Ah, infertility. I certainly wish that wasn’t a common word in my vocabulary, but here we are. Since I opened up about my fertility struggles, you – strangers, readers, followers – have been so supportive. Your kindness has been a great relief and sense of strength. Since I am so open about the topic, some of you have sent in questions. (Which, by the way, you are welcome to do!) And that’s how I realized I’ve never fully explained our fertility problems.
So, in as few words as possible, here’s what is happening.
- The journey begins around the end of 2016. Since my regular OBGYN is the fertility expert at his multi-doctor practice, he ran some tests for fertility complications only a few months after we started trying to get pregnant. The findings? Mild polycystic ovarian syndrome with unexplained anovulation. I ovulate by myself – sometimes. Sometimes I don’t. To help trigger ovulation, we tried three or so cycles of the popular fertility drug Clomid, mixed with hormone altering drugs like Metformin and Estradiol. I ovulated, but I did not get pregnant.
- We eventually decided to try in vitro fertilization, or IVF. From our IVF specialist, I learned more about the condition causing my problem. Apparently, I have too many eggs. Who knew that would be an issue? The doctor mention I may have an easier time getting pregnant as I get older, and that I likely won’t hit menopause until nearly 15 years past the typical age. Lucky me? I like to imagine my eggs as bottlenecked; they try to release on schedule but they’re stuck. IVF is a potential solution. This process required triggering the body to release a large amount of eggs, harvesting them, fertilizing them, and (in our case, at least) freezing them. We were able to retrieve 14 eggs; of them, 11 matured – some into embryos and others farther into blastocysts.
- We had planned to do a fresh (i.e. not frozen) embryo transfer a few days after the retrieval, but my thyroid levels were too skewed. I had thyroid cancer a few years ago, and the medicine to replace my thyroid must be checked somewhat regularly to make sure the levels are okay. The experts assumed the IVF drugs altered my levels, or how I was absorbing my medicine, so we waited three or so months for our first transer.
- We have had three transfers, each using two frozen embryos or blastocysts. Bloodwork showed we had success the third time, although it was lost almost immediately. Apparently that’s a good sign (compared to nothing ever working) in the world of infertility. Between the second and third try we also completed a uterine scratch. This tests for issues, and none were found, but some doctors are exploring its help in getting a transfer to “stick.” Since my only success was following the scratch, I’ll be doing one again before any other transfers in the future in case the two are related.
- With five frozen embryos and blastocysts currently left, we have decided to take an IVF timeout. This includes some cycles of no medicine – a true break for my body – as well as cycles with other oral ovulation stimulators like Femara and the hCG trigger shot.
Different parts of different cycles come with different issues. Your body is in the worst shape – and is physically limited the most – during the egg retrieval process of IVF. The injections are the worst during the IVF transfer process, pictured above. My side effects (mainly extreme nausea) tend to be the worst during the oral medicine cycles. None of its fun and all of it is expensive. If you know someone treating any fertility-related issue, I can guarantee they are at least mildly uncomfortable.
Speaking of knowing someone in the trenches, I have been asked by some of you how to speak to those you may know who are dealing with infertility – especially if it has not impacted you personally. Like with any tough topic, the key is to remain respectful and be aware of who you are speaking to. If you find out a coworker is starting IVF, it may be best to stay vague and polite. “I’m sorry that’s something you have to deal with. I hope you’re doing alright.” If it’s a close friend, maybe add something like, “Is this something you’d like to talk about or something you’d like a distraction from?” with a little reassurance that if that answer changes you can switch your approach. Offer to help in a specific way: “If you need me to pick up [this work task you can also do], it won’t be a problem,” or “Could I bring dinner over to your house some night? What kind of food is tasting good?” show your concern and compassion are more than empty words.
While well intended and hard to avoid, try to skip comparisons if you can; weighing it against a negative thing you’ve dealt with may come off as insensitive, and comparing it to another person’s infertility experience (e.g. “My cousin had that problem but then they did IUI and now they have a baby!”) is frustrating for the person on the other side, unless you’re particularly good friends and/or incredibly open in infertility communication. If you’re bothering to read this I’m certain you aren’t the kind to say the truly rude – “Maybe you aren’t supposed to be a parent,” etc. – but some things you may consider helpful could be the most hurtful. I do my best to assume everyone means well when they misspeak about the topic, but phrases on how people think I must be feeling (e.g. “You must hate being at this baby shower!”) or about what they think my condition is (e.g. “I didn’t want to tell you because you CAN’T get pregnant!”) are infuriating, insulting, and hard to forget. The tried-and-true responses, especially those related to things happening when they are supposed to or when you aren’t trying, sound idiotic and risk a snappy reply. If you tell someone who can’t get pregnant on their own it will happen when she isn’t trying, you’re being a dick. If you’d like to keep things vague with a play-it-safe response, nod sincerely and say “That sounds hard. I’m sorry.” It’s always an appreciated answer.
Now I have to sign off because I’m having a hot flash. Did I forget to mention that side effect too?