You Are Not Alone

NIAW-CMYK

Four years ago, a dear friend confided that she and her husband were struggling to start a family. After a devastating failed IUI (intrauterine insemination) they decided the best thing for their family was to move forward with adoption. My friend had a lot of anxiety about the process, and was so eager to begin her journey into parenthood. While I did my best to support my friend, I admit I had no idea how difficult the situation was for her. My husband and I had never tried to have a child, and I thought infertility was extremely rare.

At the time, I asked myself what I would do if I were in her shoes. I remember thinking fertility treatments were costly, and seemed almost egotistical to me. It was silly even to ponder it–if we struggled with infertility, of course we would adopt. Sometimes when we think we have life all figured out, we get gain the opportunity to learn some humility. In fact, our own journey into the world of infertility began with a nice, heaping helping of humble pie.

Chris and I started trying for a baby at the end of summer in 2013. The first month we did not succeed, I thought our timing must have been off. So I read a few articles, and we tried again. The second failed month I was baffled. We tried harder. Again, we failed. I was already discouraged. I mean, in high school, hadn’t we learned that unprotected sex was a straight shot to pregnancy? Our phone rang, and it was Chris’s brother announcing he’d accidentally gotten his girlfriend pregnant. They were terrified. I remember thinking, “How was that an accident? We’ve been planning this out, and it hasn’t worked yet!” Little did I know, this was just the beginning of the journey.

After over a year of trying, we still had not made any progress. Family and friends had become pregnant and delivered their children within the time we simply tried and failed. Baby showers were starting to become torturous, and every pregnancy announcement stung. I remember our close friends telling us our time would come. It got to a point where I couldn’t get this advice anymore–it was simply too painful. Finally, we reached the breaking point and reached out for help from a reproductive endocrinologist.

After countless invasive tests, and blood work we were shocked to discover our problem was not just a quick fix. Chris has no sperm, a condition known as azoospermia. He was referred to a urologist for further testing. We were devastated. When we got the news I was rocked to my core. I lost my peripheral vision in a full-blown panic attack, and still had to drive myself home from work. The next few weeks I was living in a dark cloud. I looked around me, and all I saw were families. Every child I saw was a a reminder that I may never have the opportunity to be a mother someday. It was a lonely place to be. 

We all start somewhere. The fact is, when we first received our infertility diagnosis, I had never felt so alone in all my life. It is amazing how several months can change everything. In these five months, we have learned so much. First, we learned that men, like Chris, can be born without a vas deferens. Without this tube, it is essentially like a congenital vasectomy. We will have to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have a child. Second, we learned infertility is treatable. In the beginning, we thought we would never have a biological child. While we still have not proven that we can, we learned of treatment options that would allow the doctors to take sperm directly from Chris’s testicles. Third, we learned that science is pretty cool.  Although, there is still so much research to be done in the field of infertility, there are many people out there working hard to make a difference in the lives of others and enable people, like us, to become parents one day.

As we sit on the brink of the final phase of our first round of in vitro fertilization treatment, I can finally say with confidence: I am not alone. Why? This community is rock solid. When the diagnosis comes, there is a temptation to hide it, to feel shame, and to wish it away. However, there are so many people out there, one in every eight couples to be exact, who are going through similar pain. Their diagnoses may be different, but each of us share the common longing and desire to be parents. I have made friends in the blogging world who offer support every step of the way. I am also part of an IVF Support Group with over 6,000 members all going through the same treatment process I am. Who can feel alone with that many people sharing your journey?

I am not alone because I have an amazing partner. Chris and I are sharing this experience together. We may process the information at different rates, and have different coping strategies, but at the end of the day, we are a rock solid team. No matter where this journey leads us, we know we have each other. We are eager to see where this road will lead, but we are confident that we will be parents someday.

-Heather

To learn more about infertility visit Resolve: The National Infertility Association.

Click here to learn more about National Infertility Awareness Week

Clinic Error

We got an email update about our cycle from our doctor. The problem is, the information we received was inconsistent from what our nurse previously told us. Our nurse reported that on day five the embryologist had already frozen one embryo, but was still watching seven embryos to see if they would make it to the blastocyst stage on day six. She told us these seven were very close and that the embryologist wouldn’t have kept them out if they didn’t have a “good chance” of making it. She was wrong. 

Those seven embryos had already stopped growing on day three. We only had one embryo that was still being observed in hopes that it would be a late bloomer and make it to day six. Unfortunately, she misunderstood the embryologist’s notes. Our doctor said their clinic had a meeting to address accurate reporting of information. He owned up to it, and was very apologetic. We understand. Humans make mistakes. They assigned a new nurse to our case, and she seems really nice. 

