Although I have shared our journey with family and close friends, I have been somewhat hesitant to put our story out there en masse simply for fear of negative comments and backlash. I continue to feel, however, that there is a reason God has put this struggle in my life. Maybe I am supposed to share my feelings with others so that they don’t suffer alone and struggle with the crippling isolation infertility can bring about.
While perusing infertility boards on Pinterest in search of some inspiration from the most unlikely of sources, I came across this quote. “The scars you share become lighthouses for other people who are headed to the same rocks you hit.” Bam! Just like that I felt confirmation that I was supposed to share my story.
It honestly makes no difference to me whether people read it or not. I’m not looking to rack up page hits here. The truth of the matter is that if my story can help even one person out there to feel that they aren’t alone, then every moment of this battle will have been worthwhile. Admittedly this will benefit me too. As terrifying as it is to put myself out there, it will be cathartic and therapeutic to put my thoughts to paper.
For as long as I can remember, motherhood has been the greatest desire of my heart. The only toys I cared to play with as a child were baby dolls. At the tender age of 6 I would strap them into my old car seat in my mom’s minivan, stroll them around the mall and otherwise tend to their every need.
As I grew older, this desire transitioned into a love for babysitting and a constant need to surround myself with children. This calling took me many places from a 6-year stint with the Disney company to a job working with kindergarteners. Wherever I ventured, my love of working with and nurturing children never fell far behind. I’m the adult at the family parties who happily lays on the floor playing games with the kids rather than sitting out on the patio drinking wine with the grown-ups.
I never gave a second thought to the possibility that I may not be able to have children. I have always known it was my destiny. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up the answer was immediate and simple: a mom.
When my husband and I went to one of our marriage prep courses our booklet asked us to identify the most attractive quality about our future spouse. Always the joker, my husband initially wrote, “the way she looks in yoga pants.” After blushing and giggling I made him erase his inappropriate answer before submitting the booklet to the deacon in charge.
The answer he replaced it with filled me with joy. He wrote “her maternal nature.” It made me feel good that he noticed and appreciated something that I felt was such an integral part of my DNA.
When we took those vows to love for better or worse and in sickness and health, we had no concept of the journey we would soon embark upon. Everything seems perfect and you think you’re going to live happily ever after and that the rest of your life will play out just like your fairy tale wedding.
When our priest asked, “Will you accept children lovingly from God?” we both responding with a resounding “We will!” When we went to place flowers by the Blessed Mother during the Ave Maria, I said a silent prayer that, through her intercession, we would be blessed with children very soon. I secretly hoped that my new husband was praying for the same thing.
Talking about your future children is so exciting in the beginning. You talk about how many you hope to have, potential names, which room you will use as a nursery, where they will go to school, etc. You never say “What if we can’t have children?” “How will we weather infertility?” Those aren’t sexy questions or fun thoughts to think about. Those aren’t the things dreams are made of.
I’ve struggled with endometriosis since I was a young teenager so I always knew it might take a little bit longer for me to get pregnant than others. For this reason, we began trying to get pregnant pretty quickly. It was so exciting. We were actively trying to have a baby! Motherhood was just around the corner. We bought a onesie on vacation, because we were convinced we had conceived a baby on our trip and he or she should have a keepsake of this momentous occasion.
Cue our surprise/disappointment when things didn’t go according to plan and negative tests stared us in the face month after month. After laparoscopy to clean out my endometriosis my doctor informed me that this getting pregnant thing might be a lot more difficult than I had ever anticipated.
She instructed me to take ovulation tests every morning, chart my cycles and follow up with blood work on the 21st day of each cycle. Ever the organized, Type A personality, I was not intimidated by this at all. I made calendars, downloaded apps on my phone and took control of the entire situation.
I will admit that something that is supposed to be fun and exciting turned into a little bit more of a scheduling frenzy. You would regularly hear things like, “You can’t go hunting! Are you crazy? I will be ovulating that week!” in the Pippin household. My poor husband.
Day 21 blood work seemed to confirm the same thing month after month: I was not ovulating. When you receive confirmation that you didn’t ovulate, you can’t help but feel that the entire month has been a waste. All of this charting, scheduling, testing and there hadn’t even been a 1% chance for you to get pregnant because you hadn’t even ovulated. What was it all for?
Hesitant to take fertility drugs, I continued to allow my doctor to test for several months to rule out the possibility that I may only ovulate every few months. After several months, my OBGYN told me there was no chance I was going to get pregnant on my own. It was time to dip my toe in the water of fertility drugs.
