Our IVF Story

It’s a new week and since I didn’t write last week, I guess I’ll explain by saying I’m making room in my new life for grace. Last week felt like a real “maternity leave” week. The truth is, things were chaotic at our house. While the week before had been smooth sailing, last week things exploded. The house got messier each day, both girls needed lots of love and attention, and everything else in life had to slide to the back burner to give them every ounce of energy (and patience) I could muster. I decided since we had just become a family of four a little more than 3 weeks earlier, I should cut myself a little slack.

Thankfully, this week is starting much more smoothly. So, as promised, I’m sharing our IVF story.

I want to preface this story with these words.

In the last several months, while contemplating restarting my blog, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to share our infertility story, at least so publicly. I’ve had talks with people who asked if I would be quiet about our struggles. Not because IVF is a shameful thing, but because our “fertility baby” might read this someday. And then she’ll know. Know she was conceived differently, and know that she might have the same issues her mom did. Or that our second daughter might feel less wanted because she was conceived naturally. But honestly, these are exactly some of the reasons I want to share our story.

Both of our daughters should know how badly their mom and dad wanted to be their mom and dad. How badly we wanted to be parents and to what lengths we were willing to go to, to have our children. And how grateful we are to have each of them regardless of how they were conceived.

Perhaps even more important, both our daughters will know the struggles we faced because as women, they should feel informed (and empowered) about their own fertility if they choose to have children of their own. And I promise this blog post won’t be how Isla or Josie learns about their family history.

So, here it goes. Brace yourself: it’s a long one.

In August 2015, Chris and I started IVF. Multiple boxes of medications arrived via mail. Lots of synthetic hormones, loads of needles, alcohol swabs and bright red containers to dispose of all the supplies we would go through. I went to the clinic to get specific instructions, a time line for medication administration, and did some blood work. We were finally cleared to begin.

By no means is this a medical account of IVF. If you or a loved one is really interested in that, I encourage you to do more research or to meet with your own medical professional. But here is my bare bones explanation of IVF.

Step 1: Control ovarian stimulation. This is where you start the process of ovulation without actually allowing for it.

Step 2: Step one allows for step two, follicle stimulation. In a regular monthly cycle, we ovulate one or maybe two eggs, but in IVF you are looking to generate a high number of eggs to be retrieved. Egg retrieval results in about 15 eggs on average.

Step 3: At a precise time, you use a “trigger drug” to prepare for egg retrieval. This is administered exactly 36 hours before your procedure will take place.

Step 4: Egg retrieval occurs. In the 36 hours after the trigger is administered, the eggs come to the surface and are easier to extract.

Step 5: Fertilization. Once the eggs are retrieved, they are fertilized. We chose to utilize a process called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) for the fertilization of our eggs. In typical IVF, the eggs and sperm are allowed to fertilize “naturally” in a dish. In ICSI, the best looking/healthiest eggs and sperm are selected and fertilized manually. We opted to do ICSI after our multiple losses. The idea is that genetic problems caused the miscarriages and that perhaps selecting the best looking eggs and sperm would help prevent another loss.

Step 6: Embryo transfer. Once the embryos are old enough (at either day 3 or 5 after fertilization, TBD by your doctor), the embryo(s) that are of high enough quality are either transferred or frozen.

Looking back at IVF, there are of course some specific moments that stand out. Here are my cliff notes following the timeline of our experiences.

I’ll never forget the first time I had to stab myself in the stomach. There is at least one injection per day, and for us injections lasted until we were 10 weeks pregnant with Isla. The first time I needed to stab myself I was a mess. I remember saying to Chris through tears, hands shaking, “How is this our life?” Before our foray into infertility, I HATED needles. I certainly won’t ever say I like them, but I guess after all the stomach injections, blood work, and countless progesterone shots, I came to tolerate them. The next several nights I injected myself were easier and easier. And yes, even the progesterone shots I did while pregnant, known to be notoriously awful, got easier.

Each morning following the hormone injections, I had to visit the clinic to have blood drawn. At one point, I had blood drawn for 10 consecutive days, with many more draws during the month too. I remember hiding my bruised arms with long sleeves as much as I could at work, even though it was still summer.

Another hiccup related to work that I recall: I couldn’t exercise while doing IVF. Yeah, I’m a personal trainer so that’s kind of an issue. Follicle stimulation can be dangerous when coupled with high intensity exercise. As you prepare your body to “ovulate” so many eggs, your ovaries grow unusually large and high impact exercise can cause an ovary to twist, which could complicate the whole process. I didn’t want to miss work because I didn’t want to tell people I was doing IVF. So I adapted everything I did as quietly as possible. I instructed more low impact exercises and talked my clients through the high impact ones (normally I love to demonstrate everything).

