Our Infertility Story

Our Infertility Story

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week this week, I decided to write about my long journey with infertility. This is something that effects 1 in 8 couples in America and something most people do not like to discuss. In my four years dealing with infertility, I have met many wonderful people who have shared their stories with me and lifted the shame that I feel over my body not working properly. I no longer feel alone in this battle and writing about this topic has been freeing. I want to be apart of the movement that brings awareness to infertility. Here’s my story! 

As a child, I would carry around a baby doll named Lydia like she was my daughter. My sister and I would fight over this doll, who was almost “life-like” due to the fact her arms and legs could move freely and had a face only a mother could love.

Lydia- surprisingly did not give me nightmares as a child

Lydia was kept at my grandma’s house, so when we would go over there to visit, I would scoop her up as fast as I could. I remember carrying this baby doll around, having her nestled in my arms. I would make sure she was covered in blankets and lifted her head when I feed her a bottle (having a baby brother at the time helped to hone my mama skills.) I remember holding this baby and dreaming of the day that I would hold my own baby. When I was finally able to bring Lydia home with me, I made a little space in my closet as a makeshift nursery. As with any girl who ages, I left behind my toys and moved on to teenager things- music, a job, magazines and a driver’s license. Lydia still stayed in the closet, but my dream of becoming a mom always stayed with me.

In 2010, something amazing happened- my little sister had a baby boy. I was beyond excited with my new title as “aunt”. As I held this little miracle in my arms at the hospital, I promised I would buy him books and teach him everything he needed to know before Kindergarten. I promised him I would always be there for him, no matter how far away I might be. He was the first true love that I experienced, so I could only imagine what my sister and brother in law felt.

As I watched my sister hold my nephew, I was immediately brought back to when we were younger, playing “moms” in the bedroom we shared. Here she was, exhausted from the labor with this little and very real baby doll. He was laying on her chest, completely helpless and looking like my sister did when she was born. I was in awe.  She was no longer just my little sister, she was a mom. I couldn’t take my eyes off this little human, new to this world and very much loved.  When she gave birth to my younger nephew 4 years later, I didn’t think I could love another little human as much as I did with my older nephew. I was totally wrong. It’s true, your heart grows with each addition to your family. These two little boys have stolen my heart and have only strengthened my desire to become a mother.

January 2017

I’m sitting in the waiting room of the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) office with my husband, Jim.  He’s trying to make me feel at ease, but it’s not working. I’m a ball of nerves, excitement and anxiety. There’s another couple in the waiting room. The woman approaches me and asks me in broken English if I’ve ever been here before.

I said no.

She went on to tell me that she and her husband are from China and are excited to be here to start the journey to become parents. She keeps smiling as she’s asking me questions. Jim takes over answering her questions for me as I write my insurance information down (which doesn’t even matter since these treatments aren’t covered by insurance.) As he explains the difference between IUI and IVF, I finish my paperwork and return it to the nurse.  The RE catches my eye as I sit down. She nods and smiles from behind the glass. I hear her say “oh, yes! Theresa. I remember.”

I had lied to that nice Chinese lady.

I had been there before.

Our journey started shortly after Jim and I were married in 2013. I had been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovulation syndrome) in 2010, so I knew pregnancy was a long shot.

The Longest and Most Stressful 16 Months of My Life…So Far

I went to a new gynecologist in September 2013, discussed my PCOS issue and my desire to become pregnant.  She started me on Clomid, but because she wasn’t a specialist, I would not be able to have any ultrasounds or blood work documenting the progress of the drug.

Clomid is a drug that works by stimulating a rise in the number of hormones that support the growth and release of a mature egg. In other words, it helps you ovulate when you can’t do it on your own. Some women just need Clomid and can get pregnant. I was not one of those women. Along with taking Clomid, I was encouraged to use Ovulation prediction kits (OPKs). OPKs are not PCOS friendly. Women with PCOS are likely to have high levels of luteinizing hormone (LH)- the ovulation hormone- at other times of the month, which can produce ‘false positives’. This leads to confusion over when to try to get pregnant. I used the OPK but never had a positive result.

Two rounds of Clomid did not work, so I was referred to a specialist, a reproductive endocrinologist or RE.

