Accupuncture

WHO THIS POST IS FOR:

  • Women going through IVF

I am well versed in acupuncture for two reasons. First, I have regularly gone to acupuncture for 5 years. Secondly, at each appointment I ask a million questions. At this point I know my acupuncturist quite well, thus she knows I need to understand why were doing what we are doing in order to proceed. That being said, I am not a medical professional. Consult your doctor before pursuing acupuncture.

ACUPUNCTURE AND ME

I started going to acupuncture for pelvic floor issues that began when I was 16. I had endometriosis surgery to see if that was the root cause and after years of speculation we learned that I did not have endometriosis. By this point I had every test imaginable done and had been to physical therapy. My gyno threw her hands in the air and declared, “I don’t know what else to do, try acupuncture.” She handed me a card and off I went.

I did intensive treatments for months on end and slowly my pain started to go away. At this point in my life I only have pain right before getting my period and know through my IVF journey that my pain is linked to a fluctuation in hormones. 

When I went off the pill, I immediately let my acupuncturist know that it was baby making time. She started me on a cocktail of herbs and worked to get my body moving. Unfortunately I never got my period. I worked with her for about 4 months before going to a fertility doctor.

Throughout my first year of IVF I went before and after each treatment. At this point I think acupuncture helps to relieve stress with IVF but for me personally I cant say definitively that it helps with my lining or egg production. I don’t have anything to compare to make a conclusion. I do know that during my past two retrievals I did fewer treatments and my results were actually better. This all though is a crap shoot and I can’t really determine where the results come from.

ACCUPUNCTURE AND IVF

Many people pursue acupuncture during IVF for the following:

  • Thicken lining
  • Egg quality/ egg numbers
  • Reduce stress

I cant guarantee the first two will work but acupuncture is great for stress relief. For an hour, you chill out, relax, and may fall asleep. When you are gearing up for a procedure and your mind is racing, this time away from reality is lovely.

Many friends came to the idea of it after their doctor recommends it as a stress reliever. From the research I’ve done and from talking to doctors/acupuncturists, there is no conclusive study that says “YES THIS WORKS!” What we do know is that it doesn’t hurt to try.

WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?

Acupuncture is a eastern medical practice that uses very thin needles to move energy (qi) throughout your body. The acupuncturist is trained to understand the different points within your body that align to different pathways. They evaluate where you need movement based on the  body types in ancient Chinese medicine. Based on your diagnosis your acupuncturist will select locations to place needles. The needles do not go far into the skin and should not hit a vein or muscle.

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WHAT TO EXPECT

I know acupuncture sounds scary and super hippy dippy. It is not scary but yes it can be hippy dippy at times. Its important to distill what you want from it. Sometimes I am like “yes! This makes logical sense,” and other times I just have to just nod my head and smile.

People are most scared of the needles, here is what you need to know:

  • They are SUPER thin.
  • You don’t feel them.
  • You may feel a weird sensation here and there, acupuncturists chalk that up to the qi moving. 

When you arrive you will go through a series of questions. Your specialist may ask to see your tongue (go with it). They will then asked you to get undressed or remove clothing. You will place blankets over you to cover yourself. You will lay on a table and the acupuncturist will place needles in strategic locations. Ask about the locations they are choosing, it is fascinating!

Once the needles are in, you will lay for a specific amount of time. During my treatments a heat lamp is placed over my belly area to help with blood flow.

I fall asleep during my treatments, it is wonderful. After your treatment is over, your acupuncturist will come in and remove the needles. You shouldn’t have bruises.

Depending on doctors orders and your acupuncturist you may be prescribed herbs. It is super important you ask your doctor first because you don’t want to mess with your cabinet of meds for treatment.

Some insurance companies cover treatment (although this is rare). You can find acupuncture schools where they will discount the fee although if its your first time doing acupuncture I would stay away. Don’t want to add any extra stress. $60-$90 for an hour session seems to be the going rate if you go to a licensed professional.

