As part of Infertility Awareness week, we share Jen's story with you. Jen is a beloved member of our volunteer staff, acting as one of our Care Group leaders. We are incredibly thankful for her raw honesty, and so, so honored to share her story here today.
My road to motherhood, personally, goes back as far as I can remember. All I ever wanted to be was a mom. I was an innate nurturer. My favorite toy was my baby doll, which was her name because I could never decide on a name for her. As soon as I was old enough to babysit I took the course and never looked back. I have been a nanny for 4 different families for a total of almost 9 years. Babies and children were always a part of my world and made it even more clear that all I ever wanted was to have children of my own.
So when I got married at 26 I was excited to be a wife but also excited that it got me one step closer to becoming a mom. After seven months of marriage we sat down to have what my husband called “The Douglas Family Plan” talk. We went through multiple options and timelines and decided that now was the time to start trying to grow our family with a baby.
I had never had a regular cycle which I knew might play into our ability to conceive. I had never been officially diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS), at that time, but through my own research had a general idea that I might suffer from it. PCOS is a disease that can affect women and about 5 to 10 percent of women suffer from it. Some of the symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods, hair loss but increased body hair, insulin issues which can lead to weight gain, acne and oily skin, and more issues. Most of these can be manageable outside of trying to conceive, but one of the main issues surrounding women, including myself, who suffer from PCOS is the fact that their bodies do not mature an egg each month so their ovulation does not occur. Even when they do they may have a higher chance of miscarriage due to PCOS. But still my hope was strong and being an eternal optimist I thought, “no worries! it is going to happen soon I am not one of the women who will be fully affected!"
Month after month passed and at my yearly OBGYN appointment I brought up the fact that we were trying to get pregnant and that having never had a regular period what might I do. We moved forward with our first of many fertility treatments. We used a drug called Clomid to hopefully get me to ovulate. I had multiple friends who had been successful conceiving on the drug so that hope was alive and strong yet again. But 6 months into 5 rounds of Clomid the hope was wavering.
Quickly, before we move on the the second half of my story I wanted to get on a little soapbox and share something that I realized at this point of our journey, 1 year into trying to start a family. By this point we were technically, through the length of time we had been trying to conceive, suffering from infertility. Statistically 1 in 8 women or couples will struggle with infertility at some point in the process of trying to conceive. But here is the main thing, YOU ARE YOUR BIGGEST ADOVCATE IN YOUR INFERTILITY JOURNEY. My heart ultimately knew it was time to move on to the next thing but my doctor here wanted to keep me on the same path for longer. We were serious about starting our family and I asked to be referred to a specialist. I don’t think she fully understood but she made the call.
So up to Charlottesville we went. In proximity to where we live, Charlottesville has the closest reproductive medicine and surgery center and, lucky for us, some of the best doctors in the whole country. In our first appointment we learned that I for sure had PCOS and because of that had more than enough follicles (which contain your eggs). It’s what happens when you get a period maybe twice a year your whole life. I still remember the words of the doctor at the end of my exam, “We’re going to get you pregnant." I held onto those words as we began the next course of treatment: another round of Clomid, but this time adding a steroid. I clung to those words as I took the pills and began to dream deeper about what our baby might look like; so when I went up for the exam to see if I ovulated and found out that I had not, the tears flowed strong on my long ride home. So strongly, in fact, that I got a speeding ticket. The officer (after he established I was not physically hurt, just emotionally broken) gave me a reduced ticket and told me that he and his wife tried for four years and now have four children. He told me to get a pitcher of margaritas with some girlfriends that night (and let them drive me home)! It was one of those moments when, although his words could not fix my pain, his understanding without trying to solve my infertility was the perfect reaction.
Over the next eight months we went through six round of injections followed by IUI (Inter-Uterine Insemination); which is super romantic, trust me! What this looked like for us was nightly injections of hormones, which I gave myself, to mature an egg. Also every other to every day trips up to Charlottesville to check on the eggs by ultrasound. It was a delectate balance because they did not want too many eggs to mature or the round was no good. So slow and steady was the key but that also meant I was a hormonal, exhausted, mess especially after around the fourth round. I want to mention that although many think that infertility just effects women men are also 50% of the equation. My husband was all over the place with count, morphology, and motility. This was another factor in our winding road to infertility. Statistically, by the fifth round they would have expected for us to have had a successful conception. Therefore, after round six, one of the doctors brought me into his office and asked me how I was doing. I proceeded to cry and tell him how tired I was. We were physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially worn out. We decided to take a break, I was thinking for 6 months, but it turned into a 2 year break from formal treatments.
