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.

Reflections on Infertility at 6 Months

It’s time for me to break the blog silence, and write again. In my last post, I mentioned it has been hard for me to write when I know others out there are still struggling. We are so grateful to be about six months through our pregnancy with baby “Casper.” We also understand our pregnancy might sting for some people. The hard thing about overcoming infertility is when you know other people are still dealing with that nagging pain and emptiness that used to feel way too familiar to you too. I have a friend who has been going through fertility treatments far longer than we have. She and her husband have experienced more loss and heartbreak than anyone should ever have to endure. They are wonderful people, and Chris and I want them to get pregnant so badly. And here we are moving forward, and watching them go through the process again. It’s unfair. It’s cruel. It’s a reminder of how we should never take what we have for granted. We pray for them, and for all those of you who are still struggling, everyday.

Our struggles with infertility have definitely shaped how we’ve approached sharing our pregnancy. For starters, Chris and I have not posted anything at all on social media about being pregnant. I remember how much those posts used to break my heart, and I’d never want to bring that pain on someone else. I’m still not back on Facebook, and have been away from it for almost a year.

Every infertility situation is so unique. Midst the joy, anxiety, and gratitude of my pregnancy, every now and then I think about the future. Of course, I find myself regularly wishing that “Casper” was already here, and wanting to speed things up. In those moments I have to remind myself to be thankful for this opportunity, this pregnancy, and this journey. I don’t want our baby to arrive a minute too soon. I want him to grow strong, so when he’s here, we can simply enjoy being the parents of a healthy baby boy.

In other moments, I find myself having the realization that this pregnancy is not a cure-all for the challenges we’ve faced. For a long time, during the phases of fertility treatments and ups and downs, I thought of pregnancy as the finish line. After becoming pregnant, I quickly realized infertility had left some pretty thick emotional scars, which resulted in being a fairly anxious mommy-to-be. Even despite meditation, therapy, positive self-talk, and affirmations I found myself being uncontrollably anxious in the beginning. We bought a doppler device so I could listen to our son’s heartbeat in these challenging moments. That little tool helped me so much in the first trimester. Now that I can feel our son moving, I have relaxed a even more. Every milestone helps me to overcome the tormenting fears of the past.

Our hearts are overflowing with the gratitude that this pregnancy is going smoothly. We met with a perinatal specialist in weeks 10 and 20 to double check on our sons growth and development. Both times I felt exceedingly anxious in the days right before our appointments. And both times, the doctor told us everything looks “perfect.” What a huge sigh of relief for Chris and me. Every bit of positive information about our son makes me feel more confident and secure in this pregnancy.

 

 

Mr. Hopeful: A Male Perspective On IVF

HandWrench

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.

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

Lupron Days 1-5

Five down!

Day 1: I was a shaking, sobbing mess! The needle totally freaked me out, and I put it in too slowly. My slow pace of pushing in the needle made it really uncomfortable. The medicine itself was easy. I did not notice any side effects. 

Day 2: I inserted the needle much quicker today, but I think I still have lots of room for improvement. No pain at all with the needle or injection. I’m noticing an occasional sharp cramping sensation in my ovaries, but it’s manageable. I’m craving sugar like a madwoman and downed excessive amounts of chocolate. That’s probably unrelated to Lupron, and simply just my insatiable sweet-tooth. 😜

Day 3: Third time is the charm! Today was my best day of injections so far! I just went for it, didn’t hesitate, and pushed that sucker right in. I’m tired, but who knows if that is related to the meds. It’s a busy day today and I’m getting through it just fine!

Day 4: I think I’m getting the hang of these shots! Pushing it in quickly is definitely the way to go. I feel pretty tired and snacky today. Junk food sounds super tasty right now. 😉

Day 5: Today was such a breeze! I didn’t feel the needle at all. I feel way more confident with the needle. I barely have any marks on my stomach (just one small one from a couple days ago). This has moved from being a big ordeal each morning, to nothing at all. I’m still super hungry, but have no other side-effects.

Drawing out the correct amount of medication.

Cleaning the injection site (still rocking the pjs, of course!)

Injecting the Lupron

    

Green Light at the Red

stoplight

Test Result. The email subject line made my heart skip; it was from our fertility doctor. 

Last time I went to the clinic, they drew 6 vials of my blood to run genetic tests. Specifically, they were determining if I am a carrier for cystic fibrosis, since my husband, Chris carries a gene mutation. I wasn’t expecting to hear results for another two weeks. 

 As I sat, unmoving, at the stoplight on my commute home, I contemplated, “Should I open it, or wait till I get home?” Wait? Who was I kidding? 

