day my period began, I started taking low dose aspirin (to thin my blood) and a follicle stimulating hormone injection called Gonal F.
It’s very important to do all injections at the same time every day so Craig and I decided upon 8pm. I would set an alarm about 10 minutes before and we would go and prepare the injections. We wanted to do everything exactly as we had been told so we would sit upstairs on our bed, watching the clock, Craig armed with the injection/s, and, as soon as the clock clicked over to 20:00, he would administer the drugs. This may seem very precise but, by this stage, we just wanted to know that we had done everything we could to give it the best chance.
On day 2 and day 3, we continued with Gonal F and also a steroid called Dexamethasone was introduced (to help keep the Natural Killer Cells at bay). This was a pill I swallowed in the morning (along with my usual cocktail of vitamins and minerals).
On day 4, we continued but two more injections were introduced: Cetrotide and Merional; I continued with Gonal F but the amount was reduced.
So, in total, we were soon doing three injections a night. I prayed that all these drugs were stimulating some nice fat (but not too fat – there is a fine line) follicles with high quality eggs in.
On day 5, I travelled to London for a scan to see whether the hard work was doing anything. It was. The scan showed that there were lots of good follicles developing and all was well…so far.
From then on, I had to go to London for a scan every other day, which was a lot of travelling and quite disruptive to my worklife. On a scan day, I also had to go and have oestradiol and progesterone bloods tests. The building to have this done was at a separate centre, about a 15 minute walk from the Zita West Clinic. It was another route for me to learn but, eventually, I learnt it off by heart and would enjoy some time admiring the buildings and very expensive boutique shops I would pass on my way. It was a big committment but I felt like I was being really looked after, knowing that the clinic were closely monitoring my blood levels every other day to check things were in order and that my body was coping.
It reassured me too.
I never had blood checks like this during our first round of IVF.
The injections and drugs continued until day 10 – I had also been and had another intralipid infusion drip session during this period. On day 10, as they had been happy with my scan on day 9, I was to take a final Cetrotide injection at 6pm.
Then, at 10pm (very specifically) I was to take the one-off, seriously important injection – Buserelin.
This injection has a drug that ‘ripens’ the developing eggs and initiates the ovulation process. The reason the time is so specific is that the egg collection operation is performed 36 hours after this drug is taken so that the doctors can collect the eggs at the optimum time. If the operation were not carried out, the body would just continue with ovulation (and potentially release MANY more eggs than in a usual cycle due to all of the stimulated follicles).
At 10pm exactly, Craig administered the ‘trigger’ injection.
We were booked in for egg collection at 10am on day 12. On day 11, I began taking a tablet called Cambergoline which would help reduce the risk of me getting Ovarian Hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) as I was at risk due to my polycystic ovaries.
10th July 2017 – day 12. Egg collection day.
Craig and I were up at the crack of dawn as we needed to get to the CARE London hospital, to be in theatre for 10am, where the doctors from the Zita West Clinic would come to carry out the egg collection.
I was nervous. Really nervous.
Even though I had been through it before, I was terrified that I wouldn’t wake up from the anaesthetic or that they would find NO eggs.
We arrived at Marylebone station and walked to the hospital. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a friendly receptionist who took our photos which were printed out onto an ID card for us – not my finest photo as I wasn’t allowed to wear any make-up and therefore I had travelled down to London bare-faced and looking pretty rough!
We were shown to a cubicle and I had to fully undress and put on a blue and white gown and paper slippers.
Then we waited.
We had been here before.
Would it be different?
Were we going to have to go through the heartache of a failed cycle again?
I just needed to know what the future held.
At the time, I was reading Izzy Judd’s book ‘Dare to Dream’; I sat quietly on the bed and lost myself in her words. It helped pass the time and kept me from totally panicking.
Loyally, Craig sat by my side saying all the right things when my hyperchondriac brain forced me to say things like, ‘If I don’t wake up, promise me you’ll be happy and go and have children with someone else.’
In true Craig style, he smiled at me and said, ‘yes dear,’ ‘you’re going to be fine dear,’ ‘you will wake up dear.’
I really love him for who he is, particularly at times like this. I know now that, many a time, he was just as petrified as me but he never let me see it – always staying calm and reassuring me that everything would be alright.
And it was.
I went into theatre whilst Craig went into a little room to do his very important role in all of it! They need the semen ready as soon as the eggs have been collected so that they can start the fertilisation process.
