6 Ways IVF Is Invasive and How to Cope With It


A bed in the middle of an operating room

IVF is considerably invasive both physically and emotionally especially if you haven’t previously had any basic gynecological examinations. Having undergone many IVF treatment cycles over ten years, I’ve found six ways it’s invasive as well as ways of coping with it.

1. Because of the Medical Instruments Inserted Into Your Body

Different medical instruments are used for different parts of the IVF process, and some are more invasive than others.

To stimulate the ovaries, you will need to take medication and administer several injections. In order to monitor all these hormones and ensure you’re getting enough to produce a large amount of eggs but not too much that you get over-stimulated, you will need several blood tests.

This is the least invasive part of the process as the injections and blood tests are just like others you’ve had. Actually, since these injections are usually self-administered and most of us have never done that before IVF treatment, they’re not like other injections we’ve had, but you get the point.

Also, as part of being monitored, you will need to do vaginal ultrasounds. This is in contrast to external ultrasounds because as the names suggest, instead of being done outside the body the ultrasound wand is inserted into your vagina.

This is done to check the number and size of follicles you have, monitor their production of eggs and ensure that your uterine lining is thick enough for the embryos to become implanted once they’re transferred. Here’s where we get much more invasive.

The most invasive part of the IVF process is the minor surgery that is the egg retrieval. This is where a needle is passed through the wall of your vagina, into the ovaries and the eggs are extracted (under anesthetic of course). This is slightly more invasive than the injections because the needle used is bigger, so everything is on a greater scale and it’s going into your ovaries as opposed to just muscle or the blood stream.

Finally, for the embryo transfer a speculum is inserted into your vagina to open it and make room for the catheter containing the embryos to be inserted into your uterus. It’s not as invasive as egg retrieval but there’s still a lot going on downstairs.

2. Because of Multiple Strangers Working on Your Vagina

That’s right. The IVF process necessitates numerous complete strangers working in some capacity in what is ordinarily a private area of your body.

Of course, this experience varies with clinics but my situation meant ultrasounds were often done by different ultrasound technicians and egg retrievals and embryo transfers were often done by different doctors, so that the experience was not usually mitigated by it being done by the same stranger.

Since egg retrieval and embryo transfers are full on medical procedures, all sorts of assistants will be in the room to help. Nurses, ultrasound technicians, trainee doctors, and the nice people from the lab who come and ask me to identity myself so they can double-check that the correct embryos are transferred to the correct mother-to-be.

I do appreciate the importance of this double checking. Really, I do. But any questions seem invasive when you ask them while I’m only covered by a flimsy hospital gown from the waist down and am lying on a table with my legs held wide open by stirrups, and the doctor is in the midst of adjusting the speculum to open my vagina.

I found it helpful during embryo transfers to focus on watching the ultrasound’s screen and follow what’s occurring. It can be quite fascinating, which means I’m less uncomfortable about the fact that at least two people are working on my nether regions!

3. Because Strangers Are Handling Your Eggs and Sperm

Of course, we’re talking about competent, vetted, lab technicians in the medical field where everything is being done professionally, transparently and under the appropriate regulation. We’re not talking about random strangers.

But on the other hand, your eggs and your partners sperm are being taken away to be processed, monitored and dealt with by people who are not you and that can feel tremendously disempowering.

It can take time to process and accept that what is normally in your control, now isn’t.

To get used to the idea that this was my ‘new normal’ it helped me to focus on the fact that my chances for getting pregnant are significantly greater due to what the clinic’s lab does with my eggs and my husband’s sperm.

4. Because of the Effects of the Drugs and Hormones on Your Body

In order to stimulate follicle growth and the production of eggs, you have to take lots of different medications. They will effect your hormones, which can create ups and down, aches and pains and all sorts of other craziness such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Spikes of nausea and /or consistent low-level nausea throughout the treatment process
  • Inability to bend over without experiencing extreme discomfort because your ovaries feel swollen – because they are!
  • Going through the entire gamut of emotions in the course of an hour

You could feel like an alien has invaded your body. And other may agree.

I personally do not experience mood swings, but do experience plenty of fatigue, breast tenderness, headaches, weakness and as I’ve gotten older – increasing nausea from the medications. I occasionally had to skip work for 1 – 2 days but most of the time have not found it necessary.

5. Because of How IVF Can Invade Your Whole Life

IVF can invade your whole life. Since you require monitoring meaning multiple blood tests and ultrasounds, this means several trips to the clinic per week and hours of waiting to be seen. This can totally disrupt your daily schedule – think work, children, other commitments and basically anything you do really.

Many of the injections can be done yourself so at least you’re spared further running around. But with all the various medications and injections that you’re taking, you may feel as if your life revolves around IVF as you once again have to stop your day to pop a pill, inject yourself, or spend 20 minutes lying down after taking your vaginal pill.

All this effects your entire life; your marriage, your work, your children, your friends, your family and your hobbies. Not only because you’ll have less time for them, but your focus and energy will be – albeit temporarily – redirected.

