Ever since I can remember, having a family was part of my plan. And trust me, I had a plan. After getting married, I was ready to get the party started, but as life tends to do, it had a different agenda. First, I accepted a job that required tons of time and attention. Then, Zika.
Right before it all fell apart
After the panic dissipated, we were a year and a half behind schedule and figured it wouldn’t hurt to get checked out to ensure everything was in working order. We did a few exams, and according to our doctor, I had “perfect ovaries.” My husband had “super sperm.” This was going to be really easy.
Like most young couples, we started trying to build our family casually. We planned romantic vacations and daydreamed about what the next year of our lives would look like, but every month, my period came (just a couple of days late to mock our arrogance). I took the news lightly with a hefty pour of wine. At least I could drink, right?
After six months, my nerves kicked in. We hadn’t been at it for that long, but I had been off birth control for almost two years, and we never had a pregnancy scare (not a one). I decided it was time to help move things along. I purchased a monitor to mark my ovulation days with a smiley face, which seemed to laugh at me as I scheduled my life around his expression. Shockingly, he was a real buzzkill in the bedroom, and that fertile window felt more like a military drill than a romantic date night. Before we knew it, a year had come and gone.
We visited a local fertility clinic to examine our options. They recommended tests (lots of tests) to ensure all cannons were firing. The reproductive endocrinologists thought they discovered a few issues, but ultimately ruled them out as contributors. So a year and a few months into “trying” we had no baby or explanation why we couldn’t conceive. Our clinic recommended IUI (i.e., the turkey baster method with some hormonal assistance.) We gave it a whirl.
The first attempt failed, but we were ready to give it another go. Meanwhile, the hormonal cocktail I was consuming made me a moody little diva that my husband was super into. Like the first, the second procedure was unsuccessful. And for some reason, it hurt like hell. When the nurse called back with the bad news, I couldn’t imagine doing it again. We decided to take a three-month break from anything “baby.”
hormones = migraines = lots of time in bed
At the same time, all my friends were getting married, pregnant and having kids (sometimes even their second). Despite my lack of success, having been at the job for some time, they relied on me for reproductive resources. And lucky for them, my advice worked! I was getting really good at helping other people get pregnant. And yes, I was happy for their wins, but every baby announcement felt like the twist of a knife in my “perfect” ovaries.
My mom begged me to connect with a friend who worked at a fertility clinic in New Jersey. I agreed and sent her my test results. The nurse flagged a few items that my Miami clinic hadn’t noticed. I was showing low AMH levels (a sign of low ovarian reserve), which reproductively speaking is a big problem. She recommended I get tested again, and it turned out to be a non-issue, but suddenly I felt neglected as a patient, and we had already spent a good chunk of change. I then learned what I should be looking for in a fertility facility — success rates, twin rates, all kinds of government-reported statistics that can show how a clinic performs against its peers. (They don’t teach these things in health class). Not only did my current clinic have very low success rates, they employed some sketchy practices (like implanting two embryos in healthy young mothers, a trick to bump up success rates, but ultimately putting a mother and baby at risk). My husband and I decided that if we were going to take the next step and pursue IVF, it would be in New Jersey where the success rates were high, and the practices were kosher.
I still couldn’t pull the trigger though. Part of me felt like a failure by pursuing this route. Maybe if I tried more (or less), I could turn things around and conceive naturally. I attempted acupuncture, talk therapy, meditation, supplements, a “warm foods only” diet, spiritually connecting to my unborn baby (yes that’s a thing) and basically, anything I could do to improve my chances. Finally, my parents intervened and volunteered to help us finance our IVF procedure. We had already shelled out thousands of dollars, so we were a little gun shy about dipping into our savings again. Our insurance covered nothing. We heard IVF could be as expensive as $40k per cycle and had no idea how many cycles it would take to conceive. We were thrilled to accept the offer. Also, my best friend had just successfully gone through the process at the same New Jersey clinic, which seemed like a sign that this was our path.
We scheduled my egg retrieval at RMANJ for late July 2018. We were nervous, but hopeful. I received my first shipment of hormones on my husband’s birthday. I was throwing him a party and stressed that the medication wouldn’t arrive in time. I was afraid I’d have to lift my party dress and shoot myself up in a dingy bar bathroom, but luckily the package appeared an hour before we had to leave. The box included two weeks of injectables and was the size of a suitcase (not the carry-on kind).
First night of injections
Each night demanded three separate injections, all prepared and administered differently and in distinct parts of the body. The first few shots were terrifying. Isn’t a medical license required to perform this type of procedure? Eventually, we got the hang of it and learned to deal with the blood and bruises as best we could. In the mornings at 6 a.m., I reported to New Jersey and Miamis clinics (depending on where I was in my cycle) for blood tests and vaginal ultrasounds to monitor my progress. Not exactly the morning salutations I was used to, but I was committed.
