Part 21 - A Frozen Embryo Cycle

Once my fortieth birthday was celebrated I felt a pressure – admittedly my own - to try another round of IVF and use one of the three frozen embryos stored at the clinic in Southampton.  It was July and Elijah was due to turn two in the November and I was aware that time was ticking and we weren’t getting any younger.

The miracle of science means that embryos can be frozen in time and thawed for use in future cycles, depending on their quality. This is called a frozen cycle and means that you have to take medication to prevent ovulation and to prepare the womb for embryo transfer. Once the endometrium (lining of the womb) is of the right thickness, further medication is introduced and the thawing process takes place.

The embryos are thawed in the laboratory and assessed as to whether they have fully survived the thawing process. Sometimes embryos don’t survive the thawing process, or aren’t of a good enough quality to be used, and if this happens then there is little that can be done, aside from meet with one of the consultants to discuss further options.

I have always appreciated that there are no guarantees with IVF, but I was feeling desperately uncomfortable with the thought that you could take a whole heap of medication to get your body ready to receive an embryo, only for the embryo to die during the thawing process, or not be of a good enough quality to be used in that particular IVF cycle.

It was for this reason that I decided I would continue breastfeeding despite the fact that breastfeeding is a big ‘no, no’ in the IVF world. I had spent months deliberating about this and had even had counselling to help me make a decision.

However, I now knew with complete certainty that I wanted to breastfeed Elijah until he was two years old regardless of the IVF; I was keen to do all I could to promote and support his immune system, plus I definitely wasn’t (and I didn’t think he was either) ready to give up this beautifully intimate experience.

I read extensively on the subject and took much comfort in the fact that I was not alone. Many women go through the breastfeeding/IVF quandary and with good reason. For many, this may be their only chance to breastfeed as there are no guarantees that the IVF will work for them again.

Furthermore, while the clinics insist that you stop due to the potential harmful effect on the breastfed toddler or child, there is little research or evidence to quantify this.  It is more due to concern about the effect that breastfeeding has on a woman’s hormonal status and the manner in which this may impact on the effectiveness of the IVF drugs.

Like most women in my position, I was effectively hedging my bets. It’s not an easy decision to make and I was easily judged for it. But at the end of the day, right, or wrong, it was the decision that I felt most comfortable with for all concerned, and E supported me with it.

We had a telephone set-up appointment with a nurse at Wessex, to run through the process.  There were lots of forms for both E and I to complete and I had to have another HIV test as my previous one had expired.  This was slightly annoying as it was yet another IVF expense, although the frozen embryo cycle was going to cost us significantly less than the first cycle at approximately £3,000 (including our travel and blood tests etc.).

I had to attend MSG in Guernsey to be reminded how to inject myself and to pick up my prescription for the drugs.  My heart felt heavy and I couldn’t get excited like I had done on the first attempt.  I didn’t really want to be injecting myself with all the drugs, and I felt the self-pity seeping in before I’d even begun.

I was very well aware that IVF is hard work. It demands metal, emotional and physical strength and I was tired. The constant sleepless nights had taken their toll, plus our lifestyle hadn’t slowed down at all.  It was the summer and the summer is active in nature and I was active with it.  I didn’t know how to stop, or to get to bed early, or to do any of those things that might encourage a more restful state of being.

I also hadn’t really prepared myself beyond reducing my wine consumption and eating as healthily as I could.  I was still practicing yoga, but not in a manner that might support the IVF. I didn’t seem to have the time to meditate or to practice Yoga Nidra as I had done previously and anyway the Sankalpa, “I am pregnant with a healthy baby” felt forced and didn’t resonate.

Furthermore, while I went for a few acupuncture sessions, I did this because I felt that I had to, and even then it was tricky finding the time, and I would rush in and rush out to get on with whatever else I had scheduled into my busy days. I certainly didn’t manage to find the time to go for reflexology and Reiki sessions; having a toddler in my life and a busy job certainly challenged this.

Day 19 of that cycle finally arrived and with that I started a seven-day course of Provera. This is a synthetic form of progesterone which the clinic uses to suppress the natural cycle so that they can then control it through drugs. It’s a tablet, which felt strong on my liver and I wasn’t best pleased about having my cycle suppressed like this.

