Back in the saddle: Restarting IVF

Well, kids, here we are. The year is 2021 — nearly 2022 — and somehow I have a 2(!) year old.

And slowly but surely, a number of the insta-friends who had their donor-egg IVF (DEIVF) miracle babies around the same time as we did have started trying for (and in some cases already having) miracle #2. I feel bad for even admitting this, but it’s been making me a bit envious, if I’m honest.* And yet, despite being in the extremely fortunate position of having three more donor-egg embryos in the freezer, we haven’t quite managed to get back in the saddle ourselves for a number of reasons that I’ll get into now.

First off, it turns out that babies are incredibly poor sleepers. Apparently there are some people who can function on 4-6 non-consecutive hours of sleep a night, but I’m not one of them. I’ve been barely able to spell my own name, much less find the time/energy to consider adding another infant to the mix. Especially when this involves coordinating the logistics of an international embryo transfer.

Because despite having tackled one of the biggest obstacles to pregnancy (namely, having viable embryos) thanks to our egg donor, Marie, the practical details of another transfer are still non-trivial. Our embryos are at our clinic in Belgium, while we live several hours away in the Netherlands. For our first three DEIVF embryo transfers, I managed to convince a local Dutch clinic to do the monitoring (ultrasounds and blood tests) during the early part of the cycle so that we only had to drive to Belgium for the actual transfer. Unfortunately, the Dutch clinic we used before has said they will no longer help. This means I will either need to find another local clinic to do the necessary monitoring (no luck so far) or resign myself to making multiple long drives back and forth across the border.

Additionally, there’s the fact that I’m still breastfeeding MB. It’s only a little bit (and only before bed). Nevertheless, the official advice is that you must stop breastfeeding before a cycle since the prescribed hormones are transmitted through breast milk. I haven’t wanted to rush the weaning process, however, since — as a mom via donor eggs — the chance to breastfeed has been so extra special.

Small steps

Since we didn’t know what other steps would be needed prior to a new transfer attempt (eg. rejoining the waitlist, protocol changes due to my current use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), etc), we made an appointment at our clinic a few months ago to ‘start the process’. In our horse analogy, this isn’t getting back in the saddle, exactly, but it is taking time to figure out where the heck you put the saddle last time you used it.

At the appointment, we learned I needed to redo my bloodwork for thyroid monitoring and a number of standard checks. We also filled out a metric ton of paperwork — approximately the same amount I imagine you’d need to fill out if you were acquiring a small nation state.

Excitingly, we got the great news that our remaining frozen embryos are good quality. (There was so much going on during our first few transfers that we couldn’t quite remember.) We have a 4BB and two 3BBs. These are all better grades than MB, who grew from a scrappy 3BC. That doesn’t guarantee any of them will work, of course, but the doctor seemed quite optimistic that we at least have a shot.

Page 2 of our embryo report, where you can see two of the three remaining frozen embryos (both 3BB) as well as the embryo that became MB!

Lastly, we learned that there’s no waitlist to start, so it’s up to us (ie, whenever I’m ready to stop breastfeeding MB and sleep even less again). They sent us home with the prescriptions for the hormones, and instructions that I could simply start them as soon as I stop the HRT and start my period. Easy peasy.

Spoiler: It was not easy peasy

Reader, I had a gut feeling it would not be so simple. You see, I’ve been bleeding almost continuously on the HRT, which is an annoying but apparently not-unheard-of side effect. Between that and my post-menopausal ovaries, I was quite skeptical that I’d get my period after stopping the HRT (despite the doctor’s assurance it would come ‘within three days’). So after worrying uselessly about it for a few weeks, I staged my own test run by stopping the HRT and waiting to see what happened.

I waited one day. Two days. One week. Two weeks… Still no period. At that point, I was starting to feel the (very unpleasant) effects of stopping the HRT, so I gave up and started again, figuring I’d simply ask the doctor to clarify the protocol in such a circumstance. It may seem like a minor point, but I didn’t want to submit myself to the physical and emotional stress of strong fertility hormones and international trip logistics if the timing wasn’t right to start a cycle in the first place.

I emailed the clinic to clarify. I won’t bore you with the details of everything that followed, but the short version is that I spoke with three different other doctors/nurses at the clinic and got three different answers to this very basic question. As I was getting increasingly frustrated, I finally demanded that our doctor — who I had yet to hear from, and who I like and trust more than anyone else there — call me.

