Continued from Baby Voyage: Deciding to Freeze Eggs. Now on to I’ll Take a Shot of Hormones…
Note: I’ve been amazed at the private responses I’ve received about these recent posts on fertility from men! Ladies, it is not just us who thinks about these issues and challenges. That said… to the brave men out there who are following this journey (or just finding it for the first time), this post and the one that follows may push the TMI boundaries, so consider yourself warned.
It had been a little over three weeks that I had been taking birth control pills in hopes that – as my doctor said – things would “quiet down” in my ovaries and the cyst would be gone, preparing my body for the whopping hormones with which I’d soon be injecting myself.
My mom came with me to my appointment. Blood test first. All good. The doctor entered the room for my ultrasound.
30 seconds later: “Everything looks good,” he said. “You can go ahead with the injections.”
“Cyst is gone?” I asked, in disbelief that after nearly a year of delays and problems and obstacles, I was finally getting a green light to go forward with the egg freezing process.
“Yes. Everything is quiet in the ovaries, exactly as we want it. Your last pill was last night, yes?” Yes. “So you should get a period in the next couple of days and start the injections as planned. Call me if you don’t get it by Friday though.”
Simple as that. He left the room and I’d see him again in a week’s time.
Learning how to do hormone injections
My mom and I waited in what looked like a small conference room — the same room I was in a year and a half prior when I first started exploring my fertility and consulted with the doctor about the egg freezing process.
A nurse came in with a fabric grocery bag complete with syringes, needles, packages filled with vials of natural hormones from a local compounding pharmacy, an ice pack for transporting home the meds that needed refrigeration, alcohol pads, C-caps (which at the time I had no idea what they even were), and a home Sharps container to dispose of the used needles and syringes.
I’m going to use ALL of that in 10 to 14 days? What. The. Fuck. Have I Gotten Myself Into. A deeper furrow was developing between my eyebrows by the second.
The nurse said she’d just teach me how to do the first set of injections. I was told that I’d learn how to mix and measure — yes, MIX and measure — the next set of injections at my next appointment. It’s a good thing that they only teach you one at a time, as it’s completely and totally overwhelming to even think about injecting your stomach with needles to begin with.
The color coded excel sheet calendar they printed for me (not kidding – color coded) had precise measurements for the first four days of injections. After the fourth day, I’d go in for my next appointment (which would include another ultrasound and blood test) to see how my body was responding. At that point, they’d adjust the injections, add more as needed, and instruct me on the next few days. I was told to expect coming in to see the doctor every other day or so at that point as we got closer to day 10 to monitor the eggs’ growth and hormones. Optimal retrieval days would be approximately 10 to 14 days into the cycle.
I was taking copious notes, and the nurse said, “I promise I’ll go over all this with you again, but I need you to watch this first, and then we can take notes and I’ll also send you all of the instructions by email and there are video tutorials on our website too if you forget anything, but people forget when they don’t watch it all the way through first.”
Yes, ma’am! She was not kidding around and neither was I, studying her every move as intently as a cheetah stalking her prey in the middle of the Mara. She measured the syringe ever so carefully, showing me how to avoid air bubbles, how to prepare the skin, how to know when the meds were at the right spot, how to squeeze the skin, stick the needle in, shoot it, wait 5 seconds, take it out, dispose… I couldn’t believe it was all this for just one shot.
No wonder they give you a two hour window between 6 and 8 pm each night to do the shot, I thought. It’s going to take me that long to figure it out and actually do it.
“Honey, are you going to be able to do this?” my mom asked me while walking to the car.
“I’m gonna have to,” I said.
I had never given myself a shot in my life, but all of a sudden, the year I spent in acupuncture school as a “hobby” was now proving to be invaluable, as I was a little less squeamish about needles than the average Jane.
A trip to the ER over the holidays
I had been off the synthetic hormones for four days and was getting ready to give myself the first hormone injection that night, when I was also three days in to the worst headache I’d ever had in my life.
Throughout the three and a half weeks of taking the pill, I had a mild and consistent headache every day, which I expected and dealt with fine. Advil helped me get through the bad days. But now gearing up to do the injections, I had a list of “do not take” meds, Advil included. Extra-Strength Tylenol wasn’t helping.
