What to Expect at Your IVF Embryo Transfer | A Patient’s Perspective
I don’t wish infertility on anyone, but to experience this procedure was something special.
I’ll start from the beginning…
The build-up to the IVF Embryo Transfer was one of the only times I felt any semblance of “excitement” during the IVF cycle. That’s pretty standard, though – people don’t typically look forward to nightly injections and blowing their veins out from repeat blood draws. But now that we made it to the transfer, much of the IVF pressure was off me and on nature. C’mon little embryo! Implant for mommy!
We decided to do a frozen embryo transfer for a couple reasons:
- To allow my body to recover from the egg retrieval (which is typically a breezy procedure for many. For me, though, it left me so bloated that I looked 18 weeks pregnant… what cruel irony!), and
- So that we could allow time for embryo testing.
By the time we got the test results back and my body had de-puffed, it was almost a two-month wait between retrieval and transfer.
After multiple failed IUI cycles and a pretty intense round of IVF (what round of IVF isn’t intense, really?), you can imagine my husband's and my impatience.
The IVF Embryo Transfer Appointment
But then it was the day of the appointment.
Upon arriving at RMA of CT, I was immediately escorted to a private spa-like room for laser acupuncture. I was told that doing laser acupuncture before and after the transfer can increase implantation rates by up to 15%! Sign. Me. Up.
One note on laser acupuncture: it’s painless. Really! I don’t even think I felt heat from the light, which actually would have been nice. For me, it wasn’t as “zen” as traditional acupuncture, but I will say… I fell asleep. So clearly, it relaxed me.
After my 20- or 30-minute cat nap, I heard a tiny “knock-knock” on the door. We were ready for the embryo transfer! I jolted awake with excitement… and then almost peed my pants.
No, but really.
One of the only instructions for the patient before an embryo transfer is to “come with a full bladder.” So I did what I was told; I arrived with a full bladder. But then some time passed, I drank a little more water, and I took a nap. All things that trigger the pee-process.
Let’s just say that I had to walk very delicately from the RMA of CT spa retreat to the OR.
As I was escorted to the OR prep area, I was told that I’d need to change into a hair cap, gown, and socks. (Socks!! You know the cute ones you see on Instagram?! An embryo transfer souvenir! It’s the small things…)
Before I took my coat off, my husband had been reunited with me. He was so excited and wished he could also “wear a costume.”
As I changed, my fingers trembled. Then I realized it was more than my fingers… my whole body was shivering with child-like energy. It was part excitement, part giddiness, part hope… all under this veil of positivity brought on by my surroundings. From the way the nurses smiled at me to the calm notes that quietly oozed from the speakers in each prep area, from the privacy of our experience to the formalities that offered a sense of security... it was all setting a scene that I can best describe as “ceremonial.”
It was odd, actually – this was the same prep and recovery area as my egg retrieval, but it felt completely different. Imagine the difference between camping and glamping. It was that.
[Disclaimer: this is no reflection of the RMA of CT service… this was because my body was bloated with 50 dominant follicles for the egg retrieval (thanks, PCOS!) versus feeling amazing and “like myself again” for the transfer.]
Being back in the same OR area this time around felt quiet, calm, and private. The few nurses that were around all gave us a big hug with whispers of “good luck” as we passed by. Then, as we entered the procedure room, there was my doctor. She greeted us with another big smile and said, “Today’s the day!”
Now, I need to warn you of my obsession with my doctor; to my husband and me, she’s a genius and a hero. We like to call her our “Baby Mama.” If you have a Reproductive Endocrinologist and a whole fertility team that took care of you like ours did, you’d see their halos, too.
By the way – you guys remember that I had to go to the bathroom really, really badly at this point, right?
The Embryo Transfer Ceremony
The ceremony had officially begun.
It’s hard to precisely describe how angelic everything felt in that moment. The vibe was unlike anything I’d ever experienced – excitement, joy, and relief, all under a weight of intensity and seriousness.
It felt like an Infertility Club Initiation. My nurse held my arm with such assuredness that it was impossible to feel overpowered by the severity of what was about to happen…
The room itself was basically a larger exam room. There was a curtain, a main exam chair, the doctor’s classic rolling chair, a prep counter area with a sink, and so on. The only real difference was that there was another door on the opposite side of the room. I would soon learn that that door led to the embryology lab. Through that door, our future was housed in a microscopic clump of cells.
