Mr. Hopeful: A Male Perspective On IVF

HandWrench

At 31 years old, my wife should already have a couple of rugrats running around. She should be tripping over little shoes as she walks in the door, finding discarded pieces of food in the backseat of her car, and cleaning sharpie marker off of our lampshades. Unfortunately, she’s not doing any of these things, and the reason why comes down to one little word:

Me.

If you wanted to get specific, I guess you could blame my genetics, but either way you look at it I’m the reason that we don’t have kids. Like Mayhem—the character from the All-State Insurance commercials destroys everything he touches—I’m the cause of all those massive IVF bills, the needle-inflicted bruises, and the river of tears that have been shed since this insane process was started.

Like many with Ostrich Syndrome (head buried firmly in the sand), I initially figured that the reason we couldn’t have kids was that our timing was off, or that we were under stress at work, or that the stars weren’t aligned or whatever. On the rare occasions when I did think that something was wrong from a fertility perspective, I was certain that it was on my wife’s side—after all, in terms of complexity, the difference between my system and hers is like the difference between a Ford F-150 (simple, reliable, easy to start in cold weather) and Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 Ferrari racecar (complicated, temperamental, and requiring monthly rebuilds). Besides—caution, TMI ahead—everything of mine down there functions just fine, and I would know if something were amiss. Right? Yes, of course. Back to the sand.

Fast forward a few years of unsuccessfully trying to have kids and my wife finally dragged my stubborn ass to the fertility doctor who, in a brilliant display of timing, called me on my 30th birthday with four words that I never thought I would hear directed at me:

“You have no sperm”.

Allow me to pause for a moment, dear reader, and explain the implications of this diagnosis on my manhood. I felt useless. Unmanly. Ineffective. Pathetic. Worthless. Nearly every male out there is programmed with an innate and primal desire to repopulate the world with his seed. Now, I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about reproduction. Think of it as the ancient Spartans thought of it, the desire to have a couple of big, strong sons to grow up and ensure the survival of your lineage. Chauvinistic? Perhaps, but nonetheless difficult for me to reconcile. In a world where my fellow men were walking around with fully loaded M249 machine guns, I felt as though I’d just learned that I was carrying a super soaker. And that sucked.

(Side note: When my father found out that I was born with a permanent, irreversible vasectomy, the first thing he did was to call my one and only brother and urge him to have a son to “continue our line”. High fives, Dad.)

Naturally, the one person who snapped me out of this ridiculous way of thinking was the most supportive, coolest, and most loving human I know: My wife. She reassured me that I was one of the manliest men she’d ever met, and that my ability to reproduce was in no way a reflection of my character. She told me that I had a stronger sense of purpose in life than mere reproduction, and that she had never seen me back down from a challenge and knew that I wouldn’t back down from this one. In fact, she went on to affirm, so rare was my genetic affliction (1 in 30,000,000, or something like that) that it was actually kind of cool. My attitude changed. Suddenly, I didn’t feel worthless. I simply saw this as the card we’d been dealt, and I vowed to be strong as we tackled this issue as the awesome team that we are.

Believe me, being strong was not always easy. I cannot explain the absolutely overwhelming feelings of guilt that come from watching the person you love most on this planet stab themselves repeatedly in the belly with needles because of a deficiency on your part. That was a tough one. Having spent more than my fair share of time in a hospital bed (I work in a high-risk profession), I can say that it is tougher for me to be the person on the sidelines watching the one you love go through pain than it is to be the one who is hurt. No lie, I would have changed places with my wife during every one of her uncomfortable, painful, horrible procedures if I could have. As luck would have it, I got my chance in the hot seat when I went in for what can only be described as the most horrific surgical procedure I’ve ever endured (and I’ve had a bunch). The experience sucked, but once again I drew a lot of strength from my beautiful wife, who maintained a strong belief that all of the pain would be worth it in the end.