We started with our RE in July of 2014. She was a positive and informative doctor, which is needed in this medical field. I had a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) performed first. This test is an X-ray that is taken of the uterus and fallopian tubes to check for blockages. A dye is put through a thin tube that is inserted into the vagina. It was uncomfortable and expensive, but when the results came back that I had no blockages and my uterus looked good, it was worth it. My husband was also checked out and he came back with a clean bill of health. So, the problem was with me and my inability to ovulate.

The doctor explained our options and we went with Clomid along with an intrauterine insemination, or IUI.  This process is when sperm is placed inside the uterus to help with fertilization. It is used to increase the number of sperm that reach the fallopian tubes and help increase the chance of fertilization.

I did 2 of these inseminations with no success. The second IUI was done with Femara instead of Clomid. It’s another fertility drug used instead of Clomid and it is gentler on the lining of the uterus.  My lining was so thinned out by the Clomid that the Femara didn’t stand a chance.

By the second IUI (and plenty of negative pregnancy tests), I told my husband I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed a break- physically,

Grand Canyon Views

mentally and emotionally. I was done.  We had been doing this for a year and half, including the rounds of Clomid with my gynecologist. I had tests done on my Fallopian tubes, countless needles and blood draws, all with no success. It begins to take a mental toll and with working full time, I needed a break.

We agreed to stop in January of 2015 and just enjoy being married, which we did. We visited Siesta Key Beach, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We were finally able to relax. We made plans in the moment, not tied down to a schedule based on my menstrual cycles. We tried the newest restaurants and martini bars. I enjoyed my sushi and I drank coffee, too!  However, I never forgot my dream of one day becoming a parent. It was always on my mind, it just wasn’t the most pressing matter at the time.

The Ups and Downs of Life

After we finished with the fertility treatments, I noticed that my once unpredictable period became predictable! I was having 28-30 day cycles. Currently, I can pinpoint when my period will come, something that has never happened to me before unless I was on birth control. I feel like “one of the girls” when I can tell that my period is coming and that’s the reason I’m crying at Subaru car commercials and dreaming of eating French fries dipped in chocolate Frosty’s.

However, while one medical issue was taken care of, another one appeared.

During the summer of 2015 I was having horrible heartburn and spasms in my chest (the spasms started around 2013 but occurred occasionally and seemed to only happen when I was stressed). I constantly felt like I was having a heart attack.  After a series of doctor appointments and medicines that didn’t work, I was referred to a GI doctor.  After a barium swallow, an endoscopy (where I was blissfully sedated) and an esophageal manometry, a horrible test where a tube is inserted through my nose and I was not sedated, were all preformed, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called Achalasia.

Me after my surgery to correct an issue with my esophagus.

With Achalasia, your lower esophagus sphincter (LES) fails to open during swallowing like it’s supposed to do. This leads to a backup of food within your esophagus, which leads to throwing up food just about every time I ate. I would wake in the middle of the night with bad coughing spells, which was from food that was stuck in my throat. If I did eat, I would feel immense pressure in my chest.  This put the trying to get pregnant on the way back burner.

I had surgery in July 2016 to correct this problem. This was the first time I was ever in the hospital overnight and the first major surgery I ever had. I did create a will and wrote letters to loved ones. I have a flair for the dramatic. I’m not a full 100 % but I am much better than I was pre-surgery.

New Year- New Try

It was January 2017 when we were ready to start the baby journey again. We were determined to get pregnant this year.

We were extremely fortunate to get a donation of injectable medicine, which contains the follicle-stimulated hormone (FSH), from someone I know, someone that I’ll always be thankful for knowing. Our insurance covers nothing when it comes to infertility, so this was a huge savings to us. This was our year, we told ourselves on New Year’s Day.

Which brings us back to the waiting room with that nice Chinese lady and useless paperwork.

When we met with the RE, my normally on schedule period was late. I had taken a pregnancy test and it was negative. At the appointment, blood work was drawn to see where I was at in my cycle.

The ultrasound probe
Hello old friend

The blood work I had shown that I had just ovulated and that my period would be starting soon. I was excited that this happened on its own, with no medical interventions. Just my body, doing what it’s supposed to do. I thought that with my body working properly, the injectable medicine and the IUI, I was almost guaranteed a baby.

One Sunday morning, I woke up with cramps. I usually have symptoms that lead up to my period, but not this one. It came abruptly, like it knew it forgot to come 2 weeks ago.  On Tuesday, I came in for a transvaginal ultrasound (something I’ve had done too many times to keep count) using the ultrasound probe pictured on the right.  I was told my follicles were clear of cysts, so we could start.

