Part Three: IVF The Journey: Egg Retrieval

With IVF being the only option for Kyle and me to have our baby, the minute I got home from the doctor’s office, I jumped on the Internet to do some searching. The information out there was vast with some great videos and diagrams but many of them came from clinics and they felt really impersonal. What was it REALLY going to be like?! I also found many “horror story” sites too and those just scared me to no end. To the point I had to stop looking because I was getting myself too worked up with worst-case scenarios. My hope for those of you about to embark on this journey is that this post will provide you with a good look at what lies ahead with truthful accounts that don’t scare you. Again, every woman’s journey is different but this is how the process went for me.

Depending on your period cycle, your doctor will most likely put you on birth control so they can have complete control of the timing of the process. Then, once you get your period again, you will be brought in for blood work and an ultrasound (yes, the type we discussed in the last blog). After what seemed like a lifetime (the birth control and waiting to get your period seems like FOREVER), the day finally came when we could begin our shot regimen, which would ultimately lead to the egg retrieval. I am not going to sugar coat this at all and tell you it was the most fun thing I have ever done because it’s not at all. It was the weirdest few days of my life, but you know what? It’s doable. YOU will be fine, YOU will get through it! You are so much stronger then you think!

I am breaking this section up day by day so you can see how I evolved both emotionally and physically throughout the process and I have also included a number of tips that really helped me. Seriously, read Day Seven. It was a game changer for me in terms of the injection process and made it so much easier! Ok, so here we go!

**Day 1: For a girl that has a life-long history of running away from doctors with needles and literally sobbing and fainting (yes, FAINTING) when receiving even a finger prick, I knew this was not going to be a walk in the park. Before going to the doctor, we went to the pharmacy to pick up a grocery bag and a half (I’m not kidding) of injections and medicines. It was overwhelming and a little anxiety-inducing, as you can see by the picture, because I started to realize that all of that medicine was going into my body. I should also note I’m one of those weird people that hardly ever takes medicine. For a cold, I drink tea with honey. For headaches, I try natural balms and ice, etc… So this whole medicine regimen “thing” was just freaking me out a bit. After taking half the pharmacy with us, we went to the doctor to get a step-by-step lesson in how to administer all of this. (They will explain to you precisely how much of the drug to give, where to give it and so on. Don’t worry its really not as complicated as it may seem at first.)

The Shots!

So you may be wondering, who does the injections? Well, you can do them to yourself (heck no!) or, most likely, your husband will do them. The nurse explained to Kyle to inject the needle fast, at a 45-degree angle and push the medicine in at a “not too slow but not too fast” rate. She also offered for him to practice on a bagel or an apple a few times to get the hang of it. As he saw the panic in my eyes (given that he has never given an injection before and a food item was going to be his only practice tool), Kyle calmly looked at me and said, “It’s a piece of cake.” He grabbed an alcohol wipe and a clean needle then he lifted up his shirt and asked the nurse, “So I do it like this?” and jabbed the needle into his stomach! When we finally picked our jaws up off the floor, the nurse replied, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I have never seen a husband do that! More importantly, yes! You injected the needle perfectly!” For this reason, my hubby is the BEST hubby in the world!

Kyle doing a test shot

With the lesson complete, we were sent home and, that evening, began the first round of injections. You will need to pick a time that works for you because the shots have to be administered within a two-hour window each evening. We opted for 10:00 pm so our window was 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm. As Kyle began to lay out the shots and such, I got very hot and felt a bit light-headed so I sat on the couch with the dogs. (Well, ok so maybe Kyle made me go sit on the couch because, in my panicked state, I kept questioning and badgering him about every little detail and to please do it correctly, etc…) Should I also maybe mention I had big crocodile tears rolling down my cheeks before a needle was even within 20 feet of me? Hey, if you freak out like I did, don’t worry, I was right there with you! None of any of this is “normal” so if you want to have a little meltdown, no one is judging.

