First off I’d like to say that what I’m about to write is extremely hard to talk about. Infertility is such a painful and private struggle that affects so many people – most that suffer through it in complete or partial silence. Often times people are embarrassed, depressed or afraid of how others may judge them; although I was never embarrassed I definitely dealt with my fair share of depression and anxiety throughout our fertility journey. I’m hoping that by opening up about what we went through gives someone else the courage to seek out a diagnosis, treatment or just be able to talk to someone without fear of judgement.
We kept our struggle with infertility as private as possible until we could see a light at the end of the tunnel; finally becoming pregnant after almost two years of trying gave me the courage to speak up and hopefully help someone else find answers. I will try to be a thorough as possible and if there’s anything you’d like further clarification on or have a question about please feel free to let me know!
When we first started trying to get pregnant (the first time, when we got pregnant with Elias) we started out by just seeing what would happen; I stopped my birth control and we just did what we normally do. After three months we decided to start taking ovulation tests to up our chances – three months later we got pregnant with our first baby.
Since getting pregnant with Elias the plan was always to start trying when he was six months old. I had a great pregnancy and delivery – no morning sickness, no complications, no epidural, no tearing, nothing. (I did have a few weeks of stress tests near the end as he had stopped growing and was scheduled to be induced but he decided he wasn’t having that and my water broke three hours before our induction time.) Six months flew by and I came off my birth control to start trying again. Except this time things were different – my period never came.
I had been having regular “periods” since starting birth control again after Elias but as soon as the birth control was gone so were my regular monthly visits. We waited and assumed my body was still adjusting to having just given birth and now the lack of birth control. And we waited. And we waited. Nothing. Not a cramp. Not bloating. Not a spot. Just nothing….for six months.
What had changed? I had had a baby. Could that delay the onset of my period? I had been stressed during the holidays. That could’ve done it. I had lost weight – all the weight I gained with Elias and then some. People constantly told me I was “too skinny”, that I didn’t eat enough, I had even been told to “eat a sandwich” or “eat a cheeseburger”. When you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant or are a mother, you are subject to so much more judgement and advice when really all you need is love and support. There were times that those things were hurtful and times where I just didn’t care what anyone thought, all I knew for certain is that my period was gone, we wanted a baby and I would take the steps necessary to figure out and correct whatever was wrong.
At that point I called my OBGYN and scheduled an appointment. They asked some questions, drew some blood and I went home with a prescription to “jump start” my periods. I can’t remember exactly the medication but it’s a seven day course of hormones that is supposed to trigger a “withdrawal” bleed and sort of restart your system to get your period going again. We waited again for anything. Nothing. With the news that the pills hadn’t done anything my OBGYN referred me to a fertility specialist – our first appointment was the day before our son’s first birthday party.
That first fertility appointment is scary. You spend the whole time hoping they don’t find anything immediately and/or majorly wrong that basically shoots down any hope you have of having a baby. Our doctor spent the majority of the time asking me questions. How much do you weigh? How much do you exercise? Have you had a baby before? Do you have family history of this or that? He sent my husband for a semen analysis (which I felt was pointless because I was the one not having periods) and he did an ultrasound of my uterus and ovaries.
My ultrasound came back totally normal except for the lack of follicles on my ovaries and the fact that my uterine lining was super thin – all pointing to the fact that I wasn’t having periods which we already knew. He told me that everything looked healthy and normal, my blood work was normal except for a low thyroid level and I was “clearly not too thin” – even my high level of activity did not concern him as his words were “as long as you’re not running a marathon every day, it’s fine”. His best guess at this point was that I was not ovulating most likely due to not producing any estrogen. Our next step was to have an MRI done of my pituitary gland to make sure it was functioning. As for my husbands’ tests, some of his levels came back low and the doctor informed us that because he only had one sample he couldn’t say for certain that that was normal for my husband or it was just a fluctuating number so he sent us home with some recommendations for getting his numbers up. Again – I was the one not having periods so we weren’t really focused on that at all.
Fast forward a week and I had to drive an hour and a half one way for a 15 minute MRI…that came back showing normal pituitary function. We were told that insurance would probably cover the MRI as a normally functioning pituitary gland is essential for overall wellbeing not just fertility. We are STILL paying that hospital bill off over a year later. Fertility diagnosis and treatment (and crappy insurance) can be costly and frustrating.
After all my normal results the doctor offered a treatment plan: starting a daily thyroid medication and hormone injections to force me to ovulate combined with possible IUI (intrauterine insemination) and potentially IVF. I was shown how to inject myself with the hormones and was given a cost estimate upfront. The monthly hormone injections alone were $300 – $400. IUI was an additional cost. Combine that with all the blood work and tests I would have to have done every month and we were looking at somewhere around $2000 per cycle and if that failed repeatedly, IVF.
