IVF is not “how lesbians get pregnant”. True, lots of lesbians end up doing it, but usually not as a first step. Often not even as a second step, or in some cases even a third. IVF is for most people a last resort. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me brightly: “how exciting! The first step in trying to get pregnant!” then I’d still want to slap them hard around the mouth. But then I’d have a dollar to put in my purse afterwards which would be nice.
IVF stands for “In Vitro Fertilisation”. Usually people try one or more of these methods before turning to IVF: turkey baster insemination, IUI (“inter-uterine insemination”–an insemination at the hospital where they inject the sperm straight into your womb), heterosexual penetrative sex. If you have a friend starting IVF it is possible, then, that they have already been trying to get pregnant for some time. It is possible that they are already emotionally exhausted, and it is possible that they are also terrified that, like all the other steps they’ve already been through, this, too, might not work.
I am a Doctor (of Creative Writing), so you can be assured that all information in this document is 100% scientifically accurate. It is also worth noting that every person’s body is different, and that my journey is only one version of the IVF story–there are numerous other combinations of drug regimes and treatment plans out there that are different to my own. And it’s really important to note that the hardest thing about each step in the IVF process is that, if you don’t pass that particular step, you don’t get to go on to the next one. Just like in a game of snakes and ladders, if your body doesn’t respond in the appropriate way you can be sent all the way back to the beginning and have to start again.
How to Make a Baby* in __** Easy*** Steps (*Baby not guaranteed) (**this field is left blank on purpose because the quantity is unknown) (***”Easy” is subject to personal interpretation and best used in comparison to “impossible”.)
Steps 1, 2, 3, 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14
Lose weight, stop drinking, take your temperature every morning at 6am, take herbs/supplements/magic potions, pay lots of money to hospitals and herbalists and acupuncturists, fly your donor up and down the country so he can jerk off into a cup in your lounge-room and then squirt it inside you with a giant syringe, fly your donor up and down the country several more times, talk to counsellors, wee on sticks, have shitloads of blood tests, have four strangers examine your cervix, have four strangers prise your cervix open and insert tubes in it, squirt things in it, make it bleed. Still not pregnant.
Agree to IVF. Wait for your period. When it arrives, wait two and a half more weeks.
Start taking a tablet called Provera. *NOTE–either there were a lot of fuckwits around that week, or the drugs made me slightly cranky. Ok, really fucking pissed off. Especially at the woman who was having a shower at my gym, fully clothed. What a fucking idiot.
Five days after you start the Provera, also start snorting Synarel twice a day, exactly twelve hours apart. Stop feeling cranky. Instead, go to a friend’s birthday and cry your eyes out during the speeches. Blame it on the drugs.
Get a freak period and panic for the entire ten days it lasts.
A week and a half after starting the snorting regime, have a blood test.
Fail blood test and do not get to move on to next step, because oestrogen levels are too high. Panic and eat shitloads of broccoli for two days running, do yoga, lie awake all night, and then sit a re-test.
Pass make-up exam. Two days later go to hospital for a tutorial on how to stick a needle in your own belly. Succeed in self-harming with said needle. Get gold star from the nurse. Collect precious supply of needles, FSH*, alcohol wipes, and an icepack for if you need to take the drugs away from the fridge for longer than half an hour. *I can’t remember what FSH stands for, but basically it’s a hormone that makes your ovaries produce ‘lots’ of eggs instead of the usual monthly ‘one’. At the same time, the stuff you are snorting is stopping your ovaries from releasing these eggs, so basically you’ve got two drugs doing two counteractive things at the same time.
Cry when you say hello to your friends, because you’re so glad to see them. Cry when you say goodbye, because you’re really going to miss them. Cry all weekend. Forgive the woman at the gym for showering with her clothes on and cry for her as well.
Set the table for breakfast and realise a giant blood clot has just fallen into your knickers. Bleed for a day and a half and panic the whole time, because it’s the weekend and the fertility unit is shut so you can’t call anyone.
Wake up the next morning and realise your abdomen has swelled up like a balloon/puffer fish/off packet of tofu. Panic panic panic.
Have a 7am blood test and an ultrasound of your ovaries.
Have another 7am blood test and an ultrasound of your ovaries.
Have ANOTHER 7am blood test and an ultrasound of your ovaries.
FINALLY get the go-ahead to have your egg collection. Spend two days panicking that you’re about to find out that you don’t have any eggs.
Ok the egg collection is actually pretty intense. They don’t even let you check in for it at my hospital unless you have someone with you who can promise to stay with you for the next 24 hours in case you stand up and pass out. You get changed into your gown and then they put a cannula in your vein and then you go into the Star Trek room with the giant silver egg freezers and the see-thru embryo incubators. They pump you full of something like a hard hit of valium and then apparently they stick a giant needle in your vagina and stab each ovary with it to numb them. I don’t remember any of that. Apparently they then stick the ultrasound dildo inside you with a needle attached to its head like a dolphin from Austin Powers, and apparently this really hurts, and the nurses sometimes have to hold your ovaries down if you jump around too much. Then they stick the needle into each follicle one by one, suck all the fluid out, spurt it into a dish, and then examine the slosh to see if an egg has been harvested. They repeat this probably somewhere between 2 and sixteen times, depending on the ovaries, and then they wheel you out and you fall asleep for ten minutes and then wake up feeling as though you’ve just had the quickest pissy night of your life, you don’t remember what you did, and now you’re nursing the hangover. At this point, in the recovery room, you will find out whether it was all a complete waste of time, or whether some healthy eggs were retrieved.
Go home, realise you’re in quite a bit of pain, and eat lots of chocolate. Meanwhile the embryologist has your seven little eggs in a dish and is selecting seven little frozen sperm to wake up with a dip in some caffeine (true story) and inject, one into each egg. This is called ixy. That is not how you spell it, but I can’t be bothered checking. It stands for something scientific. Other people with stronger sperm don’t have to do that–they get to put their eggs in a puddle of spunk and let the best man win. But that’s just the way it is.
Get a call 24 hours later with the news of whether any of your eggs have fertilised. At this point, again, you may find out that it was all a complete waste of time and that you have to start again in four months’ time. Or, if you’re lucky, you find out that one or more have fertilised.
Wait two more days and then get another call to find out if any of the aforementioned embryos are still alive. Or in my case, skip Step 33 and go straight to Step 34–the embryo transfer.
Sign in to the hospital again and put your legs up in stirrups for half an hour while they poke and prod your unusually tight cervix, send for reinforcements, send for more reinforcements, scrape and stab and then eventually suck your nine-cell little embryo up and squirt it up into your womb for you to cuddle close inside you.
Start sticking progesterone pessaries up into your traumatised vagina twice daily. Ether those fuckwits from last month have all come back to town, or this drug also makes you a little cranky. Ok, really fucking cranky. So cranky that you have a go at the waitress for bringing you table water, because you didn’t want cold water, you wanted warm, and how very dare she.
Wait two weeks to find out if you’re pregnant. If the blood test shows up negative, go back to step 15 (cry), wait four months for your body to have recovered, and then start again.
For me, this round of IVF from start to finish will have taken nine weeks. Apparently you’re more likely to conceive if you’re relaxed. These two statements sum up the whole IVF process.