Lesson #1: Your husband isn’t half as nervous as you. He’s got it covered so don’t pester him while he is filling the needles with medicine because, when you get him all spun out, that’s when something will go wrong.

Lesson #2: Don’t look at the needles if you have a fear of them. Don’t try to figure out how long they are and how it’s going to feel. Really try not to think about it!

So after a lot of panicking and tons of second guessing (‘Wait! Not yet!’ and ‘Should we seriously think more about adoption?’), it finally happened. I grabbed my little puppy, Lucy, closed my eyes and held my breath (although deep breaths will calm you down more) as Kyle gave me the shot. The first injection of Gonal F was warm, like some websites had said, but it didn’t feel like the “liquid fire” as some described it. It was just a bit more uncomfortable than the other shot, the low dose HCG. The HCG was not bad at all in terms of the effects of the medicine and the prick from the needle was a lot less painful than what I was expecting. The first injection of the Gonal F hurt more because Kyle jerked the redi-load pen instead of pushing it. (Maybe he WAS as nervous as me…) You actually have to push past the spring that engages the plunger that then pushes in the liquid. (Your husband probably won’t expect this so give him a heads up.) However, I was not as calm as it sounds here. I was screaming as the shots were going in and then, when it was over, I felt silly because it really wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected.

**Day Two: I was more prepared for what to expect so I wasn’t freaking out (as much). The only issue this evening when injecting the pen was Kyle pulled it out too quickly and some of the medicine escaped. I called the nurse who said there was nothing they could do because we didn’t know how much really escaped. However, we guesstimated it was about three drops. She said it wasn’t really a big deal. She did offer us a technique that we then used on all the shots for the rest of the time. Pinch the skin then inject the needle. At a steady constant pace, inject all the liquid in, hold the needle in place and count to four. Slowly release the pinched skin and pull the needle out. After we followed those instructions, we never had any medicine escape again. Again, the pen was a bit warm and the HCG was fine.

Side Note: They tell you to drink TONS of water! The more hydrated, the better for the whole process, my nurse told me. Regular water can be boring so I opted to jazz it up with lemon, lime and cucumber one day and strawberries and mint the next. Make a big pitcher in the morning and get through all of it throughout the day.

**Day Three: All went well this night and for some reason, the pen didn’t burn at all. Every night, I took my medicines out of the refrigerator 15 to 20 minutes before we actually injected them into my belly so I don’t know for sure but maybe this helped the pen to burn less.

**Day Four: They tell you to switch up your injection sites because those spots will get tender or have some bruising. Before you freak out, the bruising isn’t nearly as bad as what you might think, at least it wasn’t for me. I was envisioning big, noticeable bruises but, on me, they were very faint and about the size of a pen cap. I also only got three the entire time. In my head, I thought, ‘Well, let’s move right under my belly button because that is the most padded area to pinch so it won’t hurt as bad.’ WRONG, WRONG, oh so WRONG! I don’t know why but it burned worse than it had before and hurt terribly.

Lucy keeping me safe

**Day Five: After getting the results of my blood test back and seeing the size of my eggs at the doctor the day before, they decided to start me on my third injection, Gonalrex, which they said helps to quiet your ovaries. This night was probably one of the worst nights of the entire process. I think it was more mental because I knew I had to get yet another shot.

Dr. Kyle set up everything as usual and I told him to get the new one over first. I’m not going to lie: this new one was a doozy. The needle hurts more then the little HCG needle and the medicine burns a bit and that discomfort lasts for about 15 minutes (there is light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. Remember to read Day Seven). I think because I worked myself up so much, the rest of the injections just bothered me more this night. I also bled out of two of the injection sites (just a few drops) which, after calling the nurse, was perfectly normal. I had a little breakdown after this evening, I can’t lie. I just felt off. I was upset that others could get pregnant so easily and I came down hard on myself. (I am a woman! I am supposed to be able to have a baby! It’s what we are made to do. What is wrong with me?!) Husbands, just hold your wives at this moment like Kyle did for me. Don’t offer advice. Just soothe her and let her know you are by her side. I actually think this was the hardest night for Kyle too, both with the injections and emotionally. He explained it was harder for him to puncture the skin…almost as if my skin was building up a tolerance to the injections (I think it was because I was getting more bloated). Treat the needle like a dart and just shoot it in there in one fast motion because if he did it slowly, it would hurt a lot. Also, the new medicine sits in a pocket for about 15 minutes before it absorbs into you, at least it did for me, so don’t freak out.

