As excited as I am to announce Petra and my big news, I also want to share the full story of what it took to get here, because it’s had such a huge impact on our lives over the last 3 years. Just as with the IUIs, while we were living through IVF, life went on as normal. All the daily routines, normal responsibilities, usual stresses, they were all there. This time we had to work around more appointments and physical ailments, as I ended up taking more sick time than I had expected. I had shared with my closest colleagues and friends what was happening, but never made the process public. I was too afraid of being wide open this time, because I had no idea what would happen. I’m such an open person that it felt weird to hide something so important, but the privacy was definitely needed.
After so many failed attempts and so much hurting, I was glad to start a new chapter with IVF. I had feared it for so long, but now, given the much higher success rates, I was ready to embrace the next step. June ended our long drawn-out journey with failed IUIs. In July we found out that I had to get another HSG done because our original exam was no longer valid (2 year shelf life). Thankfully, this time we could do a sonoHSG which was done right at the local clinic (as opposed to the super invasive and uncomfortable initial exam done at the hospital). It brought us one step closer to our end goal.
July also brought with it my first ever surgery. I had to have a mucous cyst removed from my left sinus and had my deviated septum fixed. I had the surgery on July 15th, and took off the week to recover. I had to have stents in my nose for a week, and 2 days after they were removed I was once again cleared to exercise. I was training for my biggest race of the year, Maine 70.3 at Old Orchard Beach on August 25th. We knew we had no plans of starting IVF until September. Finishing the race was good for my soul, and Petra and I got to enjoy a weekend away at the beach. I think these mental breaks to focus on something else helped me move along and gave me time to process what would come next.
We celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary on September 1st. I tried to settle into a post race routine. I started a yoga program, and made it about a week before losing interest. So I decided to up the intensity by joining a hard Beachbody hybrid calendar fitness challenge… that lasted another week. I was having a hard time focusing on keeping up my fitness, even though I knew later I’d likely wish I had done more. I couldn’t hold down a good daily routine. But, I didn’t beat myself up about it. I focused my energy on other parts of life. September is a busy time at work when we launch several classes. I signed up for the 10-week Power of I Am personal development series. I also joined the board of my running club (over the summer) and worked to learn the ropes of the Secretary position. There was plenty on my plate to keep my mind busy.
After sorting out some details about insurance coverage, I also got my hands on the fertility medications that we would be injecting into my body when the time came. These meds would be used to stimulate my ovaries into growing roughly 2 years worth of eggs that would be retrieved in a process known as the “egg retrieval”. Once outside of my body, these eggs would hopefully be mature enough to be fertilized with our donor’s sperm, and then have to survive the 5 days to make it to becoming an embryo that could withstand cryopreservation. The process is a numbers game, and each step goes down by about ~50% on average.
Over the summer I had joined a support group on Facebook for women who are going through or have gone through IVF. It was so nice to have this resource as we geared up to start our first cycle. I became an active member and shared our progress, posting about our meds arriving, and asking questions like “does it hurt?” It was a good outlet for me because I couldn’t share this process publicly, and I could directly ask people who have lived through it for help to calm the mind when nerves kicked in. There are a lot of amazing women out there, and I appreciated their support and input during the waiting period.
I started taking birth control pills on August 20th to regulate my body and get better control over the timing. The doctor gave very specific instructions for when to stop taking it (about a month later, on 9/24). I remember packing for the race in Maine and being so concerned about not forgetting the birth control pills. It’s very weird to be popping birth control pills this close to go-time, but at this stage in the game, I learned to stop asking questions and go with it. My doctor knew how this works, and I had to trust the process. That part reminded me of training. But everything else felt like it was up to the universe.
