Written by Ashley Law
This post was written to contribute to the topic of Personal/Real Talk for the What Lola Likes blog by Ashley Law. All facts, opinions, and professional tips are Ashley’s.
When my husband and I began dating, we had discussed all the important topics we knew would impact our future. Having children was one thing we had easily agreed we’d pursue at the “right time” in our relationship. Once we got married, we knew we weren’t ready yet, but the questions started rolling in. “When are you going to have a baby?” “How many kids do you guys want?” It was a harmless question and we answered playfully to close friends and family members. We had a general timeline we discussed (between the two of us) and were excited when that time came. I purchased ovulation kits and pregnancy tests from Amazon and was happy jump in.
I did what anybody would do trying, I ate well-balanced meals, downloaded apps to track my cycle and tested for my ovulation every month. If I’m being honest, I think the “fun” part of trying started to wear off around month 4 or 5 for us. According to Healthline.com, about 25% of couples conceive in the first month of trying, 50% of couples will conceive in the first 6 months, and 85-90% of couples will conceive within a 12-month timeframe. I think it’s common to hear that couples should try to conceive for 1 year before seeking support from a specialist as stated by most medical professionals and I could not wait to get those answers once we hit that 12-month marker. I was sick of peeing on those damn sticks, we wanted to know what was happening with our bodies and we were sick of waiting. I really felt like something was off, and we needed more support from professionals who could help us start our family. If I’m being honest, I was so over forcing the intimacy of our relationship because it started to feel less authentic and almost robotic.
When the 12-month timeframe hit, we saw my OBGYN who sent us to get some testing done. I guess I should have been expecting more testing, however I didn’t realize all that would entail. The first few rounds of tests involved me getting bloodwork done on very specific days of my cycle. We ran these tests for 2 months and I had my bloodwork taken about 4 times per month- before my period, during, and then at the tail end of it. Those tests determined that my progesterone level was not high enough and that my ovulation was not consistent. Our Dr. felt that this issue could be fixed with an oral medication to increase my estrogen levels. After bloodwork, our doctor called for additional tests to determine if my fallopian tubes were open, called a hysterosalpingography or HSG test. This test is conducted by injecting ink into my uterus and cervix by means of a catheter. With an HSG test, results are read instantly, and my tubes were both open, great news for us! That same day, the specialist ran a sperm analysis on my husband where he had to give a sperm sample in the clinic. We were feeling vulnerable, exposed, embarrassed, and it cost us a lot of money! Because our health insurance did not cover these tests, we had to pay out of pocket for them and I was annoyed. The sperm analysis was over $800 alone and my tests that day were about $300. We wouldn’t have my husband’s test results for about 7-10 business days, so we anxiously waited and tried to go about our usual lives.
Once we got our results back, our Dr. determined that my husband’s sperm was healthy and reporting at good levels, while we had already determined my tubes were open, I had a healthy number of eggs to work with, and my ovulation was now consistent and regulated. So why weren’t we getting pregnant? This is where our 2nd fertility specialist came in. We were deemed strong candidates for a procedure called an IUI, Intrauterine Insemination. I had never heard of this procedure before, but we were ready to jump on board for something our doctors felt confident in. This process involved me taking hormone medication orally and via shots for the first half of my cycle, then leading up to ovulation, we would track my follicle production (fluid filled sacs that contain an immature egg) to determine the optimal day for fertilization. 36 hours prior to my IUI, I would receive a trigger shot which kicked my hormones into high gear, letting my body know it was time to release my follicle or sometimes multiple follicles I had developed that cycle. I literally felt like my skin was crawling on these meds. I was a raging bitch and I couldn’t manage my anger and irritability; I couldn’t stand anything my husband did, hated myself for what I had to go through and was just miserable to be around all together. On that optimal day for our IUI, my husband would go into the clinic to make his sperm deposit 2-3 hours prior to my appointment. They would “spin” and clean his sperm and prepare it for my IUI. Hours later, I would show up and the procedure would take place in a clinic room. The sperm would be in a test tube labeled with his name and birthdate, I would de-robe from the waist down and put my legs in stirrups with bright lights shining between my legs, a catheter pinching my insides, and my husband’s sperm being disseminated into the optimal space in my body for fertilization. It would pinch a little and then hours later, cramping would begin. We were instructed to have intercourse those next 2 days to increase our chances of pregnancy and then we would wait again. I remember the intercourse being painful and miserable those two nights, I just wanted to cry.
