Last fall, we introduced our community to Allyn Rose, a breast cancer previvor, well known women’s health advocate, former Miss USA and Miss America contestant, and full-time model.
Allyn is documenting her journey to motherhood via blogs and videos in hopes that it will lift the veil of the unknown associated with infertility treatment, and also serve as a reminder to women to be their own advocate. “I hope that it will ‘pay it forward’ to other women going through this and help them realize that they aren’t alone either.”
Catch up on Allyn’s journey:
READ ALLYN’S THIRD BLOG ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE GIVING YOURSELF INJECTIONS:
“Is it scary giving yourself those shots?” After getting that question over and over again since I’ve started this journey, I decided to share exactly what a round of IVF injections is really like! Spoiler Alert: It’s really not so bad.
I’m a pretty positive person. So when approaching something like IVF, I usually just put on my bravest face, put one foot in front of the other and just do it. But there are not many things in life less natural than having to stab yourself in the stomach with a needle…
It’s particularly challenging when all of your friends check in with a level of concern that makes you start to think that maybe you’re not quite worried enough…
Luckily for me, Shady Grove Fertility (SGF) plans ahead for my (and I’m presuming most patient’s) paranoia and mandates that you take an injection class prior to the start of your cycle. After handing in my Masters Thesis two years ago, I swore that the word “class” would be struck from the depths of my brain and that I’d never willingly sign up for continuing education ever again.
But man was I relieved to know that someone would be “hand holding” me through this step of the process. I visited the SGF office on K Street in Washington, D.C. and was led to a bright “classroom” with a non-threatening (whew!) injection set up at my desk. A wonderful nurse walked us through every step of the injection process – from prepping the skin, how to pinch your skin to eliminate pain, filling of the syringes, using the various cartridge brands and replacing needles. We also prepared for the all-important intramuscular “trigger shot” which I learned had to go in… wait for it… MY BUTT!
I had just mentally prepared myself for sticking the tiny needles into my tummy and now I have to stick this GIANT NEEDLE IN MY BUTT?! I think the nurse could see the instant panic on all of our faces and quickly let us know that the enormous looking needle that came with the trigger shot kit was NOT in fact the needle that we would be using but was only for “mixing” the medication. In unison, we all let out a sigh of relief.
We wrapped up class and I felt much more prepared heading into the start of my cycle. Here is a glimpse of what my actual class set up looked like:
(If you look close enough, you can see the butt diagram poking out on the white paper)
Now it was time to get this show on the road… literally. Remember when I told you that I had to start my IVF cycle right after I appeared on Good Morning America? I wasn’t kidding. I finished up my segment, had lunch and headed to my tiny New York City hotel room (4,000 miles from home) to administer my first injections. Suddenly my mind went blank… everything that I learned in injection class went out the window and I started to panic. I frantically looked through the packet and paperwork that they gave me… I studied the butt diagram… I read the medicine manual… I did everything to avoid just getting started. Luckily, my calm, reliable German husband said in a serious Dad voice “Stop stalling… just do it.”
I took a deep breath, I remembered my nice nurse’s voice telling me that everything was going to be okay, I took the syringe of Menopur, pinched my tummy, closed my eyes and did what felt like one of the bravest things I’ve ever done – I STABBED MYSELF IN THE STOMACH!
As I opened my eyes, I saw Christopher smiling as he said “Great job, baby, you did it!” Trying to play it cool, I contained my excitement…
I let out a huge sigh of relief. That wasn’t bad AT ALL. I barely even felt it.
I prepped my second injection (Gonal-F), took a deep breath and bam… it was done! I WAS DONE! What felt like an hour was actually about 3 minutes and I was really proud of myself for not only starting this process, but doing it on the road and in the midst of my busiest time of the year.
Over the next two weeks, I gave myself injections in 5 different states, countless hotel rooms and had monitoring appointments at 3 separate SGF offices. I was SO GRATEFUL that I was working with a center like SGF because I wouldn’t have been able to complete my cycle without the flexibility of my clinical team and the ability to be seen at multiple locations. I made it through – but it wasn’t always easy… and because I was new to this, I had a lot of panic moments.
First off, I had to travel with my meds, some of which needed to be refrigerated. I brought some of them from home, which meant traveling on a 9 hour flight and keeping medication cold. After copious amounts of research, I bought a small diabetic cool pack and I used that during the flight. It did the trick, but it definitely wasn’t as cold as I would have liked it to be upon arrival (but after a frantic call to my nurse I knew that it was still okay). Now that I know better, I would have asked the flight attendant for some ice mid flight and added that to the kit.
Travel Tip #1: Add More Ice
When I arrived in New York, the hotel I was staying at didn’t provide mini-fridges in the room. After about 17 calls to reception, they agreed to pull the ONE mini fridge in the hotel out of another room and give it to me. Upon arrival, I realized that this thing was about 20 years old and I was terrified that it wasn’t going to be cold enough to store my medication correctly. So what did I do? I decided to BUY A FRIDGE and made my poor husband carry it across Manhattan for me.