If you’ve read any other post on this blog, you now know that things didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. Not even close. We’re both still grieving the negative beta result that we received just a couple short days ago. Words cannot describe the gut-wrenching sound of a mother crying for her lost child. I’ve been through a lot in my life, but seeing my wife pull down photos of our embryo, seal them in an envelope, and lovingly place them in a filing cabinet with tender, motherly care caused me to come completely unstrung. Those of you who have been in this situation before understand. To those who haven’t, I truly hope that you never have to experience the feelings of loss and devastation that come with a failed IVF cycle. Even though I wasn’t the one who underwent the transfer, this feels every bit as real to me as I would imagine it does to my wife.

Fortunately, in times like these you find out not only what you are made of, but what your partner is made of. My wife and I have taken turns holding each other—both physically and emotionally—and even though things aren’t OK right now, we both seem to have the underlying sense that they are going to be OK. Although, to be fair, we have no idea at this point how they will get there.

Male or female, husband or wife, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you are comforting your partner in the wake of devastating news, just hold them. Really. You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to fix, and you don’t have to promise them that things will get better, even though they may. Just hold them close and kiss them often.

IVF #1 Beta Results

My second beta was at 9am yesterday. As I sat down in the chair and rolled back my sleeve, I fought back the tears. So much was riding on these results. “How are you doing?” the young nurse asked. 

“I’m terrified,” I replied. 

“Of the needle or the results?”

“The results.”

“You just have to stay positive,” she declared. 

I wanted to scream. To ask her if she had any idea what this really feels like. Ask her if she’d even bothered to read my chart and realize this was my one and only chance at a successful pregnancy. That all nine of my other embryos had arrested development due to what the doctor thought were issues with our sperm. Of course, I didn’t say any of those things. I just sat there as I watched her poke into my vein; already bruised and sore from the test two days prior. 

The nurse told me we’d get a call to report the results sometime after noon. I muttered my thank you’s, and stumbled out of the office. 

We anxiously awaited the results all day long. I wanted to get the news with Chris, and left work a little early so we could be together when we got the call. By 5:30pm we still hadn’t heard anything. Chris was antsy as hell, and I kept telling him, “I know they’ll call before they leave at six. If not, we’ll do a home pregnancy test.” 

He finally broke down and called our RE on his cell phone. The one “for emergencies only.” Heck, it felt pretty urgent at 5:40pm on a Friday before a three day holiday weekend. Our doctor said perhaps we wouldn’t receive the results until Tuesday. As luck would have it, our nurse began calling us while Chris was wrapping up the conversation with our doc. 

Chris missed her call, so we dialed her back on speakerphone. She sounded cheerful. “Oh, hi Chris! I was just leaving you a message on the other line. We got your results back, and they are negative.” I felt numb. “Please tell Heather to stop taking her medication. If you’d like to schedule a follow-up meeting to go over your cycle with the doctor, that can be done either in person or over the phone. Just call us next week to schedule when you’re ready.”

Before hanging up the phone, Chris managed to ask her, “What exactly were Heather’s beta numbers?”

“Less than two,” she informed us, “we consider anything over five to be pregnant.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. I slowly got up, and began gathering all my medicine from around the house. The Crinone, the bottles of Estradiol I had in my purses, and by my bed. I put them all in a bag, and shoved them into our guest room closet. I went to the kitchen, and gingerly pulled the magnets off the fridge that surrounded the little pictures of our precious embryo and my uterus-post-transfer. I carefully found an envelope and filed it away in the filing cabinet. 

I went back to the bedroom and began to sob. Chris was crying, too. We sat on the floor and held each other for what felt like hours. We managed to feed ourselves dinner and put on a movie. All events throughout the evening were punctuated with tears by one or both of us. It felt, and still feels, surreal. 

To add insult to injury, we received a bill from the pre-IVF genetic counseling. Nearly $8,000. We had no idea a bill of that magnitude was still coming. It felt like a sick joke. 

Today, both of us are processing. We could do IVF again as soon as July. We both have so many questions. Do we want to use the same clinic again? Will we have different results next time? When will we know it’s time to give up? Should we consider adoption? 

It feels like we have a lot of healing ahead of us. I’m really grateful to have such a strong teammate by my side through this process. We’ll get through it together. For now, we just need to grieve.