Coming round after the operation, I felt completely different in comparison to our first round. After the first egg collection, I woke feeling totally hyperactive and embarrassing Craig with the things I was saying, very loudly, across the ward.
This time, I felt instantly horrendous.
For the first few moments, I was very bewildered as Craig was leaning over the bed but, for some reason, I saw him as a giant yellow banana! Bizarrely, it was his voice but this oversized piece of fruit leaning over and telling me that it was all done.
I thought it would be a good idea to get up.
My head went all fuzzy, I felt woozy, freezing cold and thought I was going to be sick. I lay back down and tried to rest. A while later, the doctor came in and told us that 23 eggs had been collected.
I didn’t care how I felt anymore – the news made all the pain melt away! This was a fantastic outcome.
It took quite a while for the anesthetic to wear off and, like Bambi on ice, for me to walk to the toilet. You have to produce some urine before you’re allowed to go anywhere so, a few hours later, Craig helped me onto my wobbly feet and out of the hospital to a taxi where we very steadily made our way back to the station. On the train journey home, I affectionately rested my head on his shoulder, relief washing over me.
There was still a long way to go but we had got over another hurdle.
The next day, I rested.
I was fully prepared to be in a lot of pain and have excruciating bloating like I did after our first egg collection however, to my surprise, it never came! Of course, I was still very sore but I was so much more comfortable than before. For one, my tummy didn’t feel like it was going to actually split open. I knew that with a few days rest, I would be able to go back to work and try to resume ‘normal’ life as best as I could.
The next night, we had to start the greatly feared Prontogest injections.
These are shots of progesterone that help maintain a pregnancy. Previously, I had used Cyclogest pessaries which are the messiest things known to man! My doctor, Dr George Ndukwe, recommended Prontogest injections as these are better at maintaining steady progesterone levels and therefore can be more effective.
They are intra-muscular injections of progesterone which are, firstly, the BIGGEST needles ever and, secondly, they have to be injected into your bottom – directly into muscle. These were injections on another level. The king of injections!
All the injections before had been in the fatty part of my tummy. Craig had a special lesson with one of the nurses about how to administer the Prontogest and, even for him, I know he was fairly nervous about it. There was no getting around the fact that it was going to hurt. And…it really did!
I lay on the bed saying my 2 times-tables in an attempt to try and focus on something else! He was told to put this needle in using the same way you would when throwing a dart!
A sharp stabbing pain hit my bottom and my 2 times-tables sped up rapidly! It was done – for that night at least!
What I didn’t know was that, actually, the worst pain comes after the Prontogest has been administered and, as you are having it every day, it builds up.
You get a hard lump where it has been and it’s so painful that it really hurts to just sit down. We decided that perhaps it was better to have one bad side and one comfortable side so we did the Prontogest on the same side for a week.
This plan then failed as I was in so much agony, I could barely walk.
I had to give in and, from then on, we alternated sides each day to give the other side a day of recovery. We also found that numbing my bottom with a bag of frozen peas for 15 minutes before the injection really helped ease the initial pain as well as instantly massaging the area afterwards to spread the medication out.
We even went to a party at friends one night armed with our frozen peas. We forgot them in their freezer when we left – I do hope they never ate them!
Sleeping at night was the hardest as lying on my side hurt, lying on my back hurt and I’ve never been one for sleeping on my tummy but I soon had to learn!
As well as Prontogest, we started Clexane blood thinning injections too which, in comparison, were a breeze – a small needle injected into my tummy. If the IVF worked, I was going to have to continue taking the Prontogest and Clexane until I was 12 weeks pregnant – along with other drugs I was taking orally.
The day after our egg collection, the embryologist phoned.
Out of 23 eggs collected, 15 fertilised. This was excellent news.
The clinic ideally hope for 50% to fertilise and we were a little over this which was more successful than our first round. The next day, all 15 were still going, had made it to the 7-10 cell stage and they were all grades 1 and 2. We were delighted especially as the numbers start to dwindle as the days progress. We were just hoping and desperately praying that we would get one high-quality blastocyst – an embryo that makes it to 5 days.
On 14th July 2017, the phone rang.
Embryo transfer was booked in for the next morning. We had five excellent grade embryos which had made it to blastocyst stage! The best two would be transferred back and three would be frozen.
The next morning, we left early for London to go and collect our precious babies…