Journey to Baby #2

Two and a half years ago I decided to start a blog about our struggle with infertility. Our name, Meet the Hopefuls came from my infertile play on the movie title Meet the Parents. At the time, we were still working toward receiving an official diagnosis. We were completely naive in our understanding of fertility treatments. We thought a simple pill or better timing would allow us go home and get pregnant the good, old fashioned way. Initially, we told no one about what we were facing. In fact, if you’d have told me two years ago that one day I’d be more openly blogging about our struggles with infertility, I wouldn’t have believed you. Or I’d have thought sometime in the future I was going to completely lose my marbles. Nevertheless, I sit here with a stomach full of butterflies as I type our first non-anonymous blog post about our current steps in our building family journey. In moments where I lack courage, Chris says, “get your butterflies to fly in formation!” Bear with me as I harness these fluttery little suckers…

For our first two cycles of IVF we hid in a shroud of anonymity. Very few people even knew we were infertile. Even fewer knew we were pursuing fertility treatment. Even fewer knew about this blog and those who did were people we would’ve openly shared our feelings with anyway. Writing with anonymity felt safe and comfortable. We never censored ourselves. When people in real life made painful comments, we openly wrote about and processed our feelings in the blog. When we were scared, we our fears poured out of our fingertips and onto the keyboard. When we were devastated, we journaled our sorrows. When we got pregnant with Mason, we hesitantly shared our success. We shared all these emotions without a filter because so few people we knew personally were reading our raw emotions as they transpired.

This time things are a little different. For starters, having Mason changed us in a big way. He helped us heal from some of the heartache infertility put us through, and validated our experiences. Having Mason also made us less shy about talking about infertility. We’ve  grown so much by opening up about our personal challenges. Now, our family and friends know about our struggle. Most people are hugely supportive of us. After coming out of the infertility closet, we’ve learned how truly “not alone” we were all along. A surprising number of people in our lives have shared their stories of struggle, loss, and infertility with us too. They’ve told us how thankful they are for our transparency. We hope we’re making the topic of infertility less taboo by our willingness to talk about our experiences. On the other hand, some people in our lives seem to be scratching their head as to why we would share something so deeply personal. Everyone is different, and I hope on some level even our critics can respect our decision and pure motives in helping other people who, like we once did, feel lost, hopeless, alone.

While we’ve come a long way since our initial diagnosis, recently we’ve found many of those old infertile feelings and emotions coming back into play. It all started when we decided to start trying for baby #2. To state the obvious, in our case that doesn’t mean bow-chicka-wow-wow. It means email the nurse coordinator and ask her what the first steps are in starting another frozen embryo transfer. I know, super romantic. Shortly after reaching out to the clinic to get the ball rolling, it hit me. Even after having a baby, we are still just as infertile as ever. That’s right about the time I started noticing the pregnant women–they’re everywhere. We are involved in activities with other parents and babies and children. We’re in a sea of fertile people. Mason gives us the appearance that we fit right in, but at the core we never will.

Our journey to baby #2 quickly brought me back to our old stomping ground; the fertility clinic. My nurse scheduled me for a mandatory hysteroscopy, mock embryo transfer, and cultures, prior to starting our next cycle. The procedures went well. The HSC revealed that there are no polyps or fibroids; my uterus looks good after an emergency cesarean childbirth with Mason. The mock transfer gave my RE the information he needs to place our embryo in the best spot possible. Going under anesthesia this time felt different. When I was told to bring my advanced directive, my heart sank as I thought about my miracle son. Even if the chances of problems are slim, I felt guilty for putting myself in harm’s way when I have a child. Yet, if I want to give my child a sibling, it’s the only way.

Prepping for our third FET coming fall 2017!

Being in the clinic again made the memories come flooding back. I vividly remember sitting and waiting for our first appointment–we were interviewing a new clinic after a failed cycle at the clinic from hell. We were so apprehensive, guarded, and afraid. Yet, we moved forward because that’s the only choice you have with infertility. I remember going in for our egg retrieval with a full bladder, as directed, and how badly I had to use the bathroom! The nurse finally caved and let me pee–just a little bit–so I wouldn’t wet the waiting room chairs. I remember Chris getting in his hospital gown for his second MESA/TESE procedure, and the phone call that followed telling us there were millions of sperm that time around. I remember waiting for blood draws and beta tests and ultrasounds. I remember the agonizing wait to see the doctor the day the nurses suspected I’d had a miscarriage, and what a horrible sense of loss and emptiness we’d felt, only to yo-yo back to security when we found out Mason was okay. I found out my symptoms were due to a disease called adenomyosis I didn’t know I’d had all along. I remember the day we were discharged from the fertility clinic, and how exciting and scary it was to be released to a regular OBGYN’s care.

