I imagine that no one dreams of struggling to get pregnant; that they will be told that there is a problem, or worse, no problem or reason anyone can find. I know I didn’t. When I spoke with my doctor about the fact that we had been “trying” for over a year to get pregnant, I never thought it would be a structural issue in my body. I had never had so much as a “bad” pap smear, and now after a round of tests I am told that both of my fallopian tubes are blocked with scarring and one may have fluid that could literally be washing away a developing embryo. As a health educator, so many things ran through my brain. What did I do that caused this? Maybe who did I do that caused this? Why? Why me? The truth is there is no why. After the painful testing, my mom told me that both of her sisters had struggled to get pregnant, and had to have surgery to get pregnant, and her mom had an ectopic pregnancy once due to scarring in her fallopian tubes. Thank you, mama!
My doctor called me and immediately told me that I should see a fertility specialist and gave me some names. I did some research and I was going in for an appointment after my partner went through his own round of testing. I had several friends who had gone through infertility treatments or Assistive Reproduction Therapy (ART) so I also started talking to them about what was going on. I am not a person to take “you can’t do this” very lightly. I am not sure if this is helpful or hurtful, but I resolved myself to give this my old college try and be OK with the outcome, but I would have to try.
Learning that we were not alone was a huge help. 1 in 8 couples struggle to get pregnant for a variety of reasons or unknown reasons. It is not just a woman’s issue. About one third of infertility is caused by women’s issues, another one third by male issues, and the last one third is a mix of both parties. And it is not because of something you did wrong! I emphasize that because I know that I felt that way for a long time. And I sometimes still do. My infertility specialist went through more tests on me to confirm the initial thoughts and, yes, both tubes were scarred. To get pregnant our option was to attempt surgery or move right to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), where they would retrieve my eggs, join them with my partner’s healthy sperm, and hope they start to form and develop well enough for a transfer directly into my uterus. Surgery had a chance at being successful but it would take a long time to know if it had worked, and it was more invasive. Because of the possible leaky tube the first round could literally be a wash, and I would have to have my tubes tied after it if the tube was in fact leaking fluid. So basically we were all in for IVF and it was go big or go home.
Fast forward through two rounds of egg retrieval and embryo transfers, two pregnancies, one miscarriage, and countless shots of different medications, and I became pregnant with identical twin boys. Yes, identical! Two embryos were transferred, one of which split into two identical embryos and attached to my uterine wall, and the other disappeared into the abyss of my body. They warn you that IVF can result in multiples because of transferring two embryos, but one embryo splitting into two during IVF to create identical twins is a rarity.
Here are some lessons that I learned along the way for those of you who may be on your own journey, or watching someone else go through it:
1. You did nothing wrong! If you have any person who is negative towards you about your infertility struggles, doctors included, then move on from them. There are people that do not understand that the struggle is real and that infertility is very common, and isn’t always cured holistically. I actually have a doctor in my OB practice that would ask me questions like, “Who did this to you?” and say, “Yeah, I am not a fan of ART.” Ugh, the worst!
2. You are not alone! Find your village. Friends, coworkers, sisters, or your mom, someone has gone through this and can help you. And someone is a good listener or can provide you with lots of wine. You do not need to tell the world that you are going through this journey, but a network of people who understand, or a therapist is great to get you through. This is a trying time and regardless of your personal process you are going to need someone to listen. My therapist and I have been through many things and it was great to have a non-biased person in my corner. A lot of infertility clinics work with therapists and mental health professionals to help couples make decisions and understand their choices, but do not forget that it is nice to be alone to vent as well. There are organizations like Resolve.org that will direct you to a group, a therapist, or just be a good source of information. This process can make or break a couple. It is hard; I cannot sugar coat that.
3. Do NOT Google every last thing. It will make you crazy. Make friends with your nurses and doctors (especially your nurses) and use them to address your concerns. I was prescribed a medication that Google showed was for a prostate issue, and I thought I was prescribed the wrong thing. It turns out the drug had many uses, including infertility treatment, and I should have just gone straight to my medical care team with my concern.
4. Be informed. Know what is going on every step of the way. Do your homework and learn the infertility vocabulary. Get a clear understanding of what is going to happen to you and how your partner can help. Never be afraid to ask questions of your medical team; if you are afraid, then you need a new team.
5. Know and understand that outcome of fertility treatments can go in many ways. You are the only one who can decide what is right for your body and how far you are willing to go. There are options and you need to weigh all possible outcomes for what is best for you and your family. Do not let people pressure you one way or another. People have opinions; listen and then make your own decision. Before my diagnosis I said I would not want to do anything invasive, but once the knowledge was in my hands I had to make a decision. For us it was IVF; for others it would be another treatment, or no treatment at all.
Infertility is a world that none of us dream of being thrust into, but it happens. It happens to our family and our friends, but no one really talks about it. I made it through with a village and support from varying sources, and we have two beautiful little fellas now that are keeping us on our toes. We gave it our all and we knew that the outcome could have been different. Regardless of how we got here, we will always have the knowledge that we fought hard for what we wanted and it makes the reward all the more sweeter.
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Jenifer Roth is a busy busy mom to 1 year old identical twin boys Jase and Evan, full time High School driver ed teacher, and full-time finder of random information to help others! When not running around from work to home to errands she enjoys attempting to get her blog going, making piles of stuff and just hanging with her family! Trying to find the work life balance has been a journey of its own but push on she must!