August 26, 2015

Let's Get Real (Repost from UII)

Warning: This post will contain a no-holds-barred description of my recent appointment at my fertility clinic.  While I promise no graphic pictures, I cannot promise that descriptions of certain events won't be a bit blunt.  Reality can be shocking, funny - and more than a little ridiculous!

I attend infertility support group meetings with an inspiring group of women, and it struck me as a little funny when the conversation on several occasions turned to the role we often assume as educators.  In other words, I found myself in the midst of a troop of health activists who use their experiences with an invisible battle to educate people around them, begin to remove the stigma, and let other people with these hidden challenges know they are not alone.  Funny how life works, isn't it?

In our self-assigned role as awareness activists, we are finding some joy and purpose in the chance to share what this journey is really like - both the good and the grotesque - and when possible to do so with humor and hope.  So I want to share some of my experiences with you.  I'm sure the things I describe will be quite familiar to more of you than we'd like to admit, and for others it will expose you to the world where 1 in 8 couples will find themselves for a time.

Generally not a fan of seeing all the equipment laid out...maybe that's just me.
Every doctor / clinic will do things a little differently, but there are many tests and procedures commonly performed in the fertility community.  The other day I had the misfortune opportunity to experience two I hadn't been through before: a mock transfer and a saline sono.

The mock transfer was performed first  I was instructed to drink 32 oz of water one hour before my appointment to ensure a full bladder (insert panicked "are you serious" face here, because that's what I made when I got these instructions).  It seems for this test they use a long catheter through the cervix as if they were placing an embryo guided by an abdominal ultrasound, and they need your bladder to be full so they can distinguish it from your uterus.  Not being a fan of any test that involves a speculum, my primary concern was how I could relax one set of sphincters to allow the speculum while keeping another set engaged to prevent a urinary blowout on the table.  I promised you an honest recount and a brutally honest one you shall have, people.  This was the test I dreaded more, and to be honest it wasn't nearly as bad as I had anticipated.  Perhaps the suggestion I read online was true, that focusing on not peeing during the procedure helped distract me from the activities themselves.  I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth, especially since this was a test-run for a real transfer so I will obviously have to go through this again.  I do have a theory, though, that this test is really to see if you're prepared for all the bladder pressure you'd face during pregnancy because holding a full bladder while having things inserted vaginally AND someone applying external pressure with an ultrasound wand was a bit tricky.

Then came the saline sono.
Say hello to the transvaginal ultrasound.  While the tests I'm describing might be more relevant for more advanced ART (assisted reproductive therapies), the transvaginal ultrasound is pretty common right from the first few infertility tests.  You get used to it quickly.  And yes, they use condoms as sheaths - hey, why reinvent the wheel, right?
For this test, after getting to relieve myself (THANK GOD), I re-positioned on the exam table and they brought back everyone's favorite gynecological tool, the speculum.  After inserting a different catheter with a balloon attached to the end, the speculum was removed so that saline could be gently pumped into my uterus, expanding it for a better view.  They then used a transvaginal ultrasound (because, as the NP commented, there clearly isn't enough stuff going on in that region) to view the uterus and look for any physical / structural issues.  To keep the catheter in place and as a frame of reference, they inflate the little balloon at the end...and ladies (I assume most gentlemen have passed out by now) that is when the pain hit.  It was a very specific spot, I could point with my finger to exactly where it hurt, and it felt vaguely like someone driving an ice pick through my abdomen several inches south of my belly button.  This will vary a lot person-to-person but for me this was clearly the worst part of the visit.  My husband was present with me and poor boy almost lost his hand for me squeezing so hard.  You can watch the ultrasound images as the test is being performed and they'll happily describe what you're seeing.  This is usually something I do and definitely something I recommend - not only do you become more educated about your health, body, and treatment but it's also distracting - but this time I couldn't even open my eyes long enough.  Apparently they did see a small "blip", a white mark, which could be a small adhesion, a piece of tissue that just wasn't flushed out after my last period, or most likely, a small polyp.  Most women get these from time to time, and it's easy enough to deal with, but we needed the doctor to review the pictures and weigh in.  After the exam was over and they had all the images they needed, they removed everything and cautioned me that I would feel some of the saline drain out - yet another glamorous moment in my muck toward motherhood.

To be fair, I should qualify my description of the experience a bit: I did not scream or cry, and I wouldn't even describe this as the most painful experience of my life.  Also, once the procedure was over the pain subsided fairly quickly (yes I had taken ibuprofen prior to the appointment as suggested and yes, I took a little more afterward).  My biggest issue was that I had quite a bit of adrenaline flowing through my system between the pain and my anxiety about the whole visit, and I started shaking.  The NP and the medical assistant were cool about everything, they had me stay lying down for a bit after we finished, took my blood pressure, and got me some water.  It took a couple minutes but eventually the shaking subsided.  That's when the MA commented that my color was returning and after she stepped out again my husband informed me I had blanched to an unnatural shade of Clorox white even for my usual pasty-assed self.  While sitting up now sipping water, I asked when exactly I went so pale and he answered, "when they inflated the balloon".  I guess that struck me as funny because I laughed...and when my abdominals contracted it forced out some of the remaining saline.  Before I could stop myself I turned to him and blurted "YOU MADE ME SQUIRT"!  I must say, I hadn't seen him laugh that hard all day.

And that was my evening of IVF work-up tests.  I told you - shocking, funny, and more than a little ridiculous!

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