We have been through a lot in that little clinic. It feels strange to be back. in some ways we feel like we beat infertility–we went on to have a successful pregnancy and healthy baby. At the same time, infertility still holds us captive. We haven’t experienced these feelings for a long time, but they’ve been silently in the background all along. I wonder what our future holds. We still have three frozen embryos–two boys and one girl. We just learned this week that our girl is our lowest quality at a 4BB. All along we planned to transfer her next. And when I found out her quality, all the sudden I found myself bracing for the emotional roller coaster ride. Regardless of our feelings in the matter, we’ll stay on this ride until we’re finished with our family building journey.

Mr. Hopeful Explains What It’s Like To Have A MESA/ TESE Procedure

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The purpose of this post, dear reader, is to relay experience gained through two separate procedures—two MESAs and one TESE—in hopes of helping my fellow men who may be facing similar procedures as a result of male factor infertility. Prior to my first MESA procedure, I scoured the Internet trying to gain a sense of what to expect, yet all I came up with was technical jargon and basic explanations. As such, I’m providing this boots-on-the-ground narrative in an attempt to help shed light on the procedures and educate others as to what to expect.

Fair warning: the following contains graphic content. Prior to my first MESA procedure, I would have loved to read a no-B.S. assessment of what I was getting myself into. As such, I’ve written this post in the same straight-up, conversational manner that I’d use if talking to another man about the topic. I’ve used jargon that you may find offensive. There’s definitely TMI contained in the following paragraphs, and if you have a weak stomach, are easily grossed out/offended, or just plain don’t want to read a firsthand description of what it’s like to have a testicle cut open, you’d better skip this blog.

A note to all the women who may read this blog: I am under no false illusions that your involvement in the IVF process is immeasurably harder and more physically uncomfortable, humiliating, and demanding that mine—and that’s before you (hopefully) carry and deliver a baby! In no way am I trying to diminish your contribution by describing what I have been through; I’m merely trying to accurately convey my experience in hopes of taking some of the fear and mystery out of the procedure(s) for the benefit of other men. I’ll be the first to admit that men are tough…but women are much, much tougher!

OK, now that you’ve been warned/notified, let’s get started:

My first procedure was scheduled to be a MESA—short for Microsurgical Retrieval of Epididymal Sperm—or, as I read it in my head every time, “Mildly Embarrassing Sperm Acquisition.” Those of you who have followed our blog will likely remember that I was born with congenital absence of the vas deferens, meaning that I don’t have any tubes connecting my nuts to the rest of the system. Translation? I produce sperm but don’t deliver it, meaning that in order to get my half of the IVF recipe, my urologist needs to physically retrieve it. Lucky me.

Dr. W is without a doubt one of the best male fertility specialists in the business. At about six-and-a-half feet tall, he’s also likely one of the biggest. I felt comfortable from the moment that I met him, and he assured me that he would do everything in his power to make the procedure a successful one.

My balls—and our reproductive future—were soon in his large and competent hands.

Although I’ve done this procedure twice at two different IVF clinics, both times Dr. W traveled to the clinic to perform the procedure. For the sake of eliminating redundancy, I’ll describe the second, more successful procedure, adding in notes from the first when relevant.

The day of the second procedure also marked my wife’s retrieval, since we didn’t want to have to freeze my sperm. She went first, and I sat quietly in the waiting room and kept a good thought for both of us. I have had a number of surgeries in my life and wasn’t too nervous, but I definitely felt my adrenaline spike when they asked me to come in back and start getting ready.