Another part of the preparation for egg retrieval was the baseline blood work and ultrasound, and then monitoring while you are taking the drugs. So much blood, and even a few gnarly bruises (unusual for how many times I had to do it over the years). And so many ultrasounds of my empty uterus. All I could do was hope that at the end of this, we would have a little embryo in there. The clinic visits are done early in the morning on a first come first serve basis. You sign in when you arrive and wait to be called. I realized that if you wait until 6:45am to arrive, you’ll be there for a while, so I aimed to be there as close to 6:30am as I could. It’s hit or miss, some days it’s busy and it takes a while. Other days it could be quick. At each ultrasound, the tech handed me a clipboard. While I laid there I would record the measurements as she took them, including how many follicles she could see, and their sizes. It was interesting, though I didn’t fully understand what any of it meant in the moment. I could see the numbers going up each visit.
We started the first stim shot on September 27th. We had dinner at our friends’ house, which was relaxing. I laughed as Petra drank beer out of a beer stein, we were both nervous about her administering my shots. Whatever made her confident, I guess?! We were literally shipped medications from CVS specialty and given (in depth) videos of how to administer the shots. That was it. We were on our own to figure out the rest. We had to time the shot carefully, so we made it home and got right to it. Thankfully, the first shot of the process was so easy. The Gonal F pen makes me think of an EpiPen, so you don’t have to use any vials or syringes. It’s just measure the dose and give the shot. The needle is pretty small, so once it was done, we both felt more confident. Ha! That wasn’t so bad. False sense of confidence? Maybe, but it was done, and we were officially underway. We were feeling excited.
One thing I did not understand about starting the medications is that they would not stop my monthly cycle. So when I woke up with cramps the next morning, I tried not to panic. But when my period started, I felt so disappointed. “Great, now we’ll have to start all over” I thought. I called the clinic to update them/ask what the next steps were. The nurse called me back and kindly explained that this was completely expected, and I should not be alarmed. Would have been nice to understand that before it happened, but ignorance is bliss doesn’t always work out. So, we continued with our next dose that night.
Each few days I would go for my blood draw and ultrasound and the clinic would give me updated orders based on the results. They would adjust the dosage and which medications I had to take. Petra gave me every single shot. They were all in my belly or my arms. The needles weren’t too bad, although some of them burned/stung and were pretty uncomfortable. The worst was Cetritide which required having to mix two vials and switch needles. That one made us feel like a science experiment. Petra was pretty freaked out about having to stab me with needles, but we worked through it together. I much preferred having her do that part so I didn’t have to think about it or worry as much. It also became some strange bonding experience, we were both in this together. I know a lot of women do their own shots, but I liked having us do them together. It took some of the pressure off the process for me.
Much to my dismay, of all the possible timing in the universe, somehow my 5 year PAP smear landed straight in the middle of the 9 days of shots leading into the egg retrieval. I thought for sure it wasn’t possible that this would be needed or I could skip, because c’mon, that area had enough attention for the moment. But the clinic confirmed: I should get my exam as scheduled. Wow, couldn’t even catch a break! Ha, but it was nice to update the OB at the visit, and catch her up on where we were now. She wished me well and was hopeful for good news soon. I also learned that she had met my fertility doctor at some point, which weirdly made everything feel more connected for me.
Inspired by the women in the IVF support group, I purchased a felt board off of Amazon to keep track of the different stages of the process with pictures of different boards. I found creating the boards to be a calming activity. It also helped me focus on my positive feelings instead of my fears. And it was fun to be creative with how to take each picture. As the days went on, I wondered how many days/shots we would end up doing. You don’t know when you start how long it will go on for. It’s all based on the measurements they are taking during the monitoring visits. Usually it’s a range of 8-14 days. Our med supply began to dwindle and this was our responsibility to make sure we didn’t run out. Finally, I decided to be safe and ordered more. We had excellent coverage through Petra’s insurance. Frankly I can’t believe how well covered we were, knowing so many couples pay out-of-pocket for all meds and IVF procedures. Of course, as the new batch of meds arrived, we got word that my labs/ultrasound had shown good news- it was time to do the trigger shot! Now we had an entire set of unused meds (it’s killed me that there’s no legal way to donate these to another couple who needs them).