Staying Strong, Feeling Weak

It’s been eight days since our frozen embryo transfer. I want to know the outcome so badly. I have these eight home pregnancy tests staring me in the face, but I’m too apprehensive to use them. 

Tomorrow I have a huge event at work. I need to be on my A-game. I’m going to be talking to many people throughout the evening. This is tough for me, as I’m an introverted-extrovert (I swear it’s a real thing). Even though I can appear to be doing fine in a social situation, it’s draining for me. I’m sure you can guess, social functions are not my favorite. So I am very fearful that if we get bad news prior to this important day at work, I won’t be able to function well. Chris is super supportive of us waiting to test, and thinks it’s a very good idea. As much as I’m able to logically think through the decision to wait, it’s still eating at me. 

I’m ashamed to say, last night I was a total Debbie downer. I was feeling very negative, like our cycle probably didn’t work. I know we’ve been through a lot of stress, and it’s causing me to second-guess everything. In the back of my head, since I know our sperm is an issue, I’m afraid we’re going to have ongoing challenges. Chris, on the other hand, is feeling very positive. He thinks that this cycle worked. I really hope his gut feeling is right. 

My first beta was today. At our clinic, they send both betas to the lab at the same time. That means we won’t know any results until Friday. It’s only two more days. I know I can make it. I think I can, I think I can. 🙂

  

The Two Week Wait

My mind is racing a million miles an hour. I feel completely unsure of everything. I wake up in the middle of the night just to lie in bed, stare and the ceiling, and contemplate what the outcome will be. No matter how hard I try to stop overthinking the process, I just can’t. The outcome means so much to me. To us. 

Today we are 6dp5dt (six days past a five day transfer). According to charts I’ve read, that’s when hCG begins entering the bloodstream. Women use home pregnancy tests at this phase of the game all the time. Before we transferred, I bought eight tests. Now, I’m terrified to use them. Since it’s only Monday, I know it’ll be a long, tough week at work if I find out its negative. I don’t want to take that risk. Our beta is on Friday, and I think it’s a good plan to have the long Memorial Day Weekend to process whatever news comes our way. 

I’ve been having a lot of unusual feelings and sensations. Whether these are symptoms of pregnancy, or side effects of all the drugs, I’m not sure. One moment I’m convinced I’m pregnant because of how I feel, the next moment I’m sure I’m not. It started about three days after transfer. I began to notice a cramping sensation in just the right side of my uterus. Gradually, the cramping has spread. Now I feel it throughout my whole uterus and pretty frequently throughout the day. Sometimes I’m worried it’s a sign that my period is on its way. Other times I think it’s a sign of implantation. Other times I credit the feeling to the Crinone, or maybe even all the estrogen. I’m also extremely tired. I feel exhausted regardless of how many hours of sleep I get. I’ve read that progesterone causes this, but it can also be a sign of pregnancy. And, I’m moody. However, I think any woman going through this torture of waiting would probably be moody, too. 

Beta is only four days away. Right now, I’d really like to wait and not test beforehand. We’ll see if I’m strong enough to make it, or if my curiousity gets the best of me. One thing I know for sure: the two week wait is rough. 

Transfer

With only one frozen embryo, we were anxious going into yesterday’s FET (frozen embryo transfer). Our minds were racing as we headed downtown to our clinic. Chris was quiet; deep in thought. I fumbled with everything in the car as I tried to keep my mind occupied. I nervously checked the time on my phone every couple of minutes. We were told they’d thaw our little embaby about an hour prior to transfer. Would they call us if it didn’t thaw? As the clock ticked away, I started to feel more at ease as we closed in on our appointment time. Surely they would have called by now. Right? 

When we got inside the office, no one was at the front desk. My anxiety was through the roof. I needed someone to tell me my embryo was alright. Another couple joined us in the waiting room. There was such a stark contrast between us. They were laughing and having a cheerful, playful conversation. Chris and I were hanging onto each other and nervously tapping our feet in silence. Finally, the receptionist came in, lunch in hand, ear buds in ears, iPod playing. “Have you guys signed in?” she asked casually. 

