what is ivf like ivf success story interview halza digital health

Anne is a 39-year-old professional living in Hong Kong. Today, she tells us about her fertility struggles, her experience with IVF, and the ups and downs of the process that led her to having twins.

Hi Anne! Please introduce yourself and provide us with some background on your IVF experience.

I’m Anne and I’m 39 years old now. I’m French and I moved to Singapore in 2008, where I met my husband. After a few years together, we decided to get married and when we tried to have kids, we found we had difficulties conceiving.

At the time, we were both still working in Singapore, so we started to consult some doctors after a few months of trying to conceive and not succeeding. Our first appointment wasn’t too great. The doctor told us that sometimes, it may take time, but after one year of trying, we still had no success.

My doctor first gave me some pills to stimulate my ovulation. I did that for a few months, but it still didn’t work. She then referred me to a specialist in a fertility center, where they did a full check up on my husband and I to see if we had any issues.

The results of that were almost normal, they didn’t find anything any issue with me, although my husband’s sperm was a little low quality. It wasn’t extremely good, but it also shouldn’t have prevented us from having kids. As she knew how much we wanted kids, she suggested that we try insemination.

After 1.5 years of trying, following our wedding, we tried insemination. Our first round didn’t work so the doctor suggested we try again. Unfortunately, it didn’t work either. She told us that there would be a very low chance of the third try working.

Could you tell me about how you ended up choosing to undergo IVF?

After the failed inseminations, my doctor suggested moving on to another option, which was IVF. We did our first IVF a few months after the last insemination, which was 2 years after our first time trying. They stimulated my ovulation and collected as many eggs as possible. It didn’t go very well. They only managed to collect less than 6 eggs and the quality was pretty low. Only 3 of these were fertilized and of these, only 2 embryos were used. They were unable to freeze the last egg as it wasn’t good quality enough.

My doctor told me that if this first try didn’t work, we would have to start again from scratch since none of my eggs were frozen. I was really hoping for it to work but unfortunately, it didn’t.

Since I was given a lot of hormones to stimulate my body, I had to rest for a few months, before starting another stimulation. We waited around 3 months before we could start a new cycle of IVF. During this time, my husband was offered a new job in Hong Kong, so we deciding between trying again in Singapore or taking a break, moving and getting settled, then trying again.

My doctor suggested a different treatment which would hopefully help to produce more eggs. Since we knew her for over a year at this point, we really trusted her so we agreed to another trial, as we thought it would be easier to continue with her, rather than starting from scratch with someone new in Hong Kong.

While I don’t remember the name of the protocols I underwent, I know that my doctor used two different protocols for my first and second IVF as the number of injections was different.

A few weeks before my husband moved to HK, we did the IVF cycle. I did the ovarian stimulation and this time it was more successful. They were able to collect 12 eggs, if I remember correctly. Out of the 12, they managed to fertilize 8 eggs, and out of these 8 embryos, 5 were very good quality.

We were super happy. It gave us a lot of hope. I always told my doctor I preferred having only one embryo implanted as I wasn’t too sure about taking the risk of having twins but she said that given the history of my journey, if I wanted to have good chances of success, I should get two embryos implanted.

Obviously since my husband and I really wanted kids, we agreed. 2 or 3 weeks later, I had to go back to the fertility center for a blood test to check if it was. We were really happy because she told us it was working.

I was pregnant.

My hCG levels were really high, which she said was a good sign. 2 weeks later, we came back for an ultrasound and we had a big surprise where we found out I was expecting twins, which meant that both embryos were successful. This was in early June 2015, almost 3 years after the first time we tried to conceive. This 3-year journey wasn’t the easiest, but we were lucky enough.

Did you make any lifestyle changes during your IVF experience?

My husband and I both changed our lifestyle. First of all, I was a smoker. I tried to cut down a lot my smoking. My husband quit smoking during that time.
Following the embryo implantation stage of IVF, you are actually entitled to one week of medical leave. During my first try, I didn’t take that time off, I just went straight back to work. So, on my second try, I decided I didn’t want to take any chances. I took that one-week break after the implantation.

How did you choose your IVF clinic?

We chose our clinic as we followed the recommendation of my gynae.

Did you find any part of the process confusing? Was it overwhelming having to know and undergo so many different steps?

