Skyler and I joked before our wedding that we wanted kids “9 months to the day.” We always knew we wanted a family, and we wanted it as soon as we could have it. And now here we are, 3 years since we said “I do,” and our home is filled with so much love and laughter and four furry pets – and in a few months, we’ll welcome home our first child. Not to be dramatic, but that’s a statement I wasn’t sure we would ever say because the journey to this point has been a long and difficult one.
I’ve started and stopped writing this about a hundred times because I’m not sure of my reasoning behind writing it in the first place . It’s not that I think I owe anyone an explanation on why it “took us so long.” Maybe it’s because the question “When are you going to have kids?” has made my heart break a million times over the years. Maybe it’s because the journey we’ve been on was really, really lonely, and maybe because there are other women that I know who might be going through something similar. And if they’re lonely like I have felt lonely, maybe explaining this season of our lives can do even the smallest amount of good or provide the smallest amount of comfort. Also, maybe it’s just because I feel like I have carried so much weight, and it’s time to let some of it go.
For three years, Skyler and I have been trying to grow our family, but despite the super helpful advice of others we’ve received, no amount of “just relax”-ing or pomegranate juice was going to help me get pregnant. As 2018 drew to a close, I went to my doctor for some tests. It had been several months, and nothing was happening. But for a (relatively) young and (relatively) healthy woman, my doctor told me to come back after it had been at least 1 year of trying with no success – that’s when they start to acknowledge the potential of infertility. So, I bought an Ava bracelet to track my body measures (temperature, heart rate, respirator rate, etc.), had some bloodwork done (all of the important hormones were at their appropriate levels within my body), crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
At the beginning of 2019, following a ski trip to Colorado, a weird series of events led us to discover that I suffered from this thing called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. In other words, my body was producing too much cerebral spinal fluid, which in turn put too much pressure on my brain, causing my body to react as though I had a brain tumor (ie. migraines, altered/loss of vision, sensitivity to light), even though there was no tumor in sight. To decrease the production of this fluid and ease my symptoms, I was put on a medication that was not recommended for pregnancy. We put off trying – but really, we didn’t. We weren’t not trying. I told myself that if I got pregnant, I would stop the medication for my fake brain tumor. But after a few months, I grew tired of the weird side effects of the medicine, and so I carefully tapered off anyway. I went back to my OBGYN, and the game was back on. She told me if I wasn’t pregnant in three months, to make another appointment.
Those three months came and went, and my cycle was all over the place. Some days, I would literally bleed through multiple pairs of pants. Sometimes I had my period for 42 days straight. (Can you even imagine?!) I was put on a medication to stop the bleeding and “reset” my cycle. She also put me on a thyroid medication because, while my levels were within the normal range, she would prefer for them to be a little bit higher.
Three more months came and went, and I still wasn’t pregnant. My doctor ran a few more tests and, again, everything looked normal, but she wanted to consider the fact that maybe I had PCOS. Once again, she told me to come back in three months if I wasn’t pregnant. (Is anyone else getting tired of reading that? Because I sure was tired of hearing it.) I started using ovulation prediction kits so that I could make sure we were giving ourselves the best chances. By this point, almost everyone I knew was pregnant, and several of them swore that it was the OPKs that did the trick, so I bought a box of 100. Nothing like the true, natural romance of obsessively searching for a dark pink line to appear every night before bed, amirite?
In the meantime, it became increasingly more painful to hear stories of friends who got pregnant on their first try, or who got pregnant without intending to. While I was truly happy to celebrate these milestones in the lives of these women whom I loved so dearly, I mourned a little for myself each and every time. I’ve read countless blogs about this very topic, and I’ve seen hundreds of comments crying “Selfish!” about the women who felt like I felt, and it makes my heart break. It’s really difficult for someone to understand the unique pain of infertility unless they’re in the thick of it.
Anyway, as I’m sure you can guess, three months came and went, and still nothing. My doctor suggested a hysterosalpingogram, which is a small outpatient procedure that uses a special dye under an X-ray to investigate the shape of my uterine cavity, including the Fallopian tubes. It seemed simple enough, but it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt in my life. Tears streamed uncontrollably down my face and I was literally growling at the poor doctor and nurses and writhing on the table. The doctor’s theory was that when they inflated my uterine cavity with a balloon and injected the dye solution, the intense pain was a result of the influx of fluids into a cavity with blocked tubes, so it had nowhere to go. But ultimately, the test was inconclusive. They couldn’t say for sure if my Fallopian tubes were open or blocked. My options were to redo the procedure, opt for a more invasive surgery, or just skip straight to IVF.
I decided on the surgery. I couldn’t knowingly volunteer to experience that amount of pain again, but I couldn’t not know if my Fallopian tubes were open or closed by skipping straight to IVF. Not to mention, IVF came with a $20,000 price tag and more needles than a trypanophobe could probably stomach. It was a risky time for an elective surgery. COVID was (and still is) still rampant, and it wasn’t considered a medically necessary procedure, so there was a chance it could have been cancelled at any time. Thankfully, it wasn’t, and not only was Skyler allowed to stay with me in the hospital, but the surgery went well, although the results were mediocre. My left tube was wide open and healthy; my right tube was completely blocked. In practical terms, that meant that even in a completely perfect world, our chances to get pregnant each month were reduced by about 50%, given that it’s not possible for a woman to know whether or not she is ovulating from her left or right ovary under ordinary circumstances. Then, layer on an additional diagnosis of PCOS and a few slight hormonal imbalances, and those chances each month? They were in the toilet. I felt relieved that we were finally getting some answers, but I knew we still had such a road ahead of us.
