Take in vitro fertilisation, of which I have personal experience. Just the drug regime blew my mind: "[Buserelin] is an analogue of the decapeptide Gonadatrophin Releasing Hormone (GnRH). It differs from GnRH by two amino acids... The amount of hMG to be given on the first occasion is decided by taking the woman's age, her menstrual PSII and the presence or absence of polycystic ovarian morphology or endocrinology into consideration." As for the test tube stuff, they didn't even try to explain how that worked.
Actually, I feel I let the boffins down a little. I tried to think about science documentaries with calm voice-overs and minimalist bleeping sound tracks. I told myself I was at the sharp end of medical research and could one day feature in a science documentary with a calm voice-over and minimalist bleeping sound track. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work that way.
Buserelin: This is the drug which "switches off" the ovaries, to give the boffins complete control. You take one sniff up each nostril every four hours, five times a day. Side-effects may include hot flushes, headaches and feeling depressed and forgetful. I find time-keeping a nightmare: some sniffs are two hours late; one day, I leave my inhaler at home. Is this chemically-induced forgetfulness? Am convinced everyone at work thinks I have a cocaine problem: every few hours, I rush to the loo, do a couple of stage sniffs, and come out wiping my nose.
Ultrasound scan: To see whether the ovaries are inactive. This requires a visit to the hospital's Assisted Conception Unit, aka the House of Shame. Feel sure everyone we pass in the corridor knows our Terrible Secret: birds can do it, bees can do it, everybody except us can do it. Even the unit itself, decorated with brightly-coloured charts and photos of wrinkly triplets, has the faint smell of disgrace.There is no queue-induced camaraderie here, no sharing of burdens. The couplesignore each other.
The main thing they try not to think about is that the respectable, slightly nervous-looking man next to you, in navy trousers and white shirt, has just been to the Men's Room to produce a Sample. My husband, meanwhile, has been waiting 20 minutes for his turn in the room. Twenty minutes! Didn't the man read the leaflet? "If you foresee your partner having difficulty producing a semen sample at the hospital or on demand, please let Sister (or any one of us that you find easy to approach) know as soon as possible. We can then discuss ways we can help, but it is important to plan well in advance." What kind of help can this be? Eventually, my husband gives up waiting. "Dirty old man," he proclaims on the way to the loo. "He's just having a good look at the porn magazines." I feel ridiculously proud when he returns, triumphant, a mere five minutes later.
Pergonal: This drug causes egg-carrying follicles to grow on each ovary. My husband has learnt a furiously complex mixing and injecting procedure, administered every morning into alternate buttocks. It is agony. I feel I have been kicked in the rear by a horse. I keep sniffing. I now do it quite openly: on the bus, in the cinema. "It's a rare form of asthma," I explain. Nobody even notices.
Ultrasound scan: To count and measure follicles. The man in the navy trousers and white shirt is back, but everybody carries on ignoring each other.Afterwards, we chat to a nurse about what to do with the extra embryos (freeze, donate to other women, give up for research) and how many embryos to put back. "Oh, it's up to you," she says. "But put it this way. A woman here recently conceived quins. Had two destroyed in the womb, then miscarried the lot." We go for two. It's pretty academic - the jolly chart is now showing a pregnancy rate of 10 per cent. I am convinced it's a conspiracy - like the Michael Douglas movie, Coma - to collect embryos for research.
Egg collection: Chemical overload: a late-night tranquilliser followed by injection of a hormone extracted, delightfully, from the urine of pregnant women. In hospital the next day, an intravenous cocktail of painkiller and tranquilliser. "You should experience only crampy discomfort as each follicle is drained," says the leaflet. This is a lie. I weep.
Embryo transfer: We arrive in the early evening to the news that, at 9am, none of my extra embryos were good enough to freeze. Then, as the day wore on, they perked up. What a remarkable coincidence. This is definitely a conspiracy. Meanwhile, two are shot (painlessly) into my uterus. "Probably not even mine," I mutter. Am now convinced I have "ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome": "Problems may still arise despite our care," says the leaflet. "Loss of fluid ... may lead to dehydration, leading to blood thickening and clot formation. This can be serious, and women have been known to have a stroke or die."
So there you have it. The whole experience felt utterly low-tech. Still, three months later, I'm pregnant. With twins. Isn't science incredible these days?Reuse content