Infertility and Assisted Reproduction
Personal Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss
I could never imagine myself not being a mother. I always wanted a large family like my own. I’m one of five children, my mother is one of nine, and her mother was one of twelve. I figured the hard part would be not getting pregnant. My mother had become pregnant with me when my older sister was nine weeks old.
When we started trying to become pregnant four months before our wedding, we expected that I would be pregnant on our wedding day. After all, I was still a few years shy of 30. I was in my prime childbearing years. I imagined sneaking a pregnancy announcement into our slideshow at the reception. I bought cards that would congratulate our parents on being grandparents for the first time. None of our siblings planned on having children, so the pressure was on us.
When our wedding day rolled around, I was still not pregnant. I wasn’t worried yet -- didn’t they say it can take 6 months of trying to become pregnant? My friends gave me baby gifts at my bachelorette party. I was sure I would become pregnant on our honeymoon.
When our honeymoon was over, we flew home on Mother’s Day. My period was late. My husband rubbed my belly on the plane ride home, since we were sure I must be pregnant. I dutifully waited until day 34 of my cycle to take a test, just as my doctor told me. I was shocked when it was negative. I had already bought a teddy bear and some pregnancy magazines. I started bleeding the next day. I cried with disappointment.
When a couple of our friends announced their pregnancies not too long after, I wondered why them and not me? We had been trying for much longer than they had.
Two months later, and still not pregnant, I bought a $200 ovulation predictor kit. My cycles had always been like clockwork, with the exception of my post-honeymoon cycle. The kit showed that my hormone levels were rising on the correct day every month, and my cervical mucus showed ovulation. Why wasn’t I becoming pregnant?
After 9 months, I saw my family doctor, sure there must be something wrong with me. She tested my thyroid and it was normal. Sometimes it can take 12 months, she said. If not, come back in three or four months.
By this time, I was worried. I started searching websites for women trying to conceive and reading blogs about infertility. I learned that it is recommended that if a woman under 35 isn’t pregnant after 12 months, an infertility workup should be done. I started anticipating the worst, while my husband tried to reassure me it would all be fine, it just takes time. I did not feel fine, though. I felt sad and cried frequently. I dreaded friends’ pregnancy announcements.
When the 12 month mark came and went, I saw my family doctor again. She sent my husband for a semen analysis. This was humiliating for him. It came back perfectly normal. My doctor sent me home with a chart and requested me to take my basal body temperature every morning. I kicked myself for not doing this earlier. I hadn’t thought it was necessary if I was using the ovulation predictor kit. I had sentenced myself to three more months of waiting and not knowing.
In the meantime, two more friends announced their pregnancies, and one friend who had become pregnant 5 months after we started trying gave birth. I was shocked at how much they affected me. I stayed in bed and cried all day after the second one. I felt like a terrible friend, full of envy.
I only charted my temperature for two months. I was tired of waiting to find out what was wrong with us. My charts showed a small rise at ovulation, but a slow one. My doctor initially thought I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, even though I had none of the classic signs. She prescribed 50 mg of Clomid, to stimulate ovulation for 3 months.
I used it for one cycle. It failed. By now it had been 15 months. I wanted more testing before using more medication. What if my tubes were blocked? Then the medication would be useless.
I made an appointment with an OB who worked closely with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). She performed a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), which showed that my tubes were clear. She said I had “sluggish ovulation”- whatever that meant. She prescribed another 2 months of Clomid, this time at the 100 mg dose.
Those two months were unsuccessful as well. We were sent to the RE. My husband and I each had blood work done. All the tests were normal. My ovaries looked normal. Our official diagnosis was “unexplained infertility.” We were told that it doesn’t mean there isn’t an explanation - it’s just that medicine hasn’t found one yet.
Our RE told us the statistics showed that with our diagnosis, if you can call it that, we had only had a 3-4% chance of conceiving on our own every month, compared to a 20% chance for a fertile person. Our RE wanted to try one more Clomid cycle, this time combined with an intrauterine insemination (IUI), where he would inject my husband’s sperm into my uterus. After that, he would try up to three cycles of having me inject myself with a gonadotropin to stimulate my ovaries and a shot of the HCG hormone at ovulation time to stimulate my ovary to release an egg, followed by an IUI of my husband’s sperm that would be collected the day of the insemination. If that didn’t work, he suggested surgery to look around my pelvis for endometriosis, even though I had no symptoms of it. In-vitro fertilization would be the last resort.
I was devastated again. The RE was the third doctor I had seen over a 6 month period. I was crying every day. I had had almost a dozen pelvic exams already in those 6 months for all the testing and each time I saw a new doctor. Every IUI cycle would require frequent vaginal ultrasounds. The vaginal ultrasound wand looked like a dildo and was covered with a condom. I felt violated already by the constant prying into my private parts. I agreed to the Clomid/IUI cycle, but didn’t know if I could bear going through both injecting myself every day with hormones, and every other day blood work and vaginal ultrasounds if it failed. Our sex life was ruined. My husband was under pressure to perform, knowing that if I felt we lost our small chance that month, I would be a basket-case. I had no desire, but wanted my husband to “get it over with” so I wouldn’t lose our tiny change at pregnancy.
I dragged my husband to an international adoption seminar. We found out that it costs $15,000 to over $30,000, depending on the country. Neither of our companies offered adoption assistance. We had a friend who had attempted domestic adoption and had a birth parent change their mind. I already felt full of grief and knew I would not be able to emotionally handle loving a child and then losing him or her. We had some savings, but the cost of international adoption was far more than we had. We weren’t poor, but such a cost would be beyond our means without taking out a loan or maxing out a credit card. Our insurance fortunately covered the testing of infertility, surgery, medications, ultrasounds, blood work, and the IUIs. The gonadotropins alone cost $1500 per cycle. It would not cover IVF if we needed it, calling it an “experimental treatment,” even though it’s been done for decades. We couldn’t afford both the IVF plus an adoption.
We decided to proceed with the Clomid/IUI cycle. We both had to take time off work on the day of the IUI, and I also had to go in several mornings beforehand for ultrasounds and blood work. I had two follicles growing with the medication. I was full of hope. Surely this had to work.
I was devastated again when my period came 2 weeks later. We decided to proceed with the RE’s plan for an injectible medication/IUI cycle. I spent 3 days crying on the phone, trying to figure out the approval process of our insurance company. We had to take a month off to allow my ovaries to rest. During that rest cycle, I spontaneously became pregnant. The RE could offer no solid explanation why, after 20 months and 4 treatment cycles, I became pregnant on my own. He chalked it up to the previous months of Clomid “priming” my ovaries.
I was excited but cautious. I no longer trusted my body to do what it was supposed to do. I had an ultrasound every two weeks at the RE’s office to make sure there was a heartbeat and a growing baby. That meant more vaginal ultrasounds, but I didn’t care. It felt like torture to wait the two weeks in between ultrasounds.
At 10 weeks, I was released to an OB’s care.
Before my infertility experience, I had wanted a homebirth, but everything changed afterwards. My trust in my body was gone. I went to an OB/midwife group that was very trustful of women’s bodies and childbirth, and thankfully they were also understanding of the extra anxiety I carried. That anxiety led me to calling the office in a panic in between regular appointments. My pregnancy was normal, but my son stopped moving at term. He was alive, but I ended up with a c-section to save his life. It was like the icing on the cake. My body will never act like a normal woman’s. I’m not sure I can ever regain that trust.
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