She disappeared inside the office, and we were left alone (with the cheerful couple) for the longest ten minutes of my life. Finally, the door opened. “Heather,” the nurse called, “Come on back.”

She politely led us to a room and asked me if I’d like any Vallium to help me relax prior to the procedure. I assured her I would be fine. She asked me to undress from the waist down and wrap myself in a white bedsheet. The wait continued. It was now twenty minutes past my appointment time, and my bladder, which I was instructed to have kept “full” felt like it was about to burst. 

Finally, Dr. B came in the room. I glanced down at his hands, and saw him carrying this:

  
My heart soared! Our embryo had made it through the thaw. Dr. B said it had a 100% thaw success, meaning every little cell had survived the thaw process. Our little embie is a Grade II, fair quality. Dr. B said these have roughly the same rate of implantation as top quality embryos. 

Dr. B began to prepare me for transfer. He had one nurse pressing the ultrasound nice and hard into my very full bladder. Another nurse stood by and helped Dr. B as he got the catheter into place. They paged Dr. H, the embryologist, and asked him to load our embryo. He came in with our embryo in a syringe. I laughed as I noticed there were six people, including Chris and me, in the room as Dr. H injected the embryo into the catheter. I never thought so many people would be present when I attempted to get pregnant. 

We watched on the screen as our embryo was injected into it’s new home. After the process was complete, the team left me tilted pelvis upwards in the hospital bed for a while. Chris and I enjoyed the moment and sat there staring at the screen. We hope our embaby loves it’s new, warm environment enough to settle in for a little while. 💗

  

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They…Implant in Your Uterus?

I’ve never been a superstitious person. Until now. I’m not avoiding black cats or walking under ladders. I haven’t turned clockwise seven times in a circle. My fingers are not perpetually crossed. We aren’t quite to such a high level of irrationality (yet).  

It’s more like this: I’ve developed an uncharacteristically pessimistic attitude. I feel pretty hopeless. This is not typical of me. I’m a resilient human being. My life has been filled with challenges I’ve met head-on. I have grit, and get through the tough times with a can-do attitude, and unwavering persistence. However, in the case of our infertility, my positivity seems to be wavering. 

Since we received our diagnosis of male factor infertility in January, our life feels like it’s been a pendulum swinging in perpetual motion. We have had our hopes dashed on more than one occasion. This journey has shown us how unpredictable IVF can be. We’ve had our share of disappointment so far this cycle. After promises of success, now our doctors are scratching their heads, wondering why our situation is so unusual.  Additionally, our cycle produced only one frozen embryo, and next week we’ll have one chance at our baby. 

So where does the superstition come into play? As I’m gearing up for next week’s FET, I’m finding myself fearful of optimism. When I think ahead, I’m afraid to allow myself to think we might be successful. It’s almost like I’ve adopted the attitude that if I think it will work, it won’t. I think my new (poor) attitude is a coping mechanism. My mind is trying it’s best not to allow my heart to be crushed by disappointment. It’s making me feel a little crazy. 

So my dear fertility bloggers, I seek your advice. How did/do you stay mentally grounded during IVF? How did you stay hopeful without setting your expectations too high? How did you cope with these unknowns? 

Thanks in advance, my friends!

FET Here We Come!

 Today we got the good news that our transfer is moving up a couple of days. My lining is already at 10mm, and so our doctor bumped up the date of our FET to eight days from now. 

I’m currently on estrogen pills 3x a day. This stuff is making me feel depressed as heck. Combined with all the crazy plot twists we’ve been through this cycle, I’m having to work extra hard to keep my chin up. 

I start Crinone on Thursday. From the reviews I’ve read I’m in for a real treat (yes, that was complete sarcasm). Hopefully it’ll be easier than I’m anticipating. Any tips from you veterans out there?

We saw one of Chris’s friends yesterday. He and his wife did IVF five times. On their last cycle they only had one embryo, and it stuck. They now have a beautiful nine-year-old daughter. Their story helped so much! It ain’t over till it’s over. Here’s to hoping we have one super-sticky embryo!