In the past, whenever I thought about IVF, I thought about the needles and by needles, I mean injections! And not just any type of injections, the self-administered kind. The very thought used to give me goose bumps.
You see, I had always had a morbid fear of injections. From as early as I can remember, getting prescribed an injection was akin to a death sentence for me. I would break into a sweat, squeeze my eyes shut, and clench my buttocks so tight that the Doctor or Nurse administering the shot would almost always have to reprimand me. And because of the build up, they were always painful. Very painful. As I got older, so also did my phobia for injections. Getting my blood drawn was even worse! It would be a whole song and dance settling down to get it done, and, maybe because of my intense fear, my veins were always sure to play the disappearing game, leaving me with an arm (or arms) riddled with needle holes. No, needles and I have never been best of friends.
And yet there I was, staring at this Nurse handing me a consignment of needles, syringes, and miniature medicine bottles, asking me to go home to inject myself! As in, inject myself sha! And on my stomach, of all places!!! I cast my mind to how, as a child, the worst thing about the possibility of getting rabies were the stomach shots I was told were the cure. Back then, I couldn’t even comprehend getting shots on the stomach, but here I was now facing the very same fate. My request to have the shots administered for me was refused, as the clinic hours could not accommodate the recommended time for my shots. I just couldn’t believe this was me.
Before I continue, let me educate those who don’t know about the relationship between needles and IVF. With an IVF cycle, there are 2 protocols; the long and the short. The long protocol involves first of all suppressing the ovaries (down regulation), before they are then stimulated to produce follicles. The short protocol skips the ovary suppression, and goes straight on to the stimulation. At the start of the long protocol, the ovaries are suppressed through a down regulation drug, administered either as a daily injection, or as a nasal spray (as far as I know, the nasal spray option isn’t available here in Nigeria). Once the ovaries are suppressed, they are stimulated using a fertility hormone called FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), also known as gonadotrophins. This is via another daily injection, administered for about 10-12 days. So basically, you cannot avoid injections in an IVF cycle.
After the Nurse handed me my stash, she gave me a mini tutorial on how to administer these injections. I was a shaky, terrified, tearful mess as she showed me how to grab the flesh on my stomach, and insert the needle just under the flesh, without necessarily having to stab myself. To my shock and amazement, it was actually painless. I wiped my tears and went home hopeful. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
That night, I struggled to remember the Nurse’s technique, and eventually was able to insert the needle in just as painless a way as I was shown. I couldn’t believe I had been fretting and panicking for nothing! On night 2, I was already feeling like a pro, and proceeded to administer my shot with so much confidence. Unfortunately, the technique I was taught flew right out of my head, and I jabbed in the needle so deep, I drew blood (well, little spots of blood, but painful regardless). The next night, it was the same. At this point, I went on YouTube for a proper tutorial. There, I saw exactly how I needed to grab the flesh on my stomach, and how exactly to inject right beneath the surface of the skin. I saw that this was not something I could do in a hurry, but to meticulously take my time to do. I realized that it was less painful to push out the medicine very slowly, as against fast. A number of my online friends recommended icing the injection area like a half hour beforehand, as it was supposed to numb the area, making it possible not to feel the pain. I tried this a few times, but soon ditched it, as I realized my YouTube tutorial had been all I needed to get by. After a while, I was coasting and administering the shots without batting an eye. That was before I had to add the stimulation shots, meaning I was injecting two times a night. It wasn’t that the injections were any more painful in themselves, it was that the frequency had made my stomach extremely tender, so the shots were more difficult. By the time I had my last shot, my stomach looked like a pin cushion, with little black dots spread across it.
Some of my friends were lucky enough to have their husbands help with the shots. I’m sure that would have reduced a lot of the stress and trauma. In my case, that was something that was never going to happen! As macho as my husband likes to present himself, he has an even deeper phobia of needles than I do. This was something I only found out about a few years into our marriage, when he had to get his blood drawn. My mouth was open as I saw my macho husband shaking like a jellyfish, offering and withdrawing his arm, and sweating profusely. Ehn? My husband?! I laughed at him all the way home. So by the time we were on the IVF train, when I brought out my bag of needles and syringes, my husband would blow me a kiss, wish me well, and promptly exit the room. O.Y.O much! I just had to forgive him, because he was great with every other thing.
For my next cycle, in another hospital, when my doctor offered to have their nurses help with the stimulating injections, I immediately jumped at it. Yes, I still had to administer the down regulation shots on my own (my administration time was 10pm), but by the time I started the stimulating shots, I gladly drove to the clinic, every morning, on my way to work, and on the weekends too. To me, this was far less stressful than administering 2 injections every night.
Some women have to go even further, with progesterone injections. Progesterone is needed to make the womb more hospitable, and also to support the (hopefully) resulting pregnancy. It is an oil-based injection, so the pain is real!!! I had it administered early in my TTC days, and it was incredibly painful. I couldn’t imagine having to add this to my cocktail of injections. I was lucky that my progesterone was prescribed in the form of a suppository, which I gladly inserted instead.
However, it is not this difficult for everyone. For the many (weird) people who actually love injections, this is usually a walk in the park, nothing special. For these people, I give 2 thumbs up. The truth is that the injections are really not half as bad as they are made out to be, and hopefully, just as with me and my 2nd cycle, when you get to see the baby/babies that result from the experience, you would gladly do it all over again!
Baby dust to my IVF people! Good luck to you all!