My husband and I were married for just over five years when we started to try to get pregnant. I had just begun a new job 9 months earlier. I figured we’d get pregnant and at twelve weeks I would be able to make my joyous pregnancy announcement. Just as I had been in my new role for a year. Seemed like the perfect plan!
But things didn’t go as planned. Our story is like so many others – month after month of negative pregnancy tests. We were seemingly healthy, we ate well, we both exercised and we had no genetic issues that we were aware of. After eight months of trying I made an appointment with my family doctor.
We did all of the standard initial tests at our fertility clinic – blood work, hormone levels, internal ultrasounds, monitored cycles, hysterosalpinogram, sonohysterogram – the works. Same for my husband – blood work, semen samples and urologist appointments. The diagnosis? Unexplained infertility.
For someone who likes to plan – and have a plan of action – this was a difficult diagnosis. I hated the lack of control I already felt, but at least if we had some sort of diagnosis that we could tackle I would feel like we were making progress. Unexplained infertility felt so – hopeless. Like any efforts were just going to be shots in the dark.
Our approach to this diagnosis was fairly typical, as I’ve now learned. We tried cycle monitoring and timed intercourse for a few months. No luck. We escalated to medicated cycles. Nothing. We moved on to IUI, but after three cycles without a positive pregnancy test my gut told me this wasn’t the route for us. We made the difficult decision to move on to IVF. At this point we had kept much of our journey to ourselves – with just immediate family and a few very close friends aware of our struggles.
Keeping what we were going through to ourselves felt like self-preservation at the time. We wanted to be able to go about the other aspects of our lives without people feeling sorry for us. Or treating us like we were fragile. Or constantly asking how we were doing. In retrospect, it made things a lot harder.
The first round of IVF was very challenging. I am someone who likes to know what to expect – and I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out that I respond very well – too well – to the medication and they ended up retrieving 26 eggs. After the excruciating five days of daily updates – how many fertilized, how many made it to Day 1, 3 – and finally day 5 – we were left with two Day 5 blastocysts. I was showing the early risk signs for OHSS, but we were advised to proceed with a fresh transfer. I ended up with OHSS – and my period which came less than two weeks later.
A few months later we went ahead with the frozen transfer of our last remaining embryo. To our utter disbelief and pure joy – it resulted in a pregnancy! We had a few days of happiness, but then the numbers started to cast doubt on our success. Our hCG levels weren’t doubling as they should have and early our ultrasound measurements weren’t where they should be. During this time, we had been concurrently pursing a line of investigation around a varicocele (an enlargement of veins in the scrotum) that had been identified in my husband. It had been identified near the beginning of our journey, but at the time our healthcare team didn’t think it was the cause of our infertility. Still – we wanted to cover all of our bases, and so we had pushed to pursue the repair. As we were going through the drawn-out heartbreak of what we suspected to be an impending miscarriage, we were concurrently scheduling his varicocele. We figured at best it might help us achieve pregnancy easier for baby #2 – at worst, it would help if this pregnancy didn’t work out.
Two days before Christmas my husband had his surgery. A scary procedure in where he lay, awake, on an x-ray table with isotopes coursing through his veins. They threaded a wire from his jugular, down through his heart, body, kidneys, and into his testis. At that point they proceeded to repair the initially-discovered varicocele, plus another they identified during the surgery. The surgeon felt fairly confident the extent of his varicoceles could not have been helping our fertility.
Two days after Christmas we went in for our 9-week ultrasound. No heartbeat. That ultrasound appointment was the most scarring part of our journey – I am still left with ultrasound anxiety following it. I lay on that table for the better part of an hour, with my husband by my side, as various technicians and doctors spoke in hushed tones, came in and out of the room, and eventually confirmed what we already knew in our hearts – the pregnancy was no more. We were completely crushed. Devastated. How could we have gone through everything we did and end up here?
We were advised to wait three months for me to recover post-miscarriage and also for my husband’s sperm to replenish post-surgery before we started trying again. His sperm sample three months post-surgery was promising and we tried for the next six months to get pregnant on our own. Again, month after month of negative pregnancy tests.
In September I made yet another appointment at our fertility clinic and we began the the IVF process once again. This time we were going to proceed with PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening) testing on any embryos that made it to Day 5, and they adjusted my medication to try to avoid OHSS. Despite the adjustment, I still had 44 follicles by retrieval day, with 27 mature and 19 retrieved. But by Day 5 we were left with just 3. Our PGS results came back a few weeks later and we were down to one – one genetically viable embryo. We were scared and anxious – but our doctor kept reminding us, “it only takes one.”
During this IVF round we had opened up to a few more people. In doing so, we realized how many others in our social network had faced similar struggles. We told our managers and each had a few close confidantes at work – and this made the process so much easier. We didn’t always need to maintain a brave face. We could be honest when we were having a hard day and we had someone who understood – who had been there. I wished we had been more open during the past year. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it would have made it easier on us.
Seven days after our frozen transfer I took a pregnancy test at 3am (I couldn’t wait any longer…). Two lines! Everything about that pregnancy was different – great hCG numbers, promising ultrasound measurements – and in July 2016 we welcomed our first little miracle, Bronsen Clabby.
We assumed we would need to go through IVF for a second child, and when Bronsen was a just over a year old back I trekked to the clinic. On my next “cycle day 3” I dutifully went in for the standard blood work and ultrasound. But the news I received that afternoon was anything but standard. I was already pregnant! Cycle day three was apparently not cycle day 3 – just some implantation bleeding. We welcomed our second miracle, Sawyer Clabby – miraculous in a completely different way – in May 2018.
Part of us felt like we were pushing our luck, but we decided to try for baby number three. We are still left with anxiety and residual infertility stress and so we set a time limit. My menstrual cycle resumed in September 2019. We would give ourselves to December to try for a third child, and if it didn’t happen – it wasn’t meant to be. In October I saw two more pink lines and I am now just over 6 months pregnant with our third child – a baby girl, due June 2020. In some ways, this last pregnancy has been the most nerve wracking. After all we have been through I have had a lingering feeling of pushing our luck – like this couldn’t really be us. Expecting baby number three. Even as I type this I am nervous to be even putting these thoughts down in writing.
But being open and honest, I now realize, is so important. In sharing our struggles – and worries – we have found so many others who are currently going through the same challenges we did. And in being there for others – we feel like everything we went through had and even greater purpose than delivering to us our little miracles. It was this drive that spurred me to volunteer with Fertility Matters Canada. And in fact, the journey we went through to create our family also impacted my career journey.
When I was pregnant with Sawyer a friend, whom I was helping support through her own fertility struggles, proposed the idea of creating infertility support for other women. She had run her own brick-and-mortar nutrition counselling business for the past decade. I am a certified fitness instructor and had relied heavily on fitness as a means of stress relief and managing my anxiety through our infertility. I have a degree in biochemistry and an MBA and had been in brand management for the past decade. She proposed combining our passions, our expertise and our professional experience to launch an infertility support business to help other women find the support, encouragement and doctor-recommended resources we ourselves so desperately sought on our own journey.
In May 2019 we officially launched myMindBodyBaby.com – an online community to raise awareness of and provide guided fitness, nutrition and mental well-being support for women struggling with infertility. In addition to making our programs available online, we partner with fertility clinics to make them available directly to patients.