Today I am dedicating my blog to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward, releasing on April 17th. (Check out my interview with Justine here! She’ll also be back on the show again soon.)
For five weeks, 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma.
Yesterday, Elizabeth shared her story, and tomorrow we will hear from Erica, the author of Unstoppable Tenacity. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward.
Following the sudden, dangerous rupture of a softball size ovarian cyst that left me bleeding profusely in a Michael’s craft store, I was rushed into surgery and ultimately diagnosed with endometriosis in 2007. I knew it could pose a problem down the road but definitely didn’t realize just how much.
Although, thinking back, the signs were there. I stopped taking the pill just prior to the laparoscopy, and over the next four years, despite not using any form of birth control, we never even had a ‘scare.’
My husband and I were married in 2005, but he wasn’t ready to start trying to conceive until November 2011. I got pregnant in May 2012, but miscarried on Mother’s Day.
In September 2012, I discovered temping and ovulation prediction kits. Late to the game, I know. Up until that point, we were pretty much just winging it! After that, I began tracking my cycles religiously.
I was pregnant again in October 2012 — and again miscarried right away. Based on the distress my body was in prior to the miscarriage, the doctors think it was an ectopic pregnancy.
It was that moment, as I miscarried in the emergency room, that I realized we needed help. I always ask people how they are feeling at the point when they decide they need medical intervention, and I can honestly say I was in the depression stage of grief. I think I had actually been going through the denial phase for quite some time.
Google Maps chose my first fertility clinic for me. When I began my infertility journey, FertilityIQ didn’t exist, and no one in my extended network was going through the same thing (or so I rationalized).
Our initial appointment was on November 1, 2012, and testing concluded in late January 2013. (The only reason it took that long is because I required a laparoscopy to clear my endometriosis and open one of my tubes. If you do not require some sort of surgical repair, the initial testing phase should take a couple weeks — a month at most.)
About that time, I met a group of women on BabyCenter all struggling with infertility. Upon quickly becoming disenchanted with BabyCenter, we moved our conversation to a private Facebook group and formed deep, hopefully lifelong friendships.
By May 2013, nothing had been done at my fertility clinic with regard to treating my infertility. Not even a timed intercourse cycle. My new friends gently informed me that’s not how it’s supposed to work. I should have long before moved beyond testing to the next phase. They suggested I seek a second opinion.
At my core, I am a knowledge-seeker and research-enthusiast. For some reason, when it came to my infertility, I initially put my head in the sand. It might have been denial again. Or maybe just ignorance about the options available to me.
When I finally inquired about the game plan, my clinic began a cycle but ended up losing my baseline blood work. (They swore I never had a blood draw, but the hole in my arm said otherwise!) I finally saw the writing on the wall and switched clinics. The irony? The new, much better clinic was a mere five minutes further from my house.
The new clinic performed their own initial testing in the beginning of June 2013 and discovered I have the MTHFR gene mutation. They started me on Folgard and baby aspirin, and I was told it wouldn’t be an issue. We had our first cycle the end of that month.
The clinic started us off with Clomid and “timed intercourse.” Nothing. We then moved on to IUI and an HCG trigger shot. Each cycle, the result was the same; I would have a LH surge like I was going to ovulate, but even with the trigger shot, no eggs released and I ended up with cysts.
By August 2013, we had moved on to IVF. In September 2013, we transferred two blastocysts and I became pregnant with twins. We were shocked to say the least but obviously elated and completely in love.
Aside from five weeks of heavy bleeding, the pregnancy was relatively uneventful until my 20 week appointment.
I vividly remember lying down on the table waiting for the ultrasound technician.
When she came into the room, she said, “Triplets, right?”
Umm, not that we’re aware of!
She put the cold gel on my bare belly and started probing. To my surprise, it looked like there were three babies on the screen. One…two…what was that third thing? The technician had become very quiet.
“What is that?” I asked.
She didn’t respond and instead fled from the room.