That’s when it came out that our doctor is not currently ‘there’…. As in, she’s missing in action. As in, they don’t know ‘if or when she’ll be back’. And when we said we hoped she was ok, they replied, ‘We do too.’

So to beat a dead (horse) analogy: we’ve found the saddle, we’ve dusted it off, but now the dang horse has gone missing.

xx

* This feeling of envy is itself difficult to reconcile with the deep-rooted notion that I should be grateful for what I already have. This is probably some form of post-infertility-trauma survivor’s guilt…but more on this incredibly cheery topic in another post!

Follow me on Instagram: @thebunlessoven

When menopause strikes in your 30s

It’s funny: I’ve discussed everything from infertility grief to the intimate details of my uterine lining on this blog, and yet today’s topic — menopause — somehow feels like an even more taboo thing to discuss. Maybe it’s because — unlike an infertility journey — there’s no hope of a baby at the end.* And yet, in my case at least, the two journeys are inextricably connected.

Some readers may recall that the reason we used donor eggs to conceive our Miracle Baby (MB) was my premature ovarian failure (POF) diagnosis, which is sort of (but not exactly) like premature menopause. Effectively, this means that your ovaries stop releasing eggs, and your estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. In fact, when I was first diagnosed five years ago, I remember the gynecologist telling me that my hormone levels were that of a woman ‘twenty years older’, and that she was ‘shocked’ to see my results (I always did pride myself on making a strong impression…)

What you may not know is that infertility is only one side effect of POF. However, there are a number of other side effects, including ‘classical’ menopause symptoms like hot flashes, trouble sleeping, weight gain, and brain fog, but also more serious complications like increased risk of depression/anxiety, osteoporosis, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Basically, your body is no longer making enough estrogen, and when this happens so unexpectedly early in life, this can have far-reaching consequences beyond just a lack of working ovaries. (Isn’t being a female just such a joy sometimes!)

These possible side effects of POF have been in the back of my mind since I was first diagnosed, but we were (understandably) more focused on addressing the whole having-children aspect. Once we managed that, I was under the impression that the fact that I’m still breastfeeding would somehow delay the onset of symptoms. However, recently I had the realization that I’m actually experiencing quite a few potentially related symptoms (including anxiety, hot flashes, and trouble sleeping), and from my subsequent googling, I learned that it is indeed possible to experience POF-related symptoms even while still breastfeeding.

With this all in mind, I scheduled a visit to the gynecologist a couple months ago. I specifically wanted to discuss 1) my current POF symptoms, 2) how concerned I should be about the more serious long-term consequences, and 3) whether I could start on hormone replacement therapy, particularly since I’m still breastfeeding, but also with an eye on possibly trying another embryo transfer in the not-so-distant future (more on that in a later post).

A retracted diagnosis

I’d somehow forgotten that the gynecologist was in the same department as our first IVF clinic, which probably should have raised some alarm bells. Instead, I sat in the waiting room for my turn, still convinced it’d be a quick and easy appointment.

It started badly right off the bat when the gynecologist who was seeing me didn’t seem to have any prior knowledge of my medical history despite being the same department that diagnosed me with POF already five years ago. Instead, the first thing she said was that they couldn’t necessarily diagnose me as having POF since I was still having occasional periods, and that hormone therapy was reserved for women who actually had POF and thus really needed it…

I sat there, dumbfounded. What exactly would they call my condition, then? Did they not have my old hormone levels in front of them?

I clarified my medical history, but then she decided to turn the conversation to the fact that I don’t use birth control. She warned me that I ‘still had a 5% chance’ of getting pregnant naturally as if I wouldn’t be THRILLED if that actually occurred. Now I was starting to get annoyed. I knew the statistic she was quoting was an average for *all* cases of POF, but I also had copious evidence that my case was more advanced (meaning an even lower chance). I was beginning to wish I’d brought my husband along for moral support.

Then she did an ultrasound (not seeming to understand it was approximately my 15-millionth) and was surprised when she couldn’t find my ovaries due to a lack of any follicles. (Was I surprised? Of course not.) This was about the point that I started crying, which she seemed to think was because this was all fresh news to me. I kid you not.