I am fascinated by women’s cycles and the manner in which these can be so insightful about how we are living our lives and our mental, emotional and spiritual state of being. We have a womb wisdom and I wasn’t sure I liked my womb being artificially manipulated like this.  I had a level of resistance to the process, and angst about what was happening to my body.

On day 21, I had to start injecting the drug, Buserelin. Buserelin is a synthetic form of a hormone which occurs naturally in the body. It works by acting on the pituitary gland in the brain to stop the production of natural hormones that control the release of eggs from the ovaries. E administered the injections for me and I tried my best to just suck it up again and accept my reality, but I quickly grew weary of the drug regime.

Ten days later my period started and four days after that I had to attend MSG for a blood test.  It was such a relief that this testing could be done on Guernsey so that I didn’t need to travel to Southampton. The test checks the levels of the hormone oestrogen in your blood to see whether suppression has occurred.

Fortunately, I was suitably supressed and with that we were now able to move to the GEEP cycle. It really felt like a long and drawn out treatment schedule as I had been taking drugs for 15 days at that point, and was now about to begin a new cycle of the treatment plan.

This cycle involved a reduction in the dosage of the Buserelin, although this still needed to be injected daily.  Also, I now had to start Progynova, oestrogen tablets which are administered in order to prepare the endometrium for implantation. I had to take 2mg dosage for five days, before the dosage was increased to 4mg for four days and then up to 6mg for the remainder of the treatment.

Day 15 of the GEEP cycle and I began taking the Cyclogest pessaries twice a day too. Cyclogest contains the active ingredient progesterone, which acts on the womb lining and causes it to thicken in preparation for a fertilised egg to implant. On the basis that pregnancy occurs, this medication is continued until the the placenta develops fully and begins to produce progesterone to continue to support the pregnancy.

This meant that each morning I was now injecting Buserelin and taking 2mg of Progynova and 400mg of Cyclogest.  At lunchtime I had to take an additional 2mg of Progynova and then in the evening I took the last 2mg of the Progynova and also an additional 400mg of the Cyclogest.  While inserting a pessary into the vagina twice a day is not ideal, at least it bypassed the liver, so that was one less thing to process.

On day 17 of the GEEP cycle I had to attend Southampton for a blood test, with the possibility of embryo transfer a few days later. It wasn’t ideal timing as this coincided with a pre-booked yoga course with Cyndi Lee in London that I was due to attend with a friend.

This meant having to tell my friend what was happening, which was unfortunate as we had hoped to keep the IVF a secret, not only to make it more intimate but to reduce the pressure when it came to the testing. Furthermore, while I tried to convince myself that a yoga course was the ideal environment for an embryo to take root, rushing up to London with family now in tow was likely going to challenge that.

We also now had two days between the blood test and embryo transfer to fill and I felt this overwhelming and all encompassing need to go to Glastonbury. We’d visited briefly when Elijah was three months old, and something about the energy of the place had gotten under my skin. I knew I needed to return.

They say that Glastonbury is the heart chakra of the world and home of the Mother Goddess. It is located where the St Michael and St Mary ley lines meet and has an incredibly healing and nurturing energy. It attracts spiritual seekers and those connecting to the other worlds. For me, it feels a little like coming home.

It wasn’t until we were in Glastonbury however that I realised how much I needed its energy and its healing. This was validated to me on the eve of embryo transfer when I went for an Angel Reiki session with a practitioner in the centre of town.  The lady commented that I wasn’t in the here and now, floating in the ether instead. She was right, I was aware that I had been ungrounded and disconnected since the trauma of the placenta previa, two years before.

The lady knew that I was undertaking IVF and I knew that she knew that there wasn’t a soul waiting to come in.  How could it as I had no grounding or anchoring to draw it in. It was a desperately uncomfortable feeling, and I didn’t like that she could see my truth so clearly through the layers of denial I’d created.

It felt strange being in the centre of town that afternoon as I felt as if I was floating through it and I saw others floating through it too.  I was deeply aware that what we put out is reflected back to us and I was uncomfortable seeing so many lost souls wandering around. I couldn’t keep pretending that all was well and there was a painful recognition that I too was fragmented and disconnected to my soul.

