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.

 

 

IVF #2: Beta #2

We spoke with our clinic yesterday, and they informed us that my hCG levels are rising appropriately! Yay!!! On Friday my hCG was at 7,008. That was a huge relief to hear! It means little Casper appears to be growing at a healthy, normal rate. They also said that my progesterone and estrogen levels are within normal range, so I should continue taking my medication as prescribed. 

The progesterone has made me feel so incredibly backed up. My stomach isn’t the happiest right now. All day I’ve been drinking lots of water and eating high fiber foods in an effort to counteract what’s going on. Hopefully it’ll ease up soon. 

My morning sickness seems to be coming and going. I read an article today that said morning sickness symptoms include lightheadedness, and exhaustion. I’ve definitely been feeling those. I’ve only thrown up about three times since finding out that we were pregnant, but I feel nauseated at least once a day. It may sound weird, but that’s an incredibly comforting symptom to feel. I actually feel more at ease when I’m nauseous and throwing up than I do when I feel totally fine!

We get to see baby Casper via ultrasound on Tuesday. I will only be five weeks and six days at that point, so I’m trying not to get my hopes up that we’ll see much. It’s still really exciting to think that in a couple of days we will be able to see our baby’s growth and progress!

IVF #2: Beta #1 Results

I’ve been peeing on sticks for the past few days like it’s my job. Today we finally got to hear it from the pros…

We are pregnant!

Somebody please pinch me! I cannot believe it. 

Our beta came back at 573. They’ll test me again in exactly a week to see if the numbers are doubling every 48 hours like they should. 

In the movie Casper, Casper goes into the Lazarus to bring himself back to life, but the villains steal the special solution and he turns out looking kind of like a fried egg. Well, to me, that’s what our embaby looked like on the day of transfer. So, that’s what we’ll call our little sticky bean on the blog, “Casper.” 

Casper and Baby Hopeful

He sure is cute. We can’t wait to meet him in nine months. 💙

IVF #2: FET Day!

Chris and I slept poorly last night thinking about our frozen embryo transfer today. We wake up bleary-eyed at the indecent five o’clock hour (good practice for kids right?) and make our way to the reproductive center. Traffic is near gridlock, so we come skidding into the parking lot about five minutes late. We sign in at 7:50, and wait for them to call us back for our 8:30 transfer.

Ok, so I know we are a little late, but they are running much later than us. Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much. However, with an embryo transfer, they require you to come with a full bladder. I’m starting to think my bladder is weak sauce because at about 8:45 (still no call back) I start thinking I’m going to piss myself in the swanky lobby chairs. Chris starts to see that panicked look in my eyes, and says he’s going to go find a nurse. They tell me it’ll be at least another 30 minutes, so they ask me to “partly” empty my bladder. I probably looked at the nurse with that same sideways expression my dogs give me when they hear a high-pitched noise. So she explains I should start to pee, count to ten, and shut it down. After that, I feel much better, and we go back to the swanky chairs to wait some more.

A nurse calls us back, asks us to sign the waivers, and then tells me I should undress from the waist-down and get under a sheet on the hospital bed. They provided me with some sexy rubber-grip hospital socks, but I brought some of my own.

 

My hopeful socks!

 
The nurse walks in and tells me she’s going to look at my bladder. She squirts the clear ultrasound goo on my lower stomach region, and begins pressing like hell with the ultrasound into my oh-still-very-full bladder. She tells me how perfect the fullness is (uh, yeah lady, I can feel that it’s full). Meanwhile, our doctor walks in, greets us, tilts the hospital bed so my feet are in the air, goes to the end of the bed and flips my sheet back. I know they are used to seeing the goods, but I was so bashful lying there with my cookie hanging out. He proceeds to spread my legs, grab a speculum, and do the regular gyno routine, and then insert the catheter through my cervix.

The nurse called the embryologist, and she loaded our chosen embryo into a syringe. We decided to go with our top rated male. The moments while we waited for her to come in were probably the most awkward since no one in the room really had a job to do, and I was lying there feeling pretty exposed. Soon enough our embryologist came in, and the injected our little boy through the catheter and into my uterus.

Not the clearest pic, but here is our embaby in his new home.

Our embryo is a handsome little guy by IVF standards. He’s rated a 6AA on the Gardner Blastocyst Grading Scale, which I was really pleased to learn is the best rating an embryo can receive. The 6 means he’s a hatched blastocyst. The first “A” means his inner cells are tightly packed (this part becomes the fetus), and the second “A” means his TE cells are plentiful and form a cohesive layer (this part becomes the placenta). This is light years better than our only blastocyst in our first failed IVF cycle. We are thrilled.