This was a tough realization, but I was ready. This was what I had to do. She started me out on Clomid, the gateway drug as I like to call it. I reached out to anyone and everyone I knew who had ever taken this drug and they all had success stories. Within 1 or 2 months, every person I knew who had tried Clomid had ended up with twins.
I started the medicine and gladly dealt with the negative side effects. After all, this was just another stepping stone on the road to motherhood, and I was convinced this was going to work for me.
Right around the time ovulation was supposed to take place I woke up in the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my life. I could not escape the fetal position. My husband was out of town working so I called my mom. She came over and brought me to the doctor.
Once inside the ultrasound room, the tech pulled out the all too familiar trans vaginal wand. As soon as my ovaries came up on the screen she got a worried look on her face and said, “No wonder you are in so much pain. Your ovaries are screaming for help. This looks horrible!”
Completely unaware of potential complications I innocently asked, “ok, how do my follicles (eggs) look?” She looked at me as if I had 3 heads. “Oh honey, you don’t have any viable eggs, but that’s the least of your concerns right now.”
I immediately broke into tears. What?! No viable eggs?! How could this be? I just didn’t understand. I felt so broken and empty. I was so sure this was going to work. How could I not have any viable eggs after taking this medication? Not even one!
My doctor was off that day, so I waited in tears for the nurse practitioner to come into my exam room after overlooking the ultrasound pictures. She came in and gave me news that shocked me. “It looks like your ovaries threw a party on the Clomid,” she said. She informed me that I was one of less than 2% of patients that suffer from Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome or OHSS.
Apparently my ovaries overreacted to the Clomid and were now covered in giant cysts and so inflamed that they were concerned about the possibility of ovarian torsion. Torsion is when your ovaries twist and, thus, cut off their blood flow.
Two other doctors from the practice came in to look at the pictures remarking that they had “never seen a reaction like this before.” Well, that made me feel good. I wanted to ask if I could go home before they marveled at the freak show.
They insisted that I go for a blood flow ultrasound immediately to be sure that I was still getting an adequate supply to each ovary. Everything checked out fine with the blood flow ultrasound; however I was told that I needed to take it very easy for the next few days and go to the hospital immediately if the crippling pain returned.
They said I ran the risk of losing an ovary. I sat on the couch in a state of fear and depression over the next few days. I was told that I would never be able to take Clomid again. Ok, so I don’t ovulate on my own and I can’t take the medicine that makes me ovulate. Is this the end of the road for me? How will I ever get pregnant?
With every tinge and twitch, I feared that an ovary was torsing and I was losing blood flow. After several calls to the emergency number, my doctor finally returned that Monday. She called and informed me that it was time to seek the help of a fertility specialist.
She said I needed a higher level of medical intervention than she was able to provide as an OBGYN. She also told me that due to the way my body responded to the fertility drugs, I would need constant monitoring, which her office simply did not have the manpower to provide.
While I never thought I would have to enlist the help of a fertility specialist, I actually felt a sense of relief that I was going to get help from someone who was so skilled in this area. I also felt relief that someone else was going to take control of the situation and I wouldn’t have to be in charge anymore. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t relinquish control easily.
While it can take months to get an appointment with a reproductive specialist, I was given an appointment just 2 weeks later. When I called, the receptionist said someone had just cancelled and I was very lucky to call at the right time. That made me feel good about this. That seemed like a great sign that this was meant to be. (I’m big on signs and tend to find them even when they aren’t there. It drives my hubby crazy.)
They e-mailed me a 50-something page packet of medical history to fill out. I had to call my mom to ask her about some of the questions, because they dated all the way back to medications she took before I was even born. I was excited about our consultation.
Our meeting with the doctor went extremely well. He didn’t seem impressed by my story at all. He had seen this a million times before. I read literature in the waiting room about how many women over the age of 40 he had assisted in achieving pregnancy, and I assured myself that my case should be easy as pie for this guy.
After doing an ultrasound he told us that not only had the Clomid caused OHSS but it had significantly thinned my uterine lining, which would make it impossible to sustain a pregnancy until it was built back up.
He told me to call him when my period began and we would try a different drug called Femara. It is a drug used to shrink tumors in breast cancer patients. However, it has also been found to induce ovulation without the negative side effects of Clomid. I was floating on air. This was going to work. I just knew it.