**Day Six: I began to have waves of nausea. I didn’t throw up but my appetite was rapidly decreasing and I just felt woozy. We actually had the Loudon Cup race on this day and, that morning, walking out to pit road, I felt great. By the time I got to the car, I felt sick to my stomach. My mind was racing: ‘Where is the nearest garbage can and can I make it in time? Ok, where is the nearest port-a-potty? But eww, wait no! That’s too gross! Boys pee all over those!’ As I stood next to Kyle at the car, more thoughts started racing through my head: ‘I think I might puke into Kyle’s car. How mad would Kyle be if he had to race with puke in the car for four hours? Oh no, the crew would be so mad at me because the car goes back to them and I would be so embarrassed…hmm, could I blame it on Kyle? Would I ruin the car in some way? Oh man, what do I do??’ In the few minutes that all these scenarios of me throwing up everywhere ran through my head, the feeling passed and I was fine the rest of the race. But yeah, just be ready for that VERY uncomfortable feeling and plan accordingly. Maybe always carry an old purse with you that you don’t mind ruining…haha! 😉

That evening, I also cried a lot before and during the injections. Blame it on hormones or what not, I was just emotional on this night and hungry because certain foods that I usually love (common, normal things, like apples) were making my stomach turn just thinking about them. I also shot up out of bed at 4:00 am, as I thought I was going to be sick. I never threw up but I was horribly nauseous. I read that eating anything ginger will help calm nausea. But, the thought of ginger made me gag.

**Day Seven: This day I felt like I had been hit by a ton of bricks. I was so tired, extremely nauseous and the thought of most foods made my stomach turn. As you know, I am a really healthy eater, yet, very weirdly, the one and only thing I could stomach to eat was Nacho Cheese Doritos. Honestly, I am not an advocate of eating unhealthy processed foods but, when you are this sick, try eating a handful of Doritos. It helped to have something in my stomach and made me feel a lot less queasy.

Also, be prepared for how exhausted you will be. Literally after getting up and getting dressed, I took a nap in the car to the doctor because getting myself ready was so much “work”. Yep, this girl who works out five days a week was absolutely spent by putting on a maxi dress, sandals and throwing my hair in a ponytail. Hormones are a funny thing! I spent the entire day when we got home curled up on the couch sleeping on and off and feeling like I was going to be sick constantly. I got a call later in the day from the nurse who told me to lower the units down on my redi-pen even more because my estrogen levels were really high, which was why I was feeling so tired and sick. I was both mentally and physically drained this day and just couldn’t figure out how I was going to get through this. The thought of injecting again on this night brought me to tears.

But, oh lucky day seven! How I wish we had done this technique from the start because it was a game changer! We went off the normal path of injecting around my belly button (three inches lower and out each way) because all the areas there were tender and some areas had bruising. We moved out towards the area about two inches in from my hip bone and placed an ice pack on the area for 10 minutes. After icing, I grabbed Lucy and closed my eyes and then a miracle happened! I asked Kyle what was taking him so long and to just get it over with already. He said, “I already injected the HCG, didn’t you feel it?” OMG, NO I DIDN’T! There was no pain when the needle went in. The other two were a very minor pinch and I didn’t feel any of the medicine. It was all over before I even knew it. Seriously, it was amazing! Just like that, it went from this very uncomfortable, painful-ish process to not being terrible at all! Hallelujah! Ice is your friend, why I hadn’t thought of this earlier is beyond me.