Actually, for me it was fine. I had a really good relationship with my doctor. She always explained the steps required very clearly.

The nurses, as well, were super supportive, kind, and nice. When you undergo this type of protocol, you have to go to the hospital for checkups, ultrasounds, etc. very frequently. Sometimes, I even went 3 times a week. By the end, you know everybody by name.

I was lucky as the treatments I had to take didn’t impact me much physically. I have some friends who did the treatments, and they were extremely tired, had swelling, and a lot of physical side effects. Physically, I was pretty lucky.

However, mentally, till today, it has been one of my biggest challenges ever. I think the hormones also affect your mental health; they caused a lot of mood swings for me. Sometimes, you feel really down.

You also go through a lot of disappointments, when you try and it doesn’t work. You have to manage the disappointments and the uncertainty of not knowing if it will finally work this time. You think to yourself, what if I’m going through all this and in the end, it won’t even work, maybe I will never have a baby in my life. Mentally, it’s really really, really hard.

How did you cope with your mental health during your IVF journey?

My doctor recommended that I go for counseling, but I didn’t want to. I cannot explain why, but thinking back, I think I didn’t want to share the shame I was feeling at not being able to conceive.

Looking back, I think that was a huge mistake.

At that point of time, it was really difficult to talk about it, even to my friends. Thankfully, I could talk to my husband, so he was my first pillar of support. We talked about it a lot. I also had a couple of people, not necessarily close friends, I felt comfortable enough to talk with. Maybe it was easier to talk to those two people rather than my very close friends.

But during this whole time, I pretty much kept everything to myself.

One of my friends was going through the same struggle as me – she was also unable to conceive. Having someone who was going through the same experience as me was very helpful for both of us because we could understand and support each other. But eventually, she managed to get pregnant before me, which put even more pressure on me. It was not a race, obviously, but seeing her success while I was still wondering if I was even able to succeed was a bit difficult.

I’m sure you did a lot of research on your own and had many things explained to you by your doctor, but was there any part of the IVF process that was still unexpected?

The thing that I was not expecting was the impact on my mood. I really had a lot of mood swings, which my doctor never mentioned. It’s more so when I look back that I remember that I had a lot of mood change. And this was really difficult to handle. It should be something that doctors inform their patients of.

I didn’t even have mood swings during my pregnancy. My pregnancy was actually really smooth.

The first 3 months were a bit stressful, especially after going through everything, the last thing you want is to lose your baby. The first 3 months also bring the highest probability of miscarriage.

I was very worried in these first 3 months and I may have listened to my body a bit too much because every time I had even a small pain, I was calling my doctor for an ultrasound just to check if my babies were still inside. Thankfully, my doctor always obliged.

But after the first 3 months, this is where the happiness arrived. The second trimester was amazing. I was super happy; I was happy to see my belly growing. I didn’t feel tired at all. My husband was so nice to me, taking care of me. It was an amazing experience. Towards the end of the pregnancy, when you’re at your biggest, especially with twins, it wasn’t the best part of the pregnancy, but all women go through that so I guess it’s part of the package.

What kind of advice would you give to someone starting on their IVF journey? What are some questions you would recommend someone who is looking for an IVF specialist, for example?

It’s a little difficult to give advice as all women have their own history and we all live differently.

That being said, I would advise everyone to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about it and when I look back, I think it was a huge mistake because definitely, you need support. It really is a difficult experience.

Do not be ashamed, there are so many other women going through a similar experience, and we need to talk more about it and ask for support if needed.

It would also be good for the doctor to ensure that patients have enough support. One thing that I will recommend is for doctors to make attending counseling a part of the process and something mandatory, at least once a month for a start. If the patient wants more, they can go for it, but there should at least be a few mandatory sessions to start just to make sure you can cope with it mentally.

My doctor did suggest I attend counseling but as it was only a suggestion, so I didn’t do it. Maybe if it was compulsory, I would’ve talked more and handled it better.

Also, getting to meet and having a group discussion with other people going through the same experience as me would have been very helpful.

Do you think having an app specially created to support women through IVF would be helpful?

Definitely, because especially when you go through the protocol, you have to do a lot of injections, attend a lot of appointments with your doctor, etc. Having an app where you can manage everything, like entering appointment dates, setting up reminders for when you need to do your injections would’ve been helpful.

 

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