It’s funny how three little letters “I-V-F” can make one’s blood pressure rise. Most know that those three letters stand for In Vitro Fertilization, and most know that emotionally, it is a trying time. But there’s one area that doesn’t get much attention, and that’s the physical pain that accompanies the IVF injections. Most don’t know about the messiness of it all.
Why isn’t it given its due place at the table? Who knows, perhaps there isn’t a comfortable place to talk about it. Or perhaps it’s because women don’t let this kind of hardship dictate their ultimate goal. Whatever the reason, its worth mentioning because the physical pain is a reality.
In IVF, fertilization of the egg by sperm takes place outside the body, in a laboratory Petri dish. Conventionally, the steps include:
- Stimulating the development of healthy egg(s) in the ovaries.
- Collecting the eggs.
- Collecting the sperm.
- Combining the eggs and sperm together in the Petri dish.
- At early embryo development or growth, transfer embryos to the uterus.
But these steps don’t just happen by themselves. They are induced to happen by way of hormonal induction through injections. Without the use of medical IVF injections, the ovaries will make and release only 1 mature egg per menstrual cycle. With medication, a higher quantity (8-15) eggs are produced, increasing the chances of a successful IVF procedure - having a baby. So all in all, injections used are an integral part of the process and unfortunately so is the pain.
The number and kinds of hormonal injections depends on the IVF protocol prescribed by the physician, but the likelihood of not getting “stuck” by a needle is slim; either subcutaneously or intramuscularly.
Shots administered to the stomach, might make you squirm at the thought, but most women don’t complain about these. However the side effects of stimulating the ovaries, isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. Uncomfortable bloating, pain during urination and weight gain are all commonly experienced side effects. And 1 in 10 women will experience Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, an extremely painful condition that can result in hospitalization.
Shots administered intramuscularly are ones that cause anxiety levels to really rise. Is it the anticipatory fear of the (daily) one and half inch needle in the butt that causes the angst? Or the actual physical pain of the medication as it goes in? I’d say both. Just trying to find a place you haven’t been poked over and over again is a challenge in itself. Bruising is par for the course.
The oily progesterone injections, the ones which help carry the pregnancy to term, is a pain that most women remember. The thick viscous oil, a carrier for these hormones often causes large swollen tender lumps to appear on buttocks and hips. Sitting down can be painful. Certain clothing- pants or skirts that rub on those lumps become impossible to wear. Imagine the size of them if you can’t pull up your pants? And no, it’s not a “good time to go shopping” as the money’s gone on having the baby.
Alternatively, if you want to avoid the one and a half inch needle, you can opt for the much more pleasant experience of –a- suppository-in- the -vagina. A messy all day long stickiness that clings to your body (with possible irritation).
Doesn’t really make for polite dinner conversation, does it?
This is just small glimpse of the some of physical aspects women go through (and don’t talk about) to experience just a chance of having a baby. So, next time you hear that someone is “going through IVF”, you will know that it’s not just about the money, or it not working, or emotional rollercoaster- but there is physical pain involved too.
None of it is easy.
Perhaps the silver lining is that couples often report feeling closely connected during this time; the very nature of one partner administering repeated injections to the other requires trust, faith and vulnerability-many couples rise to the occasion.
S. Fenella Das Gupta PhD Neuroscience, MFT is a licensed practitioner specializing in fertility issues. She works in Northern California and help individuals and couples navigate the fertility maze. Her website is www.twopinklinesthebook.com