My story starts out pretty simple. I knew I always wanted to be a mother and when I got pregnant for the first time it was like a dream come true. The very thing I always wanted was happening and we didn’t even have to try.
My husband Adrian and I had been married over two years and our intention was to start trying for our first child that summer. While out at dinner with friends - who already had families of their own - the evening conversations centered around us being childless: “What are you waiting for?” said one dad. “You’ll never regret having kids!” said another. So that night we decided to just go for it, throwing all caution to the wind with our unprotected sex. I had no idea where I was in my cycle but all of that didn’t matter, because I was literally pregnant the next day. I tested positive for pregnancy two weeks later and my journey to motherhood began. I was lucky to carry well with no major issues throughout the nine months. When it came time to give birth, I pushed five times over 15 minutes and out came my beautiful daughter on November 1, 2010.
I’m highlighting the easiness of it all because it was truly a beautiful time in our lives. We were a young, happily married couple doing well professionally and personally. We had no real stress, travelled a ton and enjoyed life to the fullest. But like most good things, sometimes they must come to an end in order to come full circle again. And that’s exactly what was about to happen to me, to us.
Shortly after my daughter turned one my husband and I started thinking kids again. We loved our daughter tremendously and we were excited at the prospect of becoming parents of two. Two kids in two years sounded like a great idea and we excitedly told everybody we were going to start trying again.
It was after a full year of trying without success that I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe we should see a fertility specialist … something might not be quite right here.” By this point we were all in, tracking ovulation and trying all the top-rated pregnancy-inducing sex positions. Lots of friends started having their firsts and others were already successfully on to number two. I desperately wanted to join them with a pregnancy announcement of my own. Many well-intentioned family and friends continued to ask us how it was going, but obviously it wasn’t.
We chose to use the former LifeQuest Centre for Reproductive Medicine (now TRIO Fertility) after hearing it was a great place, and because there was a new doctor on staff we got in right away. When the time came to first meet Dr. Abrol, Adrian was VERY hesitant; we’d already conceived once before so he couldn’t help but feel like we should be able to do it again on our own. As for me, I was relieved to have someone on our side who could help us discover any underlying issues affecting our efforts.
There was not a lot of talk back then about infertility, at least not with the people I was around. I knew nobody else that had gone through it and had no one else that could truly relate with me. We didn’t share the process with many because it was hard for them to understand. People told us all the time to take a vacation; to relax; and to feel blessed for having had one child already. I would ask myself often if I was wrong to want another child … or if I was selfish in wishing to experience a new baby all over again. I smiled a lot on the outside during this time, but inside I was swallowing a ton of hard feelings.
Our first order of business with Dr. Abrol was a series of tests to investigate Adrian’s sperm and my baby-making parts. My results came back clear but unfortunately Adrian’s did not. His sperm count, quality and motility were all low. So we got a crash-course on the important factors that make up a great sperm and also about sperm regeneration … that lifestyle influences on the man’s body in month one could affect the quality and count of his sperm, for better or worse, four months later. Although Adrian’s sperm issues seemed surprising to us both at first, there was a lot more going on in the background of our personal lives. Adrian had lost his job twice during the time we started trying again and he was also working longer hours in a high-stress role. I’m not saying this was the only reason we weren’t getting pregnant but these factors weren’t necessarily helping the situation either.
Two months in from our first meeting at the clinic, we started to prepare ourselves for artificial insemination. This was the preferred first step given our known issues. My office wasn’t far from the clinic, so I’d go in before work started for cycle monitoring and self-inject fertility meds later at night for follicle stimulation. The first time I pricked my body with a needle was hard; after a few nights it felt like nothing.
At ovulation, Dr. Abrol confirmed that I had eight mature eggs ready to be released with the trigger hormone shot. I was pleased that my body had responded so well to the drugs and at some point along the way we talked about the possibility of twins, triplets or more. The very night before our insemination procedure Adrian got apprehensive. It really hit him that he was NOT OK with any more than one child at a time. We argued at length, and he demanded an emergency meeting with Dr. Abrol before the insemination. He needed to talk it over again, about what could be done if we conceived twins. Until that point I thought we were on the same page, and even slightly excited at the idea of twins. I went to bed with tears and the next morning we had what I considered to be the most awkward conversation with the doctor.
In the end we proceeded with the insemination. I was alone in the patient room awaiting Dr. Abrol when I overheard two people outside the door having a private discussion. I didn’t catch all of it, but distinctly remember hearing this sentiment: “The patient inside should not be having artificial insemination with a sample like this.” Dr Abrol walked in right after, and instead of diving right in to the procedure we instead had a huddle around her computer. Adrian’s sperm sample was the worst sample given to date. The lab technician had questioned why Abrol would even inseminate with such results and his report was marked up with big red flags everywhere. Dr. Abrol gave me her honest opinion that she doubted this sample would result in pregnancy, given how little sperm of viable sperm was left to use. Any hopes I had about getting pregnant that day were flushed down the toilet.
