Shots. Injections. Needles. Pricks. Call them what you will, but the most feared part of any IVF cycle is the dreaded nightly shots that you self administer at home.
As described previously, the majority of these injections are subcutaneous (SubQ shots), and are given in the lower abdomen, right below the belly button. At only 27″ gauge, the needle of a SubQ is small and thin and delivers a quick sensation of “being pricked.” I’ve never been particularly squeamish about needles and I felt prepared to handle these small SubQ shots.
What I was feeling increasingly nervous about was my reaction to these injections. I’d never put such a high dosage of synthetic hormones into my body before – and certainly not whilst standing in my pajamas in the middle of my apartment.
So this brings us to our first night of “Stims.” I had read that establishing a relaxing routine for your nightly injections helps quiet the mind and ease the process. So I lit a candle.
“Why is this random candle lit?” my husband immediately asked.
I blew out the candle. We then laid everything out in our living room where it felt comfortable and cozy. Next, we watched and re-watched the instructional videos from Freedom Teach on how to administer each injection. Then, I let husband take the lead and mix our first drug cocktail while I began icing my lower abdomen (which I read significantly helps reduce injection pain).
First up: 225 IUs of Menopur. As my husband was mixing the syringe I tried not to look over in his direction. I wanted to focus on my icing and my breathing and not psyching myself out. Perhaps this is why I was in absolute shock when he said, “Okay, it’s ready!” and began to approach me with an obscenely big needle. Like, comedically big.
“Is that really going in my stomach?” I laughed nervously.
“It looks bigger than it really is,” he assured me.
Then it was time and one-two-three:
The pain was so shocking that I actually shivered. And then it was over. As I stood there, I felt a sob quake my entire body and I realized that I was shaking. I yelled, “THAT. WAS. NO. SMALL. PINCH!”
The pain was so shocking that I actually shivered.
I was fuming; I was crying; I was hurting. Is THIS what IVF is like? Could this be for real? From what I had read and researched, these nightly shots are supposedly no big deal – just a little prick and maybe some burning from the medication. I felt completely blindsided, ridiculously uninformed, and totally unequipped to handle the next 10-days of injections. I looked at my husband and his signature steady gaze had turned a bit wild. His eyes darted from the needle to my horrific expression to the goose egg lump now forming at the injection site. “I’m so sorry,” he winced. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”
There was not much time for any hesitation because the next shot was ready to go and our window of time to administer it was closing.
Next up: 225 IUs of Gonal-F. This particular drug comes in a “Redi-Ject” pen, a preloaded injection syringe that makes preparation easy since there’s no mixing and measuring. The needle is thin and small. I closed my eyes and prayed it would feel thin and small.
One-two-three and…in one tiny prick, it was over.
Despite the success of the second injection, I was still smarting emotionally from that hellacious first shot. My entire stomach felt bruised and the large goose egg had begun to turn a deep red. I took a hot shower, applied some coconut salve, and tried to sleep – but I couldn’t calm the nervous energy inside me that kept asking: How am I going to get through this “gut-wrenching” shot every night? I don’t think I’m strong enough to do this.
“No.” I said out loud to the dark. “Something isn’t right.”
I flipped on the light, grabbed my computer, and immediately started researching Menopur injections. My query was simple: Why is the SubQ needle for Menopur injections so horrifically long and so barbarically thick?
And that’s when I found out: It’s NOT.
To my horror, I discovered that we had accidentally used something called the “Mixing needle,” rather than the SubQ needle for our first injection. Mixing needles are thick, long needles that are used for drawing and mixing the medication powder with the solvent. They are included amongst the bags and bags of SubQ needles and Intramuscular needles that are delivered to your home with the rest of your meds. Since none of these bags were labeled, and since the process is a bit overwhelming and completely new to both of us, my husband reached for the wrong bag of needles and didn’t even see the SubQ bag hidden among all of our supplies.
Behold, the folly of our ways:
I immediately woke up my husband to tell him the news and he looked just as horrified as I felt. Then we both got really quiet as we sat there thinking about the implications.
In terms of needles, size matters and we had just stuck a much thicker and aggressively-longer-than-it-needed-to-be needle right into my stomach. Did we mess up our drug protocol? More importantly, did we mess up my insides?
“I’m calling the hotline,” I reached for my phone.
“Quick! Call the hotline,” my husband jumped up and started pacing the floor.
The hotline for my IVF clinic is a 24-hour emergency number that you’re instructed to call for “dire reasons only.” At our IVF orientation class, a surly nurse made it crystal clear that if the “bat phone” rings in the middle of the night, it better be for something big. I never thought I’d be using it on day one of my IVF journey. But there was no time for embarrassment now.
The nurse who picked up the call was helpful, if not a little confused. Her reaction to our situation went like this:
Emergency Hotline Nurse: “Oh I see, so you accidentally used the Mixing needle, but you injected it into your butt. No? Oh I see, so you accidentally used the Mixing needle and tried to inject it into your stomach – but you couldn’t. No? Wait…So you injected the Mixing needle into your stomach and you put the WHOLE thing in? Oh, you poor thing!”
After some reassurance (from her) and some crying (from me), we were told that all was going to be okay. The good news: We didn’t mess anything up in terms of my health or my IVF protocol. The bad news: We made it WAAAAY more painful than it ever needed to be. The silver lining: From this point forward, no shots will ever be as horrible as a Mixing needle to the gut.
We went to bed that night exhausted from the drama, but already starting to chuckle about our stupid mistake. Apparently we were both so nervous about starting these shots that we just went totally gangbusters on our very first day of IVF. You give us a task, and we’ll go HARDCORE with it – always. And this is why I love the team that we make. <3
IVF Pro Tip: Always stick with your gut – before you stick it IN your gut – and double, triple check needle gauge dimensions because SIZE MATTERS.