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The One Thing No One Tells You About IVF—And What I Wish My Friends and Family Knew logo 11/10/2018 Ronnie Koenig
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“Nothing in vagina!” The Russian nurse says this to me emphatically, and I bite the inside of my cheek, trying to prevent myself from laughing, the same way I did in social studies class in the eighth grade. She is giving me pre-op instructions for the part of the IVF cycle when they will put me under anesthesia and retrieve the seven eggs my body was able to produce via a cocktail of hormones that I’ve been injecting into my belly for the past few weeks. It’s a crucial step, and definitely not funny, but the whole situation is so absurd that I can’t help myself.

When my husband and I decided we wanted to have a family, I was actually worried that I would get pregnant too quickly, before I’d had a chance to mentally prepare. On our first vacation that I was off the Pill, I was definitely sure that having sex would do the trick. Apparently, it wasn’t. Then, months passed, and I kept getting my period. We tried other interventions first: the fertility drug Clomid, IUI (intrauterine insemination) and shots to trigger ovulation. None of it worked. So, about two years after that first birth-control-free sex, we were at a clinic on the Upper East Side, ready to give IVF a shot (so to speak). I was 36.

“No alcohol,” the nurse continues with her instructions. “No vodka. No whiskey. No cognac.” I meet her gaze and nod solemnly. Damn, I think to myself. Pass on the Courvoisier.

Truth be told, I’m terrified about going under for the egg retrieval. In fact, the whole IVF process has been an exercise in me acknowledging and putting aside my fears. As the girl who used to literally faint during a routine blood draw, I’m now confidently pointing out the “best vein” to the nurses.

But the physical discomfort of blood draws, the nightly hormone injections and the indignity of submitting yourself to intrusive vaginal sonograms is only part of what’s stressing me. IVF is stupid expensive, and in most states (including mine at the time), it is not covered by insurance. I knew that if our first round failed, I would want to try IVF again—but the reality was that we probably couldn’t.

The one thing that most people who haven’t experienced it don’t know about IVF is that there’s a loss of intimacy in making a baby this way. Instead of making love on a rose-petal-covered bed in a fancy hotel, my sweet husband did his part by himself, watching a VHS tape of porn in a sterile clinic booth (and to add insult to injury, having to label his “sample” with his name and social security number).

While some couples grow more distant during the IVF process, especially if they go through multiple cycles, thankfully that wasn’t the case for us. In a way, it clarified the fact that we both really wanted a family. If we had a baby, that baby would be truly wanted. I mean, hell, we were willing to do all of this!

I survived the egg retrieval and immediately they were fertilized with my husband’s semen in the lab using ICSI (intracellular sperm injection). Every day, I called the clinic to check on their progress. In the end, we had four viable embryos to put back into my uterus.

The embryo transfer is less invasive than the retrieval, done via catheter, and I was awake for it. The doctor told me to lie still for about 20 minutes afterward—presumably for the little buggers to hunker down—and my husband came into the room to hold my hand. It was a defining moment in our marriage, looking at each other, wondering and wishing, and knowing that whatever the outcome, at least we had tried.

And although the doctor gave us less than a 20 percent chance of conceiving, we held out hope until the fateful day two weeks later, when I took a blood test and waited for the nurse to call me with the results. “It’s not the end of the world if you’re not pregnant,” I told myself that morning, giving myself a pep talk to prepare to be strong in the face of disappointment.

Finally, the phone rang.

“The test is positive,” said the nurse.

“Can you repeat that?” I asked, and she did.

I hung up the phone and sat with a brand-new realization: I was going to be a mother. I didn't know it at the time, but there were two babies already growing inside me—a boy and a girl, yin and yang, the start of a new reality. I threw on a jacket, rushed downstairs and out onto the street to find my husband and tell him the news.

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