IVF, or in vitro fertilization is a process for couples struggling with fertility in which a sperm and an egg are combined outside the body in a lab. Dr. David Ryley MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, explains the IVF process like this:
Beginning with her menstrual cycle, the patient will administer daily injections to stimulate egg production for 10-14 days. During this time, she’ll have visits to her IVF clinic for vaginal ultrasounds and blood tests.
After the 10-14 days of regular shots, the patient will take another medication that matures the eggs. Thirty-six hours after taking the final medication, the patient will undergo egg retrieval. This process takes ten minutes or so, and the patient sleeps through it using sedatives. Doctors will use an ultrasound probe in her vagina and guide a needle to retrieve the eggs from her ovaries. The eggs will be fertilized in the lab using the sperm of her choosing. Once the embryo develops in the lab, it will be transferred into her uterus, usually about five days after retrieval. Any extra embryos can be frozen for future use. This implantation is similar to a pap smear and takes five minutes.
The procedure is also very expensive, with single rounds costing an average of $12,400 for an outcome that can’t be guaranteed. The CDC statistics for Assisted Reproductive Technology for 2015 show that 29.3% of ART cycles using embryos or fresh nondonor eggs result in pregnancy, while 70.2% do not, although this varies by age. Here, 12 women who have gone through IVF explain wrhat the process was like for them.
1. “For me, IVF was just a step in the process—something we had to do to conceive. I could have been bitter or worried, but I heard from someone to think positively and it would help. In my experience, IVF made me feel more in touch with my body. Who really ever gets to see their ovaries and eggs and close ups of their embryos? I recall being amazed at the baby-making process. None of the process ever hurt…I looked at it as a scientific step in a very scientific process. The embryo implanting procedure was very special, as I watched life go into my body.” — Jen, 44
2. “IVF was one of the most physically draining experiences for my body. I always felt like a pin cushion trying to find a new spot to poke with the injections. They never tell you that you will actually run out of spaces to inject the needle. My body would throb and ache from the medicine. I would have to manage the different emotions like anxiety, sadness, and frustration from the additional hormones I was adding to my body all day. But I wouldn’t change it for the world because it got me where I am today with two beautiful little ones.”—Katy, 32
3. “You spend every moment anticipating that next injection in your bum. You dance around trying to find the right position to anticipate the giant needle heading your way. You are in some strange sexual position, but this time you are waiting for your husband to happily stick a long gauged needle full of progesterone into your butt. Then it all comes down to one phone call that you wait for from your doctor. Yes; positive or no; negative. It is the happiest day of your life or your world has come tumbling down around you. — Dena, 42
4. “Isolation is the worst part. Everyone around you thinks it’s really no big deal, because it’s so commonplace. Unhelpful advice comes from all directions, especially from women who conceive easily. Meanwhile, you’re stabbing yourself with needles on the daily, hormones are raging, you’re getting emotionally attached to the idea of pregnancy, and you have no control, none, over what the future holds. It was terrifying for me.” — Tara, 45
5. “They warn you that being pumped full of hormones you won’t feel like yourself, but I still wasn’t prepared! I felt like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man who couldn’t stop crying! I literally started openly weeping at the gym because an ASPCA commercial came on while I was on the treadmill. I’m talking ugly crying, runny nose and all. But it really is worth it in the end. I’d go through all of it again in a heartbeat to get to my son, Charlie.” — Kelly, 39
6. “Although I don’t mind getting shots, having to actually stick myself every day was not fun. I got my husband to do some of the first few injections while I plucked up the courage to do it myself. One part of the process that I found tiresome and grossed me out was having to insert progesterone gel vaginally on a daily basis to prepare for the embryo transfer process…The gel leaves an icky residue that gets backed up in there! Overall, IVF was pretty smooth for me, I didn’t suffer any bad side effects and I was blessed with a successful pregnancy on my first try.” — Emily, 38
7. “Physically it wasn’t bad for me. Mentally it was a mind-f*ck. It’s like secretly running a road race of indeterminate length while going about your regular life and the finish line is holding your baby. Could be a 5K (my first IVF experience) or an ultra marathon where you fall flat on your face, realize you still can’t see the finish line and need to get up, stop crying, and keep running (my second IVF experience). It’s hard.” — Kelly, 43
8. “The IVF process for me was something like going to Vegas: overspending, excitement, and fear. Let’s roll the dice and see what happens! There’s fear of ‘if this doesn’t work, then what?’ and of spending so much money. Then excitement that this could finally be the answer to your prayers. The stages of IVF can be mentally and emotionally taxing. You can only move to the next phase of the process if you were successful. The last stage of embryo implantation was the toughest. You pray that it takes and it works. The second round of IVF, we went in for implantation….none of the embryos survived the thaw. It was crushing. All of the effort for months and nothing. We had to start from the top again, I’m very thankful it was successful.” — Carrie, 43
9. “When people ask me about IVF, all I can remember is the pain of failure. For $20K your hopes are raised unrealistically high and you start planning for the future. I had two embryos implanted and was hoping for twins. I was also hoping to have some frozen embryos, but didn’t have enough eggs. In the end, the implantation failed… This news depressed me so much that I didn’t go back for a second round (the doctor recommended five rounds). In the end we gave up, and then we got pregnant accidentally!” — Jeannie, 32
10. “I don’t think anything can prepare you for the emotional and physical feelings of IVF. On the emotional side, it felt like PMS times 100. I would go through a rollercoaster of emotions. From crying one minute to laughing the next. Physically, I literally felt pregnant and I looked it too. The hormones and injections made my stomach bloat as if I were about 4 months pregnant. — Alison, 41
11. “Going through IVF is like getting completely naked, going to a red carpet event alone, and screaming ‘I can’t have a baby!’ I remember spending months with my legs in stirrups, my husband injecting me daily in the abdomen, and doctors putting things in and taking things out of my uterus while trying to make me as ‘comfortable’ as possible. I lost all sense of physical modesty and felt like a lab rat. But the worst part of IVF for me was the silence. As a woman of east Indian descent, in my culture, we don’t talk about these things. It’s an embarrassing, personal, and shameful topic that you don’t share with others. That’s why I tell everyone what I went through—so no one feels alone.” — Supna, 40
12. “The part that touched me the most was the implantation day. It was by far the easiest part of the entire process, but it was the day that I could potentially get pregnant. You work for a month or months to get to that point and then everything is out of your control; your body takes over. To say that I was a nervous wreck is the understatement of the year. I paced all morning! We then traveled the hour to the hospital and just sat and waited. There was no anesthesia, no needles. It was such an easy but incredibly important part of the process. ” — Audra, 40