(Content note: this one involves my vagina, like, a lot. Also blood. And that whole infertility/anxiety thing.)
Of our four fertilised eggs, two were deemed high-quality enough to proceed to the next stage, embryo transfer. The old days of putting multiple embryos back into your uterus to increase the chances of pregnancy are gone, apparently, so we were able to keep one, and freeze one as a backup. That provided a lot of reassurance, and even a tiny sliver of hope that we could think about having a second baby one day, without having to go through all this rigmarole again.
But first: the pessaries.
Between egg collection and embryo transfer the clinic gave me progesterone pessaries. “Luteal support” they call it. It’s great for maintaining a soft cushy lining in your uterus, and also for getting SUPER FAMILIAR with your own vagina.
I was on two pessaries, three times a day. You insert them much like a tampon, except it’s a small plasticky ball bearing (indeed, two small ball bearings) going right up to the edge or your cervix – and sometimes the little sods WILL try to follow your finger back out and sit uncomfortably like an over-full tampon right at the opening.
They warn you, “You’ll get some waxy discharge.” The pessaries are mostly made of vegetable oil, and that’s the part that doesn’t get sucked up your cervix. So it makes sense something’s going to come back out. Except you’re thinking “vegetable oil” and not “it will look like someone’s literally ground the end of a candle into your knickers”. It’s white. It’s solid. Bits WILL fall out of your labia or off your loo paper and float on the surface of the toilet like cut-price fake snow.
It is a deeply weird process.
My top tip? Set your timer ten minutes early. Use that time to cue up a podcast, get into your pyjamas (obviously for the last-thing-at-night round, but maybe also for the other two as well?) and go to the toilet, after turning the bathroom tap on to warm.
I was doing this as winter was threatening, and there is nothing that’s going to make this routine worse than washing your hands in icy cold water before they go up your snatch.
Every other stage of the process has a heavy sense of ceremony, even though what’s happening is invisible. The daily injections. The close monitoring of your ovaries. The drugged-out ritual of egg collection.
Embryo transfer was simultaneously the most important thing we ever did, and the most trivial. No sedation, no long waiting period; you walk into the room under your own steam and lie down on the same bed, but fully aware of everything; you try to make out the shape of your own uterus on the ultrasound; and then there’s a long needle, a twinge, and a tiny white speck seems to float up into your body.
And that’s it. Get up, off you go. The paperwork is reassuring: literally, “don’t worry, your embryo won’t fall out”. They are very good at knowing what you’re afraid of. But I was already an overthinker before we started all this and after weeks of hyper-focusing on every little detail, worrying that anything could be The One Thing That Makes Or Breaks This – am I timing the injections properly? When do I need to stop eating? Are the pessaries in far enough? Have I lain down for long enough? Don’t forget you can’t lie down all the time, some exercise is good! But what kind of exercise? – having that microscopic dot so full of potential and hope sitting back inside your body really does feel like the one thing you cannot fuck up.
I’d seen it. It was really there, even if I couldn’t feel it. And everything rested on whether or not it would find a home in the lining of my uterus. I was the closest I had ever been to being pregnant, but things were still completely out of my control.
There was nothing to do but wait for the blood test that would seal my fate. (You could probably take an over-the-counter test but God, why do that to yourself?)
Nine days later, I was 90% sure my period had started. But I didn’t want to think about that, so I ignored it, telling myself again and again that what mattered was the blood test, the phone call, the certainty of a clinician’s voice on the line, not my own total inability to determine if the smear on my pad was actually red (bad) instead of reddish brown (possibly good).
Some brownish spotting is normal, you are told. Or at least they phrase it, “some women do have brown spotting before a positive pregnancy test” but they don’t give you the exact numbers because like every other stage of this process it’s really just magic. It happens or it doesn’t. No one knows why.
Of course, for me and many other people who menstruate, brownish spotting is ALSO perfectly normal immediately before my period properly starts. So the past 24 hours was really fun: checking the paper every time I wipe, is that brown? Brownish? Is there a bit more pink than last time? Inserting pessaries becomes a whole new world of miniature gore when you get to pull out your finger and assess what’s trapped under your fingernail. Definitely brown. Reddish but brown. Definitely.
Don’t worry, part of me definitely wonders if this is Too Much Information. But I really do wish I’d known about some of this in advance. I wish I’d spoken to my friends who have also gone through IVF about these small mucky details – but that’s a whole other difficult topic. The point is, what the clinic are going to tell you is the cool, clinical (sorry) details. However compassionate they are, there are just details you don’t hear about and have no way of anticipating.
The literature they give you is full of reassurance. It’s normal to overthink things. It’s normal to worry, or cry, or take a day off work. Normal normal normal.
But when it’s your first time, nothing is normal. And every abdominal twinge, every damp feeling in your knickers, is either a sure sign you’re pregnant and it’s wonderful OR a definite sign you’re not and you’ve failed again, and you swing between the two on an endless painful oscillation that only ends with time.
The phone call came. And it was not good news.