Even if you do somehow manage to make time for some of these things, chances are having your life turned upside down due to all the hormones you’re taking may mean you won’t want to have anything to do with them anyway.

A woman multi-tasking

6. Because of a Total Lack of Privacy

When trying to conceive via IVF you can pretty much kiss your privacy goodbye.

This is not just because of all the medical procedures and people handling you and your eggs, but because of all the personal information you have to give to your clinic, health care provider and / or insurance just to get started. This information is obviously only shared among the relevant people, but it may feel that everybody knows everything about you.

Keeping in mind that this is very standard procedure as well as reminding myself that the medical staff are professionals who are subject to confidentiality agreements, has helped me to remain calm on this point.

Also, the decision to have a child, the attempts to create one and the discovery of pregnancy or not is usually a private thing. Something that’s just between you and your partner.

Now it seems that everybody knows and that by being involved they’re participating in the conception.

How To Cope With the Invasiveness of IVF

IVF can take over your entire life but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to cope with all the invasiveness that don’t include screaming at your husband and blaming it on the drugs – though you can do that anyway. My husband lets.

1. Plan as Much as Possible

As much as possible, plan your IVF treatment cycle to avoid busy times when other important things are happening.

If you know you have a family visit, an important event looming or if it’s the busy season for your business, you may want to wait until it’s over to start treatment. The same applies to holidays. Take a holiday before you start a cycle of treatment or plan to take one a few weeks after.  

I have found this to be a considerable game-changer.

2. Check Out Options Available for Work

With regard to work, different countries have different policies for those undergoing IVF treatment.Be sure to check out all the options available.

In my case I’ve felt fairly lucky since I worked only in the afternoons and evenings so I was quite relaxed and not at all stressed when going to the clinic for all the necessary, regular ultrasounds and blood tests. Where I live, I just need to take a note from my clinic to my work place if I’m in any way delayed. As for the egg retrieval and embryo transfer procedures I take a sick day if I need to.

3. Do as Many of the Injections as You Can Yourself

Most people don’t like the thought of injecting themselves. But it will save you a ton of time and even money, if you can.

3 different syringes

Yes, it’s scary at first, but as with all things, it will become easier and quicker over time. You should not feel bad to repeatedly ask the nurse to demonstrate or explain what to do – you are after all saving them from having to do it. Even if you know how to do it but have questions about administering the injection more efficiently and painlessly, don’t be afraid to ask.

The regular, subcutaneous injections are pretty-straight forward to administer yourself but for some women, there’s the necessity of injecting progesterone from just before or after the embryo transfer. This is an intramuscular injection and supposed to be done in a ‘hard-to-reach-place’’ – that’s a nice way of saying your bum – so you’ll either have to go to a nurse, or get a friend or your partner to administer it.

It took my husband much persuasion and several whiskeys to agree to the idea of injecting me. Yes, it’s sweet he didn’t want to hurt me, but that reason soon vanished when he realized all the extra housework he’d have to do because I was going to the nurse to get the injection done.

4. Reduce Other Activities and / or Ask for Help

It’s also perfectly ok if you don’t feel like continuing with your usual hobbies and you may feel like you need temporary help for running your household and taking care of your kids.

Your partner will obviously be there to help (or we need to have a different conversation) but that may simply not be enough.

If you’re close to your family you can tell them that you’ll be out of commission for a few weeks and ask them for whatever support they can give. On the other hand, if you think they’re likely to be more of a hindrance, it may be best not to say anything to them at all.

It may be time to ask your friends for help or finally get that cleaner you’ve been promising yourself all these years.

Also, if you have other kids that are older than toddler age, it can help to tell them that you’ll be a bit out of it for the next few weeks. Ask them to go easy on you and save their misbehavior for now, or for daddy.

5. Find the Humor in the Situation

Finding the humor in any given situation can ease a lot of the tension and distract from the fact that you’re feeling invaded. This is easier said than done. You try being funny when the doctor can’t get the catheter into your uterus for the seventh time and the speculum is painfully keeping you open for five time longer than usual!

I tend to crack a few jokes to the nurses. Once, as a nurse was removing a canula from my arm (post-egg extraction) the blood that had built up a pressure pocket, sprayed all over the paperwork she was holding. I dryly commented that that was one way to sign something. Like you my husband also did not laugh, but the patient in the next bed found it hilarious. Must have been the drugs.

6. Focus on the Goal

The most important thing to remember as you’re running to and from the clinic to get a blood test, taking all your medications, doing all your injections, being prodded by instruments and stared at by nurses and doctors, is that you’re going through all this to have a beautiful baby.

However hard the IVF process is, it’s all worth it for that great and wonderful goal.

At least that’s what you thought when you decided to start IVF.

Either way, the invasiveness of IVF will get you used to further invasiveness that will come if the process is successful. Because let’s face it, pregnancy, childbirth and 18 years of child rearing is considerably invasive too.

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