Written By: Jaime Smith
Infertility is a word hidden behind a veil of secrecy, stigmas and misconception. A word I never thought would apply to me. Little did I know that in my late 20’s it would be a word that consumed me. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in my early 20’s at a time in my life where I was focused on graduating college, and starting my career. I knew in the long run that the hormonal imbalance and weight gain I was experiencing could cause trouble conceiving a child, but it wasn’t something on my radar yet. At least that was the case up until I met my now husband Tom. In August 2013 we got married, and shortly after started actively trying for a baby. I went to the doctor and was assured that although I had PCOS the chances of conceiving naturally were high. I was 29 at the time and my doctor seemed pretty positive.
After eight childless months I went back to my doctor and we decided to try our first Clomid cycle. Clomid is an oral medication used to promote ovulation in women, and is usually the first line medication in patients trying without success for a child. Shortly after this cycle I took a home pregnancy test and found out that we were pregnant for the first time. We cried in excitement and began envisioning what our child would be like, what he or she would grow up to become. We saw all of our dreams in that one moment. When we went for our first ultrasound we saw and heard the beautiful heartbeat. We fell in love immediately. It was euphoric. We couldn’t wait to tell everyone and we started almost immediately by telling our family. We continued to get monitored and everything was going great. Until it wasn’t. The day after Thanksgiving 2014, we heard the words “I can’t find the heart beat”. Our world came crashing down in one sentence. How could this be? Did I do something to cause it? Are you sure? Every single moment of my pregnancy flashed through my head and we began the long process of coming to terms with our loss. We cried harder than I thought possible and questioned everything we did during the pregnancy. This was the first time I saw my husband really cry. On 12/1/14, I went in for a D&C and said goodbye to our beautiful baby. There is nothing that prepares you for this kind of loss. It’s soul crushing. My faith tells me to trust and believe, but when you are in the thick of it, the haze and the fog make that hard. It took me a long time to get back to “normal”, but I don’t think I ever fully recovered emotionally. I was numb.
One day I woke up and told Tom I wanted to go see a fertility specialist. He was supportive and we made the appointment for a few weeks following our D&C. The first appointment with our fertility specialist can be summed up in one word overwhelming. Words we had never heard of and a litany of tests that needed to be done. Our first several months in 2015 were consumed with blood work, semen analysis, hysterosalpingogram (HSG), genetic testing, and the inevitable wait for the results. We were so relieved when all the tests came back normal and we were given the okay to start our journey through intrauterine insemination or IUI.
An IUI is a procedure in which a sample of sperm is placed directly into the uterus making it easier for them to reach the fallopian tube thereby increasing the odds of fertilizing an egg. On average this offers 15-20% success rate, which is coupled with a specifically timed out or “triggered” ovulation. The entire year of 2015 we sought out to fulfill our six IUI’s as required by insurance in order to move on to IVF. After several cycles on Clomid with a trigger shot, we had to move on to Letrozole due to side effects. In July 2015 after four failed IUI’s we opted to go for a procedure called a laparoscopy to check for endometriosis, followed by a couple of months of well deserved emotional and physical rest. On our anniversary I took a home pregnancy test and found out that we had conceived on our own. We cautiously celebrated as I made preparations for close monitoring with our doctors and prayed that the outcome would be different than our first. My blood test was positive. I continued to get monitored every other day to ensure that my pregnancy hormone HCG was doubling appropriately. For our first several blood tests my HCG was doubling. These results began to comfort our nerves and we started to believe that this could be the one. Until it wasn’t. I went in for morning monitoring and received a call from my nurse explaining that my HCG levels began to slow down and that they believed that this would not be a viable pregnancy. I began the excruciating five day wait to see my physician and get our first ultrasound. It was confirmed at this appointment “no fetal growth” and a slow rising HCG. We stopped all medication and began to mourn our second loss. There is nothing that prepares you for the loss of a pregnancy, let alone a second one. We were heartbroken, defeated, mentally and physically drained. Through all the heartache we tried to remain hopeful. The fact that I had gotten pregnant twice and all tests indicated there was no reason for us not to eventually carry to term, kept me positive. After our grieving period was over, I told myself tomorrow is a new day.
In November 2015, we had our sixth and final IUI, which resulted in a positive pregnancy. We began the same monitoring process of blood work every two days to monitor the rise of HCG. I grew more and more hopeful as I hit six weeks and the HCG numbers were the highest they had ever been. I took several deep breaths thinking that this was the one. Until it wasn’t. On the day of our first ultrasound, we saw that my HCG declined and there was no heartbeat. It was still early though, so we decided to wait another week to see if there was any change. When we returned an ever so small glimmer of hope showed on my doctor’s face, but when he turned on the sound, the hope changed to disappointment. “Its what we call an agonal heartbeat.” He explained that it was beating but about to stop. My progesterone was dropping, my HCG dropped more, and our third beautiful baby had an abnormal, non-viable heartbeat. I think I was so numb this time, I cried but not as much as the last. I don’t know if that makes me sound bad or if it was just the normal response to our current circumstances. As I said before nothing prepares you for a first, second, and now third loss. This was the first time I began to really question my ability to carry a child. My husband kept on reassuring me that everything would work out. But would it? I began to focus on rebuilding my faith, and spirits, and held on to the fact that we could now move on to Invitro Fertilization or IVF.
