How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
My husband and I were able to conceive our daughter within the first 2 months of trying, so when she turned one and we decided to try for baby #2, we figured it would be just as easy. 9 months later we weren’t having any success and I had this gut feeling something was wrong. My obgyn ran a blood panel and determined that several of my hormones were off balance (low progesterone, high FSH, etc). She performed an HSG procedure to check on my fallopian tubes and we found out that I had a hydrosalpinx left fallopian tube (fluid filled). The combination of the hormonal imbalance and the tubal issues resulted in a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist.
What happened once this was determined?
I set up a consultation with a top rated clinic in Chicago (FCI). At the consultation, the RE told me that my only option was IVF and I would need to have my left fallopian tube removed before we started any type of fertility treatments. I scheduled my surgery for the following month, and 3 months post recovery was able to begin my first IVF cycle.
Did you try medical interventions? If so, what was the medical process like for you?
Over the course of 3 years, I had 2 fresh IVF cycles and 3 frozen IVF cycles. I also had: a laparoscopy to remove my fallopian tube; a hysteroscopy to examine my uterus and remove potential scar tissue; and then a laparoscopy/hysteroscopy/uterine resection to remove scar tissue, and redo my original C-section. It took 4 IVF cycles and several surgeries to determine the main cause of my secondary infertility was scar tissue and low ovarian reserve.
Did you try anything beyond medical interventions?
I did: 6 months of fertility acupuncture; juicing/cleanses; fertility meditation and yoga. Unfortunately, since my cause of infertility was mostly medical, natural options weren’t as helpful as I had hoped they’d be. I also started seeing a therapist weekly who specialized in infertility/female issue, and that was life changing.
What was most helpful?
Surgery was the most helpful:) Beyond that, I did like acupuncture for stress relief. I also owe 99% of my sanity and my successful IVF outcome to my therapist. She truly kept my head on straight. She taught me meditative techniques and kept me calm through the transfers/waiting periods. Ultimately, she allowed me to breathe. I would recommend seeing a specialist to anyone: infertility is so much harder on your mind and body than we all realize.
What was hardest for you during this time?
Mentally, it was exhausting. I could handle the physical aspect of it all-the shots, side effects, procedures did not bother me one bit. I was able to focus on the goal and get through the physical pain. But emotionally and mentally, I had a much harder time rebounding. Especially when I would have a miscarriage (3 different times throughout the process) or a negative cycle. I also struggled with not having answers, as I’m someone who wants to be able to understand things-even if it means hearing bad news. Being told by a doctor that they can’t figure out what’s going on (and then to look at my perfectly healthy daughter who was conceived naturally) just didn’t make sense to me. And it’s hard to keep telling yourself to try again when it’s such a financial, emotional, mental, physical commitment, and you know in the back of your head you could be doing it all for nothing.
How did your partner deal with this process?
My husband was amazing. He was patient, supportive, compassionate, and encouraging. I feel so fortunate that we always agreed on some of the toughest decisions and he always trusted my word. I met so many women along the way who weren’t in that same position and it broke my heart to imagine the additional stress they were under. However, I will say that the process did wreak havoc on our intimacy and our social life. It’s something we are still working and actively repairing. And while we understand the root of it, three years of damage takes a while to fix. I’m just lucky that we are both committed to it!
What was the least helpful thing someone said to you?
“Just take a break,” was the absolute worst thing anyone could say and I heard it often from some of my closest family members. People don’t understand that you can’t just quit. I think the perspective is that (unlike a terminal illness/cancer diagnosis/life threatening diseases) with infertility, you have the ‘choice’ to put yourself through hell and back. But when it comes to building a family, understanding why your body won’t allow you to – it isn’t something you can just ‘quit’ or ‘take a break from’ without incredible heartache and disappointment. It’s letting go of a dream, a goal, and a life vision, and unless you’re in the midst of it, no one fully understands.
What was the most helpful/supportive thing someone said to you or did for you?
“You are inspiring and the strongest person I know." My older sister used to send me the most encouraging care packages when I was going through treatments. They made me feel so loved and supported. Instead of feeling sorry for me, avoiding the topic, or being aggressive with opinions, she just showed me how much she cared for me and let me know she was cheering me on. That is the stance everyone should take.
What would you like others to know about your experience?
That it truly is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been through (until I lost my twin sons). It takes so much will power and the biggest leap of faith to put yourself through months and years of treatment. It changes who you are as a person– I think it betters you as a parent– and it is something that will most likely define you for the rest of your life. But in the end, it can be a positive definition of who you are and what your body was capable of doing.
What advice would you give to someone about to begin the process of infertility interventions (medical or otherwise)?
Get as many consultations as possible. Find a doctor who is committed to solving your puzzle. Don’t go for the doctor who is popular but too busy to be hands on. I used to fax my medical records to all the top clinics in the US (most will do free phone consults!) and then compare their recommendations with a local RE. Also: do the research. Every single clinic (or at least the good ones) should have all their data/statistics/success rates online and go to the one who has the best data. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor WHY their numbers are higher or lower. Find a local support group and connect with people who are in the exact same position as you. I found the most compassion, information, referrals, and ideas from women who I met with each month. Lastly, look into a specialist who can help you work through the stress of infertility. There are so many therapists who specialize in this area of need and it’s worth every single penny and minute you spend. You’re the most important factor in the whole process and taking care of your mind, body, and soul is what will give you the outcome you desire.