Exploring IVF? Here’s One Woman’s Experience 10 Years Later
Sharing My IVF Journey—And Advice
In 2011, Obama was President, skinny jeans were in, and I was lying on my back, legs akimbo, as a nurse held up a syringe full of my hopes and dreams. After months of injections, blood tests, suppositories, and all manner of indignities in public bathrooms, a medical team had harvested my eggs, combined them with my husband’s sperm, done some fancy science, and filled that very syringe with two embryos ready for implantation via IVF (in vitro fertilization).
At the exact moment of transfer, The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” was playing, the lyrics willing me to just ‘hold on.’
Back then, it felt like all I had been doing was holding on. I was depleted after a year of loss, unable to produce a healthy, full-term baby, and felt like my body was a failure. I hoped technology would give me a miracle. It did—or two, rather: twins who are about to turn 10.
Over the last decade, IVF has evolved. There are better methods for freezing eggs and enhanced options for screening embryos. Genetic testing, experimental in 2011, can now target a single chromosome. Even success rates, once single digits, have risen in some cases to over 30 percent.
It remains, however, a grueling process: physically, emotionally and financially. I wasn’t necessarily having trouble conceiving, but the previous year, my husband and I discovered that we were both carriers of a recessive gene for a deadly disease. Using what was then a new technology—pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD or PGS)—they would harvest and fertilize my eggs, wait until the embryos grew to eight cells, and run genetic tests before transferring the healthiest ones.
I was, comparatively speaking, incredibly fortunate. The clinic harvested 24 eggs during my first cycle (I think they told me I set a clinic record, but was so high after the procedure—conducted under general anesthesia—that it’s possible I dreamt it). Of those 24, we ended up with just seven embryos that were unaffected by our condition. I decided to transfer two (with five “on ice”), but was lucky to get pregnant with the twins on the first attempt. While it was about as straightforward as IVF experiences can go, it wasn’t a time I thought I would ever want to relive.
But as medicine has evolved over the last ten years, so has my relationship with that period. Even though, if I grab my belly in just the right spot, I can still feel the phantom prick of a needle, most of the pain has subsided. In its place, I’ve found something wonderful instead: perspective.
Wherever you are in your IVF journey, here are a few pieces of advice that, after my own experience and a decade later, I feel qualified to convey.
1) Do your homework—but don’t get too bogged down by the numbers
My choice of fertility clinic was relatively easy. My regular gynecologist, who I had seen for many years (ironically when I was trying to prevent pregnancy), also worked with a fertility clinic that happened to be a short walk from my apartment. While I did half-heartedly look around at others, I liked her, trusted her completely, and went with my gut.
Doing your research is important—review clinics’ materials, visit with doctors, and if possible, speak to other patients—but don’t let their success rates sway you too much. Success or failure of a single IVF cycle is entirely individual, and a difference of a few percentage points at a clinic-wide level won’t mean very much for your own circumstances.
You’re also making a huge financial commitment. A cycle of IVF with PGD can run around $20,000 or more in the US. Although in the UK, where I live, the National Health Service offers limited rounds of IVF for free, but it can take years to make it off the waiting list—and that was before COVID delayed things further.
Most private clinics try to keep costs competitive within their market, but some may offer payment plan options. My treatment in 2011 at a private clinic cost over £10,000, which we covered with help from my parents. I still contend they got a bargain; two grandchildren for the price of one.
Ultimately, once you’ve narrowed down your choices based on practicalities, you should choose somewhere you feel safe and comfortable.
2) Find the coping mechanism that works for you
Early on, I asked my doctor how many cycles of IVF I would be able to handle. The physical side effects of IVF vary from person to person but are generally tough to deal with. The drugs used to stimulate egg production will make you bloated and send your hormones raging (all the unpleasantness of being pregnant without actually yet being pregnant). Between the blood tests and self-injections, your skin may be a Rorschach test of bruises for months.
She told me that most patients didn’t stop because their bodies gave out—it was their hearts, figuratively speaking, that couldn’t take any more. But I wasn’t leaving anything physical to chance; in the three months before I started treatment, I dedicated myself to getting into peak shape.
I approached fitness with military fervor, swinging my kettlebell like a woman possessed. My phone background was my mantra: Failure Is Not An Option. My coping mechanism was to focus on a goal I could control: getting fit. At a time where so much was out of my hands, I found comfort in asserting power where I could.
That strategy won’t work for everyone. My friend Emily is currently undergoing IVF with her wife and dealing with, on top of the normal stress, the additional administrative and financial hurdles of being part of a same-sex couple. When I asked her about her self-care routine, she replied with one word: RAGE.
That’s another way to cope. Therapy is a third, or finding a support group either on- or offline, of people going through a similar experience. Journaling, meditation or making time for small moments of pleasure (think warm baths or cupcakes) during this challenging time are others. For me, building physical strength gave me emotional resilience at the time I needed it most.
3) Seek out others and, if you can, share your story in turn
I never could have imagined I would one day be able to discuss my IVF experience with others, but now I make it my mission. In 2011, I felt like I was on a lonely journey, but people’s willingness to talk about the process has evolved since then too.
My friend Laura, who underwent IVF recently, agrees. She found friends, colleagues and even a former boss willing to open up. “Now I tend to be proactive about saying we did IVF,” she says, “even when it’s not necessarily part of the conversation.”
It may not fit into a discussion about what show you’re streaming at the moment (“Did you see the last Ted Lasso, and speaking of balls, did I tell you I conceived my children with IVF?”), but offering it up matter-of-factly in a routine discussion about pregnancy or babies doesn’t need to be scary.
Irrational as it may be, almost every person I’ve spoken to who has gone through IVF has felt ashamed at some point. By sharing our stories, we can normalize the process for others and ourselves, and shed the stigma around assisted conception.
4) A cliché that’s true: Time heals
My feeling upon seeing two heartbeats during the first ultrasound was terror. Sure, I was excited; but mostly, I was afraid. Afraid there would be another loss. Afraid things wouldn’t work out again.
This fear stayed with me my entire pregnancy. I refused a baby shower and didn’t tell people I was pregnant until 24 weeks (even co-workers were puzzled as to why I had gained so much weight after my aforementioned fitness kick). I erected these defenses to create what I hoped was an impenetrable shell around my own heart.
But ten years is a long time, and now, when I think back to my IVF journey, my overwhelming feeling isn’t fear, or pain, or envy of those who conceive without intervention; it’s gratitude. I am grateful daily for the doctors, nurses, geneticists, and researchers for the gift that they gave me. In your darkest moments, it may seem impossible to believe—but time can heal almost anything.
Today when I look at my twins, it’s hard to believe they were once tiny eight-celled organisms. On the cusp of the tween years, I often remind myself (as they yell at each other) that it’s a privilege to watch them grow. Some mornings they’ll jump into bed with me, and I’ll take one under each arm, remembering when all three of our hearts beat together inside my strong, capable body.
Alisha Fernandez Miranda is a Miami-born, Scotland-based CEO, writer, entrepreneur and mother of twins. She’s the author of a forthcoming memoir, The 40-Year-Old Intern, about how she spent her pandemic year trying out the dream jobs of her childhood. Follow her adventures on Instagram.