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.

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. ❤

You Are Not Alone

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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!

Hurry Up and Wait

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At the moment, we’ve stalled out. All our blood work and testing is done, but we discovered there’s more to be done before we can start our first IVF cycle. 

Chris and I were both raised by parents who don’t believe in vaccinations. Like any. At all. You’re thinking that’s crazy, right? Theres a lot of controversy about these types of choices today. As much as we love our parents, we likely won’t make the same choices for our own children. 

Before we can start treatment, our doctor said we must get the MMR, varicella, and TDaP vaccines. We will have to wait a month before starting our fertility treatment. While I’m happy to comply, the news about timing is a bummer. 

Chris’s work schedule also gets very busy in April/May, which concerns me a bit. Since Chris has no vas deferens, he has to get the MESA procedure done to get his sperm the same time as my egg retrieval. This may complicate things, but for now we just have to be patient. Cue the Jeopardy theme song…

Green Light at the Red

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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

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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.