The IVF Journey Part 3- Scans and Injections!

I don’t think you can ever get used to having transvaginal ultrasound scans as such, but by the time I began the IVF Antagonist cycle I had already had two of them, and I tried not to think too much about it. I just had to consider that these scans are all part of the process to achieve a certain outcome - pregnancy.  It was all about the outcome after all, and staying focused on this helped enormously. Not to say they weren’t still intrusive, they are, they’re incredibly intrusive but I just couldn’t allow myself to think too much into it.

E was great and attended every specialist appointment with me scan or no scan.  I just felt that I needed the moral support and he felt that it was important to be part of the process too.  We were trying to conceive after all and that involved bits from both of us so we gave it our all, body, mind and soul.  Thus after my next period started I had to go to the Medical Specialist Group here in Guernsey for a transvaginal ultrasound scan of my ovaries to check for cysts before I could begin the IVF cycle.

I wasn’t expecting the specialist to find any and he didn’t, but it’s still a necessary part of the programme before you can be given the go ahead to start the medication.  It’s perhaps worth sharing here that there was a time when I did have cysts on my ovaries.  I share this only because I know that others experience this, and the cysts can make it tricky to conceive naturally and can complicate the IVF process (or so I believe).  I managed to heal my cysts naturally and it was a lesson for me, not only in terms of how we can hold unprocessed emotions in our bodies, but how we may perhaps heal these holistically.

As I have mentioned previously, I developed an eating disorder when I was 17 years old. It began with me starving myself so that my periods stopped.  Then when I went to University later that same year I fell into the nasty trap of starving myself and then binging, so that I actually put on weight and every day my life was consumed with what I was eating.  It went on for too many long years.  The trouble is that once an eating disorder has taken root, its very difficult to let it go.

By the time I was approaching my mid-twenties I knew that something had to change. I was still caught in a cycle of obsessing about what I ate and starving and binging myself in equal measure while exercising excessively. Essentially I didn’t really like myself very much and both my relationship with food, the PMS and the bouts of depression I experienced were all consuming at times and utterly exhausting.

Fortunately, after running the London marathon, I found yoga.  My body was in a mess and someone mentioned to me that yoga may help.  I had already read that yoga can help with PMS and depression, so it seemed to make sense to give it a try.  I had nothing to lose.  So that’s what I did and the rest is history really. Yoga made me feel better.  For the first time in a long time I was encouraged out of my head and into my body.

Without doubt yoga saved my life. It was through yoga that I came to discover Reiki, which was truly life changing for me, and also presented a world of healing, crystals, angels and good nutrition. I started seeing a local nutritionist who was just brilliant. She was very no nonsense and prescribed a hormonal balancing diet and a selection of supplements, which made an incredible difference to how I felt, I couldn’t believe it!

Until that point, I ate what I ate depending on what I felt it would do to my weight, opposed to what I felt it would do for my health. It was incredible really, to finally understand that much of my PMS symptoms were due to my diet, and I came to realise that we truly are what we eat, and with that there was a huge shift in my relationship with food and with myself, but sadly eating disorders do not disappear over-night and there are always trigger events.

A trigger event for me was immersing myself in the Byron Bay yoga scene, which was full of skinny yogis who ate very limited diets under the guise of being healthy.  I tried many of them, from a vegetarian diet to a raw food vegan diet from juicing to a fruit-only diet. After a stay of 5 months one time I returned home to Guernsey the skinniest I had ever been and with that my periods had stopped again and my mind was utterly consumed with my weight. 

I knew without doubt that something had to change.  My Reiki Master happens to be a professionally qualified hormone expert so I undertook some saliva testing, a service she offers, to investigate the lack of periods.  The results confirmed her suspicions - they indicated I had polycystic ovaries and with that I took myself off to the doctor.  However, the doctor took a good look at me and disagreed with the diagnosis as I wasn’t overweight (quite the opposite), I didn’t have spots, and there was no excess hair on my face. 