In reality, I was crying out of frustration. I had hormone issues severe enough to unequivocably fail out of own-egg (OE)IVF — and which were now causing a host of other symptoms — but which were apparently not ‘severe enough’ to warrant hormone therapy or even a definitive diagnosis? More importantly, by questioning my diagnosis, she had managed to invalidate in 5 minutes everything I went through the last ~8 years, which was really, REALLY hard.

Vindicated

Flash forward to two weeks later, when the gynecologist called for our follow-up telephone appointment. She sounded somber. My ears immediately perked up.

”I have the results of your recent bloodwork”, she said apologetically. She had the tone of someone attempting to delicately deliver bad news. “Unfortunately, it seems that your hormone levels are not consistent with a woman who is in menopause. They’re actually that of a woman who has already completed menopause.” She sounded somewhat in disbelief. “Your FSH is through the roof and your AMH is undetectable.” That’s right — I took her POF numbers and knocked them out of the park. She clearly expected me to be surprised. I was not.**

She said my POF was “unmistakable” and that I should start on hormone replacement therapy right away. I felt vindicated! She then referred me to an endocrinologist for a bone density scan to assess whether I already had significant bone density loss. (At that point, I still felt vindicated, though somewhat less triumphant than before…)

The good news is that the hormone replacement therapy she prescribed is safe to take while breastfeeding, and I can simply stop whenever we want to try another embryo transfer. The better news is that I’ve already noticed a significant decrease in my anxiety and hot flashes. (The not-as-good news is that the medication itself has some unpleasant side effects, but more on that in a later post.)

So in the end, I was right: I should be on hormone replacement therapy. Given all of the potential side effects of POF, I still can’t believe that some doctor along the line didn’t suggest this treatment for me earlier, but at least I’ve stumbled my way there now. And if there’s any lesson in all of this for those in similar shoes, it’s to always advocate for yourself.

xx

* Or maybe it’s because menopause is just so unpleasant. When you type ‘Why is menopause…’ into google, the first three suggestions are ‘Why is menopause so difficult?’, ‘Why is menopause bad?’, and (my personal favorite) ‘Why is menopause making me fat?’

** I’ve always been an overachiever, so I guess my POF is no different.

Follow me on Instagram: @thebunlessoven

‘Staying positive’ during IVF

A few months ago, I did an Instagram takeover of DefiningMum’s account, run by the wonderful human & fellow donor egg (i.e., DEIVF) mama Becky (blog: DefiningMum.com). If you’re elderly (in spirit) like I am and don’t know what a ‘takeover’ is, basically Becky gave me her trust (i.e., Instagram password) for a day and allowed me to post on her stories.*

There, I recapped our long journey to parenthood and answered related questions submitted by followers, including: Did I ever question our decision to use donor eggs? Did I bond well with baby? What’s my relationship like with our egg donor?** For anyone who wants to check it out, my answers are saved as a story in DefiningMum’s Instagram Highlights reel.

One of the first questions I got is something that multiple other women have also asked me in private: How did I stay positive from one cycle to the next during our grueling, multi-year IVF & DEIVF journey? I answered as best as I could in a single story, but since this is a topic that so many people are clearly interested in, I want to expand on my answer a little more here.

How did I stay positive during IVF?

To jump straight to the punchline: I didn’t.

Seriously — I was never optimistic about any given cycle working, except maybe the very first one. That was the cycle I only grew a single follicle, but it miraculously fertilized and managed to grow into a ‘perfect’ (according to our doctor) 8-cell embryo by day 3. As my microscopic miracle continued to pass each hurdle with flying colors, I started to become more and more hopeful. Maybe we would be one of those rare IVF success stories that beat the odds. Maybe, just maybe… <cue romantic orchestral overture> …this one precious egg was meant to be our baby!

Of course, anyone who follows this blog knows that first cycle ultimately failed. Unfortunately, so did the one after that, and the one after that… and etc, etc. With each new failure, I developed the cynicism that’s pretty standard amongst long-time infertility veterans. Our dream of a baby was slipping further and further away, and even within the larger IVF community — the very people who should most relate to my struggles — I felt increasingly alone. Not only could I not get pregnant without IVF, but it seemed I couldn’t get pregnant with it either.

I’ll be honest — that was quite a dark time. I’ll spare you the painful details, but there was a good amount of ugly-crying with a fair share of social media blocking and a sizable dose of self pity. I definitely wouldn’t characterize my mental state during that time as ‘positive’ or ‘optimistic’, nor do I think that’s necessarily the right goal to strive for in the first place. When your infertility journey is full of so much loss, it’s important to let yourself grieve in whatever way you need to.

