My Infertility Journey
In 1990 I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl. I got pregnant quite easily and just assumed that when I was ready for baby number two that would once again be the case. Little did I know what lay ahead and the path that trying to conceive would lead me down.
When my daughter was three years old we began to try again to have another baby. Month after month went by without a pregnancy. It never occurred to me that something could be wrong but after a little over a year of trying we sough out a doctor to run some tests. The first test they did was a semen analysis on my husband. It came back at zero. Zero. We were devastated. There was hope though because a biopsy showed that he was still producing sperm so there had to be a blockage in one the tubes. Turns out they were correct. A bad kidney infection had caused some scarring and had affected the epididymis. Surgery was scheduled to fix the problem and once again we had hope. Three months after the scheduled surgery another analysis was done and this one showed once again that there was no sperm. Six months later it was the same story. We were given the option of waiting for the one year test to see if anything had changed or to move forward with IVF/ICSI. We were told that the chances of this changing at one year were slim to none. Needless to say we moved forward with IVF. I had no idea that IVF would be the beginning of the end of my marriage.
In 1997 our first IVF cycle began. We did the classes and passed all of the psychological tests with flying colors. My hormone levels were normal and my body was prepped and primed for the cycle. Unfortunately they always began cycles with Synarel back then and my hormone levels were just too strong for the Synarel to work. We cancelled that cycle and moved forward with the next step. In my mind I don’t really see that as IVF cycle one because Synarel was the only hormone used. The next cycle was better. I started cycle suppression and then the hormones necessary for egg production. Two ultrasounds showed that I had under-stimulated. This time I was so emotional that I cried in my clinics office for well over an hour. They just let me cry it out until I had no more tears left to cry. We discussed our options for the next cycle but at that point I was too emotional to think clearly so my husband and I went home and discussed our options. We decided to try again. It was more my husbands idea than mine but I agreed. I knew how important this was to him. We did however agree to wait a couple of months to give my body and heart a little time to heal. The start of IVF cycle two began and this time I could tell the drugs were working. I hurt. I hurt more than I thought I should so off to the clinic we went. Unfortunately I was over-stimulating. I felt like I was going to vomit when my doctor said the words, “We have to cancel his cycle.” I left there too numb to even cry. After several tearful conversations with my husband I told him that I just couldn’t do this anymore. I was willing to adopt and I knew I could love a child that was adopted without any reservations but I just couldn’t go through one more cycle of IVF. The hormones were horrid and the emotional toll was too much. I needed to be there emotionally for my daughter. My husband reluctantly agreed. Two weeks later he went to visit his mother. Several months later I found out that he had been having an affair with a girl he met during that visit. We divorced in 1998.
I was emotionally drained from the whole experience and just needed some time to heal. Meeting another man was the last thing in the world I had planned or wanted but meet a man I did. We started as friends. We became best friends and that led to love. We married in Sept. of 1999 and started trying to have a baby right away. We both wanted more children and we saw no reason to wait. Month after month went by and still no pregnancy. It was like reliving a nightmare. In October of 2000 we went to see a doctor. A day later we were meeting with an urologist to discuss my husbands now diagnosed testicular cancer. It was surreal to say the least. It goes without saying, I’m sure, that trying to have a baby was put aside while we battled cancer. We were fortunate. It was slow growing and borderline stage two. The treatment was successful and he was declared cancer free in December of 2000. We were told to wait 6 months and then come in for a semen analysis. 6 months later we went and were told the devastating news. Zero count. This couldn’t be happening. How could this be happening again? It had to be wrong. There had to be something we could do. I went home and got proactive.
I did so much research on our options that I think I knew more about them than most doctors. I got my husband on a regimen of vitamins and supplements and year later his count returned to normal ranges. We were ecstatic. I did finally get pregnant only to miscarry. This happened three more times. All were early and in the mind of my doctor never really pregnancies and then miracle of miracles, I got pregnant and stayed pregnant. An ultrasound showed a heartbeat but in my heart I couldn’t get happy or excited. I felt unease. My husband told me that this was the furthest we had gotten and that we had reason to rejoice. Our baby had a heartbeat and chances of miscarriage were pretty slim at this point. A nuchal translucency scan was scheduled and at 11w5d we happily made the four-hour drive to the nearest perinatologist. It was there that we learned that our sweet baby girl had a cystic hygroma with hydrops. Essentially fluid around her neck was killing her. Slowly. We would likely never see past 13 weeks. It was all too much. I don’t know that I have ever cried that much in my entire life. At 13 weeks I was still pregnant. I also was still waiting to hear from my regular doctor because they never called to discuss the report. Because we were seeing the peri, we did not have a regular appointment scheduled until 16 weeks. I called the office but never got a call back. At 15w4d I began to bleed. I knew in my heart that this was the end. We had an emergency visit with the OB/Gyn who unbelievably asked us if we wanted him to pop a tape in to record the ultrasound. They hadn’t even read the report they received. I curtly told him we would decline that. He looked perplexed but proceeded. He put the wand to my belly and I knew. The baby was gone. No heartbeat. No movement. She was just a curled up ball of a fetus that measured 11w5d. The baby had died that same day as my NT Scan. I miscarried that night. The night before my scheduled D&C. At my follow up appointment I was told that this should have never happened…someone had dropped the ball but no one was sure who it was. I was also told that at my age I should consider giving up on having any more children. In June of 2004 I was 36 years old and most definitely not too old but to these good ole boy male doctors I was. I left that practice and never looked back.