Hi Heather,
You tested negative for the cystic fibrosis gene mutation that Chris tested positive for (Delta F508) and that’s good news. This does minimize the risk of having an affected child, but it does not eliminate it. The risk is considered to be very low in such cases and testing of embryos is typically not done. 

Please let me know if you have any specific questions. 
-Doc 

 I shrieked. A positive test result would have meant moving forward with a lot of caution, concern, and careful testing of each embryo. A negative result is a HUGE relief. To me, this news means moving forward with IVF without hesitation. We’ve essentially been given the green light to begin. It’s a really celebrated piece of information and Chris and I feel like a giant weight has been lifted off our shoulders.
 

As I was driving home, the good news was sinking in, and a song I hadn’t heard for a while came on the radio. 

 The Middle by Jimmy Eat World 
Hey, don’t write yourself off yet.
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything will be just fine, everything will be alright.
 

 These lyrics are my new anthem for the IVF process. We won’t write ourselves off, simply due to the unfortunate circumstances we seem to be facing. We’re going to do everything we can in order to achieve our goal of parenthood. We won’t pay attention to the judgment of naysayers; this isn’t their process. This isn’t anyone else’s journey but ours. It is going to take time, and I’m sure there will be times where it feels scary, but that’s when we have to remember: we’re only in the middle of the ride. It’s not over until we say it is over, and until we feel strong about the outcome. In the end, everything WILL be alright.

Meet The Hopefuls

holding-hands 

Chris + Heather 

 Two thirty year olds 

 Ten years of love together 

 Six years of marriage 

 1+ years of trying for kids 

1 visit to the infertility clinic set our journey in motion 

 When I scheduled our first fertility appointment, I wanted answers. Even if the answer was “you’re fine, there’s nothing wrong with either of you, now just keep trying.”

I had reached a point when the unknown had just become too overwhelming. I was tired of the monthly disappointment. And that’s how I knew it was time to talk to a professional. 

 Our first visit to the fertility clinic was relatively uneventful. I stifled a giggle through our doctor’s use of props as he explained how babies are made. Later Chris and I joked about how funny it would be if we’d just been doing “it” wrong all along.

From the outset, our doctor seemed puzzled by us. There were no outward signs of infertility. I have regular cycles, and we have regular, timed intercourse. Neither of us have health problems. Both of us are fit. Both have siblings who have had successful pregnancies and deliveries. We have no family history of infertility. So why were we there? Our doctor assured us that although there didn’t appear to be an obvious reason, we’d find one. 

We started with an ultrasound. I had a few more follicles in each ovary than the doctor would like to see. We were told that around 12 are normal. One of my ovaries had 17 follicles, and the other side had around 20. He said we might be looking at PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). I didn’t meet the other criteria for diagnosis, so he said we’d wait and do more testing. We were convinced it was me. 

Chris was next up for testing with a semen analysis. He was given a sterile room with a drawer of nudie mags in order to “produce a sample.” His sample was sent off to the lab for testing.

On Chris’s 30th birthday the doctor rang. The second he answered the phone he knew something was wrong. Chris was told his semen sample contained no sperm. Not one. He was also told the volume of his sample was low. Chris hung up the phone, lay down on the floor, and cried. My tougher-than-nails husband said he felt like he aged 10 years that day. 

 A urologist was our next step. Chris had an appointment with a physical where we learned that Chris was missing his vas deferens. He was born without one. We were in shock. Nothing would have ever given us an indication that Chris was missing any part of his reproductive system. Chris had essentially been born with a vasectomy.

I was so grateful that Chris took the news as well as he did. He didn’t feel like less of a man, and I didn’t look at him any differently. 

 This diagnosis, CAVD (Congenital Absence of the Vas Deferens), is a diagnosis only 1% of couples with male-factor infertility ever receive. We are rare. We probably won’t ever meet another couple that is facing our same challenges. So we’ve decided to look at this as an exceptional anomaly. You could even say we think it’s a little cool. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “how is infertility EVER cool?” In some ways, you’re right. It sucks. But we’ve decided to try to keep the hope alive, and look at our situation as remarkably unique. 

To make matters a little more complicated, Chris’s doctor recommended tests to determine if he is a carrier for the disease cystic fibrosis. Oftentimes men with CAVD have a gene mutation that leads to their condition. His tests came back positive confirming Chris is a carrier. At the time of this blog my doctor has ordered blood work to see if I am also a carrier for the disease.

Going forward, we know our only option for a successful pregnancy is IVF (in vitro fertilization). After reading about the process, both of us are a little apprehensive. It is costly, and involves needles (not my favorite). But we know that there’s nothing that can stand in the way of our dream of parenthood.