Sunday, May 25, 2008

IVF is Not for Sissies

If I were going to get pregnant with my husband, I had no other choice but to do IVF. I knew this before I married Magic, but I was very naive about IVF. I thought, oh yeah, we'll just do IVF to get pregnant. No one "just" does IVF. Once the reality of IVF got closer, I learned I would have to do things to my body that I did not want to do and was against my personal philosophy. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake in marrying Magic. The instinctual drive to want to have babies can make you think and do desperate things.

Initially, I was terrified of all the shots. First, there is the uncertainty of what the hormones will do to you. You have heard they make you "crazy", but you don't know exactly what that means. You wonder what long-term effects they will have on you. And the idea of sticking sharp objects into your stomach brings up images of "hari kari".

I remember a friend of mine casually saying, "oh, the shots aren't the hard part". I didn't understand at the time how she could be so cavalier. At my first injection training, I looked at the size needle I had to stab in my abdomen and nearly had a coronary. The nurse offered to do my first shot for me, and I kinda felt like a sissy 'cuz it wasn't so bad. I had a hard time with the shots emotionally my first IVF cycle because it felt like I was hurting myself. My second IVF cycle, I had a different attitude that doing these shots meant success, and then they were much easier. Plus, I had learned that the emotional fallout of a cycle not working was much more painful than the shots. Although they are not fun (unless you are a masochist), the shots truly are not the hard part of IVF.

One of the worst parts of IVF is all the difficult decisions you have to make. No one trains you to make these life and death decisions. You have to make fun decisions about which procedures you will have done, if you will do genetic testing or not, and how many embryos to put back. I think the last decision is the hardest. Then, there is the decision of what to do with the embryos if you have any left over.

Most average Joe or Joanne would never think about going to Las Vegas, plunking down $20K of their life savings or borrowed money, and gambling it all away on one game of craps. But that is essentially what you are doing when you embark on IVF. It's a crap shoot, and you never know what you are going to end up with or what is going to happen. There are no guarantees.

You try to play the statistics game. "Oh, I'll put back more embryos than what I want because it's a small percentage of having multiples". Or, "I'll deal with multiples if that is what happens, but I seriously doubt it will happen to me". The fear of not getting pregnant is usually greater than the fear of having multiples because the statistics are more weighted towards not getting pregnant. The thing is about statistics is that when it happens to you, it's 100%.

If you do end up getting pregnant with two, three, or four, then there are a lot of other agonizing decisions you have to make. Selective reduction is an option, but once you become attached to those little embryos, the decision to reduce one of them is agonizing, even if it's the best thing for you and your family. The other option is to go through with the pregnancy and risk endangering your health or your babies health. With IVF, you can have too much of a good thing.

For me, I had to make peace with the fact that I was going to have to endure a lot of medical procedures to do IVF. I first had to have surgery, which was it's own ordeal in and of itself. Should I have surgery? Which type of surgery should I do? What are the risks of each type of surgery? Who should I choose as my surgeon? These were all the questions I had to grapple with, besides the fear that I did not want to have surgery in the first place! As many doctors as I saw were as many opinions that I got, muddying the waters even more. The longer I took to make my decision meant my fertility was slipping away with every day I put it off.

The hardest part of IVF is the emotional part. Women don't blog to discuss just their medical procedures. They do it for the emotional support. The support of gathering additional information to help them make an informed choice, the support of helping them through one of the most stressful times of their life, the support of knowing they are not alone, the support of dealing with failures, and the support of dealing with success. The difficult emotions don't end when you get pregnant. For women that deal with infertility, we forget that pregnancy, birth, and raising a child all have their own emotional challenges. I think we get so focused on the getting pregnant part, which - by the way - should be the easy part, that we forget about how we are going to have to deal with the rest of having a baby! But I digress...

I wanted to say that I now have complete respect for those women who choose NOT to do IVF. I thought I was being a sissy for not wanting to do IVF, but after having gone through it twice, I wonder if it was such a good idea. It's a brave choice to say, "no thank you, IVF is not for me". Modern medicine can bring us miracles, but it can also bring us nightmares.

That is why I like the post from Melissa's blog "One Smart Mama" titled "Regifting Words". It's about what to say when you decide not to do IVF to have children, and people try to be "helpful" by telling you that you can "just do" IVF or some other such medical procedure. She also briefly touches on the related "just adopt" line, but that's a whole 'nother topic for another post.

14 comments:

Eurydice said...

This is very interesting because in Italy the church has effectively stamped out IVF (you can do it but it's super limited so basically people with lots of cash fly to Spain.) The reasoning they are against it is multifold, but it includes the emotional toll it has on the human soul.

I think there is a fine line between messing with nature and therefore getting burnt and twisting nature's arm so you can save yourself from some deadly disease or live better etc. I'm not sure tho when we cross that line...
It is thanks to medicine I was able to reverse my infertility and have a baby. But it was done in a hospital that believed in, not baby at all cost, but getting the man and woman healthy at all cost. (the church-based infertility treatment centers operate in this manner).

I don't know what to say Phoebe other than I am glad to see you and will keep checking in!!

Lost in Space said...

The emotional part of IVF is so overwhelming. I really thought the shots would be the hardest part until our first cycle failed. I completely understand what you mean when you say the shots aren't the hardest part.

Only those who have gone through this will truly understand all that is involved. A friend of mine told me that she would just put them all back to up the odds. She is fertile and will never have to face the actual reality of what she "would do". She doesn't get the risks and everything else that goes along with it.

