It’s been awhile since I gave you all a proper update on our infertility journey. A lot of you have been keeping up with me on instagram and continue to motivate me every day to share our story with you all. I have been sharing updates on my instagram stories mostly talking about each step and where we are at the moment. Be sure to tune in for some more timely updates there but I will also continue to share with you guys here in a longer form.
I last left off with the spirit of hope after a devastating (and long) summary of what we had been through with our first failed IVF cycle. For those that haven’t read it, I posted a massive blog post talking about our infertility struggles, IUI’s and first round of failed IVF here. Before I get into everything, I want to remind everyone reading that everything I write about here is purely based on my own experience. Everyone’s body and infertility journey is unique to them and I am by no means a medical resource. Just want to put out the gentle reminder that everything I share is based on my own experience as I try to do my best to share what I have been through. If you ever have an important question, please reach out to your amazing doctors and nurses who will be able to give you all the answers you may need.
IVF Round Two: Making a plan
After our first round of IVF, we took some much needed time off. Time off from injections. Time off from doctors appointments. Time off from medicines everyday. Time off from infertility. When I say time off from infertility… I kind of feel like there is never any time off. But, taking time to just be the two of us and live a normal life not structured by shot times was important for us to reset our bodies and most importantly our minds. It was the first break in treatment in a year and you don’t realize how much you run yourself down. Blake and I were finally feeling like ourselves and refreshed to look at our next step with an open heart and open mind.
We made our first appointment with the doctor so that we could talk to her about our previous cycle, what went wrong, and what we could do better next time. I had been writing down notes and questions in my google docs to make sure we remembered everything we wanted to talk to her about. We came up with a plan to focus on maturing my eggs more evenly in hopes to get more embryos in the end. My doctor is one to always change up protocols to see if there is something different that could be more successful. I am a big supporter of this approach. If something doesn’t work, why not try something different. IVF is the craziest science experiment and it’s always good to see if my body responds to other medications in more positive ways. Our plan was to do some estrogen priming for my ovaries and use micro dose lupron in collaboration with omnitrop and then follistim and menopur to get my eggs growing as evenly as possible. My biggest concern was how do we get better chances to get more embryos and this plan sounded like a good one. I was literally chomping at the bit to get started. We also talked to her about fertility therapists. Blake and I have never gone to therapy together and we thought it would be great to talk about where we were at in the process with someone that specialized on the subject. More on that later. I also talked to her about any financial programs we might be able to enroll in. Sadly because we already had one failed IVF cycle, we were no longer eligible for some of these programs. This is just another reminder for all you ladies (or men) early on in your infertility journeys to ask all of these questions at the beginning. No matter if IVF is not on your radar, it’s SO important to empower yourself with as much information when it comes to the financial aspects of the infertility process. I felt like I researched every nook and cranny but there was plenty that I missed. You are your own advocate to make sure to really push for all of this information so you have the tools to deal with the process.
Blake and I went together to meet with a therapist that specialized in what we were going through. She came highly recommended from my doctor. I loved the idea of us going in together as this whole process puts a lot of strain on relationships. Your partner is there for the good the bad and the REALLY ugly and it’s always a great idea to be on the same page.
A really great thing about my relationship with Blake and is that it’s very open and we have a great line of communication. I tend to go off the handle much more than he does especially with the amount of hormones I have pumping through me these days. I am so lucky that he can balance out my crazy through all of this. Don’t get me wrong, we have our really terrible days and those are hard. Really hard. But it’s being able to really see our actions and reactions to things and take that moment to readjust, and realign with what we are working toward. We will never be perfect people, but we work everyday to better for each other and with each other.
Our first session was actually our last. While we loved the therapist we met with, Blake and I were in a great place. We decided that this was a good introduction for down the line if we needed more support. It was great for us to know she was there in the wings to help whenever we needed a helping hand. For anyone thinking about going to couples therapy for infertility, it’s definitely something I would recommend to help align each other and open the lines of communication. Even though we only went to 1 session, it was helpful. Those are my two cents about it anyways.