What kept me going?

If I wasn’t feeling positive from one cycle to the next, then how (and why??) did I keep going? Was it sheer willpower? Masochism?

It’s true that I was never particularly optimistic about any given cycle, but Mr. Bunless and I were both determined that — somehow, someway — we would end up with a kid to love eventually. One thing that helped with this was to always have the plan mapped out at least 1-2 steps ahead of where we currently were.

At the beginning, we decided that if IVF with my own eggs didn’t work, we would move on to egg donation. Later, we decided that if our known egg donor didn’t work out, we would try an anonymous egg donor in a country with an egg bank. In case none of that worked, we had already started researching adoption laws in various countries. Of course I recognize that we were very fortunate to be able to afford these options, which is not something everyone can say. (Or at least we thought we could probably figure something out once we got to that point, which is still a privilege.)

I also spent a lot or time — like, a LOT — visualizing what our announcement would say when something finally worked. Each time we’d embark on a new IVF cycle, I’d update the text in my head to reflect our new statistics (‘After 5 embryo transfers’ -> ‘After 6 embryo transfers…’). Each time, I’d imagine adding new needles to the picture, and how exactly I wanted it to look. I knew that each hurdle we had to overcome would just make our story that much more amazing, and I’d imagine how proud I’d be sharing it with everyone.

Announcement
The announcement photo I visualized during our IVF/DEIVF attempts.

And speaking of sharing, we also got a lot of support once we started sharing our story with family and friends. Starting this blog, in fact, was one of the best things I ever did.*** In addition to gaining our own cheering squad, I discovered two additional benefits: 1) It allowed me to share the details of our story with family and friends in a way that felt open and yet simultaneously private (I could write it out alone in my room), and 2) It allowed me to own our story, taking back some control over a process which is littered with uncertainty. (One doesn’t have to start a blog to do this, of course, but for me it was the best vehicle.)

In short, I admire those people who can stay positive even while facing the soul-crushing despair of infertility, but I am not one of them. For me, it was less ‘I know this will work!’ and more ‘Let’s just get this over with so we can move on to the next thing.’

xx

* Becky must have a lot more trust in people than I do. Thankfully, I turned out not to be a crazy internet weirdo.

** Clearly not everyone is an avid blog reader or they would know that our egg donor, Marie, is a close friend from high school.

*** Technically, the best decision I ever made was marrying Mr. Bunless, followed closely by switching to the flute from the glockenspiel in the 5th grade. But this blog is definitely in the top three.

A conversation with my egg donor

As I’m writing this, our donor-egg IVF Miracle Baby (MB) has just turned 1 year old(!). I had big plans to continue posting regularly once MB arrived, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

Daycare closures aside, we’re feeling pretty lucky that we haven’t been strongly affected by the coronavirus. The main thing that has impacted us are the travel restrictions, as we had various friends and family from the US booked to visit our long-awaited MB. In particular, our good friend and egg donor, Marie, had tickets to fly over in March with her husband and kids. Living so far away, Marie has yet to meet MB (except over zoom), and unfortunately, with EU borders still shut to non-essential US travelers, it looks like that will remain the case for some time. (Go home 2020 — you’re drunk).

When I thought that Marie was coming in person, I had solicited questions from you all (via Instagram) to ask her about her experience as a (known) egg donor. Since we no longer know when she’ll be able to come, I decided to ‘interview’ her virtually instead. At this point, I’d like to give a big thank you to Marie, who not only gave us the gift of life, but who apparently now also has to put up with me peppering her with questions.

Before we dive in, there are a few things I want to make clear. Firstly, Marie didn’t get paid to donate her eggs to us. You’re actually not even allowed to pay egg donors here, so Marie did it purely out of the goodness of her heart (though I was happy to learn that she also enjoyed other perks of the experience, as you’ll read below). Secondly, Marie mentions researching surrogacy, but please note that she never followed through with this, so the opinions voiced are purely speculative. Finally, since Marie hasn’t met MB in person yet, I’ll focus on the questions about the beginning of the process (namely, why Marie volunteered to donate and what those around her thought). I think you’ll find her perspective quite interesting, so let’s get to it.

