My IVF Story
I recently realized while I have been open about our struggle to get pregnant, and subsequently going through IVF, that I never really told my story in one place from beginning to end.
If you’d prefer to listen to my story, click here to listen to my interview on the Beat Infertility podcast!
Personally, when we were going through all of this, I loved hearing other women’s journey’s, so if that’s you, buckle down because it’s gonna be a long one!
My husband, Brett, and I got married in 2013 (a short 9 years after we started dating!) and while we always knew we wanted kids, we weren’t ready until the beginning of 2016.
That January I ran my 7th marathon (this will be important later), and in February I stopped taking birth control. Being the Type A person that I am, I went to my OB, told her we were planning to start trying and was there anything I needed to know.
Her response was a big reason I am now a preconception & prenatal health coach. She basically told me to take a prenatal vitamin with Folic Acid, that I may need to cut back on endurance running (with no real explanation on what that meant for me) and that it could take a while to get a period but if I didn’t get it in 3 months to come back.
As you likely guessed, I didn’t get my period back, and wasn’t pregnant. I went back immediately, somehow assuming she would give me a magic pill that would start my period and I’d be good to go. Oddly enough, she tried to do just that by starting me on the Provera Challenge.
If you aren’t familiar, with the Provera Challenge, you take Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate 10mg pill) for 7-10 days, and one week after your last pill you will ideally get a withdrawal bleed, indicating you have sufficient estrogen and that everything is in working order. I did this test twice with zero bleeding. My doctor told me to see an RE (reproductive endocrinologist) to see what was going on. Note that she did not help me find or refer one, just told me to go see one.
Looking back, I see how I had already tied myself to an arbitrary timeline, and started to feel behind. I was calculating the earliest I could be pregnant, and put zero thought into what the process could be to get there.
I distinctly remember my first meeting with Dr. Cohen. I went by myself and primarily wanted to come away with some plan to start my period so we could start trying the traditional way.
Dr. Cohen was great at explaining to me his reasoning for doing anything he did. It made sense that we didn’t want to start any protocol until we got to the root of why I wasn’t getting a period. At this point, he briefly listed what he wanted to rule out; blocked fallopian tubes, thyroid function, premature ovarian failure.
That was the one that made me squeeze my own hand as a rock formed in my throat. Premature ovarian failure?! It never crossed my mind that this missing period could be the tip of a very big iceberg.
I walked out in a daze, with another appointment scheduled to do an HSG to look at my tubes and uterus. I’ll admit, I Googled “blocked tubes” and “premature ovarian failure” way too much between appointments, but luckily we found open tubes and typical egg reserves for someone my age (because at 31 I was a mere 4 years away from a geriatric pregnancy).
What he did find was the absence of a uterine lining. I had practically zero estrogen. Now would be when we revisit that marathon I mentioned. Dr. Cohen talked to me about the negative effects low body fat and intense exercise can have on fertility, and told me I should up my body fat and do less intense exercise, but never gave the reason for my issues a name, I was labeled “unexplained infertility”.
After a lot of searching online, and even speaking with another doctor, I found a name: Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. In a nutshell, I had messed with my hypothalamus, the epicenter of reproductive activity resting in the center of the brain.
I posted about the drastic change in my exercise, but in all honesty, I didn’t cut back with the weight training and I still ran a few days a week until we were into IVF.
Back to our timeline; it was August 2016 by the time I got the HSG done and all the bloodwork back. We decided to try an IUI (Intrauterine Insemination), better known as “the turkey baster method” for those outside of the medical community.
It took a month to “reset” my body and I was put back on birth control for a cycle before starting a round of 50mg of Clomid which seemed so insanely counterproductive.
It was September by the time I started Clomid, and I knew the odds were similar to that of trying naturally – roughly 10-20% – but the odds are nearly 80% when you try 3-6 times. We had to have success by then, right?
