This is part of an ongoing series of real women sharing their stories of infertility and hope. Sarah says, “If there’s a bit of wisdom I could offer, it is this: advocate for yourself, most especially if something you’re being told doesn’t ring right.” I couldn’t agree more.
My husband and I decided that I would go off oral contraception only a few months after we were married. We knew from some of our friends’ experiences that it might take a while to get pregnant, so we figured we’d better get started in case it took we “oldies” me, 34 years old and he, 40 a while. In a total surprise, we got pregnant our third month. The pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage, which we were able to recover from quite easily by focusing on the knowledge of how “easy” it had been for us to get pregnant.
The joke was on us. It wasn’t easy for us to get pregnant again. After a couple months of not getting pregnant again, we started getting a little more aggressive in our approach. We followed the Taking Charge of Your Fertility method to the letter, charting cervical fluid and temperature and timing sex to the near-millisecond. We cut down the caffeine, increased our already-sufficient exercise protocols, added vitamins and supplements and acupuncture, while trying not to stress out about it all too much…but, nothing.
My husband’s new job in a new city brought new insurance which, blessedly, covered reproductive assistance. We went to a “highly rated” big city reproductive endocrinologist whose statistics —and office full of pregnant couples suggested that he was, in fact, the best. His did a full work-up on both of us, diagnosing our challenge as male-factor infertility. The sperm in my husband’s semen sample, he said, was plentiful in count and decent in motility but terrible in morphology. Our chances of conceiving without assistance, he said specifically, ICSI were near nil.
This diagnosis struck us as a little weird. My husband had a 10-year-old daughter from his previous marriage, conceived on the first try, but perhaps his sperm quality was diminished by his age and other factors such as bicycling around 50 miles total per week? My husband and I argued about his bicycle and one-cup-of-coffee-per-day, and spent a bunch of money on a male-factor IF supplement. Still, the R.E. seemed a little…ICSI-happy. I asked a friend of mine, who had had to have ICSI to get pregnant owing to her husband’s genetically-based male-factor infertility, to tell me more about their process. What she told me set off a lightbulb in my head: Semen samples are so variable, and their analyses so subjective, it takes at least a couple samples taken over time to reach any definitive diagnosis. A couple over time, versus the one sample on which the “highly rated” R.E. diagnosed us. My husband and I decided to seek a second opinion.
The second R.E. we saw confirmed what my friend had said. A more conservative, step-wise doctor in a less prestigious practice in a much smaller town, he wanted to re-run our tests. Sure enough, my husband’s semen analysis came back fully adequate for conception. [Technical note: the second R.E. used W.H.O. standards for morphology, whereas the first R.E. had used the controversial because they're so impossible to meet Kruger standards.] This knowledge was gratifying but it still didn’t resolve our problem of why we were having trouble conceiving. Meanwhile, the second R.E. had his own theory of why we weren’t getting pregnant: he had noticed a spot on the ultrasound of my uterus that he thought was probably more of a factor than the first R.E. who noted seeing it but said that it wasn’t a problem thought. He did a sonohistogram and determined that I had a large uterine polyp that was the likely culprit of our infertility. He recommended out-patient, transvaginal surgery to remove it, at least as a first step in the process of using conservative, step-wise, cost-efficient technological interventions to help us try to get pregnant.
I had the surgery the next month, sixteen months after I had gone off oral contraception, just over a year after our miscarriage, and a month after my 36th birthday. The R.E. declared it a success: The polyp had grown from the top of my uterus and attached itself to the bottom, effectively created a bicornuate uterus. By removing it he had opened my uterus up to provide an expandable home for any blastocyst we managed to make.
We conceived the very next month. And then we had another miscarriage a blighted ovum, per ultrasound this time in week 12 and this time much more agonizing. We felt like we’d come so far, and overcome so many barriers, and then…this?
That was nine months ago. A few months later we conceived again and now over two years after I went off oral contraception, almost two years since we had our first miscarriage, and just a month before I turn 37 we are twenty weeks pregnant with a healthy baby girl. We know she’s healthy not only from our prenatal visits with our midwife but also from amnio, which we got when our first trimester screen came back with 1:5 risk for Trisomy 13/18. The relief and elation we experienced when those good results came back, well, I can only compare them to what I’ve heard from other people who have experienced something I haven’t yet: the ecstasy of meeting one’s baby for the very first time.
As I tell more people our story, I am simultaneously saddened and heartened to hear so many like it. The friend who had four miscarriages before conceiving and carrying to term her wonderful daughter. The friend who regrets a life of childlessness because her husband would not be evaluated by an R.E. and refused to consider adoption. And here’s the “x- factor” for us: How much longer would we have tried if we hadn’t conceived yet? What other technological interventions would we consider? At what point would we decide to shift to adoption, to which we both were — both *are* — open? I feel fortunate that we don’t have to answer those questions at this moment, but they will probably gnaw at me until we hold our baby girl in our arms…and then, because we want her to have a sibling, her sister or brother.
When I tell my story to other friends who have children, some of whom conceived easily and immediately and without any problems, and others who didn’t, I am reminded of the ways in which parenting itself is also saddening and heartening sometimes simultaneously, sometimes every day. I hear them talk about the gratification of bonding with one’s children and the elation of seeing them get excited about something. The exhaustion of disciplining them ethically and the mourning over babyhood once it’s lost to full-on kid-dom. I reflect on the two years it’s taken us to get to this halfway-there point and find myself surprisingly grateful for our experience. I don’t know what better preparation to have our hearts both filled and broken and then filled again (and broken and filled all over again) in parenting than our experience of infertility.
If you want to share your story, please send it to me to at firstname.lastname@example.org.
image: Kelly Stuart for The Glow