For the last six years I was in a rut. Full of darkness and unanswered questions haunting me. In the last two years my husband and I have struggled to find those answers. In today’s society it is hush-hush for those of us who have these problems; we often feel ashamed or feel useless, but today I break my silence. Today I talk about the hardships we have faced and how we have overcome our greatest challenge – with A LOT of wine and many dark days of doubt.
We are 1. We are the 1 in 8 couples that struggles with infertility and 1 in 4 women who have miscarried. I cannot express enough to others in this chapter that you are not alone. I wish people would talk about infertility more often. I cried every Mother’s Day, every Facebook pregnancy announcement, every time someone would tell me they were having another baby when I have been trying since before their first baby even existed. There is not a lot of research about infertility or Premature Ovarian Failure for women in their early 20’s. There is no explanation to comfort the young and unfortunate. Everyone loves to use the “You’re young, you have time” cliche, but that’s not always the case. Fertility problems have become more out there in society but it isn’t always taken seriously, or worse the information is misunderstood. My disease is not killing me, but it has ripped 5 beautiful souls away from me. It has taken a toll on my body, marriage, family, and destroyed happiness.
We got married at the young age of 19. I felt so lucky God had given me “my person” so early in life. Once a couple (especially at our age) gets married, it is very common for people to assume it was because we’ve either got a bun in the oven, or to think that we will be those people who are so silly and immature we simply can’t understand the concept of “protection”, and therefore will soon have that oven baking. From the moment we got married, the questions came in like a tsunami… “When are you getting pregnant?” “Do you want kids?” “Why don’t you get pregnant?” and so on. Most people mean well, but in our situation, the thoughtless questions brought pain – because of what they didn’t know.
The truth is in the last 2 years whenever someone would ask me why we don’t have kids yet, my heart breaks a little more every time. When someone would think we were pregnant because we do family photo’s every year and then try convince me they know I’m pregnant and it’s ok to tell just them; when we go to family gatherings and I’m told, “You should have a kid – even though you think you’re not ready there is never a time you’re ready – you just have to jump”. I’ve been ready for years. When my great grandfather would look at my husband and ask what is wrong with him because I’m not a waddling human incubator yet, my heart breaks. Little did they know, I ran to the bathroom following those conversations to have anxiety attacks, shaking with tears overflowing, hating myself, hating the very people who mean well but are too ignorant to realize sometimes things don’t go as planned? I’d go to bed with this pit in my stomach reminding me that this insane pressure is slowly suffocating my ability to sleep, think, eat, and communicate.
I have been lectured by family, friends, and even strangers about how we should have a family. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone young wants to have a family right off the bat. We have goals, dreams, ambitions, sometimes the timing isn’t right, not because the couple doesn’t want to have a family but just in the 3 years I’ve been married we have moved 6 times, faced 2 deployments (6 months each), and honestly it wasn’t top of the list right after we signed the dotted line. Although my one true desire growing up was/is to be a mother, we had no reason to rush. The insane amount of pressure that is put on couples to immediately procreate honestly makes me want pour a very large margarita and swallow 12 birth control pills in front of those who try to shove it into every conversation (don’t take 12 birth controls pills, that’s a no-no.) Despite the pressure, we had our own timeline, and we stuck to it.
Fast forward, my husband was returning home from his deployment in the Middle East. It had been a long 6 months apart but we were hopeful for our future because this was the time we’d been waiting for. We were going to start our family when he came home. We had already lost 3 pregnancies that were a result of birth control failure (yes, I’m that 1%), although unplanned, we hurt when we lost those angels. We also knew it would probably be difficult to get pregnant and stay pregnant. November was our first month officially trying to conceive.
We did it! That first month, in complete shock, I peed on a stick the day after Thanksgiving and then I ran to my husband with tears in my eyes. We did it, we actually made a baby. This was my 4th pregnancy but our first true attempt, and excitement overflowed. We went to our ultrasounds giddy, and with holidays coming up we decided at a very early point in the pregnancy to announce. On Christmas day (2014) we shared our news with our friends and family. They were excited, we were too. Then at our 8w4d ultrasound the baby looked just as small as our 6w4d ultrasound looked, and they couldn’t find a heartbeat. I had my first missed miscarriage.
