Pregnancy and trying to conceive is a rollercoaster of a journey, up, down, loops, fast, slow, this is my second embryo transfer rollercoaster journey.
Before the second embryo transfer the clinic in Spain – Institut Marques suggested that I have a Hysteroscopy to check that my uterus was in tiptop shape, basically what happens is that they fill your uterus with water and put a camera inside to look at it, then take a biopsy or two (or in my case four) to check for infections. The procedure is all done while you are awake and doesn’t take long or hurt too much. It was kind of fascinating seeing inside my uterus it was pale and blobby looking!
The results of the hysteroscopy were that I had Endometritis (very different from Endometriosis) which is basically an inflammation of the uterus lining and apparently I had a small Ecoli infection, so I was given antibiotics and ibuprofen to take for 2 weeks to get rid of both. To be honest I was kind of glad that they found something, partly because I was spending the money, but also partly because I hoped that by finding something and fixing it meant the chance for success on round two would be much higher.
I decided this time around to get acupuncture to help get my body ready and relax me for the transfer. I found a Chinese medicine place in London (where I was staying), used a Groupon voucher, and did four sessions, once a week in the lead-up to the transfer. I have tried acupuncture before for stress and found that it really worked for me. I also booked in for acupuncture at the clinic both right before the transfer and right after – I thought let’s go all out and hope that this works this time.
Back on The Plane
I booked my flight to Barcelona for the third time, I know that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but I did feel that this could be it. This time my youngest brother came with me, well meeting me in Barcelona (flying in from Italy) and staying with me for three days, so we have a mini holiday. Plus I booked a hotel by the sea, I’d really missed ocean swimming being away from Sydney, so it is time to get back into it.
The day of the transfer we go for a pre-transfer swim in the ocean, it feels so good to be back in the water, I feel good and that this time it could happen, even though I don’t want to get my hopes up, it is so hard not to.
First up is a super relaxing hour of acupuncture, then the transfer, here we are in the theatre waiting for the transfer to happen. I have to admit that it was actually really lovely having my brother here with me, as this time there was a lot of waiting around for the acupuncture, the transfer, and then more acupuncture. If you are doing this solo, it is good to have someone with you to distract you from what is about to happen and how much you REALLY hope it works.
The acupuncture was fabulous…. I felt sooooo relaxed, definitely more relaxed than last time. I’d definitely recommend it, I think that your body always holds more stress than we realise.
Here is the place that the doctors put my embryo in my uterus, circled in red. This time my egg donor was 18 years old, blonde with green eyes, and the sperm donor, dark hair with olive skin. The nurse assisting with the procedure said it was lucky to be able to see the implantation spot on the screen and printed me out a copy of the scan for luck.
Walking out I really felt that this could happen, that I had done everything (except losing weight admittedly) to make it happen.
After the transfer and my second acupuncture we went over the road for lunch with chips – apparently, they help it stick, this may be an old wives tale, but to be honest I’ll take anything I can get. If you have ever been in the Facebook groups for IVF you will see lots of photos of women holding chips (usually McDonalds) in the car after their transfer.
It was then time for a spot of apres embryo transfer shopping, I bought 3 new dresses, thinking as I bought them, it will remind me of the day I did the transfer in Barcelona and might be lucky. It is amazing what we tell ourselves. Finally back to the hotel to relax, I was pretty exhausted, even though all I’d done was wait around and have acupuncture!
The 2 Week Wait
Unfortunately due to COVID I had to fly back to Sydney five days after the transfer and straight into hotel quarantine. I landed in Adelaide (only place I could get a flight to) on the Friday and had to wait until the Monday to test. Being in hotel quarantine meant that I couldn’t have any blood tests to check my HCG levels, well that is what I was told when I arrived at the hotel.
I had four pregnancy tests with me, three instream tests, and one blood test that you could do at home (not available in Australia unfortunately). I caved and did one on the Saturday morning, it was negative, but I thought, it’s 2 days early, so try not to worry. I was literally pacing the room (12 steps from end to end) every day as exercise while I waited for Monday morning.
The Pregnancy Tests
I woke up early, about 6 am I think, and jumped out of bed to do my first wee of the day on the test. Then I waited. It was negative 🙁
I tried the blood pregnancy test version, I had to prick my finger, suck up the blood into the pipette and drop it on the cassette and wait. It was negative 🙁
I then knew it just wasn’t going to happen, I cried, and I cried, basically most of Monday was spent lying in bed crying. I texted my family and friends but to be honest I didn’t really want to talk to them about it, I mean what could they say. Nothing to take the pain away and being in hotel quarantine there were no hugs to be had. Plus I had to keep taking the IVF drugs in case there was still a chance. I was so over the injections, especially when it felt like it was for nothing.
