Shawn and I met in the spring of 2009 and a short 18 months later, we were married. We knew we wanted to wait a couple of years before having kids as we wanted to purchase a home and we were both working on our careers.
In the fall of 2011, I stopped taking the birth control pill and we officially started trying, one year later, in 2012. I had downloaded an app that calculated my cycles and ovulation and much to my surprise, I would ovulate on our vacation to Jamaica. I was so excited that we were finally ready to build our family, but I was also terrified as we were one of the first couples out of our core group of friends that was going to start trying. I remember being in our hotel room one with my legs up in the air, watching Jersey Shore on MTV, and talking to Shawn about how this would likely be our last trip for a long time.
I didn’t get pregnant that first time and to be honest, I wasn’t that really upset. I thought it was maybe a bit crazy to think I’d actually get pregnant the first time. So, then we tried again, and again, and again. Friends started getting pregnant. Some right away, some after a few tries. After 6 months of just trying on our own, I decided to stop just relying on the app and went out and purchased a bunch of ovulation predictor kits (ranging anywhere from the dollar store cheapies to the more expensive digital tests). When that still didn’t work, I started adding in the charting of my basal temperature. Still nothing.
After 13 months of trying, I sat in my doctor’s office in tears. She quickly referred me to the fertility clinic closest to our home and let me know that we are not alone. A fertility clinic. Was there something wrong with me? Something wrong with Shawn? These thoughts all went through my head and I had no idea the journey we were about to embark on.
In December of 2013 we started all of our testing to figure out what the real issue was and by March of 2014, we still had no answers. What we did have was diagnosis of unexplained infertility. Basically, Shawn and I just weren’t reproductively compatible (which was really really frustrating). I had just started a one-year contract at my current job, so we decided to hold off on treatment until it was up, or until I was made permanent. The good news is I did end up getting hired permanently (and am still with the same employer after 4+ years).
Work was busy for a while. We also decided to sell our house and purchase a new one, so we held off on all things fertility related until the summer of 2016. During those two years I stopped obsessively tracking my cycles, but we also weren’t using any form of birth control. By the time we went back to the clinic they let us know that we needed to do all of our testing again as it had been over 18 months. It was then that we discovered our infertility wasn’t so unexplained. I was diagnosed with low AMH which essentially means my egg reserve is quite low. Anything above 15 pmol/l is considered normal, anything below 3 pmol/l is considered diminished and I was sitting at a 6 pmol/l. I was devastated. But also, somewhat relieved to know there was a more definitive answer as to (maybe) why this was happening.
We took some time to process it all and decided we would start IUI in the New Year. We also decided to take a trip while we waited. A trip we talked about for years and years but never really got around to going on. What better time to take advantage? We decided to take a 3-week long adventure to Thailand. We had booked more than half the trip and were really getting excited when we were told that Thailand was on the Zika list. What does that mean? Well, couples who are trying to conceive or are currently pregnant, should not travel to areas where Zika virus is present. If they do, women will need to wait 60 days once they return and men will need to wait 6 month. PARDON? I was pretty upset. There was no way I was waiting another 6 months to start IUI. Thankfully, we had options and we proceeded with freezing Shawn’s sperm right before we left so we would only have to wait the 60 days. We then spent 3 amazing weeks travelling all over Thailand eating all the foods and seeing all the sights. It was exactly what we needed.
In March of 2017, we moved forward with our first medicated IUI. It was at that time we noticed that some of Shawn’s numbers were off. He went for further testing where he was diagnosed with Testicular Microlithiasis (essentially calcium deposits in the testicles). Sadly, IUI #1 was unsuccessful but we moved right in to IUI #2 in April. When that one didn’t work we took it a bit harder. You see, we truly believed we just needed an IUI or 2 and we would finally be pregnant. Wrong. We decided to take a break before our third IUI and went on another spontaneous trip to Portugal. We came back relaxed and ready to keep on trucking. I should back up and also say we put ourselves on the Ontario funded IVF list on December of 2016 after finding out about my AMH. While we were in the middle of our two week wait, for what we had already decided would be our final IUI, our nurse called and let me know our funded cycle had come up and would be available right away if this IUI didn’t work. The day of my blood test for IUI #3 was tough. We knew if this didn’t work we’d be moving on to IVF and I don’t think either one of us ever thought it would take that much. We also would be heading in to IVF teaching the exact same day if our results came back negative. Well, at 9:30 a.m. we found out I wasn’t pregnant and by lunch time we were at the clinic for IVF teaching.
We went in to our first IVF cycle in July of 2017. I took stimulating medications for about 9 days and we had our egg retrieval mid-July. I had mild OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) leading up to my retrieval so there was a last-minute trigger change. From that cycle we retrieved 8 eggs, all of which were mature and were then fertilized with ICSI (basically where they inject one single sperm of Shawn’s directly in to each egg). 4 of our eggs fertilized and we moved on to a fresh day 5 embryo transfer. About 9 days later I saw something I’ve never seen before, a positive pregnancy test. We were pregnant. Sadly, I had already started bleeding and by the time we had our first blood test it was positive, but we were already losing the pregnancy. The entire process was more emotionally and physically exhausting then I could have imagined. We decided to take the rest of the summer off and move forward with our final embryo transfer (we had one left to freeze of the 4) in October. It also failed. We were back at square one. No embryos, no baby and no more funding. It was at that point that we decided to take the rest of 2017 off, switch clinics and we would circle back in the New Year. During this time, we also had an appointment with a private adoption consultant who was fantastic. We are still very much interested in adoption but have decided to pursue one avenue at a time.
We met our new doctor and instantly felt a much better connection. He was ready to hit the ground running and was also willing to switch up my protocol (something my previous doctor said he would not do). We also decided we would bank embryos and do the PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening) and PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) testing. We wanted to have at least 4 embryos to send for testing and were willing to do two retrieval cycles (who are we kidding, I would have done a third if we didn’t have the results that we did). Our February cycle was fairly straight forward, my side effects were slight elevated from the previous cycle but so was my protocol, so it made sense. From that cycle we retrieved 13 eggs, 11 of which were mature and 7 of which fertilized with ICSI. From there, we got our final report on day 6 and we had 3 embryos biopsied and frozen to send off after our final cycle. We were so close to 4. We only really needed one more (although I was hoping for another 3). We jumped right back in to our next retrieval cycle where we had our best results yet. It was honestly the best news we could have ever received which was lovely because it was also the worst cycle I had endured out of all treatment cycles. From cycle 3 we retrieved 17 eggs, 14 of which were mature and 12 of which fertilized with ICSI. We received the good word on day 6 that 7 of our embryos were biopsied and frozen to send off with the other 3 for testing. We had 10. There were a lot of tears that day. I didn’t think I could get any happier until our PGS/PGD results came back and Shawn and I found out that we are the proud parents of 7 normal embryos. We haven’t transferred yet and are still unsure as to when we will but after nearly 6 years of struggling, we are finally starting to feel like our baby is coming home soon.
Although it’s been a long and bumpy 5+ years, we have found comfort in sharing our story. I have kept a blog of our entire journey and I also blog monthly for Fertility Matters Canada. When Shawn and I decided to go public, we did it so that we could encourage others to speak out about infertility and loss and so no one else had to feel alone. We are 1 in 6.