Fertility Treatments…..Decoded!

Genetically men are women are nearly identical, 97% identical to be precise. The human cell contains 23 sets of chromosomes giving the vast majority of us a grand total of 46 chromosomes which tell our body what type of hair to grow, what colour eyes to develop, even down to the types of diseases we might be more likely to develop. And yet it is only one of these little chromosomes that decides whether we are born a boy or a girl, xx or xy. It is that little chromosomes that decides whether you might get to experience being Mum or Dad - and that makes men and women very VERY different indeed.

We set this site up to celebrate exactly that. Being Mum or trying to be a Mum. Now we LOVE Dads! We think Dads are as important in fertility journeys and it’s something we want to ensure we cover on this site but there is no disputing that a woman’s body, with technically only 3% genetic difference, does the lion’s share when it comes to making baby. More specifically The Woman And The Apron wants to explore and build awareness around fertility, infertility and the emotionally difficult journey towards having a child.

These topics are often very personally private and sensitive, understandably so, but that can make the whole ‘baby’ thing seem like a lonely place sometimes. Our goal is to have a warm and welcoming place, with expert advice, stories of real peoples journeys and posts about our own experiences for those who feel like they want someone to relate to, share with or ask questions of.

For this reason, we’re going to start exploring one fertility related topic per month. The month of February is dedicated to ‘Egg Donation’. We have a really amazing Warrior Woman true life story along with our third ‘Ask The Expert’ post on the treatment itself from our friends over at the Waterstone Clinic. This is a emotionally, financially and physically challenging route to go when it comes to growing a family, one which we want put a spotlight on to bring hope, to educate people around and to give advice for anyone thinking about this as an option for themselves.

I don’t think many couples look at Egg Donation as a first option unless there is specifically an issue like severely poor egg quality. Can you imagine having unexplained infertility when nothing is actually wrong and you just can’t get pregnant? You have exhausted every other option OII, IUI, IVF after IVF still no baby? What if you are the proactive couple who find out on the first consultation that in fact you have very few eggs. What if you had infertility due to chemotherapy ? Well then this and all our February posts may be an option for you.

But before we talk about Egg Donation though, we feel it is important to have a basic understanding of what kind of assisted fertility treatments might come before it. When you have exhausted every other option. When you have cried so many tears of frustration and disappointment and still no baby. This post is looking at the three popular assisted treatments which might proceed Egg Donation, treatments that I (Alison) underwent myself in order to have my beautiful baby boy.

OII - Ovulation Induction

I have PCOS so I do not have an issue with eggs. I have loads of eggs! Problem is, they just lie dormant and wont grow so the first course of action for Ron and me was OII or Ovulation Induction. I will never forget meeting Dr.Waterstone that first time, when he said the dreaded word ‘Clomid’ I could physically feel the panic rising into my throat. All I could think was ‘crazy’ and ‘fat’. I had watched a dear friend go through six months of this and it was really tough going. I decided to suck it up and give it one month.

OII is one of the simplest form of fertility treatment. Basically you take either a course of Clomid or FSH injections (Follicle Stimulating Hormone - you need this hormone to grow happy, mature eggs, ready for departure from one of your ovaries) to grow the maximum of 2 eggs.The injections are not painful (I promise) - think more a pen with a very fine needle than a dentist sized giant stabber. You have a few scans. They are trans-vaginal and you might be a bit mortified so wear a long top and slip on shoes to give you enough time to be ready with a bit of dignity before the nurse arrives in. When your one or two eggs are the correct size the nurse will give you one injection to ovulate and off you go to do the deed.Two weeks later you do a pregnancy test. Essentially this treatment is mimicking a ‘normal’ cycle where the first half of the cycle is focused on preparing an egg and the second half is releasing the mature egg ready for possible fertilization.

