I want to preface this by saying what many readers may already know - I have two healthy baby girls who are now two and four - not quite babies anymore.
But maybe you are stumbling upon this post, and know nothing about my personal life . When I was in the thick of infertility struggles I would spend an exorbitant amount of time searching for blogs that could give me hope - infertility (and later IVF) success stories was what I desperately sought out.
I wish that when I was deep in our infertility struggles I was able to be more open about what was going on so that others who were struggling would know they aren't alone. I remember a good friend telling me I should be documenting the process to share - this was before documenting much of anything was part of my lifestyle.
But really the reason I didn't was because I was SCARED. What if nothing worked? What if my husband and I never had a baby? I guess I was unsure that I could live with going through sharing so much and "failing."
Now I look at Sloane and Sydney and I know that I'd never trade the path that led us to them. I think most people who have children - no matter how they arrived - feel similar. You know these tiny humans are the little souls who were meant for you.
And now after every disappointment, every time I cursed my period, the miscarriages, the uncertainty ...I can feel peace.
I also write this knowing many have had tougher roads than we did. I promised myself during those years that I would never take my babies for granted - and I'd never forget the path that led to them.
Grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine because this is a longer one, guys!
I'll start from the beginning ...
The irony of my story is I can still remember when I was terrified of pregnancy.
Though I was responsible, and secretly trucked to planned parenthood with a friend in high school to obtain birth control long before I ever lost my virginity I suppose my very Catholic upbringing instilled some fear in me.
You have sex before marriage you get pregnant right? The message I received was unless you are very careful this is what will happen. Later in my early 20s when I found out that I had some thyroid issues a Dr. suggested I get off birth control because of possible drug complications. So I did. I had a steady boyfriend through college, and we were very careful.
But I've always had an irregular cycle. For a few months at a time I'd skip cycles all together so despite being safe I'd find often find myself worried, and my overactive imagination would start churning.
I spent an exorbitant amount on pregnancy tests for a college student. My anxiety was high. I vividly remember making my best friend sit with me in the bathroom as I kneeled saying Hail Marys praying I wasn't pregnant.
So you get it ... I was paranoid. (And always for no good reason).
Fast forward to getting engaged to the love of my life in my mid 20s. Ah I could breathe a sigh of relief... I was with the person I wanted to spend my life with. A partner who I knew without doubt would be an amazing father. We both assumed we'd get pregnant sooner rather than later.
Initially I wanted to focus on being newlyweds, and my professional goals. So we weren't in a rush, and felt little pressure in those early days.
Brad and I were living in New York City, and traveling a lot. I'll never regret this because it was such a fun time in our lives, and we had the chance to get to know each other as a married couple. We spent weekends doing pretty much whatever we wanted, and we figured there was no rush because pregnancy wouldn't be tough...
The Wanting and The Waiting
And then one day I decided I wanted a baby. When I want something I usually want it with all consuming force. I wanted a baby BADLY.
I had always pictured myself as a parent. The prospect of combining my genes with my husbands and creating a little life was so exciting to me. The timing felt right.
I felt excited to be a Mom - ready to put someone else's needs above mine, and though I had all the natural fears I was sure we were ready.
So we tried. I wasn't worried. Again I assumed it would happen somewhat quickly. In fact, here I was again the girl who was convinced she was pregnant every month. From what I knew everyone in my family was able to get pregnant easily. For years I'd heard how fertile our genes were.
I started to timeline in my head, plotted my maternity leave, and thought excitedly about whose wedding or what life events I'd be pregnant for.
As time went on and every test was negative I got more serious about our efforts. I started tracking my temperature daily, and using ovulation kits.
Ten months of active trying went by, and nothing. So I went to see my OB. She listened, glanced at my age and said "oh honey you're still young. All you need is to give it time, relax and take a vacation. I guarantee it will happen".
I didn't love this answer - I wanted a solution. But alright I thought maybe I'm putting too pressure on the situation.
At this point Brad and I had relocated from NYC to Cleveland, Ohio and had been through some major life changes - a move, new jobs - so I tried to brush it off thinking maybe stress was a factor.
When I talked to close friends, and a few family members they echoed my Dr.'s sentiment. Give it time, relax. I heard this refrain over and over. "My friend (fill in the bank) got pregnant as soon as she stopped trying so hard." That kind of thing.
Time went on, we vacationed and I tried to stay chill.
However, after another few more unsuccessful months I started to obsess. Anyone that's been there might relate. My body became this thing that was constantly letting me down. I resented it, and I started to feel inadequate as a woman. Why couldn't I do the thing my body was supposedly designed to do?
