I remember in my mid-twenties thinking about how I had years before I needed to start trying for a family. When I finally started trying for a baby at the age of 33, I knew that I was on the later end of the spectrum, but that I was still a few years away from the dreaded 35. However, after a full year of trying with no results and then being referred to a fertility specialist, time seemed to start moving a little quicker. Sitting in his office during our consultation and hearing the term “geriatric pregnancy” for the first time, I was taken aback. I would have assumed that geriatric meant at least 45, but apparently, in the fertility world, 35 is the new 45. I was given my options of treatments and then went for a bunch of tests. Our test results didn’t come back with a lot of answers. My husband’s results were great, so we eliminated him as the cause of our infertility, but we had no answers as to what the issue was on my side. We chose to start with IUI treatment as that seemed to be the least daunting.
It felt like we were picking treatments from a spa menu when we were given the brochure, though with fertility, the prices are a lot steeper and the treatments are more stressful than relaxing.
I went into our first round of IUI with blind optimism, the odds that we were given were very good, and I just assumed that I would do a round and then be pregnant. My first round resulted in a chemical pregnancy. I was a little let down, but not that worried as I was still 34 and we were going for another round right away. That round failed, and then we did another, and another, and another, still with no success.
With each round, time was slowly moving closer to the dreaded fertility killer of being 35. After our fourth round of IUI, we had to sit down with the doctor and map out a new path to take. Obviously, IUI wasn’t working for us and we were running out of options and fighting against the loudly ticking fertility clock. IVF was the clearest option for us to choose next, but it felt like we were so panicked that we didn’t have time to even think on it—we just had to act.
We started our first round of IVF and the odds we were given weren’t that great because of our ages.
We had to keep telling ourselves that we would be parents as all of our friends were lapping us on having children since we started trying. We had friends that met their significant others after we started trying and were now pregnant. Of course, all of these friends were also younger than us, which punctuated how we were late in the game, and fighting an uphill battle. By this time, I was 35 going on 36 and my husband was 37 going on 38.
We were already exhausted from being on the fertility roller coaster so how were we supposed to have the energy to raise a baby?
Our first round of IVF resulted in one embryo that ended in a miscarriage at six weeks. I had turned 36 during our round and our chances seemed to be wasting away. We wanted to take a break between rounds, but did we have that luxury? With each passing year, a woman’s egg count diminishes more, and we still didn’t know what the fertility issue on my side was. Our doctor recommended that we take a three-month break and that I prepare myself for the next round with acupuncture, supplements, and trying to bring my stress level down. I stressed for the next three months that I was wasting time and that we should have just done back-to-back rounds. Being infertile in your mid to late thirties feels like you are throwing a Hail Mary pass. Our next round resulted in no embryos and two people feeling like they were never going to be parents.
I felt panicked and anxious that we were going to be 40 and still doing IVF just so that we could say that we gave it our all. I had anxiety and self-doubt. Should we have started an adoption process when we were first diagnosed? Should we have looked into using an egg donor before starting our second round? Maybe these options would have given us a baby by now. My 37th birthday was three months away and Ryan was six months from being 39. We were racing so hard against the clock that we weren’t even stopping to see how each other was feeling after each round, or about the decisions we were hastily making.
It felt like we were running an obstacle race and we had no time to catch our breath.
After our failed second round we went right into our third round without hesitation, and I went into a depressive state. All of the hormones, failures, and successes of our friends had finally gotten to me. I was the reason that we weren’t getting pregnant. I was aging with each failure and was convinced that I was never going to be a mother. My stress level was going up, and my drive to carry on was diminishing. In both of the IVF support groups that I was in on Facebook, it seemed like I was the oldest member, and the only one not getting pregnant. I saw posts from women who weren’t even 30 worried about becoming a mother when they were 35 and “too old,” women that were 30 who already had a child and still had multiple embryos to choose from, all debating their options. I stopped looking at the groups for months just for my sanity.
Our third round resulted in one embryo and a lot of decisions. Should we transfer the one and hope that it takes and be content with an only child, or should we do another round of IVF and try to get more embryos so that we had more to transfer. I would be 38 in the next year and your IVF success drops off significantly at that age so if we were going to do another round the time was now, however, Ryan would be 40 next year and to him still not being a father at that age was really getting to him. This is when we finally took a breath and stopped to make a decision. We were on opposite sides of thinking and really needed to make a decision sooner than later.
This was the first time in four years that we weren’t making the same quick decision together.
We debated it nightly and tried to see each other’s point of view—mine being that I could carry children later and into my forties but trying an IVF round then would be pointless due to the success rates. Ryan felt that we should transfer the one embryo and see what happens. If it failed, we would be starting our fourth round before I was 38. It felt like our backs were against the wall and that we had finally run out of time. Doing fertility treatments in your late thirties doesn’t give you the luxury of wait and see or taking six months off to save for your next treatment. It doesn’t allow you to take vacations in-between rounds or try experimental treatments abroad. Fighting infertility in your mid- to-late thirties makes you feel like you are in a race, but you had to start ten minutes behind everyone else and your finish line is twice as far.
Although we have our happy ending and finally have our baby, I know what faces us should we decide to try again
By Sarah Cheltenham