Allie: Ok, there are tons of questions that people wanted me to ask you as an egg donor, so let’s just start at the beginning. Donating your eggs is a big deal, both physically and emotionally…What made you want to donate?

Marie: I think I told you this before, but right after I had [baby #2], I was actually researching being a surrogate. I had such easy, uncomplicated pregnancies that I thought it would be an easy thing to do. I specifically thought it would be a no-brainer for those close to me (should the need arise) because I had such an easy time with my pregnancies. In the end, I didn’t pursue it. Then [2.5 years later], we knew you guys were struggling to get pregnant, but we didn’t know the details, and I remember that I sent you a message asking how it was going. You said that your only option left was egg donation, and at the time, I didn’t even know that was a thing! I showed your message to [my husband], and said “Should I offer?” And he was like “Sure, if you want to!” It was decided in like 10 seconds.* Because I had already been considering surrogacy, it seemed almost like a step down. It seemed less physically and emotionally taxing. Pregnancy is such an emotional process, and you get so attached to the baby after growing it and giving birth, that I actually think I would have had a harder time with surrogacy than egg donation. With egg donation, I know it’s my genetics, but it actually seemed physically and emotionally easier than what I’d already been considering.

Allie: I could definitely see that. Do you think that if you had known egg donation was a thing earlier, you would have ever considered donating to an egg bank?

Marie: I probably wouldn’t have donated to an egg bank, no. I don’t know that I would have seriously researched surrogacy for an anonymous person either, just because of the invasiveness of the procedure. I was much more willing to go through with egg donation knowing there was a personal connection. Especially because I wasn’t doing it for money. Maybe that sounds creepy to bring up money, but I think that’s probably why a lot of people do it (at least in the US). Like, for example, I found out once we started the process that my OB-GYN had donated her eggs to put herself through medical school (and then later she ended up needing IVF and had twins!)

In our case, you could see me go through the donation process, so we were really going through it together. Like whenever I’d get a test done, I’d call you right afterwards with the results, and it made it more exciting, if you know what I mean. It made it more special.

Allie: Totally — for me too obviously! Related question: If you wouldn’t have donated anonymously, would you have considered donating to someone you didn’t know already as an ‘identifiable’ donor?

Marie: Maybe? I guess if I was able to facebook-stalk them and sort of get a feel for them, then maybe I would have considered it? In our case, since it’s technically my genetics, I liked knowing that you would be good parents and that they would have a supportive grandparent system. Knowing the kid would be raised by a happy, healthy family made it easier. So I guess if I could get that feeling from someone new, I would have maybe considered it. I’d also want to know to keep track. You know how you hear those stories about guys who were sperm donors and discover years later that their sperm has been used for like 40 kids? Well I would want to know where all of my eggs went!

Allie: Yeah, I think that’s a very reasonable answer! Ok next question: What does [your husband] think about it?

Marie: He was sad he couldn’t be involved too! He was super excited. But it’s also because he has such a strong connection to you guys.**

Allie: Ahhhhhh, that’s so nice. I do remember him telling the clinic’s psychologist that he would donate eggs if he had them – HA! What about your extended family, to the extent that they know about it?

Marie: They were all really supportive. Initially my parents were just concerned for me that I would be attached. My dad was particularly concerned that if you were to have a difficult pregnancy, to the point where you lost the baby, or died yourself, how would that affect me knowing that I contributed to that.

Allie: Oh wow, that’s so interesting — I never even considered that angle!

Marie: Yeah, they were concerned that if something were to go wrong, would I be able to handle that. My mom was also concerned for my health going through the egg donation treatment — how I’d react to the IVF drugs and procedure. But she also said she thought it was such a selfless thing to do, and that I was being a wonderful friend.

Allie: You were! And thank goodness that nothing happened to me or the baby, but for the record, if anything had happened, we obviously would never have blamed you. (I really hope you already knew that!) Just one last question for today then: Looking back on it now, how do you feel about your donation experience?

