Feeling punished

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Taken right after the negative was confirmed -Sunglasses are an amazing tool, my new best friend.

Celebrating the positive is all well and good in normal life but throw into the mix the devastation of my first round not working, my body coursing with hormones and all those myriad of other feelings and thoughts, it tends not to lend itself to a positive pathway.

That was me, on the corner of a tiny little seaside town in France outside the pharmacy absolutely losing it and bawling at the unfairness of life…actually, it was the unfairness of IVF drug costs but that had just been the straw that broke the camels back.

After letting me know my negative result, Penny told me to take some time to ‘allow myself to come to terms with the outcome’.  Completely ignoring that advice, as I was painfully aware that I had to get onto organising my ‘comeback’ IVF round (remember I had paid for 2 rounds…not quite for the price of one! Haha), I forged ahead with plans and quickly realised that I need to obtain some stimulants.

China and a lot of Asia do not allow single women to partake in fertility treatments and having being in contact with a few clinics in Beijing early on in the year, I had learned that they could only supply stimulants to customers on their IVF programs.  Great, just great.  The only way to get on these programs was to be married – don’t you just LOVE life sometimes.  Ludacrious.

With Serum being on break for the month of August and with Penny out after a hip operation, I was in contact with another gynocologist who told me (in a round about way), that I needed to get ahold of some stimulants, as we would start them asap when my cycle was due.

Panicking I realised that that wouldn’t be able to happen in China, so with only a few days left of Summer vacation and a quick trip back to Athens out of the picture with the clinic closed, I was left with trying to locate some stimulants either online (with a very slim hope of getting them into China), and locating them in France.

Enter into the equation AirFrance’s strike, coinciding directly with my flight to Nice and then to Paris and them not answering any phone numbers in any offices or answering their emails over a period of the 3 days, both on and after the day I received my negative results, I was livid.  Not only was it cancelled flights but it was more money out of pocket and 5 hours plus on the phone with calls unanswered.

I cursed the clinic….to me it made perfect sense to tell someone after their first round, who has made it perfectly clear that where they live has a lot of limitations, to maybe consider purchasing some stimulants to take back with them just incase.  Apparently that is not the way they think and operate because if they had done that I would have bought some.  I mean, why not add a few vials of stimulants to my already drug filled suitcase and carry on. It would not have made a huge difference to me then but the stress that it was causing me now by trying to locate these drugs was two-fold.

My friend being the saint that she is suggested we go down to the local pharmacy and see what they could do.  Having searched online already I knew the generic name for Merional – I still don’t get why they have different names for the same, or almost the same, drug in different countries…makes no sense to me.  The pharmacy had no idea what I was talking about but after my friend took over and spoke in French and we gave them the generic name, they would be able to get it to the pharmacy the following day (just in time before I flew, on my new Jetstar flight – buggar you AirFrance).

The catch of course was I needed a prescription from my clinic, which I had but it was for Merional, not the French version called Menopur.  Ok, I could do this and hopefully we could make it back with the new prescription before 7.30pm.

The second catch – 10 vials would be the equivalent of $3000 New Zealand dollars.  By this stage I had had enough.  Not only were my eggs shit for some unknown reason, my first round a failure, my finances majorly depleted but now I was being punished for wanting children, something granted so easily to others, by being charged ridiculous prices.  In Greece, the stimulants cost  E17 per shot.  Massive price difference.

I was exhausted.  Who the hell was trying to punish me and for what?

At that point I gave up – on the corner of a street, in a little seaside town in France, I bawled my eyes out, pumped full of hormones and grief, on my friends shoulder.

I am so thankful, everyday, for that friend.  Without her I have no idea how I would have gotten through those initial first days.

Never underestimate the power of a non-judgmental, tolerant and ‘there through everything’ friend.  The kind that knows how to be there and how to help without you saying anything.

Long story short – there was NO way I was paying that amount for these drugs and decided to leave them.  It wasn’t worth the financial and emotional stress and if I had to take some more time off to make sure I was in Greece earlier to get the cheaper drugs, then that’s what I would do.

Also, thank god for those following 4 days in Nice – I finally felt like I had had a holiday.

 

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The full story

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Post IVF body, uncomfortable, bloated and pumped full of drugs. Baring all to seek to the positive from a ‘Negative’ day.

While in Sweden having a great time, thankful for the friends and family that surrounded me to take my mind off things, my friend mentioned that she had a few home pregnancy tests in her bathroom and that if I wanted to I could use one.