I had never been so excited for a period to start since we began our journey to baby. Lo and behold, it came about 14 days late that month. Periods are a funny thing like that. When you don’t want one to come because you’re hoping you’re pregnant, it shows up like clockwork or even early. But when there is no possibility you’re pregnant and you need Ole Flow to show up so you can start your new meds, she decides to go on an extended vacation.
When she finally reared her ugly head I raced to the phone and called the doctor. This was going to be the month! I could feel it in my bones. I went in for bloodwork and ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a ginormous cyst on my right ovary. The ultrasound tech informed me that the doctor would probably not allow me to start this month because of this mother of a cyst.
I held back tears and put on a brave face as I waited for the doctor to come give his opinion. He told us that he wasn’t terribly worried about the cyst because he didn’t think I would ever have a month where I was cyst-free given my history. He wrote out my prescription for Femara and sent me on my way.
Just like that, I went from a valley to a peak. The ultrasound tech had me convinced it was doomsday but I escaped unscathed with prescription in hand. This day was glorious, and I headed to Target to celebrate by buying things I really didn’t need.
While walking through the housewares department, I heard my phone ring. I was surprised to see the doctor’s phone number on my screen. They had gotten my blood work back and were very surprised by the results. My estrogen level was supposed to be under 30. Instead, it was 1800. At 2000 you are hospitalized. That mother of a cyst was pumping some serious hormones into my body.
They told me to throw away the prescription for Femara and head back to the office to pick up a prescription for the strongest birth control on the market. BIRTH CONTROL?!?!?! But I’m trying TO get pregnant. They told me birth control was the only medicine that could shrink the cyst and bring the hormone levels down. And just like that, I was back in the valley.
I sat in my car in the Target parking lot as tears streamed out of my sunglasses. I tried to convince myself that this was just another setback and it would only be one more month until I could start the Femara. When I arrived at the office topick up the prescription, the nurse explained the severity of such an escalated hormone level. She told me that it may take MONTHS to get a level this high down and they wouldn’t know what kind of progress I was making until they checked me when my next period arrived.
MONTHS?! The disappointment was almost too much for me to bear at this point. I felt the craziest mixture of hopelessness and despair I have ever experienced. I started to wonder if motherhood would ever be a reality for me. I cried until I didn’t have tears left. Then I decided I had to pick myself up off the ground and keep going.
My husband suggested that we get out of town and do something to make ourselves happy and get our minds off of all of this. We found a last minute cruise for the following week and hopped on board. It was a wonderful trip to beautiful places filled with lots of exciting memories. I even got to fulfill a lifelong dream of holding a monkey!
The thing about infertility, though, is that it’s never far from your mind. On an excursion in Belize we went tubing through ancient ruins the Mayans used to perform rituals in. We observed broken pieces of their pottery. While floating through the caves our tour guide remarked that the Mayans believed the water in this particular cave brought about fertility. It didn’t take but a second for me to jump out of my tube and dunk my whole body in the water. I did the backstroke and swam freestyle underwater attempting to soak it all in. 🙂
My period was supposed to arrive on the first day of our cruise. By the last day it had still not come. “Wouldn’t it be crazy if I got pregnant while on birth control after all this?” I told my husband. We decided to get a pregnancy test in the last port, Cozumel, Mexico.
It cost us $20 for a “life test” as they called it. We returned to the ship and I took the test in the bathroom only to realize I was unable to decipher the results because the test was unlike any I had ever seen and the instructions were in Spanish. We had a good laugh about that.
When we returned home, Ole Flow finally showed up and it was time to head back to the fertility doctor. I went in with realistic expectations this time. After all, they told me it would probably take months to get the estrogen level down. The ultrasound revealed that the cyst had grown larger. The doctor came in and told us that he highly doubted the hormone level would be down where they needed it to be based on the size of the cyst so he wrote me another prescription for birth control and sent us on our way.
One or two tears streamed out from my glasses on the walk to the car, but I wasn’t devastated because I was expecting it. My husband and I went to lunch and while we were at lunch the phone rang. Again I was surprised to see the doctor’s number. He told me that he couldn’t believe it but the cyst was actually not producing any hormones. My estrogen level had come all the way back down into normal range, so I could throw away the prescription for birth control and come pick up a prescription for Femara. And just like that, valley to peak. Well played, Mayans!