Marie: I still feel great about it, I’m so happy it was successful. It was the best summer, getting to say that we “lived in Amsterdam” for a part of the summer is fun. It was a great experience for the kids too (the traveling part of it and experiencing another culture). I think being able to go through something like this and make a big vacation around it is part of what made it so fun. Also being with you guys as I was going through it, as opposed to doing it alone, sending the eggs on their way, and not having much follow-up, made it more meaningful. The women who do it that way are more selfless than I am 😉

I’ll leave it at this for the sake of brevity, and I’ll close by saying that I know there are many DEIVF mamas out there who used an anonymous donor and who (based on the questions you submitted) are looking for some insight into the type of person who would donate their eggs. While Marie can’t speak for other (anonymous) egg donors, I personally find her practical and drama-free attitude*** about the whole situation enlightening. In her words: “It may be my genetics, but it’s not my kid.” That chubby-thighed baby is all mine!

xx

* Although Marie decided to offer almost instantly, we continued to discuss the possibility in the coming weeks/months, and I made sure to give her lots of outs during that time. Luckily for us, she never took one.

** My husband and I were roommates with Marie’s husband during grad school and actually introduced them. (Karma, right?)

*** I’m far less practical, as well as being highly sensitive and — frankly — a bit emo at times. I guess it’s a good thing that nobody ever needed me as an egg donor (for multiple reasons) 😉

The genetics of my donor egg baby

Accepting that we had to use donor eggs during our IVF struggles was extremely difficult, to say the least. I’ve written previously about the grieving process that necessarily goes along with this ultimate admission of one’s infertility — how it feels like a part of you has died, and the post-traumatic stress that can accompany it. And even though I’m extremely grateful to modern science that there was still a way for me to get pregnant, fully accepting that you’re a genetic dead-end is a long, emotionally complex process which I’m still working my way through.

To give one example: when our egg donor, Marie, was here a year ago for her egg retrieval, she was explaining to her 5-year-old how she was helping put a baby in my belly. “One day you, too, will grow a baby in your belly!”, she explained to her daughter.

“Hang on a sec”, I wanted to interject — feeling compelled to add a caveat that it’s not necessarily a given so as not to set unrealistic expectations for the little girl. But then I realized that she was right — the odds are that Marie’s daughter will have no trouble conceiving a child naturally, should she eventually choose to. That then led me to an uncomfortable truth: I was jealous. Of a 5-year-old.

Why it still stings

Even though I’m now very happily 39(!) weeks pregnant thanks to one of Marie’s donated eggs, the lack of a genetic connection between me and our future child is something that I’m still coming to terms with. I think there are two main reasons for this.

The first reason has to do with my husband. We’ve been together over 15 years now, and he’s basically the best man I know. When you are in a (heterosexual) relationship like ours, it’s natural to dream of one day creating a family together — making a kid that is half you and half your partner. It’s like the ultimate expression of unity and an awesome science experiment at the same time. You never dream of creating a child with a third person, as lovely as that person may be.*

The second reason is a bit more selfish. I’m no Mozart or Giselle B, but most of the time I like to think that I’m sort of a cool person. This is also totally natural — everyday insecurities aside, I think most people are partial to their own genetics. It’s therefore become a running joke over the course of this pregnancy that whenever I’m feeling particularly pleased about some totally unimportant aspect of myself, like my exceedingly low blood pressure, or my yogic lung capacity, my husband and I will turn to each other with sorrowful eyes (mine serious, his teasing) and say “What a waste!”

Finding acceptance

Fully accepting the lack of a genetic connection with a donor egg baby is not something that happens overnight, and I think the most important thing is to allow yourself time. As I’ve experienced my own feelings about it evolve, I also wanted to share some thoughts that have helped me find acceptance.

The first and most obvious point is that genetics don’t make a family — love does. (This is also true for sperm donation, embryo donation, and adoption.) I’ve heard again and again from parents of non-traditional families that once you hold the baby in your arms, nothing else matters. You certainly won’t love the kid any less. From the very beginning of this journey — when we first made the leap to egg donation — this thought has comforted me.

Then there is the whole nature-vs-nurture point, where there is increasing evidence that nurture plays a huge role in many aspects of development. For egg donor babies carried in the prospective mother’s own uterus, the latest research in the exciting field of epigenetics even suggests that these environmental effects start in the womb. This means that although the baby’s basic genetic blueprint didn’t come from me, my diet, lifestyle habits, and even genes (via MicroRNAs) do influence which traits in the baby actually ‘turn on’.**

(Yes, I know I just got done saying that genes don’t matter, but this is still pretty cool.)