Once again I began research. I had to do something to keep my mind busy and not thinking about the overwhelming pain I was feeling. Through my research I discovered something called DNA Fragmentation. That testing had never been done for my husband. It was always just a routine semen analysis. It took some convincing but we got our doctor to agree to send off a sample for testing. It came back with serious fragmentation and a balanced translocation. Our chances of having a baby were less than 20% even with IVF/ICSI/PGD. Once again we felt hopeless but even worse was the feeling of helplessness. What did we have to show for all of those years? Nothing. At this point I had been trying to have a baby for almost 11 years. I just had no idea what to do from here. Stop and just move on? Adoption? Try an IVF even with such low odds? We tabled it all and just decided to take some time off to breath and focus on what was good in our life. During that time I stayed active on an online infertility community I was a part of and it was through that community that we first began to explore the possibility of donor sperm. We are LDS and had always heard that it was against church policy so our first step before even discussing it with each other was to talk to our bishop. We found out that it was NOT against church policy. We met with our stake president as well just to have some double confirmation. Essentially it was between us and Heavenly Father. We had hope again.
We went home and discussed and discussed and discussed. We prayed. We read Helping the Stork. We talked some more. In the end we decided that we both felt good about giving it a try. If it didn’t work we would stop and come to terms with the fact that we had done all we could and either move on to adoption or move past it all and call it good. We learned from a midwife how to perform inseminations. We were over doctors and we had decided we would take control of this ourselves. In July of 2005 we purchased the supplies, chose a donor, ordered our vials and waited for ovulation. In September of 2005 we were ready and did our first insem. We thought we had completely botched it and had already moved past it in our minds. We waited for my cycle to start so we could move on to the next attempt and called this one our learning curve. Imagine our surprise when we found out I was pregnant. Our first cycle! The odds of that are pretty slim and yet there I was pregnant. We anxiously awaited our first ultrasound and when there was a heartbeat I breathed a sigh of relief. No feelings of dread this time around, just a feeling of peace and happiness. At a little over 8 weeks I began to bleed. I was scared to death so off to the ER we went certain that we were again losing a baby. We made up our minds that we were done. You can only imagine what we felt when the ultrasound tech showed us our little gummy bear baby with a nice strong heartbeat. She was still there and thriving. Turns out I had a subchorionic hemorrhage. Some 29 weeks later that little gummy bear came into our lives a healthy and gorgeous baby girl.
When Miss O was 9 months old we decided to push our luck and try again. Time was ticking away. Once again we ordered our supplies and waited for ovulation. I got pregnant again on the first try. We weren’t as lucky this time around and lost that baby at a little over 5 weeks. We were hurt but still felt like we wanted to try again. It had worked the first time so surely it would work again. We got pregnant again on our next try and this time we saw a heartbeat. At 9 weeks I began to bleed. At a little over 11 weeks we lost that baby but this time was bad and I lost a lot of blood. We were again ready to call it good but my doctor convinced me to do some tests to rule out anything that might be wrong. They all came back normal except that I had insulin resistance. After much discussion we decided to try one more time and I again got pregnant on that try. I was on Metformin, Femara for egg quality and then progesterone after to help me stay pregnant. It was a long road filled with a whole lot of anxiety, bed rest and scares but in April of 2008 another baby girl joined our family. We were done. We were complete. We could move forward with our lives and put infertility behind us.
As life carried on I had this nagging feeling that something was missing and when O started telling us that she missed her baby brother I tried to shrug it off as her imagination. When she began to get hysterical and tell us that her baby brother was missing we would try to calm her with the knowledge that she only had a baby sister and that she never had a baby brother but in the back of my head I knew and so did my husband. We had to try one more time. Our original donor had previously been sold out and left the program so we agreed that we would call the bank but if he weren’t available we would just forget about it. There were six vials that had been in storage! It almost seemed too good to be true but I purchased all six and knew that this was meant to be. Once again I started my regimen of hormones and ordered supplies. At the age of 41 miscarriage risk was high so I went into it knowing that I would likely miscarry and that once those vials were used up we could go forward from there. Once again I got pregnant on try one. I was worried but hopeful when we saw a heartbeat but this time around I would have to have ultrasounds weekly for the first trimester to make sure the baby stayed viable. Each one of those was nerve wracking but miraculously I made it to my NT Scan. I told myself that this could go either way in an effort to prepare my heart for the worst but I walked out of there knowing my baby was healthy. At the big ultrasound I went in knowing that again, I could leave with bad news but again I walked out with the knowledge that my SON was healthy. Yes Miss O was right. I was having a boy. When we told her it was her baby brother she just smiled and told us that she already knew that. After a relatively easy pregnancy I gave birth to a healthy and huge baby boy.
Some two and a half years after the birth of my son I can tell you that this journey, while emotionally exhausting and fraught with pain was so worth it. I can’t imagine what life would be like without these miracles. I am thankful we never gave up and that we pursued the avenues we did. Mostly I am thankful for the love of an incredible husband who would go to the ends of the earth with me to have children and the faith that we both had that kept us pushing through the pain and tribulations.
if you are interested in participating in this project, please email me at jackienorrisphoto @ gmail.com
To see more of the infertility and pregnancy loss project, click here.