A male perspective of an unsuccessful IVF cycle
There are a lot of IVF stories and perspectives out there from women and rightly so, it’s them who go through the lion’s share of treatment. Rachel and I have been sharing some of our experiences across this website, but I’d like to offer my own experience, thoughts and feelings of our IVF journey from my perspective as a partner. Obviously, I am male, but much of this will apply to same sex couples and the individual in the more supportive role.
The start of the journey
We went through our fertility testing and came up with a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, coupled with the fact I had low normal forms, but a high count should compensate.
I had no idea what that really meant other than it meant that we didn’t fit one of the nice neat little boxes to put a tick in. We were asked which clinic we wanted to go to.
This is the first area that as a partner I spent a lot of time helping with. I trawled the HFEA website looking at the statistics trying to decide which one was the right one for us (you can find that section of the HFEA website here).
Rachel is super organised, so I broke them down into a simple spreadsheet comparing the specific bits, she took a quick glance over my hours of work and decided that the Centre for Life is where she wanted to go.
The referral went in and we waited.
And we waited…
Or so it seemed the letter dropped through the door 8 weeks later with an appointment…
I had to go in before both of us for another Semen Analysis. For some reason I wasn’t really expecting that.
My Semen Analysis Experience
So off I trotted to the Centre for Life and my confused and obviously semi-lost face caught the attention of the receptionist, so she greeted me with a friendly smile and I squeamishly overshared with her that I was here for a semen analysis.
She had a slight wry smirk, gave me a sticker like you used to wear at school and directed me to the lifts.
Mistake number #1!
I have since learnt that we just say we’re here for the fertility clinic!
I got to the fertility clinic and there was a second reception…
I was not about to make the same mistake again, so I confidently said I’m here for an appointment!
Yes…. Us men do learn fast, who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks.
I sat in the waiting room when a lovely nurse called my name and showed me to my date for the morning.
It felt very strange that this lady knew I was going into the room to create a glorious portion of man nectar.
I was told before I went in that I could leave as soon as I was ‘finished’ so I snuck out like a ninja, till I got to the lift, where the nurse who had showed me to my ‘date’ was waiting.
“Crap I thought”
she smiled sweetly and we went down the lift and made small talk and she said see you in a few weeks, to which I thought
“I hope not”
It’s amazing that as a grown man I still felt embarrassed about doing the deed in a fertility clinic and that people ‘knew’ even though; I knew logically that they see many a day.
But one of my 2 jobs were done!
The day before we went to the initial appointment Rachel sat me down to create a list of questions for the initial appointment.
She put down lots of hers and the main things that I was interested in were
- My sperm analysis
- The specific chances of success
- More information about the overall IVF process
The morning of the appointment came round pretty quickly and I drove us to the clinic and we chatted all the way about the process, how long it would take, how it would make Rachel feel and the hope that we had after so long of trying it would be a success.
At the initial appointment we talked through all the ‘questions’ before we even got chance to ask them.
Unfortunately, it transpired that my sperm results were even more borderline this time. My normal forms had come up a little bit, but my count had crashed.
Between my very first sperm analysis and the IVF one, I had developed chronic prostatitis which can cause problems with semen quality. So, we were told that we might have to have ICSI dependent upon my sample on the day
ICSI… what on earth is ICSI I thought and was told it’s where they inject the sperm directly into the egg if they think the chance of natural fertilisation is too low. Which I went home and researched in detail and wrote an article.
We were given a lot of serious looking forms which I made a joke about, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but Rachel just gave me the
“you don’t know when to shut up look”
But overall it was an interesting appointment and gave me all the information that I wanted at that stage.
We got home and we agreed that we’d sit down and go through the forms, I’m not going to lie, I’d just spent 3 hours talking about IVF I just wanted to do something else.
But, I made a coffee and we set to work.
WOW… these forms made Rachel and I have discussions I wasn’t expecting
We had to have a discussion about if I die or if I lose capacity can Rachel use any frozen embryos to create a child, we had to explore whether we were happy for research to take place on our eggs/embryos. Some pretty big decisions, and there is one which still I find a little difficult to this day.
If a man dies or loses capacity and consents to allowing his partner to use any embryos to create a child, then I can just tick yes and it’s all ok.
