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When you become involved in the online infertility community, you learn a lot about what happens with other women during treatment cycles. You quickly find that different doctors subscribe to different beliefs, strategies, and practices. Not all doctors or clinics are created equally. And sometimes the differences seem to teeter on negligence.

Just recently, in fact, I heard from one woman that her RE is recommending that she cancel or convert her IVF cycle to an IUI because her lead follicle grew too much and is “overripe”. She has several other eggs that are prime size for retrieval, but her RE subscribes to the idea that the healthiest eggs (that is, the ones most likely to become a baby) are the ones that respond first to stimulation meds, so if you miss your lead follicle(s) you may blow your whole cycle. Compare this to RE’s who purposely “sacrifice” lead follicles to allow smaller ones to catch up in hope of gaining a bigger harvest. Their belief is that with more eggs retrieved, you have a better chance of getting the baby. Two very different approaches, with potentially very different outcomes. This woman is stressed and torn about whether to forfeit this cycle or proceed.

Another women is fuming because for the second cycle in a row, her RE wasn’t able to retrieve all of her eggs due to issues with the dose and timing of the trigger. So her mature eggs are stuck in her ovaries. The RE should have known better and made adjustments after the first cycle.

Then there are the tests that should have been done, but never were. Protocols that weren’t individualized for women, who were treated like numbers instead. The examples can go on and on.

Some of this discrepancy is no doubt due to limitations in the research. Some things just aren’t fully known yet when it comes to assisted reproduction (or reproduction in general for that matter – the birds and the bees was clearly too simplistic). But a big part of that discrepancy also falls on the shoulders of the RE. They simply are not all built the same. And the most disturbing part for me, as someone in the health profession, is that not all RE’s stay up on the current research or are even qualified to understand the research (it takes training in research methodology and statistics to really understand the studies that are published. Just because it’s published doesn’t mean that the research design and/or statistical analyses fully support the conclusions drawn in the study). So some RE’s unfortunately aren’t up on the current findings, and some really don’t understand the findings that they read. I don’t mean to pick on RE’s – it’s like this in any discipline that attempts to bridge the gap between research and practice.  And then there’s the RE’s personal experiences, which can influence how they practice.

I often joke that I should be awarded an honorary degree in reproductive medicine after everything I’ve been through and all the studying I’ve done. Seriously, I know more about reproduction than my OBGYN. But all joking aside, I’m not an RE. I rely on my RE to advise me, make the best decisions for my individual case, be knowledgeable about current research, and care about making this work for me. And I do. I trust and respect my RE. I actually think he’s awesome for so many reasons.

And that gives me a sense of peace. I know that if this doesn’t end in a baby, it’s not because my RE wasn’t skilled enough or should have done something differently. That isn’t to say that I wish we wouldn’t have done some things differently, but I do believe that we did the best we could at each step with the information we had. And when we got new information, we changed things up accordingly.

Going through IVF is easier when you trust and believe in your RE.

It really is. In life we often have to advocate for ourselves, and I want to encourage women to speak up during infertility treatment. Ask questions – as many as you need to until you feel satisfied with the answers. Don’t be shy. And if you don’t feel comfortable with your RE – if you don’t believe in their skill and trust them – consider finding a new one. I know that’s not always an option. You may be restricted by insurance, geography, or other factors. But if you have the option, exercise it. If you don’t have the option,  it makes this difficult process that much harder.