Another thing that has helped me is something I’ve mentioned before in the context of deciding to use donor eggs in the first place. In particular, I used to worry that I would get sad if our baby looked just like Marie (as beautiful as she is) because it would remind me that we weren’t actually related. However, my husband (smart man) made me realize that I needed to change my perspective. Instead of seeing the lack of a physical resemblance as a painful reminder of my infertility, I should instead see it as a reminder of the amazing gift we’ve been given. This slight change in perspective has helped me immensely.

Last but not least, finding the humor in the situation never fails to help. Just as I sometimes feel particularly pleased about some aspect of myself, there are other traits that I’m decidedly less enthusiastic about, like my terrible eyesight, or my somewhat unfortunate tendency to occasionally drool on myself in broad daylight. Whenever one of these unpleasant traits come up, my husband and I will turn to each other, half smiles on our faces, and say “Thank goodness those genes aren’t being passed on!”

xx

* And luckily for us, Marie is extremely lovely, both inside and out.

** So, unfortunately, that drooling gene may not be quite out of the picture yet.

Our frozen embryo transfer

Some of you may remember that the fresh embryo transfer after our recent donor egg IVF cycle was a bit of a disaster. Out of 15 fertilized eggs that had been developing well as of day 3, we only had a single 5-day blastocyst, and it was not the best quality (4BC, where the number is the stage of development and the letters are the quality of the components). When I asked the doctor about the potential for the remaining embryos to catch up, he was a massive dick. And to top it off, I hadn’t properly timed my water consumption to fill my bladder, meaning that my uterus wasn’t visible on the ultrasound screen, and the embryo transfer had to be done ‘blind’.

It was not the best ending to our first donor egg IVF attempt, which had been going so well up until that point.

Well lo-and-behold, five more blastocysts ended up making it to freeze on day 6, and I’ve spent the last few weeks growing an exceptionally cushy uterine lining for a frozen embryo transfer (FET) attempt. I say ‘attempt’ because there’s always the possibility that the embryo will fail to defrost. Unfortunately, you don’t know if this is the case until the day of your appointment. Since our appointment was first thing in the morning in Belgium, we made our way there the night before without knowing if there’d even be anything to transfer.

The call

We were still at our Airbnb the next morning when we got the call: the embryo survived defrost! We were thrilled, and we vowed that this transfer would go better than the last. I immediately chugged twice as much water as I had the last time (followed by another 500mL for good measure), and I vowed that under no circumstances would I ask the grumpy doctor any questions. (“I’ll just nod mutely to whatever he says, scout’s honor!”) We also expected the embryo to be better quality (4BB), since we knew we had at least one of those in the freezer.

You can imagine our surprise, then, when we showed up at our appointment to learn the embryo was only a 3CC — i.e., not as developed and poorer quality than our best frozen embryo (Strike 1). I couldn’t fully take in what he was saying and immediately asked a question (Strike 2) about why we were transferring this poor-quality embryo, to which he responded that the defrosted embryo is chosen randomly (Whaaaaaat??)

IMG_3992
The 3CC blastocyst that we transferred on Thursday.

I kept a brave face and we went ahead with the transfer. There was a big screen where we watched a magnified video of them sucking the embryo up into the transfer device thingy (that’s the technical term), and then the technician handed it to the doctor through the window in the wall. My bladder was full enough to see my uterus on the ultrasound screen (though at 17mm, it’s probably hard to miss). After the transfer, we saw a new white mark where the liquid containing the embryo had been successfully deposited.

PUPO, but not hopeful

This all went down last Thursday, which means I am once again Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise (PUPO). But despite what my well-meaning friends/family keep assuming, I am neither excited nor hopeful. The thing is, once you’ve gone through multiple failed transfers, it becomes hard to imagine any other outcome, particularly when the doctor says the embryo ‘isn’t the best quality’. I understand that poor-quality embryos can still result in beautiful babies, but I have also seen the statistics on implantation rates as a function of embryo grade. I’m not being negative — just realistic.*

With that said, I am still extremely grateful to our egg donor, Marie, for giving us the chance to make it this far. I’m also grateful for the four more embryos (‘frosties’) still in the freezer. And I’m happy to report that we had to stop three separate times for me to pee on the 2-hour drive home from our transfer. So, you know, at least I’ve finally got the full-bladder part down for the next try.

xx

*Ok, maybe I’m being a bit negative, but I recently read that IVF is as stressful as divorce or cancer in the family, so it’s bound to happen. (The progesterone shoved up my hoo-ha probably isn’t helping either.)