At this point in our story, I am now to 5 years on this long and winding road to motherhood. We decided to head back up to Charlottesville and begin treatments again. We met with my favorite doctor up there and through some changes in my husband's numbers we decided to move forward yet again with injections. My body was doing what it was supposed to do on the injections, so now that my husband’s numbers were better why not move forward with the cheaper but still super expensive method as opposed to starting IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization)?! Again that hope was super alive. I was so excited to be moving forward yet again and the idea that a baby could be right around the corner was so real. After two unsuccessful rounds of injections and IUI’s we came to the hard decision that this again was a dead end and that if we wanted a biological child it looked like we were going to have to go through with IVF.
I have tried to make our story as concise as possible, but how do you wrap 5.5 years into a short couple of paragraphs?...We are in the home stretch so hang in there with me! The decision to move forward with IVF seemed so quick, but really this whole process had brought us to this point. We knew before we could with our whole hearts move forward with other means of growing our family (adoption), we needed to try this last option to have a biological child. Many times and through tears I would say, “I want a you and me to come out of me”!
I feel like I need to say here that although the decision was made, many things had to fall into place. IVF is an extremely expensive process. In very few states fertility treatments are covered by insurance. For many who walk on the road of infertility IVF is either not an option financially or something that involves years of saving or loans. Our savings over the years had gone into prior treatments and without the help of family again our process would have been stalled as we figured out the financial element of this.
We began our treatments in January 2016, after surgery to remove some polyps they found in my uterus in a trial transfer and ultrasound. I had prepped myself for how awful this process was going to be with higher dosages of hormones and many, many trips to Charlottesville, but to my delight and the grace of my higher power, the two and half weeks before the retrieval was great. I had not overstimulated, which they were worried about due to my PCOS. I had 8 follicles that had grown to be proper size. It was time for the egg retrieval which seemed like it was going to work perfectly! It was going to be on Saturday...but what in our process has not had some kind of bump in the road? We headed up in the blizzard of 2016 winter storm Jonas.
Spending the night in a hotel we made our snowy journey the following morning the mile down the road to the hospital. Time seemed to stand still. Maybe it was because I was unconscious, but three hours later we were on the road home with 14 fertilized eggs incubating in a dish.
After 24 hours 8 eggs had begun to divide. We were thrilled. The most exciting thing was because I did not over stimulate and we had so many eggs they were planning on doing a fresh transfer. Through the process they had been prepping us that most likely we were going to have to do a frozen transfer, and surprisingly frozen have a higher success rate. But that would bump our whole time line back 2 months. Day 3 came and all 8 were still doing amazing...dividing and growing, so we knew the transfer was going to be Day 5. So Thursday, January 28th, 3 valium later, we headed back up to Charlottesville for our transfer and the first time we would ever see our babies. As I lay there on the table looking up at the tv screen with the imagine of the 2 babies they were about to transfer into my uterus every emotion flooded over me. Could this be the last stretch of the long and winding road we had been traveling down? When I say every emotion I mean every emotion; excitement, hope, joy, fear, doubt, relief, pain, all at once. Just because I had two of our 5 day old embryos in me did not mean they would attach or that in 9 months we would be bringing one or both of them home. This was a whole new aspect. We were so close but I still did not, or could not, say I was pregnant. But I was one step closer to becoming a mother, the closest I had ever been.
So we waited. The dreaded two week wait this time seemed slower than ever. February 8th came and first thing in the morning I went and had my blood drawn hoping to get in before all the doctors’ offices. Then we waited and waited and waited all day for the results. I finally called Charlottesville and the IVF nurse knew exactly why I was calling. She called back and said the words I had longed to hear for 5.5 years, “You are pregnant”. Tears of relief and joy flooded over me. We still did not know if it was one or two yet but at least one had started to grow and for the first time ever I had just become a mother to my own babies. Later on that month we had and ultrasound and before the doctor could even get the word “twins” out we saw the two separate perfect sacs containing our two beautiful perfect babies.
My road to motherhood looks different from so many, but also, so many are able to relate. In the years of our trying to have just one I have had so many friends who have had 1, 2, and 3 babies. I also had a friend who struggled alongside me month after month with the longing to become a mother. I watched birthday after birthday come, Christmas cards were sent out without a baby on them (this past year we included our 2 furry babies), life just continued to move forward while all I wanted it to do was stand still. This road of infertility I walked down was never easy but it has made me who I am today. I can appreciate moments while still longing for the future. For that I will forever be grateful. As hard as it was I never want to forgot this long road through infertility and always want to be there for others who have never gotten off of or may be back on it.