Heather was already in recovery at that point, and I filled out paperwork while doing my best to take care of her. Pretty soon, the nurses opened up the curtain divider to reveal another hospital bed, and asked me to get changed into a gown and socks that were sitting in a neat pile. I couldn’t help but laugh at the nurse’s attempt at modesty when she came back and asked through the curtain if I was changed and decent. Really, lady? I thought. You’re about to see my junk under an 800 lumen light, and you want to make sure I’m dressed? I played along and after kissing my still-drugged wife and taking a quick piss for good luck, it was off to the operating room.

Dr. W had already arrived and was prepping his tools while singing along to an obscure ’70s hit song that was blasting through the overhead speaker in the room. With the help of a nurse, he directed me to lie down on the main operating table with an array of pillows jammed underneath my head and shoulders to keep me from moving around (and, I suspect, watching).

At this point, I asked for a blanket for my chest. Now, my cold tolerance is insane, but I have very little body fat, and the room was cool enough that I knew I’d be shaking like a jackhammer in about ten minutes if I didn’t have more insulation (normally I’d be content to just shiver, but given that in the next ten minutes I’d have needles and razors applied to my scrotum, I opted for the snivel gear).

With the same casual familiarity of a professional chef flipping a pancake, Dr. W flipped back the gown to reveal my family jewels. I glanced at the nurse to gauge her reaction; she looked about as unsurprised as a librarian walking past a shelf full of books. I took this to be a good thing and tried to prep myself for what I knew was coming.

The first thing Dr. W did was compliment me on the job I’d done shaving “the area.” I’ve had enough surgeries to know the drill, and he seemed as happy to not have to shave my sack as I was. Next, Dr. W warned that things would get “cold and wet” and proceeded to dump what felt like a 5-gallon bucket of ice-cold liquid iodine on my crotch. I felt myself inhale sharply as the iodine ran down my legs and all over the place, and soon Dr. W was smearing it around in as professional a manner as one can when smearing a slippery liquid over another man’s crotch. Next, Dr. W used some scotch tape—yes, the same stuff we all used in elementary school to hang up pictures—to tape my shaft to my stomach. I was happy to have it out of the way (not that either he or the nurse would slip with a kitchen knife—but hey, better safe than sorry!).

Dr. W then asked if I was ready to get started, and warned that I’d feel a “pinch and a burn” as he numbed the area. Now, there are many ways to describe having a needle stuck into one of the most sensitive spots on your body, and pinch and a burn is not the first that comes to mind. I bit my lip and reminded myself that my wife has had to endure similar experiences, and at a far greater frequency than this. Dr. W numbed the area to his liking. While I couldn’t feel the incision—or anything in that general region, for that matter—I could feel it in my stomach (every guy knows that if you get hit in the balls hard enough, your stomach hurts. This came on as a dull but bearable ache that remains for about a week or two).

At this point, Dr. W’s next actions aren’t entirely known to me, since I wasn’t directly watching (nor did I want to be) and, thankfully, I couldn’t feel much more than a muted tugging and slight pressure. I could tell that he was cutting into my skin and epididymis to retrieve a sample. The first time I had this done, the clinic-supplied nurse was borderline incompetent. While Dr. W pushed “fluid” out of the epididymis, she sucked it up with a syringe. Or, at least she pushed it around while Dr. W futility attempted to coach her through the process. Later, when she left the room, I asked if she was qualified to do this procedure. He said that she was but I could sense his frustration at her inability to do what he needed her to do.

Fortunately, the second nurse—whom I’m guessing is an employee of our current IVF clinic—was an absolute pro. She did exactly what Dr. W needed her to do, and soon he was leaving the room to view the sample under a microscope with the lab techs. I noticed that a second female nurse had entered the room. All modesty had left us at that point; whether she was there to help—or just view my fine china—I really didn’t care. We made awkward conversation while I stared at the vent in the ceiling wondering what bacteria was flowing into the room and my still-splayed-open nutsack.

The first time we did this procedure, Dr. W came shuffling into the room 10 minutes later and explained that he’d only found dead sperm. In the next few minutes, my MESA procedure became a TESE (Testicular Sperm Extraction or, as I came to refer to it, Total Emergency Sperm Exploration) as Dr. W went directly into my nut to try to get what he needed. Several trips back and forth to the lab and he had a few “twitching” sperm, but I could tell he wasn’t pleased.