The trigger shot is the final shot in the stims before the egg retrieval. It contains the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is what triggers an ovary to mature and release an egg. Once we knew which day/time the trigger shot was, we knew that we would be scheduled for the egg retrieval 36 hours later! Given my numbers, we knew going in that I would not be a candidate for the fresh embryo transfer option. There are two ways it can go: the doctor retrieves the eggs, the lab fertilizes mature eggs and wait for the ~5 day embryos, while you’re home taking shots to prepare your body to receive the embryo. On the 6th day you return to the clinic and transfer the embryo into your uterus. The other option is the same, except you pause for some time and freeze the embryos until your body is ready to do the transfer. This was the option we would have to use.
October 5th was a Saturday, which meant that our egg retrieval would be early on Monday. Throughout the 9 days of shots, I kept expecting wild mood swings and feeling miserable or sick, so I was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t appear to be the case. Sure, I felt mild symptoms, but it wasn’t the rage or sadness I had expected to feel with such hormonal influences. On Sunday, though, I woke up feeling pretty nauseous and started to feel constipated. The doctor had warned me already and started me on a 7-day pill to mitigate the risk of OHSS (Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome) symptoms with the trigger shot. I also felt bloated, I had so many eggs in my ovaries, it was uncomfortable. I was tender and eager to have them safely removed.
On Monday October 7th I woke up early and donned the pineapple shirt I had purchased for just this occasion. In the IVF community, the pineapple is a symbol of fertility wishes and I learned to absolutely love it. A friend had also sent me a bracelet with crystals for fertility, and that was on my wrist. I wouldn’t be allowed to wear anything during the procedure but it still calmed me during the ride to play with the beads. During our one hour ride from New Hampshire to the clinic in Massachusetts where all procedures are done, I even spotted a car with a pineapple sticker on the back. I was so nervous but also eager to be done with the procedure.
When we arrived at the clinic we checked in, and were brought to the private area with a bed where I changed into the gown. The nurse read through important information, gave me an IV, and some aspirin. I had to go under anesthesia during the procedure. Even though it’s only ~10-15 minutes, it’s still a little nerve wracking. Here’s what the procedure I was facing looks like according to Mayo Clinic:
Egg retrieval technique
Typically, transvaginal ultrasound aspiration is used to retrieve eggs. During this procedure, an ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina to identify follicles, and a needle is guided through the vagina and into the follicles. The eggs are removed from the follicles through the needle, which is connected to a suction device.
So yeah, when a doctor is coming at me with an internal ultrasound armed with needles, I’m eager to get it done. When it was my time, they wheeled me back into the room, helped me onto the table, put my legs up in these very tall 90 degree angle stirrups, and strapped them in. The next thing I knew they were administering the anesthesia and I was out. The last thing I saw was the clock. And then I woke up back in the private area in bed next to Petra. She was eagerly grinning at me… They have retrieved 30 eggs! 22 of those were mature. No wonder I felt so freaking tender. My little ovaries had done their very best, now the rest was up to the lab. Everything was now out of my control.
I had to wait for a little while to come off of the anesthesia, and I started to get hungry. I was eager to go home and rest. I felt very tired. I got dressed, and as I stood up, felt a rush of dizzy, but it passed almost immediately. I didn’t want to overreact, so I finished getting dressed as we prepared to leave to drive home. As I walked out slowly, now very tender and moving gingerly, the nurses and doctor took one look at me and ran over. I was nearly about to pass out. Apparently I had turned completely white, they compared me to the color of a blank piece of paper. I felt it, I clutched Petra’s arm as we turned around and headed back to the bed. I was not going anywhere for now. They inserted a second IV, yet another needle, sigh. After about another hour, we attempted our escape one more time. This time, I headed out the door for real.
