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What no one will tell you about IVF from someone with experience

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






Practical advice about navigating in vitro fertilization from a fellow infertile chick

The decision to get in vitro fertilization can only be made between a woman, her partner, her doctor and her banker (miracle babies don’t come cheap).

No one chooses in vitro lightly. By the time I got to that step in 2007 I had already held so many meetings up my hoo-ha, my dignity was back several months somewhere between Clomid and getting one of my blocked fallopian tubes cut out.

Good times.

I’ll spare you the suspense; my in vitro fertilization attempt wasn’t successful. The little buggers just wouldn’t implant. I tried it just once. I’m not bitter about my experience with in vitro though, honest. I’m glad I did it and wouldn’t change any of it.

But there are a few things about the experience I wish I would have known. So, my friend, I want to share them with you so maybe you can be a little more prepared.

Hope and desperation in equal parts is totally normal

In vitro is a procedure at the long end of a journey filled with hope and disappointment. The procedure made more than 60,000 miracle babies in 2012 alone, and the numbers are getting better all the time.

Those lucky women. The winners. The ones who plunked down their uteruses and $30,000, said, "make me a baby" and it happened. You want to do everything you can to push yourself into the lucky group of miracle mommies.

Acupuncture? You bet. No perfume? Done. Chocolate is bad? It’s gone. Let’s face it, every woman in a fertility doctor waiting room is so desperate to make a freaking baby already they’ll say or do just about anything to make it happen.

One visit out to my own doctor’s office, I started chatting with a lady who turned out to be a pediatrician who was there receiving fertility treatments with her handsome husband — who was also a physician. And there sat this accomplished, beautiful, shiny-haired woman anxiously, almost unconsciously, trying to convince me that she would be a good mother.

"I can manage my work hours so I can be home more often," she said in a shrill voice that clearly wasn't her own. She just wanted me to understand that she deserved for this to work. I agreed aggressively. It didn’t really help. But I was struck. If Dr. Perfect Shiny Hair was feeling crappy about herself through this whole infertility adventure, we all must be feeling that way. I sure was.

If you're feeling that way too, just know it seems like a pretty common reaction. So try not to sweat it too much. Which brings me to my next piece of advice...

Please stop beating yourself up

Every fertility doctor visit is met with bulletin boards wallpapered with birth announcements and glossy birthday photos of chubby babies festooned with headbands, tutus and little bow ties. I spent so much time studying those pictures of Jacksons, Sadies, Kennedys and Prestons that I could actually start to see my own miracle baby’s joyous announcement hanging up beside the others on the bulletin board. Almost.

Making a baby is something every idiot with a uterus should be able to do, right? Apparently not.

If you’re going through fertility treatments you, like me, have probably already cataloged every cigarette, ill-advised night of drinking and toxin you’ve put into your body and then commenced kicking the crap out of yourself for it.

Stop it right now.

That one night stand after that party in your twenties didn’t make you not able to have babies and neither does your penchant for MSG-laden Chinese food.

By the same token, you might have the urge to become a reborn fitness freak. Make your body a temple. Which within reasonable limits can be an important step toward getting knocked up. But punishing yourself with grueling workouts and depriving yourself of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups if you love them isn’t the answer either.

You might have fertility trouble but you’re still a person and a woman with needs. You’re more than a crummy womb. Don’t forget that.

In the heat of my in vitro cycle I was on one of my daily visits to get my progress and the nurse became very rigid and agitated.

"Are you wearing perfume?" she asked, completely horrified.

I was wearing the sweetest, strongest perfume imaginable, Estee Lauder's Youth Dew. My grandmother had recently died, whom I loved, and that was the perfume she wore. It made me feel calm to smell her. Then the doctor was called and I was given a stern lecture about the dangers of perfume to embryos. I didn't know I was jeopardizing the whole operation.

I went to my car and cried. Just one more reason to add to the list of why I don't deserve to be a mother. Looking back, was that really necessary?

