I’m not your typical “IVF story.” I had only “tried” at getting pregnant for a year and a half, I was only 26 (gasp!), and, the kicker, my husband and I hadn’t undergone any other infertility treatments prior to starting our IVF cycle. If you’re one of the lucky 7/8 couples who didn’t or won’t deal with infertility, you may not understand why this is unusual, but if you’re part of the “infertility club” (a club no one wants to be a part of), you know that skipping right to IVF is quite the leap. No, “leap” doesn’t sound scary enough – more like a skydive, yeah, let’s go with that.
My husband and I weren’t in any rush to have kids, but when it had been over a year of “trying” with no luck (and my cycles were always normal and perfectly timed), we figured that maybe we should visit the fertility clinic to at least get tested so we could learn of any issues and deal with them while we were still young. I honestly didn’t expect to find any diagnosable issue, but being the type-A control freak that I am, I wanted to be sure so I could stop obsessing over why I wasn’t pregnant yet. Those of you who have experienced infertility know the mentally EXHAUSTING game you play with yourself every single month where you question every symptom, every feeling, thinking maybe, MAYBE this month is the month, only to be let down when your period shows up uninvited again and again. It is a lonely and exhausting feeling you simply can’t understand unless you’ve been through it, and I was done obsessing about it. I wanted to know what was wrong.
So, we spent November and December of 2016 getting all the usual infertility testing done. Most of this was for me, testing for guys is much easier. I endured bloodwork, ultrasounds, an HSG (where they inject a thick dye into your uterus to see if your fallopian tubes are open) – none of these tests are pleasant, by the way. At the beginning everything was looking “normal,” but after my HSG I got a concerning call from the doctor saying my results came back “irregular.” Irregular. I was crushed. What was wrong with me? Unfortunately I wouldn’t know until I had an MRI, which was scheduled for the end of December – almost an entire month after my HSG.
By the end of December, two days after Christmas, I was diagnosed with a very rare uterine anomaly called a Unicornuate Uterus. Basically, I have half of my reproductive system – half of a uterus (the left side) and one left fallopian tube. The right side just never formed. As you can imagine, this makes getting pregnant naturally very difficult, especially since I still have both ovaries and it seems that my right ovary (the one not connected to my left tube and left uterus), is the most dominant at ovulating each month. And if that wasn’t enough, I was also told that my egg quantity and quality was that of a 35 year old when I was only 26. I was completely shocked.
Of course I spent hours and hours Googling my condition. I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway, don’t we all? The internet seriously lacked any recent information on Unicornuate Uteruses (UUs), but the information I did find was scary. The main gist was, my chances of getting pregnant were slim (which I already knew), but my chances of carrying and delivering a live baby were…. 50%. Yeah, scary. After hearing this I honestly questioned if I even wanted to go through with any treatment to get pregnant. What was the point if my body wouldn’t be able to safely carry the baby to full term?
My doctor convinced me that there was no way we would know how my body would handle a pregnancy (despite what Google said) unless we at least tried. However, he suggested that my best bet would be to get pregnant as soon as possible. The longer I waited the smaller my chances were and there was no point in following the “typical” infertility treatment path that gradually leads up to IVF as a last resort. The problem wasn’t my hormone levels or my ovulation or my husbands sperm (so Clomid and ovulation tracking wouldn’t help at all). We could try IUI, but I was warned I’d have a lot of cancelled cycles if my right ovary (the one not connected to the rest of my reproductive system) was the one ovulating. He told us he recommended doing IVF now. I left the office that day in tears. I was terrified.
The doctor sent us home with probably more reading material than you receive at your college orientation. Pamphlets, websites, prescriptions, online modules, contracts, the list goes on and on. To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement. We spent the next month talking about our options – limited as they were – and doing all the necessary paperwork with our insurance to see what would be covered. IVF cycles can hit upwards of $20k per cycle, which there was no way we could afford. Luckily, and I mean REALLY luckily, we found out that my husband’s insurance would cover 3 IVF cycles at 100%. I can’t stress enough how unbelievably lucky and thankful we were for this. There are SO many couples that face infertility AND the financial struggle that comes with it – it’s not fair and I wish more insurance companies would cover infertility treatments. I honestly can’t imagine adding financial stress on top of the emotions and fear I was already experiencing.
