Everybody says the same old cliché that the IVF journey is like taking a ride on a roller coaster - but no one really tells you that it's like riding one wearing blind folds! That pretty much sums up this experience to me. Despite all my extensive research, and all the non-asked-for-free-advise and warnings from well meaning but stressful friends and relatives - you can never be fully prepared enough until you take a dive into the actual IVF experience.
Having said that - what I would have loved to hear (and prepare myself for) before I had started IVF is that no two journeys are ever the same - so for god’s sake please don't stress yourself with other people's agonizing stories (both personal accounts and on-line blogs) of how physically and emotionally painful it is and how many cycles you might have to do.
To address the first point, (and I should start with the admission that I have a very low threshold for physical pain and especially the variety that comes attached to a needle,) I was pleasantly surprised to find the whole needle pricking business to be relatively innocuous - say out of a scale of 0-10, (0 being no pain and 10 being unbearable pain) I found it to be around 2 in the non-painful needles and 4 in the more painful type jabs, which is not bad compared to what I had built up in my head from others feedback. My trick to getting through the more painful ones was counting how long each injection was, and I found that they hardly lasted more than 4 seconds max. Regarding the surgeries, I had anticipated that they would be painful to me - but I opted to be put under anesthesia for the egg pick up procedure (which was optional) and again anesthesia for the embryo transfer (which was mandatory) - and to my surprise I had no pain during the procedures (obviously) as well as the post surgery period. (This in fact made me more worried as I expected at least a little bit of pain as a normal person!) Another aspect that made IVF relatively pain free for me was that I did not have to take progesterone injections, thanks to the advances in medical science, and instead had to insert progesterone capsules which is akin to wearing a tampon.
Another piece of advice I would have welcomed prior to starting IVF is that it helps a lot to start the process with being able to accept the highs and lows at every step of the journey (going with the whole roller coaster analogy) and how at one moment things are looking bright but as you move forward there is also a downer you have to deal with. I found this to be a cyclical process from the start, where one moment my egg count was looking too low, then after changing my injections to another type, the egg count went higher, but then not high enough, to finding out I had enough embryos to go ahead with the process, then not having enough to freeze, but having two good quality embryos to implant in me. It can be nerve wracking to expect too much and get too pulled down by each turn in this road. The pace of IVF can also though you off as treatment can take such a rapid course in the first half prior of treatment and later decrescendos to a snail’s pace in the dreaded two week wait.
Connected to this last point of accepting the highs and lows of IVF, another piece of advice is that beyond a point, you just have to take a leap of faith and put trust in the process and the doctors (assuming you have done enough research into the doctor you ultimately choose.) I don t mean this to say that you should not use your head and ask all the necessary questions in the world - by all means it is important to get all your queries and doubts and confusions answered. (I know for a fact I hounded my doctors with my 15 point questions on a regular basis!) However, I found it is extremely helpful to mentally and emotionally take one step and day at a time, feel good that you have gotten so far, and then think about what you have to do immediately after, instead of worrying about what if this happens or that happens or if things go wrong down the line. I recall worrying about how I had a low AMH level and how I would probably have to do at least three cycles from what friends had told me, but to my joy I have conceived in my first attempt! Even now at times I worry that this might happen and that might happen, but then I try to remember that whatever worries I hold in me is something that gets stored in my body and affects the conceiving and pregnancy process, and then I allow myself give into to the moment and relax...
My last recommendation is to be kind to yourself - it's so easy to fret about you should have done and could have done and should do but I found all my body needed to do was relax, so take this as an opportunity to pamper yourself, especially during the two week wait where it's easy to let your imagination get carried away with itself. Therefore, having small little things to look forward to is a helpful way to get your mind occupied and off wondering what will happen this cycle.
For all of you who are beginning this life -changing voyage, perhaps as nervous and excited as I was, I wish you all the best and sincerely hope you have as much a positive experience as I have had!