our infertility journey
SO YOU WANT TO HAVE A BABY?
Turns out, it’s not always that easy.
My husband and I met in June of 2010. Both at inopportune seasons of life, neither of us were interested in dating seriously. Nonetheless, it didn't take long to realize the obvious connection we shared and we figured we had nothing to lose by seeing where things might end up. Fast forward exactly one year later and there he was - down on one knee at the finish line of the Vancouver USA Marathon - a race we had both trained for and ran together! We planned our intimate, outdoor wedding in two months and walked down the aisle in August 2011 surrounded by our immediate family and closest friends.
We had talked about kids early on in our relationship and knew that it was something that we both wanted. As we were unfortunately not getting any younger, we decided to start trying for a baby right away. The excitement took hold and we were ready! Fast forward a few months … no positive pregnancy test and I just knew there was something wrong. Call it a woman’s intuition, but I had this feeling in my gut that we were going to have problems getting pregnant. In true female fashion, I took to the internet for a diagnosis. I scoured the web trying to find anything I could that would give me answers. To this day, Dr. Google is my worst enemy. I finally accepted that our answer was not going to be found online - we decided it was time to consult a professional.
Within a month, we had an appointment with a fertility doctor who was able to pinpoint male factor infertility as the reason we were not getting pregnant. According to this very expensive doctor (the more expensive, the smarter they are, right?), the prognosis was grim. How could this be? Ugh. Discouraging. Without offering us much hope after a few visits, we decided to go for a second opinion, which unfortunately didn't provide us with much new information except a referral to another specialist that would hopefully have more insight. We scheduled an appointment with this new doctor and went into it fully expecting the same outcome as before. But good news! – there was a way around the MFI (male factor infertility) issue, but it would involve a biopsy via minor surgery and then we would have to go the IVF (in-vitro fertilization) route. It was a no-brainer for us. We wanted kids, and while adoption was an option for us (and still something we talk about doing one day), we wanted to at least try and see what IVF would bring.
For anyone that has gone through any sort of infertility struggles or knows someone who has, you know that nothing about the process is quick (or easy). And let’s not forget that you’re paying out of pocket for every.single.thing on this journey, unless of course you’re lucky enough to live in one of the few states that requires insurance companies to offer some sort of fertility coverage. We are not that lucky. My husband is a firefighter and I was working part-time in human resources for an event company - we definitely did not have tens of thousands of dollars laying around to spend on something that comes free to most people. We cut back everywhere we could and eventually all of our money was going towards appointments with specialists.
Did you know that the average IVF cycle costs around $13k? All I could think of was how in the world are we going to pay for this?! Knowing that it typically takes three cycles on average for it to work, I felt so overwhelmed. I took on more hours at work and decided that I would start a business - I was going to start making jewelry. After telling my husband of my plan, he gave me a puzzled look (you know that look, the one that you get when you say something completely out of left field, something so random that YOU aren’t even sure where it came from). But I did it…I committed to this new endeavor thinking that some extra money would help us cover the crazy costs of these medical treatments. I started ordering supplies – a LOT of supplies. And let me just point out that I had no clue what I really wanted to focus on, so I just ordered everything! There were boxes showing up at our house every single day. My husband was to the point that when the doorbell would ring, he would just look at me and raise his eyebrows (I can still picture it in my head). I started creating pieces here and there for family and friends and it quickly became something I was devoting tons of my time to. I was enjoying starting something from scratch, something that I quickly became passionate about.
In November 2012, we chose a clinic and decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it. Our IVF cycle was set to begin in January 2013. We were confident we would breeze through the process and come out on the other end with a baby in our arms nine months later. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the very final stages of the fertility testing on my end (which is required before undergoing IVF), it was discovered that I have half of a uterus. Yes, half. Talk about shocked. I had never even heard of that before?! But sure enough, right there on the screen, I could see that half of my uterus was missing. Now, this doesn’t pose a problem with conceiving, but it can potentially cause an issue during pregnancy as there isn’t as much room for a baby to grow. We took this new information and moved forward with IVF as planned.
Our first IVF cycle in January 2013 yielded 6 embryos. Given my "mini ute", as I lovingly dubbed it, and the decreased space, a twin pregnancy was far from ideal - we opted to transfer one embryo. That cycle, the first try that we were so certain would work, ended in a big fat negative. We went on to our second cycle in March where we again transferred one embryo. The transfer went horribly and we knew in our hearts that it didn’t work. There was no shock when the test came back negative, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept.
