What I Wish I Knew Before Starting IVF
By Lauren Citro
When I first started IVF I was eager, excited, and to be quite honest, naive.
IVF was a whole new world with a new vocabulary, full of new (often unpleasant) experiences, and I truly had no idea what to expect. Over the past several years, I have walked through 6 IVF retrievals and 4 embryo transfers (at three different clinics in three different cities). It’s been a tumultuous journey to say the least.
Here are 7 things I wish I knew before embarking on my IVF adventure:
1. You Don’t Have To Choose the First Doctor You Meet With.
I was someone who made the mistake of not putting in the time and energy to pick the doctor and clinic that was right for me. I was honestly so anxious to get pregnant- the sooner the better- and I figured that the fastest way to do that would be to go with the first doctor that was recommended to me or who came up at the top of a google search for my city. I once even made the mistake of picking a doctor based solely on CDC success rates (which the CDC themselves warns against), and it was by far my worst cycle in every possible sense.
Knowing what I know now, I would never pick a doctor without doing my due diligence, including combing through reviews on FertilityIQ and scheduling consults with multiple clinics. Choosing someone to trust with your fertility care is a big decision, and taking the time to find the absolute best fit possible (even if it causes a minor delay in starting treatment) is 100% worth it and for sure would have saved me time, money, and heartbreak in the long run.
2. You Don’t Have to Go with the First Pharmacy You Talk to, Either.
IVF meds are EXPENSIVE and for some reason, they are more expensive at some pharmacies than they are at others. During my first cycle, I ordered all of my meds from an out of town specialty pharmacy because my clinic told me that they were the ones with the “best prices.” Big mistake.
During my next cycle, my new clinic sent a copy of my prescription to three different pharmacies so that I could price compare. Here’s a tip for price comparing meds: some pharmacies will actually price match. So, if you get a quote from one pharmacy that is less for one medication and a quote from another pharmacy that is cheaper for a different medication, you could actually still order both meds from the same pharmacy and get the discounted price for both, with the added bonus of only having to deal with billing and shipping from one location.
Also, pharmacists sometimes have access to discounts your doctor may not know about. Ask if there are any coupons or rebates available and check out the goodRX app too! As you’re bargain hunting, I would also make sure you find a pharmacy with a good reputation, because there is nothing worse than needing an urgent refill and not being able to get in touch with someone. The cost matters, but customer service matters too!
3. IVF is a Hormotional Rollercoaster.
I knew that the hormones would wreak havoc on my body. What makes matters worse is the fact that hormonal side-effects mimic pretty much everything I’ve ever read about first trimester pregnancy symptoms. I was bloated, my boobs hurt, I had stomach cramps and nausea, I felt fatigued, and gosh darn it, I’m not even pregnant!
Beyond the physical symptoms, there’s also the emotional side. Somehow, during IVF those hormones have the ability to take me from 0-100 in five seconds flat.
Watch a hallmark commercial? Cue the water works.
See a cute puppy walking down the street? Burst into tears.
Absolutely nothing happens at all? Sob uncontrollably.
I also was incredibly irritable. We have a joke from that first week of shots (that was NOT funny at the time, but is pretty funny now), where my husband Andrew told me “If we ever get attacked, I’m putting you in front, because you can make FIRE come out of your eyes.” … yikes….
So yeah, I was really fun to live with.
The thing is, no one told me what to expect from my protocol- and no one told me there was a natural ebb and flow to the way I would be feeling on the hormones. In my case, I was on a medicine that dropped my estrogen really low (which is when I felt like crap) and then brought it back up (which made me feel way better). Everyone reacts to different medications differently, but I think it’s worth asking your doctor what kind of patterns of side-effects they tend to see and how it may vary throughout your cycle. There are so many unknowns with IVF, so anything that you can find out ahead of time can make a big difference in helping you cope with the ups and downs.
4. Life Doesn’t Have to Stop Completely.
When I first started IVF I thought I would need to be home every single night at 9 pm to do my shots in a clean, well- lit kitchen. But once Andrew and I got the hang of it, we realized we could really do my shots anywhere. To me, this was a game-changer! I already felt a little bit trapped by my IVF protocol sheet that said when I had to be at the doctor and when my dates with “Wanda” were, so I really appreciated the freedom of knowing that my shots wouldn’t stop me from living life!
Weddings, funerals, airplanes, movie theaters, sitting in traffic, bachelorette parties, even Disneyland- you name it, we’ve done shots there.