Fortunately, my second procedure was completely different. I’d been taking daily fistfuls of supplements for months in hopes of raising my sperm quality; in the process, I’d become incredibly moody and I’d put on about 8 pounds of muscle (understandable, since my testosterone was through the roof and I was, in effect, juicing). But this regiment of chemicals resulted in a body composition change that fired up my little swimmers in a big way.

Soon, Dr. W came bursting into the room like Kramer from Seinfeld and proudly announced that I had millions of sperm. Millions! He said that the lab techs were high-fiving each other, and the sample looked so good that it could have come from a normal ejaculation. Words cannot convey how utterly relieved we both were to hear this result. As Dr. W jostled some tools and papers around the operating room, my thoughts returned to my wife, who had since left the clinic under the care of a friend to get some much-needed rest. I couldn’t wait to tell her the positive news, and that I felt like we were “back in the game” as far as becoming parents to our own children. Coincidentally, I noticed that the song that was now blasting through the overhead speaker was “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles. I can tell you this: if this cycle is successful, that song will never sound quite the same as it did before this procedure.

It wasn’t long before Dr. W began buttoning things up. He was smiling and very upbeat; I was pleased to see that he was truly invested in a positive outcome for us. Now that the pressure was seemingly off, we began casually conversing about a variety of manly topics—our shared affinity for martial arts, the folly of trying to out-swim a Navy SEAL BUD/S instructor, and the prevalence of Kalashnikov rifles in third world countries were all discussed as he stitched up my still-numb junk. The tough-guy conversation was likely not unintentional; I suspect that it was our shared way of acknowledging each other and saying, Look, this is as close to pillow talk as IVF gets. Neither of us particularly enjoyed this, but we’re both damn happy with how it went. Let’s get this done and be through with it.

The administering of the sutures was unpleasant (each time he tugged on the string, my boys momentarily left the surface of the table, like an adult-themed puppet covered in drying iodine). Again, Dr. W’s competence and professionalism ruled out, and he was finished before I knew it. The nurse left the room, and without further instructions I gently pulled all of the blankets to the ground and, after a sincere thank-you and a firm handshake with my towering doctor, I shuffled for the recovery room, where I quickly ditched my iodine-and-who-knows-what-else-stained gown and donned a set of tri-shorts (I’ve found these offer the best post-procedure support; jock straps can be a little too tight and actually hurt a little if they get out of place). The nurses gave me a few ice-packs, which I gratefully shoved down my shorts, and after waving off additional pain meds and throwing on the rest of my clothes, I was soon out on the curb and grabbing a ride from our friend. We then drove to pickup my wife, at which point I got behind the wheel and piloted us home. You’re technically not supposed to drive after this procedure, but if I was going to be sitting, I figured I might as well drive. Plus, my dear wife was still looped out from her procedure.

This photo was taken of my immediately following my first MESA procedure. As you can see, I was a little rattled by the experience.

This photo was taken of my immediately following my first MESA procedure. As you can see, I was a little rattled by the experience.

As the local anesthetic wore off and we arrived at home, I found myself in quite a bit of pain, but nothing that lying down and icing—combined with a single Tylenol—didn’t fix. In the next 24 hours, I ran a few errands to pickup take-out and to get my antibiotics from the pharmacy, but otherwise I stayed put and let the ice do its work (frequent icing is key to managing the swelling). Walking was a ginger affair for about two days, but within four days I was back at work (which entailed me being in disgusting, dirty, frigid ocean water while wearing an exposure suit doing mock emergency swimmer ascents from an imaginary submarine. Hurray for antibiotics!) Suffice it to say, nobody at work knew what I had been through, and within five days of my procedure I was riding a mountain bike (much to my wife’s chagrin. But to be honest, she knew what she was getting into when she married me).

Final note: I slept with a pillow between my knees for about ten days. The stitches go away on their own after a few weeks. About the time you get used to them, you realize that they’ve fallen out or dissolved or something.

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to have a MESA procedure. Let’s hope that it wasn’t for nothing!

IVF #2: Upping the Ante

I’m a night owl. I’m definitely not a morning person. There is a direct correlation between my ability to get out of bed in the morning, and my level of excitement regarding the activity that is waking me. Take this morning, for instance. I knew I was getting out of bed early for blood work (my least favorite of ALL needles…but more on that later) and a transvaginal ultrasound. Neither of these tasks are appealing. So I hit the snooze button a few times, and eventually dragged my groggy self out of bed and on my way to the doctor’s office.