Baby Hopeful’s first picture–you can see clearly that he’s hatched from his shell. 🙂

I feel like a drug addict, but we added ANOTHER pill today. In addition to my estrogen shots and progesterone lozenges and suppositories, now I’m taking methylprednisone. This is supposed to help prevent my body from rejecting the embryo so it can attach.

All in all, good news to report today. Our doctor said my endometrium looked great, the transfer was flawless, and we have a perfect embryo. He said it’s all up to my body at this point. So come on, body, let’s get pregnant!

 

IVF #2: Prepping for Transfer (aka Shots in the Butt)

Chris is now a pseudo-nurse. Tonight will be his third time administering a shot of Delestrogen into the muscle of my upper buttocks. I knighted him as shot-giver since that’s a pretty tough area to inject on yourself. I was going to try it, because I’d way rather give myself my own injections, but the angle is a little tricky.

The first time, it was a super smooth process. I didn’t even really feel it, and I was surprised when Chris told me it was over. The only downside is it bled quite a bit. I couldn’t get the injection site to stop bleeding for about 15-20 minutes. Finally, after lots of pressure, it quit. The second injection stung so badly–it felt like a hot poker into one of my nerves. The upside was there was no blood at all. Go figure.

This weekend I went to another Resolve meeting. This one was only women, and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives of the women there. The girl next to me shared that the synthetic hormones make her incredibly depressed. I totally related and connected to that sentiment. Although the stim phase never seems to affect me, the shots of estrogen, which I’ve never had in the past, seem to be doing a number on me emotionally. I’m ready for this process to be over.

I am beyond nervous about transfer. I am so terrified of getting another negative beta. I can’t even describe how traumatizing that would be. I am so afraid that this is going to destroy me emotionally if it doesn’t work out. The fear is almost paralyzing. It’s hard to be positive, because there’s so much riding on these results. I don’t know what to do. Every day I worry about the success or failure of our transfer. It’s a huge weight on my shoulders.

After doing lots of research, and speaking with my OB/GYN, I am definitely leaning towards transferring two embryos, while Chris is leaning towards transferring one. We intend to talk to our RE in further detail next time we see him. Even though we aren’t on the same page with our desires for transfer, Chris and I are getting along well. We are definitely able to talk about it without any frustration or argument.

Total random sidenote: I don’t know what to call this transfer. It’s technically our second frozen embryo transfer, but it’s also our second complete IVF cycle. So do we call it IVF #2: FET #1 or is it IVF #2: FET #2?

Either way, I hope it’s our last!

IVF #2: Quick Follicle Update

My follies are getting close, but need at least one more night of stims, according to our RE at our ultrasound appointment today. He said we have 16 growing, which is a healthy number. He said couples with the greatest success in IVF typically have 7-15 follicles, so we’re almost in the “sweet spot.” These are odds in our favor we will happily accept. Come on, lucky 16!

An update on the Ganirelix: the medication doesn’t hurt at all, but I find the needle to be somewhat dull. It’s hard to puncture the skin, and isn’t very comfortable to fully insert, or withdraw. For a medication that is over $100 per syringe, you’d think they could improve it a bit.

My stomach is really sore from all the pokes, and I’m looking nice and bloated so I’d love to wrap it up soon. Our egg retrieval and TESE procedures will likely take place on Friday of this week if all looks good at our follow-up ultrasound tomorrow. Please send good thoughts our way!

Mr. Hopeful Opens Up

“It’s OK, Cornelius. You can cry.”

Earlier today, my wife and I attended our first peer-led infertility support group. She found the group on Resolve’s website, and it just so happened that today they were encouraging spouses, husbands, and partners to join in. The meeting itself was held in an unassuming two-story community center with ample parking, a neatly-trimmed hedgerow, and two long, deep trenches in the sidewalk from where my heels had gouged the concrete as my wife dragged me in the side door by my shirt collar.

Am I supportive of my lovely bride? Absolutely; I’d march straight down to hell and bite the tongue off the devil if she asked me to. But was I excited for the support group? Not in the least. It’s not that I’m not a social person, but I really don’t like being put on the spot. During our drive to the support group, I imagined myself sitting in the middle of a circle full of coffee-swilling strangers, being peppered by questions about my infertility. And for a knuckle-dragging Alpha-male like myself, exposing to strangers my inability to reproduce is leaps and bounds more embarrassing than showing up in my boxers would have been. Maybe I would have felt differently if I wasn’t the reason that we are doing all of this in the first place, but as it were I was perfectly content to keep my support group attendance in the same category as my vas deferens—ABSENT!

