Our Great Embryo Debate

{Also featured on The M Word }

Every so often I get asked ‘ So… are you going to try again for a girl now that you have two boys?’

What an odd question. Or am I the odd one? Why would people assume I have a need to have a daughter over another son? We have no plans to try again for any more babies, but if I did, given we have to do fertility treatment I would be over the moon with either sex, but if I’m honest, another boy would probably be a lot handier and more practical seeing as I already have mountains of boys clothes…!

So, no I say, I don’t feel I need to try again for a daughter.. as if my sons aren’t fulfilling enough for me! It really is an odd question, to me at least. Do men get asked if they want to try again for a son if their children are all girls? I dunno, probably. Odd!

However, the question does get me thinking about our little embryos. Every so often something will remind me of them – well, pretty much any time I hear of someone doing IVF or if I see a new baby, I think of them. It might sound ridiculous to some people, but I think of those little embryos like pre-born babies. They exist because of us, they are lives created by us. Ok, ‘lives’ may not be the correct word scientifically, but it’s hard to think of another word to accurately describe them, because ‘bundle of cells’ just doesn’t cover what it is they mean to us, and how important they are.

When you do IVF, you quickly learn that getting to the stage of embryos even existing from the treatment is very far down the line of ‘Things That Need To Go Right.’ It’s not just a case of rocking up to the clinic, producing the ingredients and job done, there are loads of things that have to go to plan first.

And I’m no scientist but it seems to me that a large majority of that is down to luck. Or fate, or whatever it is you happen to believe in. Science only seems to account for some of it, and the rest is ‘let’s just hope’.

We were unbelievably lucky to end up with seven Grade 1 embryos after our IVF treatment – at the time I didn’t really understand just how lucky we were to get those numbers, but they are fantastic results. Thankfully, out of three FETs (Frozen Embryo Transfers), two were successful and are currently almost four and almost two years old… essentially they’re twins just born two years apart! Sadly we had one failure in between the two boys, so that leaves us with our four little ‘frosties’.

And so the question remains.. what to do with them? Currently we pay for their storage at the clinic each year. They’re sitting in a huge freezer in tiny little tubes a bit like the inside of a biro – so tiny you can’t really see them with your own eyes. Four potential PEOPLE – to think of it too deeply just blows my mind a bit.

I wonder about how close they came to existing. When the embryologist opened the freezer on the morning of each transfer, liquid nitrogen spilling out over the sides of the big drum like something out of a science fiction movie, and looked at our little collection of embryos, what made her pick the ones she did? Those embryos she chose eventually turned into Rian and Alex. So I wonder, who didn’t get the chance to turn into people? And how close we came to not meeting Rian and Alex…?

The sheer effort required in even getting those embryos in the first place… how could I ever decide to let them go, or let them ‘expire’? I’m so emotionally attached to them and invested in them, I’ll never forget how hard it was to get them and what we went through, the emotional and physical rollercoaster of it, that I think I’ll still be paying for their storage when I’m 90. To think of not keeping them makes my heart skip a beat with sadness… does that make me sound a bit mad?!

 

I don’t know what the future holds.. at the moment we have two beautiful, precious little boys. Two boys we never dared to dream we’d have, the day we were told we’d need IVF to have any hope of becoming parents.

Part of me thinks am I being greedy to even consider more when the odds were already so stacked against us. We are so happy as a family of four, I don’t feel any pull or need to try for another one… until I think of those embryos and wonder, what if? Or maybe more appropriately… who if?

So I’ll tuck those thoughts away for now and pay the clinic for another year of storage, think about it tomorrow and be so forever grateful for the two little embryos I can tuck into bed and kiss goodnight.

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To Grow A Human

I have a confession to make. If you’ve seen earlier blog posts you’ll know that earlier this year I wrote a piece about IVF which basically ended up with me being on the radio chatting to Ray D’arcy about our experience with fertility treatment. Well, I must confess that at the time of that interview, I had already just done a transfer, and although I didn’t quite know it yet, I was already pregnant! Yes, I’m growing a human.

In late February I went back on the fertility medication to prepare for our third frozen embryo transfer, our second attempt at a brother or sister for Rian. This process isn’t as intrusive as the process for a full round of IVF – these embryos were frozen after that original round in 2013 when we were extremely lucky to be able to freeze 7 high quality embryos. Rian was the first transfer, we had one late last year which failed, so this was transfer number three.

With that in mind I’m very familiar with the process and know the routine. You take oestrogen tablets 3 times a day along with progesterone pills twice a day. Nice little cocktail of hormones going on there, plenty of fun for everyone. After about 2 weeks of that you go the clinic where they give you an ultrasound to check the lining of your womb – it needs to be thick in preparation for the replacement of the embryo. If it’s too thin, the embryo won’t be able to implant and start growing. Once everything is doing what it should, they give you a time for the transfer and in you go.