Our world shattered. Most of it was blacked out, but I remember my amazing OBGYN looking down, he grabbed my knee, shook his head, closed his eyes and said “I’m so so sorry.” I knew it was over. I knew the baby needed to be bigger. Jared jumped up the second the doctor left the room and held me while I screamed and shook uncontrollably.
Telling the world we had lost that baby destroyed me, because I knew it meant if we ever got pregnant again, I’d have this fear, a fear that I’d look up at the ultrasound screen and see that my future child wouldn’t have a beating heart. After 3 miscarriages I already had a terror of going to the bathroom and seeing blood. I was hoping it was because we weren’t trying in the past, I thought it wasn’t meant to be back then but this one we tried for, this one we dreamed about, this one I had no excuse for why it went wrong. I truly thought prior losses were because I didn’t know and wasn’t on prenatal vitamins… but this time that wasn’t the case. I was on my vitamins, I was taking care of my body, I wasn’t using contraceptives. How could this happen?
My first public miscarriage showed me who my true friends were. Although people were sympathetic to my loss, ignorance had also come along my way. I had friends ask “What did you do wrong to cause this?” “Maybe you should wait another year?” or the typical “Everything happens for a reason” cliché. I believe in that stupid cliché too, however when you lose someone, that’s not the right time to say it. If someone got cancer would you say ‘Everything happens for a reason?’ NO. You wouldn’t. I know they’re trying to be supportive, but to those people I just need to say this, you really suck. While my child bled out of me I didn’t want to hear your optimistic clichés. I needed a friend to show up at my door and hug me until my tears stop. I didn’t want them to say anything, I just wanted them to be there, maybe share my pain a little.
After a few weeks of bleeding, I thought it was close to done. My husband wanted to cheer me up and took me to Disneyland. The night we got there I was wakened by a new wave of hemorrhaging. By 3am, I was unable to form words – the pain was unbearable. I lifted the blankets and saw that I was surrounded by blood. I called my mom and woke up Jared. He had to carry me out of the hotel (super sorry to the house keeper, that was like a murder scene, seriously I’m SO SO sorry.) I spent the next 6 hours in the hospital with large amounts of morphine, or as I like to call it, my one true friend. That night was full of misery, mortification, and pain (and a really lousy radiologist). Drugged and exhausted, our anticipated vacation had begun with a horrific continuation of my body trying to shed our lost baby. Two weeks later I officially stopped miscarrying. Our 4th pregnancy journey was over.
We went back to my OBGYN and he wanted to run some tests. He knew my history and was concerned. We did a typical panel that checked for blood clotting mutations, hoping to figure out why I kept losing babies. While waiting for the results, we took our very long overdue honeymoon on our 1 ½ year anniversary – Hawaii! It was beautiful and the best vacation. I was able to relax and just enjoy. While we were there, we got the phone call that we were approved to start trying again, however I had tested positive for MTHFR A1298C mutation, which meant my body has a blood clotting disorder that could lead to strokes, heart attacks, but more importantly my body doesn’t absorb Folic Acid or Vitamin B. We decided that for our 5th pregnancy I would be on a blood thinner injection called Lovenox. I’d have to inject it into my stomach every day until 12 weeks, and we needed a folate friendly prenatal. This helped our confidence, and as we just happened to be ovulating while in Hawaii… 2 weeks later we learned we had brought home a special souvenir.
My first attempt of jabbing a needle into my stomach took 2 hours, a very long phone call with a diabetic friend, and a gallon of orange juice. I had thought putting the needle in was the tough part, but that medicine BURNED. Holy Guacamole. Overcoming my first medical hurdle, I thought I was golden. My parents came out to San Diego shortly after and we got to tell them I was pregnant again. SO EXCITED!! We all went shopping, bought some baby clothes and starting thinking of baby shower themes and other fun events. About 2 hours after they left, I went to the bathroom… sure enough. One day before my scheduled ultrasound, I was bleeding. Our 5th pregnancy journey was over.
