It was four years ago this month that I found myself smack in the middle of a nightmare. I was preparing for my fourth round of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), feeling completely and utterly alone. Four years, two kids, 11 pounds and one published book later, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone if you’re going through IVF treatment. Being prepared is such an important part of this journey. It will keep you from feeling upended when your stomach is bloated, your heart is broken, you’re in a hormonal rage against the guy making your coffee at Starbucks and you’re about ready for a divorce. So, on that uplifting note, grab your prenatals and read on as I share five things you may not know about IVF.
Your age plays a factor more than you think.
At age 25, 75 percent of a woman’s eggs are chromosomally normal. By 35, that number goes down to 50 percent. By the time you reach 40, it’s only about 10-15 percent. So, when your mother pleaded with you to freeze your eggs at 30, she was actually right. Before you lose hope remember, it’s a numbers game and it’s always quality over quantity. Add this to the category of things my doctor should’ve told me when I was 20!
It’s a roller-coaster ride, so hang on!
An IVF cycle has many bumps along the way. Don’t blame yourself. In an average IVF cycle, there are two parts after the injections; the retrieval where the eggs are removed from a women’s body and the transfer where the fertilized embryos are put back in.
During the retrieval process there are many surprises that may catch you off-guard and can send you into a shame spiral, but don’t let it. For one, the number of eggs retrieved can vary immensely. Don’t get fixated on how many. If your numbers are low you may have to go through multiple rounds of retrievals. Understand that this is common. Remember, it only takes one.
Once doctors remove the eggs from your body, they fertilize them with sperm and wait for them to mature for five days. Only about 35-50 percent of embryos will survive this stage so again, be prepared. It’s simply the science of it all.
Next the eggs will either be transferred back into the mother for what’s called a “live transfer” or be frozen in order to be stored or genetically tested to see if they are chromosomally sound. This is important, especially in older women, because it can help prevent the transfer of an embryo into your body that would never have turned into a viable pregnancy due to chromosomal defects. It saves you a lot of wasted time and more importantly heartache to know this before going through with a transfer.
Oh, Those Hormones
Welcome to crazy town! We’ve been waiting for you. You know those injections that everyone talks about? They help your body increase the amount of eggs your ovaries will drop in a cycle. What they may not tell you is that they also make you batsh*t crazy. This is the stage where you’ll probably start arguing with your husband and crying at work. Honestly though, this is a very isolating stage. It’s important to talk to your family and friends about what you’re feeling. You’re not a failure and you’re not alone. Just hang in there. It’s temporary. You’re one step closer to being a mother. Just warn your husband to be patient…and to wear a helmet.
It’s not your fault
The sooner you realize this the better. It’s not because you’ve been stressed over trying to get pregnant which every woman in your situation would be. It’s not about how much you smoked in college or that you eat too much gluten. There are many reasons why infertility happens to a couple and I assure you most of them are not things you can control, so stop blaming yourself. You don’t need to feel guilty on top of everything else.
It changes you in the best way possible
After the battle is fought and the dust settles, you’ll learn things about yourself that you never knew possible. It will expose you to a level of human awareness that will change the way you treat people. The bravery and perseverance that now define you will feel like a badge of honor. One that you will wear proudly as you reach out to help the women that come after you just as you did for the women that came before you. You can do this. You will do this. Whether you have a successful IVF cycle or embark on another road to motherhood, all will be right with the world as you hold the child you were meant to have. Hang in there. You’re not alone.
For the rest of you, for Pete’s sake freeze your eggs!
—Brett Russo is the CEO of Capital Printing and just published “The Underwear in My Shoe,” a book about her journey through IVF at RMA of New Jersey. Brett lives in NJ with her husband and their two sons.