“Hi, guys! Are you ready for your transfer?” my doctor asked.
“Definitely,” we muttered softly, not to disturb the ceremonial vibes enveloping us.
Then my nurse, Tina, chimed in, “Now, did you come with a full bladder?”
“Ohhhhh yes,” I proudly winced.
What's the difference between a fresh and frozen embryo transfer?
I climbed up on the reclined procedure chair and exposed my belly for the first ultrasound check. Tina was in charge of the ultrasound picture throughout the entirety of the procedure (eventually, we would use it as a live broadcast of the embryo delivery) and wanted to get a quick look before we got started.
As she saw my protruding bladder and ran the slimy probe over my belly, Tina immediately said, “Virginia! Are you in pain?!”
“Maybe a little…” I lied.
She pulled the probe back and looked at me like my mother does sometimes, “Go to the bathroom right now. You get 10 seconds to release. That’s it. Go.”
Thank. God. (Although, everyone knows what it feels like to stop mid-stream. That's all I'll say about that.)
I shuffled back from the restroom with a bladder now perfectly full and perfectly to Tina’s liking. Potty breaks don’t typically happen mid-transfer, just a heads up.
My advice? Have a pretty full bladder. Once it gets hard to walk and you find yourself hunching over, you’ve gone too far. You want uncomfortable, not painful.
“Okay, we need to go through some paperwork and formalities before we get started. It’ll feel a little weird since we all know each other so well, but it’s protocol.
“My name is Dr. Ressler. Can you confirm your names, birthdays, and the last four digits of your social security numbers for me?” Dr. Ressler asked.
“My name is Joe Furnari,” my husband took the lead and shared his information.
“And my name is Virginia Furnari,” I said along with my other details.
“And can you confirm that these are your test results from your embryos and that this is the embryo we’re transferring today?” Dr. Ressler held a print-out with our tested embryo information and then pointed to the circled “Embryo #4.”
I couldn’t help but grin at all the hope crammed into those few little letters. Embryo #4.
“Yes, that’s all correct.”
We signed a few things, answered a few more questions proving our identity and the property of our embryos, and finally, we were ready to get the show on the road.
As I lay back, Dr. Ressler said the words we’ve all heard about 82,375 times…
“Okay, Virginia, just scooch down to the very end of the chair for me.”
She then explained what was going to happen from here. We were to watch a monitor in the corner of the room that played a live feed of a microscope lens in the adjacent room (the Embryology Lab). The embryologist assigned to our transfer would show us the embryo in its petri dish home, confirm once again that it’s ours, and then bring it into the room for transfer.
Have you ever seen a little embryo squirm around in a petri dish? It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I’m probably a little biased, I guess…
At that point, Tina opened the door into the embryology lab in anticipation of the embryo delivery and circled back to me. She started up the ultrasound, probing over my uterus, projecting that image up on the large wall monitor, and we heard Dr. Ressler give us more instructions.
“Okay, so while the embryologist loads your embryo into the delivery tube, I will insert the catheter that we will feed the tube through. It doesn’t hurt, but it might feel slightly uncomfortable.”
She inserted the catheter through my cervix, and we waited. (She was correct - it wasn't painful, but I could feel a small cramp humming in the background.) Looking back, it seemed like we waited for the embryo for ten minutes in pure silence. Of course, it wasn’t that long, probably two minutes tops, but it felt like an eternity waiting for our future to walk through the door.
There was a brief moment where I felt a little weird. There was an intricate ballet happening around me, and now, it halted. The momentum just purred like an idle car. It was so quiet, and all movement stopped. I was trying to stay so still, but I could feel my husband’s eyes on me and his excitement pulsing in my hand.
I took a deep breath. This was it. The moment we had worked so hard for. All the injections, all the tears, all the failed cycles, all the prayers…
I was trying to forget that there was a catheter hanging out of me.
Then the embryologist appeared at the doorway holding our embryo in a long tube. The tube was actually much longer than I had anticipated. She held it upright like a tall candlestick, shielding it from the wind of her walk… which really wasn’t even a walk but a slow float over to Dr. Ressler.
She stopped right behind Dr. Ressler, and once again, the formalities and protocols kicked in.