As Petra and I sat at a diner a few miles away feasting on our breakfast (ok I had plain oatmeal with fruit and toast, it wasn’t glorious), we got a call I had never even anticipated. The doctor who had just performed the egg retrieval (not our usual doctor, they rotate days at the different offices) was on the phone explaining to me something that I couldn’t wrap my head around: our vial of sperm was having motility issues. After the 6 vials we used for IUIs that had outstanding numbers, NOW we have motility issues?! It felt like a horrible joke from the universe. Petra raised her eyebrows as my jaw dropped and I thanked the doctor for her call. As I hung up, I did my best to explain to Petra what they had to do: ICSI, otherwise known as “Intracytoplasmic sperm injection“. This is where they select a sperm with a needle and inject it into the egg, as opposed to the sperm and egg forming embryos on their own. I felt upset, even though I wasn’t sure why. It just felt like one more barrier to worry about. Thankfully, our clinic didn’t wait they made the decision and immediately moved to ICSI to give us the best chance at having healthy embryos to freeze.
We would find out the next day that 17 of our 22 mature eggs at fertilized, thanks to the help of ICSI. I felt relief, I was not sure how the next 5 days would go, but for now my hopes were so high. I worked from home the next couple of days, fighting off the aftermath of the procedure. I was looking out for the symptoms that they had listed, but knew that there was a lot of discomfort associated with the healing too. I was sore, even more tender from the needles. And the constipation. I don’t like talking about bodily functions all that much, but holy hell, this was a pretty damn uncomfortable side effect. The Mirolax I used seemed not to have an effect. Damn. Unfortunately the worst was yet to come.
On Wednesday afternoon, I noticed shortness of breath and some pains in my lung. I finally called the clinic around lunch to check, because they had said to report any symptoms. As I prepared for a meeting 2 hours later, I was shocked at the urgency in the nurses voice when she called: I need to go to the emergency room, immediately. Stupidly I tried to negotiate, could I just stop by an urgent care? Like, what the hell is wrong with me? I just didn’t understand that anything could be that wrong. I messaged my coworker 5 minutes before our meeting to cancel, crated the dogs, and waited for Petra to come home to go to the ER together.
After lots of blood work, physical checks, a chest x-ray, a CT scan, and a very long internal ultrasound in my very, very tender spots, I got the answer (that we already knew). I had OHSS symptoms. As it turned out though, I had fluid in my lungs, and around my organs. That freaked me out. The ER doctor was on the phone with the on-call doctor at the fertility clinic. After about 6 hours at the ER, I was discharged with the plan to return to the fertility clinic in Massachusetts (an hour from home) at 8am the following day to be examined. I was exhausted, and here was another day off (that I hadn’t planned). We got up early in the morning, tired, and trekked down to the clinic.
Now I was a real mess. I had barely slept, I was in pain, and completely uncomfortable (think digestive). I couldn’t eat because I might have to go under anesthesia to get ‘tapped’ at the clinic, where they would remove the excess fluid. Thankfully it was an external (not internal) ultrasound to confirm that I didn’t need to get tapped. I was so rude to the ultrasound tech, not on purpose, but I had run out of energy to act human. I started crying on the table because I was just so frustrated. Then I had to get my blood drawn. I started crying and the nurse didn’t know what to think. I literally ran out of the building to the car and burst into tears as soon as I had the door closed. Petra wasn’t even sure what to say. I just wanted to go home. I was bawling inconsolably. Our fertility doctor called me on our drive home to check-in, I could hear the concern in her voice. I was completely honest with her about where I was at. We came up with a plan to get a little relief: salty food (to help with the extra fluid) and magnesium citrate (to help with the constipation). Oh man. But, I was desperate, so I was willing to do what it would take for relief. Let’s just say that day would be better left forgotten. I did sleep finally though, which helped my mental state.
Friday I worked from home, again. Thankfully my company has a very flexible policy which made this process so much more bearable. Also my manager and coworkers had my back at every step which alleviated so much of the stress. Every single little bit helps when you’re going through something as stressful as this. I was feeling better on Friday, thinking I had come through the worst of it. My brother was leaving the next morning to drive across the country to move in with his fiance in Portland, Oregon. My family got together to have dinner and see him off. Saturday I noticed some slight pains in my ovaries, so I reported it to the clinic. But it didn’t seem severe so I went on with my day.
