The IVF Journey: What is it like?


In Vitro Fertilization treatment or IVF as it is commonly called, is an incredible journey that has resulted in millions of couples around the world having the families they dreamed of, after receiving a life-altering diagnosis of infertility.

People often ask: “what is it like to have IVF treatment?” In this article, we briefly look at the IVF process; the physical, emotional and financial challenges it entails; how the women who have undertaken their own IVF journeys have described it; and how we at Medfem Fertility Clinic ensure the best possible outcome for every couple.

The IVF process

In the simplest terms, IVF treatment is a process of assisted reproduction where the egg and sperm are fertilised outside of the body to form an embryo, which is then transferred to the uterus to hopefully implant and become a pregnancy.

However, IVF treatment is not a single event, but rather a series of procedures that are completed over five stages to complete a treatment cycle, as briefly described below.

IVF treatments commence with a course of hormone therapy to stimulate the development of eggs in the ovary – this is stage 1. Responses to the medications used vary widely, with some women having no symptoms, while others feel emotional and much more prone to tears, anxiety and irritability. Some report feeling uncomfortable with bloating, headaches, tiredness and other symptoms.

Stage 2 is the egg retrieval process, which is done under anaesthetic and ultrasound guidance. Afterwards, some women feel a little tenderness and tiredness because of the anaesthetic. After being monitored for a couple of hours, patients are allowed to go home and may need to take the following day off work because of minor pain and fatigue.

Stage 3 is the fertilisation of the retrieved eggs in a petri dish (‘in vitro’ which literally means ‘in glass’) to create several embryos. These embryos spend three to five days in an incubator.

During stage 4, one or two of these embryos are transferred through the vagina to the uterus, where implantation hopefully occurs and pregnancy begins. This procedure only takes a few minutes and most women do not find it uncomfortable. Patients rest for 30 minutes before going home. Many women return to work the next day if their jobs are not strenuous.

Stage 5 is called the Luteal phase and is the two-week period between the embryo transfer and the pregnancy test. Emotionally, this is a very taxing time. Hormone levels are high and there is not much that can be done to influence the outcome.

It is also important to realise that not every IVF treatment cycle is successful. A couple may need to undergo more than one cycle of treatment and, in many cases, several.

If you would like to read more about the five basic stages involved in the IVF procedure, please click here

The Physical, Emotional And Financial Challenges

From the brief description above, it is clear that IVF can be a physically exhausting journey. You need to prepare yourself for around two months of medications, a number of procedures and extensive testing, while also dealing with the impact of hormonal changes on your body.

Dealing with feelings of uncertainty and trepidation, as well as hope, many women and men describe the experience of coping with infertility and IVF treatment as an “emotional rollercoaster”. Couples go through a range of intense emotions: from hope to fear, from joy to disappointment. Some couples find treatment to be a positive experience because they have something to focus on. Others may fear the physical intervention or feel very disappointed that they require medical assistance.

All of these issues have an impact on the individual, and may result in depression, anxiety, helplessness and isolation, and can also place the couple’s relationship under a great deal of stress. In addition, many couples feel stigmatised, and unable to share their experience with family or friends. There may be periods of intense sadness, anger or isolation. Often, waiting for results is described as the most difficult part of treatment: days seem to pass slowly, and it can be a time of acute vulnerability and sensitivity, making it difficult to concentrate on ordinary life.

How Women Describe The Journey

In a recent article, 10 celebrities recently shared their IVF journeys. Here is a brief summary of what some had to say about their experiences.

Comedian Amy Schumer, while struggling to conceive a second child, described on Instagram how gruelling she found the process: “So IVF went like this for us. They retrieved 35 eggs from me. For all of those, we got one normal embryo. So we feel lucky we got 1! I just wanted to share and send love and strength to all of the warrior women who go through this process.”

After suffering the heartbreak of a miscarriage, former US First Lady Michelle Obama turned to IVF. She wrote about her IVF journey in her 2018 memoir “Becoming”, telling how after ‘countless injections, ultrasounds, and blood draws’, she finally welcomed their daughters.

Brooke Shields’ first round of IVF led to a pregnancy… but then a miscarriage. After many more cycles of IVF without any success, she told “Fertility Today”: “I was about ready to call it quits. I was growing weary of the anticipation and the pressure. At wit’s end, we decided to try one more time” — and their daughter was born.

Of course, not every IVF cycle is successful.

Supermodel Tyra Banks went through a year of unsuccessful IVF attempts before deciding on surrogacy. In an interview with People her mother said: “It hurt me so much to watch her struggle through that.”

Kim Kardashian underwent IVF treatments to have her second child but thereafter doctors told her they would not attempt IVF again. Through surrogacy, she now has two more kids, and said in a video: “I’m so thankful for my beautiful kids, no matter how they came to me.”

The youngest Kardashian, Khloe, mentioned her IVF journey to have a second child in a 2021 “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” episode, revealing that none of the eggs she had frozen in hopes of having another baby someday had survived the unfreezing process. She notesd on Twitter “It’s so tough emotionally”, adding it also wasn’t fun physically.

Former Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig said during her “bittersweet” IVF journey she spent three years of her life in an “IVF haze”. In an interview with InStyle, she said: “Emotionally, spiritually, and medically, it was probably the most difficult time in my life.”

It is, however, crucial to realise that each woman will handle IVF treatment in her own unique way.

A case in point is well-known model Katrina Scott who, as reported in a recent article, walked the runway at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit show in the middle of an emotionally and physically challenging IVF cycle! Mom to 2-year-old Isabelle, Katrina who is 37, was receiving IVF treatment after going through two miscarriages and a chemical pregnancy, about which she said: “All the heartbreak, the rejection, the closed doors, the confusion, the loss, the days where I didn’t know if I could put one foot in front of the other… I hope to represent the women yearning to grow their family… who may have experienced loss (my 3 angels), and all my IVF warriors who are holding onto every month praying for their family.”

If you would like to know what our patients at Medfem Fertility Clinic say about their IVF journeys, please click here.

How We Do IVF at Medfem Fertility Clinic

The IVF process described here may sound complicated and technical, and the journey difficult and long, but at Medfem Fertility Clinic, you are in the hands of consummate professionals who care.

At Medfem Fertility Clinic, we believe in making world-class fertility treatments available for everyone and it is our joy and commitment to give you a positive outcome to your fertility journey, so you will have a fond memory of feeling empathy, caring and being part of the Medfem Fertility Clinic family.

We implement individualised IVF stimulation protocols which are customised to each patient according to a multitude of factors, including infertility diagnosis, age, weight/height, prior cycle outcome and prior reproductive history. Our IVF clinic treats over a thousand patients each year with success rates that have consistently remained high and well above the national averages.

If you would like to find out more about the IVF journey, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

We look forward to meeting you!

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