Fast forward to March 2017. Our IVF cycle had been approved by insurance, we had completed all the paperwork and online modules (we called this our IVF homework – and there was A LOT of it!), we went to an injection training class, I had done as much research as I could on the IVF process, and we were about to begin our cycle. Note, it’s now only been 3 months since my diagnosis and we were starting an IVF cycle – yeah, skydive. I had already been on birth control for 2 weeks prior (yes, IVF cycles start with birth control – ironic, right?) and I did my first set of injections on March 5. Now, let me just say, I am a complete baby when it comes to needles or anything medical related really. I’m the one that can barely get a flu shot each year without turning my head, closing my eyes, and practicing deep breathing. Now I had to endure 2-3 injections per day, in my stomach, given to me by my husband – who has never given anyone a shot in his life. Great.
I cried my first night of injections. Not because it hurt (although it did), but because I remember being SO discouraged that I was going to have to do this for 2 weeks just for a shot at getting pregnant and even then, even if by some miracle it worked, my body still may not be able to successfully carry a pregnancy. It was the worst feeling. I hated my body and I hated that it couldn’t do what it was supposed to do.
I endured 11 days of the “stimulation phase” – the daily injections of hormones that make you grow as many good quality eggs as possible. If you’re new to the IVF process, a woman naturally produces 1-2 mature eggs per cycle, but for IVF, the goal is to produce a lot more than that because the more mature, quality eggs you end up with, the better chance you have at having a quality embryo to transfer on transfer day. (Example: If you are able to retrieve 10 eggs, maybe only 8 will be mature, maybe only 5 will fertilize normally, and then maybe only 2 will make it the 5 day growth period before they can be transferred. So, you get my point right? The numbers are scary. Women obsess over the numbers. Some women go through IVF cycles only to find out on transfer day that none of their embryos made it.) Anyway, my point is, you want a lot of good eggs, and growing that many eggs is NOT natural. In fact nothing about what you do to your body during IVF is natural and because of that, the stimulation phase can be very uncomfortable. The hormones give you side effects: bloating, headaches, mood swings. Imagine being on your period, but like, a million times worse. And your ovaries get HUGE. I’m talking to the point where you look 4 months pregnant. And on top of all that, you’re not just dealing with daily injections – you’re driving to the fertility clinic every other day (or daily) for “monitoring” where they draw your blood and look at your ovaries to check your progress. At one point I was at the fertility clinic for monitoring every day for 8 days. My arms were bruised from getting blood drawn so much.
The best part of IVF – I mean I guess if you had to pick a “best” part – is that it’s very schedule/process oriented. This is how I kept my sanity, by focusing on the process of it and not allowing my emotions to get the best of me. I knew the steps: birth control phase, stimulation phase, egg retrieval, embryo transfer, pregnancy test. I bought a giant dry-erase calendar to hang in our bedroom and I kept track of our schedule day by day. Injection dosages, doctor’s appointments, I wrote everything down and tracked our progress through each phase. I lived for drawing a giant check mark after each day. It sounds silly, but that’s what got me through. I also took to blogging. I blogged pretty much every day through our cycle. It really helped me to write out everything I was feeling in the moment – it was my outlet for all of my emotions. And – by this point – all my friends and family knew we were going through IVF and followed my blog, so by updating my blog I was also updating everyone in our family without having to field multiple phone calls/texts every day from people asking “how are you feeling?”. Sharing about infertility isn’t for everyone – and trust me, I totally get that – but for me, having this outlet and being able to involve my family without having to call/text daily was a huge relief.
By embryo transfer day, I was so ready to be done. As if the stim phase wasn’t enough, I also suffered a botched egg retrieval surgery when the doctor unknowingly punctured my bladder during the surgery and I later ended up in the ER with internal bleeding. Ugh. It ended up not being a huge deal and healed on it’s own, but it made for a stressful and painful week after surgery. They retrieved 7 eggs and the next day we learned 4 fertilized normally. We had to wait to see how many we would have left on transfer day. Our embryo transfer was scheduled for a Thursday. I worried all week about the numbers – would we end up with at least one good embryo? I hoped for two – that way, if the first transfer didn’t work, we’d have an extra one to do a frozen transfer with later without having to go through the egg retrieval process again. Infertility does this to you, makes you always assume whatever you’re doing won’t work and that you need a backup plan.
