Our third round of IVF was cancelled on March 16th. 10 days after taking priming medication, and 2 days before I was due to start stimulation. I felt completely devastated. I had been waiting since December to start this cycle, and my desperation for a baby was at an all time high with the twin’s 1st birthday approaching.
As an NHS midwife, I completely understand why IVF cycles had to be halted, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. I grieved for this cycle and for my chance to become a mother in 2020. Having low ovarian reserve, it often feels like every second that ticks by means that I am less likely to become a genetic mother.
When clinics were given the go ahead to reopen, I waited by the telephone for a few days, before my impatience led me to email my Dr and ask if we could go ahead with treatment. He replied saying yes, and I felt elation that I hadn’t felt in months. Finally, we could start the long journey, that hopefully will lead us to parenthood.
We had a Zoom consultation the next week to sign all the paperwork, and remind us of the protocol we would be undertaking. A few days later I start oestrogen priming. Then a week later I began stimulation. This was my first IVF round doing mild stimulation, having previously been on high doses.
Appointments during the pandemic are held virtually if possible, but during the cycle you need to attend the clinic a few times a week for scans and bloods. My clinic triage you at the door for any symptoms, and wearing a mask is compulsory. Despite not being to see much of the staff’s faces, their warmth shone through.
At my first scan, disappointingly, one follicle was quite a lot larger than the others. This is something that has happened in both my previous rounds, and a scenario we were trying to avoid by oestrogen priming. Our last round with a different clinic was a complete disaster, with only 1 immature egg being collected, meaning there was nothing to fertilise, and we didn’t get anywhere near the transfer stage. I was having visions of this happening again, and was preparing for the cycle to be cancelled. But my Doctor was so proactive throughout, and seemed confident that we should continue.
Our original plan was to do 3 cycles of IVF back to back to collect as many embryos as possible. However due to my over eager follicle in this round, my Doctor suggested we do something called Duo-stim or Luteal Phase Stimulation. There is where you undertake a cycle of IVF, then straight away begin stimulation in the luteal phase of your cycle. I am willing to try pretty much anything in the pursuit of a baby, so I was keen to give this a go, and see if this gives us any better results.
With this in mind, I was quite happy to go ahead with egg collection of only one follicle, knowing I would be getting another chance with the extra stimulation cycle.
Prior to egg collection we were required to both undertake a Covid-19 swab. This is quite unpleasant. Given that IVF involves lots of vaginal scans, you would think a nose and throat swab wouldn’t phase me, but give me a date with Wanda any day! As we weren’t expecting egg collection to happen so soon, James hadn’t come with me to the appointment (and he wasn’t allowed in for appointments). So we had one day where I had driven an hour to get there, and after being told we would go ahead with egg collection, I had to drive home, and James had to get back in the car and make a dash for the clinic to do his Covid-19 swab before the courier came to collect them. Luckily he made it in time!
On our egg collection day, James and I arrived at the clinic, both wearing masks. As this is our first egg collection with our new clinic, we were unsure of how the day would run, especially with the changes to procedure due to Covid-19. I was quickly taken through into the treatment area, whilst James remained in the waiting area.
I felt quite detached from the process during the egg collection, as I was bracing myself for the worst – that no eggs would be collected. To my surprise, on waking my Doctor came with the happy news that in fact 2 eggs were collected. I was overjoyed, but trying to remain cautiously optimistic.
The next day the clinic phoned to say that only 1 of those eggs were mature, and that it had fertilised. IVF is very much a numbers game, so when you start with such few follicles or eggs collected, the odds are not stacked in your favour. Despite that, I was willing our little embryo to keep growing and keep fighting.
The following 5 days were hard. Waiting for updates from the clinic on the progress the embryo felt torturous. Fortunately, we received the happy news that our little embryo had reached blastocyst stage, and is now safely tucked up in the freezer.
It’s hard to explain how you can feel maternal instinct for a 5 day old embryo. But I feel so proud of it, and hugely protective. I am in awe of the process. And I feel overwhelmed to think that at such an early stage, our embryo is already either a boy or a girl. A few tiny cells, with a huge amount of potential.
Knowing we can make an embryo has given me a huge confidence boost going into our next cycle. IVF 3.5 – I’m coming for you!