Now, to Quentin Tarantino this story and jump to the end, I walked out of the meeting 90 minutes later and delivered to my wife the four simple words that every woman in the world delights in hearing: “You were right, dear.” As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the support group. In no way was it like any of the support groups in Fight Club; nobody put me on the spot, there was no coffee, and I didn’t end up having to hug any strangers (no offense to strangers, I’m just kinda partial to my boundaries).

The truth is that the meeting was amazing in that it made me realize that there are other people out there who feel the same way that my wife and I do. Looking back, this sense of community shouldn’t have been as astonishing as it was, but I truly was caught off guard by how safe I felt the minute the talking started. As each individual and couple took turns sharing their story, I felt less like an alien and more….well, normal, I suppose. Those of you who are infertile can probably relate to the feeling of seeing children in public and feeling like an outcast, a misfit, and a failure. But when surrounded by others who are dealing with similar situations, I began to see that while there was a lot of sadness in the various individuals in the room, there was also a ton of strength. Each and every couple that spoke had clearly been tempered by the fires of loss and despair, and yet had bounced back up to try again (and, in some cases, again and again and again). My heart broke as many of the women burst into tears while talking, and yet I was encouraged by the compassion that everyone in that room showed. These may have been strangers, but they clearly had each others’ backs—and ours.

When it came time for us to share our story, my wife gave me an encouraging nod and I began recounting our journey, beginning with the phone call from our doctor on my 30th birthday letting me know that I had zero sperm. Interestingly enough, I sensed that I had more in common with most of the women in the room than the men, simply because the majority of the couples there were dealing with female infertility. I’d like to think that I gave the dudes some insight into how to hold their wives emotionally—primarily because I’ve got a bit of training in this regard, and also due to the fact that my wife has been such a complete and total rockstar throughout this process, having handled me in a very loving and empathetic manner and never once causing me to feel guilty or blamed for our infertility. One thing that was cool was that after I spoke, another husband in the room shared his story of infertility, and as he was talking I was reminded that I am not the only man on the planet who cannot have children the ‘natural way’. I understood what this guy had gone through, quite possibly better than his own wife in some ways because I could connect with the roller-coaster that we had both been on individually. Finding another person who had endured this pain and survived was strangely comforting, and I could feel the icy wall of isolation that I’ve felt for the past few months begin to melt away a tiny bit.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this experience. Previously, any sense of community that I’ve felt during this process has been limited to online blogs and awkward, wordless encounters with other patients in our IVF clinics. But to sit at a table (not a circle of chairs, mind you) and discuss the issue with other living, breathing humans who truly understand what we’re going through was a very good feeling. As we exited the parking lot, I was struck by a profound thought: every single person in that room who showed up to participate would make an award-winning parent.

I pray to God that each and every one of us gets that chance.

IVF #2: Feeling the Love…and the Burn!

The gate has officially dropped on our second cycle, and we are in the full swing of stimulation injections. Today is day two of stims, and this time around my injections are much more intense than they were in our first cycle.

For now, I have two injections per day (our doctor will likely add more on Friday). First, I take .25ml of Omnitrope, which is a growth hormone that is sometimes prescribed to patients with previous failed IVF cycles. I administer this dose with an insulin needle, and it is super easy, and nearly painless.

The itty, bitty Omnitrope

My next shot is a little more complex. I feel like I should be on an episode of Breaking Bad as I mix up a pretty potent concoction of 300iu of Bravelle and 75iu of Menopur with 2ml of diluent. This one is not as kind to administer. Thanks to the Menopur it burns the whole time I’m injecting it.  It also leaves my stomach feeling pretty sore around the injection site even by the next day.

The big Daddy shot

I’m reacting well to the medicine so far. I felt a little lightheaded throughout the day today, but otherwise normal. I walked the short distance from our house to the nearest grocery store this evening, and I could already feel my ovaries were a little sore. I can’t wait to see what I’m going to feel like in a week or so. 😉

In other news, one of my best friends did something so nice that really lifted my spirits. I’ve been talking to her a lot about my feelings on IVF and life in general. She’s an awesome listener, and is incredibly empathetic.Today we got together for lunch at a cute new café in town and she gave me a gift. I opened the wrapping to find an adorable handmade journal.