With this round of treatment, we did things differently. I did Letrozole for 5 days (I had previously done Clomid). Then we did the injectable medicine, which goes into your stomach for a certain amount of days (6 days for me).

Timeline of What an IUI Cycle Can Look Like

 

The needles and pen used for my 6 days of shots

Sunday- Day 1 of shots

I laid out the pen, the needles, the jar for the used needles and vials of medicine. This is what is going to help us have our baby, I thought to myself.  I was just waiting on my husband. He’s a nurse, so he was the one doing the shots.

While I freak out over needles, I also freak out when anyone touches my stomach. I’m super ticklish, which makes doctor’s visits awkward as I squirm on the table. My husband takes his job as a nurse very seriously, so he was all business as I laid on the bed ready for the shot. I tried not to look at him (and the needle) but it didn’t work. I couldn’t stop laughing and squirming. Finally, he went for it and… I didn’t feel a thing! I thought he might have given me the shot the wrong way.

Tuesday- Day 3 of shots and an ultrasound

I went in to see the size of my follicles. I had 5 days of letrozole and 2 days of shots. My doctor was looking for anything over 18 mm. I had one follicle at 11 and one at 12. I was sad, but my doctor told me to bump the shots from 75 to 100.

Thursday- Day 5 of shots and another ultrasound

Back at the office for yet ultrasound. Both follicles measured at 15 mm. My doctor told me that this was a good thing because follicles typically grow 2 mm per day. She told me to continue with the shots and come back on Saturday. I finally felt like a “typical” person and things were going my way!

Saturday- Day 7- Final ultrasound

We drove to the hospital early on Saturday morning. The parking lot wasn’t as full as during the week and it was nice to not see so much chaos on the highways. We enter the waiting room and were surprised to see a packed house.

As my husband grabbed some chairs for us, I went to check in. My name wasn’t on the list. My heart sunk into my stomach. I panicked and the secretary could tell. She quickly said that this type of thing happens, someone must not have put me on the schedule at my last ultrasound and she added me to the list.

Fifteen minutes after my scheduled time, I was called back. Apparently, this office is really good at cranking out ultrasounds, getting us in and out in a timely fashion.  I did the thing I had done 3 times prior that week- stripped from the waist down. I folded my jeans, stuck my underwear inside and placed them in my husband’s arms, like a newborn baby.

My regular doctor was not scheduled for this weekend, so we saw another doctor in the practice. I’ve had the pleasure to see all the doctors there and I’m equally comfortable with all of them.

Jim and I took a guess as to what size the follicles might be. I said 18, he said 20. The doctor entered as we were placing our bet. Nineteen.

The trigger shot

I had 2 follicles at 19 mm. He said we were ready to go and that I can stop the shots and move on to the HCG shot, that would trigger ovulation, that evening and my IUI could happen on Monday. We were excited!

One moment of drama- the office forgot to mention that I needed to order the HCG shot.  A moment of sheer panic flooded over me. All the shots, ultrasounds (at $200 a pop), blood work, waiting for my period to begin so I could even start this process- meant nothing if I didn’t have this shot that evening.

The nurse said she would check to see if they had any, but they usually don’t carry this medicine in the office.  Everything went fuzzy while we waited.  Finally, after what seemed like a life time, the nurse came in with the shot. She had found one. I immediately released the tears I was holding back.

That evening, I prepped myself for what I hoped would be the last shot I would need.

Monday-  Day 9 IUI day (Day 16 of my cycle)

The day of the IUI was one filled with nerves. I was trying to hold that flimsy piece of paper over my lady parts, having nothing on from the waist down, the routine I was used to all week from my ultrasounds. I laid back and waited for the process to start. The doctor placed the speculum inside of me and I suddenly remembered.

My pain in the ass cervix.

It was closed and didn’t want to remain open. She needed a larger speculum and had to crank it several times. Each time she went to insert the catheter, my cervix decided it didn’t want to cooperate. She would take the time to readjust it and when she did that, I felt pain and immense pressure. I looked at my husband, dutifully holding my purse, coat and pants. He mouthed the words “it’s okay” and I flipped him off.  In my defense- it hurt and he would never know that pain.

Before I knew it, the procedure was over. I remained reclined on the table, hoping this would help. The doctor told me I would have some slight cramping and spotting and to avoid hot tubs and saunas. I was given my paperwork to check out and paid the $500 for the procedure and parted ways with the kindly receptionist who had been there all week, greeting me with a warm smile.

