After two years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, Erin W.’s doctor recommended that she try In Vitro Fertilization — a process commonly known as IVF, in which eggs are removed from your ovaries and mixed with sperm in a lab. Embryos are then transferred into your uterus. So, the 32-year-old, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, began a journey filled with doctor’s visits, shots, and tests. “IVF hurt my pride and my emotions more than it physically hurt,” she shares. But, Erin says that she was willing to go through all of it to realize her dream of becoming a mom — and it worked. She now has a daughter.
At the start of an IVF cycle, people usually feel really good because their hormone levels, especially estrogen, are high, says Allison Rodgers, MD, a board certified ob-gyn and fertility expert with Fertility Centers of Illinois, in Chicago. “However, as the ovaries swell with follicles, some women have cramping or bloating,” she explains. “Rarely, women can get ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome in which the ovaries over respond to the medication. This is rare, but can be serious.”
If you’re considering undergoing IVF, you may feel overwhelmed and even scared. But the exciting part is that IVF may lead to the baby that you’ve so desperately wanted. To give you a sense of what it really feels like to go through IVF, we talked to women who have actually been through it. Their experiences have many things in common, but they’re unique as well.
“IVF was a last resort for me, so by the time we tried it, I felt numb. It’s so expensive, so there was only going to be one round for us. Finding out that I was pregnant felt like a gigantic relief after the disappointment and physical discomfort of trying other fertility treatments for 18 months without success. The early months of pregnancy, when I was so sick and unsure if the pregnancy would ‘stick,’ were intensely painful. I do, however, feel incredibly appreciative now for the fact that I’m a mom. I take the job seriously, not that I’m perfect in any way, but I’m doing my best. Even though I fancy myself an atheist, I thank God every day for my adorable, sweet, smart, funny little boy and his little brother, who was a total surprise!” — Julie M., Brooklyn, New York
“We went through our first round of IVF after trying to have a baby for eight years. I gave myself all the shots, which weren’t painful, except when I occasionally hit a nerve. I produced a decent number of eggs, and the retrieval went smoothly, but I had a bit of pain and some uncomfortable bloating for about a day afterward. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful, which was just heart breaking. A few months later, we did a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) with donated embryos. I started my shots again, getting my body ready to be pregnant. Then, the transfer was done and it worked! The hardest part was the progesterone shots, which continued until I was 11 weeks pregnant.” — Niki J., Pullman, Washington
“I was sedated for egg collection and there was quite a bit of discomfort afterwards, so I rested for a couple of days to recover. While I was sedated, my husband had to deliver his sample, which he found to be very difficult due to the surroundings! The embryologist kept in touch with us over the next couple of days to let us know how the embryos were developing, and we were eventually called in for the transfer. This was a surreal experience because I was in the operating room with my legs in stirrups and feeling very exposed, making small talk. We discovered that the nurse, embryologist, surgeon, and I all lived in the same village. So, there I was, making small talk with my legs spread wide in front of two strange men…any remaining shred of dignity disappeared at that point!” — Jen H. Cardiff, Wales
“I did three cycles of IVF, spread out over nearly two years. All unsuccessful. The side effects were what I expected. On one hand, I definitely felt way more physically exhausted. I remember having a really tough meeting at work, one that I normally would have just been really pissed off about, but this time tears were streaming down my face. It was physiological and I couldn’t control it. On the other hand, when I was on estrogen I felt like a friggin’ goddess. It was bizarre. The needles, OMG, the needles. So, so bad. Stabbing a five-inch needle — so big you could see the opening of it — into my ass each night was a nightmare. The stomach shots were no biggie and I got used to them right away. But to do the ass shots I’d have to ice down my butt till it lost all feeling.” — Hallie G., Hudson, New York
“I was sad and lonely by the time I did IVF. I never thought I would get pregnant. I wanted to talk about it, but most people didn’t understand the heartache, and my husband didn’t want me to discuss our business. My doctor called and told me it was time to start the process while I was at a conference for work. I left and went to a specialty pharmacy, a half hour away, to pick up my drugs. I went back to the hotel, where the conference was, and got some band-aids and alcohol swabs from the front desk. I gave myself a shot in the public bathroom. I was so worried a co-worker was going to come in and see me! But, the actual shots did not hurt that much. Once you get used to sticking a needle in your stomach it’s not so bad. The side effects weren’t that bad, either. The actual procedure to remove the eggs was a bit painful but kind of dreamlike, because of the anesthesia. I was awake for the placement of the embryos so it was a bit uncomfortable, but not terrible, and it was over in a couple of minutes. The doctor gave us a picture of our embryos and a little petri dish to remember our visit. I thought it was so weird at the time, but now I treasure that first picture of my twins.” — Jenn S., Chapel Hill, North Carolina
“My husband had to give me shots at a very specific time, something like 12:15 a.m., every day. Then more tests, followed by going to hospital for the egg retrieval. During the procedure, I was on a big table in an operating room with my pelvis in the air. The last thing I remember before they knocked me out was the anesthesiologist telling me she liked my nail polish. I woke up when they were wheeling me back to the recovery room. My doctor came and told me how many eggs he got — 15! I went home and slept for hours, and the next day they called to tell only 8 of the 15 eggs had fertilized. Still good. Then it’s a bit of a waiting game, because they wanted to see which embryos would continue to thrive. Four days later, one embryo was put into my uterus. They also gave me a picture of my embryo – just a ball of cells at that point, but it’s crazy when I look at it now. That’s my daughter’s first baby picture!” — Erin W., Brooklyn, New York
“Making contact with the fertility clinic was about the most daunting thing I’ve ever done, even though it only involved sending an e-mail. I was making the decision to become a mother on my own, and I was terrified. However, once I’d met with the doctors and nurses, and once I was really on my way, it was all fine. I might liken the experience to going away to college—absolutely intimidating, horribly isolating, seemingly beyond my ability to withstand…until it wasn’t. Generally speaking, I was happy while going through IVF. I may have been moodier than usual, but I wasn’t weepy or depressed. I felt a sense of purpose. I most definitely took great pride and care in making sure I did all the injections right and at the right time. I was taking control of something, and I was proud of myself as well as, of course, apprehensive. And, I ended up with a healthy baby.” –Caroline S., Washington, D.C.