The day we went for our egg retrieval, while setting my IV, the anesthesiologist punctured through the valve in my arm and blood shot across the room. It was a great way to start the procedure. Then, when I was laying spread eagle on the operating table, the performing doctor who walked in was none other than the one Chris and I chose not to work with the year before. Thankfully I trusted his capabilities and simply didn’t prefer his bedside manner, but a propofol blackout is just as fun as an alcohol black out. NOT FUN AT ALL. I apparently talked for 10 minutes before they could start the egg retrieval. And I’ll never know what I said in those 10 minutes (though my nurse assured me I was nice). Cue the eye roll.

The retrieval took 45 minutes, a full 20 minutes longer than normal. 10 of these minutes were clearly due to my babbling on about Lord knows what, but another 10 were because they retrieved so many eggs. 28 eggs. Again, the average is 15. We still feel so grateful for this number, and days later we felt even more grateful when they told us they had been able to successfully fertilize 9 eggs. This is huge, and it’s something I often think about and feel guilty about. I know many women who were not so lucky. Some who get none, or just one. Or have to do loads of rounds of IVF. It’s like what I imagine survivor’s guilt feels like.

Transfer day came. They showed us a photo of our embryo and then I was yet again on that operating table in a compromising position. The nurse held my hand and as they injected the embryo I anxiously watched the ultrasound screen. The nurse described it as a shooting star and I felt a few silent tears fall. I was very close with my maternal grandmother and one of her favorite songs was, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” In this pivotal moment, I thought of her, simultaneously wishing this this little baby would stick and become the child we had been dreaming of for so long.

Two long weeks passed then finally we did the blood work we were anxiously anticipating. And finally, the call we were anticipating even more. We were pregnant. After more than a year, we were pregnant again. IVF had worked. We told our families and closest friends who knew what we had been up to. Two days later you’re required to recheck the HCG numbers with more blood work, to make sure you’re still pregnant. And it was with this blood test that our joy turned to sorrow once more. I was miscarrying and just didn’t know it yet. I was instructed to stop all medication and let my body take its course.

A couple days later I did start to miscarry, and yet again as the year before, my body wouldn’t stop bleeding. Fearful I had experienced an ectopic (or tubular) pregnancy, they brought me in for an endometrial biopsy. This would be like a mini D&C (dilation & curettage), a procedure often done under anesthesia when a woman is miscarrying. However, unlike with a d&c, the biopsy would take a sample of cells and see if any surviving cells from the embryo were present. We wanted them to find these cells. Thankfully they found them. Now they knew I hadn’t experienced an ectopic pregnancy (ectopic would have meant we couldn’t try to get pregnant for several more months since they would administer a drug that would be dangerous to a developing fetus).

After the procedure, I literally got the hardest news of my life. Visibly upset by the biopsy, and just emotionally exhausted by the whole previous month and change, the doctor sat me down and delivered the blow I had feared. While asking me how Chris and I would like to proceed, he gently told me, “This might not ever work.” He had to be a doctor, honest about our new statistics. Women who miscarry 3 or more times clearly have a higher risk of continuing to miscarry and a lower risk of maintaining a pregnancy. But despite the science behind our new statistical reality, these words crushed me. It was like a door was shutting on a part of my life I wanted so badly, but would never have. I can’t even begin to describe how devastated I felt. I remember sobbing with my doctor (Chris was at work when all of this happened). My doctor encouraged me to go home and discuss things with Chris.

The biopsy helped me finish miscarrying our IVF baby. And a couple weeks later we were back at our doctor’s office. We had decided to do a frozen transfer, but we had also decided we were done “trying” after this procedure if things didn’t work. We were just a couple months away from the start of a new year. If I didn’t get pregnant (and stay pregnant), this time I was going to start counseling. We were going to move forward childless. We were going to try to stop thinking about babies. Our doctor was compassionate and advised us to transfer two embryos. We agreed.

Shortly after this appointment we prepared for the frozen transfer. This is a different process for everyone and I won’t get into the details, but basically you either stimulate or allow for natural ovulation, then transfer the embryos at exactly right time and then support the pregnancy with hormones until a pregnancy is or isn’t confirmed.

We had our two embryos transferred with a lot less fanfare and celebration than immediately after our IVF cycle. Two weeks later, after I had started bleeding on Halloween and was sure I wasn’t pregnant, we got another positive pregnancy test call. And this time the numbers elevated in our blood work two days later. They continued to elevate with each new check.

However, I wouldn’t let myself celebrate. We told hardly anyone about this frozen cycle, or about the positive test. Not even our parents knew. We were tired. We were broken. Yet we had to fight one more time. We had to know we had done all we could that year. So, with this pregnancy, we barely believed it ourselves, though I was starting to feel sick. Something was different.