You aren't infertile because you are a bad person or did something bad. That's what I desperately wanted to hear and I don't know why no one thinks to just say those words. So here goes, "You're golden, girl. It's going to be fine. You didn't do anything bad to bring this on yourself. It's just one of those messy life things and no matter what happens you're gonna stay golden."

There. Wish we could hug it out.

In vitro is some serious science project business

I knew going into the deal what the in vitro fertilization process would be, but when the gigantic ice chest full of drugs was delivered to my door, I kind of flipped out.

Don’t get it twisted; you’re making your body do some crazy stuff with all those shots. The shots are expensive and boy howdy are there a lot of them. This is an emotional process and also a fairly complicated medical one, so get ready.

I have zero medical advice to give, so I'll leave it at that.

Yes, other people can just get drunk and make a baby in the backseat of a car, but for us in vitro chicks, it takes a team of medical professionals and a pharmacist on speed dial.

Clear your calendar

Once the in vitro cycle gets rolling, you’re not going to be of much use to anyone. Daily doctor visits, shots on a schedule — not to mention crazy hormones and emotions — don’t allow for much extracurricular activity outside of baby-making (in my experience).

And even though my boss at the time (I worked for our local PBS station) claimed she was totally on board with the idea that I would be distracted and missing work through my in vitro cycle, she really wasn’t. She was pissy and pouty about every doctor’s appointment and it added a whole lot of strain to the situation. If I had to do it over again, I would have taken that time off rather than trying to juggle everything.

My husband also had invited his college friend to come and stay with us for several days during the time I was going through the in vitro cycle. But that’s a whole other story we’ve already hashed out pretty thoroughly in marriage counseling.

Clear your calendar, is what I’m saying, because you’re going to need time and space during this whole process. This isn't the time to over-schedule yourself for distraction.

Make a plan for your embryos

In the midst of preparing my body to produce eggs like a prize hen, my husband and I were sitting in the doctor’s office and he said we needed to discuss what to do with the embryos. That, if successful, the procedure would likely produce several viable embryos and that we might want to freeze some for later. But those embryos are like pre-people, so you have to make decisions like, if you two split up for some reason, who gets embryo custody? How long do you want to keep them? What if you both die? Would you consider offering them for stem cell research?

These are all pretty heavy questions to make on the fly in a doctor's office. Think about the future of your potential embryos ahead of time and consider all of your beliefs, the state of your relationship with your partner and what kind of future family plans you have regardless of whether the in vitro fertilization procedure is successful.

As if you needed more pressure, right?

Don’t forget about your partner

I might have bad fallopian tubes, but I hit the jackpot when I married by husband, Scott. There wasn’t one single step of our more-than-10 year baby quest that he wasn’t in it to win it. And what’s really crazy is that he never really cared if we had kids or not. He just knew I wasn’t going to be whole without a kid to love and raise. So he went all in. I'll always be so grateful to him for that.

From producing endless "specimens" to so many blood tests we lost count, your partner has to be in this with you all the way. You need someone to help with the shots. You need someone to hold your hand and help you dream about your future family. It’s the only thing that matters.

The first time Scott went in the doctor’s exam room with me, I put my legs in the stirrups and this slight Indian physician pulled out an ultrasound device to check out my parts. It looked exactly like a huge dildo. Then he proceeded to cover it with a condom and add lube to it before insertion.

Scott was visibly shaken. He made it like a champ, but on the way to the car he confessed he didn’t know whether to shake the doctor’s hand at the end of the visit or punch him in the mouth. We talked it out over Paradise Bakery salads. It’s those kinds of experiences that as women we might not even give a second thought, but can be traumatic for our partners.

Whether your in vitro procedure results in a pregnancy or not, your life will be forever changed and so will your partner’s. Be gentle. After all of this, Scott and I have added an element of war buddy friendship to our 16-year marriage.

If you’re on an infertility journey of your own, I just want to wish you all the luck and happiness in the world. You deserve to be a mother. I finally got my own baby. And she’s glorious. But that’s a story for another time.

More about in vitro

Father of in vitro fertilization wins Nobel Prize for medicine
Is IVF a waste of time?
How to support a friend who's starting IVF

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