By: Carla Naumburg
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the medications I took during our IVF cycles. I couldn’ttell you their names, or what I took them for, or the order in which I took them. I do remember staring at the pre printed calendar the doctor gave us right at the beginning of each cycle, with different medications and dosages in each little box, along with highlighted instructions about blood tests or ultrasounds or stopping or starting meds. It was completely overwhelming. I remember the nurse showing my husband how to use the syringes by practicing on an orange. I remember how bizarre it seemed to have a sharps container in our house and medication boxes in our refrigerator. I remember thinking that my reproductive system was being hijacked.
Probably because it was.
At times during the process, I felt like a bad-ass, as I managed endless medical appointments and gave myself shots in the stomach without thinking twice. Other times, I felt like a wimp as I flinched and gasped each time my husband injected me in my lower back. I was strong and confident, convinced that we would eventually produce a healthy baby. I also felt weak and scared and sorry for myself, which would inevitably lead to trips to the corner store for pints of ice cream and lottery tickets.
We got lucky. Our first round of IVF produced four perfect embryos, one of which was transferred back to my artificially-enhanced uterus. I had two blood tests over the course of a week, and the numbers were good, the nurse told me. Finally, at the end of the second phone call, I interrupted her to ask when I would know if I was pregnant or not. She laughed, and said that, yes, I was pregnant. She thought I had known that all along. I marveled at how disconnected I had become from my own body, how it no longer felt like my own.
The tide of relief and gratitude was quickly overwhelmed by anxiety, a constant fear that was only enhanced by the ongoing injections, nightly reminders that my uterus might not be strong enough to support a pregnancy, and thus required chemical support for the majority of my first trimester. I remember constantly wondering if the meds would work, if the baby would make it. They did, and she did, and nine months later, I delivered our first beautiful daughter. We had survived the fresh cycle, and after another year had gone by, we went back for more. My period had returned, and the doctor gave us the green light. I remember taking estrogen pills for weeks until it was finally time to try again. The embryo thawed, and the transfer took. Another nine months passed, another healthy baby girl was born. I felt like an IVF pro.
But I wasn’t, not at all. After two cycles, I should know more about the medications I injected into my own body for weeks and months. I probably should have paid more attention to precisely what they were for, why I was taking them, and the side effects and risk profile for each one. At the time I was overwhelmed by the piles of paperwork we had to sign, the warnings and waivers regarding the various risks of assisted reproduction, questions about what we do if I got pregnant with multiple fetuses (the medical term is “selective reduction”), who would get the remaining embryos if my husband and I ever divorced, and a promise not to sue the lab if our embryos were destroyed or damaged due to a natural disaster. It was more than I could handle. I just shut down and initialed on the line.
The good news is that my husband and I were on the same page about it all, we trusted our doctor, and it went well. Looking back, I wish I had been more present during each step of each cycle. I wish I had been able to work past my anxiety and denial, to really listen to our doctor, to ask questions, to read the labels and information leaflets for each medication, and to more fully understand each choice we were making. Perhaps then I’d have a better memory of it all. For now, though, I’m trying to focus on each day with my daughters, and remain grateful for the medications that brought them to me, regardless of what they were or how they worked.