This morning, I opened up one of my old pregnancy manuals, flipped right past the “How to Conceive” chapters, zoomed right through the “Do You Need Fertility Treatment” section, and jumped right in to the “Your First Month of Pregnancy” chapter—and started bawling.
Last night, when I was making dinner, I turned around to find Brian standing behind me glowing. I started bawling.
Tears of joy.
Six tests can’t be wrong! I am pregnant!!! (Only five tests in the picture above, because I took the sixth test the following day.)
Our Decade Old History of Infertility
Despite years of infertility, I’ve only been pregnant once before, when I was carrying my daughter Mia.
Four years ago this month, Brian and I visited Dr. Vasquez, a well-known, very high-success-rate fertility specialist in Nashville, Tennessee. We had been struggling with infertility for a little over nine years. This was our last resort. We had tried everything from weight loss, dietary changes (including an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities), oral fertility drugs, relaxation techniques, exercises in Tantra, and even the old bottle of wine and night of wildness routine. Nothing worked.
Dr. Vasquez ran some tests. He confirmed what several doctors had already told us: I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and did not ovulate (EVER), my eggs were prematurely aging (and thus less likely to be successfully fertilized); I had a congenital abnormality of the uterus that made a successful pregnancy a challenge, and Brian’s sperm morphology (shape) was abnormal and unlikely to be able to penetrate the egg. In short, we were infertile and needed IVF to conceive.
Although there were many other options available (adoption, adoption, and adoption) we made the decision to go ahead with IVF. It’s not that we had a problem with adoption, which I think is a beautiful way to create a family. For many reasons, we just weren’t ready to adopt. We had a deeply rooted need to pursue having our own biological child. I wanted to nurture and nurse my offspring. We wanted that uniquely human experience of bringing our own child into the world.
A few months later, I started pre-IVF hormone therapy. In addition to prenatal vitamins and extra folic acid supplements, every morning, I gave myself hormone injections. Soon, injections increased to a few times a day—and to locations I couldn’t reach myself—and were combined with vaginal suppositories. I had lumps the size of tennis balls on both my hips where the giant, thick needles pumped sticky, sludgy pregnancy syrups into my body. Every other day, I went to the doctor’s office to have blood drawn—to test my hormone levels. I was black and blue and sore, and full of hope
My follicles matured (meaning became ready to pop out their eggs) at the rate of about 60 or 70 at once. I took my trigger shot (to release all those eggs) just before I went in to the surgery center to have my mature eggs removed under anesthesia. While I was unconscious, the doctor and his team took out dozens of eggs, which they then transferred in a high-speed chase, Hollywood movie style maneuver, to the fertility center lab (a few blocks away) and fertilized using Brian’s sperm and a tool that grabs on to the wiggly tail of a sperm and then thrusts it through the cell wall of the egg. While our babies were being conceived somewhere else in the city, I woke up from surgery and Brian and I drove home.
By that night, I was extremely ill. Something was going dreadfully wrong. The doctor was on the phone with me and with Brian constantly, supporting us through it, prescribing medications and fluid treatments. But, in the following two days, I gained over 20 pounds. I stopped being able to urinate. I started vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time. I was experiencing what is called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)—essentially my ovaries were over stimulated and flooding my body with so many hormones that my kidneys were overwhelmed and began to shut down. This extreme version of OHSS is pretty rare, but can be fatal—and often was before current treatments were developed.
I was hospitalized and given a PICC line (so they could administer the numerous drips I needed all at once) and pumped full of drugs to restore my kidney function. Even though our embryos were growing well in the lab, we couldn’t transfer them to my womb unless I was stable. It looked like our IVF cycle was going to end in complete failure. And, at around $30,000 including the drugs and medical charges, we couldn’t afford to do it again. If I hadn’t been holding on for dear life, I would have been devastated.
But, I responded well to treatment and the doctors declared me stable just in time to accept my embryos into the womb. Of the dozens or so that had been fertilized, only three had made it. Embryos don’t have a high chance of surviving transfer to the womb. Contrary to the viewpoint perpetuated by popular media stories, doctors cannot “implant” embryos in the womb. They simply place them floating inside—much the same way any embryo floats inside it’s mother—and like in all pregnancies, it’s up to the embryo and God to manage the implantation—the taking hold—of the baby inside.
