What to Expect at Your IVF Embryo Transfer | A Patient’s Perspective
February 8th, 2023 | 11 min. read
I don’t wish infertility on anyone, but experiencing an embryo transfer is truly something special. This is my real, unfiltered perspective on this huge milestone in the IVF process - from start to finish.
In this article:
My IVF Journey in a Nutshell
I’ll start from the beginning…
The build-up to our embryo transfer was one of the only times I felt any semblance of “excitement” during my 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 pressure was off me and now on nature.
C’mon little embryo! Let's go!
We decided to do a frozen embryo transfer (FET) for a couple of reasons:
- To allow my body to recover from the egg retrieval (which is a pretty easy procedure for many patients, but not for me)
- To allow enough time for preimplantation genetic testing (PGT), or embryo testing
By the time we got the test results back and the extreme bloating had dissipated from my egg retrieval (thanks, PCOS), we'd been waiting almost two months between retrieval and transfer. After multiple unsuccessful IUI cycles and a pretty intense round of IVF, you can imagine my husband's and my impatience.
The Big Day: Our IVF Embryo Transfer
Finally, we got the green light and scheduled our embryo transfer.
Upon arriving at Illume Fertility on the day of my transfer, I was immediately escorted to a private spa-like room for laser acupuncture. I was told that doing laser acupuncture before and after embryo 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 any heat from the laser's light. For me, it wasn’t as “zen” as traditional acupuncture, but I still fell asleep. So clearly, it relaxed me.
After my 20 or 30-minute cat nap, I heard a gentle knock on the door. They were ready for our embryo transfer! I jolted awake with excitement…and then almost peed my pants. No, but really.
One of the main instructions for any patient coming in for 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 my acupuncture nap. Let’s just say that I had to walk very delicately from the acupuncture room to the surgical suite.
Preparing for Our Embryo Transfer
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. (The perfect opportunity to wear those fun IVF socks you see everywhere.)
My husband was reunited with me at this point, and told me he was jealous of my special "costume." We were both so excited about what was to come next.
As I changed into the gown, 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.
The way the nurses smiled at me, the calm music that quietly played from the speakers in the OR prep area, the privacy of our experience, the formalities that offered a sense of security, it all set a scene that I can best describe as "ceremonial."
A New Experience
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 Illume Fertility's service, this was because my body was bloated with 50 dominant follicles for my egg retrieval versus feeling amazing and “like myself again” for the transfer.
Being back in the same surgical suite felt quiet, calm, and private this time around. The nurses nearby each 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, Dr. Ilana Ressler. 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 me and my husband, 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.
The Embryo Transfer Ceremony
The embryo transfer ceremony (as I'd call it) then officially began.
It’s hard to accurately 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 weight of what was about to happen.
The procedure room looked like 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.
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 slippery ultrasound probe over my belly, Tina immediately exclaimed, “Virginia! Are you in pain?!”
“Maybe just 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 for that bathroom break. (Although, everyone knows what it feels like to have to stop mid-stream. That's all I'll say about that.) I shuffled back from the restroom with a bladder now perfectly full, but not too full. Potty breaks don’t typically happen mid-transfer, so you may or may not experience the same thing I did!
My advice? Come in with a pretty full bladder - but once it gets hard to walk and you find yourself hunching over, you’ve gone too far. You want uncomfortable, not painful.
How do they ensure you get the right embryo?
This is probably a question all fertility patients ask. As they should! Knowing what safety measures and verification procedures your fertility clinic uses can help ease your mind so you know that the little embryo being transferred to your uterus is indeed, the right one.
"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," Dr. Ressler said. "My name is Dr. Ressler. Can you confirm your names, birthdays, and the last four digits of your social security numbers for me?"
"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!” I confirmed.
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 begin our embryo transfer.
The Moment We "Met" Our Daughter
As I laid back, Dr. Ressler said the words we’ve all heard about 82,375 times: "Okay, Virginia, just scoot down to the very end of the chair for me."
She then explained what was going to happen next. 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 our little 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.
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 right, 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 come through that 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 unsuccessful cycles, all the prayers…
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 instead a slow float over to Dr. Ressler.
She stopped right behind Dr. Ressler, and once again, the formalities and protocols kicked in.
Erica, our embryologist, whom I’d already met several times during my time with Illume Fertility, 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?” We complied.
"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 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 happen 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.
"So you see the tube? Now it’s in your uterus, and we have 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 light. That’s the air bubble that drops with the embryo. When you see the flash, you'll know the embryo has landed. Here we go…"
Joe and I squeezed each other’s hands. There it was, everything we had worked so hard for, 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. She then gently pulled the delivery tube out as I lay there, silently freaking out. Please, God, stick…
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…I had to tell myself.
"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 (finally!) and return to our recovery area in the surgical suite.
Shuffling back into our closed-curtain recovery area, Amy, the acupuncturist, was waiting there for me. She had the biggest smile on her face and calmly guided me to the bed for the final piece of our embryo transfer puzzle.
I soon realized that it wasn’t the acupuncture room that created the relaxed, spa-like environment. It was Amy! She filled that 10x10 curtained space with so much zen that I just melted into the bed immediately. She administered the last bit of my post-transfer laser acupuncture and gave my feet a gentle 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!
The Aftermath of Embryo Transfer Day
I never imagined an 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 sending 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 get to 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 on embryo transfer day!
Virginia Hamilton Furnari is Illume Fertility's former Brand Specialist. In addition to helping mold the Illume Fertility brand through blogs, videos, and events, she was also a patient at Illume. Given her professional and personal involvement in the fertility community, she has immersed her mind, body, and soul in family-building education.