Travel Tip #2: Don’t Panic And Buy A Fridge
(I married Prince Charming… I know)
To be honest, the stress relief that it brought me was probably worth the $86, but it was a little overboard. But alas, my very expensive IVF medication was now protected! I was in NYC for a week and then realized… duh… I couldn’t bring my fridge as “checked baggage.” I called around to numerous Women’s Shelters and Animal Rescues in the city but sadly no one was interested in my mini fridge. So, I donated it to the hotel instead. They were very excited to have a working fridge. You’re welcome, Cassa Hotel.
Travel Tip #3: Actually, It’s Okay To Do Crazy Things If It Eases Your Stress
If there’s one thing I learned during this process it’s that you can’t prepare for everything. So naturally, there were a few things that threw me for a loop.
The next hiccup in the process was my physical reaction to the injections. I don’t know if I zoned out during injection class or if side effects aren’t very common, but I’ll share my experiences in case you experience something similar:
The first few injections were a breeze. I started to get a little smug thinking “is this what people complain so much about?” Pfft. Well, reality came to bite me in the… stomach.
A side effect of my genetic disease Wiskott Aldrich is having low platelets which causes me to bruise like a peach. Spend too much time leaning on something? Bruise. Sit on a chair the wrong way? Bruise. My husband hugs me too hard? Bruise. I run into the door frame trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night? It looks like I was in a bar fight.
Well, this time was no different. Around Day 4 my stomach started to look like I was slowly turning into a Dalmatian.
2. Injection Site Reactions
Midway through my cycle I began taking a drug called Cetrotide. I figured that it would be just like the Gonal-F or Menopur so I took the first shot like a champ. Driving home from my monitoring appointment, I started to notice that my stomach was getting itchy. I pulled over, lifted up my shirt and realized that I had a large red splotch appearing around the injection site. I was also getting a little mentally fuzzy. Like any millennial, I knew that it was time to consult a doctor – Dr. Google.
As I frantically typed in “reaction to Cetrotide,” several articles popped up warning me of severe allergic reactions to Cetrotide. I immediately dialed the after hours weekend nurse line. When I reached the recorded “triage line,” I started to get nervous. WHAT IF I DIED BEFORE THE NURSE CALLED ME BACK?! So I called the front desk at SGF Rockville which I knew was still open. I explained that I was very likely dying and asked to be immediately connected to a nurse. The receptionist connected me with a nurse who reassured me that I was going to be fine and said that she would review my medications and call me right back.
As my hypochondria went into full effect, I got a call from the nurse telling me to get home, take it easy and call if things started to get worse. Of course the reaction went away after 30 minutes and I went on to live another day.
Travel Tip #4: Don’t Panic… You’re Not Dying.
3. Bloating and Constipation
The bloating is real my friends. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to look 4 months pregnant without actually being pregnant? Go through an IVF stimulation cycle. As your follicles start to grow, your ovaries expand causing you to feel pretty icky. It was particularly bad in my case because I was walking around with THIRTY FOUR follicles.
If the injections, anxiety and travel wasn’t enough, I now couldn’t fit into the only pants I had brought with me this trip and I had to walk around for a week and a half with my jeans unzipped and unbuttoned.
I pouted about it a lot, but I survived.
Tip #5: You’re Not Fat, Your Ovaries Are Just The Size Of Grapefruits
To add insult to injury, just when you start to not fit into your pants, the constipation kicks in. Gross, I know. But don’t worry, this too shall pass… literally. Just eat food filled with fiber and chug water – you’re almost to the finish line, girlfriend!
Tip #6: An Apple A Day…
Remember that scary trigger shot we talked about in the beginning? Welp, it was time.
My doctor called with instructions to “trigger” on Halloween night. It seemed like a cruel joke, so I stress ate a lot of chocolate and mentally prepared myself for an injection into my butt muscle. To make it worse, my husband wasn’t there to help. But I remembered that my injection class nurse told me I could stop by the office the day of the injection and she would draw a big black Sharpie circle exactly where I needed to inject. Fool proof! So to the office I went.
Tip #7: Want To Overcome Your Crippling Shyness? Go Through An IVF Stimulation Cycle.
As I pulled my pants down in the nurse’s office and she drew a circle on my butt, I realized that I was at the finish line! One more shot before the egg retrieval. Somehow this awkward situation felt like a wonderful right of passage.
I thanked her for her “service” and headed home to get ready for my 1AM “call time.” Your trigger shot is carefully timed to be EXACTLY 36 hours before your scheduled egg retrieval. Often you have to take your trigger at odd times of night. As it got later, I started to realize that I didn’t know if I would be able to do this shot myself. Not only was it nerve wracking, but I am notoriously inflexible and wasn’t sure I’d even be able to twist far enough to see the injection site… and I’d be stabbing a muscle this time – what if I twitched? What if I messed it up? What if…
I had one option left. Ask the person whose house I was staying at. But that person… was my little brother. Yep… I had to ask my little brother to give me an injection in my butt.
I figured that I had let a near stranger see my butt today, why not my little brother too? The nice guy agreed and stayed up with me eating candy until the time came.
1 AM rolled around and I made my way to the spare bedroom. I laid on the bed and my brother gave me a countdown… 3…2…1… go!
Piece of cake. Just like everything else in this cycle, I had worked myself up for nothing. I gave my brother a hug and promised him that if he ever needed a shot in the butt, I owed him one. I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. Today was the big day… Egg Retrieval!