The interior of our new clinic looks like a posh hotel. Complete with swanky decor, modern furniture, and sparkly chandeliers we’re reminded of how much we’re paying just to be there. People travel in from all over the world to our clinic (which makes me feel pretty reassured about our selection) so the waiting room is a constant buzz of varying languages and brewing coffee. I honestly love the energy of the place. It makes me feel so much more at ease than our last clinic. There’s definitely still a little awkwardness, as I imagine you feel in any fertility waiting room. There are times when I see people sitting across from me, and I’d love to chat with them. We’re all there for similar reasons, wouldn’t it be nice to feel a sense of community? Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way (it sure seems so!).

After some great people watching, a nurse called me back for blood work. Let’s just call it like it is: I’m a sissy when it comes to blood work. I never complain, and I refuse to make a big deal out of it, I’m just not a fan. I’ve always averted my eyes when a nurse comes at me with a needle and a tourniquet. After all the needles I’ve stabbed myself with over the course of IVF, you wouldn’t think this would be an issue. There’s something different about putting liquid IN the body, versus taking liquid OUT. Today, I decided I’m going to conquer this fear. So I forced myself to watch the nurse as he performed the veinipuncture and blood collection, and guess what? It really wasn’t that bad. In fact, it made me wonder why I’ve been so afraid of blood work all along.

Our meeting with Dr. W was fairly brief. He performed the ultrasound, and I didn’t ask any questions. Part of me wanted to know how many follicles appear to be growing. The other part of me is worried to get my hopes up. I’d honestly rather just find out post egg retrieval so I know for sure. Dr. W said everything is coming along quite nicely, so for now, I’ll take that as a great sign.

We met with a nurse to go over changes in my medication. There are no changes with my Omnitrope, so I’ll continue administering the .25ml/day. However, starting tonight I’ll be doubling my Menopur dosage in the injection I named the Breaking Bad shot.That’s now four vials of Bravelle, two vials of Menopur for a grand total of 450iu of medication going into one shot! I can already barely inject this shot without feeling faint, and now I’m doubling the medication that makes it sting like hell? Oh, I’m super excited. Additionally, starting tomorrow I’ll be adding another shot, Ganirelix to the daily regimen, which I’ve read from other bloggers “stings like a bee.” Seriously, the things we’re willing to do, right? I hope this time it will all be worth it. ❤

Mr. Hopeful: A Male Perspective On IVF

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At 31 years old, my wife should already have a couple of rugrats running around. She should be tripping over little shoes as she walks in the door, finding discarded pieces of food in the backseat of her car, and cleaning sharpie marker off of our lampshades. Unfortunately, she’s not doing any of these things, and the reason why comes down to one little word:

Me.

If you wanted to get specific, I guess you could blame my genetics, but either way you look at it I’m the reason that we don’t have kids. Like Mayhem—the character from the All-State Insurance commercials destroys everything he touches—I’m the cause of all those massive IVF bills, the needle-inflicted bruises, and the river of tears that have been shed since this insane process was started.

Like many with Ostrich Syndrome (head buried firmly in the sand), I initially figured that the reason we couldn’t have kids was that our timing was off, or that we were under stress at work, or that the stars weren’t aligned or whatever. On the rare occasions when I did think that something was wrong from a fertility perspective, I was certain that it was on my wife’s side—after all, in terms of complexity, the difference between my system and hers is like the difference between a Ford F-150 (simple, reliable, easy to start in cold weather) and Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 Ferrari racecar (complicated, temperamental, and requiring monthly rebuilds). Besides—caution, TMI ahead—everything of mine down there functions just fine, and I would know if something were amiss. Right? Yes, of course. Back to the sand.

Fast forward a few years of unsuccessfully trying to have kids and my wife finally dragged my stubborn ass to the fertility doctor who, in a brilliant display of timing, called me on my 30th birthday with four words that I never thought I would hear directed at me:

“You have no sperm”.