When I went back to see how large the follicles had gotten, I was met with news that I hadn’t considered at all, and would revisit again and again. The follicles had not reached what we had hoped, and my uterine lining wasn’t as thick as they wanted to do the IUI. The round was canceled, I was put on birth control for a cycle and we tried again in October.
This round, we upped the Clomid to 100mg and tried again. The follicles responded and I finally got to do the IUI. I did fertility yoga on YouTube, walked a lot, and cut out coffee. I was hopeful, but kept my expectations low with the notion that it would likely take 3 times.
Getting the call that it didn’t work was still hard. I cried when I hung up, called my mom, regrouped, and made an appointment for my first acupuncture session.
It was now November, and we did a repeat round of 100mg of Clomid to try again. I figured the round before didn’t work, but at least we learned what amount I needed. Not so, my friends, not so. The follicles slowly grew but never reached the size we wanted, so we canceled that round and decided to do a round of 150mg.
This round was frustrating. I went back probably 3 times to check the size of the follicles. They were slowly growing, but not enough. I would be told to come check in 2 days, go in the morning to give blood, wait for the afternoon to get the results. The round ended up being cancelled and I started feeling defeated.
I had an appointment mid December and Dr. Cohen was game, if I was, to try 150mg round of a similar but different drug, Letrozole. He said if this time failed, we would be talking IVF since the risk of multiples went up significantly if we did more.
It happened so fast, like a terrible snowball. In the beginning I was upset I wouldn’t get to read a pregnancy test and tell Brett like I pictured I would. No, I would be waiting for a call. I had let that go, only to be faced with the disappointment of facing IVF.
It’s no surprise to you now that the Letrozole round was canceled. It was January 2017, and the plan became to start stims for an egg retrieval in February. With each passing round, I went through the rollercoaster of disappointment and defeat, to hope and excitement.
Anyone who has gone through an egg retrieval knows the overwhelming feeling of opening your box of medications. I watched the video of how to give myself the shot probably 5 times before doing it! I know a lot of women who have their spouse or someone else do it, but I needed the control of knowing exactly when the needle would go in, and exactly how much pressure I would feel.
I did stims for 12 days, one shot in the morning, one at night, and the last maybe 5 days, a second shot at night. I traveled to Michigan with friends for a weekend and brought my biohazard trashcan and kept the medication in the fridge. I set my alarm to get up and do the morning shot in the kitchen.
The last few days I started to feel uncomfortable, not in pain, but bloated and heavy. I had my egg retrieval on March 4th, 2017. Every step of the way, I had numbers in my head. How many follicles I hoped to see, how large I wanted them to be, how thick of lining I wished would show on the ultrasound. While the egg retrieval has a lot of hoops post operation (how many you collect, how many fertilize, and how many make it to a 5 day blastocyst), I hoped to collect at least 10 eggs.
Coming off of the anesthesia, I was groggy and anxious to hear my number. I was shocked that they took 19 eggs, no wonder I felt so heavy! We had a lot more to get through before we’d even think of a transfer, but in that moment I was excited and hopeful.
The following day I got the call that 11 eggs fertilized. We were still strongly in the game! The next 5 days seemed so long, waiting for a call to hear how many made it to a 5 day blastocyst.
Brett and I had a concert that night, we were going to see the Growlers. I got a call from Dr. Cohen that afternoon and braced myself. We started with 19 eggs, 11 were fertilized, and we now had 2 beautiful 5 day blasts! As went a lot of moments in our journey, I was thrilled to have two viable embabies one moment, but by the end of our conversation I had begun to worry that something deeper was wrong if Dr. Cohen himself thought we could have 4-5.
At the concert they played a song I knew well, but heard the lyrics in a different way. Have you done that? When you’re going through something tough, you start applying every quote, song, or story to that situation? That song became my IVF song. I hung on to the words of the chorus and played it for comfort. I made sure it was on Owen’s first birthday party playlist 🙂
“Worry’s a bully
That just won’t let me be
Trying to keep me busy
Tussling and struggling
Still always remembering
When the going gets tuff
That the labor of our love
Will reward us soon enough”
I worried over so many things, most of which were out of my control or had such a slim chance of happening it was crazy the amount of energy I put into researching it!