Walking up Glastonbury Tor later that afternoon, I wondered whether I had been drawn to Glastonbury to ground ahead of embryo transfer, as if I might wing it at the last minute. It’s a ridiculous thought really as you don’t just ‘wing’ IVF. There was no chance of that regardless as I continued to self sabotage into the evening drinking some wine with a particularly spicy meal, which I’m very well aware imbalances my energy.

A part of me was hugely resisting the IVF process, because deep down, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I wasn’t ready. How could I be? I wasn’t sure who I was and what I wanted anymore.

It was a fascinating experience as it gave me a real insight into the energy of manifestation and how we absolutely need to be whole and aligned, and how we need to feel deep within with every ounce of our being whatever it is we’re trying to create and bring in.

I certainly wasn’t feeling it.  I felt like a fraud praying for a healthy pregnancy because this wasn’t my truth, so I prayed for other things instead, things that seemed more pressing and which had nothing to do with the IVF process.

The next day we returned to Southampton for embryo transfer. We had arranged for my Dad to fly over from Guernsey for the day to look after Elijah while we attended the clinic. It wasn’t that the clinic had said we couldn’t take him with us, more so that they had not been encouraging of it, and we felt it should be an intimate affair without having to manage him.

However, it was far from intimate. We didn’t know the consultant or the nurse and we felt a lack of connection to either. The embryologist explained that they had thawed the two remaining embryos (3-day) leaving the blastocyst (6-day embryo) frozen. One of the embryos had not survived the thawing process and the other one they had managed to culture to blastocyst stage.

This threw me a little as I had expected to use the blastocyst frozen at the time Elijah was conceived, but the clinic felt that we should use the recently cultured one instead.

The embryologist showed us an example image of the blastocyst we would be using to demonstrate the quality of it, and explained that it was of slightly less quality than the one we had in storage but that the difference was miniscule.

However, that miniscule difference meant a lot to me and I knew then and there that it wasn’t going to take. It didn’t help that we had trouble identifying the star of the embryo as it was released into my uterus. It just all felt like such a clinical procedure that was over within minutes.

Joining my Dad and Elijah for lunch in the park, I could certainly feel the expansive energy of the new life within me, and I shall always be grateful for this opportunity. However, over the weekend, on the yoga course in London, I struggled to feel it, and knew it wasn’t going to make it.

I’d known for a while that I needed to experience a failed IVF cycle, to know how it felt.  A number of women have come to me for Reiki who had experienced failed cycles.  I could feel in their energy that there was some resistance to the process and that there was a lack of grounding and faith or trust in the process or their ability to create.

Furthermore, I had a sense that the IVF was part of their journey towards greater healing and connection to self.  It had arisen in their life as an opportunity to go deeper, to do the inner work required to truly ‘know thyself’, and to connect perhaps for the first time, or more deeply even, with the spiritual element of all life.

I had come to recognise this during our first attempt at IVF, how the process had increased my faith in, and connection to Source, and encouraged me to drop into the space that supported this. My practise had deepened and awakened me to the potential to heal myself and know my own truth. It had been an empowering experience in manifestation too.

Here now, I knew there was more healing work to be done.  I was quite literally sitting on an awful lot of anger and frustration in my pelvis.  My faith had been challenged with the placenta previa and the taxing introduction to motherhood, and I knew that I needed to make peace with this before truly inviting another soul in.

Still, this awareness didn’t make the 12-day waiting period to take the pregnancy test any the less challenging.  It was awful. I slept fitfully, waking with this frantic need to feel the energy of the embryo within my tummy.  And even though deep down I knew that the IVF wasn’t working, there was still a level of denial that had me trying to convince myself that I could feel the energy.

The days passed slowly and I spent a lot of time with my hands on my tummy, feeling anxious and daunted. Fear had taken root and I couldn’t seem to shift it.

I’m not sure I really slept the night before taking the test. By 5am I’d had enough and took myself off to the bathroom shaking with the apprehension. This time I didn’t bother to take the test through to E, I just left it sitting on the edge of the bath while I went downstairs to put the kettle on.  By the time I returned the test was complete and there it was, what I knew already, “Not pregnant”. And with that, I burst into tears.