Today we discussed our embryo results in detail with our doctor. He said our eggs looked great, and in future cycles (whether that is after a successful pregnancy with our first child, or in July if this cycle doesn’t succeed) they will probably stim me more.  This will give us more eggs, and a chance at more embryos. He said our sperm was an issue, and the doctors on our case are still baffled as to why. We have one of the top five urologists in the country, and he doesn’t understand why Chris’s sperm is a challenge. Our RE said research on cases like ours just doesn’t exist. We are a medical question mark.   

Then we talked about our upcoming FET. The embryo we have is considered “fair” quality. Since I’m still pretty young, and I’m healthy, our doctor predicts a 50/50 chance for it to stick. Our transfer date is the week after my birthday–sometime the second week of May. They are beginning to prep my uterus for transfer. We have high hopes for our little frostie. Fingers crossed!

Reason #1,503,235 not to ask a woman if she is pregnant…

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but frankly; words hurt most of all.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve struggled with body image issues. My family was very appearance-conscious, and discussed weight on a frequent basis. In high school, my challenges with body image took on a whole new form. While my family never sought a diagnosis, but it’s fairly safe to say I had an eating disorder. I withheld food and nourishment, and became incredibly thin. I was depressed and felt worthless. It is the time in my life I look back on with the greatest sense of regret.

When Chris and I got married, I was able to heal much of these thoughts and feelings through counseling. I’ve come an incredibly long way in my journey with how I view my body, and my sense of appreciation for it.

Today, I had to remember how far I’ve come. I had to hold onto it with every ounce of my being, as I drove home from work clutching the steering wheel, tears streaming freely down my face.

At work today, I greeted a gentleman I ran into in the hallway. I haven’t seen him in a couple of months. After the typical, “hi’s” and “how are you’s” he took a long, hard look at my belly, and said, “Are you expecting a baby?”

It felt like someone knocked the wind out of me.

I managed to force out a, “No.”

“Not yet, hmm?” he replied.

I turned and walked to the ladies room. As I held tight to the sink, absolutely floored by how idiotic people can be, I tried to pull it together. I stood tall, and scrutinized myself in the bathroom mirror. “Okay, Heather, so you’ve gained a little weight,” I thought, “not the end of the world.”

I was keeping it together until I saw my favorite coworker. I told her what had happened, and completely fell apart. It was the kind of cry where you can’t breathe and your body starts doing that lovely convulsing thing. Not cute at all. She held me tight and told me how stupid men are, and told me I’m beautiful.

Thankfully, it was the end of the day, and I was able to go home.

Given my history, and our current status battling infertility through IVF, this was probably the most insensitive comment a casual acquaintance could have made. I keep telling myself he had no way of knowing what we’re going through, but it really feels like the universe is trying to kick me when I’m feeling down.

At home, I got some attention from my empathic fur-ball.  The second I walked in the door, Chloe started showering me with affection. We have a close bond and she can tell when I’m hurting. It is amazing what a little love and a furry best friend can do for the soul.

Who needs therapy when you have a dog? 💗

Turn of the Tides

We were so close. Unfortunately, none of our other seven embryos made it to the blastocyst stage. In the end, we came out with one frozen embryo. Just one. We have one chance of making this work. There is so much riding on that one frostie. Our doctor said one other embryo had potential, but in the end it didn’t make it. The five others stopped growing. 

I’m learning that this process is full of ups and downs. One day the outlook seems positive, the next day you’re reeling from the news. I am disappointed that I let myself get too excited. Yesterday we were elated. Today we’re hurting. 

GOOD NEWS!

Our embabies might be making the comeback of the year! 

One embryo looks AWESOME, it was ready to go so they froze it today. We are so glad even one of our little fighters made it. 

But wait, there’s more…

The embryologist is observing SEVEN more embryos overnight that he thinks have a good chance of catching up. 

SEVEN!!!!!!!!

Our nurse said that they must have a good chance because the embryologist would discard any embryos that looked like they didn’t have a shot. 

They will update again tomorrow!

Holy smokes!!

The Roller Coaster Continues

  

Today is day three. Our embryos have been alive for only a short time. We’ve been sending them good thoughts and good vibes. As weird as it is, Chris and I have been having conversations with our embabies; telling them how wanted and loved they already are, and asking them to stick around. 

We were promised an update from the clinic today, so both Chris and I were on the edge of our seats. At 4:30 they finally called. 

