IN THE THROES OF INFERTILITY
I wanted to write this article when I had a second child. I wanted to have a happy ending, and tie a bow on it. But that’s just not happening, so I want to be honest now.
I’m in the throes of infertility, again.
My husband and I struggled to have our first child, but we were lucky - IVF (in vitro fertilization) worked for us. “IVF” and “lucky” aren’t usually used in the same sentence - but that’s how we felt. Lucky. And we are forever grateful to science for our son. But we don’t feel lucky trying for our second. Infertility has hit us again, and even harder.
We have to do IVF to get pregnant because of medical issues that I have, the woman, but it can affect either person in the relationship. One of my biggest issues is that it is so misunderstood. I am a young woman, with a healthy BMI, who exercises regularly and eats well. I am not the statistic people expect. I don’t look like someone who would suffer from infertility. But I do - in so many ways.
And when we started trying for our second, we naively expected that IVF would easily work for us a second time, especially because we have frozen embryos. It is a common saying that if someone is having issues, they should “just do IVF”, as if it’s magical and not hard at all. But it is so much more than that.
We started our journey for our second child in August 2017, when we had a consultation with a new fertility doctor. We had just moved across the country about a year before, so our first fertility doctor was no longer an option. We had frozen embryos from our first cycle, and shipped them so we could use them for a FET (frozen embryo transfer). We thought it would be easy, one cycle and a healthy child. We had NO idea what we were about to enter into.
In December 2017, I had a hysteroscopy to make sure everything looks good in my uterus, and we were cleared. I was put on birth control to prepare for our cycle, and we waited a few months to begin. In May 2018, we started our first FET cycle. We expected it to go well. After 3 weeks on medications (shots daily and nightly), we had our first ultrasound. Then something we never expected happened - it didn’t go well. My uterine lining was super thin, just above 5mm, which is nowhere near the 7.5-8mm it needed to be for our transfer. I had never even heard of a uterine lining, and our doctor hadn’t educated us on the possibilities that our cycle could be cancelled, so we were blindsided. They upped my meds, and had me come in one week later. Nothing had improved, our cycle was cancelled. I bawled my eyes out and took comfort in the arms of my husband, but we were so upset. We weren’t warned at all.
I immediately asked to speak with the doctor, whom we hadn’t seen since our cycle had started, but the coordinator said she could answer our questions. We asked if we could do a fresh cycle, just like what worked for our son. They said no. They said I was wrong, we had to try the same cycle again, it would “probably” work.
They were wrong. So devastatingly wrong. 5 more weeks on meds, another cancelled cycle. So now they agreed to try a fresh cycle - once my levels dropped for estrogen.
They then proceeded to have me come in for a blood draw and ultrasound every single week for 3 months, while my levels slowly dropped. They acted surprised it took this long. I was out of my mind.
Finally, we were able to start again. A fresh cycle. 10-14 days on medications, an egg retrieval, and a fresh transfer. It worked with my son, it had to work again.
Nope. 21 days on medications, egg retrieval, fresh transfer, and yes - it worked. For a few days. Then I bled, and cried, and fell deep into a hole I didn’t know existed. I went in for a final blood draw to confirm the pregnancy, and the coordinator called. Not the doctor. The coordinator who I hated, who had no sympathy, called to say the pregnancy wasn’t viable. I had a miscarriage. Just like that. As if it wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to me.
That same day I found out that my thyroid levels were dangerously high. I have Hashimoto’s Disease, which is an autoimmune thyroid disorder, and my levels need to remind below a 2.5 for a safe pregnancy. My levels were at a 3.8. The doctor's office I had trusted had let me down in every way. They didn’t care about me, I was just a statistic. They had horrible bedside manner, constantly making me feel like I was personally the problem, which is the worst way to make someone feel when they have infertility, or any issue out of their control. And worst of all, they didn’t monitor me. They told me they were monitoring my blood levels for my thyroid, and I found out they didn’t. The miscarriage could have been cause by a variety of things, but my immune system was attacking itself, and that couldn’t have helped. It definitely hurt. And they still took no responsibility. In the same phone call with the nurse when she said I had a miscarriage, she said that I should just have another frozen transfer. Okay...first, I need to process this LOSS. Second, no way am I doing the same thing that got cancelled TWICE already!