I had a hard time accepting that we had yet another miscarriage. The emotional toll of 5 losses was difficult. I don’t think I truly took the time to get over it. But then my OBGYN called and wanted me to check out a fertility specialist. It’s not every day a 21 year old can’t stay pregnant. I was so driven to just have a baby that we jumped into the next appointment; I don’t even think I was done bleeding.
March 25th 2015 we met the amazing Dr. Shelly. Paid the (huge) fee to book her, and ended with a whopping bill for the testing package that would be completed within the next few weeks. Optimistic and nervous, we completed every stupid test. Roughly 30 needles, countless test tubes of blood, and a sonohystogram later, we finally had our “result consultation”. My AMH was 0.76 and AFC was 10. Basically, my ovaries were about 46 years old. With premature menopause on the horizon (family history of hemorrhaging and hysterectomies in their mid-20’s) we were very concerned about how much time I actually had before carrying a baby wouldn’t even be an option.
Overwhelmed and financially drained (all out of pocket, insurance covered NOTHING) we were stuck. Our only option was to do IVF. The plan was pull a bank job, leave an I Owe You note and do 2 back to back IVF cycles, collecting as many eggs as they could get, then fertilizing them and sending them off for genetic testing (PGS). All I needed was $60,000. Which every 20-something has lying around, of course. We were blessed to have my parents be in a position to help.
May 2015 we decided to proceed with our first In-vitro Cycle. I was on 3 different injections a day, all in my stomach. Gonal F, Centrotide and Micro HCG. We stimmed for 11 Days. We went to our clinic every other day for ultrasounds to see if my follicles were growing and bloodwork. We began with 6 follicles, but my left ovary disappeared and we were shooting in the dark, we could only see 3. Although low numbers, they did not cancel our cycle. June 15th 2015 we had our first Egg Retrieval surgery. I woke up at 4am hormonal and crazy. It was the big day we had hoped and prayed for. After the procedure, I woke to the sound of the doctors, my husband and my mother talking. Drugged and adorable as all could be, I muttered ‘Howmanyeggs?’ They said 3 eggs. To me, this was wonderful. 3 eggs wow! Silly oblivious naive 20-something. We had the next 6 days to wait for fertilization report, we got 3 fertilized (way to go Jared!) Day 3 – only 2 progressed to appropriate size. Day 5 – only 1 survived, they froze him and we were over the moon.
June 23rd we went back in for our next cycle protocol. Unbelievably overwhelming. We were adding more shots and stimming longer and adding estrogen, testosterone gels and patches. I had already gained 20lbs from the first round of hormones. But we did what we had to do. We knew if we wanted a family, this is how we’d get it. I began my estrace pills 2x a day June 28th. My testosterone gel and androderm patches followed. 2 of the longest weeks ever, or so I thought. This round we changed my diet, added egg quality vitamins and uterine lining vitamins and did acupuncture. My injections began July 17th 2015. Eventually my stomach turned black and blue; it became harder to find spots to jab.
We had 11 follicles growing on our first checkup. This was AMAZING. I had no idea I would ever hear that high of a number (average ladies my age could get 20-50). The number became 13 on our next visit. Seriously peed myself with excitement. This was it, we were going to have a family! July 29th we had our 2nd Egg Retrieval surgery. Anesthesia was flowing and out I go. Afterwards, doped and gorgeous, I muttered “Howmanyeggs?” Big smiles everywhere. TEN! I cried. Such a difference from our first cycle. Surviving the hormones and struggling with the possibility we’d never have kids was incredibly difficult. I had a really hard recovery after this surgery, and as a result of pure awesomeness, I developed cysts, lots of them. I currently have them every day since the surgery. During our 6 day wait we had 7 fertilize, and 6 make it to the freezer for genetic testing. A total of 7 Embryos that could be our children.
August 14th 2015 approached, the day we’d find out if we had genetically normal babies. Jared was optimistic and said 5, I was negative Nancy and said 0. The drive to the specialist felt like hours. We sat in silence; I couldn’t wait for Jared to tell me I had nothing to worry about. Dr. Shelly came in. Out of the 7 embryos, 4 boy and 3 girls, none of our babies were healthy. My specialist watched me carefully; it was the first time I broke down in public. She said the chances of me ever having ‘My” baby was one in a billion. My egg quality is no good, which is why we lost the others. I would never have a genetic child.I’d never have a baby girl with my eyes or a baby boy with my nose. I’d never have ‘My” baby. I blacked out.
