When my husband and I decided we were finally ready to start a family, I was excited but also nervous. How would pregnancy feel? Were we fit to handle the incredible responsibilities of parenthood? Would I ever have time to myself again? And there was that lingering question… would we face fertility challenges? That was an unlikely possibility, given that we were both 31 and in good health, but it was all the more reason to get the process going sooner rather than later.
As it turned out, going off the Pill (which I had been on since age 19) made my body go haywire. I had spent over 1/3 of my life taking precautions to avoid pregnancy, and suddenly I felt helpless in my quest to become pregnant. Eventually, six months after going off the Pill, my periods started occurring regularly. But a few more months went by, and I was still not pregnant. My OB/GYN’s advice was to “give it some more time.” I found this approach frustrating, and switched to a different doctor who took my concerns more seriously. She recommended fertility workups for both me and my husband to determine if we needed the help of a reproductive endocrinologist (RE, or simply, the fertility doc).
Several test results later – there were both male and female factors to contend with – we found ourselves in the waiting room of a top fertility clinic in New York. Based on our test results, our RE told us our only likely option to get pregnant was in vitro fertilization (IVF). We were not even candidates for intrauterine insemination (IUI), the less invasive procedure that couples typically try first when they cannot conceive on their own. There was a lot of information to digest (on a practical, financial, and emotional level) and the holiday season that year was rough as we prepared for IVF. Yet at the same time I felt almost relieved that we were now, hopefully, on the “fast track” to pregnancy vis-à-vis modern technology.
We began IVF with a positive outlook. Our goal was to create between 4 and 6 chromosomally normal (as determined by genetic testing) embryos to maximize our chances of success. For many 32-year olds this could be accomplished in one round of IVF. For me, due to my low follicle count and my general “poor response” to the IVF meds – it took the highest doses possible for my body to release multiple mature eggs in one shot – it was not until 7 months later that we finally achieved our goal. It took 4 rounds of egg retrieval attempts, but we were finally able to create and freeze 5 chromosomally normal embryos to use whenever we pleased.
As I write this – 2½ years after I went off the Pill and one failed IVF cycle, three egg retrievals and one embryo transfer later – I am 15 weeks pregnant with a baby girl. I will be 34 when I give birth. We started trying to conceive when I was 31. During that time, many of my friends have had two children, while I went to 8am doctors appointments multiple times a week, injected myself with hormones night after night, and endured three surgical procedures. (Again, not every woman my age who does IVF will have such a long, drawn-out process before they achieve success; many can accomplish their goal in one round.)
The isolation was the hardest part for me. I was surprised at how few stories I had heard within my personal network about infertility. Every day, it was just more pregnancy and birth announcements on Facebook, and it began to seem like every week another good friend was getting pregnant. I am here today in one piece because of my willingness to speak openly about our struggle and the support I received in response. I found a fertility therapist through Resolve.org who runs a support group that I attended for months. Friends put me in touch with their friends who had gone through IVF. I found an incredibly knowledgeable acupuncturist who recommended great books and put me on supplements that have been shown to improve egg quality. Slowly, week by week, month by month, we chipped away at our goal, reminding ourselves that our path was a different one, a slower one, but we were on it. Every day, I can be thankful for this healthy pregnancy with the painful knowledge that for so many, it can be out of reach.
The majority of you reading this will hopefully have no problem conceiving. We happen to be in the 10% of couples who experience infertility, and among those, we are in the 10% for whom infertility is due to both male and female factors. But if you are facing challenges or have questions, whether you are ready to have children or not, please speak to someone you trust – be it a professional, a friend or a relative. You will soon find that you are far from alone.