Initially, it was part of the plan, we would wait a while before having children. We wanted to experience life as a couple before we experienced it as a family of more than two. We waited. We worked on being married, our careers, on feeling stable and settled. We decided we were ready. It was all part of the plan until it didn’t go as planned.
I was one of those people who went to my OB/GYN and had a preconception appointment; I wanted to do it right. I joined one of those online communities for pregnancy and trying to conceive. Have fun, they say, don’t stress about it, it will happen, but it didn’t happen. At first, it was disappointing, then annoying, then extremely frustrating and crushing. It’s just one month but one turned to two, three, four, five, on and on. I was in my early 30s and healthy. Why wasn’t this working?
I decided to take a more scientific approach. I read books, got a charting app and a basal thermometer. Every morning before I got out of bed, I took my temperature and entered it into the chart. I watched for signs. I leaned on my online community. Charting and temping will give you a better idea of what is really happening they reassured me. So I did it. Data will help you understand and help to make it happen, data didn’t help. Try ovulation predictor kits they recommended. So I did that too. Remember it can take up to a year for a healthy person to get pregnant, they reminded me. That is, unless you’re 35 and over, then it’s six months. Ugh, nothing worked.
Feeling like a Failure
Month after month, cycle after cycle felt more like failure after failure. It stopped being fun. It started being stressful and it became all-consuming. Family and friends had pregnancies, babies, and more pregnancies all while I was still just trying. It was exhausting. I called my doctor.
First step: have your partner checked. Yes, the first, and least invasive step, is to have him go in for analysis. Infertility affects men and women equally. In my case, that wasn’t the issue. Next step was checking on me. First a procedure to check that my tubes were clear. They were. Next, lab work. Nothing there to indicate a problem. Next, try medication along with temping and predictor kits. Nope, that didn’t work either. That “year of trying” was king gone. I’d crossed over into the world of infertility.
I was still participating in my online community. Gone were the simple days of ‘trying to conceive’ I was now part of the “IF community” (IF=infertility). I was there and I wasn’t alone. It was comforting and heartbreaking at the same time.
It was time to schedule with a specialist, an REI (Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, a highly specialized OB/GYN). I also realized it was time to schedule with a therapist. We had our first appointment with the REI and there was a PowerPoint and explanation of human reproduction. I nodded along, but it was all information I already knew. I had armed myself with knowledge. I listened to infertility podcasts and read scientific journal articles. I spent all of my free time reading, listening, and learning about infertility and fertility treatments. I had no control over the situation and educating myself allowed me some control. It was an education I never wanted.
There was more testing and finally a diagnosis: Unexplained. Yep, my official diagnosis is “Female Infertility, Unexplained.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! My doctor assured me that “unexplained” was the best diagnosis, we had a better chance at achieving pregnancy and having a successful outcome.
Hurry Up and Wait
Undergoing fertility treatment is so much of a waiting game and with all that time to wait you have a lot of time to think. You can’t just “not think about it” because you have appointments, multiple times a week, on the weekends, daily medications, and constant reminders of pregnancy seemingly everywhere. I lost count of the number of blood draws and ultrasounds I had. I was more interested in the number of follicles I had growing.
My REI recommended a medicated cycle IUI as a first step. IUI is an Intrauterine Insemination. Basically, it gives the sperm a better chance at reaching an egg by placing the washed sample into the uterus. So, if there is less distance to travel, they are more likely to be successful. A cycle went like this: start your cycle, go to clinic for baseline labs, take medication daily (for some it’s oral for others injectables), go to clinic for monitoring appointment, more labs, go for IUI. We did this routine three and a half times. (I had a cycle canceled because of a cyst.) Four cycles that did not result in a pregnancy. After the third unsuccessful procedure, it was recommended that we move to IVF, In Vitro Fertilization.
The Last Chance(s)
There are so many ways to build a family, for us IVF was our last step. We had long conversations about our family and our future and what that would look like. We decided that this would be it. If it was successful we would have a child; if it was not, we would remain a family of two. I believe there is a misconception with IVF, one that I hope people will start to realize; IVF does not equal a baby. It is not a sure thing.
IVF came as both a relief and a new level of stress. Relief because with assisted reproductive technology there is a sense of control. There are medications and there are concrete numbers. This many eggs were removed, this many were mature, and this many fertilized. You know that something is happening.
IVF also brings up a lot of philosophical discussions. Prior to any procedures, you have to make decisions and considerations for your possible embryos. What happens if you die, your partner, both of you? You meet with an attorney, you sign paperwork.
I don’t like needles, I look away when I have blood drawn and I had a stack of syringes in my house and a bunch of medications that needed to be injected into my abdomen. My husband gave me every single injection, typically three a night, every night for weeks. My second retrieval cycle (yes, I did it twice) included morning and evening injections.
The day finally arrived. We arrived at the clinic early and the whole process took maybe three hours. There was a pregnancy test (seriously) and meeting with the doctors to ask any last-minute questions. You’re under anesthesia for the egg retrieval. I was rolled into the room, transferred to the table, and started counting backward from 100… Then there was more waiting. Waiting for reports and numbers and genetic testing and the start of the next cycle.
After countless appointments, injections, medications, missed work (I eventually had to tell my boss what was going on, I was constantly taking off and had to come in late. She was wonderful) and more tears than I care to remember we had two embryos. One from each cycle. All you need is one I had to remind myself. Next was a frozen transfer.
For the transfer, there are more shots. These are rough they go in your hip, it’s oil, it’s thick, it hurts. They start before you transfer and if successful, you continue them for another 10 weeks. We met with the REI and the embryologist. They chose to defrost our embryo from the first cycle. We were given a picture of our embryo at 5 days old. We watched the ultrasound screen as our embryo was transferred. Then we waited, but I couldn’t wait the full 10 days for a blood test, and I knew I’d be at work for the official call. I needed to prepare myself. I took a home test. Three minutes felt like an eternity, but there were two lines and in those lines was relief; it worked.