Still, she sent me for a scan and sure enough this showed that I had a whole heap of tiny cysts covering both my ovaries.  The doctor was surprised and I was slightly alarmed as I knew that on some level I was responsible for this. There was no allopathic treatment for the cysts as such, the doctor just mentioned that having cysts may make it trickier for me to conceive but we’d have to wait and see and address the issue then if necessary.

I decided I wasn’t going to wait until I wanted to conceive and with that decision I set out to heal myself naturally.  My Reiki Master, the hormone expert, prescribed a treatment plan, which involved taking a whole heap of supplements and using natural progesterone cream so I started with this.  However, I recognised that there was an emotional element to the cysts - and the underlying eating disorder which I didn’t mention to anyone and no one raised with me – and I knew I needed to address this too if I hoped to heal.

I had recently read a popular self-help book by Brandon Bays called “The Journey: A Practical Guide to Healing Your Life and Setting Yourself Free”, which I had found inspiring. Brandon was diagnosed with a basketball-sized tumour in her uterus and refused drugs and surgery. Instead she discovered what she described as “a powerful direct path to the potent healing power of the soul”. Six and a half weeks later, she was tumour free and this book shares her story and her pioneering vision of an entirely new paradigm of healing.

 “The Journey” has apparently been used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to awaken their own infinite potential and set themselves free. It sells itself as “a powerful, step-by-step means to find direct access to the soul, the infinite intelligence that is within us all”, and through that medium to heal. I liked what I read. A lot.  And now, for some reason, I just couldn’t get “The Journey” out of my head and when I investigated the location of practitioners, I was delighted to find that one lived on Jersey, a neighbouring Island.

So I took myself off to Jersey on the boat for a day-trip to see this lady.  It was funny really because I was living with my parents at the time and while I told them I was going to Jersey for the day to see a lady for a healing treatment, I asked them not to ask me anything about it, because I knew they wouldn’t understand and would think me crazy.  Not that that would have put me off, sometimes you just absolutely know that you have to do something and even though no one else may understand why you’re doing it, or they judge you for doing it, you know you have to do it anyway.

When you have a knowing like this, when you have absolutely no doubt about the decision you’ve made, it can feel like you are being guided by some higher power. When this happens, whatever it is you have to do tends to happens very easily and effortlessly - it’s like all the doors opening for you along a corridor or all the traffic lights being on green along a main road. I’d had that experience when I first went off on my yoga travels. To this day I don’t know what drew me to Byron Bay but something did and despite the fact I had to extricate myself from my life in Guernsey first, it happened very easily and I felt supported every step of the way – little did I realise it would be quite so life changing.

“The Journey” was life changing too. Sitting in a comfortable chair in her private treatment room, the friendly practitioner guided me into a meditative state and took me on a journey to my ovaries.  There, with her guidance, I was surprised to see that eating away at my ovaries - quite literally - was a resentment I had been holding on to for some time, since I was 17 actually, and an incident which I believe may have triggered my eating disorder in the first place.

Initially I was surprised that this particular episode of my life and my reaction to it had ruled my life for so many years. I mean it kind of made sense to me, but nonetheless I was alarmed at the impact it had been having on my health and wellbeing. I was only relived that I now had the opportunity to recognise this so that I could get to work forgiving, making peace and setting myself free from it, before it impacted any further on my life.

In many respects it was a blessing as it taught me a huge lesson about how our thoughts and unexpressed emotions can be literally held within the tissue of the body, negatively impacting on our health and wellbeing, and potentially leading to - and indeed creating - dis-ease. It was also a huge lesson in how we can heal ourselves if we are ready to do the work, to face our demons, to dig deep and get down to the nitty gritty of it, finally addressing whatever it is we were unable to address and process at the time the experience/incident took place.

I complemented “The Journey” with Ayurveda. Meaning “the science of life” Ayurveda is exactly that, viewing health in four dimensions including the physical, sensory, mental and spiritual. It is centred on preventative medicine and bringing a person back to balance.  It shows how an imbalance in one part of a person’s being will affect them in another, i.e. if a person isn’t being true to their life path (dharma) then physical and mental illnesses can arise which cannot be effectively treated with modern medicines but can be helped by Ayurveda.