I'll never forget a trip to Spain to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. It had been 49 days since my last period, I had some symptoms, and I decided I must be pregnant.
I had this whole scene playing out in my mind about showing our someday baby a picture of Mommy and Daddy in front of the La Sagrada Familia, and telling him or her "you were in Mommy's belly then."
(Writing that makes me cringe a little - mostly because this happened so many more times. )
As time went on I was surrounded by friends and relatives sharing pregnancy news. I was at the age where my friends were starting to have babies. I was also approaching being married for the number of years that seems to warrant an intense barrage of questions about when we are going to have babies already.
I was happy for others, but with each failed month I'd wonder what was wrong with me. My relationship with my body felt more complicated than ever. I was so irrationally disappointed in it. Every month that I'd get my period I'd want to scream or cry.
(In hindsight I just want to give that person a hug, and tell her it's not her fault. )
I researched the subject "HOW TO GET PREGNANT" to death, and we tried all the tricks that the internet and fertility books can offer.
Looking back I don't think anyone - even Brad - had a clue of how many hours I was spending scouring the internet for a solution. How many books I was devouring searching for some magic formula...
We decided it was time to see another doctor. This time the OB agreed that this was indeed a significantly longer time than is to be expected for a young couple. So they ran a few tests, found that some of my hormone levels were off, suggested I gain 5 lbs, cut down on cardio workouts and referred me to an Infertility Specialist.
Failed IUIs and Miscarriage
When I met with the fertility specialist his gruff manner caught me off guard, but I heard he was the best so I trusted him. He immediately prescribed Clomid ( a drug used to regulate ovulation, and increase chance of pregnancy).
The clomid made me moody, and extremely bloated. That's ok, I thought - whatever works. But after four months it didn't get us pregnant. At this point our Dr recommend we step it up a notch and try an IUI procedure ( a fertility treatment where sperm is placed in the female's uterus).
We were frustrated, and excited to grow our family so we decided to go for it.
The day my husband and I went into the office to try IUI I was filled with positivity. During the two week wait I did everything I could to increase our chances. Two weeks later I went into test, and when the nurse called and told me I was in her words "very pregnant" I felt like all our prayers were answered. I was ecstatic.
I was carrying around a little secret. We went to a friends wedding in Mexico. Brad and I slow danced , and we decided we'd tell our parents when we got home. I fixated on my due date, and let myself dream of our growing baby.
Our last night away I started bleeding. Naturally I began googling. On the flights home I hunched over in pain, and found myself rushing to the tiny airplane restroom every 20 minutes. We were already scheduled for an ultrasound the following day so my Dr said to hang tight, and he'd see me in the morning.
I stayed up all night praying that things would work out.
In a cold, sterile room the next day they told us there was no longer a heartbeat. My fertility Dr. just kept saying "this isn't a viable pregnancy".
These clinical words did nothing to soothe me. I was heartbroken. When I started reading about the stats I learned that miscarriage can be as common as 1 in 4 pregnancies. But statistics don't comfort. I was heartbroken. How could a life growing inside of me be there one day, and gone the next?
The year that followed was the hardest of my life to date.
Every month for the next 7 months we did IUI. Every month I believed it was our month. It worked once so it could work again.
Every time I saw a pregnant woman walk by me in Target I'd get a lump in my throat, and struggle not to feel envy over her bump.
I lived in a state of two-week waits. We'd go in, we'd wait. I'd skip wine and bars with friends in favor of lots of rest and positive thinking.
It didn't work. And it felt like such a mind trip - hope, followed by disappointment - rinse, and repeat.
That March we lost my Grandmother. She was ill, and my Dad called me and told me she wouldn't be with us much longer. I flew home to say goodbye. I was in her bedroom sitting next to her lying in bed with the movie To Kill a Mockingbird playing in the background when she told me she knew something had happened. She looked me in the eye and told me I would have babies , that she just knew it, that she could see it... It may sound crazy but I'll never forget that moment for as long as I live because it gave me hope for the future.
At some point during this time I switched Doctors on a friend's recommendation. My first Dr was extremely professional, but I always felt he lacked bedside manner. This new Dr. was a breath of fresh air. He was kind, and thorough. He wanted to dig deeper into the why behind our issues. This meant more tests - but we were up for them.
He discovered I had chronic anovulation issues, and luteal phase defects. Anovulation is when the ovaries fail to release an oocyte. So while a woman may still get her period she isn't releasing a ripened egg - making it incredibly difficult to conceive without help.
He said that since I had gotten pregnant from IUI previously I could try again. At this point I was still very hesitant about doing IVF as its much more invasive and complicated. And we had hope IUI could work.