Erica the Embryologist, whom I’d already met several times during my time with RMA of CT, said, “Hi, I know you know me, but here we go… my name is Erica, and I’m the Embryologist. Can you both state your names, dates of birth, and last four digits of your social security numbers?”
“Okay, then, this embryo does in fact belong to you, and we are ready for the transfer. Dr. Ressler, here you go…” Erica delicately handed over the tube and turned to us. She gave us the sweetest smile, grabbed my hand for a quick squeeze, and walked to the back of the room to observe the transfer.
“All right, so if you guys watch the ultrasound, you’ll see me pass this tube in through the catheter that’s already in place,” Dr. Ressler guided us through every movement while we watched it all go down in real time.
It was odd to see the live broadcast on the wall monitor, feel the slightest movements of Dr. Ressler’s actions, and know that what I was watching and feeling were the same thing. Tina remained as still as a statue during it all so as to not nudge the monitor image.
“So you see the tube? Now, it’s in your uterus, and in the perfect placement. Next, I’m going to push the embryo up through the tube, and it will come out on the other side, dropping into the best spot in your uterus. You ready?”
I couldn’t say words, but she read my mind. So ready.
“Now, you won’t see the actual embryo when I push it through, but you will see a small flash of white. That’s the air bubble that drops with the embryo. When you see the flash, you know the embryo has landed. Here we go…”
Joe and I just squeezed each other’s hand. There it was… everything we had worked so hard for was now in place. All that was left to do was pray.
“So we all saw the flash, right?” Dr. Ressler asked. We nodded with wide eyes, not believing what we had just witnessed.
“Okay, so I’m going to remove the tube,” she pulled the delivery tube out as I lay there, silently freaking out. Please, God, work…
Erica walked over to take the tube back into the lab for inspection. She needed to make sure everything had emptied from the tube, meaning that the embryo was confidently in my uterus.
Again, we waited in silence. Keep breathing… keep breathing…
“All clear! No embryo in the tube!” Erica hollered from the lab. We all released an audible sigh. Tina removed the probe from the top of my belly, and Dr. Ressler swiftly removed the catheter. It was all over.
“Congratulations, you two!” Tina and Dr. Ressler both gushed with happiness as they bent down to give Joe and me giant, two-armed hugs.
Dr. Ressler assured me that the embryo would not fall out upon standing up, using the restroom, or even working out (but to take it easy the next couple of days). I was then allowed to relieve my bladder (O-M-G!!!) and return to our recovery area in the OR.
Shuffling back into our closed-curtain recovery area, Amy, the acupuncturist, was waiting there for me. She, too, had the biggest smile on her face and calmly guided me to the bed for the final piece of the Embryo Transfer puzzle.
I soon realized that it wasn’t the acupuncture room that housed the zen, spa-like aura. It was Amy. She filled that 10x10 curtained box with so much zen that I just melted into the bed immediately. She administered her last bit of laser acupuncture and gave my feet a squeeze.
“Lie here for as long as you want, Virginia. Congratulations, you two.” She rolled her equipment beyond the curtain and disappeared down the OR hallway.
“Well, it’s the three of us, now,” I turned to Joe and realized that our lives would forever be changed from that moment on… hopefully.
I never imagined the embryo transfer being conducted in such a serene, almost-holy manner. I look back on that experience so fondly, feeling incredibly lucky to have had so many wonderful people emitting positivity in our direction and working their hardest to make sure we were cared for in that moment.
Infertility is the most challenging, heartbreaking, and stressful thing I’ve ever gone through, but being able to experience an embryo transfer feels like a gift. If you are one of the unlucky-lucky ones like my husband and me, congratulations! At the end of your hellish journey, you witness a rare moment of creation, togetherness, and serenity.
As I write this, I’m in my third trimester with our baby girl and will never forget the first time I met her.
Virginia writes a monthly newsletter for RMA of CT on fertility news, trends, and happenings. Sign up now!
About Virginia Hamilton Furnari
Virginia Hamilton Furnari is RMA of Connecticut’s Brand Specialist and has a background in writing, marketing, and content production. In addition to helping mold the RMA of CT brand through blogs, videos, and events, she is also a patient and has undergone many fertility treatments. Given her professional and personal involvement in the fertility community, she has immersed her mind, body, and soul in family-building education.