I have shared briefly on social media that I went through an IVF cycle that failed but for so long I did not feel ready to share my story in detail. For many reasons really. The first is because I did not feel ready to go back to that time – the emotions were still raw. Another reason is I got some backlash about being a Christian and having done IVF and to be honest I just wasn’t ready to go into that discussion. But today I am sharing my IVF story. It is not because I have dealt with everything. No. I am still processing a lot of my journey to motherhood but I am learning that sometimes you have to jump off the cliff even if you are not totally ready. Is there even a time when one is fully ready to do something? I doubt. I am telling this story for the sake of that woman who has been told there is no other way for her to be a mother except through IVF and she is wondering what it’s all about. For that man whose journey to fatherhood will involve more hospital visits than he ever imagined.
What is IVF?
IVF stands for In Vitro Fertilization. Simply put, it is the process of fertilization by removing eggs from the woman, getting a sperm from the man, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. Once fertilization happens, embryos are formed. Remember your Biology class? The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus and the normal pregnancy process continues. IVF is a form of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). It is needed when the body for one reason or other cannot do fertilization by itself. In my case, I was diagnosed with bilateral blocked tubes meaning both my tubes were badly blocked. Basic Biology tells us that the egg and the sperm meet in the fallopian tubes and fertilization happens then the embryo travels to the uterus and attaches itself to the uterine wall. You are wishing now you’d paid attention in class, aren’t you?
So, what exactly happens in IVF?
Don’t worry I will explain this in normal people language. The woman -in this case me – goes for an ultrasound to ensure the uterus is OK. They then take your blood and do many tests. Now, let me warn you right now, IVF is a very invasive procedure. If you have been told you need to go through this process prepare your heart. Good thing is they take you through a bit of counseling beforehand. If you have a friend or family member going through this, by the time you finish reading this you will see how much you need to support them instead of judging them. Where was I? Yes, many tests. After it’s seen your uterus is OK and the blood work is alright they go to the next step.
Ovarian stimulation: IVF is a process that uses probability. One egg is not enough. Sometimes some eggs are not healthy or fully matured. Sometimes some embryos are unhealthy or weak and don’t make it to the end. As such, the doctors need many eggs from you. This means your ovaries have to be made to give many eggs. This stimulation involves having hormones injected into you daily. Yes. Daily. And guess where the injections are done? On your lower abdomen. You read that right. By the end of the three weeks of daily injections I had black sports on both sides of my belly that my husband used to make fun that I look like a drug addict with so many track marks. When you are going through difficult things, you need to come with a sense of humor.
Egg retrieval: Once the eggs have matured they need to be removed. I have been through a lot of physical pain but this here is pain I can’t forget. Thankfully you are put under for this procedure. The pain comes after you wake up. I only realized how close my ovaries and bladder are during this procedure and later on during pregnancy. After the egg retrieval procedure, the ovaries are raw and so the moment your bladder fills a bit you experience pain that makes a grown woman cry. Moving on.
Fertilization: Now that they have your eggs, they get the sperms from your partner and do the fertilization in the lab. Result is the formation of several embryos. I know this sounds mechanical and I assure you it is. By this point I felt the romance that comes with making a baby was completely stripped off. And so this is a reminder for all you that conceive with ease, be grateful. What happens in your bedroom has to happen in the lab for some.
Embryo transfer: Once the embryos are ready they are put into the uterus. Another very uncomfortable procedure. Like I said earlier IVF is a process of probability. To increase chances of pregnancy, doctors put in two or three embryos during the transfer. That is why parents who’ve done IVF sometimes get twins or triplets.
Wait period and pregnancy test: Next step is to wait two weeks (most times on bedrest) then do a pregnancy test to see if the procedure was successful. In our case, the procedure failed – none of the 3 embryos took. After the two weeks I started bleeding heavily which led to more injections with no success.
You can see just by reading through the process how physically overwhelming IVF is – I promise I have not even given all the details. I will not even attempt to explain the emotional toll it takes on the women and even your partner. That would need an entirely separate blog post. Allow me though to say something about the financial exhaustion it brings. There are different types of ART processes. Some people require the sperm to be inserted directly into the tubes. Others need to the entire IVF process. IVF in Kenya ranges from 350,000 – 500,000! The Nairobi IVF center has a payment plan which breaks this into some installments provided by the time the process is over you’ll have cleared the bill. But I remember sitting in the parking lot of Landmark Plaza laughing with my husband about how we now only had 467 bob in our account. See that sense of humor to get through difficult times I was talking about? The worst part of this is that most insurance covers don’t pay for IVF. Actually, I have only come across one insurance cover that does – the Minet cover for TSC teachers. I watched this video and wished I was a teacher because it would have saved us so much turmoil. The process is already so overwhelming physically and emotionally it should not also be financially draining. The government is looking on how IVF cost can be reduced – there is an ART Bill, 2016 in parliament (get some time and read it). In the meantime, we can only hope other insurance companies can copy Minet and start covering IVF.
All in all, I am grateful for the experience. Having gone through this process I can still say God is the giver of children. There are certain things that cannot be done in the lab. The embryo has to attach itself to the uterine wall. The doctors can only get it as far as the uterus but implantation has to happen on its own. Isn’t God amazing! He gives us science but is still deeply involved in the creation process. It is not like you are arm-twisting Him or going behind His back. As a Christian, I also feel the walk to parenthood is dependent on ones walk with God and the relationship they have. For some, God tells them to wait for the natural process. For others, God points them towards adoption. For others, IVF. I feel we needed to go through IVF to fully appreciate the miracle of our son. After blocked tubes doctors said the only way IVF. Then we did it and it failed. Months later we got pregnant with my tubes still blocked!
Moral of the story: Walk your journey with gratitude. Don’t judge others, instead support them.
Author: Wanjiru Kihusa
I am Wanjiru Kihusa and I’m a writer and founder of Still A Mum – an organization that seeks to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in Africa. I am especially passionate about women and children.
I blog to share my thoughts and experiences hoping that in the process someone will learn from my life.