At 21 years old, I lost the ability to have children.
We had been so hopeful. My dream was to be a mom. I imagined us to create a perfect human being – 50% of me and 50% of my husband. Struggle isn’t even in the close to describing what I went through. Out tens of thousands of dollars, emotionally, financially destroyed. All for nothing. Looking at my husband and knowing I could never give him a child tore my world apart. Every dream vanished.
Living a closeted life is hard. Dealing with loss is difficult. I felt alone, most my friends aren’t in a place where they want kids so how could they understand what I was going through? I distanced myself from our world. Too many people have said hurtful things without thinking. Eventually I closed myself off. I needed answers. I didn’t just lose a child, I lost a million possibilities. I mourned the loss of all that. It’s not just something you wake up and move on from. We wanted a child, we wanted a family, and for some cruel reason we were the ones that couldn’t have that. The couple that, although young, did everything in order -we had good jobs, we were married, we had a good support system. Why us? Why me? I looked at some people who had kids, and questioned how God could give them a child they didn’t even plan for or want and yet here we are childless while they complain about stretch marks and late nights of crying babies. I crave late nights with a crying child, I want my biggest problem to be that I haven’t showered or eaten because my baby needed attention. I know there are days every parent faces a challenge, but how could I be stuck in this heart wrenching battle before even having a baby?
For the few people I did share the news with, the responses were painfully predictable.
#1 Why don’t you adopt? First of all, it’s not a wrong question. Adoption is a beautiful thing. However adoption can be costly, average cost is over $34,000 to adopt. Which is the same amount for IVF. It also came with no guarantees and more waiting. We haven’t written it off – maybe someday we will consider it. But my main concern was just because I couldn’t have children, that doesn’t mean my husband should miss out on seeing his features in a child. It would be a fate too cruel to take away from him.
#2 “I’ll carry your baby for you” (Again they all mean well) but my issue is not my uterus. My eggs are the problem. I can still carry – for the time being.
#3 “Maybe it’s not meant to be” *put down my drink and breath deep* No response, just no, shhhhhhhut upppp.
September 8th 2015 our next journey began. Our “Whats next” appointment. The options were: Embryo Adoption (using already made embryos from another couple) or Egg Donor (donor would do same IVF that I did but we get all her eggs). We obviously wanted a baby, I wanted Jared to be able to be a Dad with a little mini version of him running around. I wanted to do what I could, while I could, and still carry a child to full term. But financially it was not easy. About $40,000 to do an Egg donor that was within the clinic options, if we did agency donors the prices are about double or more. YIKES!! Time was still an issue. We don’t know how long until I lose the ability to carry, though our doctors estimate that I’ll be about 25-26 years old when I hit menopause. We couldn’t waste time. We are blessed and indebted for life – my parents moved mountains to make our dream come true, but we needed to wait until January-February 2016 until we could do it. We had 3 months to find a donor. Easy right?
Donor #1. I found #1 at an agency, she was great, blonde, blue eyes loved photography she was perfect. 25k was A LOT. We decided that adding 30k on top of 30k was too much.
Donor #2 She was my favorite, looked just like me, I was obsessed. We drove to LA the same day we got a new house and had to attend the Marine Ball (life never slows down). Optimistic and praying we could seal the deal. Then she refused to travel to San Diego for the IVF treatment and was committed to another clinic that was too far for us to go on the regular, and leaving my specialist was an uncomfortable situation. I was heartbroken but we moved on.
Donor #3. The agency sent profiles of other blonde haired, blue eyed girls but they all looked inbreed or drugged out it wasn’t working. We decided it would be best to move to another agency. Found #3. She was great and we were pleased. We signed the retainer just before our (whole family) Colorado vacation we take every year before Christmas. Relaxed and excited to have our donor on hold, we enjoyed our family time. Then the day we left to drive home, I received an email from the agency. Our donor was pregnant. I cried for 11 hours – all the way back to San Diego. I started feeling hopeless, there were hardly any blue eyed blonde girls in my clinic’s donor center, and agencies just weren’t working out.
