As I sit down to write this post, my heart is heavy. Tired and heavy. Infertility will do that to you. There are days, and weeks even, when my heart just hurts because I still don’t have the family my husband, Kevin, and I so deeply desire to have. To walk you through this journey, I want to start with a trip down memory lane….
Kevin and I got married in May 2016. It was a picture-perfect day for an outdoor ceremony in the Chicago suburbs. It was 72 degrees, mostly sunny, zero humidity, and just the slightest breeze. We could not have asked for a more perfect wedding day. I think we started really talking about when we wanted to start trying to have kids (or TTC for short) almost right away. It was something we always knew we wanted. He wanted two, I wanted two or three (his argument against three is still that he only has two hands to wrangle in the little monsters, which I completely understand haha). Even before this picture-perfect wedding day, we would talk about “when we have kids….” to which my father-in-law always chimed in with “Woah woah… One step at a time! Wedding first!” in his joking and oh-so loving way. After some deliberation, we had decided that, since our honeymoon was scheduled for November and I really didn’t want a December baby (my whole family has birthdays in December and I just can’t fathom yet another one added in there with the holidays), April of 2017 would be when we would start TTC.
April came and went with a negative pregnancy test. Then May. And June. And July. All I could think was “What the heck? This should be so simple!” Yet before we knew it, we had gone a year with nothing to show for our efforts except a bunch of negative pregnancy tests. At least point I decided to talk to my Gynecologist to get some insight as to what was going on. They ran some blood tests and did a Hysterosalpingography, or HSG, test. For this test, they insert a catheter into your uterus with a balloon on the end. They then inject dye into your uterus and perform an x-ray to watch the dye travel from the uterus into all the tiny crevices of the Fallopian tubes. By doing this test, they are able to determine if you have any blockages from either Fallopian tube which could be preventing the eggs from being released properly. I still remember my x-ray tech letting me watch after the test was completed. No blockages. That should be good, right? In theory, yes, however it still begged the question of why can’t we get pregnant?
After all the results came back, my doctor suggested we do some medicated cycles with timed intercourse. We ultimately did three months of this while achieving the same results – negative pregnancy tests.
It was at this point in time when Kevin and I had our first marital blip. I had been working at a local winery and he was an assistant general manager in a restaurant, so for the first two years after we got married we had virtually the same schedule. That all changed when I decided to get what I like to refer to as a “big girl job” and went back to working the typical Monday through Friday 8am-5pm type of job. Meanwhile, Kevin’s job shifted as he was promoted to be the general manager of a store that was over an hour away from home. The schedule change, longer commutes, and added stress and work frustrations did not bode well for our relationship. I would be lying to you if I said it didn’t take a toll on us. In fact, it took us a little over a year to work out a new schedule and figure out a new work/life balance that worked for both of us, during which time we put a pause on the whole TTC thing to work on “us”. I am beyond thankful, grateful, and blessed to say that we made it through.
Once we were through our rough patch, I made the decision to switch doctors. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my Gynecologist, just that I liked a previous doctor I had more and she was once again in-network with my health insurance provider. After meeting with her, showing her everything we had tried previously, she referred us out to a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE), also known as a Fertility Specialist. I was a bit hesitant because I was worried that this doctor would recommend we do in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and that we wouldn’t be able to afford it. One thing I will say to this point is “Do your research!” Once I actually looked into what my health insurance covered, I discovered that, not only do I have infertility coverage, but I have really good infertility coverage. (I have also learned since being on this road that it could be very advantageous to look into a secondary insurance plan if your primary plan does not cover infertility. There are also support groups and grants and all kinds of resources to help you to be able to afford your treatments.)
We met with our RE via Zoom (thanks COVID…) and first things first, we needed to have some additional testing done which included bloodwork for both Kevin and myself, as well as multiple ultrasounds to look at various things within the uterus. Once again, everything came back normal, so our RE decided that the first step for us would be a medicated round of intrauterine insemination (IUI). For this procedure, the best way to describe it is taking a turkey baster full of sperm and injecting it directly into the uterus. That’s not actually how they do it, of course, but you get the gist (replace turkey baster with catheter and you’re right on the money). And what did we get? Another negative pregnancy test.
We ended up doing one more round of IUI with the same result before deciding to move on to IVF. In case you aren’t aware, IVF is much more intense than IUI. It’s a lot of injections with a lot of hormones packed in them (they really mess with your body and emotions). The first procedural aspect of IVF is an egg retrieval and ours went great; we got 14 follicles of which 11 were mature, and 7 of them fertilized. We were all set to do a fresh transfer five days later. The morning of our transfer, I got up and took a shower to get ready. When I got out of the shower, I looked at my phone and saw I had a missed call and voicemail from the clinic. I was confused but optimistic as I clicked play on the voicemail. “I’m sorry, but your embryos have all stopped growing and we have to cancel your transfer for this morning.” My heart sank and the world stopped. I collapsed in a heap on my bathroom floor and just cried. Kevin and I spent that day on the couch, watching TV, wondering what went wrong.
That’s the tricky thing with all of this, though. It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong when a cycle fails. On paper and under the microscope, my eggs and his sperm look perfect, yet something just wasn’t right leading our doctor to believe it was a combined egg and sperm quality issue. As a result, we were both put on a cocktail of supplements, Kevin went in for more testing to rule some things out, and we added more medication to my protocol.
This time we opted to transfer two day three embryos and miraculously also got two blastocysts (day 5 embryos) to freeze! The two week wait (tww) leading up to the pregnancy test (beta) was torturous. We just wanted to know so badly if this transfer took. Unfortunately, it once again had not. We knew there was going to be that chance since we didn’t know for sure if either of the embryos we transferred even made it to the blastocyst stage, but that didn’t make this negative any easier to take. We then decided to transfer one of our frozen embabies in hopes that this might actually work. You guessed it, another failed transfer. This one did not come without some physical pains as well as the emotional ones (let me just say that progesterone in oil injections are no joke).
And this brings us to today. We are a year into treatments with our RE with nothing but more of the same [negative] results and about to start prep for another retrieval. God willing we get embryos that make it to blastocyst, we are going to send them off for genetic testing to rule out any chromosomal abnormalities. We are also planning on doing a series of tests on my uterus to determine exactly how much progesterone I need and to test for bacteria and infections. I’ve been pretty overwhelmed thinking about all that we have coming and I wish I could say that I’m more emotionally ready for this round. All I can do is hope and pray that things might finally start to go our way, and I’m very excited to have you all on the remainder of this journey with Kevin and me.