The Fertilization Journey of a Lifetime
This week I am embarking on my eighth in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. We have been through seven retrievals in our attempt to create one healthy baby. We have completed one full IVF cycle, including a transfer that gave me the words I longed to hear: "You are pregnant." However, that lasted a very short time. Despite all of our best efforts in accumulating eggs and embryos and having them tested or saved for the future, we are back to square one.
We begin our journey this week and are going to share each step of the way to hopefully have your support and encouragement, but we're doing this mostly to help you know you are not alone. I will share each step with you when I begin my next cycle. If sharing our journey with you is able to spare you any confusion, that will help us to see the positives in this beyond ourselves and our ultimate outcome.
My official first cycle began three years ago. At this time in my life, I was suffering from what was to be my second case of endometrial fibroids—better known as fibroid tumors. After finding out that my hemoglobin levels were becoming dangerously low, my doctors advised me that I would need to undergo what would be my second myomectamy surgery. I had just started dating the man who is now my husband, Darren. Upon completion of the surgery, my concerned and caring gynecologist informed Darren and I that if we saw children in our future, we would probably need to consider modern medical alternatives to natural childbirth. We were not even married yet, let alone considering children, but I was and always had been yearning to be a mom.
So here I was in this relationship with this amazing man who had the foresight to inquire about fertility testing and seek options—before we were even engaged.
Initially, I questioned why on earth could he commit to IVF cycles or freezing our embryos together for future use but not an engagement ring. Is this a new trend? The truth is, today, looking back, knowing what I know now, I wish we had done it even sooner.
Every day I go out and see women pushing their strollers, and pregnant women are everywhere. Sometimes it feels as if it's all I see. You see what you need or want more when you want it so, and it's hard to see especially when you know that you cannot just make it happen.
Many women yearn to have a baby, but because of the circumstances and life choices that brought me here, I believe I have a stronger need, desire, karma and connection to becoming a mother. My birth mother couldn't, for whatever her reasons were, raise me. As a result, I was adopted. I was fortunate enough to be able to have the opportunity to be raised by two parents who really wanted to have a child. It's ironic now that Darren and I are going through fertility issues, deeply wanting to be parents.
It's interesting how life works. When I look back at my childhood, I did wonder why my mother couldn't have children (Was it her? Was it my father? What was "wrong" with them?). Was I too young and too wounded to understand that being able to have the opportunity to have this second chance at life was a gift? These parents of mine yearned to have a child so much that they chose me to be part of their family.
Adoption is absolutely an option for Darren and me, but it's not our first choice. My dream as a little girl was always to be able to carry a baby inside me. Maybe this is because I wasn't in ever in the womb of the mother who raised me. Maybe I yearned for that connection. Maybe I just wanted to share that joy with the mother who raised me so we can both have this experience. Whatever it is, I know that is our first choice.
Darren wants to have his genes involved, but we are not as attached today about using mine. Now that I'm 43, we may not have a choice in the matter. The quality and genetic competence of your eggs tends to decline as you reach a certain age. The cycle we're beginning this week will be my last attempt at my own eggs, and I'm hoping there's one good one in there to help us make a healthy baby.
I had no idea what to expect, which, in a way, was a very good thing. I knew so little that I didn't know that it could not work. I had no idea that you had to give yourself shots—this was the biggest shock. We went to the first orientation and I almost fainted.
As supportive as Darren is, there was no way he could ever give me the shots. He would make the mixtures and ensure that I was doing it the right way, but I needed to inject. He couldn't get past the thought of hurting me and the sight of the needles, but he gets a major hall pass for supporting me through the hormones. But we'll get into that later.
Deciding to go through IVF isn't for the faint of heart or bank account. It's expensive and emotionally taxing. Our first cycle was 100 percent covered by insurance. If you are younger than 40, some carriers cover one cycle. (The doctor that we work with today, Dr. Geoffrey Sher, has an outcome-based IVF plan that is good for women under a certain age. This is just one more thing we wished we knew ahead of time.)
My situation is something I cannot change. I waited to have children until I found my life partner and best friend and soul mate, and that didn't happen until later in my life. We met when I was 38 and didn't get married until I was 41. But we did our first IVF cycle at 39. But the goal of that cycle was to create embryos for the future, to freeze and have available if and when we were married. It was risky decision, and I didn't know if we should do it. What if we didn't stay together? Would these embryos just be mine? What were his rights? What were mine? This was a serious consideration for a young couple in the early stages of their relationship.
In sharing this, I realize now how amazing the commitment that Darren had for us and our future, but I didn't always see it that way. To me, the glass was always half-empty. I focused on what I didn't have, not on what I did.
The irony of this has been another lesson. We need to make ourselves first in this process and give ourselves the space and time to go through this journey. This can be hard for a women who always want to give to others first.
So there I am, sitting in the waiting room the morning of my first retrieval, and this woman tells me this is her second time. Darren, knowing the stats and facts of typical IVF patients, had been shielding me. Unbeknownst to me, just because you have 21 follicles didn't mean this was a slam dunk. When this woman told me she'd had several attempts that didn't work, I found myself in a state of panic. As fear overtook me, tears began to well in my eyes and I felt my heart racing. Was it possible that after all of this there would be no baby? Wow! That was a hard reality that I never even considered—not once.
As I awoke from the retrieval, they informed us we had eight eggs from the 21 follicles. I later found out that I must have been highly overstimulated for that to happen or perhaps I suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome, which is common and not diagnosed in most women. Getting eight eggs from 21 follicles wasn't great, but it only takes one.
Those eight eggs needed to turn into embryos. They mix them with Darren's sperm, which is taken from the "oval office" right before the retrieval takes place. There are dirty movies and magazines in the room, and it is the most unromantic way to conceive of a baby. After we got used to this process, I began to bring romance into the room with music and candles. But that first time was a real shocker. We needed to wait a few days to find out how many embryos were created from my eggs and Darren's sperm.
The waiting was torture. These were going to be our bank account for our future, something to make us feel assured for when we decided the time was right to create the baby. These miracles of modern science were going to be the basis of our future family. We successfully froze thee embryos—three possible children for our future. I was so happy that Darren had looked into this option. One month later, he proposed. My future was looking bright: I was planning a wedding to the man of my dreams and knowing we had three possible children when we decided the time was right.
Back then, our lives were full of possibilities. Today, we still have many and always can and will, but the one possibility that we cannot make come true is natural conception. And that news is devastating.
You sit in a room with a stranger and you take this test called a hysterogram, where they put a dye in your tubes to see if they are blocked. The stranger says nothing. She looks at you, and you can see that it isn't good news, but she says nothing. Then another stranger walks in and gives you the news you feared your whole life—that you cannot and will not be able to have children naturally.
So there it is: reality. And you still don't believe it. You hear stories often about women who do get pregnant anyway, and you keep believing that will be you, and you keep trying. We knew we had three embryos—or as I called them, "possibility angels"—waiting, giving us comfort and security. So we knew time was still on our side and began planning our wedding.
Knowing now what we know, we should have been planning for an immediate second cycle.