Two cycles in and we already needed a break. We were emotionally drained, frustrated by the amount of money we were spending and not getting anywhere, and needed to regroup. We went to Kauai in May on a spur-of-the-moment trip to refresh, randomly found our dream home in the Pacific Northwest and sold our other house on a whim to buy it, spent tons of quality time together doing all of the things that we love … we just lived our life without IVF or babies hanging over our heads for six months.
November rolled around and we were ready to get back in the game. For this third round, we decided to take a risk and transfer two of our embryos. Sure enough, it worked! We were pregnant! But it was short lived – we lost the pregnancy shortly after and were left feeling all of the same emotions that we felt from a failed cycle coupled with the pain of dealing with this loss. At this point, we weren’t sure if we wanted to continue. We just couldn’t even believe that this was the hand that we were being dealt and we were having a hard time wrapping our brain around going through yet another cycle.
The holidays were over and we spent a couple months trying to decide how we wanted to move forward with our last two embryos. We wanted a fresh start. So, we transferred our two lonely little embryos to a new clinic, left them on ice, and began a fresh new cycle with them in April 2014.
Our first cycle at the new clinic (cycle four overall) yielded five embryos. We transferred two and received a negative result. The doctor was so great at helping us try to understand that there was no rhyme or reason as to why it wasn’t working … we were basically just having bad luck. In a time like this, you want a reason. I wanted to hear that there was some crazy thing wrong with us and that’s why we weren’t getting pregnant, but nope. The doctor told us to just keep pushing forward … he was confident it would work, but there was just no telling when. We were already so mentally, emotionally, and financially invested in the whole thing that we decided to keep pushing forward. Cycle five in July brought more of the same results - negative. Ian held it together so well for my sake and was always optimistic … until now. At this point, he was coming to the conclusion that everything we put ourselves through was for nothing and it was hitting him hard. It was my turn to be the strong one and try to pull us through this even though I just wanted to throw in the towel. We decided we would go through the next cycle and transfer two, which would leave one remaining.
It was September 22, 2014 when we went in for our embryo transfer. We sat in the waiting room, both surprisingly at ease. We had poured so much of ourselves into this process and shockingly, during something that seems to tear so many couples apart, we were stronger than ever. We realized that even without kids, we were so beyond blessed. We had each other and a great marriage, we were both in great health, we had great jobs (I had just quit my “real” job to focus on chip+chisel 100%), and we were going to have a great future … things really were GREAT, but it’s so easy to lose sight of that when you can’t have something you want (and this something was huge!).
We went back to our room and were told that one of our embryos didn’t survive the thaw, so they went ahead and took the last little embryo out and thawed it so that we could still go ahead with transferring two. This was it … if this didn’t work, we were out of embryos and would have to start the process over again. The transfer went well and we left the clinic feeling very relaxed. Whatever was meant to be was going to be and we accepted that.
Within a couple days, I knew something was different. And a couple days after that, I REALLY knew. Now, I had loved to torture myself with at-home pregnancy tests with every cycle … what can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment. Ian had made me promise that I wouldn’t test so that we could avoid the downward spiral that would inevitably ensue after seeing the single pink line. With pinkies intertwined, I said I would leave the pregnancy tests alone. Four days after our transfer, Ian had to go run an errand at Home Depot and I was left alone in the house – the sticks were calling to me! I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed one, ran to the bathroom, took care of business, and sat the test on the counter. I kept walking in and out of the bathroom, pacing up and down the hallway, just waiting for the time to pass and one measly line to be showing, proving that once again, what I “really knew” was different was not. Not this time though … two lines!! TWO LINES!! We were pregnant!! Three years and $60k+ dollars later, we were going to have a baby! I couldn’t believe it, so I took another test. And another. I called my best friend while walking around the house shaking. I took another test. And then another. And then I was out of tests, so I just had to make myself believe it … we were pregnant!!