I was so excited to finally get the go ahead to start with all my medications. Every step forward is a mini victory. Having gone through one round of IVF already, that fear factor just melted away. Injections? No big deal. Well, I am exaggerating but you get the gist. We had more injections this cycle than last. In the mornings I would take microdose lupron + menopur. At night I would take microdose lupron and follistim. Follistim also known as “folliSTING” was not my favorite. While menopur stings more going on, Follistim would sting going in and afterward. Not my favorites but you get through. I started on a 450 IUI dose of follistim and kept that dose for most of my stim cycle. 5 days later, I also started a 5th injection called Omnitrope. This was a growth hormone to help mature the eggs. Every injection was getting us to our little baby. So I would think about that every time we did them. Starting the cycle is always hard when you know how many more days lie ahead of you filled with endless medications. But, stay strong my friends. The light at the end of the tunnel is worth every bruise, and every uncomfortable second.
As far as side effects go, they were pretty similar to my first round of treatment. BLOAT CITY. My body became extremely bloated and uncomfortable as each day went one. Toward the end of my stim treatments, my body would feel so heavy and I would be extremely exhausted. I think the important thing for me was really taking it easy and not pushing my body past its limits. I got a lot of questions on whether or not I was allowed to work out. The short answer: HELL NO. Since I experience ovarian torsion in my last cycle, my doctor wanted me to be very careful. No working out and no twisting. Trust me, you won’t be in the mood to work out when you have two sacks of grape size eggs getting all big and cozy in your ovaries. Don’t forget to ask your doctor if you have a question about working out.
In the last few days before egg retrieval, even small trips in the car would be extremely uncomfortable for me. I was living in dresses and oversized workout pants since I was way too bloated to fit into any of my regular clothes. I think anyone going through changes in the size of their body knows how hard it can be. While I can easily photograph my “good angles” and pick outfits to hide my insecurities, it’s really fuckind hard having no control over the state of your body. I remember having conversations with my fellow IVF friends about wondering what it was like to actually work out and know your body. When you have been taking hormones for over a year, your body changes and there is little you can do about it. Some days are easier than others. There are so many things out of your control when you are doing fertility treatments so not being able to do anything about your growing and changing body is a real challenge. One small thing that helped me was buying some pair of jeans and pants for my changing body. Releasing the need to control my growing body and just going with the flow was the best thing I could do. This way, getting dressed was not a constant reminder of how much weight I gained, or how bloated I was that day from all the medications. I know this seems like a small insignificant thing, but adding a few new pieces to my closet really helped my mood and lifted my spirits. It’s the little things to help you get through this process that mean the most.
We were almost to a major moment, our egg retrieval. Counting down those days was getting more exciting by the moment. This was our chance to do it again, and kick ass.
My mantra: Love over Fear
I had a big shift in my mind and heart between IVF 1 and IVF 2. I went from being scared and doubtful, to being hopeful and excited. I knew that this time around there was no room for doubt, and only room for love. I think it took me hitting rock bottom after that dreaded phone call to be able to pick myself up and rebuild. I decided that that only way myself and Blake could do this whole thing again was to completely surrender to the hope in our hearts. I continued to read this book that really helped to put things into perspective to me. Something just clicked. Everything started to flow more smoothly and every road bump was just that, something that happened, and then we moved forward. My single hardest challenge with infertility is keeping hope alive. It’s been one of my number one priorities to keep hope with me everyday. Now, when I stray from hope, instead of get angry with myself, I just recognize it and move back to where I need to be. If there is any advice I can give to anyone going through this: love over fear. Hope and faith is what help to get us all through this rollercoaster.
Heading into egg retrieval surgery for the second time was a lot easier for me. I was comfortable with our surgery center and was ready to get the show on the road. Everything was going great until my nurse introduced me to her nurse in training. Instead of get tense, I decided to go with the flow. That is when things got hairy. The nurse in training was the one to get my IV going. Now, I might be a pro with injections but IV needles still give me the creeps. She tried to get me once… and it didn’t work. I was not amused. My nerves were pumping and the clock was ticking to the exact moment we needed to retrieve my eggs. Then the original nurse tried… two times. NO DICE. WHAT THE FUCK. I started crying. I am there waiting for the most important surgery of my life and they can’t get an IV in my vein. Another nurse came out and tried… no dice. I was about to have a panic attack. Finally the anesthesiologist came out and got me on the first try. GOD BLESS THAT MAN. Apparently this is common to have issues with veins but it was about to throw me over the edge. Despite a rock start to the day, I was finally being rolled into the operating room with my fingers crossed.
We got 9 eggs. 5 of those eggs fertilized. Out of those 5, we got 2 embryos. We sent cells from those 2 embryos off for genetic testing to see if they were genetically healthy and normal. Last cycle we had only got 1 embryo for testing so this was amazing to double our chances. The wait began.
Post Egg Retrieval Recovery
I was hoping my recovery would be better than my first. The first two days after surgery are always a cakewalk compared to the dreaded day 3 or 4 after surgery. Those are the days that the symptoms get worse and recovery gets harder. I decided to play it safe and spend my entire recovery sleeping and laying on my back so that I would not be twisting around in my sleep. While some people recover quickly, unfortunately, I am not one of those people. The insane bloating and and discomfort seems to be endless. I am happy to report that I had ZERO torsions this cycle. That was what I was the most scared of in my recovery. I did however have 2 nights where I woke up in writhing pain, had to spring to the bathroom and spent 15 minutes rolling on the floor with intense pain. Since you end up with lots of cysts post retrieval, these pains are due to the shrinking cysts. God bless Blake who would wake up in the middle of the night to follow me to the bathroom and give me cold compress’ to put on my forehead while I was breathing through the pain. Those nights were hard but less scary since I was armed with the information of what was happening and that I would get through it. So while the recovery is really difficult for me, we got through and it was a touch easier having been through it once before.
Since my doctor’s office is pretty high tech, I have been able to communicate with my doctor and the staff through an online patient portal. This is how we received the results of our 2 embryos that made it to genetic testing. I knew my office would call with these results so everytime my phone would ring I would anxiously await my doctor’s office name to pop up. Since I have the world’s best IVF nurse, I have been in contact with her via text which has been a HUGE help for me for last minute questions after hours. I randomly texted her one day asking if results had come in. She texted me back that the results were in and she would call me soon. My heart started BEATING OUT OF MY CHEST. My phone rang and Blake answered the call this time. We had 1 genetically normal embryo. The other embryo was abnormal. I started to cry. I was happy. I was sad. I was everything. I was so blessed to have another chance to have my miracle baby. While it would have been amazing to have both embryos be healthy, this is our lucky little embryo. It’s our miracle baby.
Next Steps: ERA Test
Because we had a failed IVF cycle with a chromosomally normal embryo as well as only having 1 embryo from IVF round 2, my doctor wanted to give us another option of how we might be able to get it right this time. She suggested that some of her patients who have multiple failed FET (Frozen Embryo Transfers) decide to do the ERA test. The ERA (or endometrial receptivity array) is a genetic test that diagnoses the state of endometrial receptivity in the window of implantation in women. It’s very confusing to explain. If I have to break it down in very easy to understand terms here goes nothing. When you are prepping for an FET, you typically begin your progesterone (injections, suppositories, or pills) a certain amount of days before your transfer. The test helps you know whether you need less days of progesterone, if you are right on the money, or if you need more days of progesterone before your transfer. Like I said, this is a very basic description but I found it a good one to give people a quick recap. Because of my previous failed cycle and only 1 precious embryo, I decided I wanted to get as much information as possible to ensure we had every advantage in the world. The only downside to ERA is that you do a full “mock FET cycle” meaning you do the weeks of medications and do everything you normally would for an FET. On transfer day, instead of doing the transfer, you do a biopsy of your lining. Then 2 days later, you do another biopsy. So you are essentially losing some time before you are able to start your true FET cycle. Obviously you are still spending money on medications and the actual ERA test (which is NOT cheap). I feel like when I hear $1000 bucks I am so jaded to think, “wow that is cheap.” In the end, a few additional weeks and side effects are worth everything if it means we will have the BEST chances we can. Every penny spent is a penny spent for our future family. My doctor didn’t pressure us either way. She wanted us to have all the information and make the decision. It was settled. ERA test here we come…
Obviously I took to google researching EVERYTHING about this test and the actual biopsy. The research that I have read shows that 25% of people are transferring on the wrong day. That is 1 out of 4. That is a HUGE number. I know this information will be useful to us. Then, I started to google the actual biopsy. Let me tell you again, the internet is a SCARY place when you are looking for medical information. SCARY. People were saying this biopsy was worse than the dreaded HSG test. That worried me. Honestly we are poked and prodded so much through the infertility cycle. I knew I just had to get through it and not fear the procedure. I did my best to stay calm and not let fear take over.
The day of the ERA biopsy, I took my valium and 800 motrin 30 minutes before. We went into the office and I was ready. Ready to get some answers. I knew it would be incredibly uncomfortable but that it would be over quickly. The doctor talked through each step so I would be prepared which I really appreciate. I squeezed Blake’s hand and we were ready to go. They basically insert a long plastic device and scrape your lining to grab as much tissue for a good sample. My doctor let me know we might need to try a few times to ensure our sample was adequate for the test. She was also going to pull some tissue for a separate test to find out if I had any bacteria in my uterus. It hurt… it was pretty bad but in the end, it all happened so fast. The cramping was intense with the actual scraping. At least when she stopped scraping most of the pain and discomfort stopped almost immediately. Deep long breaths helped so much. She gave me time between each sample to breathe and relax. In the end, we did 3 separate scrapes. And before we knew it, it was over. We went back two days later and we did 2 separate scrapes for tissue. I was so happy to be done. I literally gave me doctor a high five I was so happy to be finished this part of the process. We left the doctor’s office with orders to stop all medication. I was finally free to just be myself again. So the wait started for our test results.
Bacteria in my uterus
While we are still waiting for our ERA test results, our other lining test came back. I had a large amount of bacteria growth in my uterus. FINALLY. An answer. This could have an impact on implantation so I was glad to find something that is treatable. I started penicillin immediately for a 10 day treatment. I am allergic to sulfa drugs so I have to always be careful with which antibiotics I am given. This time it was penicillin. Let’s just say, penicillin is the devil. I have been having intense nausea and stomach cramping from the medication. We will see if I stay on the penicillin or switch to something else. Only time will tell how bad the symptoms continue to be. In the meanwhile, I went back to the doctor’s office for some more blood work.
More tears at the doctor’s office
I was sitting in the waiting room alone (Blake usually comes with me to appointments as much as he can) as I was waiting for my blood draw appointment. I swear every time I am waiting there, a patient is on her last appointment finally 10 weeks pregnant and graduating from the specialist office to her OBGYN. My instant response is insane jealousy. Sadness. Why isn’t that me? After more than a year of coming into the same doctors office, those days are hard. VERY hard. After I have my moment of jealousy, I snap myself out it. It’s amazing that my doctor is creating miracles for other people and I have to see the light in that. I know one day soon, that will be me, leaving that office, tears in my eyes with happiness and a baby in my belly. When I finally went in for my blood work, I met with my amazing nurse. I think she just knew… I was having a hard week. I burst into tears. I am not even on any hormones, although I am still on a lot of other medications to help my lining etc. I think it’s becoming more real that I am finally almost to my FET. It’s almost time to take our chance again. Our 1 chance for a miracle. As positive as I have been this whole IVF round 2 process, I won’t lie to you about how I am feeling currently. I am literally scared shitless. The gravity of the situation is finally upon us once again. The same situation: 1 embryo. 1 chance. It’s really hard to put this into words as I type it. I am scared. My patience has worn thin. I feel like a pincushion. I feel like a science experiment. Everything gives me a side effect. All of this is true. Some days are easier than others but all of them are a struggle. Going through IVF is like a full time job on top of your full time job. Holding a balance of normalcy while there is a lot of your life that is out of control is a constant challenge. There are some days where you just need to cry. And cry a lot. If you have been through infertility, you know this feeling. I always end up blaming myself for not being stronger. But I can’t punish myself for being human. I think as long as I continue to recognize when I am feeling down and out of control, to take the moment to bring myself back to the love and light that I preach. No one is perfect and I think I need to remind myself that.
