Years Later, the Pain of Infertility Still Stings

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Infertility awareness week

Most of the time I wear my infertile status like a badge of honor. So I jumped at the chance to write something for National Infertility Awareness Week (April 22-28). But when I finally sat down to write our story, I struggled to find the words.

It’s been five years since I was deep in the throes of fertility treatments. It feels both like an eternity ago and yesterday all at once. But even though it’s been years and our story has a happy ending (two beautiful little boys, Jack and Henry) the truth is, the experience still hurts.

I’ve shared our story in bits and pieces, but the reality of writing it all down in one place felt overwhelming.

The 2 ½ years between deciding to start a family and actually getting pregnant with my oldest were without a doubt the most painful period (pun intended) of my life — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The experience was trying, to say the least, but it was also life-changing in some positive ways.

I’m Type A. I was valedictorian of my high school class, and I graduated with honors from Drake University. I was accustomed to achieving anything I set my mind to. Since I was a young teen, I had been told getting pregnant was too easy, that I should be careful, and that it would just happen when I was ready. But it didn’t.

My husband, Sam, and I tried to get pregnant for a year on our own. I had one very early miscarriage that I didn’t know about for sure until a couple weeks after the fact. But mostly it was just month after month of ordinary cycles with no positive pregnancy tests.

We kept trying until the end of the year, then I started seeing an OB/GYN for evaluation. We tested hormone levels. I had a hysterosalpingogram and ultrasounds and a bunch of other tests I can’t even remember. Sam had a semen analysis done at the local fertility clinic too.

After several months of poking and prodding, we started seeing a doctor at Mid Iowa Fertility. Our official diagnosis was “unexplained infertility,” which isn’t an especially reassuring label. When nothing obvious explained our lack of results, the emphasis turned to our options to “game” the system.

By the summer of 2012 (18 months into our TTC journey), we began IUI (intrauterine insemination) treatments. These were relatively affordable (by fertility treatment standards) and our doctor was confident we would be successful within a few months. We weren’t.

Three months in we decided to try another cycle or two with some added medications to boost my egg production. These meds made me feel achy and moody. And three cycles later they hadn’t worked either.

In Vitro Fertilization

THIS was not a conversation I ever expected to have. It was not a procedure or process I ever expected to be open to. But when you want a child who shares your DNA in a relatively reasonable timeframe, you’re willing to consider pretty much anything that gives you a chance.

In the five years since we got married, we hadn’t been planning for something like this. Infertility isn’t exactly something you budget for. And it’s not cheap either.

We had spent the last few years traveling, buying a house, and updating it, so we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. We also live in a state that doesn’t require insurance companies to cover fertility treatments, so after our “unexplained” diagnosis, we were paying out of pocket for everything. So we took out a loan (yes, there are medical loans for things like this), and started preparing for IVF.

Infertility awareness IVF

For those of you who don’t know, IVF is like a marathon. ONE full cycle, from start (first day of meds) to finish (first pregnancy test), is roughly 12 weeks. That doesn’t include the months of prep (SO much paperwork) and tests (more poking and prodding) leading up to starting, or the months of hormone shots that continue if you DO get pregnant. IVF is like running a fertility marathon (with no guarantee you’ll ever reach the finish line).

Our first IVF cycle began in January of 2013. It sucked me in. It consumed all my time and my mental, emotional, and physical energy. I withdrew from pretty much everything and everyone.

When transfer day rolled around we had two high-quality embryos. We transferred one (to limit our chances of twins) and had the other one frozen for a later date. And in early March, I got a positive pregnancy test.

We were shocked but excited. Skeptical, but hopeful. I went to the fertility clinic two days after my first positive pregnancy test (ever) to make sure my HCG numbers were rising. Hours later I got the call. My numbers had gone down by half. I was going to lose the baby.

This loss hurt the most. It stung a lot more than all the months and months of ordinary cycles with no positives. It stung more than if the IVF cycle simply hadn’t worked at all.

In the months after our failed IVF cycle, I was mad at the world. At God. At all my friends and family who seemed to get pregnant without even trying. I skipped out on a lot of baby showers during this stretch of time. I just couldn’t bring myself to celebrate someone else’s happy news.

Because of our doctor’s schedule, we had to wait an extra month or two before starting our second IVF cycle. In hindsight, I think I needed that time to mentally recover because everything seemed easier the second time around. It was less scary. I was more comfortable with the meds, the shots, the routine, the appointments, everything.

I was able to enter the second IVF cycle with a more positive attitude. I was convinced and determined THIS would work. And it did.

Infertility awareness IVF

Again we had two high-quality embryos, but this time we decided to take a chance and transfer both. And in July of 2013, we learned that our little Jack was on his way.

Our expensive and lengthy experiment in gaming the system had worked. It wasn’t particularly fun or comfortable (ask me about the time I got an ice burn on my butt cheek), but it was totally worth it.

I think infertility awareness has come a long way in the last five years. When I was going through IVF, I didn’t know about National Infertility Awareness Week and there wasn’t a local chapter of RESOLVE. I did find an amazing group of women in a BabyCenter community who were going through IVF at the same time as me. These Soul Sisters, as we call each other, were my saving grace in many ways.

infertility awareness IVF

I have no doubt our infertility struggle made us stronger as a couple. It turned us into more grateful and patient parents (or, at least, I like to think it did). I remind myself daily that even when life with these tiny humans is hard and exhausting, my two beautiful boys are still life’s greatest blessing.

I hope someday I’ll find the words to write our entire story (like how Henry came about “the old fashioned” way and what became of our frozen embryo). Someday I hope to tell my boys about the complicated journey we went through to bring them to life and have the family we dreamed of.

In the meantime, I hope that sharing this glimpse into my experience can provide an ounce of comfort and hope to any moms out there who are dreaming of their own beautiful family but struggling to make it happen. Please know you are not alone!

The National Infertility Awareness Week website states, “Anyone can be challenged to have a family. No matter what race, religion, sexuality, or economic status you are, infertility doesn’t discriminate. Because you’ll never know how badly you want something until you are told that it may not be possible.”

If you need someone to lend an ear or just to give you a hug as you hope, dream, wait, and try like mad to make your family dreams come true, send me an email: [email protected].

Stay strong, hopeful mamas-to-be. You’ve got this.

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Kimberly is a Northwest Iowa native, a Drake University graduate, and a fan of all things Des Moines. She is a girly girl who grew up and became a boy mom, and is now an expert on all types of construction equipment and big machines. She shares her Des Moines home with hubby Sam (2006) and sons Jack (March 2014) and Henry (December 2016). Kimberly studied magazine journalism in college, spent 10 years working for a newspaper, and recently became a postpartum doula. In her abundant (and almost nonexistent) free time she enjoys writing about mom life, drinking coffee, documenting time with family and friends, starting Shutterfly projects she rarely finishes, doing Crossfit, and daydreaming about future decorating and crafting projects.

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