Our unconventional road to parenthood

I was 24 years old when I was first told that motherhood might not be in the cards for me.  I had gone into emergency surgery for what the doctors thought was a rupturing appendix.  What they actually discovered was endometriosis — a menstrual condition accompanied by the following advice: “You should start thinking about children in the near future.  It might be difficult for you to get pregnant after the age of 30.”

The newly-graduated, burgeoning high school teacher that was me those many years ago had no immediate plans for children.  But the incident set my biological clock in motion.  Sure, I wanted to have kids someday, but it was a difficult conversation to broach while I was dating in my 20s.  More than one guy got cold feet when I brought up my condition, and it took me a long time before I figured out what kind of man I wanted for a life partner.

When I eventually met the love of my life, I was 32 years old.  Two years later, certain that we were ready to start a family, I went off the birth control pill.  Even though I wasn’t very optimistic (I’d been off the pill before with no luck), I still hoped and prayed that this time it would be different.  We bought a handful of pregnancy tests, and, when month after month proved negative, we bought a bunch more.  We started tracking the days with a thermometer and over-the-counter prediction tests.  And each month we got the same, deflating news.  It didn’t look like I was going to get pregnant the natural way.

We eventually sought help at a nearby fertility clinic.  Extra emphasis should be placed on the word “nearby” since little did we know that we would be regular visitors to the clinic for a total of three years.  Thankfully, it was only a 10 minute drive away.  I say this because I know that people from all over the province and beyond also need fertility help, and we were lucky that monthly (or weekly) visits didn’t cut into our professional lives.

My first year of treatments consisted of a myriad of tests (some innocuous, others indescribably painful), oral medications, and a series of IUI’s.  Along the way, we were told not to give up hope and that all of the tests had come back with good results.  While this was a relief, it was also frustrating because we didn’t know the cause of our infertility, or have any specific information to place our disappointments.  We could only continue to keep trying and hope for the best.

Nearly a year later, we were recommend for IVF, a prospect that was terrifying. We met our nursing team for orientation in the spring of 2016 and then began the painful process of growing my eggs with daily injections to the stomach.  My partner (now husband) painstakingly mixed the solutions each day and gave me the shots while I cringed, and it was a stressful and expensive process.  We were grateful that some of the drugs were covered by my insurance, but the many procedures were still a financial burden.  On the day of our egg retrieval, I was given fentanyl to help with the pain of the surgery as they vacuumed out 13 eggs for fertilization.  It wasn’t a very romantic process, but we were thrilled with the result and hopeful that the worst had been endured.

Only three of our fertilized eggs survived the 6-day growing period, but we were told that this was a great result and began to make plans for our embryo transfer date.  To skip through the long and discouraging story, none of the three eggs (on three separate occasions) implanted successfully.  In fact, we were advised to begin another cycle of IVF, which we did (this time, without any insurance coverage), and which resulted in two embryos.  This time, we also paid a hefty fee to have the embryos biopsied for genetic viability, and it turned out that only one was a good embryo.  All that effort and energy for a single chance.

We implanted our solo embryo shortly before Christmas of 2017, and found out the heartbreaking news the day before our trip to Central America.  I spent a good portion of my time in Honduras in tears, unable to leave the hotel room or to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings and scuba diving.  We had put so much hope and emotion into our two IVF cycles and four separate attempts.  I didn’t know if I had it in me to try again.

When we came back from our winter trip, we met with our doctor again, who continued to encourage us to keep trying.  He attributed the failures to bad luck since we had passed all of the tests with flying colours.  With heavy hearts, we decided to try a third round of IVF, a third egg retrieval, and in February of 2018, we harvested two good biopsied embryos.  After the retrieval, our doctor put me on a new course of medication that included some experimental procedures like intralipid IV treatments and daily injections of blood thinners.  While this seemed like a long shot, we followed the instructions to a tee, even adjusting the hours when we traveled across the world to Paris to wake up at 4am so that we could take the medications at the right time.

On April 8, 2018, I taught a yoga class in the morning from 10-11am.  My embryo transfer was scheduled for 11:15am (see, it really helped to have a fertility centre nearby!).  Still in my yoga clothes and on that “yoga-teacher high,” I went into the operating room with a calm mindset.  My husband held my hand as we watched on the screen the embryo being transferred into my uterus–luckily, this procedure was almost pain-free and surely the easiest part of the entire IVF cycle.  This was our fifth time doing the exact same procedure, our fifth embryo transfer.  We would know in 10 days if we were pregnant.

