Did you know that 1 in 8 couples are faced with infertility? For a struggle that feels so isolating, it’s not as uncommon as you’d think. So why does infertility feel like such an anomaly? When you’re in this thick of it, why does it feel like you’re 1 in a million? Why does it seems like everyone else is getting pregnant so easily?
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week and the theme is #flipthescript.
Help me and thousands of others change the conversation around infertility, remove the stigma, and spread awareness to help those who are struggling to realize they aren’t alone.
This video Fertile Girl put together is such a great illustration of the need to be more open with our stories and the struggles we face.
I’ve been pretty open about our journey to parenthood but have yet to share our full story. For the sake of brevity (eh, somewhat), I’ll focus this post more on the details and less on the emotions our struggle brought about. I’m an over-sharer by nature (one reason why blogging comes so naturally to me) and I’ve found it helps to learn the nitty gritty about what others went through and what worked for them. Here we go!
April 2013 – Family time!
We’d been married for a year and a half, I was a couple months shy of 29 and Troy was a couple months past 30. Troy was in his first year of business school and we were feeling the time was right to begin trying to start a family. We ‘pulled the goalie’ and decided to not ‘not’ try.
September 2013 – It worked! Or not…
After only a few months (which did involve some ovulation tracking, sorry I can’t really do things halfway #plannerproblems), I peed on a stick while in Barcelona for a work trip and found out… I was pregnant! I was shocked. Beyond excited.
Unfortunately, my pregnancy was also coupled with some spotting, so I called my OB who didn’t seem worried and scheduled a blood test when I got back in town along with my first ultrasound appointment which would be around 8 weeks. I immediately downloaded a pregnancy tracking app and already connected with the little poppyseed and dreamed about our little June baby. Of course I did. When I returned home just a few days after the initial pee-on-a-stick test, I took the first blood test that confirmed the pregnancy. Phew, right? Well, you want to see your HCG levels double (which basically confirms a pregnancy), so after 48 hours I took another blood test…and then received the dreaded call at work that my levels did not double and the pregnancy was not viable. I miscarried 4 days later.
October 2013- August 2014 – Trying times
While it is definitely SO hard to experience, apparently miscarriages are pretty common. In fact, it’s estimated that 10-25% of recognized pregnancies miscarry. Obviously I was SUPER sad when I received the news, but since I was ‘young’ (29) and able to get pregnant so easily in the first place, my doctor didn’t believe I had any reason to worry I wouldn’t get pregnant again. So we kept trying. I tracked my ovulation, we followed the rules, and month after month I continued to not see those double lines. We were disappointed. After a year, I was finally able to get referred to a reproductive specialist.
August – November 2014 – Welcome to the world of meds
Once referred to Kaiser Reproductive Medicine, we went through rigorous testing to understand what was going on. Everything was ok on Troy’s side, and frustratingly enough, my diagnosis was ‘unexplained infertility.’ Things seemed to check out OK, but for some reason, nothing seemed to work. So we tried the first few steps in the world of assisted fertility.
First up – Clomid and timed intercourse. How romantic! Clomid helps you ovulate more eggs than you would naturally, so the thought is that you have a higher chance of getting pregnant than you would without the drug. That didn’t work. Next step: Clomid plus an IUI. I’ll spare the details on this one, but the concept is that with an IUI (which I also like to call the turkey baster method), the probability of fertilization is increased by giving the sperm an advantage and head start to reach the Fallopian tubes faster. It’s also less invasive and less expensive than IVF (I think we paid about $500 each time we tried this). We did two rounds of this unsuccessfully and then moved on to one final IUI and added more intensive drugs (which required daily shots vs ingestible Clomid) with the goal that I would ovulate more eggs and further increase my chances. Each IUI required at least three doctors appointments coupled with weekly ultrasounds. So, while less invasive than IVF, it was no walk in the park. Unfortunately, each procedure resulted in the dreaded (yet expected at this point) negative result.
January 2015 – September 2015 – Oh hello, IVF
I was told that after three rounds of IUIs, the odds of a successful outcome decrease significantly. While we still had no answers as to why things weren’t working, we decided we didn’t want to mess around any longer and would move on to IVF. Our third and failed IUI round was in November 2014.
