The IVF Journey Part 6 - Embryo Transfer

Embryo transfer – or in this case blastocyst transfer – was due to take place late morning on a wintry March 2nd 2013. In many respects it was perfect timing. I’m a Pagan at heart and and we were a month away from having celebrated Imbolc, which in the Celtic seasonal calendar marked the beginning of the lambing season and signalled the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life – the reawakening of the Earth.

The original word Imbolg means “in the belly”, which explains the underlying energy of this time. All is pregnant and expectant – and only just visible if at all – like the gentle curve of a “just-showing” pregnancy. It brings with it the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring. There is hope, light at the end of the tunnel. It is a time to celebrate the returning light and witness Life’s insatiable appetite for rebirth.

This is a time to let go of the past and look to the future, clearing out the old, and making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. It’s a good time for spring cleaning and wish-making. It’s also a good time to prepare for what you wish to accomplish in the months ahead. At this time, you will want to clarify and refine what you began to work on at Yule.

Imbolc is also a time for celebrating the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Brigid is the Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Smithcraft and Midwifery. She is the Goddess of fire, of the sun and of the hearth. She brings fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. She is the triple Goddess (maiden, mother and crone) but at Imbolc she is in her Maiden and virgin aspect.

It was appropriate therefore. I was a Maiden wanting to become a Mother. Ripe with new potential and the stirrings of new-life force. I had begun the journey some time ago, but made my intentions very clear at Yule. The dream of pregnancy was now becoming more of a reality, and it felt like nature was supporting this with her Spring energy. On some level, unconscious though I had been of it, it was indeed perfect timing for new beginnings!

We were the only patients in the clinic that morning, which made the clinic feel less clinical somehow, more relaxed and personal. It helped that the consultant and nurse were both known to us too. They were the ones we had initially met in Guernsey, and who had been with us at our initial appointment in the clinic in January, the consultant having delivered the good news that we could begin ICSI.

It’s funny really how life unfolds. Initially when E and I first talked about having a baby, I prayed for a very conscious conception.  And now here we were experiencing exactly that.  Admittedly it was absolutely not in the manner I had imagined – think beautiful environment with rose petals brightening the room, candles flickering and atmospheric music playing in the background – but a conscious moment nonetheless.

It’s a good reminder that we must be careful what we wish for, and to let go of any expectation of how our wish may manifest as it is rarely in the manner we anticipate. So here we found ourselves in a very clinical environment in Southampton, with monitors and scanners and a consultant and a nurse. It certainly wasn’t the stuff of dreams and I was aware that I was going to have to dig deep to find the spiritual in all this.

Still one does what one does and the clinic being less-clinic-like than it would be ordinarily (there being no other patients or members of staff rushing around) helped enormously. Our relationship with the consultant and nurse helped too. I feel very strongly that having a positive and friendly relationship with the staff supports the whole IVF process, and certainly makes embryo transfer the intimate experience it should be.

The appointment was running to schedule, which was a relief as my bladder was bothering me.  It has to be half full for the procedure but mine felt that it was fuller than this and it was too late to do anything about it! The nurse led us from the reception down the stairs to the theatre room. Here I was asked to remove my fluffy boots and leave them by the door, whilst E had to put what looked like blue plastic bags over his shoes.

We were then led into the theatre room where the consultant was busying herself. E was directed to the stool beside the bed and me to the bed itself as the embryologist joined us from the adjoining laboratory. She asked me to confirm my name to ensure that the blastocysts she was preparing for transfer were mine. This was certainly not a time for making mistakes and I was grateful for the security even if it did feel a little silly having to confirm who I was when it was obvious who I was!

The embryologist then showed us pictures of different quality blastocysts and explained that we had produced 3 very good quality grade blastocysts. Phew, this was a relief. It was certainly the outcome I had hoped and prayed for and I felt I had done all I could to help to achieve this, but of course you never really know, all you can do is be guided by your intuition. I felt pleased that my intuition had served me well and I felt quietly confident of a positive outcome now.