Initially hesitant, on the morning of my blood test to find out my results (AKA my HCG levels and Progesterone levels ), I gave in to temptation and asked her if I could use one and took the test.

It was quite hilarious. Every TV show and movie that you watch shows the woman taking the pregnancy test nervously peeing on the stick and waiting patiently for the results.  It did not conger up any feelings of that for me.  It was nothing like I expected.  It was almost normal, another part of the process and a small step forward.  Sweet step by sweet little step.  Definitely no dramatic waiting scene here.

A few days previous I had noticed that two of the horrendous side effects that I have been experiencing – bloatedness and terrible face acne had miraculous disappeared (well the pimples had cleared but the belly bloat stayed around for awhile but the feeling of puffiness had mysteriously vanished (I have since found out that those symptoms are caused by Progesterone).  I had mentioned this to my brother and said to him ‘I’m not trying to be negative here but I have a feeling that it might not have worked’.  That bloody gut feeling getting put into play again.

A few minutes later and the stick was showing me a resounding ‘Negative’.  There wasn’t even a tad bit of a faded line or a glimmer of hope.  It was a flat out ‘NO’.

Wow.  That was not what I was expecting…with an embryo actually implanted and copious amounts of pregnancy enhancing drugs in my system I expected at least a slight faded line – the dramatic part of the TV show or movie came into play here.  Much to my surprise, apparently it doesn’t work like that.

It was a crazy feeling to explain, mainly because you are warned that you can have a false positive but you are never told that there is such a thing as a false negative.  Maybe there is a reason for that and that is that maybe it just doesn’t exist.  In my heart of hearts I knew and my poor friend had to see me try to take it in and try to hold it together as I waded through uncertainty.  All credit to her (she is a pretty phenomenal person) and she was like ‘Feel it, let it out, do what you need to do and don’t worry about me or others’.  So amazing.

For absolute clarity we ventured to downtown Stockholm to a clinic to get the blood test.  After a lot of chat in Swedish we were able to determine that we could get the results rushed through and while I was waiting to board my plane to Nantes (via Brussels overnight), I could call to get my results.  We then spent a very lovely afternoon riverside eating amazing Swedish food and then it was off to the airport I went.

My amazing ‘brother from another mother’ sensing my distress after saying goodbye to my actual brother in a flood of tears, jumped on the bus with me and helped me locate the next one to the airport and was there to just help me simmer down and get ahold of my emotions.  I really am so thankful to all of my friends and brother through this time.  It was great to have such genuine and incredible people around me, looking after me, knowing me and knowing what I needed without judgement.  True, true friends that I will always treasure.

Unfortunately at the airport there was a mix up and I was not able to get my results (wrong phone number was given), and I had to wait until the next morning to call.

After a good sleep in Brussels (sometimes emotionally exhausted comes in handy), I stood outside the airport hotel waiting for the shuttle and again was denied my results as they told me they had sent it to my clinic (Serum).

Frantically, before I lost wifi, I shot an email off to Penny to tell her what was happening and that I would appreciate it if she could email me my results asap 1. Because I then would know if I had to organise another blood test in Nantes and also someone to do more butt shots for me and 2. because they were my bloody results!

Arriving in Nantes I was greeted by my bestie’s father and luckily with no wifi, a long drive and me trying to recall my rusty high school French (her father only speaks French), I was distracted long enough to make it to the tiny, gorgeous seaside town on the West coast of France.

Unfortunately for my bestie she was now lumped with me on edge and anxiously waiting for the email that would seal the fate of my first round.

It came in 2 forms.  One from Penny and one from the blood test clinic in Sweden.

Thankfully the sereneness and the fact that I had already had over 24 hours to process the absolute negative from the home pregnancy test meant that I could take it on board a bit more easily.  Not too gracefully mind you but much better than I or anyone around me expected I think.  Don’t worry – there was a side of the road melt down a few days later to prove that I actually am human!

So we did the best thing we could do and that was to take my gorgeous friends wee one down to the ocean, where after 2 weeks of no swimming and following all the other ridiculous rules that I had to stick to, I waded out and dived straight into the ocean.

Celebrate the small things and look to the positive, that’s what I am trying to continue to do.

Best day ever: Sarcasm at its finest

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The ‘Trigger Shot’ – my hands were shaking even walking with it back to my apartment – icepack and all

8.30am and I was at Serum to get a scan to see how the stimulants had gone with the second egg – not so well and it was another round of stimulants (a shot of Merinol and one of Cetrotide), scheduled for between 3 and 4 pm that day.

Next it was on to the run down of how the egg retrieval would go as that was the next step in 2 days time…

And this is where it all fell apart….

The trigger shot (which helps induce ovulation), needs to be timed so that the eggs can be harvested at optimum time – (36 hours later) and namely be collected in the morning. So that meant that I needed I had to have the shot at 10pm at night and had to do it into the top, right hand side of my butt muscle. Ouch!!!

The mid wife knowing me by now, sensed my panic and her initial thought was to tell me to find a pharmacy that was open until late and have them do it.  Geez – another thing to try and suss out in limited time.  I of course asked her if she knew any nearby – she didn’t as most people come here either with a partner or friend to help them OR do not have an avid fear of needles!  So, I gave in and convinced myself “Amy you can do this”.

Turns out I was wrong and that needle phobia is a thing.

I was completely fine as she told me how to break the viles, draw up the liquid from one vial and then deposit it into the powder vial and then repeat with another 2 vials and then change needle points (to a smaller needle – for my benefit apparently), I even got through the what quadrant of my butt to put it in talk….then as soon as she started talking about putting it all the way into the muscle and then drawing back to check for blood incase it was in a vein….I completely lost it.  I felt like a child having a massive crying/ hyperventilation meltdown.  It came out of nowhere and poor Leah.  I felt incredibly awful.  Straight away she said, “Right, no, I’m going to stop explaining now, you can’t be stressed doing this and someone else needs to do this for you”.

I feel super embarrassed even writing this but I promised myself I would tell the whole story, exactly like it is.  I have convinced myself if someone else was doing it for me or if it was preloaded needles then I would have no issue but I have not had preloaded needles at all so I’m not sure how true that part is until faced with it (I have since been faced with preloaded needles and I am now able to self inject so pretty proud of myself that I called it when I wrote this post awhile back).

So armed with the letter for both the ECG and the trigger shot in Greek I was off (for all I know it read – ‘This great big wimp cannot do this so please give this to her at 10pm exactly!’ lol – but not really laughing so much! haha!)

Leaving the clinic, with poor Leah getting the blame from the receptionist that I was a mess once again – is it fair to blame the hormones at this point?  Are they effective right away? – I was off to suss out where Leto Hospital was.  I was told it was a taxi ride and that maybe I should ring them in advance to see if they could do my ECG before my shot.

Upon getting back to my apartment, super emotional, I called 6 times via Skype on both my phone and laptop with a crappy connection (apparently that is not just limited to China), was hung up on and if I got through no one understood what it was I wanted (there is not many ways to explain ECG apparently). I was again in tears.  I was incredibly frustrated and all alone trying to figure all this out and sick of all the unfairness of this situation and doing it by myself in a foreign country….yes, I still lay blame at NZ’s health system with this one and it definitely came out then.

I decided I need some distraction to calm myself down before I set off to walk to this hospital to sort it out in person, so engaged in some mindless TV show watching.

Luckily, my parents rang at that time – sarcasm at it’s greatest. I was a mess.

Finally I felt calm enough to make the trek to the hospital – a 30 minute walk, so not too bad, unfortunately on arrival the street it was on was full of shops with ‘Congrutaltions its a ___”, bouquets  and baby and maternity shops….turns out it was a maternity hospital.  Just great.

They were fab and right to the point, no appointment needed, I showed them the forms in Greek and the ECG could be done at 9pm and shot at 10pm.  Relief flooded me and joyously I walked back (well joyously is definitely a gross exaggeration…let’s just say I was much happier than when walking there).

Next, it was the wait for my 3pm appointment for my shots (unfortunately 1 actually hurt this time, same spot or increased dose…one or the other.  Once again I am thankful for not having 2 weeks of these), and to pick up ‘the’ shot, which I filled in with grocery shopping – another frustrating feat in itself (turns out I was at a dinky little market and the main one was only one street over! Found it the next day)

Shots went without a hitch – Leah pleaded with me for no tears and preceded to teach another staff member how to prepare shots, which made me feel better that it wasn’t just me that was learning today!  I was given a plastic bag with the needles, vials and ice pack and headed straight home.

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The quickest part of this process so far – my ECG with Greek results – all good!

I cooked to relax (yes, I know that is strange for some) and due to my exhausted and emotional state I set an alarm for 8.30pm.  Another 30 minutes walk to hospital. The ECG was extremely quick and easy, in and out within, I swear, 2 minutes and the results were all good – a super positive as this means I can go under the aesthetic for the egg retrieval. Because that was over so quickly I had a wee wait to dwell on the shot so read my book – clever plan Amy! – and then 10pm came around.  The shot in the upper left quadrant of my left buttock  was quick but oh, so OUCH!!!!! Muscle is not  a fun place to have a shot, bring on the spongy European paunch of a stomach.  Being able to walk it off really helped and it was straight into bed ready for my ‘drug free day’ the next day.

