Seven women share the knowledge that would have made this tough process a little easier to handle
When you’re avoiding getting pregnant, it’s easy to feel like one little slip-up will end with a bun in the oven. The possibility can create a lot of vigilance around taking your birth control pills, making sure you always use condoms properly, or even opting for an IUD for that extra level of protection. That’s why when some women are finally ready to get pregnant and can’t, it seems like an especially cruel twist of fate. Even though in vitro fertilization exists, it’s usually not the one-shot, silver-bullet infertility solution it’s made out to be.
“IVF is not a guaranteed pregnancy,” Brian Levine, M.D., New York practice director for the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, tells SELF. During each cycle of IVF, the majority of women have a success rate of 20-35 percent, according to Resolve, the National Infertility Association. (Keep in mind that a couple with no fertility issues has about a 15-20 percent chance of conceiving each month.) That doesn’t mean your chances of getting pregnant with IVF are doomed, just that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to go about it. “It’s very rare that I have a couple I can’t treat, but people have to understand what treatment involves,” says Levine.
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Namely, IVF may require shots to stimulate your ovaries, other medications to help the eggs mature and prevent premature ovulation, timing your medications properly, getting blood drawn or undergoing vaginal ultrasounds, and dealing with financial strain to top it all off, says Levine. While IVF has made many women’s dreams come true, “people quite often don’t ever think this is how they’re going to start their family,” he says. Here, eight women share what they wish they’d known before embarking upon the IVF journey.
1. I wish I’d known how it would change my relationship with my husband.
“My husband and I went through IVF after we tried to conceive naturally for more than three years, and we had success with our second round. I’m currently pregnant with our first child, due January 15. My husband and I have always been very, very close, but going through a major health journey like this for two years brought us even closer than I could have imagined. It turned into a wonderful experience (minus the needles and being tired all the time).
My husband actually passed away very suddenly five weeks ago, a week and a half after our egg transfer and only a few days before I found out I was pregnant. I have really wonderful memories of how incredibly supportive he was and all the hours spent talking about how we wanted to raise our little one. Infertility and IVF are such a roller coaster, but my husband and I went into the experience with a very positive attitude.” —Jessica F., 29
2. I wish I’d known that for me, adoption was the answer.
“I did five intrauterine inseminations and six rounds of IVF between 2004 and 2007, including one with donor sperm. I also did a frozen embryo transfer with donor embryos. Receiving the package of IVF meds in the mail was so exciting, then we’d get to the embryo transfer and the excruciating two-week wait to see if it worked. Twice, it did and was so thrilling, but both times, something was wrong with the embryo and I lost the pregnancy.
I wish I’d known from the start how happy I would be as an adoptive mom. I adopted my son after my treatments failed, and I now have the most amazing 8-year-old boy. If the price I had to pay to be his mom was four years of treatments and two miscarriages, then so be it. He was worth the trouble.” —Teena M., 48
3. I wish I’d known how often I’d fail.
“I can sum up IVF in three (overused) words: blood, sweat, and tears. You truly don’t know how resilient, how strong, and how determined you are until you experience IVF and come out on the other side. But it is something you absolutely must take step by step. It’s so easy to get ahead of yourself and set timelines and goals that you will almost undoubtedly fail to reach. With every procedure, every cycle, every phone call with pregnancy results, you must take a deep breath and just concentrate on the next step.” —Katie A., 34
4. I wish I’d known to get other opinions.
“My husband and I went through three cycles of IVF. The process the first time around was definitely new, but by the third time, it actually became strangely routine. I recommend people do whatever they can to stay sane during the process and be extra good to themselves! Also know that it’s OK to get a second or even third opinion. Many patients feel beholden to their doctors and don’t trust their guts. It’s vital that you feel a connection with your doctor and are enthusiastic about the protocol they are recommending. It’s an emotional and important journey, and you should feel good about who is treating you.” —Jennifer P., 42
5. I wish I’d known that it doesn’t always take the first time around. Or the second. Or the fourth.
“I went through five rounds of IVF and finally just had a baby. Initially, I started off hopefully. Then I would feel sad, then I would feel angry. I also felt like a total failure and would get really down on myself. I wish I’d known so much: Don’t count on the first round working. Go to a counselor to help you sort through your feelings. Stick with self-preservation, avoid baby showers, and stay away from social media if you need to. Don’t tell people, or they will constantly ask you the status (if it takes, you want to be in the clear, and if it doesn’t, you won’t want to talk about it). And know your limit mentally and financially. After my fifth round, I planned on it not working and I was ready to move on with my life knowing I tried everything. Once I was getting ready to throw in the towel, IVF worked.” —M. Lynn, 38
6. I wish I’d known that it helps to talk about it.
“It was a long road of trying—and losing—before we explored IVF. Most of my pregnancies (there have been many) self-terminated before the eight-week mark. After tests, we realized I carry a chromosomal abnormality, which was likely why babies we produced naturally weren’t developing as they should. IVF with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) was our only option if I wanted to become pregnant with my own healthy child and carry it to term.
I’m not sure there’s anything anyone could have told me to help prepare me—there are the injections and medications, then several appointments for blood tests and ultrasounds, and it’s physically exhausting and painful. But just being able to talk to someone about it is helpful. Everyone I know who’s gone through IVF has had their own unique experience. I wish I’d been more open to talking about it during the first round, but I didn’t want anyone to know.” —Monica H., 38
7. I’m glad I knew that different clinics do things differently.
“I had several pre-existing health conditions that made it unsafe to carry my own child. We went through IVF so we could have a gestational surrogate carry our child. My husband and I were very hopeful. We knew this was our family’s story and that made it special.
I did a ton of research on clinics before moving forward with IVF because my doctors only approved me for one round due to my other health conditions. We had to nail it. My research uncovered that IVF philosophies differ from clinic to clinic. Some of the more well known clinics in my area put every patient on the same cycle, and every patient would have their procedures done on the same day, and never on weekends or holidays. But every woman is different. When one woman may be ready for the extraction, another woman could go another day or two on hormone shots in order to get more eggs. The clinic I ended up choosing did cycles and procedures according to when MY body was ready. Our IVF doctor and nurses came in on the July 4th holiday for our transfer! Now we have 15-month old twins, one boy and one girl.” —Rachel K., 38