We knew we wanted more babies and if this is what it took then we would have to find the money. My husband and I talked A LOT. The catch with this type of fertility treatment is that you don’t want to take breaks in between cycles – your odds improve if you repeat cycle after. We were talking about the potential of dropping $2000 every month for who knew, two, three, six cycles? And then maybe IVF if that all failed? It’s a big decision that could cost A LOT of money with potentially heartbreaking results.
Even with all the people who said they would support us in our decision, there were still a number who just kept on with the advice. “Just try for, I don’t know, maybe another year and then if you’re still not pregnant, go ahead and do it.” I’m 27, I want six kids, I have one; there IS a point where your fertility starts naturally dropping and the older you get, the riskier the pregnancy. “I’ll tell all these people and they’ll pray about it.” Um. No. This is extremely personal and private – I told you because you’re important and really close to me that doesn’t give you the right to go tell everyone about a struggle that has nothing to do with you and further more, just because you or anyone else prays about does not mean God will just say “oh, you prayed, okay”. “Well have you tried this or that?” Those are old wives’ tales. They have no scientific or logical value. “Maybe God just thinks you don’t need anymore children.” I’m not even going to respond to that one. -.- The audacity, people.
Three months passed and I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone to tell the doctor to go ahead and approve my hormone shipment. I would bring it up occasionally to my husband and it was always the same answer: when you’re ready I’m ready. But I always felt like my body was juuuuuuuust on the verge of starting my period. Cramps would come and go every month and I would pray that I’d go to the bathroom and have started. I even started taking ovulation tests again. But month after month and cramp after cramp, nothing came – not a spot and not a positive ovulation test.
During this time I had developed a nighttime binge eating disorder. I would wake up in the middle of the night, every night and gorge on cake, candy, anything I could find that was sweet. Part of me felt that it was my body’s coping mechanism for the sadness and the emptiness I felt. I slowly started gaining weight during this time and put on close to 20 pounds and I hated the way I looked. It became a really dark place; I felt that I had no control over my food, no control over my fertility, no control over my life and it just consumed me.
Until one day I was out with Elias all morning and had horrible, horrible cramping. I remember thinking to myself, “if I start my period out in town and make a mess and everyone sees I don’t even think I’ll care I’ll be so happy”. Well, that didn’t happen. Haha. But when I got home and used the bathroom there was blood. I just sat there on the toilet and bawled and Elias came up to me gave me a hug. All I remember is telling him that sometimes people cry when they’re happy and Mommy was so happy. I immediately texted my sister and mom and told them that I thought I had gotten my period back. A year after it stopped, it seemed to have come back.
I had a normal period for a few days and then it stopped. I made sure I noted it on the calendar and counted the weeks until my next one should arrive. I continued taking my ovulation tests and waited. Three weeks later I got a positive result on a test and waited anxiously to see if my period was on the way. A week later I had another period.
I continued keeping detailed track of my periods and ovulation tests and we began trying to get pregnant again. I even ordered myself a basal thermometer and kept track of that as well. After about six months of tracking and trying we still were not pregnant and I toyed around the idea of seeing the fertility specialist again to get an updated opinion. I also started researching a bit on my own and found that there were A LOT of reasons I could be having a period but still not be able to get pregnant. I actually began to think that anyone getting pregnant ever was a miracle – there are sooooooo many things that have to go perfectly right and it’s just an incredibly detailed process. It also made me insanely jealous of people who get accidentally pregnant or people who are “Fertile Myrtles”.
Through my research I found a blog post about a who had an eerily similar story to mine. Long story short, the woman had a luteal phase defect or a shortened luteal phase meaning a shorter period of time between ovulation and the start of your period than is normal. This can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching due to a lack of uterine lining or if a woman were to become pregnant, it can cause a miscarriage for the same reason. Well, that happened to be really easy for me to check for at home since I had been doing ovulation tests and tracking my period. And what do you know? My luteal phase was lasting for about seven to eight days; I was ovulating too late in my cycle to have a good chance at getting pregnant. (I even went back and checked my ovulation tests with Elias – no late luteal phase.)
So back to the fertility specialist we went and he wasn’t too pleased to see me at first when he realized it had been a year and he wanted to know why we hadn’t followed through with his treatment plan. Then I told him my period had restarted and we wanted to see if we had additional options now. He seemed genuinely surprised and asked if anything had changed: my weight. I also told him that I was taking ovulation tests and that I suspected I had a luteal phase defect. He made a note of it and sent my husband for another semen analysis and gave me my new options: Clomid with (recommended) IUI and if that failed, IVF. I asked about just doing Clomid with timed intercourse but he did not feel that that gave us the “best chance” at conception with my husbands’ previous results. When his new results came back that everything was at a normal level, we decided to start Clomid and try timed intercourse for the first few cycles – we just preferred the idea for everything to be as unintrusive and natural as possible.