That night I went to bed, but never fell asleep. Around 2 in the morning I began having some of the most excruciating pains I’ve ever felt. At this point, my ovaries were several times the size of what they should be. At the time I did not know that I was experiencing intermittent ovarian torsion. I was desperate to alleviate the pain, I dragged myself to the bathroom, and back to bed. I writhed in pain, I used a heating pad, I cried. I don’t know how I reasoned with myself that it was just bad period cramps, but I didn’t want to wake up Petra and make a bigger deal of it than it needed to be. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted to sleep. So I laid there, repeating the cycle, until at one point I saw stars and passed out from the pain. I think I must have slept for an hour or two. When I woke up I finally wrote and called the clinic asking if this was normal. Of course, I got another immediate call with an urgent nurse on the other line: You NEED to go to the emergency room now. Of course, I should have woken Petra up and gone in the middle of the night, instead of suffering, but I’m apparently never convinced that my pain is that bad.
On Sunday morning Petra rushed me to the emergency room, again. This time I wasn’t lighthearted, I was obviously in severe pain. The triage nurse explained how the chills I was experiencing were a reaction to the pain. They were very quick to get me into a room and administer an IV. It took a few different kinds of pain medications, but eventually some combination worked and I fell asleep. Once again we were in the ER for 6 or 7 hours. The ER doctor was once again on the phone with the on-call fertility doctor. The ER doctor explained that one option was surgery, but they were not willing to go that far, because most likely my intermittent torsion would resolve itself. It was so scary. I cried, I couldn’t move, I just wanted to be anywhere else. The ER nurse was so kind and took such good care of me. Once the pain meds really kicked in and the pain was finally under control, we were discharged with a prescription for strong naproxen.
On the way home I got the message from the clinic: we now had 4 embryos frozen. My heart sank a little, after having 17 fertilized eggs, to only have 4 embryos survive… I had just hoped for more when we got so many eggs. But I had to tell myself, I was very lucky. At least we had those 4, and we had a chance to do our transfer once my body was ready. I knew not everyone had that chance even after going through all this madness. It was not clear in that moment how long it would take me to recover. But I knew I needed time. I couldn’t even picture the transfer in that moment, all I wanted was to feel better again. I felt so horrible.
We had an in-person visit with our fertility doctor on Wednesday. She was so worried about what had happened. We had had our differences at times over the course of our infertility journey, but these two scary experiences in the ER showed me the caliber of care the clinic really provided. I was grateful to have this kind of personal relationship with the doctor, she knew me well by this point. We discussed next steps (healing) and that I would have to get my period after the retrieval at least once, then we would go from there. This gave me at least one month to recover. But, at this point, the doctor said no more exercise. My ovaries were massive, and they needed time to heal and get back to normal. Walking was OK, swimming was a maybe, but running, biking, lifting, and all other things were off the table for the foreseeable future. This is the same doctor that approved my Ironman training in 2018, so you best believe I listened to her when she told me this. I followed it strictly. I wanted nothing more than I wanted to heal and feel better. I knew the training and exercise would always be there for me when I was ready.
The next ~2 months would be crazy, even though it started calmly enough, focusing on recovery. I had signed up for a 4 mile race at the Alchemist Brewery in Stowe, VT on October 20th. I knew I couldn’t run, but Petra and I had been looking forward to a weekend away with the dogs, so we decided to go anyway. It was beautiful weather, and I got to do all the touristy stuff in Stowe I never do, like sample cheese at the Cabot store. We also visited a few breweries and generally relaxed. We even squeezed in a quick stop to visit an old friend. On Saturday I had to get out the heating pad to relieve some pain, but that was the last time I felt the pains from the ovarian torsion. After that, it stopped.
Long before any of this had gone down, I bought tickets for a Thursday night concert in Boston on 10/24. Given the way things were going, I figured I would just skip it. It was a not very well known artist I love on Spotify, but Petra being as amazing as she is, came home from work and drove me into the city. We had dinner beforehand and I got to go to my concert. I now know I’m too old for such activities. Ha! But we had a nice night.
