It’s been 10 years since I completed my final round of fertility treatments but I remember the emotional roller coaster of that time in my life like it was yesterday. I clearly remember sitting with a soft-spoken nurse who explained to me what the upcoming weeks (in our case months, then years) would entail and I also remember that none of the procedures — from IUI to IVF — were as easy as those shiny pamphlets made them sound. If you’re about to begin the journey of fertility treatments, I thought we should discuss what it’s really like. Or perhaps you’re all too familar with the process and you just want to commiserate…
First, your doctor will want to make sure you cannot get pregnant on your own. Have you been trying for a year? Are you sure you’re not on the pill? Has your husband been hanging out in a hot tub? If there’s any chance you could get pregnant naturally, according to the way you answer those questions, then you will be sent home, instructed to have lots of sex, then wait for another appointment so you can explain all over again what you already knew: Your body has decided pregnancy isn’t going to come easily. Your doctor may prescribe a prescription like Clomid to induce ovulation or she may send you straight to a fertility specialist and let him decide what medication to start and when.
If she directs you to a fertility specialist, you will sit and listen as he explains the relatively painless procedure he’ll do before beginning you on any actual fertility treatments. You will have hysteroscopy (or a similar procedure), which allows the doctor to examine your uterus for abnormalities and correct certain ones; once the procedure is over, you’ll curse the specialist for being a cervix-free man who did not tell you to take ibuprofen ahead of time or buy a hot pack to squeeze between your legs for the next 24 hours. If you are lucky enough to get pregnant as that wonderful doctor mentioned might happen you will take him a fruit basket and get the warm fuzzies when you think about that simple little procedure.
If the procedure doesn’t work, and the specialist decides not to do another round of it, then you’ll be preparing for an IUI — which you know stands for Intrauterine Insemination after spending 72 hours on every infertility message board Google can find. You’ve become crazily obsessed with monitoring your monthly cycle and are completely offended by the work training scheduled for Wednesday because you might be ovulating and nothing gets in the way of your ovaries. You may also be given medication by your doctor to help you ovulate more than one egg at a time.
On IUI day, your husband will leave his sperm sample, having learned not to complain about it ever again for all of eternity. You are laying on the exam table in a paper gown thinking about Kate Gosselin and Octomom and that one couple with quintuplets and the latest failed reality show. That’s not going to happen right? You want one, or maybe two so you never have to put your hormones on steroids again.
If your IUI worked you will find out after your two-week wait (2WW according to your message board BFFs). However, if your IUI didn’t work you get to repeat Step 6 over and over and over again until your hormonal self-cries to your doctor about moving on to the mecca of fertility treatments, in vitro fertilization.
You’ve hit the ride or die phase now. IVF must work the first time because your bank account can’t handle anymore, neither can your hormones. You meet with the perky nurse again but this time she takes your blood and gives you piles of prescriptions and shows you how to give yourself injections… wait, what?? You have to take two trips to your car to carry all of your prescriptions and now you’ve got your own needle disposer thingy to keep at home. One week in and this feels like some kind of cruel joke because you look at least three months pregnant and are pretty sure that’s an ovary bulging out near your belly button. You also have no problem dropping trou and giving yourself an injection in a restroom at work or when you’re stuck in traffic at medication time.
Your cycle is almost over and you are now only able to speak to the women on the message boards who are going through the same thing. You’ve either scared everyone else away or cannot speak without crying so typing is more convenient anyway. You cannot see past IVF day or even consider the fact that it may not work.
IVF day is here and those glorious meds they gave you right before the procedure are the most amazing thing to happen since this fertility journey began. Unfortunately they wear off and you must spend your 2WW clear-headed and obsessing over every micro-twinge in your stomach. The nurse calls on Day 14 and you either cry happy tears or sob your eyes out as you plan to return to Step 8, even if you have to remortgage your house and stomp through life on a vicious cycle of hormones because you are determined and one of these days, you will hold a baby in your arms.