The embryologist advised that she had selected 2 of the blastocysts for transfer with the other remaining blastocyst being frozen for a future cycle (if we chose). It was strange.  As the embryologist explained this to us, I just had this all consuming feeling, a sense then, that that 1 remaining blastocyst would be very important to us one day. While I had certainly never intended to have 3 children, I also knew that there was no way I would be able to just let that blastocyst go to waste.

It was a situation I had discussed this with my IVF friend - the dilemma of what to do with any extra embryos that you may be lucky enough to create. It’s a wonderful position to find yourself in, when others have such difficulty in producing 1 quality embryo, let alone having a surplus like us. But it can create an issue because that’s potential new life in the embryos and it’s very difficult to just turn your back on that and let them go down the drain.

It was soon time for the transfer. While the embryologist returned to the laboratory to prepare the 2 chosen blastocysts, I was directed to a small changing cubicle at the side of the room to remove my tights and pants. From there I was directed onto the bed and had to shuffle down to its end so that my legs could be placed up into the dreaded stirrups again. E was still positioned beside me on his stool.

As we waited for the the embryologist to return, the lovely consultant took the opportunity to remind me what I should or shouldn’t be doing while we waited the twelve days until we could take a pregnancy test.  It was a little surreal hearing her talking about pregnancy tests, and especially that I may find myself pregnant in twelve day’s time.  It was really happening. Here we were, awaiting embryo transfer…which may well lead to pregnancy. Oh my gosh!

She reminded me to take the luteal support, which I had started taking a few days earlier in preparation for implantation and indeed pregnancy.  This is progesterone which is a hormone that helps to prepare the uterine lining to accept a fertilised egg and provide support for a developing embryo. It’s administered by way of a pessary, Cyclogest, which had to be inserted into the vagina morning and evening. Sore breasts and feeling emotional are the potential side effects.

The consultant mentioned a chance of some blood spotting and ‘period type’ pains following embryo transfer, and that one can feel a little bloated too. She explained that the embryos cannot become dislodged in the womb as they are held between the walls of the womb where surface tension forces are far greater than gravity. It was reassuring to hear this, because silly as it may sound it had crossed my mind and I didn’t want to do anything which may compromise a potential pregnancy.

She also advised that there is no current evidence to suggest that full and complete rest for the twelve days following transfer will improve the chances of a successful pregnancy. However, she did stress the fact that psychologically it’s important that a woman feels that she has done everything possible to promote potential implantation. Thus it’s a very personal choice about how you spend those twelve days.

There were things to avoid however, such as strenuous exercise, hot baths/saunas that raise your core body temperature, sexual intercourse, ibuprofen, smoky environments and drinking more than 3 caffeinated drinks a day. Other than that it was life as normal and I certainly intended to get back into the swing of things when I got home. I’ve never been one for sitting around and with twelve days to wait to take the test I knew that I would need to keep busy; that’s just my way!

The embryologist returned to the room and I re-confirmed my name to her, feeling particularly silly about doing so a second time! The consultant then set about inserting a small flexile catheter into my vagina, up through the cervical canal and into the womb.  We could see this all happening on the screen positioned at the end of the bed, the nurse sliding the ultra sound device over my tummy (and full bladder) to get the clearest view.

The sensation is similar to having a smear as I had been told to expect. It wasn’t painful as such, more so uncomfortable. I think it’s more the combination of the fact your legs are in stirrups, there’s pressure on your bladder and your cervix is making itself known to you. I gripped E’s hand and dropped my awareness to my breath, practicing the Ujaii breath, in and out, deepening the inhalation and lengthening the exhalation.

The consultant found what she believed to be the optimal position and before we knew it a star flashed on the screen as she released the blastocysts inside of me. It’s an amazing sight. My IVF friend had told me to look out for it and I’m pleased she did as it disappears quickly. I shall never forget that star though, the flash of life, all parts coming together, the essence of spirit, conception. It was truly magical.