So I did my own research. I found out that there are many, many options for frozen transfers, and that they should be carefully designed to fit each individual, there is absolutely no one size fits all mentality. The doctor I had trusted did the exact same treatment for every single woman he ever saw, and bragged that he had been doing it for over 7 years. Bragged that he was lazy basically. Maybe in his past he was a good doctor, but he isn’t anymore. He’s horrible. He’s lazy and irresponsible, not to mention 1-2 hours late to every appointment. Worst doctor I’ve experienced in my life.
So we moved on, obviously. We found a new doctor by carefully talking to many more, and finally selected a clinic we can trust and that clearly cares about their patients. At this new clinic, they ran blood work after the miscarriage, something my old clinic failed to do. My old clinic did NOTHING after my miscarraige. Not a single test. Not a single ultrasound.
The new clinic found that some antibodies were too high, but overall, there weren’t huge concerns that it would happen again. With my past of low uterine lining (the past doctor did end up transferring at only 6.5mm because he didn’t want to try any harder), my new doctor came up with a new plan.
The new plan started with a hysteroscopy, which is a procedure that allows your doctor to look inside your uterus to make sure it looks healthy. We expected it to go well, since I lost our child at only 5 weeks, but once again, we hit a road bump. Asherman’s Syndrome. It is a rare condition that causes adhesions and scarring in the uterus, and caused my lining to be at a static 3mm. The following week, I had a surgery under anesthesia to remove the scarring, and hopefully heal my uterus. This included having a balloon catheter inserted into the uterus for about 1-2 weeks to help it heal. Once it was removed, we could consider moving on. But there were no guarantees I could ever get pregnant again.
Once it was removed, I was placed on estrogen pills for over a month, followed by progesterone pills to help my uterus heal. After that, a period was induced, and we started our 4th cycle, another frozen embryo transfer.
After 6 weeks of medication this time, and a completely different treatment plan, we were cleared for an embryo transfer with a lining of 7mm, or just above. Not ideal, but better than I’d ever had since my son’s pregnancy.
We were so hopeful. We believed it had to happen. We assumed it had. After all, we’d been through so much - it had to finally be happening right?
Wrong. A failed transfer. We got the call 10 days after the transfer, full of hope, only to be shoved back down. Another loss. Those who aren’t familiar with IVF and fertility treatments, tend to assume that a failed transfer is exactly the same as a negative pregnancy test, but it’s so much worse - it’s a loss. A lost embryo that will never become a child, who we will never meet.
So at this point, we’re closing in on two years into treatments, I’ve spent over a year of that time on medications and injections, we’ve lost 2 future children, and we’re still no closer to another child.
We meet with our doctor to discuss options. He suggests going on a medication to help build my uterine lining and increase my blood flow. He tells us that I will take the medication for a minimum of 6 months, and then we can have one last attempt at a frozen embryo transfer. He’s realistic. He tells us it can work, but it might not. It might all be for nothing, but it’s worth a try. I ask what would happen if it doesn’t work. He says that if my lining doesn’t thicken within 2-3 weeks of the next cycle starting, he’ll cancel the cycle. Our next option would be to look into gestational carrier, also known as a surrogate, to carry our embryo. We’re hoping I can be the one to carry our second child, but we will do anything to have that healthy baby. If my lining does thicken, he will do the transfer, but if it fails again, he would also recommend the surrogacy route. Best case scenario, is that we are cleared for a transfer, and finally get and stay pregnant, and have a second healthy child!
So here we are, in the waiting period before trying our final cycle. Terrified but anxious to begin. My story isn’t complete, our story isn’t complete, but it’s true, and it is what has happened. We hope it’s not complete, we hope I will get pregnant during our next round. And if not, we hope we can still find a way to have a healthy second child.
Until then, we seek solace with each other, we are grateful for our son and our marriage, and we hope and pray every single day that we find our rainbow at the end of this storm. Or that he or she finds us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex is a mama to one and wife to her wonderful husband, and they’re still fighting for their second. You can follow her journey and seek out support through Instagram @theinfertilityfighter