The following Saturday while having dinner at my parent’s condo, we were talking more seriously about buying a house (again). We had almost sold our condo in 2018 during training for Ironman Maryland, but decided against it when we couldn’t find a property on the market that matched our situation. The 4 of us spent a couple of hours on realtor.com comparing properties and decided that ‘now probably isn’t a great time’, with how expensive properties seemed. But then my dad called on Sunday morning to point out that a house I liked was having an open house. When he asked if we were interested in going to take a look ‘for fun’ on a rainy morning we said, “What the hell, why not?” Famous last words.
Fast forward 4 weeks, we were sitting at the table signing the paperwork to sell our condo and buy the house that Petra and I had only dreamt of: a colonial in a town we love, with an in-law apartment for my parents to move in with us. I know it sounds crazy, but we had talked about this for a very long time. Cohabitation always felt like the right move to us. Of course we had to have a lot of serious conversations before making the offer. And once that offer was accepted it was like life was on hyper-speed for a straight month. Our realtor was one of the most effective people I’ve ever meant. He was very nice, but damn, did he get shit done. Problem? Nope, not if Justin is involved… thing after thing came up and was fixed so fast it made my head spin. Our offer was accepted on November 3rd, and there we sat on a snowy New England morning on December 3rd closing the deal, and getting the keys to our new house. It was wild. I didn’t know a sale could move that fast.
During all of this madness there was plenty of crazy at work too. It hadn’t snowed yet, so on a few days in November I snuck into the trails by my office with my friends and got in some longer walks (up to 3 miles). But, once the really cold weather came, I couldn’t find it in me to deal with freezing outside. I gave into not doing exercise and just kind of slipped into survival mode to get everything that was on my plate done. I think in those moments I barely noticed that I had given something up, because it didn’t feel like there was much space for anything else. Each day I’d tackle my to-do list and push the leftovers to the next day. Rinse and repeat.
When we moved on December 3rd there had been a snow storm of about 2 feet of snow. Naturally! My mother-in-law had flown in from Ohio, and thank god. I have no idea what we would have done in that week without her! She kept us grounded, helped us pack, kept the dogs settled, and helped us clean and unpack in the new house. It was angelic. Even though it felt like chaos, we had the best support from family and friends. My manager (and friend) made home-cooked meals on my first day back to work after the move. I could come home, warm them in the oven, and have a fresh meal for Petra, Nancy, and I. All of those little caring gestures warmed my heart so much. I never take for granted how loved I am, I always thank the universe for how lucky I am to have these people in my life.
I had returned to the fertility clinic for monitoring on 11/23, with blood work and an ultrasound. That day I got the orders to start what I did know now would be a part of my life for the upcoming 44 days… inserting a tiny blue pill vaginally… twice daily. Apparently it’s done this way to reduce the risk of the side effects so much estrogen can have on the body (you know, clots, stroke, heart attack). I’ll spare the details here, but it’s not a pleasant way to take a medicine. Bright blue panty liners became the new norm. When my December 7th ultrasound showed that my uterine lining was measuring correctly, we got the got the orders to begin taking progesterone in oil shots, and the date of our embryo transfer. I would take the shots for 5 days, and on the 6th day, we would transfer the embryo. That way, they were both on “day 6”. This was it!! We were really doing this!!! I got excited, but also, cringed at the start of the PIO shots. They are not like the beginner friendly (tiny by comparison) stim shots. This needle is huge. It’s a painful intramuscular injection to the upper buttocks. Petra gave me every single one of them for the next 51 days.