About 10 days after the egg retrieval Brett and I went with his whole family to Florida for vacation. Thank the good lord the pain and bloating when down because the first 5 days after the operation I was incredibly uncomfortable. I greatly underestimated how I would feel afterwards, and it was like sharp gas pains if I walked too fast or went from sitting to standing too quickly.
It was a great time for a vacation. We were in a holding pattern but with a plan. I forget if we waited for a period, or if I went on the pill when we got back, but either way, the plan was to do an FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) after a complete cycle. Dr. Cohen talked to me about how the technology with freezing eggs had gotten so fine-tuned, that there had been great success in letting the ovaries have time to get back to normal after the retrieval instead of going back in immediately to do a fresh transfer.
I was back to being monitored by April, and we had a tentative transfer date I think on the 6th. I went back later in the week and due to a low uterine lining they wanted to push it back a week. I know a week, in the grand scheme of things, is not long, but we had spent so much time to get there that I broke down crying (or maybe it was the hormone meds…).
I just didn’t get a good feeling because of that. We did the transfer the following week and I headed into the Two Week Wait. Oddly enough, the Two Week Wait didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. For me, it was full of hope. There was a chance it wouldn’t work, but I didn’t have to know yet.
I never did a home pregnancy test. I was too afraid of how I would overanalyze and over-Google if I did. Instead, as I got days out from the blood test, I got more anxious, with my thoughts ping-ponging back and forth about the results.
Waiting for those calls was so awful! They usually called after 3PM, making the day drag out in a seemingly never-ending nerve-wracking way. I was sitting on our rooftop, trying to read a book to take my mind off the waiting, when she called. I stiffened and my heart raced. She asked how I was and I said, “nervous”. She sounded light when she said told me there was no need, that I was pregnant!
I listened as she told me my hCG (the hormone produced during pregnancy) was 36. She noted that it was on the lower side, but that the main goal was that it doubled in two days which we would find out through another blood test.
I told Brett, but didn’t tell me mom. I wanted it to feel more official, further along. The next day, a Tuesday, I felt more anxious than the night before. I asked a few friends who had done IVF what their hCG was and – of course – asked the Google Gods their opinion. From what I gathered, 36 was pretty low, but it didn’t matter so long as it doubled.
Wednesday, the morning I did bloodwork and would wait for yet another nerve-wracking call, my worries were on overdrive. I could’t focus on anything and felt like my blood pressure was elevated! I tried to calm my thoughts through deep breaths, journaling, and mantras.
I went to acupuncture later that morning and at least had a calming session. The day drug on. Finally, I decided to walk the dog. I simply couldn’t sit at home and kill time anymore. I tried getting some work done but felt too scatterbrained.
My phone rang a few blocks into our walk, and my heart jumped. I realized I’d feel beyond surprised if she said things looked good, but hoped I was worried over nothing. I stopped walking as she told me my hCG went down to 19. It was considered a chemical pregnancy. I sat on the curb. “What do we do now?”
She was very kind, and told me she knew it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but the silver lining was my body could get pregnant. I didn’t need to do anything but wait for my period, then if I was ready, we could try again the very next cycle.
I called Brett, I called my mom, I put my sunglasses on and wandered the neighborhood for a while with tears flowing. I got back home, laid on the couch and cried. How could IVF not work?! I knew it was still a percentage chance, that it wasn’t a guarantee. But, c’mon, people get pregnant without even trying!
I let myself be upset, I listened to my song, and slowly my Game Plan mindset came back. I looked at the clock, then at my phone to see when the call came through. It had been an hour and a half. I felt pretty damn good about that! I had gone from getting such bad news, to feeling ready for another round.