EASE YOUR MIND

Acupuncture may or may not help. If you think it will, try it out. You have nothing to loose. The way I look at it, rule it out so you can ease your mind. If you know you may say to yourself, “Well If I just tried…” then try it and see how it goes. No harm, no fowl.

-Annie

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Chrissy Teigen is having a girl!

WHO THIS IS FOR:

  • Annoyed IVF patients
  • The general public

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Yesterday on Facebook my trending section notified me that Chrissy Teigen decided to have a girl through genetic testing. The internet exploded, minds were blown, people were pissed.

I am not a Chrissy Teigen fan, in fact all I know about her is that she is married to John Legend and dances awkwardly on that show where people lip sync. I do however know that she and John had to go through IVF. I don’t know why she went through IVF but the reason is irrelevant. She was poked and prodded. I also know that she is one of the few women in media who talk about it and thus I have a lot of respect for her.

I am grabbing my soap box and delivering a message. A message that needs to be said. To all of you who are outwardly judging her or quietly whispering, suck it. Yes, if you genetically test your embryos you are given the choice to select the gender. We were given that option and opted out because it would make it too emotional. Even though we opted out I say good for her.

When you pay thousands of dollars, put your body through war, you get the “option” to pick the gender. Im OH SO SORRY to everyone who was unable to pick the sex of their baby because they were  conceived without assistance. Cry me a river. You kept money in your pocket, took your condom off and had sex, tough times.

When you go through IVF or adoption for that matter, you give up and loose A LOT. You grieve the loss of your body’s ability to function. You grieve that you will never have a kid naturally. You grieve that you may never be pregnant and get the joy of carrying a baby inside of you. You grieve that the way you may become pregnant is by 5 people starring inside your vagina as they put an embryo or two or four in you, your insides hurt, and all you can do is hope you don’t pee on the doctor from your bladder being so full. You grieve the loss of having any sort of a normal sex life with your partner because for weeks on end you are not allowed to be touched.

Picking the gender of the baby is just a small, tiny, minuscule, consolation for the loss you deal with. If you think its weird, take your judgement elsewhere. You don’t have that choice because you don’t need to make that choice. (INSERT WHAT I WANT TO SAY HERE) Stop.

 

-Annie

 

 

Finding a Therapist

WHO THIS POST IS FOR:

  • Couples going through IVF
  • Women going through IVF

I love therapy. I believe everyone needs it because we all have our own shit. The world would be a better place if we were all a little more self reflective and proactive. But I digress!

I have been in therapy for years and along the way have changed therapists depending on what I needed. When I first started IVF I was with a hippy dippy mediative sort of therapist. While this methodology worked for some parts of my life (like family dynamics) it was not serving me well for IVF. After a suggestion from my doctor I switched therapists and it was the best decision I could have made.

I learned there are therapists who specifically focus on IVF. This means they are well versed in the lingo, know how to empathize with you and can help you navigate the process. You don’t spend your hour explaining procedural information, rather you can dive into the emotional wreck you have become.

I know switching can be daunting. It takes forever to build rapport with your therapist and when you have been with someone for a really long time they know the ins and outs of your family. To me IVF is a whole new beast and having someone who really gets it is essential and worth laying the groundwork.

