In four, quickly-approaching months will be the beginning of the new year and the start of our first IVF cycle. While it is exciting about the possible opportunities that come with starting IVF, it is also scary and nerve-wrecking to think about everything involved in this process. In my recent conversations with friends and family, I have found not a lot of people understand IVF or even know what it is. I thought it would be helpful to explain what an IVF cycle consists of. I’ll spare you the complex medical terminology and try to explain it in the easiest way possible.
- Ovulation Induction- This step consists of two phases, suppression and stimulation.
Suppression Phase-Basically, the point of this phase is to control ovulation when the doctors want it to precisely happen. This is done through a variety of medications, oral and injection. This phase will also include blood tests and ultrasounds to monitor. This phase is approximately 7 days from the last day of my menstrual cycle. I like to refer to this phase as the beginning of “The Great Stab-a-thon”.
Stimulation Phase-Now that the lady bits are calm and quiet, it’s time to wake them up! During my favorite phase (yeah, right!), I’ll continue injections to keep my ovaries from ovulating but I will begin an additional injection to stimulate follicle growth. I like to think of follicles as nice little egg nests where the egg will form with help of hormones. The drugs used for IVF encourages growth of more than average follicles. After more blood tests and ultrasounds, we will determine when I should receive my “trigger shot”. The purpose of this injection is to roll out the red carpet for my eggs to arrive on and give the follicles an extra nudge.
2. Egg Retrieval-This is where the fertility doctor goes in and surgically retrieves any and all eggs that were produced, directly from the ovary. This is an outpatient procedure I will be under for-thank goodness! We will find out at that point how many eggs were retrieved. Don’t be like me and go to YouTube and watch videos of this process. I quickly regretted it!
3. Fertilization and Embryo Growth- At this time, the lights are dimmed, slow music will start playing…HAHA! Just kidding! The IVF lab will take eggs retrieved that are mature and sperm and primarily mix them together. Our clinic performs ICSI (Intra-cytoplasmic Sperm Injection) which goes a step further and injects the sperm directly into the egg to increase chances of success. For 2 to 5 days, an embryologist will incubate and monitor growing eggs to embryos. Not every mature egg will fertilize and not every fertilized egg will grow for the full 5 days.
4. Embryo Transfer– After the 5 days, we will learn how many mature eggs fertilized and continued to grow. With the help of our doctor, we will decide how many we want to transfer to my uterus. She’s assured us no more than two, no Octo-mom here! Using a catheter, our doctor will transfer embryo(s) to my uterine cavity. I won’t have to be under anesthesia for this step. She told us they simply choose which ones to use at the time as if it were a beauty contest. They pick the best looking one(s). Any remaining embryos would be preserved (frozen) for future pregnancy attempts.
5. The Two-Week-Wait– After the transfer will begin the longest two weeks of anyone who may be trying to conceive’s life. We simply have to wait to see if implantation has occurred and take a pregnancy test two weeks later via blood test. Also during this two week wait, some doctor’s give additional medication to encourage implantation. What’s one more injection, right?! Oh, but this is the mother-of-all injections. This is given intramuscular. Bigger needle, deeper injection. At least, I only have to do that once for the cycle.
Those 5 steps are essentially an entire “fresh” IVF cycle. The entire process is about 6-8 weeks. If there are embryos remaining and pregnancy is not achieved after the first cycle, we will be given the option to do what is called a Frozen Embryo Transfer. This is where they thaw embryos to be transferred while I am given medication prior to the transfer and we repeat steps 4 and 5.
Knowing how everything is “supposed” to go helps, but I’m interested and excited to document our experiences with each step and share them! I have began preparing for this process by doing additional research, talking with “veterans”, looking into and starting supportive care and preparation such as diets, vitamins, exercise.
Stay tuned for the next blog post, when I will talk about certain things I’m doing to prepare, how you can help and an AMAZING offer available to those who are beginning their journey!
See you soon!