Ayurveda uses elemental medicine which means that they balance out earth, fire, water, air and ether in the body.  These are divided into three doshas or types - Vata, Pitta and Kapha - which are the basis of a person’s constitution and also the factors that can create imbalances.  Ayurveda places great emphasis on diet, lifestyle, yoga, meditation, massage and herbal medicines to bring a person back to health and keep them there.

The Ayurvedic doctor, a truly lovely Sri Lankan lady based near Gatwick, prescribed a nourishing diet that would suit my natural constitution. This alone was very healing as it meant I started to view food differently, not on a calorific/weight basis but on an energetic and balancing basis. She also prescribed me a selection of ground herbs that I had to mix with warm water and drink first thing in the morning, before and after meal times and before bed. I also attended the clinic for a half day nourishing and healing Ayurvedic massage.

The Ayurvedic approach is very much aimed at healing the root cause of any imbalance, which for me – the imbalance that is - was presenting itself as the cysts and PMS.  While the herbs were smelly and tasted disgusting, they encouraged me to eat regularly, which was not something I did ordinarily and was healing by its very nature. All together, the diet, herbs and massage certainly shifted how I felt and amazingly my periods soon started again and eventually synched with the moon. I was also aware that I was ovulating once more too, or at least producing the secretions which indicated this!

I have fairly much followed the Ayurvedic diet for my constitution ever since then.  It fascinates me because whenever I move away from this, I notice that my fire element gets out of balance and with that all sorts of changes occur. My mind gets very busy, nothing is ever right, I anger easily and I get very blinkered in my way of thinking. When this happens I know its time to get back on track again.

There is no doubt that Ayurveda has been as life changing for me as yoga and Reiki. As a yoga practitioner and someone fascinated by energy and healing, it resonates on every level. I really like the Ayurvedic doctor I see, she has counselled me spiritually and has certainly towed me into line when it has been necessary over the years. She is also a fertility expert and I would certainly encourage any lady experiencing fertility issues to speak to her.

The combination of all this healing work helped me to heal my ovaries from the cysts naturally and this was one of the reasons I was surprised we were not able to conceive initially. Still, we were where we were and it was with some relief that the specialist confirmed that as far as he was concerned we were all good to begin the IVF treatment the next day. Wow! I was excited, it was really happening, we were about to embark on IVF with the intention of conceiving new life. We were one step closer to realising our dream!

The next morning marked the beginning of my first IVF cycle and I began injecting. Only that I didn’t actually do the injecting myself, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, it didn’t really feel right somehow, so E kindly did it for me.  He was happy to do it too, not to cause me pain (obviously) but to be involved in the process and I found it easier leaving him to sort out this side of the treatment. This meant that each morning he would measure out the quantity of daily drugs that needed to be injected. He would then inject these into my tummy, trying his best to ensure minimal pain and bruising – it became like an art and there were good days and bad days!

The first medication was called Gonadotrophin, which is a stimulation medication containing two hormones, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which are normally produced by the pituitary gland. These hormones stimulate the ovaries to produce a follicle, which contain an egg. It’s rare to experience side effects from this ovarian stimulation medication but occasionally a mild skin reaction can occur around the injection site, and more commonly abdominal discomfort will be felt as the ovaries are stretched by the developing follicles (bearing in mind that you usually only produce one in a cycle, not multiple).

At the same time, I started taking a high dosage of arnica prescribed to me by a homeopath. I am sure this remedy helped to ease the bruising from the injections. Mentally, I was very much working on the basis that there was no real reason that I should experience any untoward side effects from the medication. I deemed myself healthy and believed that the drugs would do what needed to be done – I was keen to flow with the process to achieve the intended outcome and let go of any resistance to this.

I continued working in the office as usual during this time, although I was fortunate to be working on a part-time and flexible basis where I could come and go as I pleased depending on my workload.  I also continued with my usual yoga teaching schedule, which helped to distract me from the IVF – not only have I always found teaching yoga energising for me but it brings me completely into the present and I think of nothing else but what is happening in the class in that moment.