If a woman dies or loses capacity, then the women can’t automatically consent to me using the embryos to create a child. This was something that I did bring up at the consent meeting, it turns out that the law is more complex because I’d have to use a surrogate, it is something that we could explore if we really wanted to, although it would delay our treatment.
If I’m completely honest it felt a little dismissive that I had even brought it up and they tried to move past this challenge as quickly as possible. This is something that Rachel and I discussed in detail on the way home and we decided to accept. However, I still feel a little aggrieved to this day about the imbalance of using shared genetic material being so one sided. Although, that is likely a whole new post as this one is already getting a little long!
The IVF processes
After the consent we agreed we were given a detailed timetable for her medications and current appointments, told to expect change based on how she would react to those meds.
We went and picked up the medication from the pharmacy and as a warning gents, you have to go to a specific pharmacy because not many stock full IVF medications and secondly be sure to have a clear boot or back seat there are more medications than you will have seen in your life.
The impacts of the medications
This is the bit that is hard on the women, they are going through so many symptoms, emotions and their bodies are changing. Rachel had headaches, hot flushes, felt nauseous, bloated, emotional and generally not good. I offered to help with the injections, but as Rachel worked shits both days and nights, she felt she had to get on with it and would have to do it any way.
This is the part that I found difficult, I wanted to help but there was little I could do. I wanted to take the pain and problems she was getting from being pumped full of hormones and take it all myself.
But I couldn’t
This made me feel useless and guilty about what she was having to go through. It certainly made me feel low at a time when Rachel really needed strength and support.
I ended up speaking to a good friend of mine about it and he made me realise that the best thing I could do was to just be there for anything she needed, which made sense.
So I made sure that I had dinner cooked every night, I planned a couple of nice relaxing days and made sure that she felt pampered, I have no idea if this helped but I think it did and it made me feel less ‘useless’ which is a feeling I know can cause me to spiral into a depressive state, so I had to avoid that.
The scans and the appointments during the down regulation and stimulation phases.
I had made a promise which I was determined to keep; to be at every appointment I could be at. I managed this but it was pretty tough. I think in a 6-week period we had to go to the clinic 7 times. I was working during our IVF, which meant that I had to try and get time off every time. I’d already asked for annual leave over the egg collection through to implantation, but I didn’t realise quite how many times we’d have to go in and sometimes the dates would change, we’d need extra or things would move forwards because of how Rachel was reacting.
The trouble was that IVF is obviously a treatment that women go through and a couple of times I got you need time off ‘again’. I was constantly having to battle to get the time, reprioritise my work, agree to stay late or come in early just to keep that promise.
I mean overall work were pretty good about the whole situation, but this really does add to an already stressful time and it’s something that I would strongly advise speaking with your manager and HR about at the very beginning, so they understand that things can change and what the processes should be.
Egg Collection Day
I woke up with a spring in my step as this was my time to shine, only the second major contribution I could make in this whole process so I was ready, I was raring….or so I thought.
Rachel and I arrived at the clinic got the mandatory school badges to tell everyone we were there trying to make a baby and up we went.
Rachel was admitted to the ward and donned a gown which beautifully exposed her cute little toosh (bottom for those that don’t know). The checked our name’s, postcodes and dates of birth,
Well you get the picture, I guess they don’t want to fertilise Rachel’s egg with the semen of a penguin. Although that certainly would open a whole new can of worms.
Anyway, I digress, before Rachel disappeared for her operation I had to go and produce another sample… I know what you’re all thinking…I’ve done a few and I should be a pro! That’s what I thought right up until Rachel produced a card, which on the front was a picture of sperm and said:
“think of me”
To which I thought
“No worries I got this”
Then I opened it and on the inside cover it said
“for the most important wank of your life”
and some other really lovely stuff but it was that phrase that stuck in my head! Yes, this was actually a really important moment! It maters!
Then my head went into overdrive
“what if I can’t”
“what if they’re not good enough”
“I can’t let her down”
These really aren’t the thoughts you need as you’re being led to another one of those perfectly atmospheric plain white sterile rooms, with busy worker bee’s just feet away.
I set about the same process as before thinking it will be done in 5 minutes. I stared my mission
5 minutes… nothing
10 minutes… nothing
I gave my self a little pep talk telling myself this is something I’ve been doing since I was 13 and really shouldn’t be causing me this much trouble.