My doctor prescribed me a fertility medication called Clomid to try and induce ovulation each month. She told me to try it out for (I bet you can’t guess!) three months, and if I wasn’t pregnant by then, we would reevaluate. The first month, I didn’t ovulate. I broke the three month ruled, called my nurse and asked for a higher dose. My request was denied; she told me to finish out the original three month dosage. Second month, I didn’t ovulate. The third month, I didn’t ovulate.
My doctor doubled my prescription and gave me three more months. If those three months passed unsuccessfully, it was time to turn to IVF. I took my medication as prescribed, but in the meantime, we began to meet with the doctors at Shady Grove Fertility. In the midst of a global health pandemic, I knew that medically unnecessary appointments were being pushed out for weeks, if not months, and I didn’t want to reach the end of this three month phase, and then have to wait even longer to get in for a consultation. My fertility doctor sent me for a complete blood panel, connected us with one of their financial guides, and laid out her plan, which would be layered on top of my other doctor’s three month plan. The first month, I would simply take my Clomid as planned. The timing of my consultation was a little bit off based on my cycle, so there wasn’t much she could do. The second month, she would test my hormone levels before and after to make sure that the medicine was doing what it was supposed to in my body. The third month, she would not only monitor my hormone levels and my egg production; she would be able to tell me whether I would ovulate from my right or left side. While this might not sound like crucial information to have, it really was! If it looked like I was ovulating on my left side, we were in business! If it was on the right side, we knew that my blocked tube would stop the released egg from ever getting where it needed to go in order for us to get pregnant. It finally felt like we were getting somewhere with our fertility treatments.
And then, we were exposed to COVID. One of our best friends works in healthcare, where she is regularly tested, and in November – my third month – she tested positive, and we had been exposed. I had to cancel my monitoring appointments, and Skyler and I were quarantined until we received our own negative test results. My third month had just gone down in flames.
I hit a low. I remember one night, in the middle of our COVID quarantine, Skyler and I were laying in bed, and he asked me where my head was. Point blank, he said, “Have you checked out? Are you just wasting time until IVF starts?” I honestly didn’t know how to answer, because I was thinking both yes and no. Yes, I was tired of 29 months in a row of hoping to see two pink lines, and being let down every time. I was tired of carrying the burden on my shoulders, because I was the one whose body was causing the problem, not his. He was healthy as a horse. I was tired of obsessively using OPKs, which effectively removed the romance from our relationship. I was just so tired. But at the same time, no, I wasn’t ready throw in the towel. Our IVF journey was scheduled to begin in January, and I couldn’t ignore the possibility that maybe, just maybe, something could happen between now and then. I couldn’t imagine putting us in a financial position to pay $20,000 to be poked and prodded endlessly, and even IVF doesn’t come with any guarantees. For the first time in a while, we had a real and honest conversation about how we felt about the journey we had been on, and especially about the uphill battle we were facing. He had been doing his own research on IVF while at work, and felt like he could handle giving me my daily injections. He was ready to carry the burden of what was going to be the hardest challenge of our marriage so far, and he made sure that I knew that I was going to be loved and supported every step of the way.
That night, I got a positive ovulation test for the very first time. And just over two weeks later, we found out that I was pregnant.
I wish that I knew why. It’s actually incredibly frustrating because I can be a pretty black and white person, and so, IVF was a clear solution to a problem. Black and white. But the way that it happened for us wasn’t black and white. People have been calling it luck, calling it a miracle, saying it was just meant to be, but I wonder why it wasn’t meant to be at any other time over the past three years. Why did we go through the emotions, the surgeries, the needles, the tears and the anger and the frustration, just for us to get “lucky” now? All of these things still go through my mind on a weekly basis, even as I sit here, feeling my belly slowly start to stretch, with the cutest little crib ready and waiting upstairs. Sometimes, I even feel guilty. I feel guilty for the emotions and negativity that I put out into this world while I was struggling, just for a random switch to flip and ta-da, with no real reason whatsoever, I got pregnant. I feel guilty for being pregnant when I know there are women out there who have it so much harder than I did.
I say all of this because I want you to understand that everyone’s journey is different. I appreciate the grace that our friends and family have extended to us over the past several years. For those that we’ve let into this journey, the constant support is something I’ll be forever grateful for. To those of you who had it easy, I want to remind you to extend that same grace and support to the people you love who might not have it so easy. And for those of you who might be struggling, I want you to know that I understand, and the worst thoughts you’ve thought during this time, I guarantee you that I’ve thought them too. And if you ever need an ear or a shoulder, mine is available.
Note: I also want to point out that I wrote this entirely from my perspective, but Skyler and I were in these trenches together, and I have never been more sure that I have an amazing husband as I sit here and look back on the journey we’ve gone through. The day of my hysterosalpingogram, I felt pain and frustration like never before. He drove me home, we lit a fire in the backyard, and he let me take out my aggression with an axe and some old wood doors. Then, he encouraged me to book a last-minute flight to surprise my friend Madison in Dallas. He let me literally run away from our problems to a brighter, warmer place, even just for a weekend. When I needed a bottle of wine or a pint of ice cream or a shoulder to cry on or a big spoon to snuggle, he was there. He was unwaveringly steady for me, all the while sorting through his own feelings about our infertility journey. I really hit the jackpot with him, and I can’t wait to see him as a dad.