The post-transfer days are the most gruelling, emotional days of them all.  I tried to lose myself in work so that I didn’t have time to worry or stress about something I couldn’t control.  By the 8th day, I felt like I was coming down with the flu.  My body hurt everywhere and I could barely move.  On the 9th day, it was all I could do to take my dog Lola around the block and to grab some take-out pasta before going to bed at 9pm–something that never happens to me.

A schedule of the medicine I took on a daily basis for twelve weeks

On April 18th, 2018 (three days before my 37th birthday), I was conducting interviews all day, but I’d asked Robin (my husband) to text me the news when he got it.  I knew it would come before 3pm.  On my 5th interview of the afternoon, I saw the blink of my cell phone go off with Robin’s name, but I couldn’t see the message.  Then there was a second alert from him.  My heart started to pound and it was all I could do to focus on the 30 minutes remaining of our last interview.  When it was over, I went to the bathroom and locked myself into a stall with shaking hands.  I felt like I already knew the answer was NO … that if we were actually pregnant, I would have received 10+ messages from an elated husband.  I took a few deep breaths and prepared myself for the worst.  After all, I had already been through this kind of immense disappointment four times previously.  But I opened the text message to find this:

I could hear my heart beating as I opened this message and tried to process what it meant

I sat there is shock for several minutes, not realizing that I was breathing heavily and shaking all over.  Tears began streaming down my eyes and I had no idea what to do or think.  Eventually, I went for a quick walk outside before heading back to teach my last literature class of the day, and I still have no idea what I said or how that lesson went.

The news shocked us so much that we are still processing what it actually means.  To be pregnant.  To have a baby–now 14 weeks old–growing in my body.  After three years, unbelievable amounts of money, heartbreak, disappointment, shame, and doubt, we are finally beginning to believe that we can be parents.

We found out the news three days before my 37th birthday

On May 8, 2018, we went to the fertility centre for our first ultrasound.  Even though we were only 6 weeks pregnant at the time, we were able to see the baby and hear its heartbeat.  Two weeks later, we returned for another ultrasound, this time seeing a more defined fetus and being told that we had officially “graduated” from the clinic and could now be handed off to an OB doctor or midwife.  It wasn’t until we received that news that things really began to sink in.  We could finally accept the news that we were pregnant and carrying a healthy baby.

A glimpse of our miracle baby; the second ultrasound at 10 weeks

There is so much to process.  At any given time, emotional outbursts come to the surface and range from mania to full-body sobs (and sometimes both at the same time).  I know that part of this comes from pregnancy hormones, which were in high doses since I had to supplement my first 10 weeks with progesterone, estrogen and blood thinners.  But I also know that there are three years worth of emotions that I’ve been carrying around, largely on my own, that are deserving of time and reflection.

Through our four failed IVF attempts, we had the support of a few, amazing friends and family members.  There were so many times that I thought we should give up–that we were crazy to keep trying after inconceivable time, money, and emotion.  I couldn’t have gotten through this without the encouragement from my girlfriends, who never passed judgment on our journey, but kept me afloat with a never-ending supply of love and faith.

Infertility is more common than one would think.  In Canada, 1 in 6 couples struggle when trying to conceive, but it is rarely a subject we talk about.  I felt a great deal of shame and embarrassment as I grappled with my infertility–emotions that I had a hard time processing.  I regret not speaking up more or taking the time to find a support group or counsellor.  Instead, I buried myself in work and travel so that I would always have something else to focus my attention to.  But even as I went after the next promotion or planned our next trip around the world, I knew that there was deep-rooted grief and loss that I was trying my best to suppress.

As my body grows and changes on a weekly basis, I am now overcome with gratitude.  I am very proud that my husband and I kept trying when so many odds were against us, and that we will be welcoming our first child into our lives this winter.  With a due date of December 25, 2018, this little angel sure feels like a Christmas miracle!

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.  I would be happy to answer any questions you have about my experience or IVF in general, and I hope others will be inspired to share their own journeys to parenthood –however unconventional those journeys may be.