The one month of Clomid didn’t work so I moved on to the, (not painful), FSH injections. The strength of the medication was increased using the injection pen. The side effects I had were really bad: headaches, really weird dreams to name a few. When it didn’t work I was so bitterly disappointed. It may be the simplest form of fertility treatment from a biological point of view but it is still a huge emotional and mental blow when it doesn’t work.

IUI - Intrauterine Insemination

IUI or Intraunterine Insemination is a fairly similar affair. You take your injections daily. Get scanned until you get the maximum or 2 eggs. You get your trigger shot from the nurse.This is an injection of hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin hormone; usually produced by the placenta in pregnancy to tell your ovaries to keep producing progesterone...needed for a healthy pregnancy. The man gives a sperm sample. I really cringed for Ron having to do this but thankfully he couldn’t have cared less. The sperm is given a bit of a rinse (purified) and then injected into you rather than it getting there by itself, if ya catch my drift. It is very similar to having a smear done and not painful. I know so many people who had great success with this form of fertility treatment [watch one couple’s story here] but it wasn’t going to be the ticket for Ron and I. When this didn’t work the next option was IVF.

IVF - In-Vitro Fertilisation

IVF is a different ball game. I won’t sugar coat it, IT. IS. TOUGH. Physically, mentally and financially. But it is doable. With IVF there is a lot more medication and tougher injections, the cycle is a lot longer (can take up to 8 weeks for one cycle) and there are more stages to cover. You will be walked through each stage and supported by the fertility nurses every step of the way. It is very daunting but you can do it. Just take one step at a time. We would need a whole month to cover the ins and outs of IVF but here is a brief overview:

Your own eggs are collected - you will be lightly sedated for the procedure. The semen sample that would be provided that morning will be prepared.The best sperm and the retrieved eggs are then introduced to each other for fertilisation. Then the waiting game begins. First you must wait to see how many fertilised. In my case there were 16 eggs retrieved and then the following day I was told 7 fertilised. This by far was the hardest part for me, as it is for so many women. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Usually an embryo transfer happens 3-5 days later.This is a very simple procedure, again like a smear test. I didn’t have a fresh transfer as I developed something called OHSS or ovarian hyper stimulation and had to wait until day 5 to see did any survive to freeze. On day 5 I had 2 embryos to freeze and 1 more on day 6. I had my first embryo transferred 6 months later which resulted in a positive pregnancy. Casey was born 9 months later.

I feel it is important to have a basic understanding to what these treatments entail. It may be hard to understand what a friend or colleague is going through if they are on this journey. Sometimes I am sure people wanted me to get a grip but there are times IVF was about all I could handle on a given day. Understanding the emotional and physical toll of these treatments goes a long long way in supporting someone close to you who is going through it. Family events can be impossible. I spent a lot of time around my cousins kids as they truly warmed my heart. I walked the roads with my dog and looked up at mother nature and asked her for a dig out on more than one occasion. Between the OHSS and just for my general and emotional wellbeing, I took a 6 month break between egg collection and the frozen egg transfer, (basically my little embryos were chilling on ice before being implanted). It was the best decision I ever made. It gave me time to deal with what I had gone through. No matter the outcome you will have to mourn the losses and disappointments. I went into pregnancy much healthier, in body and mind, as a result of that break.

Couples can go through rounds and rounds of IVF and as Meave describes in her February Warrior Woman story, the only thing keeping them going was doing the next cycle, kind of like gambling. I can relate. And I bet there are hundreds and thousands of others who feel the same.

There is tonnes and tonnes of information out there on the world wide web but sometimes it helps to just get the lowdown from someone who has been through it. For anyone facing into any of these treatments above, this is not meant to be medical advice and you’re healthcare practitioner will walk you through everything you need to know and the course of action they are recommending for your situation and body.

Genetically we are all made of the same stuff, men and women, women and women, but each and every fertility journey is unique, different, beautiful and emotionally turbulent in it’s own way. Subscribe below to make sure you get all our February content goodies straight to your inbox. It’s going to be a great one!

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