Back in April, my friend Marie volunteered to be our egg donor to help us try to get pregnant. Since then, she has undergone a battery of blood tests to check her hormone levels/rule out STDs/screen her for genetic diseases, and she and her husband flew over to Europe from the US in a whirlwind trip to have their in-person screenings. Assuming that she gets approved (which we’re still waiting to hear…), the actual egg donation IVF cycle still won’t happen until mid-July at the very earliest.
So why does it take so long? Well, unlike normal people who only have to get drunk to procreate (or so I’m told), there are about a gazillion steps we have to go through for this whole process, and we’re currently only on step #8,341 or so: the test cycle. Some clinics (including ours) require you to do a ‘try-cycle’ before the actual egg donation cycle to make sure that your body responds well to the drugs. “But wait…”, you’re probably thinking, “…Didn’t you already do three IVF cycles?” Yes. Yes I did. (#ivfwarrior). So why is it necessary for me to do another?
The thing is that an egg donation IVF cycle is very different from a ‘regular’ IVF cycle. In a regular (i.e. non-donation) cycle, you grow your own eggs within follicles in your ovaries, and that process itself is actually what stimulates your endometrium (aka uterine lining) to grow. In an egg donation cycle, nothing grows in your ovaries, because your donor is doing that part for you. In fact, they even give you medication to turn off your ovaries entirely, just to make sure that nothing jeopardizes the donation cycle. That means they need to give you other medication (estrogen, basically) to grow your endometrium. And that’s the part they want to test, because it’d be a huge bummer if your donor goes through all the work of producing eggs for you, and then your uterus isn’t in prime condition to receive one.
It’d be like: after years of getting the recipe wrong, the dough is finally ready, but you forgot to turn the oven on.
How often does the test cycle fail?
I asked our Belgian egg donation nurse, Bernadette, how often the egg donation test cycle shows issues, and she guesstimated about 40% of the time. They test this with a vaginal ultrasound to look at the thickness and structure of the endometrium after 12-14 days on the estrogen pills. If it’s not thick enough, or if it doesn’t show the desired ‘triple-line’ structure in the ultrasound, then you have to wait and test again, possibly with some changes to the medication. That obviously sets the schedule back even further.
I’ve been on the estrogen pills for 10 days now — three times a day — and I’ve scheduled my ultrasound for this coming Tuesday — right at the 12 day mark. We’re really hoping everything looks acceptable, because then we might still be able to do the real egg donation IVF cycle (mostly) over Marie’s summer teaching break. Then we can move on to steps #8,342–8,344 of the process: five days of another new medication for me; then waiting for my cycle to start; then (this one will surprise you) the very non-intuitive step of taking birth control pills. Because if we could just use our intuition to get pregnant, we wouldn’t be in this pickle!