Allow me to pause for a moment, dear reader, and explain the implications of this diagnosis on my manhood. I felt useless. Unmanly. Ineffective. Pathetic. Worthless. Nearly every male out there is programmed with an innate and primal desire to repopulate the world with his seed. Now, I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about reproduction. Think of it as the ancient Spartans thought of it, the desire to have a couple of big, strong sons to grow up and ensure the survival of your lineage. Chauvinistic? Perhaps, but nonetheless difficult for me to reconcile. In a world where my fellow men were walking around with fully loaded M249 machine guns, I felt as though I’d just learned that I was carrying a super soaker. And that sucked.

(Side note: When my father found out that I was born with a permanent, irreversible vasectomy, the first thing he did was to call my one and only brother and urge him to have a son to “continue our line”. High fives, Dad.)

Naturally, the one person who snapped me out of this ridiculous way of thinking was the most supportive, coolest, and most loving human I know: My wife. She reassured me that I was one of the manliest men she’d ever met, and that my ability to reproduce was in no way a reflection of my character. She told me that I had a stronger sense of purpose in life than mere reproduction, and that she had never seen me back down from a challenge and knew that I wouldn’t back down from this one. In fact, she went on to affirm, so rare was my genetic affliction (1 in 30,000,000, or something like that) that it was actually kind of cool. My attitude changed. Suddenly, I didn’t feel worthless. I simply saw this as the card we’d been dealt, and I vowed to be strong as we tackled this issue as the awesome team that we are.

Believe me, being strong was not always easy. I cannot explain the absolutely overwhelming feelings of guilt that come from watching the person you love most on this planet stab themselves repeatedly in the belly with needles because of a deficiency on your part. That was a tough one. Having spent more than my fair share of time in a hospital bed (I work in a high-risk profession), I can say that it is tougher for me to be the person on the sidelines watching the one you love go through pain than it is to be the one who is hurt. No lie, I would have changed places with my wife during every one of her uncomfortable, painful, horrible procedures if I could have. As luck would have it, I got my chance in the hot seat when I went in for what can only be described as the most horrific surgical procedure I’ve ever endured (and I’ve had a bunch). The experience sucked, but once again I drew a lot of strength from my beautiful wife, who maintained a strong belief that all of the pain would be worth it in the end.

If you’ve read any other post on this blog, you now know that things didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. Not even close. We’re both still grieving the negative beta result that we received just a couple short days ago. Words cannot describe the gut-wrenching sound of a mother crying for her lost child. I’ve been through a lot in my life, but seeing my wife pull down photos of our embryo, seal them in an envelope, and lovingly place them in a filing cabinet with tender, motherly care caused me to come completely unstrung. Those of you who have been in this situation before understand. To those who haven’t, I truly hope that you never have to experience the feelings of loss and devastation that come with a failed IVF cycle. Even though I wasn’t the one who underwent the transfer, this feels every bit as real to me as I would imagine it does to my wife.

Fortunately, in times like these you find out not only what you are made of, but what your partner is made of. My wife and I have taken turns holding each other—both physically and emotionally—and even though things aren’t OK right now, we both seem to have the underlying sense that they are going to be OK. Although, to be fair, we have no idea at this point how they will get there.

Male or female, husband or wife, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you are comforting your partner in the wake of devastating news, just hold them. Really. You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to fix, and you don’t have to promise them that things will get better, even though they may. Just hold them close and kiss them often.

IVF #1 Beta Results

My second beta was at 9am yesterday. As I sat down in the chair and rolled back my sleeve, I fought back the tears. So much was riding on these results. “How are you doing?” the young nurse asked. 

“I’m terrified,” I replied. 

“Of the needle or the results?”

“The results.”

“You just have to stay positive,” she declared. 

I wanted to scream. To ask her if she had any idea what this really feels like. Ask her if she’d even bothered to read my chart and realize this was my one and only chance at a successful pregnancy. That all nine of my other embryos had arrested development due to what the doctor thought were issues with our sperm. Of course, I didn’t say any of those things. I just sat there as I watched her poke into my vein; already bruised and sore from the test two days prior. 

The nurse told me we’d get a call to report the results sometime after noon. I muttered my thank you’s, and stumbled out of the office. 

We anxiously awaited the results all day long. I wanted to get the news with Chris, and left work a little early so we could be together when we got the call. By 5:30pm we still hadn’t heard anything. Chris was antsy as hell, and I kept telling him, “I know they’ll call before they leave at six. If not, we’ll do a home pregnancy test.” 

