It’s National Infertility Awareness Week – a week where many of us who have struggled with building a family speak out and raise awareness for the public health issue that is infertility. Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples trying to conceive. That is millions of people. I, myself, am one of those millions.
I had planned to write up a light-hearted post for National Infertility Awareness Week’s theme of #infertilityuncovered. In order to do that, I had to go back and reference my (numerous) cycles of TTC (trying to conceive), my many failed cycles, and some of my very darkest years. And then I realized that I couldn’t write a light-hearted post about my infertility journey because it is not light-hearted.
Infertility is full of heartbreak, disappointment, shame, regret, embarrassment. An abundance of tears, thrown-away pregnancy tests, blood work orders, needle sticks, internal ultrasounds. So many doctors and nurses seeing you at your worst – naked, vulnerable, desperate. It is both unbearable and motivating; devastating and strengthening.
The five years of actively TTC, attempting to achieve and maintain our first-ever pregnancy was a roller coaster – with many more downs than ups. Navigating gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, health insurance coverages and denials, and mail-order pharmacies was a full-time job.
We exhausted our options at our local, small fertility clinic (who had subpar success rates and doctors with terrible bedside manner). We had five IUIs (with injectible hormone medication), and a canceled sixth IUI – which was so devastating to have wasted our time and money on. We also had no real diagnosis – other than “unexplained infertility” – which doesn’t give any answers or provide a protocol.
Even though our health insurance did not cover IVF, nor could we afford the $20k price tag, I was bound and determined to have a baby. I dove into online infertility forums and blogs, scouring for any solutions, suggestions, advice. Amazingly, I found an IVF clinical trial based in NYC – 6 hours away from our home. This clinical trial would cover the costs of the procedures and doctor’s visits. The patients were responsible for paying for travel back and forth, and medication. After a lengthy application process, we were accepted! Our dark days were looking brighter.
The next eight months were a flurry of back and forth. I visited NYC for the first time, and then many more times after that. I quickly learned to navigate where I needed to go via bus, taxi, subway (all of these pretty new concepts to me, being a country girl!). We found great deals on lodging, and once stayed with a friend. Lots of local monitoring appointments as well, so not all of my blood work and ultrasounds required a trip to the city (thankfully!). Looking back, I’m so proud of my resourcefulness.
An egg retrieval and embryo transfer later, I was pregnant! Confirmed by no less than 40 pregnancy tests and some hcg blood tests. To say we were over the moon is honestly an understatement. This was our first pregnancy in FOUR years of trying! We did it!
Of course, I was cautiously optimistic. I knew that sometimes pregnancies don’t last. But we had been through so much, this just had to work! And just like that, I was 7 weeks pregnant and had my first ultrasound. It was the most amazing experience of my life, up until that point. Seeing and hearing our baby’s heartbeat was surreal, and we were on top of the world.
Clinical trial protocol required weekly ultrasounds at 7, 8, and 9 weeks. My husband accompanied me to the first two, but for the third one, he was unable due to work. I instead invited my parents, who were equally as excited as we were for their first grandchild!
And that is where I made a huge, rookie mistake. Never take your parents with you to an ultrasound.
Upon the ultrasound table, smiling and chatting with my parents, I hear the ultrasound technician say, “I’m not actually detecting a heartbeat”. This was eight years ago, and I still hear the words echoing in my head. After more than four years and countless wishes and hopes and prayers, our dream-come-true had an abrupt ending.
Miscarriages are so common (1 in 4 pregnancies end this way), yet that does not make them any easier to process. I retreated back to my place of darkness, pity, shame, and self-loathing – waiting for the opportunity to try again.
Another embryo transfer came and went with no success. I had only two frozen embryos remaining – and my desperation and sense of urgency were at an all-time high.
In the spring of 2012, I had my third FET (frozen embryo transfer) – and it was a success! I could not fully relax in this pregnancy until over halfway through, but thankfully it was smooth sailing. And in January of 2013, I welcomed my first baby boy into my arms – after nearly six years of yearning for that moment.
Infertility struggles are isolating. The journey can be long, and you can lose yourself, lose friends, lose hope. The constant fight is exhausting, and it often takes so much strength to just keep going. I often think of the quote, “When you are going through hell – just keep going”. Sometimes placing one foot in front of the other (metaphorically, and also literally at times) is all you can do to just stay afloat.
My journey with infertility did come with some positive things – I met friends who are still near and dear to me. They supported me through all of my ups and downs. IVF support groups were one way to help from feeling isolated, and a great way to find others going through the same steps that I was at the time. Online forums and Facebook groups were crucial for my mental health, as was taking breaks from social media, or from actively TTC at times.
I also grew so much as a person – and while at the time, I would have happily abandoned the growth and resilience I gained in lieu of my heart’s desire, the strength I discovered during this dark time was something I tapped in to when I faced another heartbreaking journey – this time the tragedy of infant loss.
We want to thank Kara for sharing her personal story. For additional information and support for your own infertility journey, please visit resolve.org.
Photo credit to Jessica Fike Photography