My spine issues were acting up. My shoulders and neck were so extremely knotted that the nerves were pinching in several places and I couldn’t turn my head to the right. I hadn’t been sleeping well. The holidays were stressful. All of my go-to relaxing teas couldn’t be used either, as many of the formulas had “hormonally active” herbs in them.
Pause for a second… This is actually a big deal that I didn’t realize and is totally fascinating to me — so many of the “medicinal” teas have Phytosterols (or hormonally active plants) like goldenseal, red clover, black cohosh, St. John’s Wort, and licorice in them, which were clearly off limits during this process.
Back to the story. I was feeling emotionally unstable, in part I think from going on and off the hormones, and all these elements combined into a perfect recipe for a beast of a headache. Waking up in the middle of the night with intense cramping pain in my head, I thought back to months prior when I’d had some other severe headaches, and to be perfectly honest, I worked myself up into a paranoid mess.
It was the day of injection #1, and I decided that morning to go to the ER and make sure I’d still be alive that night to give myself the shot.
Eight hours later, I’d had a CT scan of my brain (which was perfectly clear), and had been given a couple bags of IV hydration and whatever migraine meds were on my “acceptable” list. The ER staff checked on me several times and my mom and I had a good chuckle over an elderly woman who was being treated for a stubbed toe. She really was adorable. I was feeling more and more drugged, though the headache was only slightly subsiding and it was now 6 pm. I hadn’t been discharged yet, and I had two hours before the window of my first injection would be closing.
My mom – always incredibly resourceful and calm in a crisis – sprung into action. We needed to get rid of one car anyway, as I’d driven myself to the hospital and was now not going to be able to drive. Her plan was to drive her car to my house, get the bag of injections, take a cab back to the hospital in time for me to do the injection (maybe even with the help of a nurse!), and then drive me and my car home. (Turns out when you need a village, the village shows up because my mom’s friend and my honorary Aunt was in my neighborhood and drove my mom back to the hospital so that she didn’t have to take a cab). I felt like such an inconvenience.
7:30 pm. I was discharged. They sent me packing. “Nothing else we can do for you.” My headache was less intense, and I was most certainly in a drug-induced cloud where sounds are muffled, limbs feel numb, and I could hear myself speaking from within as if a megaphone was directed down my esophagus.
The first shot
7:45 pm. I’m now waiting outside the ER with T minus 15 minutes until shot #1 will officially be late, and there’s my Mom, practically in a sprint racing in with my big bag of hormones.
There wasn’t time to get home to do it, and I couldn’t very well go back into the ER to ask a nurse to help me. We had two options. The public restroom in the ER or the car.
As irony would have it, the baby changing table in the ER restroom was where I set up paper towels to prepare my first injection. Needing to “sober up” as much as possible so I didn’t mess this up, I looked for my email of instructions from the nurse. I measured carefully. I got the syringe ready.
“Oh, Jeez,” my mom sighed with an accent that sounded more Fargo than Canadian as I turned the vial upside town to measure just the right amount into the syringe. “You got it?
“I got it.” I read the email, checked the syringe. Read the email, checked the syringe. I read and checked a few more times. I’ve got this.
I swabbed my skin with an alcohol pad to the left and just below my belly button, pinched the belly fat (how about we call it adipose tissue?), took a deep breath, and as I exhaled, I jabbed it right in, no problem. I pushed in the plunger, counted to five, pulled it out, and disposed of what would be the first of many syringes to follow into the Sharps container.
8 pm, we left the ER and stopped at Thai Dishes for dinner on the way home, as if this was just any other “normal” night.
Perhaps it was the meds or perhaps I’m just strange, but the lyric stuck in my head that night was, “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom…” which I sang as, “I once got schizzy-done in the ER bathroom…” That song, of course, is The Humpy Dance. And Humpty Dumpty was an egg, was he not? There’s a coincidence or irony in there somewhere.
*Note to readers: next Monday’s post will be the conclusion to this series, but Mondays will continue to be the day we devote to more revealing and personal blogs. Thanks for following along!