My (hopeful) pandemic pregnancy: Inside the world of IVF and COVID-19 -- ‘It’s terrifying’

A selection of IVF hormone bottles and syringes. (LEON NEAL, 2018 Getty Images)

Author’s note: This is not MY personal story, per se, (despite the “my pandemic pregnancy” title), but a story told by our readers, week by week. Today’s is shared by Sarah.*

You might have heard that being pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or delivering right about now is strange, in this age of coronavirus. But how? In what ways? We’re going to show you -- with a different feature each week. To contribute your own experience, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this article and tap the link.

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Going though in vitro fertilization, or IVF, under normal circumstances, can be a challenge, both mentally and physically -- and for some, that’s phrasing it mildly.

You’re going in for bloodwork, sometimes every other day. You’re attending never-ending doctors appointments. There’s a ton on your mind and you just want everything to go well. It’s an often-heavy process.

Take it from Sarah*, who asked that we not use her real name, for privacy reasons. Sarah is 32, married, and lives in Farmington Hills, Michigan. She didn’t mince words when it came to describing her own IVF situation. Some examples:

  • “It’s not how you want to conceive a child.”
  • “You feel like a human pincushion with all the blood draws.”
  • And then when you throw COVID-19 into the mix, “It’s terrifying.”
  • “Going through IVF, every time you go in, it seems like you’re getting bad news or there’s a painful procedure.”

Ugh. No one wants to hear of another human going through something like that.

So imagine then, that your support person, like in Sarah’s case, her husband, is now unable to attend any of those painful procedures or appointments.

“It’s scary,” Sarah said.

It’s also unprecedented. Safe to say, no one assumed the globe would be gripped by a pandemic this year; a true health crisis -- and no one knows when things will return to “normal.”

But don’t get her wrong: Sarah is grateful that she’s able to proceed with IVF -- which, spoiler alert, she is. (More on that soon!)

She even added that the couple has “decent” insurance, and said for many, they’re not so lucky. Most insurance companies don’t cover things like IVF, which can total as much as $40,000 for just one round.

But all that money talk, that feels stressful, too. Sarah said if she were to contract COVID-19, her cycle would be canceled. That’s a frightening thought, lingering over one’s head.

“So then you’d be out money, time and pain,” Sarah said. “(It’s like), is it worth it to be doing this?”

To rewind …

Sarah has been knee-deep in all things IVF-related for much of the year. She began the journey and went through round one starting in February.

First up, she had two to three weeks of injections, to hopefully produce more eggs.

Sarah took the injections, and then doctors performed a surgery to retrieve her eggs. She said she got through it just fine.

Next, this is typically the time when, if you had any embryos that made it through the egg-retrieval process, the doctors will mix them with sperm, and then you’d transfer.

For Sarah, this was when COVID-19 arrived in the United States and started becoming more and more of a growing concern.

She and her husband had ended up with one embryo, so the next step would be a second surgery to make sure nothing is blocking the implantation of said embryo.

“But COVID hit right when I was scheduled to go in,” Sarah said. “So we decided to postpone (and) see how things would play out.”

That felt frustrating for the couple, too.

They’ve been playing the waiting game for a long time -- married 6 ½ years, and trying for a baby for about four of those years.

“And we don’t have a lot of time to wait,” Sarah said. “We don’t want the issues (that led us to IVF in the first place) to get any worse, and we’re not getting any younger.”

Sarah and her husband opted to move forward with the second surgery.

And with the coronavirus pandemic continuing, “You had to go through it alone, when you’re already scared,” Sarah said.

Doctors were able to perform the transfer, but Sarah’s husband wasn’t allowed to attend.

“The whole process is devastating,” Sarah said. “You’re getting ready to conceive a child and your husband can’t even be there.”

Questions, answers

It was already a tense time.

Then, the couple learned that their embryo transfer failed.

“You want answers right away,” Sarah said. “But doctors aren’t meeting. So you need to wait for a Zoom call. You’re not being able to see your results and you’re not being able to get answers.”

Having to survive the failed transfer during quarantine was really tough.

“Most doctors (tell you) to stay busy and lean on your support system during all (the waiting),” Sarah said.

Because indeed, there is a lot of waiting. More than you might imagine.

“(When it comes to) waiting for results in IVF, there’s waiting a week to find out if you were able to get any embryos after the first round of injections and egg retrieval surgery,” Sarah said. “(Then you wait) another two weeks after that for genetic testing on those embryos to see if they are viable, and then of course, the two weeks waiting to find out if you’re pregnant after the embryo transfer to see if all your efforts worked.”

And, considering coronavirus, Sarah said, all of the now-solo waiting felt especially challenging.

“You’re just trapped at home and not able to stay busy to keep yourself mentally healthy,” she recalled. “I know for me, my friends and family have been my rock during these four years leading to IVF. ... It’s been so hard, being isolated.”

What’s next?

In discussing the future with Sarah, she sounds optimistic: There’s something cheerful in her tone, and she’s so willing to open up and chat about all of this with a total stranger (editor’s note: which I so admire!)

She and her husband will try again. In fact, they’re set to start a second round of IVF in September.

Her husband has been one of her only comforts throughout this strange time, Sarah said, so she hopes she can have him present for more in-person appointments and procedures this time around. But the future remains incredibly uncertain.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sarah said. “In an ideal world, I’d probably wait. But with time constraints, you have to try.”

Sarah and her husband will likely hole up a bit, leading up to their second IVF round. Luckily, they both have jobs that allow them to work from home. It’s a seemingly small perk, but it becomes quite notable through all of this.

And then two weeks or so before the cycle, Sarah said, it’ll start: They’ll be extra cautious and they won’t leave the house until it’s all over. Too much is at stake.

It makes sense.

Sharing their story

Sarah said she wants to help show a different perspective when it comes to pregnancy.

After all, she’s had just as many doctors appointments and stressors, if not more, than your average expecting mother.

“I hope it helps others who are in the same boat,” she said.

Were you, or are you, pregnant during the pandemic? (Or TTC?) If you're open to sharing your story -- as a guest contributor or just in speaking with a journalist -- click or tap here to see what we're looking for and to fill out our form. Thank you for considering!

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