Well, one of my biggest IVF fears has become a reality: I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome, or OHSS. The good news is OHS is not the end of the world, but it is serious — not to mention outrageously painful and uncomfortable — and it’s just one more stressor on my road to motherhood.
But what is OHSS, and how did I learn I had it? Well, two nights ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. with the worst abdominal pain I’ve ever experienced. My lower abdomen was twisting and turning, rumbling and gurgling, and so active that I thought perhaps an alien was trying to find its way out of me. Obviously, I knew that wasn’t the case, but I was terrified because I had no idea what was happening. Additionally, my upper stomach had these wicked pangs of pain shooting from between my rib cage. It was like a terrible coalition of the worst period cramps known to woman, a Godawful stomach ache, and gas pain like no other.
For a while, I thought I was going to get sick and just really needed to have a monster bowel movement. But after both of those happened — numerous times — my pain and discomfort persisted. I was up for about three hours. During that time, I ate oyster crackers, Tums, and sat outside in my backyard for fresh air. I also buckled over when the waves of pain came. I considered bringing myself to the hospital, but just as I was getting serious about that idea, the pain and discomfort slowly began to subside.
But I did call my fertility center the second they opened. They wanted to see me right away.
When I began my second IVF cycle, it was technically my first full-dose IVF cycle. I had opted to do a mini-cycle my first go-round because I didn’t want to produce an outrageous number of eggs and risk developing OHSS. But after that cycle failed, I decided to go ahead with the full-dose round because the egg-retrieval procedure was quite taxing on me and I wanted to minimize how many times I had to undergo it.
My estrogen levels were monitored from the get-go, for many reasons. Not least of which is that high estrogen levels are an indicator of developing OHSS. IVF cycles are often canceled when estrogen levels are too high, because of the potential of developing OHSS.
My levels weren’t even close to the low end of the risky levels. Yet here I am. Dealing with OHSS.
I’ve been warned from the beginning that this condition is a risk, so while my diagnosis isn’t completely out of left field, my RE (reproductive endocrinologist) and I were both surprised when the ultrasound results showed fluid in my ovaries.
That’s what happens with OHSS. Basically, my ovarian follicles that were stimulated to produce eggs for my IVF procedure are now “leaking” fluid into my abdominal cavity, which leaves me quite uncomfortable and in a great deal of pain at times. It also leaves me bloated. Not like regular period bloating. This is a whole other beast. My stomach is hard, and roughly two inches larger in diameter.
While OHSS can be mild, moderate, or severe, all cases of OHSS need to be closely monitored since the condition can change fairly quickly. I’ve been diagnosed with moderate OHSS and have been given three medications for it: an anti-nausea pill, a pain pill, and an injection to prevent blood clots from forming. For those who’ve been following my story, you already know how much I dislike taking prescribed drugs, yet here I am pumping myself full of them. And I can’t help but cringe at the irony of having to inject myself with more drugs for the next six weeks (that’s how long I need to take the blood-clot preventing med).
My doctor told me our main goal right now is “keeping me out of the hospital.” Those aren’t the most promising words to hear, but obviously, I will do what needs to be done. He also told me that if the IVF cycle was successful and I am pregnant — we find out tomorrow! — that the OHSS will likely get worse before it gets better and could last for the entire first trimester. But, luckily, it’s no threat to my pregnancy (should, of course, there be one). If I’m not pregnant, I should begin feeling relief from the symptoms within a week.
Naturally, I’m hoping all of this is worth it and that I am, indeed, pregnant.