Julia Childless: Here's the latest test in my tale of trying to get pregnant.
For many women trying to figure out why they're not getting pregnant, one of the first fertility tests doctors order is the hysterosalpingogram, or HSG (or as I like to call it, "the ink test"). Basically what they do is shoot ink up your vagina and take a bunch of x-rays of your uterus to find out whether your tubes are blocked. Sounds simple enough.
During my yearlong journey of trying to conceive, the ink test came up a number of times. I kept putting it off, because I wanted to try other, less-invasive methods first (sperm count; a Day 3 FSH test) -- but mainly because my insurance wouldn't cover it. And because I'm a little bit squeamish about medical procedures in general (I've never been to a hospital before -- for anything).
But the time had finally come: We had exhausted the other possibilities and needed to find out what was going on with these tubes of mine. Thanks to birth-control pills, my 118-day cycle had ended, and I scheduled the ink test for Day 7 of my new cycle. I had heard from a few friends that it was more uncomfortable than painful, and upon Googling the procedure, I found most message boards echoing that sentiment.
You can easily look up the step-by-step medical process, but I was just concerned with how it felt -- both physically and emotionally. Here's how the experience was for me:
Day 1: I had to get a blood test taken to prove I wasn't pregnant. Considering that I'm on the pill and my period ended the day before (and I haven't been able to get pregnant in 18 months), I already knew the answer. But the radiology department at the hospital that was performing the HSG wanted it, so I got it done.
Day 2: I start taking an antibiotic that my reproductive endocrinologist prescribed. Apparently this is to ward off any possible infection. It comes with all sorts of rules -- "Don't eat for two hours before or after"; "Don't take within two hours of ingesting anything with calcium/iron/magnesium" ....
Day 3 (Test Day): I wake up early and take my antibiotic at 6:30 AM, worried that my 8:30 breakfast and prenatal vitamins will interfere with their potency somehow. I fall back asleep and wake up totally nauseous from the pills. The last thing I want to do is eat breakfast, but I'm told I need to take two to three ibuprofen 1.5 hours before the HSG, so I force down some food.
At the hospital, I spend most of my time waiting. While there, I happen to bump into a friend -- whose wife just delivered their baby! I take this as a wonderful sign, and acknowledge that this process is going to be nothing compared to what she has just gone through. When I'm finally admitted, I'm told to strip from the waist down and put on a gown. It feels weird wearing a sweatshirt underneath, but I do as I'm told and keep my socks on, too. The nurse explains what's going to happen: They're going to insert a speculum (the duck lips the gyno uses for a Pap smear), then a catheter (ouch?!), then the ink. (That's when I may or may not feel cramping -- it varies from woman to woman.) Then they'll take x-rays.
The doctor enters. He looks like the lead in a CBS sitcom and has the same last name as my camp boyfriend. I find this all oddly comforting. He explains the procedure to me again; I'm too nervous to tell him I already know.
There are no stirrups, so I've got to utilize my leg muscles and get into a weird lying/squat position while he sterilizes the area -- puts down some clean towels; wipes my vagina with some cold stuff -- then it's a lot like a Pap smear. A really, really, really, really, really, really long Pap smear. I was grateful he didn't narrate what was happening -- I didn't need to hear the story a third time. I just felt all kinds of "stuff" going on.
Honestly, it felt like they just kept shoving things in and out of my vagina. Each time I felt something, I thought, "That wasn't too bad." And then realized it wasn't over yet. I started doing my Ujjayi breathing that I learned in yoga -- I guess I was being kind of loud, because they kept asking how I was doing and if I was OK. I closed my eyes, and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" kept playing over and over in my head.
Then I feel it. Intense, like a really bad menstrual cramp. It lasts for a minute or two, then subsides (or maybe my breathing is working). I'm told to slide my body up so they can start taking the x-rays, and position myself in a few different angles for the uterus paparazzi. By this time, it's stopped hurting and I'm surprised that the catheter is still in.
And then it's all over! I'm asked to stay lying down for a few moments, and given a pad because I'll probably experience some bleeding and discharge. I hardly need it, though -- there's only some light spotting, and I'm not bleeding blue ink (as I imagined I would be). By the time I've gotten changed I feel back to normal -- and when I get home, I'm fine to take my dog for a walk.
So it's just like they say -- more uncomfortable than painful. The worst of it is having to take those antibiotics for another day, waiting to hear the results -- and getting the bill.