I was cautiously optimistic to begin the Femara. I had some unpleasant side effects, but I didn’t care. I was just so thankful for a step in the right direction. After 5 days of medicine I returned to find out that my ovaries had produced 2 beautiful follicles that were the perfect size. I was overwhelmed with a renewed sense of joy that had been so absent from my life lately. I glanced over at my husband and noticed that he was misty eyed with the same smile he had when I agreed to marry him.
Further testing revealed that I had a hostile environment (which I will not go into the gory details of). This meant that although it was almost time for my body to release the eggs, we weren’t going to be able to get pregnant the old fashioned way. In essence, my body thought that anything that entered my cervix was bacteria and killed it as a result.
Because of this, we had to circumvent the cervix through a process called Intrauterine Insemination, or artificial insemination in layman’s terms. I was a little bit shocked that my need for medical intervention had escalated so drastically in one appointment. I had never even given a thought to a procedure like that. I never thought we would need it.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, but the doctor assured us that I would not get pregnant without it and I didn’t have much time to decide. And so we proceeded. This was it. I was convinced. I had 2 perfect sized follicles (pretty incredible for a girl who doesn’t ovulate) and a “beautiful lining” to support a pregnancy. Also, the doctor told us that my husband’s counts were “extraordinary.” Cue his request to post his report on the fridge.
All the stars were aligning and this was going to be our month. The nurse gave me a shot that would trigger my body to release the eggs within the next 36 hours, and I returned in the morning for the procedure. I walked in with all the excitement of a teenage girl at prom. The procedure was extremely easy, and the only discomfort was due to the use of a small catheter.
The next 2 weeks were glorious. I convinced myself that every sign and symptom I experienced were indications of pregnancy. I calculated the due date and realized the baby or babies would be due 10 days before my birthday and 20 days before Christmas. I was thrilled with the idea that this year I would get the best gift ever. How could I be so lucky? Everything was great until it wasn’t.
Without fail, the pregnancy test stared back at me with one lonely line instead of 2. I called the doctor’s office and demanded a blood test, because I was sure there was some mistake. How accurate could a drug store test be anyway?
The blood test confirmed my fear: I was not pregnant. They told me once again to call when my period showed up. Five days went by before Flow came. Each and every day was a mixture of agony and hope. Maybe I got a false negative. Maybe the results are just taking a while to show up. But that was not the case. She eventually reared her ugly head.
I called the doctor and was informed to come in for another ultrasound and more blood work to begin the next cycle. At this point I realized 2 things:
- It takes one heck of a strong woman to go through this process. When you start your period, all of your hopes and dreams from the past month come crashing down to the ground. You can cry and scream and fall on the floor, but within moments you have to pick yourself up and start a whole new cycle. How can anyone be expected to muster up the hope to start all over again when they haven’t even had the chance to grieve the failure and the disappointment of the last month? At the same time, I think the fact that you HAVE to pick yourself up is sometimes the only reason that you do.
2. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in this process that you lose perspective. Just one month earlier I was on my knees thanking God for the ability to even start this process and for getting my hormone levels down in such a short period of time. Now I took that for granted. I expected everything to be fine this time. I expected to be able to start my next cycle right away. I didn’t have the fear that the doctor would write a prescription for birth control. I stopped to thank God for that blessing and tell Him I was sorry for taking such a momentous feat for granted just one month later.
Everything checked out fine and the doctor wrote me another prescription for Femara. I wasn’t as excited this time. I wondered why it would work this time if it didn’t work last time. I was just kind of going through the motions at this point, and I moaned and groaned about the negative side effects of the meds a little bit more.
When I finished the meds, my husband and I returned for my ultrasound and blood work. I need to give my husband a huge shout out because he has moved the Earth and the moon to accompany me on just about every appointment humanly possible.
To our surprise I had 9 follicles this month. NINE. Only 3 appeared to be mature size though, but my body wasn’t quite ready to release them yet. We returned 2 days later for a follow-up ultrasound and 4 of the 9 follicles were mature. We took a deep breath and decided to proceed. The nurse warned us that the trigger shot had the potential to cause 2 more follicles to mature before insemination, so we were potentially looking at 6 mature eggs.
We had a little bit of a panic attack. The main downfall of IUI is that they are unable to control how many eggs get fertilized. All they can do through this procedure is make sure that the sperm and eggs meet.
We went ahead with the procedure and had ourselves convinced that we just might be having sextuplets. We laughed and joked about it with family members and friends but had some worries ourselves. Surely ONE of these eggs will be fertilized and turn into a happy, healthy baby.
