3. It’s getting hot in here
Surprise: So hot
Coming into IVF, I wanted to be prepared. Saltines for nausea? Check. Bucket in case saltines failed? Check. Approximately 500 pillows to stay upright post-egg retrieval? Check. Try to imagine my surprise post-egg retrieval when in the middle of one cold night my skin turned to lava. My husband and dog sleeping in the bed woke to find me frantically kicking the covers off my body (and theirs in the process), and my prepared mental checklist crumbled into a sweating, nauseated, fiery mess. I did what any woman would do in that situation: I called my mom.
Turns out I wasn’t experiencing the first stages of spontaneous combustion, but a hot flash. The changing hormones surging through my body were not unlike those that happen during pregnancy or menopause when hot flashes are more common. A cursory Google search of “IVF hot flashes” reveals message boards and blogs posting variations of “hot flashes?” “hot flash after transfer – is this ok!?!” “HOT FLASHES??” dating back a decade. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one feeling lit. You won’t be either.
4. Break out the hazmat suit
Surprise: Medical disposal 101
Do you like needles? You do now. Perhaps you are a better friend than I am and will refrain from texting your bestie pics of the needles you are about to shoot in your stomach with multiple expletives and details and all-caps shouting of LOOK AT MY NEEDLES. Those needles hold the medications that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs and are injected nightly leading up to the first egg retrieval.
Since some of those medications must be refrigerated, one of your crisper drawers will now be home to EpiPen needles, drug vials and syringes instead of lettuce and tomatoes. It’s time to make room in the fridge. Fun fact: I never knew how gross my seemingly clean crisper drawer actually was until I had to sterilize it to hold my shots.
Reconciling the idea of poking needles into yourself (or having your partner do it for you) is a whole separate issue.
The surprise comes when it’s all said and done; your bathroom counter is covered in alcohol swabs and used needles and will be for the next month or so. But what do you do with all this? Captain Planet never mentioned this kind of recycling. Some women have kept their needles as a testament to their process and used them for photo shoots like the new mom who shared a photo of her healthy baby girl inside a heart formed by hundreds of syringes and drug vials used in her treatments. My needles ended up in an empty tea canister waiting for a proper disposal. Your doctor’s office might offer to take the used syringes at your next visit to be thrown away there, but the easiest route is purchasing a small and proper needle waste disposal canister. They can be found online for a few bucks, saving you the hassle of turning your home into a biohazardous waste site.
5. Wonder Women
Surprise: You’re not alone
Every single day you are in your doctor’s office, you are surrounded by Wonder Women. This was the most surprising of all — why didn’t anyone tell me about all these women who were doing the impossible every single day? Around 7 a.m. is the magic hour for my local fertility clinic. Women wait in the gray light of dawn for the doors to open.
There will be a space of time in your cycle where you must go to the clinic for blood work and a transvaginal ultrasound multiple days in a row. Picture it. In every city and in every state that holds a fertility clinic, there are hundreds if not thousands of women waking up before dawn, dressing for work, shuffling children into sweaters and matching socks, making sure the dog is fed and the door is locked, and driving to a clinic to wait for their turn to be poked, prodded and scanned before the rest of the city is even joining rush hour traffic.
And after all that — the needles in the arm; the uncomfortable, cold and sticky sensation of an internal ultrasound; the waiting for the privilege to do these things and pay for them out of pocket — they head to work and “start” their day.
I can’t imagine the amount of strength it takes to do this more than once, but some women have several rounds of IVF. That’s weeks and months of some of the hardest days, physically and emotionally, that are piled on top of the usual stress of daily life. No one told me I’d be surrounded by these amazing women every morning in the waiting room and vestibules of the doctor’s office. If they can get up, start their day bleeding and poked and still manage not to strangle Todd from Accounting who waltzed into work 15 minutes late complaining about the rough morning he’s had, then I can too.
Let’s go, Amazons. We got this.