Five Stages of Grief

Last month we were approved to go ahead with our third embryo transfer. This time we were given a 70% chance of success. We thought those were pretty good odds. Our embryo was pre-genetically screened and deemed “normal.” It was a fair quality embryo and our only girl.

Our transfer went smoothly. Post-transfer, I obediently rested for two days on the couch and used the time to pick out baby girl nursery decor. Man, oh man, I found the absolute cutest, sweetest little girl items to decorate our home. As hard as it was, I obediently refrained from picking up my IVF miracle toddler (much to both our dismay) so we could protect his little sis. Chris gave me shot after shot after shot to help keep my hormones at the perfect levels for our little girl.

As many of you know, there’s not much to do during this time but daydream, so we thought about our daughter a ton. We talked about what she might be like. Chris has always been crazy about the Fourth of July, and her due date was set to be right around that time. He was thrilled. We shopped online for cute little outfits containing more ruffles, floral print, and bows so big they go all the way up to Jesus. We were so excited to become parents of a little girl.

Beta Day was the day before Halloween, and just like that, our hopes were crushed in one simple email. Negative. How was this happening to us again? I felt numb. The news simply wouldn’t sink into my brain. I talked about it with a hollowness in my voice. I couldn’t believe it was true. The tears wouldn’t fall. I couldn’t laugh. All my emotions were frozen. For nearly two weeks I was deep into the first stage of grief: disbelief.

A phone call snapped me out of it. A relative told me she was in the early stages of pregnancy. Due early July. Like we should have been too. Something inside me snapped and all the sudden the suppressed feelings hit me like a Mack truck. Our daughter was gone. There would be no Christmas pregnancy announcement. My belly would not swell with the growing life of my little girl. There would be no big bows, and floral prints. The perfect name we picked would never go to a child of ours. Mason would never have a sister. We were simultaneously bummed for someone telling us their happy news at such an sensitive time, and utterly depressed that infertility has us deep in the clutches once again. I laid on the couch and sobbed for most of the weekend.

The stages of grief are no joke. I feel like my emotions are a pinball machine, and I find myself bouncing from one thought to another. The same thing is happening to Chris and not at the same time. There’s not a lot we can do except feel what we feel and try not to judge our emotions. We still have some grieving to do. We’ve talked to our family therapist, and she’s supporting us through this time. To be honest, most people really don’t comprehend our pain. And why would they? It’s not something the majority of the population has any experience with. Most expect since we have Mason already, we will be fine. He definitely makes us so happy, and we are beyond thankful for him. But our life will always be different moving forward. Part of us will always feel the absence of our daughter. Time may help us heal, but it will never give her back to us.

Our clinic reviewed out charts. Since this is the second embryo we’ve lost that was expected to be a successful outcome, they’ve decided they want to try some new options with us in the future. They want to try an endometrial scratch prior to our next cycle. This brought me to another phase of grief: bargaining. If we’d tried this procedure prior to our transfer, would she still be with us right now? They’re ready for us to move forward at any time. My heart is still broken and in mourning for my daughter. I want to process this. I want to move forward. I’m terrified of another disappointment. It’s hard to say what our next step will be, or when. For now, we are just loving on each other, praying, and trying to find a sense of peace.

Debriefing and Doctor Shopping

It has been a little over two weeks since we received the call telling us our IVF cycle failed. We’ve experienced every emotion from anger to intense sorrow to hopelessness to resignation. I’m now finally able to look at moms and babies without tears welling in my eyes. The struggle has shifted. I find it hard to be happy for fertile people when I hear they are expecting. And trust me, there have been PLENTY of fertile people announcing pregnancies lately. It’s not that I’m not happy for them–I’m just overwhelmed by sadness for us. 

We discussed our failed cycle with our RE. He thinks our cycle was unsuccessful solely because of our sperm. He wants us to try another cycle with more stims (for more eggs and more embryos), and try fertilizing a few with donor sperm to see if my eggs can make it to the blastocyst stage when fertilized by different sperm. If they do, then we know for sure our sperm is to blame. If not, then it’s my eggs. To me, this approach sounds like an elementary school science experiment. 

Our urologist prescribed Clomid for Chris in combination with hardcore antioxidants (that make him sick) in order to boost his sperm motility and overall quality. The urologist advised Chris to take them a couple months before doing a fresh TESE, but our RE wants to drag it out for about 120 days. I don’t want to wait that long to move forward. Our communication with our RE’s office has been slow and frustrating. As you may recall, we’ve also had some rough experiences with them giving us incorrect info in the past. All these experiences finally culminated in me shopping around for another clinic. 

Today we met Dr. W. He seems incredibly confident in his abilities, and had a different take on why our cycle failed. When Dr. W heard that I have over 25 follicles pre-stims, he said that I have PCOS. Our last doctor toyed with that diagnosis, but never made it official. Dr. W also completely disagreed with the medication protocol I was on with the last clinic. He said it’s not a good protocol for someone who has PCOS, as it results in underdeveloped or overdeveloped eggs and possible hyperstimulation. He’d like to change my medications, and use the Lupron trigger instead of hCG before retrieval. Dr. W also thinks my egg quality is probably the main reason we aren’t getting pregnant. He said sperm rarely are the culprit–only about 2% of the time. 

This new clinic is huge with tons of people on staff who are all very friendly. They gave us time and attention, and encouraged us to ask questions. The staff provided an abundance of information, and seemed to want us to understand the process. That’s a huge change from our previous clinic. We have a good feeling about this new place. We don’t know if we’re going to succeed, but at the very least we’d like a positive change of scenery. So it’s official–we’ll keep the same urologist, but we’re changing clinics and REs. We don’t have an official start date yet, but likely July or August. 

 

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.