The procedure was quick enough and I carried on about my day like nothing happened. As soon as I got into the office though, I called Adrian and quietly shared the news about his unfavourable sperm sample. Despite knowing we’d just spent all that money with almost no chance of getting pregnant, we were still able to laugh it off and chalk it up as one for the books.
Dr. Abrol’s assumption about us getting pregnant had been right - we did not conceive that month with artificial insemination. There had not been enough sperm with both good quality and motility to give us a fighting chance. At the recap meeting post-insemination, Dr. Abrol was firm that IVF was now the only option if we wanted to increase our odds for pregnancy. There was lots to think about - time, money, more drugs, and the strain it would put on my body - but in the end we agreed it was the way to go. And because we had summer travel plans, Dr. Abrol suggested that we use the next few months to give ourselves a break. We’d prepare before the vacation to take the clinic’s IVF course and also speak to Dara Roth Edney (an excellent infertility counsellor through LifeQuest), so that we’d be ready to go as soon as we got back from the trip.
After the meeting we were at the front desk waiting in line to make our advance payments. A gentleman in front of me was buying vitamins and absolutely raved about them. When I got to the receptionist, I asked her about them. She shared that people going through assisted fertility swore by these pills, and that rumour had it a man whose sperm was depleted by cancer took them and went on to have a healthy baby. At that point, we were open to anything, and so if these pills helped a man with cancer they could most certainly help my husband too! I bought one bottle - a three month supply - and Adrian started taking them at the beginning of May. We figured even if they didn’t work his body would still benefit from the boost of extra vitamins.
Our vacation month came and we were excited to be away visiting with family in Croatia. It was a relaxing trip and our daughter, almost three by then, proved to be a great travel companion. Near the end of our stay, while driving the backroads of Split and with beautiful scenery all around us, I was overcome with emotions. My daughter was peacefully asleep in the backseat and for the first time in a long time I finally felt totally happy and at peace with what was. I told Adrian that if our destiny was to only have one child then we were already blessed beyond words, and that perhaps we shouldn’t bring science (IVF) into the equation. I was genuinely ready to stop all the trying and let go.
We got back to Toronto late August and as “planned”, waited for my period to come so I could get started at the clinic. We didn’t rule out the IVF route completely but I was no longer feeling “desperate”. I’d had many irregular cycles over the last two years, but none resulted in two lines on a pregnancy stick. When I was Day 33 in my cycle I caught a feeling I might be pregnant. I tried doubting myself - I’d been disappointed many times before, and thought why this time over any of the other times we tried - but I couldn’t shake it. On the way home that night I had Adrian detour to the drug store for a pregnancy test. With one stick ready to use, we debated if I should wait until the morning when my urine would be most concentrated with the pregnancy hormone. But I couldn’t help myself and went ahead with testing my pee when we reached home. I needed to know if what my gut was telling me was true.
I didn’t bother to wait the few minutes the test tells you to wait to look at the results window. I watched the pee build over and show only the one solid blue line. I was not pregnant and tried to hold back the disappointment. Adrian stood there quietly and I left to go do something else. It was maybe 10 minutes later when he came to find me with the stick in his hand. Look at this, Andrea, he said. There’s a faint second line, at least I think it is … The coveted line was so light you really had to stare but dark or not there was no denying what it meant: a positive confirmation we were pregnant again.
With such a great outcome I guess you could say that the trip we took really did us wonders. We were not “trying” really and yet somehow our prayers were finally answered after all those months of hoping and wishing for another baby to come along. Coincidentally, Adrian had just finished those vitamins around the same time and I’m convinced they helped us do the trick. Some might even go as far as to say those pills had magic in them! Whatever the case, nine months later on May 21, 2014, we gave birth to our second beautiful baby girl.
While we were delighted to close the chapter on infertility and not pay for IVF to conceive, our journey wasn’t over. A new one was waiting for us around the corner.
As you’ve now learned, it took us a lot of effort to conceive our second child but worth all the energy. We loved being a family of four. We also began talking about a third child because we did not feel quite “done” with having kids yet - the idea of a big brood always appealed to us. But given what we’d just been through, we agreed we weren’t going to put the pressure on each other to “try” again. If we got pregnant we’d be thrilled, but if it didn’t work out we’d move on.