The cover of my new journal–this girl gets it!

My friend’s grandmother gave her a gratitude journal when she was a young girl, and encouraged her to jot down the things she felt grateful for. The act of recording her gratitude made a profound impact on her life, and she still keeps a journal today. The journal my friend gave me already has some awesome quotes on the pages, and she left me some blank pages to fill with my own gratitude or inspiration. I’m an avid quote pinner on Pinterest, so I will have a blast transcribing my most-loved quotes onto the pages of my new journal. I love the quotes my friend picked out, so I will end with some of my favorites.

  

💗

IVF #2: Here We Go Again!

Blood draw this morning (hence the pretty, color-coordinated bandage) gave us the OK to start!

We knew it was coming, but somehow this second round really snuck up on us. We’ve been out of town for about a month (Chris was on business, and I tagged along), so our minds were pleasantly elsewhere. I feel like we are finally starting to get closure on the horrendous toll our first IVF cycle took on us. After everything we’ve been through for the past couple of months, I know a fresh start is a good thing.  

Speaking of fresh starts, so far I’m impressed with the new clinic we’re using. I did a drop in for a blood draw today to check my estradiol and progesterone levels. I walked in the door, signed myself in, and a nurse called me back in less than two minutes. I was out of the office and on my way in no time at all. They haven’t charged us anything yet, either. I was totally willing to take out the wallet and fork over the dough today, but they were super nice and said “No need to pay today, your blood draw will be included with your cycle.” Well, alrighty then.

My nurse called my medicine in to the pharmacy in a timely fashion (I didn’t have to remind her once). These details probably sound like very basic things to most IVF patients, but our last clinic was not nearly as courteous. It’s really nice to be pleasantly surprised so far this time around. 

In order to have (hopefully) better success this cycle, we’ve both been on some supplements for the past couple months. Chris has been taking Clomid and Naturally Smart to stimulate his sperm production. I’ve been taking prenatals, CoQ10, DHA, and folic acid. Tonight I start these bad boys:  

Dun dun DUNNN…birth control pills!

I should be starting stims at the end of this month. If I said I was looking forward to another round of stims, I would be lying to you. I still haven’t lost the weight I gained from our last round. I’ve been kindly referring to myself as “skinny-fat.” In other words, I’m a petite person who looks like she could probably stand to tone up and shed a few pounds. Am I going to stress over a little vanity weight? No. Will I be upset if I gain more? Likely. If I have a baby from this will I really care? Not a chance.  

About two months ago (on the day we found out our cycle failed), I deleted my Facebook account. It has been INCREDIBLY liberating. People keep asking me why I did it. The honest answer is I was sick and tired of baby announcements. I’m also completely fed up with Facebook being treated like a digital baby book–it’s like all baby pictures all the time. I’ll be the first person to admit I’m crazy-jealous when I see those pictures. But I also think it’s really excessive. If I’m friends with someone on Facebook, I don’t want to see 250 pictures a week of their newborn infant, as cute as he or she is. Some people really don’t know when to stop. So it’s nice to be away from that. When people ask me why I got off Facebook, I’ve been giving them a variety of reasons. Depending upon how close I am with the person, and whether or not they’re guilty of the aforementioned atrocities will determine whether I’m honest with my answer. 😉 Really though, Facebook was a waste of time, and let’s be honest, I was on there way too much. I’d rather see people face-to-face, and have real relationships with my friends. 

Another random musing, I find it interesting that it’s effortless to be happy for certain pregnant people, and really difficult to be happy for others. For me, I find it really varies upon the person, and how they approach the topic, along with whether or not I deem them to be “worthy” (subjective much? Yeah, I know). If people announce they’re expecting and they’re not married, and have an “oops,” I find that pretty difficult to reconcile. If they’ve been married for a few years, are responsible people, and break the news to me in a sensitive way, then typically I’m pretty cool with it. It doesn’t mean I don’t have my jealous moments, but I figure that’s normal. 

Overall, I feel like I’m finally starting to heal from our failed cycle. I moved on from feeling emotionally dead, and past the intense heartbreak that followed. Now I can go out in public and see parents and children together and not feel like my heart is about to burst. I’m not 100%, though. I am still finding it difficult to see baby bumps, and infants still pull on my heart strings. The scared part of me wonders if we never have a child, if these feelings of jealousy and hurt will ever go away. The hopeful part of me is holding tightly to the idea that this may be the last IVF cycle I ever have to do. 🍃