There were five people in the room when Mia was transferred. My doctor and his two lab assistants, Brian (in a medical getup that looked like a lunch lady hat and apron) and me. While the medical team carefully placed each embryo in my womb, Brian held my hand and made lunch lady jokes, “OK, they’re serving up the kids now.” He said to me, “Would you like some roast beef? There it is! Would you like some mashed potatoes? Plop, here they are. How about some peach cobbler?” (To this day we wonder if Mia is the mashed potatoes, the cobbler, or the roast beef.)
I was hospitalized for several more days (because of the OHSS) and then we went home and waited. And waited.
The blood test that told us I was pregnant came very early. Our first ultrasound was at about eight weeks. One of our embryos had made it. We were going to have a baby! We had ultrasounds every few days at first to see if things were progressing smoothly. It was a long, hard struggle. During the first few months, I couldn’t tell the difference between the recovery from my OHSS and early pregnancy symptoms. My congenital abnormality made the pregnancy difficult and dangerous. I had two episodes of heavy, sudden bleeding, most likely me “losing” the two other embryos which had implanted after transfer but not survived. I was on complete bed rest for the first and third trimesters—including two months of hospital bed rest at the end of my pregnancy. All of this resulted in my most precious gift. My daughter Mia.
A New Chapter in Our Fertility History
Now, let’s skip forward a few years. Mia is turning three next week, and Brian and I have made some unprecedented life changes—all of which I’ve written about in this blog. We started eating the traditional foods of our ancestors (including long-cooked bone broths, red meats, healthy saturated fats, and organ meats) stopped eating out at restaurants (for the most part), started growing our own vegetables, stopped eating any pre-processed/packaged foods, started eating probiotic foods (including fermented foods and raw dairy) and eliminated gluten, grains, soy, added sugars and chemical additives from our diet.
And yet, even as late as last week, when someone asked us if we planned on having any more kids, we’d say, “We’ve had a long struggle with fertility. Mia was an IVF baby, but Sarah nearly died from IVF, so that isn’t an option for us anymore.” It was just understood that we were probably going to be a family of three.
But, lately I’d been feeling some signs that I was pregnant. We weren’t trying to have a baby, but we weren’t trying not to. I missed a period—which is nothing unusual for me. (It’s more unusual for me to have my period at all!) However, my hips were also aching in a way they hadn’t since I was pregnant before. Nursing was becoming uncomfortable and my milk supply seemed to have dropped. And, I was more tired than usual. After taking two negative ($17.00 grocery-store tests) I ordered some inexpensive tests online, just to make sure I wasn’t pregnant. They arrived and I took another one–trying to figure out why my newfound cycle wasn’t normal yet. After frantically reading the result and not believing my eyes, I took five more tests over the next twelve or so hours. Each one confirmed my suspicions: I am pregnant! It is the happiest accident we could ever hope to have!
Brian and I have given ourselves the second best Hanukkah gift either of us has ever received: the gift of fertility. (Mia was our first best gift, born the day after the last night of Hanukkah in 2008).
Thinking about our IVF, the complications, and the trouble, heartache and money that went with it, Brian describes our current state of fertility:
“It’s two kids for the price of one.”
Notes: It is still very early to know how this pregnancy will go. We debated whether or not to share this news with our friends, with our family, and with my blog readers. But our fertility has been such a marriage-long struggle that we feel strange keeping our news from people. It is an amazing gift to know we can get pregnant on our own, without medical intervention! (By accident, like so many other people with normal fertility!) Please keep us and our growing family in your thoughts and prayers.
Would I do the IVF if I had it to do over again? Absolutely. I have no way of knowing if our current lifestyle change would have resulted in fertility had we not had a baby already. For one thing, once you have been pregnant, your uterus changes—you have new receptor sites, it’s a different shape, etc. Not only that, but life is too uncertain to second guess something like IVF, which gave me a wonderful, healthy, happy and much-loved daughter.