IVF was nothing like I expected. I mean it was, but it wasn’t. I was prepared for uncontrollable mood swings, stress and injections. What I wasn’t prepared for, couldn’t have prepared for, was how much I wanted to apportion blame.
When we started our IVF cycle, all our test results pointed to it being a sperm problem. Bloods and urine and ultrasounds had found nothing wrong with me. Everything pointed to a healthy uterus and ovaries. My egg reserve was above average for my age. This was not my fault.
My anger during this time was unrelenting. I couldn’t let go. It burned within me like a pot left too long on the stove. I blamed everything on hubby.
We watched the DVD provided by IVF Australia. It was informative, compassionate and helpful. We had read the booklet several times over detailing the possible risks, complications, highlighting the 15 different factors that could go wrong or at which point we could find out the cycle had failed.
My diagnosis was not in the booklet. It was not in any of the literature. It was not on the internet.
The day of my egg collection, we had risen early. I needed to be at the private hospital by 7am for admission. I was scared, not of the outcome, but because I had never been in hospital. The last time I had been a patient was when I was born. I had no idea what to expect aside from the sterile staging in the instructional DVD. I had never been under anaesthetic, never had to wear a hospital gown – would my bum show?
We were shown to a waiting room on a floor I can’t recall except that it seemed out of the way. We waited anxiously, on edge and hopeful. My last scan had shown plenty of follicles within a suitable size range. In fact I had only needed the one scan to schedule my collection date. My ovaries had thrown plenty of follicles in response to the hormone injections. With my “beautiful” uterus, it was impossible that anything could go wrong, although we had prepared ourselves for all the eventualities detailed in the booklet.
I felt I knew everything about FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), and trigger injections. I was a walking Wikipedia page on IVF and ICSI. In a fortnight from now I’d have a blood test to confirm that it had worked and I was going to be a mum. We had even talked about the date the baby would be due. Nothing prepared us for what eventuated.
I woke in recovery and looked down. My doctor had promised the number of eggs collected would be written on my hand so I would know straight away. I must have looked at my hand a dozen times before the anaesthetic wore off sufficiently for the number to stick in my brain.
Twenty. She had collected 20 eggs. Twenty was huge for an IVF cycle. Twelve was considered good, out of which four might be suitable for fertilisation. Twenty gave us a great chance of having several suitable embryos, which meant if the first didn’t implant successfully, we would likely have others without needing to do a full cycle and egg collection to try again.
I was feeling positive, if extremely physically uncomfortable. The pain was more severe than period cramping and I requested additional pain relief. When the booklet had described mild discomfort, they certainly were not referring to me. As we found out a few days later, I had hyper stimulated, having an extreme reaction to the FSH, resulting in painful bloating in my abdomen for a week.
But as I lay there in recovery, I was focused on my 20 eggs, a great outcome. I was excited to get home and wait the five long days for them to confirm how many had matured into embryos.
However, because of the pain I was in, I was kept in recovery longer than usual. By the time I was released and sent back to the clinic for a quick check in with the nurses, they had news from the lab. We were taken into the scanning room and sat down. My doctor came in, looking perplexed.
They had never seen this before. The lab had called. Of my 20 eggs, none had matured beyond the initial stage that every woman is born with. They had not responded to the hormones at all. Some were already disintegrating, they were so immature. None were suitable for fertilisation.
Not only had our cycle radically failed, but it was unlike anything she’d heard of. I was to be sent home to rest and recover. They would check my eggs again in a few hours but it seemed unlikely there would be any improvement.
I was crying, almost screaming, still feeling the effects of the anaesthetic. I was in so much pain, my entire belly swollen like I was several months pregnant. And yet, here I was being told that that wasn’t even possible based on the eggs they had collected.
We were confused, exhausted, shattered. S bundled me into the car and we drove home. All I could do was cry or stare blankly ahead. Nothing made sense.
Over the following days, we cried. I googled. I recovered slowly from my hyper stimulation. It was a week before we met with our doctor in her office. There she explained that she had consulted with colleagues across Australia, to see if anyone had come across anything like it. My own review of the literature online had yielded little information. She confirmed that there were maybe half a dozen known cases in Australia of an egg collection resulting in eggs that hadn’t matured at all.
At this stage, I’m not sure what I had been expecting her to say, but it certainly wasn’t this: you won’t be able to use your own eggs to get pregnant. Have you considered using an egg donor? I guess some part of me thought there’d be another procedure, another drug, a different injection that would fix the problem. But it didn’t work that way.
A woman is born with all the eggs she’d have in a lifetime. My eggs didn’t respond to hormones which meant they could drown me in hormones, and I would only produce eggs that would never grow. It was an impossible scenario to fathom.
I would never have children of my own genetic make-up. Whether you believe in nature or nurture, the fact remained that any child I bore, and they thought it likely I could bear children as physically there was nothing else wrong with me, would not biologically be mine. It was a future I had never imagined. And while I have no objection to adoption or donor eggs, my head just couldn’t deal with this. I was totally unprepared for this outcome and how it was to change my whole life.