You’ll find that for some things life majorly hits pause during IVF, but the good news is it doesn’t have to stop completely. Yes, I was subconsciously preoccupied with wondering how my ovaries were responding to the meds, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much of life still kept chugging along even in the midst of treatment. I know it feels Iike IVF is all-encompassing, but it’s really only mostly-all-encompassing. Enjoy the moments between your shots and remember that life does go on.
5. There is an Amazing Community of Support.
This was truly the best surprise about IVF. You absolutely do not have to face it alone. There are thousands of women who have rallied around one another to seek out community and offer their support to others walking the same path, and I’ve been so blessed to make friends (online and IRL) with so many of them.
My very first connections to the infertility community were through Instagram and a few blogs. I’ll be honest, when I first found people sharing about their infertility journey online, I was a little judgmental about it. I hadn’t started trying to conceive yet, and I was confused about why someone would share something so personal with strangers on the internet.
As time went on I realized that, I too, was having a hard time getting pregnant, and I was scared out of my mind about it. No one I knew was struggling with infertility. In fact, most of my friends were getting pregnant so easily. I felt entirely alone and had no one to talk to. The blogs and Instagram accounts that once felt like an over-share to me I now started secretly stalking, trying to learn as much as I could. Eventually, I began to interact and engage in the community myself, and I “met” some really amazing women online, which led to me meeting some really amazing women in real life. These are women who have gotten me through the hardest parts of my journey, and I truly don’t think I would have had the stamina to push through so many IVF cycles without them.
6. A Good Therapist is a Must.
I really, truly think that therapy should be a standard part of IVF. There are just so many emotions that come up during treatment, so much opportunity for miscommunication between you and your partner, and so many moments of potential trauma. Having a solid therapist is a big help.
I found a therapist after my second IVF cycle. I still don’t know why I waited as long as I did, but I can tell you that it is because of the hard work I put into therapy that I’ve been able to face the disappointments that have come my way. The tools we gained in therapy have helped our marriage stay strong and helped us work through the really tough moments that we’ve faced in treatment, too.
My advice is not to wait until you feel like you “need” therapy. If you’re walking through IVF, you’re more than likely guaranteed an opportunity to benefit from it and you might as well be prepared and just start now.
7. You Can Get Through IVF, Regardless of the Outcome.
This isn’t something that was ever really said to me (until I met my therapist!). Instead, I heard a lot of “It’s for sure going to work!” Or “I have a really good feeling about this!” And my personal favorite “it’s all going to be worth it when you’re holding your baby in your arms!”
Honestly, as an optimistic person, I love the sentiment of this. I have gone into every single IVF cycle hopeful of a really amazing outcome, but I think that these affirmations can begin to feel a little shallow, particularly knowing the number of IVF cycles that do not result in a life birth.
Success rates for IVF can range drastically based on age and diagnosis, but generally speaking each cycle is less than a 50-50 shot (aka, less than a coin toss), and most people end up needing more than one IVF cycle to get the result their hoping for. It’s a heartbreaking reality that there’s a possibility that you could do everything right and still have the cycle go completely wrong. Please know that just because your first cycle doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean your story is over.
When we first started IVF, I only knew about the success stories. I only had one friend in real life who had done IVF and she had gotten pregnant on the first try, with twins! Sure, I saw a few people on Instagram who talked about failed cycles, but those stories felt so rare to me. I didn’t ever imagine I would be one of them. But guess what? When my first cycle ended without a doubling beta (and in total shock and heartbreak), the first thing I did was look up stories of people who had walked through the same thing. Before my cycle, the stories of failed cycles and miscarriages felt irrelevant, and I honestly just wanted to avoid them so I could “stay positive.” After my cycle, those same stories became a lifeline to me. What I was facing was devastating, and I just needed to know that I was going to be okay.
If you’re starting IVF right now and it feels better to you to only read stories with happy endings, that’s totally cool with me, but take a screenshot of the next sentence and save it for a rainy day:
No matter the outcome- you are strong, you are loved, you are worthy- and even on the hardest days, you’re going to be okay.
Because that, my friend, is the most important thing to know before starting IVF.
Lauren Citro and her husband Andrew live in San Diego, California and have been married for 7 years. She feels a deep connection to other couples walking through a diagnosis of infertility and is passionate about sharing her story in hopes of building community and encouraging others in their journey. Lauren loves traveling and exploring just as much as she loves staying home with a good book, but her perfect day would always be spent at Disneyland. You can find Lauren sharing bits of her story, as well as encouragement for other infertility warriors, on her blog www.growmyfamily.com or on Instagram @growmyfamily.