We filled my prescription and waited for my next period – for some reason this one took so much longer to come my cycle ended up being something like 42 days this time. Maybe stress? Regardless, it came and I took my pills and started my ovulation tests up again. We weren’t 100% sure when I would ovulate given our situation so we just started trying every other day or two so we were covered. I ended up ovulating exactly when I was supposed to (in a normal time frame not delayed) and I called the doctor to set up my 21 day ultrasound to confirm that I had indeed ovulated. He was able to spot multiple follicles on my ovaries and check the lining of my uterus to confirm that I did, in fact, ovulate. He, again, asked me why we didn’t do the IUI during this Clomid cycle and I defended my stance of wanting to try as naturally as possible. (It can be really frustrating and disheartening to have to defend yourself constantly when you’re going through something like this.) He seemed okay with that answer and then we went home and waited.
About a week later, I started experiencing some unusual symptoms as I only really bloat and get super moody during PMS. This time I was feeling quite nauseated and my boobs were insanely sore. I think I took one test one day too early that came back negative but the next day right before I was due for my period my test came back with the faintest little pink line. I remember wobbling down the stairs right before my husband left for work, shaking uncontrollably on the verge of tears and blurted out, “I think I’m pregnant”. He confirmed what I saw on the test, two little pink lines. If you know me, you know I then repeated the test every morning until the line was so dark there was no denying it was a positive test.
I called the fertility doctor and was told to go to my nearest lab for blood work to confirm my pregnancy and they would contact me when the results were in. About a day later I received the call that they did confirm my pregnancy through the blood work and I would be scheduled for a six week ultrasound in their office to again confirm everything was fine. And it was – I really only remember the doctor replying to my answer of “yes, this was my first Clomid cycle” by saying “if only it worked that way every time.” They sent us home with three photos of our little nugget and a onesie that read “worth the wait”. Walking out of their office for (hopefully) the last time left me feeling a mixture of emotions for the end/start of one journey but also for all the couples sitting in their waiting room going through something similar to what we had – I distinctly remember holding that onesie a little bit tighter as we left.
More blood work followed two days later to check that my hCG levels were increasing and that my thyroid was where it should be. I was told my hCG increase “was adequate”. Which made me worry – I began super analyzing everything that was said to me about the baby and everything I felt. It made for an incredibly long 12 weeks as I waited for my 8 week ultrasound at my regular OBGYN, waited through all the nausea and cramping that I didn’t have the first time, waited again for my 12 week appointment and then waited one more time to tell our parents that we were finally expecting.
So what caused my infertility? The doctor has never given me a straight diagnosis. A lot of people blame my thinness after having Elias. What do I think? I think the little extra I lost after Elias was born tipped my body into the “danger zone” and prevented me from ovulating. I have read A LOT about weight gain and loss in relation to pregnancy and a stall in ovulation can occur with a small weight drop even if you start and end in the healthy BMI range. The difference between the weight at which I conceived Elias and the weight I was when my period did not return was seven pounds. A number I would not have thought would cause a major health issue. There’s no 100% certainty that my weight is what caused my infertility (my doctor even said verbatim, “you’re clearly not too thin”) but I gained and it came back. If I had never gained any weight we may have ended up unnecessarily doing hormone injections and IUI; my nighttime binge eating may have inadvertently “fixed” my body. Funny thing is, after I got pregnant I no longer woke up in the middle of the night to eat – the combination of total exhaustion and nausea quelled any desire to eat in the wee hours of the morning. Coincidence?
Some quick links here with some items I found really helpful during our fertility journey: ovulation tests – they’re extremely cheap but very accurate; I’ve used them twice now to get pregnant / pregnancy tests – same cheap and accurate as the ovulation tests / basal thermometer – you can use this on its’ own or with the Femometer app to track your basal temperature / Pre-Seed lubricant – worst name ever, but the great reviews convinced us to try it; I can’t say for certain it helped or didn’t help but when you’re trying to get pregnant any little thing that could help is automatically on your radar.
And here we are now, getting ready to meet our baby. It’s still hard for me to believe sometimes when I wake up and see my bulging belly. It reminds me every day to take nothing for granted: my husband, my son, our baby, the time I have with them and the magical little moments that I get to witness every day because I am blessed to be a mother. I think I’m finally at a point now where I can say that infertility changed me – some for better, some for worse – but the better parts leave me feeling more grateful, more patient, more focused on my family and health and less concerned about what other people think.
For those of you who have struggled with or are struggling with infertility, my heart truly goes out to you. Whatever your situation, know that you are not alone and I’m hoping for you.