When OHSS is a Good Thing
On Valentine’s Day, just one week after our 5-day embryo transfer, I woke up feeling super bloated. Not just “I ate too much pasta” bloating either, it felt like my stomach was a balloon that kept getting bigger. We cancelled our dinner plans and I spent the day on the couch, hoping for relief. As the hours passed and I felt no better, I began to wonder if I had a condition our fertility clinic had warned about called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). It’s relatively rare among women undergoing IVF treatment, but can be serious when it does occur.
We made an appointment at our clinic the following morning and an ultrasound confirmed I had fluid filling my abdomen, my body’s response to the fertility drugs and hormone spike that often indicates pregnancy. What still sticks with me about that appointment was the nurse casually saying “Oh yeah this often happens when you are pregnant”. Excuse me? Say what? That’s not something you should be saying to an emotionally fragile woman who has tried for years to have a baby. You don’t just toss that into a conversation like you’re discussing what to get for lunch! But she did, and that was just the assumption until the blood work could be done a week later. Not quite the dramatic “You’re pregnant!” moment I had imagined because it was all very clinical.
I was given a note to stay home from work for the week since my belly made me look easily 4 months pregnant, I was exhausted, and the fluid was pushing on my lungs which made it hard to breathe.
I worked from home that week, and the following Friday I went for a follow-up at the clinic. Since I was actually feeling worse, the doctor recommended that I be admitted at McMaster to have the fluid drained. I was so nervous (since I hate hospitals) but Rich came with me and stayed while the paperwork was processed so I could be taken to my room. You see, since they were just assuming I was pregnant at this point, I was admitted into the Obstetrics wing which meant everywhere around me were women who had just given birth with their newborns. My roommate was on bedrest and 32 weeks pregnant with twins.
Almost right away, I was whisked away to have the fluid drained from my belly and this involved inserting a catheter into my stomach. I was so scared and grateful for the nurse who held my hand while I cried and shivered through the short procedure (remember, when I told you that I hate hospitals?).
Upon returning to my room, I was in a lot of pain and had trouble moving even from the gurney into my hospital bed. Ouch. Rich was nowhere to be found, but I felt so awful that I just laid there and waited. Eventually he returned and told me he had been in the washroom vomiting. Ugh, what timing! We still don’t know what was the cause, but I believe he either a) had food poisoning, or b) 24-hour stomach flu because he was sent home by the nurses and couldn’t return for the rest of the weekend. He was sooooo sick, and so was I.
Problem was that I was also alone in the hospital. My parents had just left on a cruise so the only person I could call to stay with me was my sister, Karlyn. After all, we hadn’t told anyone but our immediate family so I couldn’t exactly call a friend at this point. She lived downtown Toronto and there was another snow storm that day (of course) but she made her way out to spend each day with me in the hospital, going to sleep at our house in Milton each night. My sister saved us that weekend and she was the one who was sitting next to my bed when the doctor came in to tell me the results of the blood work that officially gave the good news – I was pregnant!
For those who have had trouble trying to conceive or been through fertility treatments, you will know a marker of pregnancy is your beta hCG score on blood work. The doctor explained that my score was 1200 mIU/ml, and the typical range at this point in a pregnancy was between 5-426 mIU/ml. That’s a BIG difference, so I asked if my number was okay. Again he explained very casually “Oh yes it is higher but still in the normal range, sometimes that kind of score is an indicator of twins”. Um, what?! The look on my sister’s face was PRICELESS at this moment, I had to help pick up her jaw off the floor. Nevertheless, I was happy for the news and reassured we would have an ultrasound in a few weeks to confirm.
So I told Rich and worked up the nerve to contact my parents to tell them the good (and bad) news. You see, I hadn’t mentioned I was heading back to the doctor’s office in the first place since I knew my mom would be so worried that she may try to get off the cruise ship and come home.
They drained 2 litres of fluid from my belly that first night (the same as a bottle of pop!), and about 4 litres in total. I spent the weekend shuffling around the halls of the hospital, reading magazines, talking, and eating Swiss Chalet with my sister. Considering we don’t get to spend much quality time together, I still love to look back on that weekend (despite my circumstances). I got to go home on Monday morning and was off work for another week until I was feeling better.
My bloat stuck around for awhile and then it just morphed into a baby belly which made it a bit tricky to hide until the usual 12 weeks when most people announce. Luckily my coworkers were sensitive and didn’t pry, and I was SO excited to finally spill the beans when the time came.
You know, looking back on the whole thing – having OHSS sucked, but it was a good thing. It meant my body was reacting to pregnancy hormones (and all those damn needles weeks before). After years of trying, all that medication, the horrific egg retrieval procedure, tears and disappointment, I was finally pregnant. That’s the kind of joy that fills your heart and stays there forever. I got lucky, and I am one of the lucky ones to come through infertility with a child in my arms.
Have your own experience with OHSS or know someone who has? Tell me in the comments below!