After four years of trying, hoping, grieving and exploring “options,” it’s so hard to believe this is really happening. Four years, three doctors, two miscarriages, two surgeries, countless blood draws and countless injections Chris has had to give me. It doesn’t seem real, but then the reality of how I’m feeling physically hits me and I know that it is real. We’re pregnant. Undeniably, inexplicably pregnant. It has been a painful, difficult journey to get here, but I wouldn’t trade any of it. I have grown exponentially as a person. My marriage has grown and strengthened. I have found a small support community that has taught me more than anyone knows.
I’d like to share the story of how we got here because it has been a very difficult process that I think people need to know about. People need to know that infertility and loss are so common and I want to help people begin to understand what it is like if they have never or will never experience it. I want to be here for those people who will know these feelings so intimately the way others have been there for me.
Four and a half years ago, we got married and had the best party I’ve ever been to. Call it intuition. Call it a hunch, but since I was a teenager I had this nagging feeling that I wouldn’t be able to have children. It just sort of was what it was. So, about six months in, we decided to start trying for a baby. Every month, just like always, my period would come. After seven or eight months, I had my yearly gyno exam, so I talked to her about it. She told me she could refer me to a fertility specialist, but that they wouldn’t take me until we’d been trying for a year. If you look at the statistics, that just didn’t make sense to me. So, I made an appointment and lo and behold, I got pregnant! We were so excited and so relieved. I was so tired and figured having some symptoms was good. And then I started bleeding. At just less than six weeks. I was devastated and I felt so alone. None of our friends or family knew what we were going through, so we handled it. Just the two of us.
We went to our appointment with the fertility doctor, which we had never cancelled, and he was warm and nice and understanding. They started out by testing us. Mostly me, but both of us. I had to have a blood draw to measure my hormone levels. I had to have a saline ultrasound to look at the shape of my uterus and my fallopian tubes. Let me tell you, the Doctor telling you that you have beautiful fallopian tubes in a dark room with a scope of some sort stuck up there is SUPER awkward. I just remember thinking, please don’t talk to me. Chris had to have his guys tested and at the end of the day, we were both “fine.” We were diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which, of course, didn’t sit well with me being that I’m super analytical and think that every problem has a cause and if you can just figure that out, you should be able to fix the problem.
We ended up undergoing four rounds of IUI. The thing about this whole process that probably upset me the most was when I was nonchalantly asked whether I would be open to reducing my pregnancy if we got pregnant with multiples. While signing this document, there’s also an option for them to never ask you this again. That was my box. So, IUI is basically the old turkey baster method. I take hormones, my follicles grow, an ultrasound determines they’re the right size, Chris gives me a shot to trigger ovulation and the next morning, it’s off to the doctor’s office to be knocked up. Except I was never knocked up. None of the treatments worked and we were pushed to consider IVF. After four months of being told nothing was wrong.
After lots of reading, asking the doctor lots of questions and lots of listening to our hearts, we determined that IVF just was not the option for us and that might mean the end of our journey, but we’d figure it out. In the meantime, we would travel!
We took some time off from actively trying to just sort of figure out what we wanted to do next.That doesn’t mean we stopped, it just means we weren’t focusing on it as much. Since I was a teenager, I had always thought about adoption (remember when I said I’d always had a hunch I wouldn’t be able to have kids?), so I started to bring up that conversation and it smouldered in the background while we considered whether we had other options or if that was the option for us. During this time, a friend reached out to me about an infertility support group she was in and adding me to it. Oh, did this group change my life. I can’t even begin to express what I’ve learned from them and the profound effect of being able to discuss your emotional and physical problems with other women who understand EXACTLY what it is you’re experiencing. Through this group, I found a medical practice that is small, but mighty. Their success rates are exceptionally high compared to other options, and they work to address the problem causing your infertility! Finally, my people!