**Day Eight: My nausea was beginning to decrease and I was regaining some energy. My ovaries were very swollen and I was a bit bloated. My right-side ovary was much more swollen and it looked like a little almond almost trying to pop out of my skin. Seriously, it was super weird. I’m not going to lie.

That morning was again another visit to the doctor. Prepare your schedule because you will be going to the doctor every other day, if not every day, during this process to get blood tests for your hormone levels and ultrasounds to check on how your eggs are developing. That morning, the doctor said my eggs were large enough that he wanted to go ahead and have us administer the trigger shot that evening. (Normally, the process is 9-12 days before you do the trigger shot.) Once you administer this trigger shot, in 36 hours, you will have your eggs removed. Again, I iced the same way I did with my other injections and, although this needle was bigger and there was a lot more medicine to go in, it didn’t hurt that much.

Kyle and I

**Day Nine: What’s the best part of this day?? NO INJECTIONS! What’s the worst part of this day?? I woke up and my lower abdomen was really REALLY bloated and uncomfortable. That was ok though because tomorrow, my eggs were coming out! I felt much better emotionally and physically than I had the past couple of days. We even went out to dinner that evening to celebrate the upcoming big day!

Day Nine

**Day 10: Egg retrieval morning, yay! I was so excited and nervous. How many eggs would they get? Would everything go ok? We arrived early that morning and I quickly changed into a gown, got an IV and filled out some paper work. The next thing I knew I was walking to the operating room where they told me to move forward on the bed and put my legs up. I was fidgeting and so nervous (only answering with one short word) and I must have had a look of sheer panic in my eyes because the anesthesiologist looked at me and said, ‘Ok, she’s nervous. Good night sweetie.’ That’s the last thing I remember.

ivf egg retrieval

The next thing I knew Kyle was asking me how I felt. He said I was out for awhile and I was freaking him out because one eyelid kept floating open even though I was still out, which was super sexy, I’m sure. They had a heating pad on my belly and I stayed in recovery for about an hour. They came in to tell me that they had retrieved 34 eggs (a really high number that was due to my PCOS condition). I was told to be prepared that there would be a very large drop off and that we would get a phone call the next morning with how many they could fertilize. We went home and I spent the rest of the day curled up on the couch, watching movies with Kyle and my family. Again, drink lots of water on your egg retrieval day and try to eat small meals. I was very, very bloated and uncomfortable and this is to be expected. I also found comfort in keeping a heating pad on my lower abdomen. My doctor gave me Vicodin for the pain but I didn’t need to take any of it. I just took some Aleve.

Before egg retrieval shots, then two hours after egg retrieval.

Before egg retrieval shots, then two hours after egg retrieval. 

**Day 11: Ok, it’s time to get a bit personal here and I am sorry, but for you ladies having to go through it, this will help. I woke up that morning so bloated that I just had to hop on the scale. I had gained about six pounds in 48 hours! I had a bit of a rash on my stomach and I think that’s from how quickly it stretched. It was also kind of itchy. So here is the very candid part: They tell you around day four or five of this process to take a stool softener because with your ovaries swelling and with all the medications you are on, you will get backed up. I did this but it didn’t help at all. I even took maximum strength laxative pills, washed down with Dulcolax and…nothing! I told myself that if there was no relief of my constipation by the next morning, things were going to have to get drastic.

ivf egg retrieval

**Day 12: I woke up even bigger and I was so darn uncomfortable. My belly was rock hard yet so bloated. My mom, who was a nurse for 25 years, bought me this laxative that they give to patients before a colonoscopy. It’s a drink that you put over ice and, in 30 minutes to an hour, the “desired effect” happens. We don’t need to get into it but, ladies, if you had no previous luck with normal stuff like me, buy this and you will be one happy camper after a few hours. The lemon flavor is actually pretty good. They sell it at Walgreens, I believe, I can ask Mom if you need the specific name.

Throughout the following days, you will continue to be bloated but it goes down more and more each day. Once you get your period, it seems all the bloat goes away and you are back to your old self and ready to gear up for the next round in the IVF journey!

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