On day three, embryos should be 6-8 cells. Eight cells is preffered. Here is the current breakdown of our embabies:

  • 2 embryos at 6 cells
  • 2 embryos at 5 cells
  • 1 embryo at 4 cells
  • 4 embryos at <4 cells

Being a normal person, I didn’t really know what to make of this news. So I turned to Dr. Google. I discovered that not only are our embryos slow-growing, but typically slow growing embryos are less likely to result in pregnancy. So that scared the crap out of me. Great job, Heather!

I’m an open-minded woman. I’d like to think there’s a chance that they can grow and change in the next 48 hours. I’m not going to write things off yet. 

However, I definitely just had the biggest cry I’ve had since starting IVF. I feel like I’ve been so stoic and brave throughout this process.  I’ve showed little to no emotion. I’ve been super strong. Tonight it all came crashing down. My heart is so attached to these babies. I just wish there was something I could do for them. I feel helpless. But I still have hope. 

Over the First Big Hurdle!

We just got the call–drumroll please…

Of our fifteen eggs ten were mature and nine fertilized! That means they must have found more usable sperm. We are over the moon we are so excited! Thank you for all the great support you’ve been sending our way. We appreciate it! 

Come on 9 embabies! Mommy and Daddy are cheering you on. Sidenote: you can see in this picture where the anesthesiologist accidentally ruptured a vein in my hand yesterday. Well worth it!

 

Retrieval Day!

15 eggs! We don’t know how many are mature yet, but will get a full update tomorrow. They’ll use the 6 swimmers we had in incubation to fertilize some of my eggs. Even though we were told they did not freeze any sperm APPARENTLY we also have 4 vials of frozen sperm no one told us about. Surprise!! They’ll thaw one vial at a time until they have enough for all the eggs. If they still don’t have enough sperm, they’ll freeze my eggs for future use. Our RE is optimistic and so are we! 

My cycle is confirmed frozen since my estrogen level was at 2200 on Thursday. I’ll start taking Provera tonight to induce my period. Oh goodie! 

I’m moving pretty slowly and in a good bit of pain after today’s procedure, but today’s news is well worth it all. We’re really happy that things are looking up!

Right before they took me into the OR. Chris asks me to look away from the camera for all my blog photos. 😎

Thinking Happy Thoughts

I triggered last night and it was a peice of cake! Just a touch sore today.

I spent most of the day today literally worried sick. Just a refresher: Chris had a TESE done on Tuesday. Wednesday we learned only 5 of his sperm were moving. We had not received an update on the sperm since then, and it’s not for lack of effort. We’ve been calling the urologist’s office multiple times daily. 

Finally, Chris got a hold of someone today only to discover the urologist is out and unreachable for the rest of the day. What the heck!? My retrieval is TOMORROW and they don’t think I want to know the status of our swimmers? Sometimes I feel like these doctors have no idea how invested we are in this process or just how stressful this is.

So, my hubby, being the rad guy that he is, did not give up. He called the lab directly and asked to speak with the embryologist. He asked them to check on his sperm, and report back to him as soon as possible. The embryologist was super helpful and called back within an hour. 

He learned we have six moving sperm. So we’re up one more. Tomorrow is supposed to be the day of peak motility for the little guys. If you wouldn’t mind thinking happy thoughts for our swimmers we would really appreciate it. 

Has anyone heard of success with such a low count? We are still holding on to hope. Come on little guys–just keep swimming!

Sperm Status & Ultrasound Update

Emotional limbo. Do we stay positive? Do we prepare for the worst? Will we be okay with the outcome? If not now, maybe someday? 

After Chris’s MESA/TESE yesterday the urologist saw just one sperm twitching. He expected to see most of them gain motility a few hours after the procedure. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. 

Today we have five twitchers. Chris has plenty of sperm, so that’s a little surprising and not nearly as many as our urologist hoped for. He’s going to let the sperm incubate without freezing them and see what happens. He said  some men’s motility is slow to get started. He explained  peak motility is typically observed on day 4 or 5, which, as luck would have it, is right around my retrieval day. The doctor said as long as Chris has as many moving sperm as I have eggs, we are good. 

That brings us to me. We measured 15 eggs on the ultrasound today. My RE is happy with the way they are growing and progressing. It was hard to get excited when he told me everything on my end looks great and I’m almost done. I have to give myself more shots in a few minutes, and I’ve never been so unmotivated to do the injections as I am now. 

  

I know we have other options, but right now I really can’t process the idea of using donor sperm or even adopting. My heart is set on the success of IVF. I don’t want to get hurt. I’m scared about what this will do to Chris if this doesn’t work. I’m afraid of the overwhelming sadness we’ll have if we find out kids are not in the cards for us. We want a family so badly, and I truly believe we’d be wonderful parents.