Coincidentally, I had Shine Fertility‘s Shine Bright event that evening. If I didn’t already have tickets, I wouldn’t have left the house. Brett brought home flowers, making me feel seen and brightening our home. I dressed up, and headed out.
I am so thankful I went to the event! I listened to a panel discussion, talked to another fertility doctor, got a chair massage, and bought myself earrings, but most importantly I left feeling truly happy and hopeful!
But I digress. After a period came, we started blood work to asses where I was and determine when I’d start medications for our next attempt. This time, when we set the date of March 18th, everything stayed on track. It’s a small thing, but it made me feel like things were happening as they should.
This was our last embryo, yet I felt incredibly positive this round. It’s hard to find a balance of hopeful positivity and grounded reality. I meditated with Circle and Bloom’s free meditation (later buying their Healthy Pregnancy & Delivery program) and at the same time, had in my head my next move if this didn’t work.
This time, I didn’t even tell my parents our timeline. We transferred our last embaby as scheduled on May 18th and I wore a lucky t-shirt. I took the bus home, starring out the window the whole way as so many thoughts fluttered through my mind.
This Two Week Wait, I felt so hopeful! Still, it was full of moments of doubt and questions, but I was in a good place. I actually peed on a stick about 4 days before my test. It wasn’t willy nilly, though. I did it around 9 days post transfer where if a positive line didn’t show up, it could be very likely that it was too early to test, meaning I wouldn’t be totally crushed.
I didn’t tell Brett, but a very faint line appeared! You’d think that would be enough to keep me in high spirits and assured until blood work day, but if you’ve been through the roller coaster of fertility treatments, you understand that doubt can creep in no matter how assured you were feeling moments before.
I went in for my hCG blood work on a Tuesday since it was Memorial Day Weekend. Once again, spending a long day awaiting a very important phone call. I was sitting at my computer (likely over-Googling) when my phone rang. I picked up, took a deep breath, and waited for the news.
“You’re pregnant!” the nurse smiled through the phone! I had heard this before, so while my heart jumped, I was still waiting to hear my numbers. I had my hopes for something closer to 100, and when she told me it was over 700 I blurted, “Holy shit!” She laughed, told me to come back on Thursday, and we hung up.
I ran into the bedroom, exclaiming to our dog that he was going to be a big brother, as I laid on my back with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. We went back on Thursday, and waiting for that call was much easier than the month before. My hCG came back over 2,000 and I felt on top of the world!
Telling Brett my hCG numbers was not the picturesque way I imagined I’d be revealing we were pregnant a year and a half prior. But, it turns out, that didn’t matter to me anymore.
Although it was the toughest emotional roller coaster of my life, I felt amazing throughout my pregnancy! Owen was born via c-section (he was breech and stubborn!) on February 1st, 2018. The road to having our baby wasn’t as easy as I thought, and many have much longer paths, but I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about how we as a society talk about pregnancy and children.
My experience changed my relationship with exercise, and the way I talk to other women about pregnancy and the idea of having kids. It would have benefitted me to have someone to talk to throughout this journey and throughout my pregnancy. Someone to help keep things in perspective, keep my Google rabbit-holes in check, and to share tiny wins with.
That is what I do now for other women. I help them build their village of support, from preconception to motherhood.
This is also why I created a Meetup here in Asheville called TTC Together!
TTC Together is a time to gather with others who understand the emotional rollercoaster that comes with expanding your family.
This monthly meetup welcomes women in all stages and circumstances of their fertility journey. We encourage honest discussion, and while we hope you are open to sharing your thoughts and feelings, how much you wish to divulge is entirely up to you. If you’re in the Asheville area, join the group and I hope to see you at our kickoff meetup on March 19th at 6:30PM! RSVP here.
Not in Asheville, but want to feel connected throughout your TTC journey and beyond? Preconception Coachingand Prenatal Coaching is perfect for you! I offer free 20 minute discovery calls to see if coaching is right for you. Email me at Samantha@simplywellcoaching.com and let’s talk.