I continued to provide Reiki treatments for this reason too. As a channel for the Reiki energy, not only do you receive it while giving it, but being in a quiet and peaceful environment for an hour or so can be restful and rejuvenating. I did however make every effort to protect myself from negative energies and to ground and cleanse myself after each session. Generally, though, I was keen to protect myself in life generally and I tried to avoid situations and people with negative and draining energy. I felt that this helped me to keep my own energy levels and vibration as light and stable as possible.

To enhance this, I took to my mat daily, not only to practice asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) but to do a Yoga Nidra using the Sankalpa, “my eggs are growing and ripening”, “I am pregnant with a healthy baby” before sitting and meditating for 20 minutes. I tried to take lots of walks and spend time in nature too. I continued swimming in the sea too – I find this so cleansing and grounding, and believe it enhances one’s sense of wellbeing.

I already drank lots of water and ate a healthy diet but I increased my protein intake. I was also already supplementing with oil of evening primrose, which is known to encourage the development of cell membranes. I still drank the occasional glass of sparkling wine, but was aware that the medication was already taxing my liver so I supplemented with milk thistle tincture to support this.  

I made an effort to rest as much as I could. I was growing eggs after all and I needed to do all I could to enhance this process. So I invested in the Downton Abbey box set and watched a couple of episodes every evening with a hot water bottle on my tummy (in Chinese medicine, warmth is considered necessary for the development of a baby). I took relaxing baths with aromatherapy oils and tried to take early nights, a novelty for me as I had a tendency back then to stay up very late working on my laptop!

I also received regular Acupuncture, reflexology, holistic massage and Reiki, most of which I was able to barter for yoga – the joy of having friends who are holistic practitioners!  All of the energy work helped to further relax me, keep my energy as light and clear as possible and help me – I hoped - to grow healthy eggs. In short, I was visualising healthy eggs, dreaming about healthy eggs, and living and breathing healthy eggs.  It was absolutely all about the eggs!!

On day seven I had to start taking Cetrotide, which is an antagonist injection. This is used to prevent premature ovulation (early release of eggs from the ovary). This drug rarely causes side effects other than a potential skin irritation around the injection site. Fortunately, I didn’t experience this although I suspect the arnica helped to reduce my susceptibility to any irritation. It was around this time however, that I started to feel a little irritated with all the injecting.

I’d been trying to stay positive but self-pity was creeping in and with that the “why me?” mentality and the “I don’t want to be putting these drugs into my body” way of thinking. There was fear there too, and I caught myself buying into it a little as I questioned whether the drugs were working and caught myself analysing the subtle changes I was feeling such as increased tiredness. I also started fretting a little about the fact I didn’t feel quite myself, which felt a bit strange having spent so many years of my life trying to feel normal and hormonally balanced.

Fortunately, I had the motto “do not give in to self-pity” clearly ingrained in my mind. This was soon joined by another one, “suck it up”, which my IVF friend had said me when I started to complain a little to her.  Both these mottos worked a treat, especially the “suck it up” one, because it’s true, if you’ve made the decision to do IVF then you need to suck it up and get on with it. It’s never going to be easy or plain sailing, but its all about the outcome and my friend was right, self pity and feeling sorry for myself was not going to help, I literally had to suck it up and get on with it. 

On day ten I attended the Medical Specialist Group for blood tests and yet another transvaginal ultrasound scan to see how I had responded to the stimulatory injections.  The specialist measured the number and size of the follicles, which he recorded and faxed immediately to Wessex. This scan essentially provided an indication of the number of eggs being produced and gave an idea as to the potential timing of the trigger injection and egg recovery. I also had to have blood test to check the levels of oestrogen in my blood.

At this stage of the treatment there is a risk that you produce very few or no follicles, so that the cycle has to be abandoned.  There is also the risk that you produce over 20 follicles (over stimulation), and again the cycle may have to be abandoned because to continue could prove a risk to health. This is one of the many reasons that IVF can be stressful because at every stage of the process there is the risk that it’s not going to plan and that you may not achieve the outcome through no fault of your own – its not an exact science after all - and the build up to an appointment can make you feel anxious.