I share this information and stage of our journey because I always thought that IVF was the only option for couples trying to conceive who could not naturally. I had no idea that so many different scenarios existed outside of IVF. That being said, I also did not realize that couples can face many different scenarios of infertility; male factor (low sperm count, motility), abnormal sperm production or functioning, genetic defects, even diabetes. Female factors are also something to be considered; 1 or both fallopian tubes closed, low egg count or quality, failure to ovulate, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS, Endometriosis, structural problems with reproductive system, the list goes on. We attempted 3 IUI procedures with our second fertility specialist and they all failed. Each month I got my period I was absolutely crushed. We ended up switching specialists to work with another doctor in the valley which is when we started to feel a shift in our optimism. Our new doctor switched up the hormone medications and doses I was taking to optimize our chances which gave us some hope. Since both my husband and I were still showing all signs a- go, our doctor recommended we try 2 more rounds of IUI with him. I was bummed to hear this news because I knew IVF was going to provide us the best and quickest way to start our family, but we trusted the process. We underwent 2 more IUIs at this clinic which both failed and ended with us feeling depleted. However with that 5th and final IUI failure, I did feel some relief that we would soon begin IVF with higher chances of pregnancy and a stronger promise of a family in the future.
Before starting, IVF, many more tests need to be conducted. I also learned that I would need to take birth control to regulate my cycle. We started the IVF shots in May which consisted of taking medications at very specific times in the morning and evening. Some days I would have as many as 4 shots per day. Day 1 I will say I felt excited and enthusiastic, but by day 4 my body was so jacked up on hormones literally pumping through my veins I couldn’t control my emotions. I was mostly weepy and found myself crying sometimes ten times a day. I felt out of control. The IVF shots themselves last 10-14 days before egg retrieval. That is when we go in, my spouse gave his sperm sample to create our family and as many of my eggs were retrieved while I was under anesthesia. When I woke up, we were told we had 19 eggs and we would get a call the following day with a “fertilization” report. I was out of it but went home to rest. The next day, we learned only 11 of my eggs were mature so the remainder could not be used. Of those mature eggs, we waited to see how those mature eggs would respond to being fertilized in the next 2 weeks. To our surprise, we ended up with 6 “normal” embryos, 1 “abnormal” embryo, and 1 “mosaic” embryo. (A mosaic embryo may or may not be advised to be used depending on the doctor). These were great results and we were told we could plan for an embryo transfer in 2-3 months after allowing my body time to heal. We couldn’t wait!
Once I was ready for the embryo transfer, we started up on birth control again to regulate my cycle. This was followed by reading up quite a bit on how to prepare for a transfer and how I should expect my body to respond once the procedure was over. Because our egg retrieval was in May, we did a frozen embryo transfer or FET. Some doctors choose to do this vs a fresh transfer while other doctors allow the patient to make their own decision. Our embryo transfer took place on August 5th (all of our 7 frozen, usable embryos were already 2 weeks and 5 days old but frozen at that age). The day of the embryo transfer was particularly emotional for us. My husband got to be in the room with me while the procedure took place. We asked the nurse to take our photo and anxiously laughed, smiled from ear to ear, and couldn’t wait to hear if our procedure would be successful. We would have to wait 10 days to learn if the procedure worked or not (FET has about a 60% success rate). I was a freakin’ mess. We ended up taking an at home pregnancy test the night of day 9 and saw 2 faint pink lines on our Clearblue test for the first time ever. I thought I would cry but I was just in such disbelief. The next day I went in for a blood test and to check my Human Chorionic Gonadotropin or hCG levels. Ideally, these numbers should double every 48 hours in which we would later learn, we were lucky enough to experience. At our first ultrasound just before 6 weeks, we learned we had 2 little miracles growing in my belly. We took our first family photo in the exam room and felt overjoyed to be so lucky.
My morning sickness started around week 4 and lasted until week 11 or so. During this time, we continued to take progesterone shots into my glute muscle at 9 p.m. through week 12. This was not ideal, but we made it work with business travel, vacations, and sometimes having to pack my needles and medications in my purse for social functions we had committed to. When we finished that final injection, I felt like I was freaking superwoman. My body had endured hundreds of shots, we had spent over $30,000 on the pursuit of starting our family, and here we were, successfully pregnant and entering our 2nd trimester as we graduated from our fertility specialist to an O.B.