There’s something that happened throughout the course of our fertility journey that I only told a few people for fear of sounding too crazy. I started seeing numbers in sets of two or three. Like the time “11:11” and “2:22”, or a mileage on my car, “1,333”. It made me feel nuts once I noticed it I couldn’t stop. And it wasn’t a specific number or place, just the repeat series of two or three repeat numbers anywhere. So as silly as it was, when we got the transfer date, December 12th, ie 12/12, my heart swelled. Could this be a sign? Is this going to be good luck? Well, if I’m superstitious it only got better. Weird thing number two that I don’t admit to people: I tracked the moon with our IUI cycles. And it was always slightly (or completely) off of the full moon. Weird? Yes. Am I normal? No. So, anyway, guess what happened on 12/12? Yep, a full moon AT the hour of 12:12!! I mean, I’m trying not to sound like a lunatic, but welcome inside my brain. Haha! It was enough to make me focus on the positive, so I ran with it.
On the morning of the transfer I donned my second event specific t-shirt: a positive vibes only boasting a pineapple. This was it, our first ever attempt at transferring a frozen embryo. I was all over the place hoping for a good result. I was nervous, but this was the closest we had ever come to our dream and I wanted to stay as excited and positive as possible. They have one crazy guideline for the procedure: you have to drink an entire liter of water an hour before so your bladder is full. I giggled picturing myself peeing all over the table. Lots of women joke about this (and I’m glad to report it did not happen). The tech commented when she saw how full my bladder was with the ultrasound. We all laughed (of course I couldn’t too hard). The procedure itself is quick. The doctor uses the ultrasound to guide the embryo that a embryologist delivers to the room straight into your uterus, all while you watch on the screen. It’s wild, if this worked, we had just witnessed the conception of our baby. I thought I might cry, I didn’t. I was just smiling, I was happier than I had felt in 3 years. I didn’t know how this would turn out, but my heart was so full.
Unlike the full two week wait of an IUI, the IVF pregnancy blood test comes only 10 days after the transfer. This was nice, I could do without the 4 days. On day 6 I woke up with an insanely strong feeling that I was pregnant. I had tons of cheap strips leftover from my OTC-OPK testing days, and I couldn’t help myself. I tested early. And for the first time in my entire life, the line changed colors. It was so, so faint. But my heart raced. I didn’t know if I should get Petra excited yet, because I knew she wanted to wait for the blood results. But as we got ready for the day, I blurted it out as my eyes watered. I was disappointed when she didn’t share my excitement, but understood that we had both been hurt so many times with the IUIs. We wanted the ‘real’ results. I tested a couple more times with the cheap strips and they kept getting clearer. Finally, I bought 2 brand new tests from the store. I knew it was real. I have never felt more happy (and scared) in my whole life. I just wanted it to be real so badly.
I took the week of Christmas off as vacation time because I knew we would get our test results on Monday 12/23. Whether it was good or bad news, I needed the break and the privacy to absorb the information we were going to get. I on the couch was watching a really good documentary about IVF when I took a quick bathroom trip after being glued to my phone. I couldn’t believe that the phone started ringing in those two minutes, but I couldn’t make it back in time, and then had to wait for the voicemail. The agony! At last, the message popped up. It was the clinic with the news we had waited two and a half years to hear… “congratulations… you’re HCG levels were…” We had done it, the embaby had made it this far! We really were pregnant! I immediately forwarded the message to Petra, and rushed to my parents to tell them (they knew about the at home tests, but this was so much better). It was the best Christmas gift we ever could have asked for. We celebrated Christmas day in our new home with my parents, my brother, and his wife. It was so relaxing and enjoyable. We didn’t exchange gifts, we ate together, watched movies, and played board games. It was perfect.
This year was weird because both Christmas and New Year’s Eve fell on a Wednesday. So after 10 days of vacation, I had 2 days of work and then Wednesday off. My friend who had not yet seen our house came to visit. While we were chatting sitting on the couch drinking tea, something felt weird, but I ignored it. When I went to the bathroom a little while later, my heart sank. There was blood, and and not just a little. I was 5 weeks and 4 days along. It was so early. I took a deep breath and tried to tell myself it was OK. I managed to stay calm and tell my friend what was happening. I was really happy in that moment I wasn’t alone. Petra got home from shopping a little while after, and my friend left. I hadn’t stopped bleeding. My heart sank, I was so certain this was the end. I had this horrible feeling that it was the start of a miscarriage. I told my parents and my heart felt crushed. For all the happy feelings, this was so devastating. It felt like my worst fear coming true.