We learned that we had better infertility coverage through Troy’s work (which was a Godsend and I truly believe more companies should offer this). Luckily the timing worked our and we were able to switch during the November enrollment period. But this also meant we had to wait until the new year to get back to it. It was obviously so hard for me since it felt like it was already taking forever, but it was a nice little break to be able to enjoy the holidays. We began researching options, Troy’s sister recommended a clinic in Colorado, CCRM. We did our homework and were pleasantly surprised. CCRM had some of the best statistics we had seen and was even covered by our insurance! Their headquarters are outside of Denver, so while obviously not close to the Bay Area, we were lucky to have family in Denver and learned the clinic had a great process for out of town patients.
Here’s the process..
The first step was a full day of testing for both Troy and me. Looking around, I could tell I was definitely one of the younger patients at 30, and I could sense the others knew that as well. Since I researched the process and had familiarity with it, I went in with the idea that we would be doing our testing/diagnosis in January, would be on our way to the IVF procedure sometime in March/April and soon be pregnant. Ha! That’s what I get for trying to plan.
Despite being on the younger side for fertility patients, it turns out I had egg issues (also known as diminished ovarian reserve, or DOR). For those in the Trying to Conceive (TTC) community, my resting follicle was 8, FSH 13 and AMH 1.3. My nurse originally told me my numbers looked like someone in their late 40’s and had my age been different, they would have immediately directed me to the donor egg route. At least now it made made sense why my first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage and my subsequent ovulations didn’t result in a fertilization/pregnancy. I was working with bad eggs!
Because I hoped to have more than one child (my dream has always been three, God willing), our doctor recommended a program called the Family Build Program. The program allowed me to do multiple egg retrievals with the goal that I would end up with more eggs to retrieve… then fertilize… then grow to embryos… then test as chromosomaly normal… and eventually implant with the best odds of birthing a healthy baby. It’s a numbers game, and my numbers didn’t leave very good odds when left alone. So that’s what we did.
In February, I started prepping my body for my first egg retrieval. I began giving myself daily shots and having weekly ultrasounds and blood draws at UCSF to monitor my egg growth (you essentially want to pump up as many eggs to be retrieved per cycle as possible, thanks to LOTS of hormones). Once my body was about one week out from egg retrieval, I traveled to Denver and began daily blood draws and ultrasounds until it was time to be put under anesthesia and have my eggs retrieved. After retrieved, the eggs are fertilized then frozen.
I would then take took one month off and do it all again. Two times over. I was basically on a seemingly nonstop cycle of shots, appointments, and hormones for roughly six months.
I’m not going to lie, it was really, really hard.
Hormones are a total bitch and while the physical side effects were tough, the emotional stress is even harder. But I knew I wanted to be a mom so so badly. I was willing to whatever it took. And I did.
After our third egg retrieval, our embryos were all thawed and then tested for chromosomal abnormalities (a process our clinic calls CCS testing, also referred to as PGS). Because the main issue was with my eggs, I had a higher likelihood of having abnormalities with our embryos, which would either result in a failed transfer (negative pregnancy test) or a miscarriage. After everything, I ultimately decided it was worthwhile to do the testing. The almost three week wait after the test to see what we were working with was SO tough. Luckily, my body responded much better than anticipated and we ended up with more healthy embryos than anticipated.
After two and a half years, we were finally ready to be pregnant! It was transfer time. We decided to transfer two embryos. We knew doing so increased our chances of twins, but we also knew that likelihood of success improves with two embryos. And I did not want to endure the process one more time if things did not work out. Luckily, this part of the process was much less intensive than retrievals, although it still requires shots, pills and hormones galore. And let’s not pretend the actual transfer process is anything but invasive. Not exactly the romantic experience I had always imagined would be my story. In addition to everything prescribed by my fertility doctor, I also decided to go gluten free and had weekly acupuncture (at this point, I was willing to try any and everything!).
Wellp, it worked! I was finally pregnant. And with twins!
While pregnant, it definitely took me a while to let go of my worries and truly grow excited about our little miracles. But with each milestone I became more confident that the outcome would be two healthy babies.
We welcomed our beautiful twins Brylie and Braxton into the world on May 3, 2016. It was the best day of my life. And while not the storyline I would have chosen, I would do it 100 times over for these two.