WHY GET A THERAPIST:
  • They can help you sort through your feelings. Having a third party who isn’t on drugs but understands the effects of the drugs on your mental state can be super helpful.
  • IVF is tough on every and any couple. Ive never met a couple who was like “Yes IVF was the sexiest time in our marriage. It was pure joy!” Having someone to help you navigate those dynamics so you can show love to one another will set you up for long term success.
  • Sometimes you need to be put in your place. When I would get crazy about weight or why things weren’t working, my therapist was my voice of reason. She appealed to me with logic and an empathetic tone.
  • ADDED BONUS: If you can find a therapist who has had infertility issues it is even better because she will truly understand your pain. We have many a laughs during my sessions because of this unfortunate commonality.
TIPS FOR LOOKING FOR A THERAPIST:
  • Search for terms like IVF, medical speciality, medical trauma.
  • Ask your doctor for a recommendation.
  • Call your insurance company to see if they have someone in network that specializes in medical trauma or IVF.
  • Call several different therapists for a phone consult to learn about their philosophy. You are the patient and the one with the $$$, you can ask them how they work with their patients, what drives their work, etc.
  • If you dont like the therapist after the first appointment, switch! You need to be comfortable with being you in front of them.
CASH IS TIGHT! I CANT AFFORD THERAPY!
INSURANCE

In Illinois you get the best coverage for IVF with an HMO. HMOs suck for just about everything else including therapy. Through the IVF process I actually learned that 50% of my therapy costs could be reimbursed for out of network therapy. Shockingly this is not advertised. I recommend calling your insurance provider to find out all options before giving up on therapy.

HEALTH CLINIC

In Chicago there is an amazing organization here called the Chicago Women’s Health Center. When I was going through a crisis years ago and was strapped for cash they let me come in for therapy for only $15 a session! They have a sliding scale based on income. If you are fronting your IVF costs I would imagine most amazing non profits for women would consider your costs. Google women’s health clinics in your area and call to see what recommendations they may have.

-Annie

IVF Clinic - "All I want is a womb somewhere"
IVF Clinic – “All I want is a womb somewhere”

Feeling your feelings

WHO THIS POST IS FOR:

  • My infertile friends

This week was tough, there is no ifs, ands, or butts about it. It was tough for myself and my husband and there is nothing we can do about it. All we can do is feel the feelings. Sometimes feeling those feelings is the worst.

Throughout this experience I have thought a lot about struggle. Someone once told me, “You are going through this because its going to make you stronger.” I told this to my lovely therapist who rebutted this comment with, “Annie you’ve struggled enough, this is bullshit. You are already strong, you don’t need this.” Hear hear sister! The fact of the matter is, it is bullshit.

I have been told I need or should be happy for certain people and the reality is, I don’t. I can just be,  I do not need to be anything but how we feel.

So many women going through IVF are in the same boat and I feel their pain, I feel my pain, and I feel my husband’s pain.

But there is nothing I can do. My best friend sent me this except from MyHusbandsBrainTumor and it really resonated with me and I hope it resonates for you:

“Hard things are hard, and while they can someday teach you a lesson or make you a stronger person, they are entirely capable of just beating the everloving shit out of you and leaving you emotionally dead and physically exhausted”

AND
“The cure for grief is not “be not sad” and the cure for anger isn’t “be unagry!” It’s feeling all of the things, even the uncomfortable ones, without judging yourself for them.
Your job, when bad shit happens, is to get through it however you can. It is not your job to make your life more palatable for other people.

The world will go on, despite your despair. And you know what that is? LIFE. And like our gym teachers told us when we got pegged in the face with a kickball, life is unfair.

What our gym teachers did not tell us is that it’s totally okay if you fucking hate that and want to just scream cry in your car sometimes! It’s okay if sometimes you hate your friends for having things you don’t have anymore, and then you hate yourself for hating perfectly nice people who love you, just because their husbands are alive! That’s okay!

You will be happy again (and sad again, and angry again, it’s a process?). You will find glittering moments of joy, and you will learn things, and you will be completely lost and found again, over and over and over.

But you do not have to be good.”

Beautifully said.

So my infertile sisters, today I write in solidarity for your sadness. We are where we are, nothing more, nothing less.

-Annie

Weird Science! Genetic Testing

WHO THIS POST IS FOR:

  • Couples going through IVF
  • Women in their late 30s and early 40s who are retrieving eggs

Saturday I had my second extraction, almost 2 in exactly one month (off by a day). We decided to batch our eggs because we are PGD (Preimplantation genetic diagnosis) Testing.

