Infertility was not something that ever crossed my mind until it happened, and then it became something that I can never forget. Even though I have a son now, the experience will always be a part of me. It was something I dealt with for seven years, and I dealt with it quietly and privately because the constant disappointment and heart-wrenching roller coaster of emotion was just too much to share.
This week, April 21-27, is National Infertility Awareness Week, a week dedicated to highlighting the issues of millions of Americans struggling to build a family. A survey conducted by the U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that one in eight couples reported having trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy between 2004 and 2010. Odds are, infertility is affecting someone you know.
Infertility is diagnosed after the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex. For women age 35 and older, the timeline moves to six months. By the time I went to the doctor seeking help, I was 36 and pretty much had been having unprotected sex with my husband for the last 10 years or so. And I all that time we thought we were just really good with our timing! Ha! We never considered there might be an issue until I got pregnant by surprise at 33, only for it to be suddenly and abruptly over before I reached two months.
That experience made us realize how much we really wanted a family. So we tried, and we tried hard. I charted, I took my temperature, logged my ovulation symptoms, used an app to predict fertile days and we gave it our all. When that wasn’t good enough, we tried acupuncture, vitamins and lifestyle changes that were more “fertile-friendly.” When nothing worked and we finally sought help, the doctor took one look at me and diagnosed me with Endometriosis, where your endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus and in places to shouldn’t be. I was scheduled for surgery ASAP, where they confirmed the doctor was right and removed as much of the endo as possible.
After that we got more serious. We tried fertility drugs with timed intercourse with no luck. Then we moved on to IUI, where the sperm is deposited directly into the uterus after you give yourself a trigger shot to make the egg pop out after the follicles have grown big enough. With each failure, our hearts broke a little more.
It wears on you. Trying to hang onto hope while knowing the more you hope, the worse it feels when it doesn’t happen. All the time dodging questions from relatives and total strangers asking when are we having kids, why don’t we have kids, did we just not want kids? And trying to answer politely and not break down in tears. Going through one failed cycle after the next while watching friends announce second and even third babies on Facebook. Avoiding baby showers and pretty much anything involving children. All the while hoping and praying this would be our month.
But it never was. So we took a break for a year and considered our options. I was 38 and felt like my time was running out. When we were ready to try again, we decided to not waste any more time and go directly to IVF. Looking back now, I wish we’d had just tried that first and avoided all the drawn out anguish. But IVF is incredibly expensive, with no guarantees, and insurance covers pretty much nothing. But with no other options, it was time to make that leap.
We switched doctors and it made a world of difference. The new doctor didn’t sugar-coat anything. After rounds of tests, we discovered I had diminished egg reserve and we needed to act fast to try and get a viable egg. It involved a LOT of drugs and at one point I was getting three shots in the belly every night. And I still had trouble making an egg for them to extract. In the end I only had one good follicle and they managed to get one egg. While a typical round of IVF will result in ten eggs or more, I had just one. And we were depending on that one egg to fertilize, hatch and divide. My implantation appointment was optimistically scheduled for three days later.
We finally got happy news when the embryologist called to let us know the egg fertilized, and with the help of assisted hatching, it had divided into a beautiful 3-day old blastocyst. It was go time!
I still remember sitting there in my paper napkin, with the embryologist, doctor, nurse and my husband in the room. I never imagined there’d be so many people around the moment I got pregnant. We were introduced to our future son in a Petri dish, where we confirmed they had the right baby. We then watched on a computer screen as they implanted our little embryo in my uterus. It was time to muster up our hope again, as we waited to see if it would implant and make itself at home.
From my hundreds of kid pic posts, you already know how this story ends, and that he not only implanted but grew and flourished and is now a healthy little four-year-old.
So that’s my infertility story. And I may have gone through it quietly, but now will share with whoever needs to hear it. Whoever needs a little bit of help finding hope again. I’ve even been working on a book about my experience, but it’s been slow going because it is just painful every time I sit down and put myself back in that place. Infertility makes you miserable. It’s isolating and lonely and discovering I could anonymously blog the whole thing is what got me through it. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have done it publicly. I’ve gotten more comfortable sharing my personal stories after blogging the past few years. I’ve enjoyed the connection I make with people who read and comment on my posts. It makes you feel less alone. And with infertility affecting 6.1 million other women, there’s no reason to feel alone anymore.
If you have an infertility story, I encourage you to share it too and be part of the #InfertilityUncovered movement. Maybe if we don’t hide the struggle so much, more couples will someday be able to get the assistance they need to help start a family. Learn more by visiting the National Infertility Association at https://resolve.org/