I’m now 22 weeks along with our twins and feel incredibly blessed to be expecting after this journey. I feel it’s important to share our experience and talk about infertility and education around this topic because it can be such a lonely and isolating journey. It’s also an extreme game of waiting as you can see. Not only do most couples start “trying” when they are ready, but adding years to this process along with another 9-10 months of pregnancy, couples can be waiting several years with an empty place in their heard for their family to grow. Infertility can be a devastating and heartbreaking journey for couples along the way. Through the years of our infertility journey, we had to learn what forms of communication worked and what did not work for us. Sometimes, I just needed to cry and be held and others I needed to be talked up and told what a fighter I was. We weren’t always on the same page but learning that we both needed to be open and talk through our emotions was key for us. I also saw a therapist who was extremely helpful for me.
If you have a friend or family member experiencing infertility, keep these things in mind:
- Stop telling them to “just relax” or “stop stressing” about it. Infertility is not something you can change on your own, there are serious medical factors that attribute to why your loved one hasn’t conceived yet.
- Be a good listener. Chances are, you’re not a pregnancy specialist or doctor yourself. Even if you are, your loved one needs support, not to hear what worked for you (or your co-worker’s cousin).
- Ask them how they’re doing. I know it can be uncomfortable and there’s no way to really know what to say but knowing someone cares means the world when you feel so alone and isolated.
- Be mindful around times like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or holidays. This timing is all about being with people you care about and spreading love.
- It’s O.K. if your friend cannot make it to your child’s birthday party or your baby shower. These events can bring up flooding emotions of pain and anxiety for some. Don’t leave your friends out of this all-together but be mindful that it just might not be in the cards for them to be in that space during this season.
If you are enduring fertility treatments, these things helped us along the way:
- Keep a chart with medications and times posted in a shared space and cross them off each time you take your medication. There’s so much to keep track of and second-guessing if you took your shots/pills is the last thing you need.
- Ask for snail mail from friends and family to keep you encouraged.
- Keep medications and vitamins organized in bins on your kitchen counter/refrigerator. We also unboxed our bulky meds so that it didn’t take up extra time when it was time to take our meds.
- I’m a “words of affirmations” girl and needed my spouse to remind me of what a good job I was doing each day. This might seem excessive, but the medications and hormones take a toll on your mental and sometimes physical health. Know what you need to keep your spirits up and ask for that support!
- Join groups on social media in your area to connect with other women who are going through a similar journey.
- Designate some nights NOT to talk about your infertility journey. Try to have fun and forget about the stress of medications when you can. Plan ahead and agree it won’t be a topic of discussion for the night.
I share my story knowing that I am very lucky to be in this place. Many couples do not have as many options as we do; some need to skip right to IVF, some are not candidates for IFV and need donor eggs, donor sperm or embryos, a gestational carrier, or need to go through multiple rounds of IVF and egg retrievals because they don’t end up with healthy embryos to use at the end of an IVF cycle. Some embryo transfers fail and cause an extreme amount of heartbreak and pain, not to mention requiring hospital stays and or medical procedures if the fetus does not survive after transfer. With all that we know about this topic, 1/8 couples experience infertility at some capacity (chances are you have co-workers, friends or maybe even family who are enduring this right now). I am 1/8 and have learned that educating myself and communication have saved my mental health along this journey. If you are experiencing infertility yourself, I hope you find the answers you are looking for and learn what works best to get you and your significant other through this heartbreaking time. You aren’t alone and I hope you end up with the family you are longing for. Don’t forget to ask for support when you need it and talk about the emotions you’re experiencing along the way. It saved my sanity and helped me cope through the years of infertility we endured.
Ashley Law is a public speaker who got her start sharing her recovery story from anorexia and bulimia in hospitals. Since recovering from her eating disorder, Ashley has become passionate about educating herself and empowering women to speak their truth while learning to ask for help when it is needed. She chartered an all-female Toastmasters club in Phoenix in the fall of 2016 which has quickly become a highly decorated and one of the most recognized Toastmasters clubs in the state of Arizona. Ashley has served as the keynote speaker at various universities around the country helping elite athletes learn the dangers of eating disorders and red flags to look for in their self talk and the language they use around food and exercise. Ashley has been sponsored to speak at the U.S. Senate to lobby for eating disorder awareness and remains passionate about supporting women and body positivity 8 years into her recovery. The underlying message she hopes to drive home is to empower women to speak their truth, stop striving for perfection and ask for help when they recognize it’s needed.
VISIT HER PAGE.