Our fertility journey began in 2017 when, after two years of marriage, we were ready to start our family. As high school sweethearts, we had plenty of years to plan when and how we wanted to start our family, and we were excited and ready to be pregnant. We had prepared for our baby in all the ‘normal’ ways – starting our careers, renovating a house, working hard at being financially stable. We were prepared….or so we thought. Turned out, unlike many getting pregnant stories, ours wouldn’t be so simple.
The First SignsAfter 10 years on the birth control pill, my period was MIA for weeks after stopping. I knew it could take time to go back to normal, but I was impatient, and there was a little voice whispering in my ear, “What if something is wrong?” I scheduled an appointment with my OBGYN, and she gave me the usual reassurances “this is totally normal,” “it takes time,” “don’t worry.” So we waited, but not passively. I researched, tracked my basal body temperature, joined fertility forums, and generally acted like any couple actively trying to conceive. Still, 4 months in, there was no sign of a period, no positive ovulation tests, nothing. Back to the doctor I went, anxious, impatient, and now certain that there was something going on with my body. They did blood work, asked more questions, and prescribed Provera to initiate a period. In two months, they would do an ultrasound.
My DiagnosisAs the days ticked away, after the bloodwork returned ‘normal,’ I was increasingly anxious. I was ready to be a mother, and not at all used to feeling so out of control. The ultrasound day finally came, and I lay on my back in that darkened room, naked from the waist down, the only sound the tapping of the ultrasound tech’s fingers on the keys of the machine. I felt alone, and scared. In the exam room after, I twisted my wedding ring around my finger, waiting for the results. I so desperately wanted an answer, something that could be ‘fixed,’ but when the diagnosis came, I felt everything slipping out from under me. PCOS. Though there was always a part of me insisting that there was something wrong, there must have been an equal part that was still unconvinced, unprepared to handle that little truth. I was prescribed Metformin, again promised that it should ‘fix’ me – within three months, she said, I should return to normal cycles. If not, I could see a specialist. When I left the doctor’s office that day, I sat in my car, called my mother, and cried. I felt broken, betrayed by my body. I didn’t know then that that feeling would become my new normal. That I would spend the next year and a half living my life in 30-day increments, carefully building up enough hope to sustain me, and then having it all slip away, again and again. Of all the getting pregnant stories, why did mine have to be like this?
The Start of my Fertility JourneyMeanwhile, I dove headfirst into reading journal articles, published studies on PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), research and statistics from advocacy groups, testimonials from other women whose ovaries were also riddled with cysts, whose bodies had also failed them, and their getting pregnant stories. Still, I wanted more. The Metformin had done nothing, seemingly, and after a month and a half I was impatient. I was tired of waiting, tired of being told that it was ‘normal.’ I had been trying to have a baby for nearly 8 months and had not had a single real period. Had no indications of ovulating, not even once. I was exhausted, and yet I knew I had barely even begun. So, I made the appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist in the area who came highly recommended and waited three weeks for a consultation. I had my medical records sent to me first, so I could read the notes in my chart, see the ultrasound photos they had never shown me. That consultation became the first of many visits I would make to the practice, the first of many times I would sit in the chair across the desk from my doctor and feel as if someone was finally listening to me. As if I had a voice, and a little bit of control, in a time when I felt like infertility had taken over my life, left me powerless and heartbroken. Months passed, cycling through varying doses of Letrazole, then Clomid, then eventually combinations: Letrozole and Gonal-F, Clomid and Gonal-F. I had ultrasound after ultrasound, continuous bloodwork, and an HSG (Hysterosalpingogram) to check for blocked tubes (they were clear, thankfully). Finally, I was ovulating, but still, it wasn’t enough. A semen analysis cleared Kevin – his sperm count was excellent, and the morphology, while just slightly low, was still nothing to worry about. I was the broken one, it seemed, and each month drove that home a little bit more.
Trying IUIOn the first cycle with Gonal-F, my last ultrasound showed too many follicles growing in my ovaries. It was too risky, my doctor said, you could end up with multiples. We canceled the cycle, and started over, waiting for the cysts to shrink. Another failure. Another month wasted. My anxiety and depression were coming in waves now, my broken body failing me over and over again. I was barely keeping it together. After two more combination cycles with injectables, we were ready for an IUI. Maybe, I thought, this will be it, the conclusion which will make mine one of the happy getting pregnant stories. Kevin held my hand the day of the IUI, and it was over in just minutes. I was more optimistic than I had been in ages. I let myself hope again. Just over a week later, my period came again. I went back to my doctor, prepared for another baseline ultrasound, another cycle. He was gentle and calm as he said, “Corinne, it’s time to move on. We’ve tried everything, and if it were going to work…well, it probably would have worked already. I think it’s time for IVF.” I was stunned. When you’re going through infertility, you know that IVF is, for most, the end of the road, the last chapter in all the getting pregnant stories. You know it’s a possibility. But you never think it will be you. You think, “Surely I will be pregnant soon. Surely something will work.”
The IVF RouteThe day after Christmas we had our official IVF consultation with my doctor. We discussed medications, injections, genetic testing, carrier screenings, retrieval, and transfer. We looked at the financial obligations and tried not to panic about the fact that trying this last ditch effort to have our baby would cost essentially all of our savings, and then some. We tiptoed around the reality of the statistics – at best, a 40% chance of success. There was no guarantee ours would be one of the successful getting pregnant stories. In January, we began our first round of IVF. Ten days of stims. Ultrasounds and bloodwork nearly every other day. A trigger shot. My body was exhausted, but holding tough with the flood of hormones and medications, the constant needles. By the time egg retrieval rolled around, my belly was swollen, the follicles that cluttered my ovaries so big that it hurt to walk, or sit. I woke up from anesthesia loopy and in pain, but happy. They had retrieved 24 eggs. The next day, 17 had fertilized. After a week, we were left with 13 embryos that were biopsied, sent for genetic testing, and frozen. In the end, 6 of our little embabies were genetically ‘normal,’ and recommended for the transfer – 5 girls, and just 1 boy. February began the process of prepping to transfer our strong, beautiful little girl embryo. I took estradiol 4 times a day, began progesterone injections 5 days before our scheduled transfer. February 25 we saw our perfect little embryo, watched on the screen as she was placed in my uterus, and began the hardest waiting we’d ever been through. I was PUPO (pregnant until proven otherwise), and I was desperately excited, and desperately scared. Each day brought more anxiety, more worry, and fading hope. By the last few days before my blood test, I was convinced it hadn’t worked, that mine wouldn’t be one of the happy getting pregnant stories. I refused to test at home, feeling a bit of infertility-induced PTSD when it came to pregnancy tests. I spent that final night in tears. All I wanted was to be a mom.
Getting Pregnant Stories: A Happy EndingIt was late afternoon by the time they called with the results from my beta test, and I was so anxious I nearly threw up. Then the nurse said those two words: “You’re pregnant!” I sobbed, full on ugly tears, makeup dripping off my face. I called Kevin, crying and laughing and still in disbelief. Our second beta test came back two days later, and my levels had tripled. As I write this, I am just shy of 9 weeks pregnant. I have seen my baby girl three times and listened to her heartbeat. I am ecstatic and terrified. I am trying to believe in my body again, to believe that come November we will hold her in my arms. Infertility will never leave me. I will never forget the pain and heartbreak and loss we experienced, or the fear and anxiety that still sneaks up on me. But I will also never forget the amazing women I have met through the infertility community or the way our journeys can break us, but still make us stronger, more resilient. And we will never, ever stop being grateful for our little IVF miracle, the happy ending to our getting pregnant stories.