For the record looking back I think we did IUI too many times. Most couples move on more quickly - usually after about 4. But because we changed Dr's and had conceived once we kept trying. Along the way there was another cycle we received a positive pregnancy test at home, but by the time I went into the Dr's office days later to confirm the test my HCG levels were falling and there was not a viable pregnancy.
Our Dr suggested after so many failed IUIs we move onto IVF. He felt we had a good chance as I was young, and in good health. I knew the success rates were higher, but I was still apprehensive.
I had heard horror stories about the hundreds of injections, the side effects, and the emotional roller coaster.
I remember saying to my husband and my Mom earlier in our journey "I just don't want to do IVF." I guess there was a stigma. I guess I was scared. I feared the process would feel too clinical, too sterile.
But what I realized was there's many ways to have a baby. Some people adopt, some use donor eggs, some couples turn to a surrogate. You never know how you really feel about something until you're in it. When I thought about how sure I was that Brad and I were meant to be parents I had a change of heart.
So we prepared for the process . IVF has become increasingly common, and the word can be thrown around somewhat loosely. Here's the thing though - there's nothing casual about it. It's an involved process that involves a whole lot of detail.
I went though more testing to make sure my body was prepared. It turned out I was no longer immune to MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and needed a vaccination. So we had to push the process another four months.
By the time we started IVF I was more than ready. I'd done what I could mentally and physically. There were so many things that I put into what I call the "can't hurt" bucket.
If you would have asked me years ago I would have probably said I wanted to birth a baby at home in a tub - so yes the whole thing felt different than my affinity towards the earthy & crunchy.
I attempted to mitigate the clinical part of the process by seeing an Acupuncturist and doing whatever I could on my own to prepare my body. This included odd things like avoiding cold foods and drinks - skipping ice, salads, ice cream, and smoothies (my favorite), and eating lots of warming foods to "warm up my uterus." Along with halting any high intensity workouts in favor of gentle yoga, walking, and an attempt at meditation (not my strong suit.)
I'll never know if these things actually helped - but they made me feel like I was doing all I could for the cause.
My motto became "whatever it takes."
That November we started the IVF process. This included injections every morning , and every night. Brad inserted needles into my belly and hip while we stood in our dining room - which we joked looked like a scene from Breaking Bad with all the needles and tubes.
For someone who used to be terrified of needles I can say that was actually the easiest part.
I think at this point most couples probably feel so ready to have a baby that injections become no big deal.
Every day during the ovary stimulation process I went into my fertility Dr's office so they could monitor me.
My body responded very quickly to the injections- and the team expressed worry that if they didn't remove the embryos sooner rather than later I'd be at risk for hyper stimulation.
We ended up going in for our egg retrieval on Thanksgiving Day. I felt so grateful to the nurses and our Dr. who were spending time away from their families to be there for us.
We had 9 eggs retrieved - less than average, and less than they were hoping for. But my Dr. reminded us it's more about the quality of the eggs.
So for the next few days I waited by the phone for the hospital lab to call, and tell us how the embryos were doing. In the end we had 5 embryos - two that were dubbed the strongest.
During IVF you have to make the complicated decision of how many eggs to implant. There's pros and cons for every couple.
We decided on two because we had two that were equal in "strength", and honestly I'd been taking drugs with the label "may cause multiples" for so long that we thought twins might be in our future.
Here's what I can tell you about that day - as worried as I was that the experience would feel too cold , too clinical, and too scientific - I didn't feel like that at all.
The team of Nurses and Dr.'s were so warm, and clearly rooting so hard for us that all I felt was hope.
After the procedure one nurse handed me a print out of the embryos and said "I have a good feeling you'll be able to put this in a baby book one day."
It gave me chills.
Exactly two weeks after the transfer I found out I was pregnant. That day will always be one of the best of my life. A few weeks after that we saw our baby, and heard her heart beat loud and clear.
It was our Sloane.
My pregnancy wasn't the easiest. I had some issues, and scares along the way. At 20 weeks I bled heavily from an unexplained placenta abruption that my Dr. worried meant I could lose our baby. But she always hung on.
A few months after Sloane's first birthday Brad and I made the other best decision of our lives... to do it all again. This time with a frozen transfer, and just one embryo. (We had just one left - the only little one who survived what they call the "freezing" process.) We were told the odds were lower, and again there were some challenges - but they led us to our baby Sydney.
To anyone reading who is struggling I want to tell you that you aren't alone. I have been there, and it can be incredibly isolating. Now I'm (very gratefully) writing from the other side. But I will never forget the journey that led me to Motherhood.
If you ever need someone to talk to I am here.
And to all - Thank you for reading, as always.