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BATCHING: A REFRESHER

I can’t have a fresh transfer (transferring embryos right after a retrieval) because I overstimulate. I am used to waiting to have a retrieval and then transferring eggs. Some folks opt to have several retrievals in a row and then do transfers.

I have met couples who choose this route because they are older and don’t get a lot of eggs after a retrieval and would prefer to have a bunch before going down the transfer road.

Another reason to batch is it can be financially beneficial if you are PGD testing. We are in this camp. Specifically, most PGD labs will have a flat fee for 8 embryos. If you don’t have 8 embryos most people will batch until they reach this number so you can get the most bang for your buck. We are lucky and got 8 on our first try (and had one left in the freezer from last year) however since I have defied all odds thus far, we wanted to have as many eggs as possible to test. After you pay the flat fee, the price per egg seems nominal in comparison.

PGD TESTING

Science is crazy! CRAZY! After 4 failed transfers with high grade embryos we were given the option to PGD test. PGD testing is when they take a biopsy of the embryo and test it to see if it is genetically sound. They can determine which embryos will be more likely to implant using this technology. Usually older women are advised to take this route because it will help you decipher much quicker if your embryos are viable and if you are likely to implant embryos that will yield genetic abnormalities at birth.

Most companies will assign you a genetic counselor. They will go over the test in its entirety and answer any questions you have. Heck, you are paying out the nose, might as well make it worth your while.

TO TEST OR NOT TO TEST: THAT IS THE QUESTION

During our first round at our first doctor, testing was pushed on us but we declined. By all accounts, we were not the typical PGD candidates and there were no indicators that testing was even needed. PLUS TESTING IS NOT COVERED BY INSURANCE. It is expensive, very expensive. Thus we opted to go the “natural” route, whatever that means in this crazy  concoction of science.

Our second doctor also brought it up but again we decided it didn’t make sense since there wasn’t any specific reason to have it done. BUT after 4 transfers, by-the-books perfect lining and embryos, we decided we would bite the bullet and test.

THE RATIONALE

It wasn’t easy to make this decision for a few reasons:

  1. It was going to cost us a minimum of $7500, depending on the freezing fees, number of eggs, batching fee, the price just goes up and up. We are currently WAY passed this amount (by almost 2 fold).
  2. Its 93%-95% accurate
  3. Since they are testing such a tiny organism, there is a chance they could damage the embryo.

We decided to take the leap and scrounge up savings and months of salary to do the testing because:

  1. I have now defied every stat. They don’t know whats wrong with me and I want some answers.
  2. I can’t do this to my body much longer. Feeling like shit 99% of the time isn’t sustainable.
  3. I am not happy while doing this.
  4. If I am going to put my body through hell for transfers, I want to know we aren’t wasting our time.
  5. I need closure.

* Added bonus pointed out by my doctor: If all things go great and lets say we do get pregnant we will wont have to do this again. We will have genetically sound embryos in the freezer for a later use.

If you are considering testing, weigh the impact it will have for you. The PGD companies will push testing because they make money, figure out what is right for your family, sit on it for a while, and then go forth!

WHAT ARE THE ODDS

If you are healthy, the number of genetically sound embryos will vary depending on your age. For example a healthy 30 year old should have about 70% genetically sound embryos (info from our genetic counselor). My doctor approximates closer to 50%. In theory these embryos will be less likely to miscarry and should not have genetic mutations.  As you get older, the number decreases. So if you are playing on pure numbers, the more embryos you have to test, the more likely it is to have genetically sound embryos.

WAITING GAME

So here we are 9 embryos and counting (I will know the final number on Friday) and then they are sending them off to test. We should know our results in a few weeks. Once we have this information we will know if we are going to keep with IVF or call it a day. Either way, its one step closer to the end. While the end is sad because it confirms we may never have a biological child, my body has failed, and I put my body through hell for 2 years with no results… the end if comforting. It means onward to the next phase (adoption) and one step closer to completing our family.

