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I was lying in a darkened room, legs propped up in stirrups. Instead of the familiar sheet shielding my naked lower half, I was outfitted with a sheet of paper wrapped around each leg, leaving my lady bits—complete with fully engaged speculum—totally exposed.
"Can you see all of that?" I said to my husband who was sitting somewhere behind my head.
"Nope, you're good," he reassured me.
Just then, an embryologist walked in. He cautiously passed a catheter to my doctor and settled in by my feet to watch the procedure.
"Oh. Yay," I said, rolling my eyes at the young stranger getting a front-row view of everything I had on display.
By now, there's little that should embarrass me about who sees what part of my body and at what angle. And yet the journey through fertility always manages to surprise me with its random moments of humiliation.
This isn't to scare off anyone considering fertility treatments, particularly in vitro fertilization (IVF). Yes, it comes with a whole lot of discomfort and anxiety, but it's also an empowering process when you look back and realize how much you handled in the name of scientific achievement. And because babies.
Live a little, dye a little
I had been warned the procedure might be "uncomfortable" ... but this was like the devil himself were clutching at my uterus.
Want to know what's more humbling than having your feet propped up in stirrups? Not having the luxury of stirrups as various people peer at your cervix. Thanks to the lie-flat table at the radiology center, I was forced to angle myself into unnatural positions for my hysterosalpingogram (HSG) test. Early in the fertility testing phase, doctors have to figure out whether there's a blockage by shooting dye into your uterus and Fallopian tubes. That's when I had the pleasure of discovering I had a stubborn cervix that made placing the catheter difficult. Then came the rush of liquid that made me shriek until the pain subsided a minute or two later. What in the actual hell? I had been warned the procedure might be "uncomfortable" and "similar to menstrual cramps," but this was like the devil himself were clutching at my uterus.
But just who shot whom?
Stimulating your ovaries to produce more eggs likely requires injectable medications. As in shots. With needles. The pointy thing that made you cry as a kid and the smell of rubbing alcohol still inspires dread. The idea of injecting myself involved a whole lot of nope, so my squeamish husband had to administer them. That did some unexpected things to our power balance: My pants were around my ankles as he sought out the fattiest part of my thigh while I repeated, "Eep eep eep ... oh! It didn't really hurt!" and he visibly shuddered as a drop of blood welled to the surface. On another night, determined to save at least one of us from the horror, I drew the needle into the vial myself, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly as I jabbed it into my belly and ... still not so bad! Within days I was poking myself with up to three injections a night, and I even successfully self-administered a shot in the bathroom stall at work. Not my proudest professional moment, but a personal coup nonetheless.
The perks of being an ovarian-achiever
Once the stimulants do their job, your body goes into overdrive to grow eggs. With intrauterine insemination (IUI), the goal is two to three eggs; with in vitro fertilization (IVF), the hope is for more. Never one to reject a challenge, I developed more follicles than there are Menudo members and discovered eggs are awfully heavy when they come in bundles of 20 or more. Getting out of bed required more rolling than rising, and walking became an exercise against gravity. When it came time to retrieve them surgically, I couldn't decide what I was more excited for—to end my days as a human hen or the anesthesia-induced nap that would accompany it.
Take my eggs, please
No one warned me what it would feel like after having 28 eggs suctioned out from my ovaries.
Forget the fact that it took three women poking at different body parts to get the IV in. Or the sting of the anesthesia flowing into my vein before finally lulling me into sleep. No one warned me what it would feel like after having 28 eggs suctioned out from my ovaries. According to the Mayo Clinic, "after egg retrieval, you may experience cramping and feelings of fullness or pressure." I likened it more to being kicked in the stomach by a horse and it lasted for about three days. And the constipation is brutal, especially when you bear down. The best belated advice I got was to grab Colace stool softeners to help move things along since the longer you don't poop the harder it gets. (Every pun intended.)
Then comes the very final step of the process: the transfer. This was when I met the embryologist who gazed in awe into my nether regions as the doctor ever-so-carefully inserted a microscopic embryo. As a procedure, it's a breeze compared to the retrieval process. But there's nothing ever easy about lying half-naked on a table with an impossibly full bladder and feeling that unnerving twist of the speculum, fearful that a single sneeze or a cough could derail everything you've worked toward.
Until suddenly, it's over. All that vulnerability and lack of control simply passes, and the project that's occupied so much of your life—one humbling moment at a time—quiets down into a waiting game to see what comes next. And trust me, there is so much coming next.