I dropped blonde hair from criteria list, not that I should have to sacrifice any more than I already have. January rolled around and no donor to start. Finally, we found #4.
Donor #4. A very sweet 27 year old. We paid for her testing to get her approved, and after 2 weeks, we heard back that her levels weren’t good enough.
Donor #5. (Please keep in mind I’m now bald and put a significant dent in the liquor cabinet) Stressed beyond belief I wanted to give up. It shouldn’t be this hard. I’ve never heard of anyone having this hard of a time shopping for DNA. New agency, number 5 was great! Brown hair, blue eyes and had common interest. Only catch, they didn’t hold the donors, so someone could go into the office, put money down and she’s all theirs. Number 5 was taken before I could even call to get an appointment.
Donor #6. She was an In-house donor from my clinic. Not identical by any means but at this point I was standing on corners with a sign for baby drop off zones. We found Donor 6 in February. We immediately dropped the money – signed, sealed, delivered. Done. Decided start date was April 2016, as they had to do genetic testing and look at prior ivf cycles the first 6-8 weeks. FINALLY we were so excited! She had 40 eggs her first round and 26 the second round – she sounded like a great donor. Cue the fateful laughter now. My clinic dropped the ball. Waiting until 10 days before we were supposed to start (and delaying our cycle by 3 extra weeks) to tell us what was in the reports. I was furious – they had her records for months, why didn’t they look into her fertilization report sooner? On day 3 after her previous surgeries the majority of embryos had stopped progressing (that’s bad.) We were not only heartbroken, but we had already paid (more than the normal fee because she was a prior donor). We wasted 3 months for nothing, delaying our dream once more.
I was done. I was ready to run away and never look back. I packed my baby boxes and hid my ttc (trying-to-conceive) journal. I couldn’t believe we had gone through 6 donors. Looking at profiles for months thinking in my head, would my husband and this girl make a good looking kid? It destroyed me and reminded me it was my fault I was in this position. No one will be good enough or what I imagined, because they aren’t me. The longer I looked for the girl whose DNA would run through my child’s body, the more I hated this process.
Donor #7. She walked in the day after donor 6 dropped out of the race. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, similar facial features and interests. My clinic called me up the second she dropped off her application. I jumped out of my pile of tissues and empty wine bottles and went through her emailed profile. I tried to call Jared but he was at work. I already said yes to the clinic before Jared could even respond. She was right, she looked like the answer to our prayers. This was it for me, this time I was really done. If she didn’t work out, we would move on (although I thought I’d give up many times and never did, so who knows). We didn’t have any hormone levels tested yet so we still weren’t sure if she’d get approved. It was the longest 24 hours of my life before we learned she was in the clear! We waited 6 long weeks for counseling and genetic testing.
July 6th 2016, our amazing donor had her surgery. I didn’t sleep the night before knowing in just a few short hours Jared would put his goodies in a cup, and soon after our babies would be made. I never thought I’d be sitting in a waiting room while my hubs and another woman would be doing their part to make my family. But I sat there with the biggest smile on my face – a smile I thought I lost a long time ago.
We got the call about 2 hours later, 25 eggs! 20 fertilized, 13 were doing well on Day 3, and on day 6 we had a total of 8 embryos to get PGS tested. Not going to lie, I panicked. I got 7 embryos in the freezer with my broken ovaries, 8 seemed low. 10 long days we braced ourselves for going back in to the doctor. I didn’t say one word the whole trip. The last time we had gone to this appointment, my world fell apart. I wasn’t ready for bad news. I had a toilet paper roll shoved in my purse just in case, margarita mix in the fridge and my sweats which I would live in for weeks to come all ready to go. We waited to be called back. Finally, my fertility specialist came in… smiling. Four of the eight are healthy babies!!! We read about the remainder that did not pass testing and as a bonus we learned the genders of our 4 little babies.We scheduled my embryo transfer, ordered my medications and before we knew it, our dream was coming true.