My drug free day literally meant no injections (whoop whoop) but all of the other pills that I had been taking.  Little was I to know that the pill taking would increase by ten fold.  I was just so thankful that my day of being examined, poked, prodded, pinched, injected and inspected in all parts of my body was over.  Next stop – egg retrieval.

Oh my god, I’m back (in Athens) again…

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View of Athens from my hotel on the first visit – not too shabby

…a bit of old school and backstreets boys always helps to lift the mood.

After 6 nights in Berlin, 7 pills for breakfast each day and 2 at night, 1 birthday, 2 gut wrenching and head screwing text messages from my ex and 6 days of my cycle, it was back in Athens to get this not so party started.

No mucking around this time, I had the driver from the clinic come and get me (for a pretty sum), as I landed at 3.10pm and needed to be at Serum by 4pm.  Thank goodness I had done this, as the metro workers had gone on strike that day!  Arriving just after 4pm I was practically the only person there and it was smooth sailing and no waiting as I was whisked up to the 3rd floor, asked to empty my bladder and change into my now favourite left thigh accentuating wrap around.

It was straight into the scan with Penny to greet me – this time only her and Leah the nurse, and I was adamant there would be no tears.  The scan was started and I can’t quite catch a break…

Absolutely gut wrenching – only 1 follicle.  How to hold back the tears with this news?  Somehow I did, I have no idea how but I did – minor win.  There were a few tiny follicles but they wouldn’t be ready in time and one that was borderline so it was no more ‘Mrs Nice Lady’ and we were onto stimulants. Buggar!  Actually, to be honest, as long as someone else was doing it and I don’t have to watch I was completely fine.

Unfortunately I received 3 jabs – 1 blood test in the left arm, 1 shot of Merional and 1 of Cetrotide both in the stomach – thank goodness for the extra paunch I have gotten from all that European food eating, I felt nothing.

With that done, I was handed paper work to look over and told I needed an ECG by the time of egg collection – this Saturday (July 9th at 9am).  I was a bit annoyed at this as I am in a foreign country, have no idea of my way around and had asked before I came if there were any tests that I could do in China before I got here, to eliminate any of this stress and was told I did not need to worry.

I was told to be back at the clinic at 8.30am the next day for another scan to see how the eggs were progressing.

So, I was off, dragging my luggage behind me over the same minute, uneven, cobbled streets to try and find my apartment feeling super weird, slightly like a pin cushion, pumped full of hormones, a little pissed off but more emotional and questioning if I could do this all alone.

What had I been thinking?

And away we go…

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The time had come, it was off to Athens to start this part of the journey. Here I go.

Some how the time came, racing along at full speed, and I was heading to Athens to visit Serum for my first initial tests.

Due to the excuse of busy-ness and also trying to be as even and zen about what was happening to me, I had wanted to appear as relaxed and laid back as possible by putting all of my trust in the team at Serum and hadn’t asked too many questions.  Of course this was also part of my step by step, one foot in front of the other strategy.

I arrived in Athens on time and decided to make my way to the clinic via Metro forgetting that Greece runs on island time.  I had printed out directions and had made an appointment directly from the airport on the advice and suggestion of almost everyone involved in the process and from the many, many posts on ‘Fertility Friends’ websites.  Dragging my suitcase behind me over cobbled, narrow and uneven streets I arrived 20 mins after my ‘rough time’ which seemed to be no problem as it appears they keep quite a loose scheduling system, very well suited to cases like mine and overseas clients.

It was strange not having to fill in forms or confirm payments, they seem very laid back. After a small wait I was told to go to the 3rd floor where I was greeted and lead to a small room where I was told to empty my bladder and then get changed.  Ok – straight into it then.

Upon returning the nurse asked me what tests I was getting done – I looked at her blankly.  Finally we cleared up the fact that it was my first visit, that I had no clue and she then confirmed a few other details.  We had a laugh and were back on track.  My initial thought was – stay calm, I am sure this was just a small hiccup.