I felt pain in my lower right side and some pressure, but chalked it up to the procedure. My sweet husband put me to bed and when I woke up a few hours later, I couldn’t move. I felt paralyzed from the waist down. I couldn’t roll over in bed, let alone get out of bed. I immediately thought something was wrong. I didn’t remember feeling this amount of pain during the last IUI in December of 2014.  I called for my husband and he reassured me I had experienced trauma to my uterus, so this was expected. I didn’t have a fever or any other symptoms, so I calmed down and went back to sleep. The pain gradually became lessened over the course of the day.

Then the real test begins- the two week wait.

The Two Week Wait

This is the real test. It’s two weeks that you have absolutely no control over. You will either become pregnant or not. The first week went by okay. I wasn’t in pain anymore from the procedure but I still took it easy and tried to stay the hell away from Google.  Nothing really happens this week in terms of anything I can feel, so I trusted that this was our time. This was our success story. This was it.

Then week two happened.

This was hell week. I started thinking every little symptom- from a sneeze to joint ache- was a sign of pregnancy. I drove myself crazy inside my own head. I had nightmares of wiping myself, only to discover gushing blood.  I obsessively Googled everything- my Google search is a who’s who of weirdly worded questions. Some pages leave me comforted, others confused.

I am my own worst enemy. I stress myself out unnecessarily. I don’t like feeling out of control and this is the one thing I have absolutely no control over. It is torture.  The only thing I can do is wait and remain calm.

I can do neither.

Monday- One week after the IUI (Day 23 of my cycle)

I wake up feeling nauseated. I think it may be morning sickness, but a quick Google search shows it’s too early for that. I quickly looked up if this was symptom of implantation, which should be happening this week. Some women reported feeling nauseous, but it’s not necessarily a sign. I tried to go back to sleep, but my stomach was hurting, like something was trying to claw itself out. I quickly realized what these feelings meant- the stomach flu. I tried to remain positive that this wouldn’t hurt the possible life inside of me. I felt like crap the rest of the day. I read somewhere that this may be a sign of pregnancy and not the flu. I try to believe that, but we are in the thick of flu season.

Wednesday- Day 25 of my cycle

I felt better from my bout with the flu. We needed to attend a mandatory meeting regarding IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). It’s the next step if this IUI doesn’t work. The weather is bad and my anxiety is up as we drive in the snowstorm. We arrive with a few minutes to spare and enter the auditorium at the hospital. It’s crowded.

How it all begins…

As the presentation begins, I vigorously take notes.  During the meeting, we found out it’s only a 50 % chance of working. Our insurance does not cover any infertility treatments. We pay out of pocket for everything. IVF is $10,000.

$10,000 for a 50% chance, especially when IUIs weren’t working for me.

My heart sank.

My husband asked how I felt afterwards, thinking I would say something positive.

“I feel worse” was my response.

The doctor who presented ended his presentation with a small note about being stress free during this procedure. He spoke about the power of acupuncture and how when combined with IVF treatments, had a greater success rate.

 

 

Saturday- Day 28 of my cycle

The day before my period is due, I take a pregnancy test (against my better judgement). As the control window quickly shows a line, I tried to wait patiently for the result window.

As I stuff the negative pregnancy test in the bathroom trash can, I turn the water on to cry.

I tell myself it’s not completely over with because per the sheet in the pregnancy test, there’s a 10 % chance I tested too early and could still be pregnant. According to my Google searches, this is also correct.

I’m clinging on to that 10 % with all that I have. I’m waiting until that last moment- when I have a full-on period- before I concede.  This doesn’t stop me from my nightly shower crying though.

Sunday- Day 29 of my cycle- the before my period is scheduled to arrive

I’m awoken from my sleep with cramps.

I’m lightly spotting, but I usually have that before my period starts.

Monday- Day 30 my cycle

My period arrives. It’s President’s Day and the weekend had been a surprisingly warm one for February. While I tried to enjoy the nice weather, I couldn’t stop myself from the worrying and the pain I felt- physically from cramps and emotionally from the failed IUI.

I’m sure the two-week wait did me in. I wish I could have been knocked out during that time and not have to think about what might (or might not) be happening inside my body. I had horrible nightmares and I was catastrophizing BIG time.  I think the drugs had this mental effect on me, as well as the immense pressure I put myself under for this to work. To be honest, the money we paid for these treatments stressed me out so much. I put pressure on myself that this needed to work.  No baby after thousands of dollars spent, drugs pumping through my body that made me crazy and the disappointment of my period each month was almost too much to handle.