July 28th 2016 we transferred a beautiful (4AA) Baby Boy. Scared and hopeful, we had 10 days until blood test (beta) so we went home to Arizona for a little distraction. On August 2nd 2016, I snuck into the bathroom at 4am and took a test at 5dp5dt (5 days past 5 day transfer). Sure enough, there was a faint line. I couldn’t believe it. About 2 seconds later, I started to freak out. Miscarriage mode took over. The fear my baby would be taken away again tortured any excitement within.
August 5th was beta day, hcg level was 153. 48 hours later we did follow up, levels were 598. We got the call on our 5 year anniversary, we were officially pregnant. It had worked! Jared had to work August 22nd, so I went to my first ultrasound by myself. I had a little fear waiting for the appointment because I wiped light pink discharge that morning, but… baby was good, with a beating heart.
Then, 6 weeks 2 days pregnant (August 24th), I was packing up our house to get ready for my husband’s upcoming deployment. I went to the bathroom, there was blood. I couldn’t form words or move. This was it. I must have miscarried again. I called my mom shaking and crying. Called the doctor, went to ER. The worst feeling ever is looking into your partners face and telling him we have to go to the hospital because I’m bleeding, again. No words spoken for hours. Just tears and waiting. After 6 hours they told me the bleeding was from a Subchorionic Hemmhorage (SCH). It seems to be quite common in pregnancies, but it was my first. The words “The baby is okay” are the most beautiful words I have ever heard. Still petrified I went to my clinic the next day because he was 3 days behind in measurements.
August 25th he measured on schedule, with a beautifully beating heart. Not going to lie, I broke down. My SCH stopped at 8w4d pregnant. I immediately bought a Heart Doppler, to reassure me that baby boy is still in there. Jared was able to go to my 8 week ultrasound before he deployed (the same ultrasound we lost baby #4.) But this time was different. There he was again. Healthy and heart beating.
Jared left for his deployment and that very same night I started bleeding, a lot. I spent the majority of my night back in the hospital, alone. I’ve got 2 more SCH. I’ve realized that there will always be something to make me fearful in this pregnancy, but right now I know he is okay. I’m still bleeding, but I hear him every day. I know this is my happy ending. I pray that this happy ending happens for anyone who truly wants it.
I still can’t believe every shot, doctor appointment, the long sad lonely nights, all of this pain and heartbreak led up to this moment. No matter where you are in this journey, please never give up. You are stronger than you think. I can proudly say that after 6 years of hurtful and unanswered questions, 2 years of fertility treatments, 5 heartbreaking miscarriages, 63 stomach injections, 55 butt injections, unlimited pills, patches and gels, countless blood work, way too many ultrasounds, 3 IVF rounds, 7 donors, sleepless nights, buckets upon bucket of tears, 694 days of actively waiting… it was all worth it. He is worth it. My son has challenged me already so much, this baby boy already knows I will go to the end of the earth for him. Even though time is still a factor for us to have more children we are truly blessed to be where we are.
I want to say thank you to those along the way. To my parents, for making this happen and being there for every phone call. To my husband, I’m so sorry you had to see me cry so much. Thank you for never giving up on me. To Sammie, for every Snapchat and Skype sessions when I was losing my mind. To my doctors, Dr. Shelly, Dr. Cobb, and the entire staff at Fertility Specialist Medical Group, and my beautiful selfless Egg Donor. There is nothing more beautiful than a person who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others. My IVF sisters, you all have a special place in my heart. My prayer squad, aunts, uncles, and grandparents – I know you were praying and I thank you! I’ve had a select few friends truly be there for me, no matter how dark it got, I thank you all for your part. I will cherish our journey and embrace this big adventure ahead of me.
As I conclude my fat load of information, I’d like to remind everyone that if someone you know is struggling with infertility, please reach out to them. It’s a dark place to be in, especially alone. You don’t have to know the right thing to say – don’t even try. Just be there, with love and support. Millions of women cry every night because they do not have the luxury of carrying a child, the means to pay for expensive fertility treatments, or are waiting on an adoption list for years just to get their hopes up and taken away again. Couples struggle every day; it doesn’t always go according to plan. It has taken me 2 years to even be able to talk about our story – and that’s a direct result of the unfortunate, and painful, things people have said to us along the way. No one can truly know the paths and detours of someone else’s journey, so please, be kind to one another, life is too short.