In March 2016, we started our first IVF cycle. I remember the day exactly. We were attending my friends wedding and I was giving myself my first shot in the hotel bathroom. For clarification, the first part of IVF is an egg retrieval, which is the result of several days of injectable medication to promote stimulation of egg production in the ovary. This part requires close monitoring of all hormones, and specified timing of medication administration. There were drugs to promote egg production, drugs to prevent premature ovulation, drugs for timed triggering of the release of the mature eggs, and then the actual procedure of the egg retrieval. I went in on St Patricks day, and was relieved when they told me they retrieved nine eggs. Later that day my eggs would be fertilized with Tom’s sperm, and then monitored for growth and viability. We got the call the next day that of my nine eggs, six were mature and of those six all were fertilized. A week after the retrieval we were delighted to find out that all six made it through the initial process and could be biopsied and sent for Preimplantation Genetic Screening. Our six embryos were frozen, and we found out a few weeks later that we had three genetically normal embryos. We opted not to find out the sex of those embryos at that time. We still wanted to preserve an element of surprise.
In April 2016 we began our first Frozen Embryo transfer (FET) cycle. This phase of an IVF cycle includes taking estrogen and progesterone to prepare your uterine lining for implantation. Once your uterus is ready, your doctor skillfully takes your embryo and with the help of an ultrasound, transfers it into your uterus. Since this was our first transfer we decided to only transfer one of the three embryos we had frozen. Nine long days later I went for a blood work and found out that our FET did not work and that we needed to make an appointment with our physician to come up with a game plan. I remember calling my sister that day hysterically crying and telling her that maybe I am not meant to be a mom. Maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for me. What’s worse is the thought that Tom may never be a dad because of the issues I have and the emotional turmoil I felt in bearing that burden. That’s the thing with infertility, it sneaks up on you, sinks into every pore and fiber, clinches your energy, optimism, and makes you start questioning everything.
Tom and I decided that we needed a break, time to regroup and plan out our next course of action. We opted to take a couple months off, and aimed to do another retrieval and transfer in July 2016. I started taking some supplements and we tried to live those two months focusing on life without infertility. We went on date nights, didn’t talk about getting pregnant, made no doctors appointments, and just made more of an effort to redirect our energy. I began praying more and I began feeling like myself again. I realized that the burden I felt was not a burden I bore alone, but shared with Tom. He started seeming less stressed, and more himself. After almost three years trying to have a child I began to remember what it was like before we started the whole process. I felt free. It was nice to have that time with Tom. Infertility treatment puts stress not only on the physical person, but on your relationship. There isn’t any romance in timed intercourse, and ejaculating into a cup. One of the best decisions we made was taking the time to find our way back to normal. That is, as close to normal as possible.
We weren’t even trying when I took the home pregnancy test on 6/28/16, and saw the faintest positive. I came into the room with the test in my hand, and asked Tom if he saw it too. I immediately went to my doctor the following day for a blood draw. It was confirmed, we were pregnant again. And we started the whole monitoring process. Everything was going great and when we went for our first ultrasound appointment the doctor looked at the screen then at me and said, “you can breathe now”. He then turned the screen to me, and showed us our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. I didn’t cry in the office or even when I went home. I think I was more in shock than anything. My doctor continued to closely monitor us weekly, and every Wednesday afternoon we went for ultrasound and blood tests, and every week we saw and heard that beautiful little heartbeat. Our little rainbow was on its way and we were expecting our first child due 3/12/17.
This brings me to now, as I sit here and watch Tom hold our beautiful Teagan Grace. He is softly reading to her. I once thought that this day and this perfectly crafted moment may never happen, but it did. Teagan Grace Smith was born on 3/10/17 at 2 pm on the dot, and in the first instant I laid eyes on her I realized that it all made sense. Every prayer, every tear, every test, every medication, every single thing we did to get to that moment was for her. That moment restored my faith, and made me believe that there is hope even when it seems hopeless.
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples, which means that you most likely know someone undergoing something similar to our story. To those people reading this, there were times where like you, we believed that our story may not have a happy ending, that our rainbow may never come. Until it did. Everyone’s story will be different and everyone’s will have a different ending. I just want all of you to know that the burden is not yours to carry alone. Lean on people. Reach out and talk to family members, ask for help, and keep your head up. When you have a bad day, take the time you need to regroup, and find yourself again. You are much more than being 1 in 8. You are strong and resilient. Do not allow circumstances to diminish your worth and value. And, never, never, never give up hope. Continue to remind yourself of the good things in your life, and all the blessings you have. It’s so easy to forget. And, when in doubt, cry, let it out, don’t hold it in. Strength doesn’t happen when you hide but when you show yourself. You are not alone. I continue to pray and believe for you.