The second weekend of November came and something again felt different within me. Adrian was away for an annual boys’ trip and I would have been around Day 31 in my cycle. I didn’t want to believe I was pregnant because we weren’t “trying”, but I needed to once again confirm if my gut was right. One pregnancy test later and it was confirmed - I was pregnant again! No effort at all and such a beautiful surprise.
The pregnancy progressed well with no issues or red flags except that the baby started measuring small in the last trimester. The doctor wasn’t concerned and neither were we. On July 15, 2016, I gave birth to my third child, a handsome baby boy.
In the hours shortly after my son arrived, our world turned upside down. He failed to thrive and the doctors at Sickkids were left puzzled by the symptoms he was presenting. After nine months of life, two surgeries, therapy intervention and multiple hospital stays, we received a working diagnosis: genetic testing confirmed he had a “spelling mistake” in chromosome 16. It was a variant that had never been seen before, but in an area of a known syndrome called Rubinstein-Taybi. Thankfully when he reached twelve months of age, we hit a groove, his health was in a better spot and life began to resemble some normalcy again.
Around this time I started noticing my menstrual cycle had changed; it was heavier than normal, so much so, that I needed to start wearing pads with tampons at night. I was constantly exhausted most of my cycle, experiencing sharp pains every ovulation period and had bloating in the midsection that didn’t go away. I rationalized that the symptoms were probably just the result of having had three kids, but after encouragement from a friend, I decided to go see a doctor to have a pelvic ultrasound done. The results came back showing I had a large fibroid and with each passing month my symptoms felt worse. I was to wait four months to discuss it further with a specialist.
In this first meeting with Dr. Liu, we went through my options. I was not prepared to take any drugs because they would wreak havoc on my body without eliminating the fibroid completely. I also knew fibroids and uterine issues run in my family; three of my aunts had needed hysterectomies so I was already prepared mentally for this likelihood. I talked it over with Adrian, and we agreed that surgery was the most appropriate way to proceed. Having more kids did not seem to be in our cards anymore.
On June 5, I headed to an imaging clinic near home to have a sonohysterogram ordered by Dr. Liu. I waited in a little dressing room for the technician to call my name, and moments later was greeted by none other than Dr. Abrol - my fertility doctor from all those years ago! I was stunned in the moment because she’s the last person I’d expect to cross paths with again. “Andrea!” she smiled, “I saw the last name and wondered if it was you.”
Dr. Abrol shared she volunteered some hours at this clinic to do these specialized ultrasounds I was having done. Seeing her reminded me of how far we’d come in growing our family. It also reminded me of our secondary infertility journey again - that it really wasn’t all that long ago when I needed her help most to impregnate my uterus. To know that this same woman was helping me yet again, in the way of an ultrasound, for my future hysterectomy felt completely ironic. I promise you I cannot make this stuff up even if I tried.
I met again with Dr. Liu for a follow-up, to see how everything was going. My surgery date was set for May 2020 because he was booked until then, and despite my best efforts and tears I could not convince him to give me an earlier date. There was nothing he could do. That day I also learned the latest ultrasound results showed I had a condition of the uterus called adenomyosis. This further explained the additional pain I was suffering from month to month.
Less than a week after that appointment, I got the call I prayed for - Dr. Liu had a cancellation date come up and offered it to me first. It was short notice and not ideal but I said yes anyway. I had seven days to prepare for surgery, do the pre-op checks, and get extra help sorted for post-op healing, all without my husband around as he was travelling for work that week and not due back until the morning of surgery.
I went in for surgery on a sunny but cold Friday morning. My husband’s flight had been delayed but thankfully he was still able to make it home with 40 minutes to spare before taking me to the hospital. After a few hours in the operating room, my surgery was done and soon after I started on the road to recovery.
It’s bittersweet to share that I can no longer have babies; another chapter in my book of parenthood is closed, but the journey of personal growth continues. Throughout these last 10 years as a mother I’ve also been a student, receiving lesson after lesson about life, struggle, beauty, and joy. I’ve learned that anything worth having is worth fighting for, and that the road to building a family is not at all straight or ideal. At least mine certainly wasn’t, but I was able to persevere and that’s the key.
The experiences I’ve had make me that much stronger and resilient for whatever comes next. I am grateful for being knocked down a few times to truly understand and appreciate what it’s like to pick myself up and begin again. My son’s special needs will carry on for the rest of his life but he is a gift, as are my other two children.
I cannot stress enough to all those struggling to conceive right now DO NOT GIVE UP. This might be just the break you need. Or maybe you don't need but take anyway to restore and reset. Keep the faith that you will become pregnant some way or another, and that it’s just a matter of when, not “if”. The road of infertility is hard but not meaningless. May each of you be able to weather this storm together with grace and love and be blessed in the end with a beautiful rainbow of your own.