Here’s another piece of advice for anyone going through IVF. Look for that star. It’s a blessing to be able to witness the vibrancy of life like this. Magical. It’s a fabulous reminder that we are all, essentially, stars. And to see this essence with your own eyes is a privilege. It was recorded on paper for us too so we will always have the reminder, although its forever etched in our memories and we still talk about it to this day.

The catheter was slowly removed and the embryologist was called back into the room to take it back to the lab to check that both blastocysts had indeed been released. It only took a short moment for her to confirm that yes, they’d both been released. With that my legs were released from the stirrups and I was helped off the bed and guided back to the changing area to put on my pants and tights. I was then able again to relieve my bladder, oh the relief!  

Then that was that.  It was certainly not the stuff of dreams! And it was absolutely not the environment I had in mind for the conscious conception either.  Nope, this was as clinical as you could get, quite literally in a clinic and with others watching on too.  Still here’s the thing, it was incredibly conscious because both E and I were incredibly, totally, utterly, absolutely aware, mindful, present and all those other words that mean you’re very conscious of that exact moment.

In truth if there’s one thing IVF brings you, it’s awareness of the process of conception.  How can you be anything but aware with all the appointments and scans, the drugs and examinations and everything having an exact timing to it? You certainly can’t pretend what’s happening.  You feel every single step of the journey from beginning to end.  Your nerves are tested time and time again.  There’s certainly no drunken “Wham, bam, thank you Mam” moments with IVF!

There’s also no certainty with IVF and both the nurse and the consultant wished us luck as we left the clinic. It was a roll of the dice. Back in the car we sat quietly for a moment, letting it all sink in. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was feeling very upbeat about everything. It had been a little like a whirlwind but here we were, procedure completed. With that I felt this overwhelming desire to give thanks.

So we drove straight to Salisbury, which has since become something of a place of pilgrimage for us both.  On the way I started channelling Reiki on my tummy, and I suddenly realised that I could feel the energy of the blastocysts inside me. It was truly incredible. It was an energy I had never felt previously and this both fascinated and overwhelmed me.

It’s difficult to put it into words but I have since come to recognise that it was the igniting energy of pure spirit. Its like the initial spark of a lighter or the initial flame of a candle.  It’s the momentary pause between an exhalation and an inhalation, the bit that causes the inhalation to arise again…it’s the energy of Imbolc, the Pagan festival of light, full of new beginnings and potential new life.

It’s the lightest and most expansive energy I have ever felt. So new and alive and vibrant. It’s difficult to liken it to anything else but I guess its a little like bottling up the energy at the very beginning of Spring. And here we were, at the very beginning of Spring too. There is magic in all life, the trouble is we are often too busy or too distracted to notice it.  Here I felt privileged and blessed to have the capacity to feel such magic within me. It’s pure unconditional love essentially.

In Salisbury we headed straight for the cathedral. I am repeatedly awestruck by the beauty of this magnificent building and place of worship.  It pulls me in.  There is something about its ancient energy that finds me gravitating to its walls, hands held against the cool stone. You can feel the love in the structure of the building and I wanted to infuse and bathe my body and my soul in this beautiful energy, so that the blastocysts would know they had come home.

I sat on my own at the very front of the cathedral, staring up at the stained glass windows ahead of me and losing myself in their magnificence. I’m not religious but spiritual certainly, and in that moment, my faith was stronger than it had ever been. Surprisingly, going through IVF had strengthened this. I felt like we had been supported and guided the whole way. Now I knew that I just had to maintain this faith and trust in the outcome whatever that may be.

For now, it was about doing what I felt to do to support the new life growing inside me. It was appropriate perhaps that the moon was waning and leading up to a new moon, which is a time for rest and energy restoration.  I intended to retreat with this waning energy. I prayed for Guidance and gave thanks. I now knew that I was about to be tested, not only in faith and trust but also in patience.