On Monday, I posted Kristy's essay from her blog, Prosecco and Palm Trees (click here if you haven't read that yet). Below is her account the experiences that led her to write that post. Kristy's bog can be found here: Proseccoandpalmtrees.com.
How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
I got married to my husband at 34 and had been anxious about starting a family because I was a bit older. So, when we didn’t conceive in the first half year, I went to my OBGYN. Given my age, to be safe she sent me to a fertility specialist to do a hysterosalpingogram (HSG). That’s a test where they basically run dye into your uterus and scan with an abdominal device so they check to see if your fallopian tubes are properly connected to your ovaries, among other things. I went into that appointment thinking it would be but a routine pit stop to getting a script for Clomid and it would be easy, peasy. Before I stepped off that table, I learned that I had a unicornuate uterus and only one of two ovaries was connected, and I would have a very difficult time conceiving on my own.
What happened once this was determined?
We booked a follow up appointment as soon as possible, and we decided we wanted to go straight to IVF. Given that only one ovary was connected, IUI wasn’t a great option, and we didn’t want to waste any time. After my first round of blood tests, I found out that I also had a terrible egg reserve which made the possibility of successful IVF or any other procedures much less likely.
Did you try medical interventions? If so, what was the medical process like for you?
We had an IVF procedure on the books within 5 months of my initial diagnosis, which amazingly resulted in my first pregnancy. Sadly, that pregnancy ended before the end of my first trimester. We continued fertility treatments throughout the end of that year in Orlando, but ran into failures in egg retrieval and transfers, so we decided to try one of the world’s most well known doctors in Colorado. We had to undergo more rounds of testing, had equal success and failures there and no resulting pregnancy, so we headed back to Orlando to continue trying. In all, I think we did 8 IVF egg retrievals and countless attempts at IVF implantation. Given my uterine condition, we can only handle transferring one embryo at a time, so our likelihood of success each round was much less than the average IVF patient. After 3 years of trying with no success, we thought perhaps I wasn’t able to carry, so a close family friend kindly volunteered to be our gestational carrier (commonly known as a surrogate, but GC’s use the biological mom and dad’s embryo and a true surrogate uses her own eggs). This resulted in a long-awaited pregnancy, nearly 2 years after our first loss. We were overjoyed and couldn’t believe it was finally happening to us. I finally let my guard down and began to enjoy the process as we neared the 2nd trimester. But again, fate struck and we lost pregnancy number 2 at 12 weeks. While I didn’t have to endure the same process physically, emotionally I was a disaster and I felt sadness for our dear friend as well, because I didn’t want her to feel any sadness either. As we were waiting for her to try again (because she is a super hero), it took a bit longer than expected because she had some medical procedures, so I decided to try with one of our remaining frozen embryos- just to take a shot. By some miracle it worked! His name is Maxwell and he’s now 17 months old. I carried my beautiful boy to 37 weeks with not one complication, and he’s absolutely perfect.
Now to properly answer the question, this was the first time doctor visits and medical procedures didn’t go my way. I became a huge worrier, constantly scared that we would get bad news from an IVF procedure, I would be diagnosed with a new terrible condition, or that something was wrong during my pregnancy. I learned to become my own advocate, to educate myself as much as possible, but at the end of the day, before it finally worked I had to finally give into the process and accept that doing my best (whether it resulted in success or failure) was enough, and that no amount of worrying was going to help us get to our end goal any faster. That being said, I couldn’t even start to look at an ultrasound during my pregnancy until I knew that they had already heard the heartbeat. For the first 6 months of his life, I didn’t let a day go by without taking about 100 photos because I was convinced he was going to be somehow taken from us, it seemed too good to be true. I didn’t sense that I went through a stage of postpartum depression, but I see very clearly now that I struggled through my own form of PTSD from our fertility treatments and years of losses.
Did you try anything beyond medical interventions?
Before our last successful IVF transfer, I also tried acupuncture and cupping, which are both becoming much more mainstream in the fertility world. I find it to be very peaceful and calming, and I’m convinced it made a huge difference. Some clinics now actually have acupuncture specialists come into the office as part of standard protocols.
What was most helpful?
I think the most useful type of thing to say to a friend or family member going through something like this is, “You don’t need to say anything, because I understand you might not want to talk about it, and I don’t really know what to say, but I want you to know that I love you and I’m thinking about you all the time. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you along the way. We are here for you, whatever you need.”
What was hardest for you during this time?
It’s probably easier to hit a couple near the top of the list.
How did your partner deal with this process?
He just tried to stay at the helm of the ship, slow and steady, unwavering in his belief that things would be OK. On some of my down days I would get frustrated that he didn’t seem as upset as I was, but I see in hindsight that he was just trying to stay positive for the both of us, and that positivity was much needed. I think he realized much earlier than I did is that we can only do our best, and be there for each other then things didn’t go as we had hoped.
What was the least helpful thing someone said to you?
“Have you ever thought about adopting? Wouldn’t that probably be a good idea to get that process started? Wouldn’t that be easier at this point?” Adoption is no easier, just different. I’ve learned a great deal about adoption through the fertility boards I was a part of on Facebook, and it is something we have seriously entertained. That being said, each couple needs to go through their own process to find what is right for them at that point in time.
What was the most helpful/supportive thing someone said to you or did for you?
“Call me day or night if you need to talk, or cry, or just call me and we will sit there on the phone with each other and say nothing at all together. I’m here for you”
What would you like others to know about your experience?
It is OK to grieve for a miscarriage and speak of miscarriages publicly. It is a death, a loss, and as a mother you feel a responsibility to that child whether or not there is anything you could have done differently. Do not be ashamed, do not beat yourself up. Love yourself and give yourself time to heal. It is a process.
What advice would you give to someone about to begin the process of infertility interventions (medical or otherwise)?
My husband and I have always worked hard and were able to accomplish most things we set our minds to, but it seemed that having kids was a whole new roller coaster of which we had absolutely no control. We were several years into our IVF journey and though I felt like I couldn’t give up after all this time, as there was nothing I wanted more, I also felt like a fool for continuing to try when all I saw was failure after failure. People start to ask if you will adopt, they ask when you will accept that you might not have children, to just enjoy what you have. While you want to tell them why they are wrong, inside you secretly wonder if they are right and doubt your choices.
While licking my wounds from yet another failed embryo transfer a few years back, I didn’t know what we should do next, if anything, and one morning I saw an interview with Jimmy Fallon on the Today show about the birth of his daughter, who was exceptionally candid in sharing their journey to have a child over the course of 5 years. He captured so many feelings my husband and I shared about our own journey, and how hard it was seeing others so sad and disappointed for you. But his excitement about his newborn daughter was simply intoxicating, and he encouraged those going through the journey to build a family to keep trying, and eventually, somehow, you’ll get there. He said, keep trying! I promise, “it’s the most worth it thing…” That video will still make me cry if I watch it today. In the darkest days when I felt like giving up, I would go back and watch how his eyes sparkled when he spoke and how amazing it all was in the end. I saw that they got there eventually, and it was so helpful to know someone else had been where I was, and they were now on the happy side.
Find a community to support you, find others who can relate to what you are going through. Whether it is a supportive on-line fertility group or a friend of a friend, it helps to have someone that speaks your language and understands what it is all like. And like Jimmy said, keep trying, I promise you, it is the most worth it thing. You’re already one brave warrior momma if you are reading this – you’ve got this! Now go!