Finally, the last step with the fertility clinic. We went for an ultrasound to really confirm our pregnancy. Was this a viable pregnancy? And if so, was it twins? The ultrasound screen clicked on and there, for the first time ever we saw what we had been hoping, dreaming, and wishing for. One heartbeat, so strong and beautiful. I’ll admit, I was sad there weren’t two babies, but I was more overjoyed for that one little life. Our baby had survived the freezer, and we had weathered the hardest storm of our lives.

Our pregnancy continued with a whole mixture of emotions and anxiety, but 9 months later, that heartbeat emerged from my belly, still beating so strong and inside one of the sweetest people I had ever met: our daughter, Isla. Placed on my chest, I immediately knew she was worth it all. This little person was worth everything we went through; every ounce of sorrow, every tear, every injection, every vial of blood, every procedure, every loss. Our baby was finally here and when she was born, a new part of us was too. We became parents and our lives are forever changed, in the best way.

Josie’s Birth Story

Little Josie is now 10 days old and as we have started settling into our new life as a family of four, I’m so excited to share Josie’s birth story. I’ll preface this by saying Josie ultimately arrived via csection and I’m sharing some graphic photos of the surgery. I’m not sharing this for shock factor, but because I truly look at our entire birth experience and think it was beautiful. And these photos remind me of how beautiful it is when new life is born, no matter how it happens.

Josie was scheduled to arrive on Friday, October 13th, but late Thursday the 12th, I actually went into labor. While Isla was at day care on Thursday, I had been busting my butt cleaning the house and doing every last bit of laundry that I could. I vaccumed, mopped, dusted, and when the pipe that runs from the dryer to outside came undone, I climbed on top of the dryer three times with a screwdriver to place and tighten the clamp. I had planned on working out, but at almost 41 weeks pregnant and having barely sat still all day, I opted to say my cleaning frenzy was enough.

Earlier in the day I had a stress test to make sure the baby was okay and was assured we could make it another 24 hours. Baby was good, though super active and still kicking momma’s butt from the inside! When I finally sat down at the end of the day, I had a PB&J in hand. It was about 9 p.m. and with surgery scheduled for the next day, I couldn’t eat past midnight and this sandwich was critical. Since the baby was always punching and kicking me so hard, and since I was eating and this normally woke the baby up, the first labor pains I felt I thought were just the baby up to her regular tricks. I joked with Chris, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I actually went into labor?” The third time I felt this “pressure” shooting through my pelvis and into my legs (and lasting about one minute each time, hmm…), I knew I actually was in labor. Holy crap! When I pieced all of this together, I started laughing and was so excited. I was actually going to get to try the VBAC!

At this point, contractions were about 10 minutes apart. We called my mom and we decided she could wait to come over since I couldn’t go to the hospital until contractions were 5 minutes apart. However, within another 45 minutes they were 5-7 minutes apart so our plans changed. By midnight we were in the car and driving to the hospital. Still in early labor, but scheduled for a csection anyways, they said–either way you’re staying and having this baby!

Upon arrival, I was still only 1 cm dilated, which I had been for weeks. I labored throughout the night, but around 11 a.m. the contractions began to space out again and fizzled out. It was declared more prodromal labor. However, my midwife assured me this is pretty normal and gave me a couple hours to see how things went. At this point they had cancelled the csection.

Prior to this break, I had the most regular contractions in the entire labor unit and had progressed to 3 cm. Labor was working, it was just slow. Around 2:30 p.m., contractions were still irregular, so another hour and a half later (at 4 p.m.), we made the decision to break my water.

Once my water was broken, contractions started back up and this time stronger than ever. I thought what I had felt when we first arrived at the hospital had been strong, but I was about to learn what I’m really made of.Thank goodness for all those lifting sessions I logged while pregnant. No stranger to pain, the hours blended together, with some specific stand out moments.

I remember after one contraction seeing that it was 12:00:37. 37 seconds into a new day–our baby had chosen her own birthday. I joked with Chris that she apparently didn’t want to be born on Friday the 13th.

I remember when the nurse and midwife thought I was in transition. However, upon checking me realized not only that I was only at 6 cm, like I had been hours before, but that my cervix was still in a posterior position. Apparently it needs to come forward, but mine wasn’t. All of the labor I had been feeling had been putting pressure on the wrong part of my cervix, which wasn’t allowing it to open. The thought was that I had scar tissue from my csection which was holding it in place and without getting into the nitty gritty details, my midwife literally broke up that tissue and worked the cervix into the right position.

