We started our IVF journey over 2 years, after a year of trying.
My wife is 38 and I am 40.
We started the IVF journey expecting to complete 1-3 rounds, imagining we would be a fairly normal case. Not too old, previous miscarriage verifying we could be pregnant. Both fit and healthy.
We have now completed 10 rounds, mainly back to back. I can’t tell you how much time I spent online reading every word of every forum looking for answers or just to read stories, provide any clues, guidance and sometimes just encouragement. I also wanted to know what was happening from day 1 of an ivf cycle right through to the various stages of an embryo development, from extraction to day 3, to day 5, to implantations. I am writing this because I haven’t read too many males perspectives from all the time I spent reading blogs like these. I also wanted to share the little knowledge and experience I now have, as my way of saying thank you to those that have shared their stories. I feel very fortunate to say my wife is now 13 weeks pregnant after what has felt like an absolute nightmare and not at all what we were expecting. We still remember all the disappointments and the greatest feeling we afford ourselves right now is relief that maybe our journey is over and we can start to really enjoy what’s coming.
So couple of initial truths, and sorry for the matter of fact way in which its written;
1. First hurdle found, I had 2% sperm morphology. I didn’t know what that was but I spent days reading up on it. All my other levels were good. What was more worrying, the next time I had the test, some 3 months later, I had 0% morphology. In other words, all my sperm supposedly had either a tail or head missing. What I later understood is that the test is carried out on a sample, and I had 90 million sperm. But the IVF clinics will tell you that you need to do ICSI with 0-4% morphology. Which we did. In the end, our egg fertilisation was very high with ICSI, so I stopped worrying but looked after myself a little better. I understand from my research that drastic changes to your diet can actually improve your morphology by a few % and that’s all you need as long as your other sperm vitals are good.
2. Second hurdle was a lot more complex. My wife has a gene mutation known as MTHFR, which can cause complications in trying for a pregnancy, the pregnancy itself and in the child. Unfortunately she received the mutation from both parents. We were overwhelmed at first when we heard we had MTHFR and from both parents. The most predominant concern our doctor had was the elevated risk of blood clots that accompany MTHFR and consequently the risk of a miscarriage trigger. However, it appears to be only really relevant if there are elevated homocysteine levels. From all accounts many women have had successful pregnancies without ever knowing they have the gene mutation. The advice is for both partners to be tested for any gene mutation.
3. My wife also has a very high number of white killers cells. This on top of the MTHR left us distraught and this was identified shortly after the MTHFR finding. We were assigned the bondi protocol for both the MTHR and the high white blood cells. A mixture of steroids and blood clot thinkers (clexane)to reduce the blood clot risk. We were told we would need to take this mixture for the entire pregnancy. In other words, if we actually produced a viable embryo that implanted and survived past 12 weeks, my wife had to continue to take this chemical mixture to offset the risk. Blood thinners and steroids are tough on the body, bloating, weight gain, hair growth, sleepless nights and anxiety. We were prescribed the bondi protocol at each cycle, in case a viable embryo was to be implanted. We also went to a Chinese herbalist and saw an acupuncturist regularly.
4. You will read all sorts of stats on how follicles, how many eggs were extracted, how many matured on day 1, how many were fertilised, how many made it to day 3, how many embryos made it to day 5 or 6, how many were viable embryos for implants, fresh or frozen and how many may have been suitable for PGD testing - where they can send the embryo off for genetic testing to ensure you’re not wasting your time and emotional bank with embyros that look great/okay but carry a gene defect likely to cause a miscarriage.
5. We started off with an average number of follicles, 3-10 eggs, 75% fertilised, 50% to 60% making it to day 3. Our last 2 cycles were the most impressive, at first. It wasn't long before she was taken 350m injections, to generate more eggs. The last cycle, we extracted 21 eggs (shock), 19 matured, 17 fertilised, 13 made it to day 3 (again shock). We thought this time for sure, there brilliant numbers. However, only 1 embryo made it to 5. No PGD, fresh this time as it wasn’t a high grade. Didn’t implant.
6. The above stats varied each cycle, our best cycle was 2 embryo’s that were of an AA quality at day 5, both frozen. Both implanted, no joy. The cycles with more eggs actually yielded less embryos. I should also note that my wife’s father died of dementia during this cycle.
7. Our IVF doctor was/is a very caring and experienced practitioner. Nonetheless, after 10 failed rounds, we requested a second opinion after the last failed round.
8. Our new doctor told us to stop doing IVF, it clearly wasn’t working. Strangely, that was the first moment of relief for some time. Until we talked donor eggs.
It was a tough experience for us to consider, at first. The idea that you come together as a couple, to love each other and raise children that are part you and your loved one. Only to start working through the idea that it’s someone else and you, or its your partner but not you. The grieving was immense. Of course to any couple who have kids or haven’t been through unsuccessful soul destroying rounds of IVF may not see it so dramatically. But for us, it was tough. My heart was broken for my poor wife. I can believe how much she put herself through, incredible amounts, so brave. Only to now grieve for the child that will never be genetically hers. Suffice to say, the feelings are far more complex than can be described in a few lines, however, in the end and after much searching, we were resolved that would be absolutely thrilled with a successful donor egg. We would love our child and it would be our child.
9. However, our new doctor suggested we try a few rounds of IUI prior to donor eggs. At this point, we were absolutely broke, my wife had to quit her job as the massive physical and emotional turmoil she went through took its toll, we had a parent pass away, our relationship was strained, we weren’t socialising and we were both pretty depressed. We were warned it would become an obsession. We were dangerously putting a child before us, a balance that some reading this might think is ridiculous. Again, I wouldn’t disagree, perspective easily lost after so many years trying.
10. In the end and much to our surprise, our first round of IUI worked. I had never heard of IUI prior to meeting this doctor, though I now understand its pretty common and normally suggested as an approach for younger couples. Our doctor tried something else and I am eternally grateful. You always hear stories of those couples who were lucky on the 11th, 12th, 13th etc cycle. However, the reality was, it wasn’t going to work for us and I was grateful he was upfront and honest. We may have been one of those stories but we may not have been. I asked why he wanted to try IUI and he made it clear that he believes traditional ivf can impact the quality of your eggs and quality was what we needed, not numbers. Our doctor was also an advocate of the work by Professor Geeta Nargund, who campaigns for less intrusive IVF, that ivf is too stressful on the female body, that it can impact the quality of the eggs.
I should on a final note add that my wife spent some time before the pregnancy working with a spiritual guide who she believed helped her move her good eggs to the front of her cycle. I have never known my wife to be particularly spiritual. But I noticed a difference in her, she was far more positive. However, after her father died after years of dementia, 10 rounds of IVF, depression and all the other crap life threw at her the previous 2 years, something had shifted in her thinking. I also believe in the resilience she built, in giving up the dream of her own child and saying goodbye to her father, that maybe it somewhat released her. I am at a loss to think how she could have thought positively when those IVF drugs and all the disappointment of failed IVF’s could inflict so much damage to even the strongest person. Good luck to all those struggling with fertility issues. I feel for you, infertility is a lonely world, with only those struggling who have any inclination of your struggle.