I turned to my husband and said, “I think my cervix is open.”
Being the rock that he is, he told me to keep calm until we knew for sure what was happening. After what felt like an eternity, the technician returned, told me to get cleaned up, and come see the doctor in her office.
She calmly told me that, indeed, my cervix was “incompetent.” I completely lost it, bawling uncontrollably, barely able to breathe, while she continued to explain coldly that I needed to immediately head to the hospital for the remainder of my pregnancy. Not once did she emit an iota of emotion, despite the fact that I was clearly hysterical.
If only I had truly known at the time what “incompetent cervix” meant. I did ask about a cerclage, a procedure to manually close my cervix, but my doctor told me it was too late in the pregnancy for that. (It wasn’t, but I didn’t know enough to advocate for myself.) Dr. Google is a scary place, so I laid back and let the hospital staff care for me.
A week later, I was in labor. I knew I was in labor but let the on-call resident convince me it was “the babies kicking.” I screamed in pain for 10 hours, at which point the resident finally called my OB. She checked my cervix — I was fully dilated, my daughter’s placenta was partially in my birth canal, and it was now too late to stop the progression.
I gave birth to Eric and Alexis on January 20, 2014 after 27 hours of labor. Neither of them survived. Needless to say, this was and still is the lowest moment of my entire life.
In April 2014, I underwent surgery in Chicago to have a permanent transabdominal cerclage placed so my incompetent cervix would never cost me another baby.
Since then, I’ve had four frozen transfers and two fresh transfers. Two of the frozen transfers resulted in pregnancies, and then miscarriages. In January 2015, we made it to almost nine weeks — saw a heartbeat and everything.
My retrieval in April 2015 was pretty much a dud — only one embryo made it to transfer day, a far cry from the six the first time around. And I didn’t even get pregnant.
I decided enough was enough. Too many bad things had happened to our family and I was going to turn our luck — and my attitude — around. It was then I created this podcast, and soon thereafter, the support community.
I started taking CoQ10 and DHEA to improve my egg quality, which after six transfers I was finally being told was an issue. I can’t say for sure which of the medications did the trick — or if it was perhaps the fact that I finally convinced my doctors to do a cycle without cyst-inducing birth control pills — but I responded much better during my final cycle.
We retrieved 16 eggs and eight embryos made it to day 5 or 6. We transferred one grade A blast and sent the rest out for PGS testing. Four of the seven came back normal and were frozen for later use.
Unlike my previous two miscarriages, I had great, rising betas. And unlike with the twins, I got horrible morning sickness that kept me in bed for a good 12 weeks. Definitely a great sign!
We did a genetic blood test to screen for abnormalities, and I remember getting the email at around 8 a.m. that all was well — and we were having a girl! I had a feeling the whole pregnancy it was a girl, but it was so fun to confirm that fact.
Less than three hours later, I stood up and was covered in blood.
Lots of tests later, it was determined to be a subchorionic hematoma — and a large one at that. I bleed heavily for the next seven weeks.
Once we finally hit my 20 week appointment, I was more nervous than I could possibly describe. Little did we know that would actually be our last normal appointment. At that point, all was well and our daughter, who we’d named Aurora, was measuring a few days ahead.
Reaching 24 weeks was truly exciting! Finally, viability. Unfortunately, she was measuring a little small and her amniotic fluid was quite low. We were sent to a specialist and put on weekly scans for growth and fluid levels. I was also put on modified bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy.
During my 28th week, on Christmas Eve in fact, we underwent a MRI of Aurora’s brain to make sure it was developing properly. Although her fluid levels fluctuated and her growth continued to slow, her brain was right on schedule, which we considered a win.
Each week, I’d basically have a panic attack going into these appointments, dreading what we might see or need to do as a result. But each week, she continued to pass the basic tests — heart rate, fluid, blood flow, practicing breathing, and movement.
Speaking of movement, even though I had an anterior placenta that blocked me from feeling much of what she was up to in there, I could tell she was a mover. I felt her go crazy every couple hours, and even more so at night.