I made an appointment with a doctor for July 1st of last year. She was a three hour drive away and so worth every minute of it. She spent a full hour with us and asked questions about my physical experience, but also about our emotional experience as a couple. She made sure we were healthy and supported in multiple ways and it’s easy to see that she truly cares and wants to help you solve your problem. Through our conversation and the charting I’d been doing, she had a strong suspicion that I had endometriosis, which can cause infertility. Funny, a close friend of mine had told me 6 years earlier that I had endometriosis. Like looked me right in the eye at a party and flat out said, you have this. I brushed it off. No way, I thought. Cramps, heavy periods and pain are normal, I thought. Plus, my pain’s not that bad. So, I was scheduled for a laparoscopy to remove the suspected endometriosis less than a month later. Unfortunately, surgery is the only way to diagnose this disease, which makes anyone undergoing it anxious. What if I don’t have it? I asked the doctor this exact question and her response was, I would be extremely surprised if we go in and don’t find anything.
Three weeks later, we packed up and drove three hours to Peoria, Illinois, checked into our hotel, had some dinner and went to sleep early. I had to be at the hospital at 5:30am and was her first surgery of the day. Two and a half hours later, they closed me up and let Chris know I was in recovery. Recovery was easy. I wasn’t in much pain and was almost back to normal life two days later. Turned out, I had stage three endometriosis. Endometriosis has four stages, much like cancer with four being the most severe of cases and one being the least severe. It was more than she expected and required a robot for surgery that she didn’t have that day, so what she’d done was go through, take photos, and map out a plan for surgery number two. She walked us through all the photos she took and what all we were looking at. Holy moley was there a lot! My bladder was fused with endometriosis to my uterus, which explained why it felt like my bladder was being pulled when I peed. It actually was. My bowel was also attached with endometriosis to my uterus. I had endo on my ovaries, on my intestines, on connective tissue within my pelvic region, on my pelvic wall. I’m sure it would have been on my appendix, if I had one. Instead, she found scar tissue that needed to be removed from my ruptured appendix 30 years ago. Total, she found almost 30 endometrial growths. In addition, she found that I had a heart shaped uterus, which sounds cute, but can contribute to miscarriage and needed to be fixed.
My second surgery was scheduled for four weeks later. This time at 7am, so I had to be at the hospital at 5am. Again, I was her first of the day. Surgery was expected to take four to five hours. It took six and a half. She used a da Vinci robot and made five small incisions in my abdomen. Recovery was a bit more difficult from this surgery. It definitely took me longer to wake up and I felt more sick because I’d been under anesthesia for so long. It took about five days, which is what I was told to expect, before I was able to be back to my mostly normal life. Sneezing was the worst that weekend!
The surgery was “extremely successful” and my endo had all been removed. I asked what the odds are of it coming back. It could come back and no one knows why, but the rate of return my doctor has seen is 7%, which is pretty incredible. To help keep it at bay in any way I can, I’ve remained on my anti-inflamatory, no gluten, no dairy diet. I just don’t want it to come back and think there might have been something I could have done differently.
We were told we could continue trying for a baby and that if nothing happened within a year, we would revisit. During this time, my blood draws continued once a month to check my hormone levels. They sucked. We’d known this though. My body doesn’t produce enough progesterone, so I had always had a luteal phase defect. The luteal phase is the time between ovulation and starting your period. A defect means it is less than 11 days. Sometimes mine was seven or nine. In that case, even if you do get pregnant, the fertilized egg may not have enough time to implant and will be forced out with your period. I had asked our initial fertility doctor about this and he was unconcerned. With this new doctor, we started supplementing my progesterone in this luteal phase to get it to 14 days. I was also told I had Empty Follicle Syndrome. This means that when a follicle is released from your ovary, it may have an egg in it, but that the egg may not have developed sufficiently, or worst case, it may not be there at all. An egg is typically too small for doctors to be able to see, so they rely on seeing the follicle to know if you’ve ovulated. I honestly don’t know how they decided on Empty Follicle Syndrome, but that was yet another thing we were up against. (Remember when the initial fertility doctor we went to told us there was nothing wrong?) Because of this, I was put on hormones to help stimulate my egg growth.