 

-Annie

 

A Best Friends Guide to IVF

WHO THIS POST IS FOR:

  • Fertile friends of infertile gals/couples

I am not a leper but you wouldn’t know this based on people’s reactions. I get it, I am not the typical “idea” of an IVF patient (but who really is?). I don’t have friends going through IVF because I am one of the first in my group to try and have a baby. Despite the world around me that doesn’t know what to “do” with me, I have learned an awful lot about friendships throughout this process.

I have gained a crystal clear picture of who my friends are and why they are great friends. I had a deep fear that my sad, grumpy self would drive them away. That my inability to make plans would make them move on. However, my friends helped me realize that if they can’t handle my highs and lows, then they aren’t true friends.

I do understand that being in a friendship with someone going through IVF is hard if you don’t relate. Our brains are occupied about 90% of the time with IVF which can be annoying Im sure.

Here is what I know: We all go through shit. Friends don’t make your shit about them. They listen, they care, and they are honest. Laugh together and embrace the challenges together.

WAYS TO SHOW YOU CARE:

Be there for her

She is going to need someone to call and cry with, pick up the phone and take a dog walk.

I will never forget when I learned some horrible news and I called one of my best friends on the phone. She drove over immediately. We walked and I vented. I did not realize that throughout this walk I was cursing like a sailor. Children were within ear shot and I had no idea. After I was calm my dear friend said, “Ill never forget when we walked through the streets, you were cursing at the top of your lungs and children were fearful.” Fond memories 🙂

Check in on her

Ask your friend how she is and do not shy away from asking her how she feels emotionally (not just physically). Ask her how she wants to be approached about transfers, etc. She may not want someone asking constantly (even if it is coming from a good place) if she knows the results or how she is feeling.

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Laugh with her

Her brain is constantly thinking about IVF so a little laugh is a great distraction.

This past weekend one of my best friends took on the duty of giving me my shots while we were away at a conference. While in the Verizon Center  Saturday night, I needed my meds. Have no fear Steph was willing to give them to me anywhere, anytime. There I stood, skirt pulled down- shirt pulled up, in the middle of the bathroom when Steph administered a shot. Upon pulling the syringe out she hollered, “Don’t worry, its just HEROINE!” Folks sneered, we laughed. It was great.

Be flexible

She wants to go on a weekend trip with you or out to dinner, be flexible. Its tough being friends with smart ambitious people because they tend to be planners. While you still have the ability to plan, she doesn’t. Try to keep a few dates open and be okay with moving things around.

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Weekend getaway last May. My friends were super considerate of potential surgery dates.

 

POSTS TO COME:

How to tell her you are pregnant

 

-Annie

A shot in the belly, a dollar in the wallet.

WHO THIS POST IS FOR:

  • Women who are in a cycle or are gearing up for a retrieval

Whether you are covered by insurance or not, money is tight during IVF. Between surgeries, meds, etc. dolla dolla bills are hard to come by and so this post is here to help ya make an extra few!

A friend works within the pharma world passed along a short, easy survey from her company. If you are taking Gonal-F (follistim equivalent), carve out 5 minutes and fill out their survey. You get paid $25. Not too shabby. Go get that manicure that will help cheer you up with the cash! All of the information is below:

To take part in this survey, please use the link below to access the study. Upon successful completion, patients will receive $25.00 for their time. Checks usually arrive within 4-6 weeks

http://www.biostrategiesgroup.com/cgi-bin/ciwweb.pl?hid_bypass=1&hid_studyname=pbbn&sys_username=PABN

bioStrategies Group is a consulting firm specializing in helping clients develop and commercialize innovative technologies to better serve patients, physicians and the healthcare system. Our clients include major pharmaceutical, diagnostic and biotechnology companies.

Anyone with questions can reach out directly to: