An In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Story
Did you know that 1 in 6 couples suffers from infertility? IVF (In vitro fertilization) is an option that a lot of those couples choose. In Winnipeg, access to IVF treatments is only available through the one fertility clinic in town and they often have a wait list. People that have talked to me about fertility treatments (including my own experience) have said how difficult it was to find the awnsers to their questions and to start with the process. With those kind of stats (1 in 6) I strongly believe that we should have a better understanding of the options available to us.
I interviewed a wonderful winnipegger that went through this whole process; although her journey didn't start with infertility, she explains her IVF experience. Continue reading as she talks about her story with great passion!
First of all, thanks for talking about your experience. We know now that a lot of women and couples go through IVF each year and for some of them it’s difficult to talk about it. How would you explain this?
Talking about fertility inevitably means talking about heavy things – sex, relationships, power, money, our future – such that many of us would rather spend an hour talking to a cell phone company. It’s hard to be that vulnerable with people. It’s hard to be that honest with yourself. For example, it has taken me about 7 months to get back to you with responses to these questions. I actually really like talking about IVF, but somehow putting it in writing is frightening. Sometimes I mention it to people and they seem uncomfortable, but most of the time people are interested and supportive. A couple of times people ended up telling me about their own experience with IVF which was helpful.
Can you quickly explain the steps to take for a complete IVF cycle? And how long does it usually take?
So in our case, the process started with checking for ovulation by peeing on a stick; to make sure your urine is concentrated enough they ask you not to pee for 4 hours beforehand, and avoid drinking much liquid also. So at noon every day I would waddle to the bathroom about to burst, pee on the test stick, be anxious about whether or not I had done it right, set a timer for three minutes, and then check to see if I had ovulated. Eventually when the stick said I had ovulated, I would call and leave a message on the ‘Period Hotline’ (which made ovulation seem like something rather exciting), and they would call back with a timetable for when to start taking medications, and when to expect to be in Calgary. The idea is to use medications to try to grow as many ova (eggs) as possible, and to get them to mature at about the same time. This way, they can maximise the number of eggs, to increase the chance that an embryo healthy enough to survive can be found, and potentially extras could be frozen so that future pregnancies could be possible without having to do the entire process again. So you learn to give yourself injections of hormones every day at particular times. During the most active period, you go to the fertility clinic every few days to have your oestrogen level checked (a blood test) and an ultrasound to count the follicles (the structure that houses the maturing eggs) and measure them. When the follicles reach a certain size, you are booked for a retrieval. The retrieval involves the gynaecologist removing the eggs with a needle (under sedation) while the male partner goes to a different area of the clinic to masturbate into a sample container. He brings his sperm sample back, and (in our case) a technologist drew a single sperm into a needle and injected it into the egg. The embryologist then called (after the initial retrieval and daily thereafter) to update us on how many embryos we had, how they were developing and to tell us when they recommended we put an embryo back in. The embryo transfer is painless and over very quickly – they even gave us a photograph (taken under a microscope) of our embryo. Then we waited a few weeks to get a pregnancy test (by a blood draw) and tried to manage our anxiety in the meantime.
Is there any support out there for people going through IVF? What kind did you receive, if any?
We had IVF at Regional Fertility Program (RFP) in Calgary. RFP staff were very clear that we could call them any time with any question, which was very helpful and reassuring. They also have a psychologist on staff that they recommend everyone see, and is included in the price of admission. The staff are very open about the fact that the process can be stressful and hard on patients and couples and that seeing the psychologist can be helpful. There is also an initial information session in which the possibility of failure is openly discussed, including the options of trying again, adoption and making a fulfilling life in the absence of children.
What kind of support would you have liked to receive?
I wish that the Winnipeg resources had been supportive of my initial desire to consult about oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing), which I did before getting IVF. At the time, I was single and 35 and while I wanted children, I wasn’t ready to try to have children on my own using donated sperm, so I looked into egg freezing. The initial decline of even a conversation about egg freezing was based on ‘if you are thinking of having a baby you should just have one’, and left me feeling judged and hurt. Additionally, after being lucky enough to meet my partner, we were then left with no choice but to have the subsequent IVF procedures outside of Winnipeg as my frozen eggs were in Calgary. While we were very happy with our experience in Calgary, there ended up being the additional expense of travel and missing long stretches of work.
What did you find the most challenging about the whole experience?
Starting. The first phone call, the first steps to initiate asking about fertility treatment options. To stop leaving things up to hope and to request help. I found this very hard.
What would you want to say to women or couples that are considering or starting IVF treatments?
Call me. Talking about IVF can even be fun. You don’t have to do this alone.