It was on this day that I got a call from the hotel quarantine mental health nurse, I told her what had happened and explained that the doctor I had spoken to on Friday when I arrived had said I couldn’t have a blood test until I left hotel quarantine as it was too dangerous as I might have covid. She understood and said she would get the on-call doctor for that day to call me and talk to me about it, and she would call me back the next day.
When the hotel doctor called, she understood the situation and agreed that I needed a blood test to check my HCG levels so that I could stop taking the IVF medications if I wasn’t pregnant. One of the IVF medicines was injecting myself with Clexane every day, Clexane is a blood thinner and not something that you want to be on if you don’t have to be. Finally, the injections were worth it! The doctor arranged for a blood test to happen the next day.
The blood collection guy finally arrived on Wednesday morning in a full hazmat biohazard outfit complete with face mask, shield, booties and gloves! I was in my pjs and mask.
Later that evening the doctor called with the results, it was equivocal. YUK more waiting, as equivocal means I could be or I could not be pregnant. Basically when they test your levels of HCG 5 and under is not pregnant and 5-24 is in the equivocal range, then 25+ is definitely pregnant. When you are in hotel quarantine you have A LOT of time to google! This result wasn’t actually very helpful, as it didn’t give me an actual number and tell me if I should stop the IVF drugs or not. The doctor arranged another pregnancy blood test for Friday (in 2 days) to measure my HCG levels, with the theory that your HCG levels should double every 48-72 hours.
More waiting, I played bridge online, I did a jigsaw, injected myself, put progesterone pessaries inside me 3 times a day but time does not go that fast in hotel quarantine despite all those fun activities.
On Friday afternoon the blood guy arrived again. Took my blood and I waited some more. The doctor called to tell me that I had an HCG of 20.4 – I was pregnant!!!!! WOOO HOOOO Now the feeling was excited and a scary OMG this is actually happening.
The doctor told me that she wouldn’t risk anyone’s health to do any more blood tests, so I would have to get another test when I got back to Sydney, which was 7 days away. I spoke to my GP on telehealth and organised the form to get a test when I got back.
The next six days were hard, so hard, I had spotting, I had small gushes of blood, I felt sick, I felt fine, I googled and googled. I didn’t realise that spotting was common, I didn’t realise that putting progesterone pessaries in your vagina can cause irritation so I had to put them up my bum instead. I felt sick and thought YIPPEE this is good, I was so bloated that I wore my PJ bottoms most of the time, they don’t tell you about that sneaky side effect on the box.
I escaped from the hotel quarantine at 7.30 am on Friday, September 3rd after a lot of worrying, finger crossing, and hoping that it would stick. I flew to Sydney and home after nearly 12 weeks away. Excited, nervous and looking forward to everything, but also knowing that I needed to take it one day at a time and that most miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks and I was in week 6. I went off to the blood place and got tested and then went to the supermarket shopping. I felt so sick I really thought that I was going to throw up in Coles, I was going around like I was on Supermarket Sweep!
Monday we got the blood test back, my HCG had dropped to 4. My doctor said it could be a lab issue, let’s do it again in case.
Wednesday we got the blood test back HCG still 4 – NO LONGER PREGNANT
I asked my Doctor if I could go for an ultrasound, I wanted to make sure that there really was no chance before I stopped the meds, and had read about the Hook effect where your HCG levels are SOOOO high that it shows up in blood tests as not pregnant. Yep, super super slim hope. My doctor kindly agreed, understanding how much I had put into this.
The ultrasound showed nothing, no embryo, no egg sack no nothing. I cried right there and then. I had the most unsympathetic ultrasound woman who said with surprise in her voice “oh you are upset”. Driving home crying it felt so unfair, I had traveled to Europe in a pandemic, had what felt like a million covid tests, paid a fortune for covid tests, flights, medications and the IVF and it hadn’t worked. Life sucks. It still feels unfair now 4 months on. I know that life isn’t fair, but sometimes I feel that you should really get points for trying.
What I learnt
I had a call with the IVF clinic in Spain when I got back and basically, the only thing I could have done differently was to lose weight, there are no stats, but doctors think that if you are closer to the recommended BMI then you are more likely to get pregnant and more likely not to miscarry.
I learnt that I really do want a baby, on one hand, I am kicking myself for realising this so late in my life when options are more limited, and wish that I had been told earlier how hard getting pregnant could be.
Do not do your 2 weeks wait in hotel quarantine, that is NOT fun, you need to be around people to actually give you a hug when things don’t go right.
Make sure that you have access to blood tests after a transfer so that you can reassure yourself as many pregnancy tests only measure positive with an HCG of over 25, which is why mine all showed negative. Or buy the ones that measure an HCG of 10 as positive.
Doctors, unfortunately, don’t know all the answers to pregnancy and fertility and the effect on each woman. So much is still trial and error.
I hope that my pregnancy story has been helpful, insightful, interesting. I still don’t know how my journey is going to end, I am contemplating going back for round three next year, but first, need to lose weight so I can tick off that box as done.