The night before the retrieval, we were instructed to administer a “trigger shot” at precisely 7 p.m. Not 7:01 or 6:59, 7 p.m.! So much anxiety. After a sleepless night, I checked into the New Jersey facility at 7 a.m., got paper gowned up, and prepped for the retrieval while my husband deposited his “specimen.” After waking up from the anesthesia, my nurse wrote “17” on a piece of paper and put it on the table next to me. I had produced 17 eggs. Was that good? I had no idea, but I heard other women whispering lower (and higher) numbers, so I decided I did my job and napped the rest of the afternoon.
The next day, I threw on some jeans and headed to the airport to enjoy a couple of needle-free weeks at home. We had some time before our flight, so we crushed a burger and fries at the airport. Big mistake! When I got on the plane, I bloated to a point so far beyond the buttons of my jeans I thought I would have to de-plane pantsless. Apparently bloating is a common side-effect of an egg retrieval and heavy foods and restrictive clothing don’t help. Whoops. That night, I woke up writhing in pain. I felt like my uterus was exploding. I called the nurse on duty, who told said this was totally normal. Good to know. The throbbing lasted for three days. I couldn’t move, eat or stand.
We tried to progress through the next couple of weeks casually, but every few days, our nurse updated us on the status of our embryos. Seventeen eggs turned into 9, and eventually, we had only three healthy embryos to transfer to my uterus. Whatever, we had three chances to make a baby! Like the retrieval, the transfer required a hefty dose of meds, but this time the shots were restricted to the gluteal area, which was a welcome gift until there was less and less real estate to prick without opening wounds. I continued the morning monitoring, and when it was time, my New Jersey doctor shot up our first embryo into my uterus. Like the IUI procedure, this was very painful. It turned out my cervix is curved, and my RE had a little trouble locating the ideal spot for our little guy to camp out, so it took some extra poking and prodding with the catheter. Eventually, he found the position, and we let nature do its work.
We continued with the medication and went about our business for the next two weeks as we waited for the news. A big fat negative. What the actual F?! I sunk into a deep depression. I didn’t realize how hard I would take a negative result. As many do, I had put IVF on a pedestal as the solution for my problems, and when it didn’t work, I realized that this whole pregnancy thing very well might not happen. After two weeks of Netflix, tears, and a few angry outbursts toward my family (sorry Mom!), I had to pick myself up because my next transfer was in a month and I needed a positive mindset.
My Netflix binge of choice: 30 Reasons Why (in retrospect probably not the best idea)
The second transfer resulted in a chemical pregnancy, meaning I was pregnant for two days, and then my body flushed it away (something that apparently happens all the time in nature but isn’t noticeable). This was still tough, but I decided I was going to do everything I could to make my final embryo pan out. I trolled message boards to see other protocols that might help me conceive. I scanned my bloodwork and noticed that my thyroid levels were low, so I asked my nurse if I should try medication. She agreed. (Sometimes you have to act as your own doctor). I bumped up my acupuncture, removed dairy, gluten, caffeine and alcohol from my diet, and loaded my plate with pineapple pre and post-transfer.
Two weeks after the procedure, my nurse called me to report that I was “very very” pregnant. I nearly crashed my car. At this point, I was on meds for four months, and my derriere looked like a bruised apple. I was advised to continue with the shots for another eight weeks, which was getting more difficult as I responded with hives to each injection, but if it meant I would soon have a baby, it didn’t matter.
8 weeks pregnant
Like most pregnancies, the first trimester was very stressful. We were nervous that the news was too good to be true. I couldn’t exercise or do anything that would compromise our embryo, but again, I didn’t care. I was on a high! My life was finally moving forward, and I felt nothing but relief. I told myself by that time next year, I would be a mom, which meant way more to me than a barre class.
Pregnancy comes with its own challenges, but I have tried my very best to be as grateful for the experience as I can be. This was the only thing I wanted for three years. I’ve had the opportunity to carry my own child — to feel his movements and hear his heartbeat within me. These are gifts that not everyone receives. Medical, financial or circumstantial events can prevent that from happening for them, and that is not something I take lightly.
It has become a personal mission of mine to talk about infertility and IVF as much as possible. In doing so, I hope to achieve three things — help remove the stigma, offer myself as a resource to those in need and facilitate communication around the issue. For me, the experience was incredibly lonely, trying and confusing. I felt like a raincloud threatening everyone else's happy news. I didn't want to bring people down, but I needed support and answers. I made a lot of mistakes, wasted a ton of money and put an overwhelming amount of pressure on myself to "figure it out" on my own. Every time I share a part of my story, I hear from so many people who are experiencing similar circumstances, which tells me this is a real experience that nobody should navigate solo.
7 months pregnant
For more infertility talk, check out my other posts on: