“If I have to buy a baby, I’m going to buy a nice one.” That was my tag line and funny joke when people would comment on how sweet of a baby Maren was. And truly, she was so so sweet. She was exactly what we needed to heal the hurt that the years of waiting had provided. So when she was six months old, we started taking about getting pregnant again. We knew it would likely take some medical intervention, just as it had before, and thought that since we didn’t know how long it would take, we should get started soon.
Fast forward one year. We had already met with our fertility doctor again, gone through four rounds of IUI, and jumped back on the roller coaster that is unexplained infertility.
After the fourth round, our doctor let us know that to keep trying without changing the game plan would likely lead to more frustration than answers and suggested that we start thinking about IVF. We willingly agreed, and in doing so, opened the door to a world of amazement but also heartbreak that we can’t ever exit.
Most people have heard of IVF and know what it is, but most people don’t know or realize the process that it is. In short, the doctor takes eggs from a woman, sperm from a man, fertilizes eggs in a lab, and then puts them back in the woman so they can grow into babies. TA DA! Babies! Easy peasy. Right? Well sure when you put it that way. 😉 On a granular level, there is much much more. They start with taking eggs from a woman. But do you know what super sucks? Taking eggs from a woman. It’s called an egg retrieval. It requires very specific medications for 4-6 weeks prior to the retrieval date. They want you to produce as many eggs as you can so that they can have the best chance of them fertilizing and turning into embryos. Then for about two weeks prior to the retrieval, they start with vaginal ultrasounds every 2-3 days to start counting and measuring the eggs to try to pinpoint the perfect time to take them out. They also do daily blood draws to make sure your hormone levels are in check. I unfortunately don’t remember exactly what they are checking, but I sure do remember how pretty the bruises on my arms looked after those two weeks.
And then there is the retrieval. It’s a small surgery, so they have you under anesthesia, and when you come out of the anesthesia, you ask how many eggs they got, and then repeat yourself and ask again about five more times. 🙂 For us, we got 12. We were hoping for more but were grateful for anything. After they led me to my recovery room, I started experiencing a lot of nausea and became sick for several hours. When I finally felt well enough for Philip to take me home, I continued to feel lightheaded and blacked out a couple times that evening. Philip took care of Maren and me and let me rest until I felt a little better. Bless him.
And through all that, our biggest concern was those dozen eggs. The embryologist at the office examines them right away and let us know the next day that of the twelve, only nine of them were regular and six of them fertilized and progressed to the “embryo” stage. And then they continue to call you and let you know on days 1, 3 and 5 how your potential babies are doing. On day three they called with the news that we were holding at six and they were all doing okay. Not all embryos are created equal and while mine weren’t phenomenal, they were okay.
On day five they called and told us to come down to the office, that we were doing a transfer THAT DAY. Now normally my doctor prefers to freeze the embryos for about six weeks and do a frozen transfer so that my body and hormones have had time to heal and regulate, rather than putting the fresh ones right back in. So to do an immediate transfer was cause for concern. We got to the office and the doctor explained that these two embryos we were putting in were not great, and because they were not great, he didn’t want to try to freeze them because they very likely wouldn’t survive the freezing and thawing process. We were going to transfer and hope for the best. And then I asked, “so are we freezing the other four?” If I was doing my math right, six minus two equals four, so this should still give us the chance to do another transfer if we needed. My doctor’s face fell. I had misunderstood in the rush of getting ready for the transfer. These were the only two we had left. As they checked my embryos on day five, four had failed and stopped growing, and these two were our Hail Mary.
We transferred those subpar pair of embryos and prayed and crossed all our fingers and toes and prayed some more. At that point clinically, they have me taking estrogen pills three times a day and doing progesterone shots in the gluteus maximus (which hurts in the most maximus way possible). Ten days after the transfer, they schedule you to go in for a blood draw to check your HCG levels to see if you are pregnant. So again, we wait. But this time with a really sore booty.
Also as the nurse was giving me post op instructions, sh mentioned to me that I shouldn’t life anything heavier than 15 lbs. Wait, what? I had a 20 month old baby! And that baby sleeps in a crib! What in the world was I supposed to do?
This is one of those times in my life that I have been truly humbled. I had to ask for help. Constantly. My sister and two friends came to my house two or three times a day to lift my baby in and out of her crib around nap time and bedtime when Philip wasn’t there to do it. It was a backwards feeling, as if I had to neglect one child to help another. I didn’t feel like I could control anything, and it was a horrible feeling to grapple with. My friend picked me up for church on Sunday since I couldn’t lift Maren into her car seat or carry her in. It was not my favorite feeling, however, the feelings of humility and gratitude that still bring me to tears, will forever be a favorite.
As we were waiting for day 10 to roll around, I started having some spotting. I had called the office and they said it was okay and even normal and to not be concerned. Easy for you to say, I’m the one with semi-rotten eggs in me! But I continued to wait and try my hardest to not be a basket case of stress. And then on day 8, I was at work, trying my hardest to act super normal, and I started to bleed. (I apologize to anyone reading this that was not anticipating hearing the nitty-gritty details.) Not spotting, but real bleeding. I immediately called my doctor and they still said it can be normal, but to let them know if it didn’t go away after an hour or so. As the day wore on and the bleeding increased, I could tell that this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. I went in for a blood draw for them to check to see if there was any HCG (the pregnancy hormone) in my blood, and after a few hours they called me back and let me know that there was not.