After a few months, my body quit producing enough estrogen during the first half of my cycle, which would also affect the egg growth. Well, then we found out I was pregnant. What?!? Incredible! We were cautiously optimistic, but so excited that a few months after surgery we were already pregnant! Then, at five weeks and two days, while on an airplane, I started bleeding. I knew immediately that this wasn’t just the spotting that can happen in pregnancy and called my doctor. I had to go in for blood work the next day. This was our second miscarriage, but was potentially more painful because we were so full of hope from the progress we’d made with this new doctor.
We were asked to abstain from trying to conceive until my doctor could figure out the right hormone cocktail to get my eggs growing and my hormones to the levels where they needed to be. A month passed. Another month passed. Things were going in the right direction. Then my period didn’t come. I waited and waited and waited, all the while never expecting that I might possibly be pregnant. We had been abstaining from trying. It wasn’t possible. Two and a half weeks after I was supposed to get my period, I decided to go buy a pregnancy test just to calm my mind and confirm that I was not. What had most likely happened was that I hadn’t ovulated in the previous cycle and I had skipped my period, so I just had to be on the lookout for signs of ovulation again to avoid the possibility of pregnancy. Again.
I bought a three pack thinking I would need one for this time and then have two for whenever I might need them in the next few months. I held on to them until the next day. The first blue line appeared immediately. A dark, confident control line. I waited and waited for the second line, which, after a few minutes decided to show a faint little hint. Ok, so did I somehow miss something? Am I miraculously, Mary style pregnant? I Googled the likelihood of a false positive. It basically can’t happen. After another couple of minutes, I realized the faint, slow to appear line was the control and the bright blue, confident line that appeared immediately was, in fact, showing me that I was pregnant. Oh, was my mind ever spinning in circles. I emailed my doctor my chart where I track my symptoms of fertility every day and asked them to explain how this could have happened because I was at a complete and total loss. I am still at a complete and total loss, but here we are at almost 9.5 weeks, two days away from my first sonogram. We are cautiously optimistic and will probably remain so until we’re holding this little bugger. Anything could happen and we understand that. I am terrified because of that, but I am hopeful.
I’ll never be able to understand what it’s like to decide you want to get pregnant and just be able to get pregnant without any kind of intervention. What I know all too well is the opposite side of that. The longing, the feelings of inadequacy, the guilt, the fear, wondering what is wrong with me, wondering what I did to cause this, the doctors office waiting rooms, which of my veins is the best for a blood draw, knowing the pregnancy test is going to be negative, jealousy, sadness, the desire to have any child whose parents don’t want it. I know all of these things too well.
I’ll never be able to explain the pain and growth that simultaneously occur through this process. We have both matured and it feels like our relationship has been built on a foundation of diamond. The conversations we’ve had to have with each other, the openness we’ve had to foster, the understanding we’ve had to develop and our reliance on each other emotionally are something I will forever be grateful for. I am a much, much, much more patient and loving person. I care so much about what others are going through and I always try to give the benefit of the doubt. I have become a different person having endured all of this. Stronger, definitely, but more importantly, more compassionate.
I have been feeling utterly crappy lately. I have been exhausted and lethargic. I have felt sick, but I can’t decide if I’m hungry or if I’ll eat and get sick. It actually feels a lot like a hangover. The smell of everything is grossing me out. If it has a strong smell, I don’t want to be near it. I’ve been a little more snappy than normal, which can be embarrassing. And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade a single second of it. I am grateful to feel these things. I am lucky to feel these things. Four years feels like a very long time, but it’s nothing compared to the couples who try and try and try and never know what it’s like to be pregnant. Never know what it’s like to hold their own, biological child. I am happy to know that this sickness tells me my hormones are doing what they should and for now, until I learn otherwise, my little one is healthy and growing. But I will tell you, I am still terrified.