(**disclaimer: this post is long, and it deals with subjects that are not easy to talk about, but I encourage you to see it through. Chances are, we are not the only couple you know dealing with this**)
I am shattered. I am broken. My heart is shattered and my spirit is broken.
I wanted to put off writing this post for as long as possible, although I knew the possibility of things coming to this was high.
Our journey to have a baby is over.
For the foreseeable future, at least. After 11 months of trying on our own, one surgery, four intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures, countless needle sticks, and one in vitro fertilization (IVF) egg retrieval, we have reached the end with nothing to show for it except our shattered hearts and broken spirits. Oh, and the debt.
Let me recount the journey, for you and for myself.
Peter and I were “diagnosed” (if you can call it that) with unexplained infertility at the beginning of the year. After a surgery to remove a cyst, slight endometriosis, a fibroid, and a uterine polyp, our reproductive endocrinologist (RE – the doctor who specializes in getting people pregnant) gave us the all clear. We shouldn’t have any issues going forward.
February through May were spent on various medications, including Femara (kind of like the infamous Clomid, but a little less scary) and an injectable medication called Gonal-F. We used these medications in conjunction with IUIs to give sperm and egg better chances to meet and produce a baby.
By the end of May, the RE looked at me and said, “There’s no medical reason for you to be here, so let’s get you pregnant and get you on your way.” Peter and I talked it over, discussed the implications of taking on the financial burden of an IVF cycle, and decided to go for it. We took out a loan to pay for the cycle, knowing that our finances are such that, in the end, we would be able to make it all work out AND we would have a sweet little baby to call our own.
June was spent injecting myself three times a day. A shot of Lupron each morning to prevent ovulation (no Octomom here, thanks!), as well as a shot of Menopur to stimulate my ovaries. In the evenings, I gave myself a shot of Gonal-F to further stimulate my ovaries.
Why all this medication? Well, the goal of an IVF cycle is to produce as many eggs as is safely possible for retrieval. The more eggs you have, the more you can fertilize, and the more likely you are to have multiple embryos for transfer (typically frozen for siblings down the road).
I responded okay. I should say here that we do know that my ovarian reserve is slightly diminished. But my response to medication has always been fine, so the RE hasn’t been worried about it. About halfway through the days of injections (10 total, so around day 5), we noticed that I had a decent number of follicles (the egg releasers), but they weren’t growing as big as we’d like. A mature egg is typically released from a follicle measuring between 18 and 22mm. So we upped the Gonal-F and pushed forward. Follicles grew, but not all of them, so he had me go a day longer than anticipated to try to get some larger follicles.
On July 1, we did the egg retrieval procedure. A little bit of anesthesia, I was in the room for maybe 20 minutes, and then back to recovery. The RE came in: 15 eggs! This was great news considering only two days before, I only had seven or eight follicles that seemed to be the right size. We were ecstatic! This was way better than we anticipated.
The next day, we got our fertilization report. We only had seven mature eggs. The others were either fractured or too immature to fertilize.
And the kicker: only four eggs had fertilized normally.
We held our breaths and waited for our day three report, when we would learn how many had made it to multi-cell stage. On day three, they should be between six and ten cells.
The call: three had divided, but they were behind. One had four cells, two had two cells.
Again, we held our breaths. Maybe they were just a little behind. They could still catch up, the embryologist had confirmed this.
The calls on days five, six, and seven saw our worst fears become reality: the embryos had stopped growing on day three. They never got bigger than two or four cells. We had ZERO embryos to transfer. There would be no pregnancy resulting from this IVF cycle.
Today, we met with the RE to find out what went wrong. And he doesn’t know. At my age, the embryologist said this is “exceptionally rare,” and while the doctor thinks we could have a successful retrieval if we tried again, he said chances are higher than 50% that this will happen again.
Honestly, I’m still processing what all of this means for me and Peter. For right now, it means we won’t have biological children. It means I will not experience a pregnancy or the miracle (and pain, sure) of giving birth. I won’t breastfeed my child in the middle of the night. I won’t get to post cute announcement and birth photos, pictures of our little one growing up before our eyes.
Technology could be such later that we can have better odds. But we can’t count on that. Or maybe we’ll have a surprise totally natural pregnancy. But we certainly can’t count on that either.
Donor eggs are a possibility, but it’s expensive, more so than a regular IVF cycle. And honestly, it’s very difficult to consider, especially right now, the thought of carrying a child that is Peter’s and someone else’s. An anonymous someone else, sure. And someone we picked. But still. Maybe the wound is too raw right now (surely it is), but it’s also just hard to wrap your brain around that concept period.
Adoption is also something we might be willing to consider, but again, this is all too fresh. We can’t even begin to think about that now. We need to heal ourselves first.
Whatever our decision ultimately ends up being, we beg of you to respect it. And please do not rush us. Right now, we do not need people telling us we should adopt, asking if we’ve thought about X, Y, or Z. Trust me when I say we’ve thought about nearly everything. We want to have a family so badly, but the dream was to have a family that we created out of our love. We’re not quite ready to accept that the dream will not become the reality.
I was raised a religious person, and still consider myself spiritual at the very least. I don’t go to church, but I pray, and I try to live my life in a way that I think God would approve of. But right now, let me tell you that I’m having a HUGE crisis of faith. I’ve heard all about God’s plans for people. About how often it’s not what we envision for ourselves, but that there’s a higher purpose to everything. I’ve learned that’s so easy to say when you’re on the other side of a struggle. When you’ve come out the other end okay, maybe not unscathed, but in one piece, it’s so easy to look back and say, “So that’s what God had planned for me all along! I got it, thanks God!” But when you’re on this side of the hurt, the anger, the devastation, it’s impossible not to question the existence of some greater plan. It’s impossible not to be angry with God for putting a desire deep in your heart, a desire you’ve carried around most of your life, only to not fulfill that desire. So while I hope that one day I’ll suddenly understand all of this, right now, I don’t. Right now, I’m angry. I have to grieve, and this is just one of those stages I have to go through.
Know that there are no words of comfort to say in a time like this. Just love us. Be patient with us. Be a shoulder for us to cry on, if we need it (and we may not ask for it, but chances are, we need it). The pain is real, the tears are large, and the heart is heavy. But with the love Peter and I have for each other, and the love you all have for us, we will make it through this. I don’t know what “okay” is going to look like for us, but we’re going to be “okay.” One day.