I had to don this hilarious too small wrap around sheet about the size of a hand towel, I think I am going to have to get used to manovering it over my left thigh to ensure the least flashing possible….ooooo sexy!  I sat for a few minutes and then was told to come into the next room where 3 people were – 1 being the famous Penny, who is the clinic director and founder of Serum.  She had a huge smile on her face in greeting but was straight to business – ‘Please sit down and put your legs up here, I will first do a scan’.  My god, it is run like a tight ship around here, understandably so but for someone coming off 4 and a half hours sleep, an early flight and going into the unknown it was all a bit much.

It was amazing to have someone be very quick and precise and so obviously know what they were talking about minus the judgement – all things I have had to endure during this process.

She informed me that my left ovary had 4 follies and that unfortunately my right ovary was not a good producer and that it may have 1-2 follicles.  We then got into a conversation about my eggs being accelerated to the state of a 41 year old, she then looked at me in disbelief and asked who had told me that?  While answering, it caused me to lose it and get emotional, tears leaking out.  All 3 tisked at doctors, then she put my legs together sat me up and gave it to me straight:

P: “How old are you?”

Me: “32”

P: “How old are your eggs?”

Me: “32”

P: “If I scanned a 41 year old and they produced 19 eggs.  What eggs would be better?”

Me: “32 year old eggs” (I was sobbing at this stage)

P: “ Thats right, it makes me so sad to see beautiful young girls so upset by the words of others. How many eggs does it take to make a baby?”

 “1” – We all chorused -laughing now (well, I was laugh crying)

She gave me a huge hug and asked: ‘So, why are you crying?”

Next she explained that she wanted to do an Aquascan. Luckily I had read that this was quite a common procedure at Serum.  It involves inserting a catheter into the uterus (“There are 3 things that you need to make a baby – an egg, sperm and a good baby growing environment” repeated Penny), passing saline through the catheter, blowing up the uterus to gain a look at every nook, crannie, scarring, mark etc.  It was amazing to see it on the monitor, it looked so small.  Excitedly she told me this was a perfect looking uterus, absolutely nothing there to impair anything and that it was able to be ready for 1 or even 2 babies.  It was a textbook scan.

She then scraped the side of my uterus to make it more optimal for implantation.  Thankfully I could not feel that at all (until an hour or so later when I got some pretty intense cramping).  Unfortunately she then told me that because the liquid had only stayed in the uterus that meant that my tubes were probably blocked, however because I am doing IVF this was not a problem.  I decided not to press for more information and find out about that later if it would influence things further down the track at some point….small step by small step.  I decided to flag this bad news and move on.

I was able to get dressed and then went to meet with her and the embryologist in her office on the 4th floor.  This proved to be the most informative part of the day and enabled me to ask the questions I needed to ask and get a clearer picture of things.

In summary:

  • Because of my right ovary and the extremely low number of follicles she does not want to use stimulants unless absolutely necessary.  She explained it “It’s like if you have a gun held to your head, it impairs you and makes you seize up or act differently than you normally would.  Stimulants can do that to your eggs (causing abnormalities or making them ‘freeze’ in growth) and with a limited number I do not want to do that to you, we want it to be as natural as possible.”
  • I will be following a protocol called ‘Natural supported cycle’.  Which means initially I will only take supplements to help improve egg quality and to prepare my uterus: Steroids, antibiotics (to counteract the scraping and clear the uterus of any bacterial invaders that may be present), Melatonin (to aid egg quality) and extra folic acid on top of the prenatal vitamin I am already taking.
  • NO NEEDLES at this point!!!  There are some bonuses to sucky egg numbers!  There may be stimulants later after my Day 5/6 scan if some follicles aren’t developing properly (to help them along), but they will administer them! Whew!!!
  • This part is a little gross: I need to collect drops of my blood when my cycle starts so they can test it when I am back (as I won’t be there during it), to make sure there is no infection and all is good.
  • I will be back in Athens on July 6th, straight from the airport to the clinic (taxi this time), to ensure I have a scan to make sure everything is developing ok and then adjust anything that needs to be adjusted before retrieval.
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Pills only at this stage…whew!

After that it was the logistics of obtaining the medications and payment for the Aquascan (E200) and medication (E47).  This was way lower than the E1500-E2000 that I had expected after researching….although I may be paying big amounts for stimulants if they are needed when I am back.

I was then taken through the printed out sheet of instructions Penny had given me 1 more time, given a plastic cup and saline for blood collection and I was out the door on my way to the hotel up the street, emotional and desperate for a lay down but feeling a thousand times better knowing that I am in great hands with someone at the helm who comes across as your Greek Grandma.  Just what you need when you are doing this alone – “Amy, the lovely, kind, beautiful girl, who has not yet met her prince.  She will have everything ready for him”.