Still we were lucky in that everything appeared to be going to plan and Wessex told us that I would now need to attend a scan with them at the clinic in Southampton on day 12, two days away.  We had hoped that this would be the case, so we were prepared to a point - I had already booked the time off from work and now we could book the ferry. We decided we would take the car with us this time as we knew we would need to be in the UK for a few days awaiting egg retrieval and then a further few days until embryo transfer (on the basis the sperm fertilised the eggs).

We had arranged to stay with one of E’s best friends who was living on his own in a lovely house in Surbiton, Surrey at that time.  It was only an hour and half drive away from the clinic, which was fine, and meant that we could experience a home-away-from-home environment and keep our costs down, because ICSI is certainly not cheap.  At that point, February 2013, the treatment, including the initial consultations, screening, testing and now ICSI had cost us £5,885, excluding any travel costs and expenses.  Of course the expense merely adds to the stress of it all!  So we were very indebted and grateful to our friend for putting us up free of charge for the remainder of this treatment cycle.

We left Guernsey on the Thursday teatime and took the overnight boat to Portsmouth. I remember feeling rather excited that it was well and truly happening and that I should be having my final injections the next morning. The injections do begin to get a bit waring to be honest and that’s after only a short time - some IVF treatment plans can be rather lengthy in comparison. Still, I was just hoping that the scan at the clinic would confirm the end of the injecting and we could now get on with the whole egg retrieval process.

Injections aside, we had a whole other focus going on in our lives that evening. E had put his back out. Talk about timing!  Mind you perhaps it’s no surprise really.  IVF is stressful for everyone involved, including partners. Admittedly E does have a weakness in his back having broken it twice, but that aside, I am fairly convinced that it was emotional – the lower back has some connection to us feeling supported and stable, grounded then.  I’m not sure that IVF lends itself to a supported, stable or grounded state of being! Emotional or not, the pain was manifesting physically and E was in quite some pain, not ideal on a 12-hour boat crossing!

We arrived into Portsmouth at 6am the following morning, which was some relief for E – it had been a long night trying to sleep comfortably.  We drove around for a bit before parking in a relatively empty underground carpark, which is where E administered what I hoped would be the final morning injection. It all felt a bit suspicious and seedy being injected in such an environment but needs must. We then had a few hours of waiting ahead of us until my appointment at Wessex where I was due yet another transvaginal ultrasound scan so the consultant could determine if my eggs were ready for retrieval.

E was now experiencing acute pain and getting himself a little anxious about it.  I was sympathetic but also found it rather fascinating that the closer we got to potential completion of the IVF process, the worse his back was getting! There was inevitably some fear there about the life changing nature of this whole procedure and I began to question whether on some level this is the reason that some women have unsuccessful cycles – the fear of the life changing nature of becoming pregnant and the inner resistance this creates. It’s a complicated one.

E was of course adamant that his back pain was merely physical and with that he was concerned that movement was making it worse.  He was getting shooting pain down his left leg and was worried about potential nerve damage.  We discussed our options and E decided that he wanted to go to Southampton General A&E to see a doctor and get peace of mind – and some painkillers – if nothing else.

I can’t say this was an ideal way to spend the time we had before the Wessex appointment but I guess it saved us driving around aimlessly killing time.  Instead we sat around aimlessly killing time!  It may have been early in the morning but the A&E department was already busy and triage certainly didn’t consider E a high priority.  On the one hand this was good as it merely served to confirm my belief that much of the pain was emotional, but it also meant that I had to go to Wessex on my own, and have my first scan without E being there with me.

It was clearly the day for challenges.  The female consultant who undertook the scan decided that my eggs were not quite ready for collection, they needed a few more days to mature further.  My heart sank and I had to really hold back the tears. I didn’t want to think that the eggs weren’t developing properly. I also really didn’t want any more drugs injected into my body. I was done with them. Still, I had little control over this and the consultant prescribed another dose of the medication costing me £84. One starts to get a little flippant about the cost, merely handing over one’s debit card and hoping for the best!

