Before, when I heard talk of scans, I pictured the fuzzy grey and white of the sonogram image, a tube of jelly and a round ended instrument sliding smoothly across a growing bump. Just pop ‘ultrasound scan’ into a Google image search and you’ll know exactlly what I was picturing! Maybe you do too? Had I not been warned that the many scans involved in IVF were not quite like that, it is what I would have been expecting. After all, if they need to scan my ovaries or womb to check they’re ok, surely they just do it in the same way they check other women’s wombs to see if there’s a baby there?
Thankfully a fellow IVFer had already told me about the type of scan that I might have to get used to; the type involving something she could only describe as a rather dildoesque scanner! My first introduction to the correctly described ultrasound wand, with which I would become fairly well acquainted, was at our very first appointment at the first fertility clinic we went to. It is very much as it sounds, a long, fairly phallic-shaped (or should that be vagina-shaped?) wand, that gets sheathed & lubed up by the nurse before being carefully inserted inside you (see below).
It was a bittersweet experience the first time I saw the inside of my own womb. I had been so convinced that there was a problem that I was relieved when told that, not only did it all look healthy, but I was about to ovulate! I was also sad that, unlike many women, the first glimpse of my womb that I had was of an empty uterus, not one with a baby in it. However, I was mostly heartened that as far as they could detect, my womb was ready and hospitable for future habitation.
During IVF itself these internal scans would become a familiar feature; scanning to see if the down-regulation drugs had worked, scanning to check whether my ovaries were growing follicles and to count just how many. During the latter scan it looked like my ovaries were covered in large black bubbles – that’s the only way I can describe it. (See here for an example of what I mean.) Each ‘bubble’ was measured and the size recorded. I was fortunate that my body responded well to the treatment and so I wasn’t required to prolong the use of the stimulation drug, or return for scan after scan, as many women have to.
I was also lucky that all the nurses and doctors who scanned me in this way were extremely sensitive, gentle and kind – making it no more uncomfortable or embarrassing that it needed to be. Still a part of me grimaced that this was necessary, but after the 3rd or 4th time you sort of just get used to it. I used to tell myself that if all this achieved it’s aim of an actual pregnancy I would have to get used to people poking around ‘down there’ anyway (a somewhat incorrect expectation to be fair, as I only had one vaginal examination during labour, and the next time the nurses saw my foo foo there was a baby coming out of it!)
When we finally discovered that our IVF treatment had been successful I was booked in for another scan 5 weeks later. This one would be to see if the embryo had continued to grow and would potentially be our last interaction with the fertility team before being handed over to mainstream antenatal care. Like all the other scans to that point, this would be an internal scan as it’s much easier to get a good view of the womb and it’s contents that way. Naturally this scan made us the most nervous of all: what would we see? Would we see anything? The elation and relief of having a positive pregnacy test had been enormous, but still we couldn’t quite let our guards down and fully relax yet – as everyone knows, it could still all have come to naught.
But then, there it was on the screen. A tiny, pulsing bean – that looked like it was holding a balloon! I’m crying now just to think of it, that first glimpse of the girl who is now turning our hearts inside out with joy! A tiny, beating heart that made our own hearts stop beating for a moment. It sounds so silly to say, but I knew it was Luna and my heart just filled up – we’d had the name Luna in our back pockets for years, and I’d always had a feeling out first child would be her. The ‘balloon’ that it looked like she was holding was actually the yolk sac which sustains the growing embryo until the placenta is fully formed. From then on we called her our balloon baby!
Of course, there was still some way to go, but when I had that final internal scan and saw our girl on that screen, suddenly all of the scans which had come before faded into insignificance.
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