He finally broke down and called our RE on his cell phone. The one “for emergencies only.” Heck, it felt pretty urgent at 5:40pm on a Friday before a three day holiday weekend. Our doctor said perhaps we wouldn’t receive the results until Tuesday. As luck would have it, our nurse began calling us while Chris was wrapping up the conversation with our doc. 

Chris missed her call, so we dialed her back on speakerphone. She sounded cheerful. “Oh, hi Chris! I was just leaving you a message on the other line. We got your results back, and they are negative.” I felt numb. “Please tell Heather to stop taking her medication. If you’d like to schedule a follow-up meeting to go over your cycle with the doctor, that can be done either in person or over the phone. Just call us next week to schedule when you’re ready.”

Before hanging up the phone, Chris managed to ask her, “What exactly were Heather’s beta numbers?”

“Less than two,” she informed us, “we consider anything over five to be pregnant.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. I slowly got up, and began gathering all my medicine from around the house. The Crinone, the bottles of Estradiol I had in my purses, and by my bed. I put them all in a bag, and shoved them into our guest room closet. I went to the kitchen, and gingerly pulled the magnets off the fridge that surrounded the little pictures of our precious embryo and my uterus-post-transfer. I carefully found an envelope and filed it away in the filing cabinet. 

I went back to the bedroom and began to sob. Chris was crying, too. We sat on the floor and held each other for what felt like hours. We managed to feed ourselves dinner and put on a movie. All events throughout the evening were punctuated with tears by one or both of us. It felt, and still feels, surreal. 

To add insult to injury, we received a bill from the pre-IVF genetic counseling. Nearly $8,000. We had no idea a bill of that magnitude was still coming. It felt like a sick joke. 

Today, both of us are processing. We could do IVF again as soon as July. We both have so many questions. Do we want to use the same clinic again? Will we have different results next time? When will we know it’s time to give up? Should we consider adoption? 

It feels like we have a lot of healing ahead of us. I’m really grateful to have such a strong teammate by my side through this process. We’ll get through it together. For now, we just need to grieve.

Staying Strong, Feeling Weak

It’s been eight days since our frozen embryo transfer. I want to know the outcome so badly. I have these eight home pregnancy tests staring me in the face, but I’m too apprehensive to use them. 

Tomorrow I have a huge event at work. I need to be on my A-game. I’m going to be talking to many people throughout the evening. This is tough for me, as I’m an introverted-extrovert (I swear it’s a real thing). Even though I can appear to be doing fine in a social situation, it’s draining for me. I’m sure you can guess, social functions are not my favorite. So I am very fearful that if we get bad news prior to this important day at work, I won’t be able to function well. Chris is super supportive of us waiting to test, and thinks it’s a very good idea. As much as I’m able to logically think through the decision to wait, it’s still eating at me. 

I’m ashamed to say, last night I was a total Debbie downer. I was feeling very negative, like our cycle probably didn’t work. I know we’ve been through a lot of stress, and it’s causing me to second-guess everything. In the back of my head, since I know our sperm is an issue, I’m afraid we’re going to have ongoing challenges. Chris, on the other hand, is feeling very positive. He thinks that this cycle worked. I really hope his gut feeling is right. 

My first beta was today. At our clinic, they send both betas to the lab at the same time. That means we won’t know any results until Friday. It’s only two more days. I know I can make it. I think I can, I think I can. 🙂

  

Transfer

With only one frozen embryo, we were anxious going into yesterday’s FET (frozen embryo transfer). Our minds were racing as we headed downtown to our clinic. Chris was quiet; deep in thought. I fumbled with everything in the car as I tried to keep my mind occupied. I nervously checked the time on my phone every couple of minutes. We were told they’d thaw our little embaby about an hour prior to transfer. Would they call us if it didn’t thaw? As the clock ticked away, I started to feel more at ease as we closed in on our appointment time. Surely they would have called by now. Right? 

When we got inside the office, no one was at the front desk. My anxiety was through the roof. I needed someone to tell me my embryo was alright. Another couple joined us in the waiting room. There was such a stark contrast between us. They were laughing and having a cheerful, playful conversation. Chris and I were hanging onto each other and nervously tapping our feet in silence. Finally, the receptionist came in, lunch in hand, ear buds in ears, iPod playing. “Have you guys signed in?” she asked casually. 