Next Steps: Gain Some Weight
I have 1 embryo. And you know what they say, it only takes one. I sometimes cringe when people tell me that, but it’s so true. My mission is to fight as hard as I can for that little em-baby. So while some days are really fucking hard, I put one foot in front of the other and go to battle. Part of our next step is that my doctor and nurse want me to gain some weight (approximately 10 pounds) before we do our next FET. While my BMI is totally normal, recent studies are showing that implantation rates are highly affected by BMI. So in an effort to do every single thing we can possibly do to give us the best possible chances, I will put on a few extra pounds to see if this can help make a difference. Some of you might think of this as “no big deal” but try to tell a woman who has lost a sense of her own body and been gaining weight due to months on months of fertility treatments. In my case, over a year of fertility treatments. I am already up 10 pounds from treatments and not being able to go to the gym. Not to mention, I have to photograph myself for my business. I know you will say, “you look great,” but I know my angles, and I know how to hide my body changes and insecurities. I wish I could have been pregnant normally so my body could have been fit and naturally healthy. But we don’t have that luxury of being our best physical selves when doing IVF. I have never really talked about the weight gain and how it can be tough for women going through that. It was normally a text sent to my friend Caitlin, just needing someone to commiserate with me for a minute. Meanwhile, woman that naturally get pregnant can do so at their own terms. When so many choices and chances are taken away from you, something so small as having to put on another 10 pounds means a lot. So while I was not happy to hear I had another roadblock in my way, every pound put on is for my baby. So I will do it to the best of my ability and in the healthiest way possible. But, I will tell you what, if I want ice cream every night (organic full fat of course), I will have some damn ice cream because after all of this, I deserve it.
We finally got our ERA results: RECEPTIVE. This is great news. It means that the day we plan on implanting our precious embryo is perfect. This means the lining is ready for implantation. While this test was very expensive in more ways than one, I will say getting answers is worth it. For me, as well as for your doctor, knowledge is power. So it is an important answer in our journey forward.
Next Steps: IVF Round 3?
I know. Typing that out is almost as horrifying as typing out IVF the first time. Since we have 1 embryo and 1 chance for success, we have to think about our future. We have Scenario A: Implant embryo, get pregnant, stay pregnant, have baby. Then we have Scenario B: Implant embryo, not pregnant. You have to think, what will I do if this doesn’t work? Because if you are going through IVF having a plan is everything. You need to have realistic expectations of where you will go next both financially and emotionally. Do you have money for another egg retrieval? Would you think about egg adoption? Embryo adoption? Adoption? There are so many ways to grow your family. So many options are out there for those unable to have children on their own. They all come with a heft price tag. Some heftier than others.
So, I am feeling the pressure and feeling it HARD. I think that being so close to my transfer is giving me a cold dose of reality. But rather than look at with negativity and fear, we need to take the opportunity to make a plan. After my second IVF surgery if you asked me, I was done and would have NEVER even entertained the idea of a 3rd IVF. I feel like sometimes you have to be like a financial strategist and use the money you have in the most effective way.
While I don’t have any answers yet for where our journey will lead us, I wanted to let you know that it’s not always a straight line. Whether we will start prepping for a transfer or an egg retrieval, we will continue to start each day with gratitude and hope. Hope that one day, I will be holding my baby in my arms. Not a moment in each day goes by without thinking about this. I might be broken at times, but I will not give up. Sharing my story with you all through my blog posts and instagram stories has given my struggle a purpose. Your constant love and support is unbelieveable. If only I could share all the stories that have been shared with me. The stories are proof of the unbelievable amount of strength and hope that you all hold in your hearts. IVF can create miracles. I will be waiting for mine.
To my fellow IVF warriors, I am so inspired by your strength. Never give up.
To my husband, I could not do any of this without you. The love I have for you grows every day. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for navigating this journey together.