Two Women’s Unique IVF Success Stories
Alvena’s IVF Journey to a Second Child
Fifteen agonizing months of trying to give our daughter a sibling, we were finally told that we only have a 3% chance of ever conceiving naturally. So either our daughter is a miracle child and we didn’t know it, or she had closed my fallopian tube on her way out – a running joke between my husband and I because humor is necessary to survive infertility, especially as it felt like ours might not be one of the IVF success stories.
The HSG (Hysterosalpingogram*) x-ray was the last exam left after the months of panels of bloodwork and tests from both my husband and I revealed nothing was wrong. This exam was optional and almost unnecessary as I had gotten pregnant naturally before. I vividly remember laying under the huge x-ray machine, feet in the stirrup, uterus pumped with dye, ready to be told all was normal. But my right fallopian tube refused to spill. There was a blockage. We had conceived so naturally with our first, with an easy pregnancy and an uncomplicated vaginal delivery that nobody expected a physical issue.
The Start of the Journey
With this diagnosis, we were given a 9% success with medicated IUI (Intrauterine Insemination**) and 60% with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). We knew IVF was the way to go if we were serious about growing our family. Coming to terms with IVF was difficult. None of our friends seemed to have trouble conceiving, and if they were, nobody talked about it. It was isolating and I withdrew. I felt guilty having to spend thousands of dollars of our savings. I was ashamed of my body for failing us. I grieved for the loss of creating a child with my husband intimately. I grieved for the loss of “meant to be”. I felt like doing IVF was defying destiny, like maybe we weren’t supposed to have a second child, like ours would never be one of the IVF success stories.
That very notion cut deep. My husband reminded me that we still wouldn’t have a second child if that was the case. But the fact that this was an option for us meant we still had a fighting chance to become one of the IVF success stories out there, and maybe we were meant to go down this road. I hadn’t quite processed all those feelings when I started the birth control pills – the first step in IVF marking the official handover of my body to science. Once we began, I learned that a lot could go wrong and a lot still had to line up to make this happen. For something as scientific and calculated as IVF, a great deal of it was out of our control and we found ourselves holding onto faith. If it’s meant to be, it will be.
The Challenging Times Ahead
As we dove head first into trying to be one of these IVF success stories, we knew that the thousands of dollars, emotional investment, and time does not guarantee a live birth pregnancy. But it meant a chance, a chance that not many people have. Overcoming my fear of needles, I became an amateur chemist; mixing and jabbing myself with 2–3 hormone-filled injections in the abdomen every day for 10 days to grow as many eggs as possible. I had blood drawn and ultrasound scans every other day to monitor their growth; it was a delicate balance of growing as many at the same rate without triggering ovulation. I watched as my belly got bruised and bloated from the shots and thought of the days where baby-making was fun and free.
When the majority of the eggs were at the optimal size, I was put under anesthesia and 17 eggs were retrieved. By the grace of the universe, all of them were fertilized via ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection***). Eight embryos made it to Day 5 blastocyst stage and were biopsied then sent for preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). Two long weeks later, we found out 5 were genetically normal. I underwent another surgery to prepare my uterus for transfer and waited to heal.
Once I was given the all clear, I started the oral estrogen pills, followed by daily progesterone suppositories, and the infamous progesterone in oil shots – 22 gauge needle to my buttocks every other night for 12 weeks, if the pregnancy is viable. Two weeks of monitoring later, my uterus was considered ready and receptive for a frozen embryo transfer (FET). On the day of transfer, after months of treatment, we knew that there was still a 30-40% chance that this “perfectly thawed” and hatched embryo won’t implant and become one of the clinic’s IVF success stories.
A Healthy Pregnancy
We are so fortunate that it worked on the first try for us. There wasn’t a moment I thought it would work and took it for granted. I no longer question if the way we got our second baby defied destiny. A million things could have gone wrong, but by the grace of the universe, it worked and here we are today. We took a detour, but this child is meant to be – one of the world’s IVF success stories. Our daughter is finally going to be a big sister this June!
*Hysterosalpingogram: a procedure that uses an X-ray to look at your fallopian tubes and uterus
**Intrauterine Insemination: a fertility treatment that involves placing sperm inside a woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization
***Intracytoplasmic sperm injection: involves the direct injection of sperm into eggs obtained from in vitro fertilization
Victoria’s Experience with Donor Eggs
Hi, I’m Victoria, and I’m infertile. After 3 years of “trying but not trying” we realized something might be wrong. We started seeing a fertility specialist when I was about 33 years old and my levels were, as my doctor put it, “that of a 48-year-old.” Lovely! We started with IUI, and did about five rounds, with the full throttle of stimulation, etc. I really only got a few follicles to fully grow after all the shots and meds my body could consume. After a laparoscopic procedure, I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis and low ovarian reserve. More delightful news!
I took injections and meds for a few more months in preparation for IVF and when I finally got 2 mature follicles, we decided to seize the day. “All you need is one”, they say! Most people would never even consider doing IVF with only 2 eggs, but it was the best we had ever gotten and I needed to try. I needed to know, I wanted to mine to be one of the IVF success stories. I woke up from my retrieval procedure to a grim look on my husband’s face. I knew it. This was it. The moment I was “expecting” (no pun intended). One egg was actually black in color – I officially had rotten eggs. Neither egg ended up fertilizing. Shocker. Years of poking myself with needles and crying in my car at baby showers and this is what I get? This was the death of my DNA, but where was the funeral? I laid there on a cold table with tears streaming down my face. So empty. So hopeless. So broken. So alone.
