It’s that time again – this week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Resolve – an excellent resource for all things infertility – encourages us to share our story this week. So here goes…
I’ve always had a feeling that I would have a hard time getting pregnant. I don’t have any idea where this notion came from, but I never gave it much thought in my 20’s. I was too busy – busy with college and graduate school, then establishing my career and getting settled in life. It took some time, but I finally found a man that was a good fit for me and we made a home together. By that point I was in my early 30’s and we were ready for kids. Without any logical reason why, it came as no surprise to me when a year and half passed with no signs of pregnancy.
I went to my OBGYN and without hesitation she referred me to an infertility specialist. And that’s when I slammed on my breaks. The mere thought of going to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) was intimidating, not to mention crazy expensive because it wasn’t covered by my insurance. I was caught off guard. I had never known anyone who had gone through infertility treatment. I assumed there had to be something my OBGYN could do – tests, a diagnostic work-up, some treatments – but she basically sent me packing and wanted nothing more to do with me. Looking back I know this doctor clearly wasn’t experienced in working with infertility and could have used a few more lessons in bedside manner. But at the time I was simply confused and scared.
I spent the following year convincing myself that I didn’t want to have children. I knew several women who chose to not have children, and I envisioned a carefree life with lots of traveling. My husband went along with it, but gradually snuck the topic back into our lives. Apparently he could see what I was refusing to see – that deep down hidden in a place I didn’t want to talk about – I desperately wanted to have a baby. Shortly thereafter, a friend told me about how his wife saw a local OBGYN who prescribed Clomid and they got pregnant right away. And this doctor was covered by my insurance. It sounded like just what I needed, so I quickly made an appointment and began treatment. I remember that first round of Clomid and how excited I was thinking that this was our magic ticket to parenthood. *sigh*
One year of back to back cycles on Clomid or Femara and still there were no double lines in sight. I was given the illusive “unexplained” diagnosis after passing every diagnostic test thrown at me like a Boss. Eventually I agreed to an exploratory laparoscopy. I’ll never forget waking up from the surgery and having the nurse tell me that the doctor wants to talk with me. The nurses wouldn’t give me any other information and naturally I assumed that my uterus was as barren as the desert. Fortunately the news wasn’t as bad as that, but it was a little odd. My doctor discovered endometriosis, which he downplayed and said it wasn’t in any location that should prevent me from getting pregnant; still he removed it. That was unexpected but not the odd part. He told me I didn’t have an appendix – odd because I’ve never had it removed – and in its place was a significant amount of scar tissue that had grown onto my right fallopian tube and was pulling it out of place rendering it not functional. My husband and I made jokes about my apparent alien abduction and stolen appendix. But I prefer to think that I’m so bad ass that I ate my own organ. Because who needs an appendix anyway? The doctor cut away the scar tissue and my tube returned to its correct location. I was so hopeful that this surgery was the answer.
But I continued to not be pregnant – month after month despite the medications. We even tried IUI to no avail. After a year and a half of monthly treatments, I got tired of doing the same thing and expecting different results. So even though my OBGYN thought we should keep trying and was hesitant to refer me to an RE because he thought they “pushed IVF too much,” I simply couldn’t go on like this. I made the call and scheduled a consult with the local infertility specialist. A call I wish I had made all those years ago. Unlike my OBGYN , the RE said the reason I’m not getting pregnant is due to the combination of endometriosis, which negatively impacts egg quality and can cause inflammation, and non-functional fallopian tubes. I asked how that could be since the dye tests showed my tubes were open. He explained that just because they’re open doesn’t mean they work right. All that scar tissue, and of course when you cut away scar tissue you are left with more scars, and inflammation from endometriosis impacts how my tubes work. Oh and I had diminished ovarian reserve too. Joy. He was confident that IVF was the treatment for me.
So finally after 4 years – with a one year break in the middle – I began IVF. Well, after one more surgery to remove a polyp – there’s always one more thing, isn’t there? For my first IVF I had 7 mature eggs retrieved, all fertilized naturally, and on day 5 I had 3 early blastocysts. Since they were a bit slow growing, I was 36 years old (so quality was just starting to decline), and I had that polyp removed (which basically left a spot in my uterus where nothing could implant), my RE suggested transferring all 3 embryos at my day-5 fresh transfer. And so we did. I was in absolute shock when I got the positive beta results. I now have a rambunctious, very opinionated 4-year-old daughter.
I truly though I’d never do IVF again after that hellish journey. But as time passed, the desire to grow our family became strong. It took a long time for my cycle to return. When it did I hoped to be one of those magical unicorns that get pregnant naturally after IVF. I wasn’t and I wish I had gotten into my RE sooner than I did. Just a couple months before my 40th birthday I had another egg retrieval. Technology had changed the way my clinic operated since my last IVF, and now they encourage PGS testing and frozen embryo transfers. I ended up with one PGS normal girl that round. We were so excited and completely assumed it would work. Such a difference from our first round when I was convinced it hadn’t worked. And when she failed to implant the floor dropped out from under me. The next two rounds of IVF ended in zero blasts – nothing to test. Following that we got 2 embryos and both were PGS abnormal. That’s 3 round of IVF with nothing to transfer. That means zero chance of pregnancy. I might as well forgo the torture of all the treatments and procedures and just have sex.
Then we switched course. After much research and discussions with my RE, we opted to forgo PGS testing and do a fresh 3-day transfer. When we arrived at the clinic for the transfer we learned that we had 4 embryos growing strong, so we transferred all 4. Once again I was filled with excitement and anticipation. But it was negative. Again.
By that point I had pretty much lost hope and was simply going through the motions. I wanted to make sure that I tried everything I could to give my daughter the sibling her heart desired and my husband and I the baby we longed for, but I no longer expected that it would work. I met with my RE again to discuss our final options. Mentally, I was coming to terms with making a healthy, albeit hard, decision to end treatments. To my surprise, there was one embryo left over from the previous fresh cycle that I didn’t even know about. Crazy, right? Apparently there was an embryo that was really lagging behind on day 3 when we did the fresh transfer, so rather than transferring it with the other 4, the lab let it keep growing to see if it would make a comeback or simply peter out. Well, it continued to grow and was frozen as an early blast on day 6. My RE suggested we transfer that late bloomer along with one of my PGS abnormal embryos from a couple cycles ago. Yes, you read that right – abnormal. The abnormality was minor and he thought it might correct, but would not result in an unhealthy pregnancy. If this unlikely FET didn’t work, then we would do one final retrieval and fresh transfer, and then be done with it all. Based on research statistics, my RE thought that doing that one final cycle would bring us up to our maximum chance for success rate – more than that would likely simply result in more of the same failures.
With that, I agreed and proceeded with the FET. I had zero expectation that it would work, given the two embryos we transferred. And so when I saw the 2 lines, I began shaking. I couldn’t believe it. I proceeded with caution, of course, as infertility warriors do. But week after week, test after test, good news continued to flow. My second healthy baby girl was born 14 weeks ago.
I began this blog when I set out on my second go round with infertility. It was my effort at keeping a hold of my sanity and my sense of self during all the trials of infertility treatments. Writing has been an invaluable resource for me. I hope that some of my stories and thoughts have resonated with others too. We all need a support system, and that support comes in many forms. I plan to continue sharing some of my past experiences and perspectives, and whether you are new to the intense world of infertility or a seasoned IVF warrior, I hope that you find at least a little piece of support in this blog.