It’s a relatively quick process. They select what looks to be the strongest embryo and thaw it out, a couple of hours before it’s due to be transferred. You’re brought into the theatre room. They scan your wrist band and ask you to state your name and date of birth a few times while two other people call out ID codes and confirm ID codes again to make sure you’re getting your own embryo, cos that could be awkward. Then they show you little embryo on the screen, you give him a little wave and hope you’ll see him again in 9 months time.

The embryo is then placed in a tiny tube, sort of like the inside tube of a biro, except thinner. It’s about the size of a poppyseed. Using an ultrasound so the doctor can see where he/she is putting it, the tube is inserted and they release it close to the lining of your womb. It is within some sort of liquid so that when they release it they can see, otherwise it would be too small for the ultrasound to pick up.

And job done.

They give you a pregnancy test and a date for testing, and release you into the hell that is the two week waiting time before you can find out whether it has worked. You continue to take the hormone cocktails which greatly add to your emotions during the two weeks of waiting torture, and not in a good way.

Over the next two weeks you torture yourself with – Yay it has worked! / Christ it hasn’t worked. It’s mental torture. After a wait about as long as an Ice Age, test day finally arrives, and it’s quite hard to do the test due to the shaking of your hands from nerves and the knot of dread in your stomach. After a couple of minutes of extra intense torture….two pink lines appeared. Embryo was still in there. Baby number two is on its way!

We absolutely know and appreciate how lucky we are to be expecting our second baby especially when the odds of treatment aren’t as high as you would want them to be. But this doesn’t mean that it’s not still hard. I touched on this in older posts that I wrote while pregnant with Rian – how I thought that getting pregnant would be the hard bit, but actually for me, being pregnant is not much of a picnic. In fact even saying the word picnic makes me think of certain foods that makes me want to heave!

At first I feel that I’m not entitled to not enjoy it, that I should automatically love every second of it purely because of the route we have to take to even get pregnant. But I have to be honest – I don’t really enjoy the being pregnant bit, unfortunately I’m one of those women that has all the crappy stuff that goes with pregnancy. On Rian I was nauseous all day long at the start, but this time around, on a good day I might get sick once, on a bad day it was 3 or 4 times a day. Throughout this you still must function as normal – get on trains and public transport, do your day to day work, manage a toddler. It’s not easy! Yes I am grateful, so much so I can’t even put it into words, but that doesn’t make me automatically enjoy it.

I’m just at the 4 month mark now, and finally the sickness is starting to ease at last! I’m starting to feel a bit normal again, a bit like myself again. I’m starting to get excited now, hopefully soon I’ll start feeling movement – I think I was 18 weeks when I first felt the little pops from Rian fluttering around! To think there’s a whole person forming inside me… will it be another boy? Will he look like Rian? Will they have similar personalities? So many exciting things to wonder about!

To grow a human is so amazing, to have the chance to do it is amazing. But my God, women are pretty amazing too! Roll on the next few months of watching Bump grow and become stronger as my newest little human.

 

 

And the Results are IN

They call it the Two Week Wait. It’s a LIE. It’s a Two Month Wait. Or, Two Decade Wait. Or.. well you get the picture. Time slows down, actually slows down. Forget about those days at work where it seems to be 3pm on a Friday for about a year, that’s nothing in comparison. It was a mentally tough time, no question about it.

Eventually though,the time did pass and test day arrived. They say you should do the test first thing in the mornings. I spent the night beforehand lying awake convinced that it would be negative. I’m not just saying that either, I was so absolutely sure. So I lay there thinking, listing out positives in my head of things I can do again like console myself with loads of wine, and…. well that was all I came up with. Eventually I fell into a sort of half sleep while hubby blissfully snored beside me as if it was any other normal sort of night! That fella could sleep on a washing line through a nuclear explosion though in fairness to him.

I woke up at about half 7 and thought right, lets get this over with. I was shaking with nerves. It was a fiddly sort of test involving a turkey baster type of thing which required the ‘sample’ to be put on a section of the test. I did it. The whole strip turned pink. Seeing as I knew what it would say, I handed it to himself who at this stage was sitting up in bed, excited as a child on Christmas morning. I went into the bathroom to avoid seeing the negative evidence, and 30 seconds later I heard ‘Jen? This yoke has 2 lines on it, what does that mean?’

It couldn’t be.

‘Sorry, what? Are you sure? That can’t be right.’ I rushed back in to see if he was seeing things. Sure enough, there was one line plus another slightly faded line. Surely not?? After a few minutes the line got darker and darker. I checked the little packet it came in. It had a picture of the test with two lines with a big fat tick mark. It was positive.