Once again the test confirmed our worst fears two weeks later. One lonely little line. Negative. No baby. 9 eggs + 312 million sperm = nothing. I felt the despair creeping in again, but a weird thing happened at this point. For the first time in a year, I didn’t cry when I saw a negative result. I didn’t scream. I didn’t fall down. I didn’t do much of anything. I just felt numb. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or scared to feel this way.
The nurse called and said that I didn’t need to come in for an ultrasound and blood work this time. Instead, the doctor wanted to meet with us. I wasn’t sure what to think at this point. I didn’t sleep for the week leading up to our consultation, because I didn’t know what kind of news he was going to deliver. I had a pretty good idea, though.
Finally the day of our appointment rolled around, and I was so relieved that it was finally here. Unfortunately, a huge storm caused the office to lose power and our appointment was cancelled. Another sleepless night. We drove about an hour away to see him at his other office the next morning. I couldn’t stand to wait another week for an appointment.
He told us that it was no longer ethical for him to do IUI on me. I was producing too many eggs and he had no control over how many would be fertilized. Our only option at this point was IVF. Ugh. My heart sank. I remembered lying on the table during my first IUI. He told us that we had a couple of shots at this and we didn’t need to consider IVF yet. “Yet?” I thought. “We will never have to go that far. Our problems aren’t that severe. IUI is going to work for us.” Another lesson I have learned throughout this journey: never say never.
Here we were staring down the barrel of the last resort in infertility intervention. The mother of infertility treatments. The kind of thing you only read about in magazines but never in your wildest dreams think will be a part of your story.
In case you don’t know, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a 4 step process through which they stimulate your ovaries with injections, put you under anesthesia to harvest (remove) all of the eggs you have produced from your body, fertilize the eggs in lab, watch the embryos grow for approximately 5 days and then implant the living embryos back into your uterus.
How did we get here? I hoped I would never even have to consider IVF, because quite honestly it makes me very uncomfortable. I am not comfortable having any leftover embryos. The common practice is to fertilize all of the embryos they harvest (typically between 10 and 20), pick the best 2 to implant and freeze the rest for later attempts in case it doesn’t work. The problem is…what if we don’t need any more embryos? What if it works on the first try and we get twins and then we have all of these leftover embryos? What are our options for those guys?
In the state of Louisiana you have 2 options. You can either donate your embryos to other couples or leave them frozen indefinitely. I think donation is an amazing, wonderful gesture; however I’m just not personally comfortable having children out in the world I don’t know about. I’m also not comfortable leaving the embryos frozen for all eternity, because I believe life begins at conception.
After expressing my concerns and beliefs to the doctor, he said that if we chose to limit the number of eggs we allow him to fertilize we would be SIGNIFICANTLY reducing our chances of success. He attempted to convince us to change our minds, but also respected our beliefs. After a lot of thought and prayer, Matt and I have decided to proceed with IVF on our own terms.
I am going to take all of the injections necessary to stimulate my ovaries and we are going to let the doctor harvest all of the eggs I produce. However, we are only going to allow him to fertilize 3 eggs. At the end of the 5-day period in the lab, we are going to allow the doctor to implant whatever is still living in my uterus. We may end up with none, we may end up with twins or we may end up with triplets.
We decided to allow him to fertilize 3 eggs instead of 2 to give us better chances, but this also opens us up to the possibility of triplets, which we are ok with. The doctor is also going to attempt to freeze the remainder of my UNFERTILIZED eggs. Egg freezing, or vitrification, is still a very new and experimental process, so he isn’t sure if any of the eggs will thaw out if we need to use them for future attempts. It’s just a chance we have to take. We are putting our faith in God, and we feel confident that He will reward us for doing this in a way that we feel is right.
The clinic I go to said they have NEVER had a patient do IVF this way before. They have had a lot of patients ask about it in the beginning and then abandon the idea and fertilize all of the eggs once they learn how much their odds will decrease. I think they told me this to make me reconsider. It did the opposite. It makes me that much stronger in my convictions that I am going to do this according to my beliefs.
I know that my beliefs aren’t shared with everyone else, and I don’t judge anyone whose beliefs differ from mine. I respect and admire each and every person who has had to travel down this path. I would encourage anyone else going through the same process to make the decision that works for them. At the end of the day, you are the only person who has to be comfortable with the choices you make.
Prayers are appreciated as we take on the next leg of our journey. It certainly won’t be easy, but they say that nothing worth having ever is.