Making the Decision
Our doctor suggested that we move on to donor eggs if we wanted a baby. It took a lot of time to understand and process what it would mean for our family. What it would mean for me. What would be my role exactly? I took the time I needed to grieve my eggs. My DNA. It’s a process, and you have to go through it, for everyone’s sake, especially for the child. But I couldn’t wait too long. I wanted a baby and I wasn’t getting any younger. I was tired of losing, I was tired of grieving. I wanted to be a mom. To someone. Anyone. Anyone who would take me and call me mom. Right before our last IVF cycle with my own eggs, I started thinking about what I would do if it didn’t work. I was mentally preparing for this. My egg quality and quantity were low, I knew it was our last go even before it started.
I secretly started doing research, I didn’t even tell my husband. I learned that donor eggs often ended in IVF success stories and allowed me a chance to be someone’s biological mother. It was time. Time for me to let go of my DNA. It took a lot of kicking and screaming and crying my eyes out to get to this point, and I can’t say I was 100% past the sadness when I finally decided to move forward. But I did feel a smile creeping in. I wanted to experience pregnancy, breastfeeding and giving birth. Was that too much to ask for? Donor eggs were my best chance at doing that. I didn’t care what it would take, I didn’t care what I had to put my body through, or my finances, I just wanted to be a mom. I had already been through so much; I could handle it. It would be worth it in the end, they said.
Trying to Find the Right Person
After taking the time to grieve my eggs and the chance of passing on my DNA, we moved on to donor eggs to improve our chances of being one of the IVF success stories. When we started down the route of using an egg donor, everyone made it sound like it was a shoo-in. I remember our doctor saying our chances of success were around 90%. When you select an egg donor, you’re basically saying, okay, let’s just get pregnant already. You don’t really consider that it won’t work. It’s simple, you choose a young girl with a ton of healthy eggs, and then you get pregnant. No brainer. We chose our donor and she looked just like me, twinsies! She had a similar background, family history, and overall vibe. I couldn’t believe it. We never met, but the agency provided a ton of info. Our doctor even commented, “wow, Victoria, she’s your perfect match”. It felt like this could be the one, the key to being one of the IVF success stories.
Bumps in the Road
She started her appointments, meds, and shots and our doctor gave us the play by play. It was strange to be watching all of this from the sidelines, but my doctor made me feel important and connected in the process. It was the day before her IVF egg retrieval and I’ll never forget the phone call from our doctor. She said, “I’m so sorry Victoria, your donor really is like you, even her eggs are like yours.” She had lost more than half of her follicles overnight and only had four that matured. Four was not enough. I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness.
But this time, my sadness wasn’t about me. My tears started to fall. All I kept thinking was – this poor, sweet, young girl. At 28 years old, she is now facing a real-life game changer. My heart hurt for her. My connection with her was so strong, I felt her pain like it was my own. And I don’t even know her real name. We didn’t know what to do next, but we knew we needed a break. We had avoided planning trips for so long – “just in case” I needed to be local for a procedure or so my husband could be “on call” to unload the swimming soldiers. We put other dreams on hold because our fertility treatments took all of our money. We missed out on life, and we needed to live. So, we decided to take a year off, to travel the world and focus on us for the first time in a while.
I had been grieving for a very long time. I had tried EVERYTHING. Podcasts, yoga, writing, writing, lots of writing. Therapy. Drinking, oh the drinking. I ugly cried – A LOT. I created a shrine in my closet where I would go sit on the floor and pray, and I’m not a religious person. I don’t even know who I was praying to, but I prayed. With infertility, every day is a new battle. A battle against yourself. To stay strong, when all you want to do is cry.
My strength has been tested to unimaginable depths. I wanted to give up so many times. I wanted to quit it ALL. The needles, the pills, the probing and prodding, the constant doctor visits. The procedures. The surgeries. The egg donors. I constantly asked myself – is it all worth it, the fight to be one of the IVF success stories? The financial stress? Marital stress? I would often think: I just can’t do this anymore. But somehow, I did. Somehow, I could. I just kept going. It’s easy to dwell on how unfair and hard it is. But at some point, enough is enough.
I knew I couldn’t be sad and angry forever. I needed to find the good to carry on. And that’s exactly what I did. Infertility showed me a new version of myself – a woman who survived tragedy and became stronger from it. I realized that if this is the only curveball I’m thrown in life, I’d consider myself pretty darn lucky. I have so much other stuff in my life to be grateful for. I have fallen in love with my husband in a deeper more intense way. He has my back in a way I can’t explain. After all of this, he stills chooses me – an infertile woman.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
And yep, I FINALLY got pregnant – we were meant to be one of the IVF success stories. After a long break, a lot of healing, a new doctor and a new donor, our miracle was made. She came to me when she knew I was strong and ready. My beautiful rainbow after an ugly storm – Miss Florence Viola, born on our 9 year wedding anniversary, the perfect love story. And I know now, it was ALWAYS meant to be her. Had I gotten pregnant years ago, the easy way, or even with my own eggs, it wouldn’t be her. And without her, I wouldn’t be me. I used to ask myself – why me? But, now I know why. She is why. She was always meant for us.