The day I had my period, I remembered what the doctor said at the IVF meeting and researched acupuncture and infertility. The findings gave me hope. The more I read, the better I felt. I told my husband of my plan and he wholeheartedly agreed. I found a local acupuncturist and I called the next day. She was comforting, professional and had experience working with women who suffer from infertility. Also, due to my PTSD and PCOS, acupuncture could help with these issues as well. I felt so much better after our meeting. I felt hope and excitement, something I haven’t felt since my first meeting with the RE in 2014.

Next Steps

Deep down in my soul, I feel that I am not a candidate for IVF.

My first positive ovulation test. 🙂

For the last two years, I’ve been having a regular period, which means I’m ovulating. At the beginning of April, I tried an ovulation predictor kit and I finally had a positive, with no drugs or shots. It coincided with previous times when I thought I would be ovulating in other cycles (due to checking my cervical mucus) and using the Ovia app to help document my cycles.

 

 

Instead of being depressed my period came, I got 20,000 steps in one day.

I ended up not getting pregnant that cycle, but it strengthened my thoughts that I am doing something right.  My primary care physician placed me on Metformin and told me to watch what I ate and exercise more. She shared with me success stories of women who were in my exact shoes.

 

 

Present Day

I’m the only one left out of everyone that I know personally who is struggling with infertility and has never been pregnant. I feel like the last one in the race, while everyone else has crossed the finish line. The sadness I feel when I see a pregnancy announcement is still with me. Of course, I am happy that a new life is coming into the world, but there’s a pit in my stomach when I find out someone is expecting a baby. What comes easy to many women doesn’t come easy to me and it’s a horrible feeling to know your body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Baby showers, parks and family gatherings can bring feelings of anxiety and sadness to me.

Also, please feel free to invite me to your baby shower or to hang out with you and your baby!  I know it’s the opposite of what I just said above, but depending on where I am mentally, I can politely decline the invite, send a gift or reschedule a visit. I absolutely do not want/need pity or to be left out of something. All I ask for is understanding. And please don’t bring up that we could adopt. This is a topic for another discussion, but please, don’t bring this topic up to someone who is struggling with infertility.

Having my tattoo removed. Not as painful as it looks.

Currently, I am focusing on my mental and physical health. I’m having acupuncture done, I see a therapist regularly and I make better food choices and move my body.

I’m having a tattoo removed, so we aren’t trying this cycle for a baby and I’m okay with this because it gives me even more time to focus on my health.

I also don’t compare myself to other ladies. Just because someone fits my profile doesn’t mean we’ll have the same journey.

When I’m having a dreadful day emotionally and all I want is a piece of pizza with a bottle of wine, I turn to my coping skills.  I journal. I take a drive. I organize something. I exercise. I listen to music. I read. I color. (Sidebar- adult coloring books are a wonderful creation, but I also break out the children’s coloring books for some nostalgic fun.)

I remind myself that I am worthy of good health- emotionally, mentally and physically.

I tried to pierce her ears, too

I also take the time to dream.  Dream about the day when I become a mom and make my husband a dad. I often think about the type of parents we’ll be and the things we’ll do with our future offspring, the places we’ll go and the adventures we’ll have.

 

And I promise not to draw on our baby like I did to my Cabbage Patch doll when I was younger.

This could still be worth money, right?

 

 

 

 

*A note to anyone who reads this and struggles with going to a doctor to confirm infertility-  Please get checked out! Knowing is better than not knowing. This goes for men too. It doesn’t make you any less of a man to check if your male parts are working properly. Once you know the issue, you, your partner and your doctor can make a plan for treatment and get the process started.  Research all your options and find the best one for you and your partner.

**A note to anyone who has shared their infertility story with me, who has listened patiently to me (and weren’t annoyed by my constant questions)- THANK YOU! Your support has meant the world to me and sharing your story made me feel less alone! I’m glad to be apart of a supportive community of women and hope to one day share my success story!

Please comment with any questions or comments for me or if you’d like to share your story! 

2 Replies to “Our Infertility Story”

  1. You’re making all the right moves! You’re doing everything right!! I will tell you what I know sucks to hear “it’s going to happen for you”!! I’ve been exactly where you’ve been (twice)…there’s nothing anyone can say to make you feel better! ???

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