So that was that. There I was with a failed round of IVF under my belt. I was quite obviously devastated about it, but was surprised that I, as in MELISSA, didn’t feel like I was a different person because of it. I later came to realize that it is part of my overall perspective on this particular trial, which I will share more about on another day and post. But after the initial disappointment of it failing, I was anxious to move on and try again. I wasn’t getting any younger and neither was Maren, and I was dying to give her a younger sibling, and to experience the profound and overwhelming love of a having a newborn again.
We met with my doctor again and discussed the details of my failed round, and what we would change for next time. He basically told me that I have rotten eggs (not in those words, he is much nicer than that, but it’s just the easiest way to convey that they really aren’t great), and we needed to do something to try to improve their quality. The options were to take CoQ10, or another medication that makes women HAIRY. Like super hairy. Shocker, we opted for the CoQ10.
We also pushed the limits with my ovarian stimulation shots. The goal was to stimulate them to produce as many eggs as possible without overstimulating, which is a fine line. In the end, we probably did overstimulate a bit, causing me some discomfort and a little more risk, but two months after my first failed round, we were ready for another retrieval. This time I let them know the horrible nausea I had experienced previously when coming out of anesthesia, so they gave me some Zofran in my IV and I felt like a million bucks. Do you know what else made me feel like a million bucks? The fact that we got 30 eggs this time! THIRTY!!! We were ecstatic. Of course that doesn’t convert to thirty babies, but goodness, it gave us some better odds.
They again called us on days 1, 3, and 5 to let us know how things were looking with our little guys. Out of the initial 30 eggs, 18 of them fertilized and were categorized as embryos, on day 3 a few had stalled and stopped growing, but we were still at 14, and on day 5 they let us know that we had 9 that were of good quality and size that we would be able to freeze. I was beyond thrilled, and then even more thrilled when they called us on day 6 to say that they gave two of them another day because they were almost big enough the day before, and sure enough, they were actually great too and able to freeze also. So there we were, with 11! DID YOU READ THAT??? ELEVEN EMBRYOS! That meant that we would hopefully never have to do an egg retrieval again! Hallelujah, it was legit music to my ears. So in to the freezer they went, and I was sent on my merry way to let my body recover from being pumped full of drugs for a few weeks, until they were ready to pump me full of drugs a few weeks before the transfer. Because the fun just couldn’t be over quite yet!
As you prepare for a frozen embryo transfer, you get a little calendar and chart of all the medications you will be taking and when to start and stop taking them. It basically starts with birth control a month prior (isn’t that ironic?) and then adding in other medications to suppress hormones that we don’t need and then adding in estrogen pills and testosterone shots that will mimic the hormones that you would have made naturally had you gotten pregnant without medical intervention. Aside from the medication, the transfer process is pretty easy. You don’t have to be put under anesthesia for it, it basically is the same process as a vaginal ultrasound, but they aren’t just looking around, they are putting your embryos in the perfect position.
We put two embryos in and again, hoped for the best. After ten days I went in for my blood test, and it just happened to also be Labor Day. I went first thing in the morning so they could get it sent to the lab ASAP and get my results to me. Two hours later, the nurse called me. She was crying. Crying because I was pregnant. And just like that, I was crying too. I went and told Philip, “Happy Labor Day! I’m going to be in labor in nine-ish months!” And we laughed and hugged and then I stopped hugging him because he was sweaty as he was pulling weeds and getting the backyard ready for family to come over that afternoon. 🙂
About a week and a half later, after a second blood test to make sure the HCG is continuing to increase, I had my first ultrasound. At that point it is too early to see a heartbeat, but they are looking to see how many babies there are. We were pretty convinced it was just one, but there is always a very real possibility (and scientifically about a 40-50% chance) that there could be twins since we put two embryos in initially. For us this time, it was just one. One that we were over the moon excited about and couldn’t wait to meet.
After a few more weeks, a few more ultrasounds, and more spotting that concerned me a great deal, due to my history with it, I “graduated” to a normal OB. I still had to be taking estrogen orally three times a day, and doing progesterone shots in the booty every night, and would do so until 12 weeks, but after that, I was considered a “normal” pregnancy. It feels kind of weird, like you want to explain that no no, indeed this was anything but a normal pregnancy, but sure enough, everything was pretty routine from that point on.
Also, so that I don’t forget, and for a peek into how not normal I felt at the beginning of this pregnancy, Maren was two at this point but still slept in her crib, and again I was not supposed to lift her. So I took the screws out of the bottom of one of the sides of the crib, and we would lift it up like a little doggy door for her to crawl in and out of her crib. I felt it was very ingenious of me and also very sad that I couldn’t lift my baby, but she thought it was a fun little game and it eliminated the need for me to call for help at every nap time and bedtime.
The rest of the pregnancy progressed and towards the end took a few wonky turns, but in the end we got our sweet Cohen who had the yummiest dark eyes and perfect little sideburns from the get go. In what was an interesting coincident, he was born exactly one year to the day that we had found out our first round of IVF had failed. I couldn’t have known just how that year would turn out, but am so grateful it ended with another sweet baby. A baby who was worth every penny and miserable shot and swollen minute that it took to get him to us.