15 minutes …I started trying a little ‘harder’
20 minutes… I took a break to recoup and re-gather myself, that’s when I saw it a sign which said:
Nope not happening! I knew what that meant, and the thought of gloved prostate stimulation was not what I envisioned for the creation of my child.
I reinvigorated my efforts 5 folds. If I were sanding a wall it would have been smooth in ten minutes flat.
35 minutes later I was washing my hands, sweating as though I’d run a marathon and walking with that distinctive waddle you get from chaffing caused by a pneumatic sander.
On my return Rachel looked at my flushed sweating face and asked:
“are you ok?”
“yes, it just took a little longer than I expected, are you feeling ready?”
We moved on, I didn’t realise how much pressure I felt in that moment until it was upon me, it meant that it was a lot harder to do what I needed to do than I expected. But through sheer determination it was done.
They wheeled off Rachel and I had about 90 minutes to kill. I intended on going into town and getting Rachel something nice. However, whilst there I clearly was just on autopilot not really thinking I had a coffee and then went into a shop to buy Rach a little something, I came out with socks for me!
Yes, you heard it socks… for me!
Mistake #3 – Partner’s make sure that you get a little something for you’re partner who has just had an operation! Not socks for yourself!
I got back and Rachel was eating toast and drinking tea and asked what I had in the bag it was only at the moment I realised I’d not got her anything, so I sheepishly handed her the card I had got before today and showed her my socks…
“they’re nice” she responded
And we both moved on as though that had never happened.
We were let home about 2 hours after Rachel’s operation to collect her eggs. We were told we they had collected 5. We went home and I spent the next 24 hours doing everything for her as she needed to rest but also to alleviate my guilt at the ‘sock’ incident!
Phone call from the Embryologist
We received a call from the embryologist, and I was really nervous, because we didn’t know whether we’d needed ICSI and how well the fertilisation would have gone.
The call came in and they hadn’t had to use ICSI, which I felt kind of relieved about because it meant some of the lifestyle changes, I had made could have had a positive impact. Then we were told all 5 had fertilised.
I had mixed feelings, I was absolutely ecstatic that all 5 had fertilised but both Rachel and I had discussed in detail about how we were disappointed that we only got 5 eggs.
We had read about couples getting double figures and many over 20 so we knew our chances weren’t great. Rachel was particularly down and struggling with this, but this is where my first success came in apparently a simple statement of
“It only takes one”
brightened up her day and made it into the things she was thankful for in her IVF diary. So, remember what you say does make a difference.
This day turned out to be a day of turbulent emotions, we received a call from the embryologist on the morning of day 3 Rachel was still in bed not feeling great and I heard those words I didn’t want to hear,
“come in today!”
They told us we had 5 fertilised 1 x 7cell, 2 x 6 cell (1 fragmented one less so) 1 x 5 and 1 x 4.
Damn this isn’t what we wanted they should be at 8 cell cleavage by now. But we went in, went through to the room, felt really happy seeing Emby 1 and Emby 2 on the monitor before they transferred them. Throughout this I had 1 job which was to take a few good pictures, which I managed then I just sat and held Rachel’s hand throughout.
We went home and hoped and prayed for the outcome that we wanted. Seeing your little embryos on the screen gives you more hope.
I thought to myself, at least we know an embryo is where it’s supposed to be. I put everything on those little pair of ‘hopeful’ cells.
Sadly it wasn’t meant to be and we got a negative beta test, we were both devastated. Rachel was very upset and I wanted to be strong for her, so I spent the time I was with her comforting her and explaining that we still had another chance and next time we may be more lucky.
But in private I had a little cry and felt a little angry I couldn’t understand why this was happening to us when so many couples do manage to get pregnant. I put so much on those two little embryos’ even though I knew their development wasn’t perfect. But I longed for it to be successful, we had been trying for so long, we wanted it so much that surely it would happen for us.
But sadly not!
I pulled myself together and went back to supporting Rachel and we decided that we wanted to start the next cycle as soon as possible.
Which I’ll do a post on another day as this one is now over 3000 words.
If you have made it this far, then please drop a comment below, let me know what you thought or what your experiences have been of IVF.