On transfer day we learned we had one perfect embryo for transfer and one that looked like it would grow enough by the next day to be frozen. I was thrilled. We transferred that perfect little embryo into my not-so-perfect uterus and held our breath praying that all this work would be worth it.
Just 4 days later, the Monday after our transfer, I just couldn’t take the wait anymore – your blood test pregnancy test with the clinic is about 1.5 weeks after transfer and it felt SO FAR away. I ripped open an at-home pregnancy test after work that night (knowing that it was probably way too early to test). I’d done this so many times before, always just to see a giant white space staring back at me where I prayed that second pink line would be. I didn’t think this time would be any different. I was convinced this craziness we went through hadn’t worked. I placed the pee-soaked stick on the counter and didn’t let myself look at it for a good minute. When I finally got up the guts to peek, it was there. That blank space was no longer blank anymore. Two pink lines – the second one faint, really faint, but there was no doubt about it, it was there. I kneeled on the floor of my bathroom and cried and prayed and screamed. I felt this strange feeling of both complete joy and yet utter fear all at the same time. I’d made it over the first hurdle, but now would my body end up failing my new baby that I already loved so much?
We spent 9 months of pregnancy in fear, never knowing what could happen, but always expecting that something had to go wrong at some point. My cervix was checked every other week for shortening. I figured I’d probably have to have a cerclage – a stitch to keep your cervix closed and prevent preterm labor. But when 24 weeks came and passed and the doctor said I wasn’t at risk yet, we were shocked. I learned I had placenta previa (my placenta was covering my cervix, a common issue for a unusual shaped uterus), so we assumed I’d have a c-section and again, I was checked regularly to see if my placenta had moved up at all. By 30 weeks it still hadn’t moved and we talked about a scheduled c-section at 36-37 weeks – if I made it that far. We figured I’d end up on bed rest before then. But every day that went by my body surprised me. My pregnancy wasn’t like ANY of the online articles I read about UU. All in all, it was completely normal. And in fact, during my pregnancy, I connected with other women with UU from all over the world on a Facebook group and learned that SO many of them, while they did have trouble getting pregnant, were able to carry a baby to 40 weeks and experienced normal pregnancies too! And guess what? I didn’t even end up on bed rest OR with a c-section. My placenta moved by 34 weeks, I went into labor (on my own!!) on my due date, and my sweet miracle baby boy was born 1 day later on December 10, 2017- vaginally!!!! It was completely unbelievable. A miracle. I no longer hated my body – I loved it. It overcame so many obstacles and grew the most perfect 7lb 11oz baby boy.
IVF can take it’s toll on your work, your marriage, your family, your sanity, your finances. It is like living a different life and just trying to make it to the other side in one piece. It consumes you, physically and mentally, and it is without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s also my favorite thing I’ve ever done because it gave me Coleson, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat for him. And lesson learned, don’t always listen to Google.
What I want to stress more than anything else in my story is that regardless of how scary or emotional or painful my IVF cycle and infertility journey was, I was actually really lucky. I only did one cycle and I got my miracle baby. I’ve met SO many women who are walking a path that is so much worse than what I endured. They’ve gone cycle after cycle with negative results and yet still have the strength to pick themselves back up and do it again and again. They are truly strong and truly brave and I think about and pray for them often. If you’re struggling with infertility, whether you haven’t even gone to a clinic yet or if your on your 5th IVF cycle, I want to encourage you to join a group of women who are experiencing infertility too. I’m currently a member of an infertility group on Facebook full of women who just “get it”. They are there to answer your questions, to give you encouragement, to pray for you, and to just be your shoulder to cry on when you find out your best friend got pregnant on her first month of trying and you’re fighting through treatment month after month. I can’t tell you how helpful it is. If you’re searching for support like this, feel free to reach out to me and I’d love to add you to our group!
Image by Mikaela Marie Photography