I decided that I was going to keep it a secret and plan some elaborate surprise for Ian on the day of our test at our IVF clinic the following week. I gathered up all of the tests and hid them (after taking pictures of them so I could look at them for reassurance whenever I needed to, of course). Needing to compose myself, I went back to working on chip+chisel orders and practiced “nonchalant behavior”. I looked up and his truck was coming down our long driveway – cue the butterflies in my stomach. I watched as he opened his truck door and our three dogs went to greet him. I sat there and watched him play in the yard with the dogs before coming inside and my heart felt so full … he was going to be the best dad. I would never be able to keep this a secret. I barely lasted 10 minutes, so waiting DAYS was out of the question. He walked inside and I heard the door close behind him. “Hey babe, I’m back.” I came to the top of the stairs and told him there was this funny thing he had to see in this picture I took. I walked down the stairs and bumped into him in the entryway, turned my phone towards him, and there he saw the positive pregnancy test. Once he realized what he was looking at, and that it was indeed REAL, he put his face in his hands and cried. We sat, we hugged, we talked, we were elated. It was just unbelievable. After everything that we had been through, this was it. And since this was IT, he went to the store and bought two more tests, just to be sure, haha!
Given that we got a positive test so early on after our transfer, I knew in my heart it was twins. Exciting and scary at the same time! Our clinic agreed to move up our pregnancy blood test to confirm what all the at-home tests told us, and sure enough, the blood test came back positive and with a pretty high HCG level for such an early test. The doctor said both embryos most likely implanted and we were, at that point, probably expecting twins. A woman’s intuition does it again! We had an ultrasound a couple weeks later, which confirmed there were indeed two little babies growing in that little mini ute of mine. It was so surreal to see those little jumping beans on the screen like that – something we will never forgot.
I was monitored extremely closely given I was carrying twins with half of a uterus. My pregnancy was pretty uneventful until around week 26, when my cervix shortened quite a bit and I was told to really take it easy and rest whenever possible. A week and a half later, my water started leaking around baby A (now known as Livi) and I was admitted to the hospital. We spent three weeks in the hospital on bedrest and all I can say is thank goodness for chip+chisel! I worked and filled orders from my hospital bed and kept myself VERY busy. The nurses and doctors would walk in and I would just be stamping away, creating jewelry … I had a whole studio and shipping station setup in my hospital room!
On the morning of April 2nd, during regular monitoring, Livi’s heart rate kept dropping. Suddenly a bunch of nurses and doctors were in the room talking about prepping for delivery. We were thirty weeks and two days along at that point. Before I knew it, I was being wheeled back to prep for an emergency c-section. Surprisingly, I was totally calm through everything. I just went with the flow and knew that everything was going to turn out just fine. I laid down on the table, and with the great care from my amazing doctor, a nurse who is now a friend, and the rest of their team, Ian and I welcomed Addison + Alivia to the world. Hearing their cries for the first time was the most incredible and emotional feeling. They were here … the babies that we waited so long for, the ones that were meant just for us. They were immediately whisked away to be examined and cared for because they were born so prematurely. Once the team from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) determined that they were stable, they wheeled them to my bedside in their little incubators so I could briefly see them. They were tiny, but they were perfect. Our perfect little girls.
We spent five weeks in the NICU at the hospital just letting the girls grow and learn to eat. While I don’t wish the NICU experience on anyone, our time there was so much better than it could have been and we feel so fortunate and blessed that they did so well and that we had the ability to be there with them all day, every single day. It’s a horrible feeling to leave your babies every night when you just want them next to you; however, the staff that cared for our girls was amazing and we will forever be grateful to them.
Despite our struggle, our little family went from two to four and we could not be happier! Every cycle, every shot, every negative test, every dollar spent … all of the heartbreak was worth it to get to this point. There were so many times that I wanted to give up and just move on from it all, but knowing what could be is what kept me going. No one could have prepared me for the amount of love I would feel for our girls or that I would instinctively become such a mama bear and want to keep them so close and protected. Addi + Livi are our world.
Dealing with infertility on any level is extremely painful and difficult. Whether it’s one IVF cycle or six, if you go through it, it’s some of the most intense emotional pain you will likely ever endure. Over that three-year period, I reminded myself that everything was happening for a reason. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out why things happen the way that they do and other times you never end up knowing. I ultimately believe that our journey was meant for us - it was meant to bring us to the idea of chip+chisel, to allow us the opportunities that we’ve had to give back, and to connect with others traveling a similar path. It all unfolded exactly as it was meant to.