I remember finally deciding to get an epidural. Hours later, I still hadn’t progressed. We made the decision to get an epidural and try the smallest amount of pitocin. They couldn’t induce my labor with pitocin, but they could try to help me along a bit. And if that didn’t work, we decided a csection was the answer. I had asked for an epidural hours earlier that night, and then sent the anesthesiologist away. I could do this! However, before they began pitocin and with a csection a big reality, I felt ready this time.

Now I had been awake for almost 48 hours. I knew I didn’t want to completely exhaust my body with the pitocin contractions. Since I had a csection last year, and having labored for so long, the doctor was genuinely concerned about uterine rupture. I wanted a few hours to try and rest and just prepare for whatever the outcome. I dozed on and off and tried to come to peace with what had transgressed and what would be.

A mixture of emotions washed over me as I labored that night. I felt fierce and strong, and then humbled moments later. I was beyond excited to meet our baby and kept visualizing what I knew my body could do. Chris was my rock and I felt closer to him with every contraction he helped me through. There were moments I felt like I just couldn’t keep going and he was there to encourage me and advocate for me. I remember feeling like I had trained for a marathon I might not finish when I got the epidural and started the pitocin.

Yet, when my pitocin drip finally finished and my midwife checked me and I was still 6 cm dilated, my midwife looked defeated and I felt peaceful. I cried with a smile and told her, “It’s okay. We’re going to meet our baby today!” While earlier that night I felt torn that I had allowed my labor to be augmented, something I never wanted to do, in that final moment, I felt content knowing I had done everything I could to deliver our baby on my own. And now a decision was made.

We joined a list of women waiting for a csection. I steeled myself to be pregnant until 2’o’clock that afternoon. We texted our parents to let them know the baby would be coming sometime that day, but we didn’t know when. However, things changed quickly again. As the shift changed at 8 a.m. (and my doctor who delivered Isla last year came in to start his day), the nurses quickly came into the room and began prepping me for surgery. Surprise! We would be the first csection of the day. Apparently I had labored long enough and they didn’t want to keep putting pressure on my scar. Before I knew it we were in the OR.

This csection didn’t feel as euphoric for me as last year’s. Last year I was well rested and had eaten just over 12 hours earlier. This time I was literally exhausted, very hungry, yet still so excited. The anesthesiologists marveled that I could keep such a high heart rate when I would get excited, yet still be okay. A reminder even in the last moments before our daughter joined us that my exercise came in handy.

Surgery was underway. Chris held my hand. I tried to stop shaking–both from nerves and medication. I fought each wave of nausea in between smiles and meditation. We played one of our favorite albums, Thomas Rhett’s “Life Changes” and I began to cry when the song, “Life Changes” actually came on the moment our daughter was born. This song really resonated with me since his album came out. Rhett and his wife have two kids under two and he sings, “You make your plans and you hear god laughing. Life changes, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” These lyrics bring life to our journey to parenthood from the very beginning.

Josie was born just after 9:15 a.m.. We had requested a clear curtain, so a minute before her birth they dropped the blue drape so we could see our girl enter this world. They quickly asked us, “Mom and dad, boy or girl?” Chris and I both yelled that we thought we were having a boy, and then they exclaimed, “It’s a girl!” I remember bursting into tears and just feeling relieved that our baby was here. My doctor let me know the cord was around her neck, twice, and I cried again. I knew Josie had arrived the way she needed to and I was so grateful she was healthy. Her cry was strong, she was alert and so full of life.

The rest of the experience is a blur. They got Josie cleaned up, measured and weighed her. Chris cuddled Josie close while surgery wrapped up and eventually we loved our time together, just the three of us, in recovery.

Many people feel bad for me when they hear I labored for 36 hours before having a csection, but I can honestly say I’m grateful for the experience. If we have more children (we don’t know for those already asking!), I can no longer VBAC. So, even though I didn’t deliver Josie, I got to experience labor. Which for some reason was really important to me.

Just over a week later, I’m so happy to say I feel almost like my usual self. My incision is a little tender, but that’s it. While I’m still trying to take it easy, I’m grateful I feel capable of taking care of both my girls, while still keeping up around the house a little. I felt so crummy after my csection last year. I don’t know why this experience has been so different. Maybe its the differences in how I exercised, maybe it’s because I was always keeping up with Isla, or maybe it’s just that I’ve already been through this and my body knows what it’s doing. No matter the reason, I won’t complain!

As I continue to heal and am not sharing workouts, I plan to share about our infertility journey. It sounds odd to say we struggled with infertility since we now have two children 15 months apart, but there was a time we never knew if we would have one child. Knowing how isolating and painful that journey can be, I want to share about some of the procedures we went through, with hope that our stories can offer answers and hope to others facing similar trials.

For now, enjoy these photos of Josie’s birth. Many thanks for our midwife for capturing these images. We’ll treasure them forever. Welcome to the world Josie! We’re excited for every adventure that lies ahead.