So when I stopped feeling her move following another perfect appointment during my 33rd week, I suspected something was wrong. Our appointment was on a Thursday. Her movement seemed slowed that day. On Friday, I barely felt her move at all. I woke up Saturday morning at 1 a.m. and ate to try to get her to move. I felt a kick or two but nothing else.
When my husband’s alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., I called the on-call doctor. She told me she wasn’t concerned, but I could go to the hospital if I really wanted to — and I did. So once the dog was walked, we headed out for the long drive to the hospital.
At 6 a.m., I was hooked up to the TOCO machine to check for movement and heart rate. I honestly thought I was just imagining things — looking for something to be wrong. I just thought we’d have a non-stress test, be told she was just fine and be on our way. Well, as soon as they hooked me up, I started having contractions.
They got stronger and stronger, as well as more frequent over the next couple hours. By 9 a.m., they administered an injection to help calm things down — and it worked for like 30-45 minutes. I was given a steroid shot around this time “just in case.” I was given another injection to help calm my uterus an hour or two later, but the result was the same.
At this point, they decided to admit me and put me on the magnesium drip for 24 long hours. The first couple hours were truly torture. It heats up your body to no end and gives you a terrible migraine. They packed my body with ice packs and brought in a huge fan, but I was still extremely miserable. The goal of the steroids was to mature her lungs, and the goal of the magnesium — in addition to still trying to stop labor — was to mature her brain.
Like the injections, the magnesium seemed to be working for quite a while. Our first goal was to make it to 9 a.m. Sunday for the second steroid shot. But soon, it was clear that wasn’t happening. I eventually was in constant pain — abdominal and back — in addition to strong contractions every 2 minutes. It was go time.
I won’t pretend I didn’t have a panic attack when I was on the C-section table before they actually started.
I remember they gave me the spinal and said they were ready to do the pain test. Except I could still feel them touching me! If I wasn’t freaked out before, I was in full panic mode at this point. They explained I would still feel everything BUT pain. Sure enough, they did whatever test they needed to do and invited my husband in so they could get started.
It felt like an eternity, but apparently she came out pretty quickly. Hearing her little cry was the most amazing thing ever!
At this point, the doctor stopped working on me and came around the sheet. He said thank goodness I had gone into labor because there had been a huge problem that for some reason was not detected.
Her cord was as thin as paper and fell apart immediately upon delivery. She had basically been starving in there, even though blood flow through her cord had always been great. My gut instinct about her lack of movement had saved her life.
Aurora was born without needing any intervention (other than an IV to get her nutrients) at 12:33 a.m. on January 31, 2016. She was 3lbs 6oz and 16.5 inches long.
Although I was discharged from the hospital after five days, she remained many miles away from our house in the NICU for 18 days following her birth, which was very hard on me and my husband. We went to the hospital daily but went home every night to rest, spending a total of three hours or more each day in the car, depending on traffic.
Having a premature baby, despite how relatively healthy she was at birth, has been a tough journey. She developed a severe form of acid reflux, which led to both asthma and a feeding disorder.
The asthma has resulted in what feels like a constant state of illness, ranging from the common cold to pneumonia, bronchitis, and an ear infection all at the same time.
The feeding disorder has basically controlled our entire lives and kept her from growing at a normal rate. Just yesterday someone asked me how old she is, and I replied 14 months.
“Fourteen months?” she replied. “But she’s so small!”
Yes, we know. This same conversation happens almost daily.
Despite being small, Aurora has a huge personality and is exceeding all developmental milestones. Like her namesake, she is truly the light of our lives.
Just as we started discussing baby #2 with our RE, infertility struck again — harder this time. My last period was in January right before Aurora’s birthday. Blood tests show I may be in premature menopause, with hormone levels so low there’s nothing that can be done but “wait and see.”
So here we are, waiting again. Except now I refuse to let infertility silence me.