Desperate. That’s what you are when you undertake in vitro fertilization (IVF). You’re so desperate to have a baby that you can’t wait to shoot yourself with enough hormones to make the Goodyear blimp look slim. Enough hormones to make Kim Jong Il look sane. Enough hormones to make PMS your husband’s fantasy.
Fat, crazy, angry and desperate. When you do IVF, that’s what you are in the best of circumstances. Add China and desperate becomes uber-desparate.
And uber-desperate is how I felt when I ventured to a fertility clinic in Shanghai.
I already had one child; I was just desperate for another. After years of trying to conceive via hormones, intrauterine insemination, and endless tests, IVF looked like my last option. And since IVF is a process that can take several months, we didn’t have the luxury of time to go to our home country for it. So it was IVF Shanghai-style or bust.
And by Shanghai-style, I mean a local Chinese fertility clinic (the western clinics don’t offer fertility treatments). Think of the things that frustrate you about life in China. They’ll be part of your IVF experience. But they’ll feel exponentially worse when you‘re Kim Jong Il in tight pants and on the verge of crying for no real reason, but for every real reason.
Regardless of where in the world you undergo IVF, the basic requirements are the same. Meaning, once your IVF cycle starts, you have approximately 2 1⁄2 weeks of daily hormone shots and blood tests, plus enough ultrasound monitoring to make stirrups seem like a fashion accessory.
In my home country (U.S.), you can take the twice-daily hormone shots home and administer them yourself. No need for daily clinic visits. In Shanghai, unless you have a nurse on your personal staff, you have to come to the clinic for these injections. The dreaded clinic. It’s cold. It’s stark. It’s dingy. It’s packed with people as anxious as you are to have babies. No one has appointments (Chinese clinics don’t take them). You’ll wait in long lines twice a day for the first 2 1⁄2 weeks feeling puffy and miserable. And let’s be straight, on their best days these folks don’t do lines well. You will be stared at, whispered about, and sniffed. No one will speak a lick of English and then they’ll look at you like you’re from Pluto when you speak bad Mandarin.
The thrills don’t end with the twice-daily injections, either. You’ll also have to appear for regular ultrasounds and blood tests during this initial stage. And let’s just say this Chinese version of IVF doesn’t waste time with little courtesies. My friends at home always teased me because I was the last girl to drop her towel in the locker room showers. My own mother even calls me a prude. So imagine me in the ultrasound room, stripped down, no robe, no sheet, and definitely no curtain. Nude in the stirrups with, no joke, ten people in attendance to see if my eggs were growing properly and ten others waiting to hop into the stirrups the moment I hopped out. On that first day I thought they might have to wheel me to the cardiac care ward for resuscitation. Forget the baby, get the paddles!
Once the initial 2 1⁄2 weeks are over, the process then moves to the final ripening injection, egg retrieval, fertilization, and finally, the embryo transfer. The transfer is followed by two weeks of progesterone injections. For these steps you’ll be asked to bring a translator, and I don’t care if you’ve been at Mandarin House every night for the last three years, if you don’t know how to say ovary in Mandarin, you will need a translator with an understanding of medical vocabulary.
If at all possible, I recommend using a translator who is also a friend, someone you like and trust who can break bad news to you if they need to and be ready to hug you. This person will be translating very important information, namely, the quantity and quality of the eggs, how many were successfully fertilized, and how well they grew.
Sucess or failure will be announced while you are standing in a small corridor jammed with all the other desperate souls awaiting their results.
And be prepared. Success or failure will be announced while you are standing in a small corridor jammed with all the other desperate souls awaiting their results. You’ll see people’s hearts break. Maybe even your own. The clinic does have excellent success rates, but IVF doesn’t work for everyone. Of course you must hope for success, but if the results aren’t good be prepared to feel more alone and homesick than you ever have because getting bad news in a foreign place will take you there like nothing else.
I met another Western woman who did IVF at the same clinic just after me. She met with success and a beautiful baby boy, but I didn’t. I thought about going through it again, knowing I would feel much better about the whole experience the second time since I would know what to expect. But I started a regular acupuncture regimen while I was waiting and fell pregnant three months later. That baby I was so desperate for is with me now. Her name is Lila, but my friends at home call her Needles.
After all that would I recommend IVF? The answer is a hesitant yes because it does work; it just didn’t for me that first (and only) time. As long as you know what to be prepared for and keep your sense of humor, you may just end up with that bundle you’ve been hoping for.