I stared at it for ages. The test was positive. That meant….we are PREGNANT. I’m pregnant. This is really happening! It took a long time for that to sink in. My first instinct was to go and get another test and do it again, just to be sure. I mean, this is something that we have been trying to achieve for 4 years now, without success at any point. Four years of failure trains you to expect the worst, but against all the odds, there it was, in bright pink evidence. Two big fat positive lines!

It hit me then and I started to cry. I felt like we had won the lottery, like I had just climbed a mountain. Dramatic yes, but this was what it felt like! Over the moon doesn’t begin to describe it, it was one of the best moments of my life.

The other overwhelming feeling I had was gratitude, towards whoever or whatever made this happen, to the family and friends who prayed and hoped for this result with us, to the staff at the clinic who were fantastic (and one girl in particular who was nothing short of amazing). We are so grateful for all the support we received.

The next step is a visit back to the clinic in a few weeks for a scan to check for a heartbeat. So another nervous wait, but oh my God what an exciting time this is.

I made a nervous venture onto a pregnancy website yesterday. I’m considered 4 weeks pregnant, (which I don’t fully understand but they said they time it from the day of your last bleed. I’m not gonna argue!) It says that embryo is the size of a poppy seed. We have a poppy seed! We are still cautious about it now, it’s very early days still and we’re not out of the woods yet by a long way, but we are most definitely officially Pregnant and there is nobody happier than us in the world right now! Hopefully little Embryo will stick around, to us he’s the most wanted Embryo that ever was.

The Two Week Wait

I remember my first venture onto a fertility web forum. This looks nice, I thought, other people in the same boat as us. I started to read the posts and the first thing I noticed were all the various acronyms for fertility world – things like ttc (trying to conceive), tww (two week wait), 5dpo (5 days past ovulation), and I thought, what the hell are they on about. There was a sub forum called TTC with Assistance. One day, with the confident knowledge that I would never need this section, I decided to have a peep in and see what was happening. The acronyms in here were even worse and scared the life out of me. ICSI, 5dp5dt, OHSS, PCOS?? I legged it.

And what do you know, here I am, 7dp5dt in the middle of my own TWW. That’s ‘7 days post 5-day transfer’ for the rest of you. ‘God this week is flying isn’t it?’ a friend said to me on the bus to work this morning.  ‘It’s Thursday already!’ Thursday Already?? ONLY Thursday more like! Flying in? If by Flying In you mean every second is crawling past in torturous slow motion then yes, I suppose it is!

The transfer itself went very well. They said the quality of the embryo after the thaw was as good as the day it got frozen. Great! They showed it to us on a screen before they did the transfer. It looked like a side view of an eyeball. Lovely, it’s the best looking eyeball I’d ever seen. They do the transfer which is like a smear test, and using an ultrasound the doctor can see where he’s putting it and they explain each thing as they go along. Overall it’s a fascinating process. Once it was done I was instructed to take it very easy during the next few days especially. No housework, no cooking, no exercise, no nothing. Jackpot!

At first I was afraid to move in case I disturbed embryo, or knocked him out of position. The first day or two of total relaxation were fun but after that it got a bit…quiet. I won’t say boring because I know the days I’m stuck at work I will be dreaming of duvet days again so it would be against my religion to say otherwise. I started to feel a bit protective of embryo, I know it’s only an embryo, but it’s our embryo, we fought hard for him to even get to this stage. I hope he sticks around.

The wait is nothing but torture. Every twinge I get I wonder does it mean something? I am trying to resist the urge to Google everything and cracked a bit last night under the pressure of it all. I swing from being positive that this might have actually worked, to the next hour being convinced that it hasn’t. I can feel the usual signs that usually crop up when that time of the month is near and that doesn’t help the positivity effort, although I have also been told that cramps can be down to the progesterone medication I am taking.

In a weird way a strange calmness has replaced the total panic of the thought of a failure though. It’s like my mind is gone into autopilot to prepare for a negative test result. It’s impossible to guess your way through this – some women have loads of symptoms, some have none, everyone is different. I know this. I’m trying to tell myself I’m not getting alarmingly fat all of a sudden, I’m bloated from the medicine. It’s a bit like that actually. When you eat a load of crap and know you are putting on a few pounds, but you tell yourself, don’t be silly, sure didn’t you walk up a set of stairs last week, that counts as exercise, you’ll be grand. Eventually you convince yourself of what you want to believe.

Is that what I’m doing? My head says it recognizes these symptoms as my period being imminent, and my heart says that the signs can still mean it has worked, to hold on to the hope that it could end up being a positive result. I wish I knew who to believe. I think the head is winning because it always won in the past.

In the meantime all I can do is wait – after all, why am I surprised – this is what this whole thing has been this whole time, waiting for things.

We’re halfway there now, and all I can do is hope for the best and get through the torture that is the TWW until test day arrives on February 26th. At least, whatever the test says, this torturous wait will be over and some sense of normality can hopefully resume.