This is the first in a two-part blog series to offer insight into what the IVF process is really like, told by women who have been through it.
When considering or scheduling your first IVF cycle, your doctor or clinic will prepare you by explaining the process, the medications, and what you can expect. However, I’ve found that once people have experienced their first (or second or third) round of IVF, there are often things that they wish they had known earlier. Things that they learn along the way that would have been helpful in the beginning.
Like what? Well, we asked our wonderful Circle + Bloom community and a few infertility bloggers:
“What do you wish you had known about IVF in the beginning? If your sister or friend told you they are considering IVF for the first time, what would you tell them about what to expect?”
The responses we heard ranged from helpful tips about medications, to insight into the emotional toll of IVF, and cautions about setting your own expectations for the process. These women shared their experiences in the hopes of making the IVF journey easier for others.
I hope their experiences will help in some small (or big) way as you move forward in your journey.
Our IVF “Experts”
We spoke to six women for this two-part blog series:
Candace Wohl is a freelance digital marketer, writer, speaker, infertility advocate, mother through surrogacy, and co-author of the blog, Our Misconception, along with her husband. The couple started blogging after their second IVF cycle, and has told their story of cancer, a hysterectomy, failed adoption, and a failed surrogacy.
Kelsey Whitham is an elementary school teacher. She and her wife started their journey with a sperm bank and eight IUIs before becoming pregnant with their son, who is now two years old. Hoping for a large family, they’ve begun trying for a second baby with six IUIs and have now moved on to IVF.
Marquita Lizotte has done two IUIs and is in the middle of her first IVF cycle.
Stefanie Miller writes her blog, Making A Miller, from her home in Orange County where she lives with her husband. She is currently pregnant with their first child as a result of IVF.
Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo: After years of unprotected sex, failed timed cycles, inseminations and several IVFs, Jay Palumbo is the mom of two boys and an infertility advocate. She is a freelance writer, infertility and women’s rights advocate, former stand-up comic, author of the blog, The 2 Week Wait, and proud IVF Mom.
Karen has four years of infertility treatments under her belt, including four rounds of IVF. She and her partner live in Illinois.
What the Doctors Don’t Tell You
Be Your Own Advocate
I’ve been through seven IVF cycles and I wish I would have been my own advocate. Now, I have a spreadsheet with medications, and I get second and third opinions. I bring in medical journals to my doctors. When you’ve just been diagnosed with infertility, don’t start on Dr. Google or old wives tales. Look for research and fact, and become your own advocate. A great place to start is Resolve.org – they’re a great patient advocate organization.” (Candace)
You are NOT Alone. Find Support.
Surround yourself with people with the same diagnoses. One in eight people are diagnosed with infertility. Reach out and find your tribe. I started with a random app on my phone.” (Candace)
Reach out to someone you know. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you’re going through; there’s no shame in it. I was open and reached out to people, and it made a huge difference for me. Others felt comfortable sharing with me because I opened the door.” (Marquita)
In the process of sharing my story, I’ve learned that there are so many of us out there going through similar things with infertility and IVF or other interventions. If you feel like you’re alone – speak up. I had a couple of friends who I didn’t know they were going through similar things until I opened up about my own struggles.” (Stefanie)
Be clear about how you want people to support you. I told my mom that if anyone in our family was pregnant, to please email and don’t call me. Phone calls and in-person was uncomfortable.” (Jay)
Take Care of Yourself
Fertility treatments are stressful on the body, especially as you get older. I started my first round in my late 20’s and I’m now in my late 30’s (I had an IVF retrieval after a hysterectomy). It was hard because of age, and my body was different. What helped was focusing on my mental health: yoga, breathing exercises, acupuncture, a therapist – reducing all the stress possible.” (Candace)
For your first IVF, I always tell people to keep their social schedule clear. Whether you’re a social butterfly or not, you don’t know how you’ll react, both physically and emotionally. You could be really bloated and uncomfortable, you may be really emotionally hormonal and sensitive – or not. Give yourself the freedom to do whatever you feel like. Give yourself the space to respond whatever way unfolds for you.” (Jay)
It Might Not Work
I thought IVF would be easy and it would work. When I started my first round, my body reacted well to the meds, even though it was uncomfortable. I got tons of eggs, had my transfer, with one egg ready and seven more waiting. Then I got the call that all seven weren’t viable anymore. The doctors didn’t know why. There’s not always answers. I didn’t know it could totally turn around so quickly.” (Kelsey)
I have a friend who did her first IVF and didn’t get pregnant, and her whole family didn’t understand. There is this perception that you do IVF and you get pregnant. If I had known that on my first IVF, the odds weren’t in my favor, I wouldn’t have been so devastated when it didn’t happen right away.” (Jay)
The Schedule Isn’t Set in Stone. You May Need to Take a Break Between IVF Cycles.
No one told me that towards the end, if your eggs don’t grow large enough and don’t get extracted in a certain amount of time, you have to stop and wait another cycle to implant the embryos. I was expecting to implant that cycle, but my progesterone levels started to go up and we had to wait another whole cycle. This is pretty common. But I soon realized that I needed that break. It was nice (in a way) to have a month off to mentally step back and focus on myself.” (Marquita)
I didn’t expect that my doctor would recommend that I have a cycle of rest in between retrieval and transfer. That fell over the christmas holidays, and it ended up being a longer break than I had expected.” (Stefanie)
The More Cycles You Do, the Better Your Chances
The more IVF cycles you do, the higher success rate you have. Of course, no one wants to do more than one, but the odds of the first IVF being successful are the lowest. As strange as that sounds, I wish I knew that as I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure when it didn’t work. I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years who have called me and like me, were upset their first cycle didn’t work. Patients on average have a successful IVF by their third one. Some people do get pregnant on their first IVF but that’s not the majority. It took me three cycles, and my third was my successful one.” (Jay)
> Note: For more information, this link references a study that shows that the “cumulative pregnancy success odds continued to improve (slightly) for up to five cycles. After that, the odds plateaued.”
You Could Miscarry
I did end up pregnant but miscarried around seven weeks. It was a totally different kind of loss.” (Kelsey)
Negative Fears and Thoughts are Normal
I knew the science behind IVF. I went to the IVF class at my clinic; I knew the steps. I’m very organized and structured. But mentally it was really hard. I wish I had talked to people about how to keep your head during the process. The doctors don’t explain a lot about the emotional impact. There were times when I wondered if it was normal to feel anxious, and to have negative fears and thoughts. Is it okay to feel like it’s never going to happen? But the thing is: all of those negative fears and thoughts – you feel guilty for having them, but they’re totally normal.” (Kelsey)
You can’t predict which part will make you the most emotional. It might be the shots or going under for the retrieval. We will all react differently to different parts of the process.” (Stefanie)
But… A Positive Mindset Really is Helpful
It’s easy to get discouraged in this process. But a friend told me, “Don’t doubt it. Believe in the process, believe in the science.” Not allowing myself to doubt it has helped so much with my mindset. Positive thought and energy helped me stay out of the dark place of negative thought.” (Marquita)
We will follow up with Part 2 of this blog series later in August.
Try Circle + Bloom’s guided visualization and meditation program for IVF and IUI to help you feel calm, relaxed, and positive during your journey – including special sessions to listen to before, during, and after your IVF/IUI procedure. Or for a more general introduction to Circle + Bloom, download our free fertility relaxation program.
With love & gratitude,