We made it. On Tuesday we transferred two perfect looking embryos. I’ve been on bed rest since then and I’ve been reflecting on the last month.
The last I checked in I had my endometrial scratch and baseline. The day afterwards, I stopped birth control and got to start my favorite medication again… Lupron. Lupron is a subcutaneous injection which suppresses the pituitary gland to decrease the chance of ovulation.
Like last time, I somehow ended up with all kinds of bizarre side effects. Exhaustion, headaches, nausea, weight, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and nightmares. I started on 10 units and was able to decrease it to 5 units near the end of the cycle. After I got my period (hopefully the last one for ten months!) I started the process to build a nice fluffy home for my embryos.
During IVF, the focus is the ovaries, and getting as many healthy eggs as possible without over stimulation. Success rates are slightly higher for a frozen transfer (FET) than a fresh transfer (transferring the same cycle as an egg retrieval before eggs are frozen) because for an FET the focus is 100% on the uterus and thickening the uterine lining.
Every month, the uterus builds up a lining. If pregnancy is not achieved, the body sheds that lining during the menstrual period of a cycle to build a new one. Menstruation is triggered by a drop in the hormone progesterone that is produced by the corpus luteum, where the egg is released in the ovary. Either progesterone production is picked up by the growing embryo after implantation, or a period is triggered.
Once my next cycle started, I began a few medications to help build up that lining. The first was estrogen patches.
These are applied and left on for several days. They bothered me at first and I was worried that they would come off, but I don’t even notice them anymore. I wear four patches, and each patch is designed to release 0.1 mg of estrogen per day. The next is estradiol valerate – my first intramuscular injection.
This entire process has become overwhelming, so I’m at the point where I don’t take medications out of the box until I need them. It was the night before starting this one, so I pulled it out of the box. And I saw the needles for drawing up the medication, which is fine, I’ve used those for menopur. But then the other needle was just as long… wait… this was an intramuscular injection?!?
Well, I can’t give those myself, and I had been dreading them. I thought I had a few weeks to prepare myself for it. But it was starting tomorrow. Luckily I have an amazing neighbor who is more family than neighbor, and she happens to give amazing shots (tequila or medication, depends on the day). I called her when she got off of her shift at the hospital and she talked me off the ledge and gave me my first IM shot. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
Like the other medication, this was estrogen to help build up my uterine lining. Fun fact time… did you know that very few species menstruate? It seems the list of animals that menstruate is quite short: humans, apes, monkeys, bats and elephant shrews. What do these seemingly disparate animals have in common?
It all comes down to how much control the mother animal has over her own womb. In a paper published in 2011, it was pointed out by Deena Emera and her colleagues of Yale University that in menstruating animals, the transformation of the womb wall is entirely controlled by the mother, using the hormone progesterone. Embryos can only implant in the womb wall if it is thick and has specialized large cells, so this means the female is effectively controlling whether or not she can get pregnant. This ability is called “spontaneous decidualization”.
In most other mammals, these changes to the womb are triggered by signals from the embryo. In effect, the womb lining thickens in response to pregnancy.
If only we had effective control over getting pregnant. I’m going to try and will it to see if it sticks. Anyways, back to the FET.
The week prior to the transfer (8 days before and 6 days before) I had ultrasounds and bloodwork to check my hormone levels and my uterine lining thickness. The office looks for a thickness 6 days before of 7cm, and I was at 10cm! That meant we were on schedule to move forward. I could hardly believe that we had actually gotten to this point.
Five days before transfer I started the progesterone injections. This was to signal to my body that I had “ovulated” and that it should be on the lookout for an embryo to implant. The progesterone oil injections are the devil. It’s 2 mL of liquid, and thick as all hell. The shot itself isn’t actually horrible. It’s afterwards. I’ve just accepted that I’m going to have pain for the next (hopefully) 12 weeks.
My tips for the injection:
- Warm up the site prior to injection, I heat up a rice bag and put heat on whichever side I’m doing that day while I prep the injection
- Heat the oil first, I wrap it with the rice bag while I prep the injection site
- Completely lift leg off the floor and twist so that the muscle is expanded
- Vigorously rub injection site for 3 minutes.. it hurts at the time but it’s worth it
- Heat for 15 minutes afterwards
Apparently I am one of those lucky people who happens to have more pain with them… just another check in the box of side effects for me. It will be worth it if we end up pregnant! I will continue this injection every day until the pregnancy test or through the first trimester.
For transfer day I had no dietary restrictions and was to arrive at noon. Of course I showed up in my transfer leggings and socks!
We both went back and got changed. I had to remove my bottoms (able to leave on my shirt) and put on a gown. Taylor got a full set of scrubs and hat. The nurse came in and took my vitals and doc came and talked to us. He even brought us a picture of one of our embryos!
This is a photo of one of the embryos, but we transferred two. In the picture you can see that the walls are starting to break down and there’s a lot of activity. This is how the internal organs begin to form. Before transfer, the embryos were thawed and given a bath (their first bath!). They’re bathed in a “sticky” solution to help with implantation. Prior to transfer, the embryologist uses a laser to begin to remove the embryo wall to assist with “hatching” and increase our chances of implantation.
I was given my feel good pill – AKA Valium – and I’m absolutely convinced that valium should be given for all fertility appointments because it really helped with my anxiety. When they were ready for us we both walked back. The procedure itself was very quick and easy… we were able to watch on the screen as our embryos were transferred into my uterus! They wheeled me back to the room and let me empty my bladder… thank goodness. You have to have a full bladder for the procedure and once again somehow I had underestimated how much it would take to fill my bladder.
We had to wait about a half hour but then we were out of there! Just in time to get Chick-fil-a and get home before Tropical Storm Cindy hit.
And now we wait. We have a 60-70% of a pregnancy, and a 30% chance overall that we will have twins. Fingers crossed…. until then I am PUPO – pregnant until proven otherwise!