Huge (hugs). Keep blogging away.

HeidiM said...

For sure the emotional part is the most crazy-making of it all, thank goodness there are ways that we can find other people going through similar challenges. Often times I think we all need fertility coaches, like life coaches. But you don't need a social work degree to provide help to the people you meet in this world, you just need empathy and compassion and expression. We all have the capacity to help one another.

Great link, I hadn't read that. I need to find an opposite Q&A on how to shut up about IF to people that couldn't give a crap. I've turned into someone who just tells (almost) anything to (almost) anyone as I get older, because, hey, it's my life and for the sake of my sanity, I'm not going to pretend it away or squelch my need to share my stories. If I'm going to listen to other people's stories about their businesses or their children, then it seems fair that they be willing to listen to stories about my experiences in this life. We all have a lot to learn from each others' different experiences, afterall.

IVF has opened my eyes to the pains that some women take to have a child. And the pains that some women have when they are childless. I never realized the extent of the pain before, I didn't know.

Mrs.X said...

Hi Phoebe!

I think all of us at some point or another look at infertility treatment as a buffet. I'll try a little Clomid, maybe a dash of lap, some IUIs with or without injectibles, and maybe some IVF for dessert. The idea of course with a buffet is that you try everything. I think it takes a strong person to sample everything, but I think it takes an even stronger person to elect not to. Time and money are precious commodities in this game and wasting either is criminal. I really liked your gambling analogy because that's exactly what it is. For most people, the most they are gambling is a month and some gratuitous sex. For us, it's money, time, and lots and lots of invasive procedures. Much higher stakes.

pamela.ilovemcdreamy said...

Hi there,
I came from Lost In Space's blog and I want to say what a wonderful article you have written.

We have been struggling with infertility as well. My DH doesn't like me blogging about our struggles cuz he's a very private and reserved person. But I feel the NEED to cuz I didn't have the emotional support that I needed when we first embarked on this journey.

So, kudos for saying your take on the decisions we make and I just want to say you said it very well. :)

hugs.

Denise said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I completely agree that the shots are not the hardest part. I remember being SO nervous doing those first couple of shots and worrying that I would do something wrong. I also remember thinking that the first try better work, because I simply couldn't imagine going through all of that more than once. Little did I know...I'm capable of a lot more than I realized.

Kami said...

I'm coming over from a comment on PJ's blog. This is a wonderful and thoughtful post.

I was very against IVF - I didn't like how it tinkered with nature, but it wasn't as bad as I thought. At least compared to not having a chance to be pregnant again after our miracle baby died shortly afterbirth.

Because it took us so long to move to IVF, we ended up going with donor eggs (after MFI leading us to fertility treatments and 4 failed IVF cycles). Because of my experience, I encourage people to at least explore the option of IVF - sooner rather than later. Meaning, I hope they can make an informed decision rather than base it on fear like I did.

Still, I understand and support NOT doing everything possible to have a child. Multiple failures take a huge toll and you never know what will work until it does (or doesn't) and you never know if you would have been better off for choosing a different path.

I don't know the rest of your story, but I hope you are doing ok.
I also hope that I didn't offend you by posting my views when I don't even know you. Your posts resonated with me - the emotional part has been the hardest and it seems to have the most lasting affects.

Geohde said...

I intensely dislike any line relating to infertility options that involves 'just'. We're all too aware (as you point out) that there is no 'just' to any of it,

J

loribeth said...

Here from Lost & Found. I did clomid & IUIs, but not IVF, for all the reasons you've cited. It definitely takes a toll. I love your Vegas analogy... I've often heard it said that IVF is a crapshoot, but when you think about actually spending the same amount of $ on one game of craps in Vegas, that puts things in a whole new light!

JuliaS said...

You are so right - "when it happens to you it is 100%" We might be squarely in a minority percent - but we certainly feel it full throttle.

I didn't do IVF, but I did give myself Follistim injections. The first time was a total shock - after that intial "what am I doing?!" it got easier to load it up and shoot it up. Years after my last injection though - I find myself amazed I could actually do that.

Guera! said...

Found this post via Creme de la Creme and so glad I did. We decided not to do IVF becuase I just couldn't make those decisions regarding how many embryos to keep and what to do with the others. It was a huge issue for me and I felt like I was playing God although I know lots of people who did IVF successfully. After taking Clomid and HCG for IUIs I realized I would not have been able to handle the medications for IVF. Just the Clomid and HCG alone did quite a number on me.
Great, insightful post.

Kahla said...

I found your post via Creme and couldn't agree more that the emotional aspect is definitely the hardest part. We are about to embark on our 5th IVF and every so often the emotional aspect almost does me in.

Clio said...

Hi. I found your blog through Creme. Thank you for this post. Very well said. I just had a failed IVF and totally feel the full blow of it. I am very concerned about the physical risks of repeated attempts at this, but especially the emotional toll it has taken is what makes me question if I want to do this again.
I was reading around your blog and really like your views. Also I guess we may have some interesting similarities in life paths. For instance I also celebrate Winter Solstice and went to a person who can talk and see spirit babies. I'll stick around to get to know you better and follow your journey.
May this year bring you many blessings. :)

WaterBishop said...

I am a sissy.
I find the idea of IVF so overwhelming that I keep putting ARTs off.
I don't understand how anyone can say "just do IVF".
It's nice to read a post showing the other side of it.