She disappeared inside the office, and we were left alone (with the cheerful couple) for the longest ten minutes of my life. Finally, the door opened. “Heather,” the nurse called, “Come on back.”

She politely led us to a room and asked me if I’d like any Vallium to help me relax prior to the procedure. I assured her I would be fine. She asked me to undress from the waist down and wrap myself in a white bedsheet. The wait continued. It was now twenty minutes past my appointment time, and my bladder, which I was instructed to have kept “full” felt like it was about to burst. 

Finally, Dr. B came in the room. I glanced down at his hands, and saw him carrying this:

  
My heart soared! Our embryo had made it through the thaw. Dr. B said it had a 100% thaw success, meaning every little cell had survived the thaw process. Our little embie is a Grade II, fair quality. Dr. B said these have roughly the same rate of implantation as top quality embryos. 

Dr. B began to prepare me for transfer. He had one nurse pressing the ultrasound nice and hard into my very full bladder. Another nurse stood by and helped Dr. B as he got the catheter into place. They paged Dr. H, the embryologist, and asked him to load our embryo. He came in with our embryo in a syringe. I laughed as I noticed there were six people, including Chris and me, in the room as Dr. H injected the embryo into the catheter. I never thought so many people would be present when I attempted to get pregnant. 

We watched on the screen as our embryo was injected into it’s new home. After the process was complete, the team left me tilted pelvis upwards in the hospital bed for a while. Chris and I enjoyed the moment and sat there staring at the screen. We hope our embaby loves it’s new, warm environment enough to settle in for a little while. 💗

  

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They…Implant in Your Uterus?

I’ve never been a superstitious person. Until now. I’m not avoiding black cats or walking under ladders. I haven’t turned clockwise seven times in a circle. My fingers are not perpetually crossed. We aren’t quite to such a high level of irrationality (yet).  

It’s more like this: I’ve developed an uncharacteristically pessimistic attitude. I feel pretty hopeless. This is not typical of me. I’m a resilient human being. My life has been filled with challenges I’ve met head-on. I have grit, and get through the tough times with a can-do attitude, and unwavering persistence. However, in the case of our infertility, my positivity seems to be wavering. 

Since we received our diagnosis of male factor infertility in January, our life feels like it’s been a pendulum swinging in perpetual motion. We have had our hopes dashed on more than one occasion. This journey has shown us how unpredictable IVF can be. We’ve had our share of disappointment so far this cycle. After promises of success, now our doctors are scratching their heads, wondering why our situation is so unusual.  Additionally, our cycle produced only one frozen embryo, and next week we’ll have one chance at our baby. 

So where does the superstition come into play? As I’m gearing up for next week’s FET, I’m finding myself fearful of optimism. When I think ahead, I’m afraid to allow myself to think we might be successful. It’s almost like I’ve adopted the attitude that if I think it will work, it won’t. I think my new (poor) attitude is a coping mechanism. My mind is trying it’s best not to allow my heart to be crushed by disappointment. It’s making me feel a little crazy. 

So my dear fertility bloggers, I seek your advice. How did/do you stay mentally grounded during IVF? How did you stay hopeful without setting your expectations too high? How did you cope with these unknowns? 

Thanks in advance, my friends!

FET Here We Come!

 Today we got the good news that our transfer is moving up a couple of days. My lining is already at 10mm, and so our doctor bumped up the date of our FET to eight days from now. 

I’m currently on estrogen pills 3x a day. This stuff is making me feel depressed as heck. Combined with all the crazy plot twists we’ve been through this cycle, I’m having to work extra hard to keep my chin up. 

I start Crinone on Thursday. From the reviews I’ve read I’m in for a real treat (yes, that was complete sarcasm). Hopefully it’ll be easier than I’m anticipating. Any tips from you veterans out there?

We saw one of Chris’s friends yesterday. He and his wife did IVF five times. On their last cycle they only had one embryo, and it stuck. They now have a beautiful nine-year-old daughter. Their story helped so much! It ain’t over till it’s over. Here’s to hoping we have one super-sticky embryo!

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