E was waiting for me by the time I made it back to the hospital. The doctor had undertaken some tests and concluded that his back wasn’t bad enough to warrant any additional treatment. He was sent on his way with a prescription for some strong painkillers instead. E seemed calmer now he’d seen a doctor and I guess I was also calmer now I’d seen the consultant. While taking additional drugs was not ideal, it was just one of those things and a reminder that IVF is not an exact science and everyone responds to the drugs differently. Funny that we should both now be on drugs!

From Southampton we drove straight up to Surbiton, an hour and a half away, and settled ourselves into our friend’s welcoming home. Aside from the familiarity, I also enjoyed the fact there was no Wi-Fi in the house at that time.  While this does take some getting used to if you are used to frequently going online, it is actually incredibly refreshing. I felt like I could properly retreat from the world and focus on me! This may sound self-indulgent, but I believe there is necessity to this when undertaking IVF. I joked, however, that E was determined it wasn’t all about me, because his back was making it a little all about him too!

All this self-indulgence meant I spent my evenings enjoying a relaxing bath and watching Downton Abbey in bed on my laptop while channelling Reiki onto my tummy.  I practiced a lot of Reiki on myself during this period, I was keen to energise the growing eggs with as much energy as possible to ensure that they were as healthy as possible.  Not only that but Reiki is healing and relaxing by its very nature so I was able to use it to help to heal the bruising from the injections and ease myself to sleep.

The next morning, Saturday, E administered the last Cetrotide antagonist injection, hoorah! I celebrated that afternoon with a yoga class with Aram Raffy at TriYoga in Chelsea.  I had discovered Aram a few months previously and loved his active vinyasa style of teaching. I find this style really helps me to get out of my head and into my body. Aram is a popular teacher and I enjoyed being in a busy class with all that group energy. It was just what I needed at the time and I was buzzing for a good while afterwards – the joy of yoga!

Back at the house in Surbiton and later that evening, 10.30pm to be exact, E injected me with the final injection of this IVF cycle, called Ovitrelle. This synthetic hormone helps to trigger the release of the eggs by the ovaries (ovulation) and stimulates the final maturation of eggs during the IVF cycle.  Hoorah! This meant I was done with the injections and that much closer to the outcome.  I cannot tell you the sense of relief I felt and the joy that followed. No more injections!

I was fortunate though in that I didn’t experience too many side effects, or at least, I didn’t allow myself to succumb to them. As I’ve previously mentioned fertility drugs stimulate the production of follicles in the ovaries and the production of the hormone oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen can cause side effects including breast tenderness, headaches, tiredness and vaginal discharge.

Also, when the ovaries are distended with follicles, abdominal discomfort may result from the stretching of the wall of the ovary. I don’t know whether it was the acupuncture, or the Reiki, or the yoga, or the Arnica, but I didn’t feel any pain. Yes, I knew something was going on, but I didn’t experience any discomfort as such, just irritation at having to have injections each day! But here I was now, injections over and almost there, only another day to go, without any medication (hoorah!) and then we were due at Wessex for egg retrieval.

On the day off from medication – the Sunday – I chanced upon a workshop at TriYoga in Chelsea with Steward Gilchrist.  I knew nothing about Stewart when I booked the session, but I quickly discovered that he is indeed a rare gem and is a Scottish version of my initial yoga teacher, Lance, an inspiring Australian. The session was all on balance, which was definitely a happy coincidence as I needed all the balancing I could get ahead of egg retrieval the next day.

The class was super busy and super active and absolutely perfect for my needs in that moment. I thought of nothing else but how I was placing my body on the mat and how I was breathing. I would highly recommend this approach to preparing for egg retrieval. I felt cleansed of the residue from the drugs.   I also felt that I had done what I could to energise my eggs with as much prana and light vibrational energy as possible.  I was hoping that now those eggs would be shining brightly and would go on to form beautiful embryos full of life. I certainly felt like I’d given it my best shot, and now it was just a matter of getting on with the next stage of the IVF cycle.