As hard as I tried to stay positive and calm, my emotions got to me. It seemed like my period had started, so I cried, and cried. I had a blood test at the clinic the next morning and I was dreading it so much. I woke up early as always, dragged myself to the clinic and got home. I was too emotional to go to work. I truly believed I had lost the baby. My heart was shattered and the thought of trying to act like an adult was too far beyond me. I spent the day curled up waiting for my blood work results. Dreading the call. All of the feelings from the IUI test results surged through me. Not this again. Another friend stopped by and dropped off dinner for me, because I have the most incredible people in my life. As the day neared an end I lost it when I hadn’t heard from the clinic. I finally called and explained my situation: I was nearly certain I had a miscarriage and I needed to know my results. What came next was unbelievable (and had never happened in all of the times over 2.5 years I had ever done blood tests): the results were delayed in their system and I had to wait until the next day. I swear, it feels like this process constantly teaches me humility and patience. The doctor herself called me to reassure me that baby was going to be OK and bleeding did not mean the end of the pregnancy. I hoped she was right, but she couldn’t see the results yet either.
Of course, as per usual, thank god, the doctor was correct. When I finally heard back from the clinic on Friday, they confirmed that my HCG levels were still high/rising, confirming that I was indeed still pregnant. The 3 day roller coaster left me feeling completely drained, but my heart swelled with joy the moment I found out baby was alive and still with me. The nurse on the phone explained that usually the clinic waits until week 7 or 8 to do the first ultrasound, but in my case with the bleeding, they could have me come in on Monday. That would be 6 weeks 2 days. I gladly accepted that suggestion, I did not want to spend 2 more weeks in this deep of a state of worry. So Monday morning at 6:30am Petra and I were at the clinic. The ultrasound tech explained she would look and explain exactly what she saw to us: a single embryo measuring exactly where it should be for 6 weeks. I didn’t cry, but I think I almost burst. I had a rush of relief. We were still in this, and everything really was OK. This was our first time ever seeing embaby. It was the most beautiful sight. Then, she shocked me by saying that we were ready to graduate from the clinic. What?! I thought we’d get another 2 weeks, one more ultrasound, and then graduate at 8 weeks. But that wasn’t the case! We filled out the paperwork, updated all of our friends and family, and headed into work like a regular Monday. When I got home, I finally ordered some pregnancy books. This was finally starting to feel more real.
When the clinic officially discharged us, the doctor called to wish us well, and the nurse sent our final orders through the portal. Finally, I could stop taking the tiny blue estrace pills! But the PIO shots would continue 3 more weeks before we could finally stop. I marked January 27th on the calendar and ordered our last 2 vials of Progesterone in Oil. CVS Specialty Pharmacy was amazing to work with. They made it so easy to manage our meds.
And I can’t say enough how fortunate we were to have health insurance coverage for these medicines and procedures. The process is stressful, emotional, and physically exhausting enough without the added pressure of the financial burden (and the outcomes are not always positive). It frustrates me that so few people get coverage for something that affects so many. We had already paid over $10K+ out of pocket for all of our IUIs, I can’t imagine how much scarier this all would have been if we had to out of pocket the full cost for this step too. It was hard enough when our $1,200 ICSI procedure was denied because we used donor sperm (sure, if I had a husband and he had issues, that was covered, but that wasn’t the case, so…) Thankfully, I set aside flex spend money each year, so we could withstand the blow. We paid it without question, because ultimately we felt still felt fortunate. But the world of fertility treatments has a long way to go in terms of accessibility.
When the final PIO shots were over, I was so happy. They hurt so much. I had gotten so many knots in my backside we had to resort to rotating in my legs half a dozen times, which left my limping for 2 days after each time. I had only had 4 nights in our new house without having to get a shot. Each night without the shot, I would rejoice when 9:30pm came and went and I didn’t have to take it. I tracked all of the meds I took during the process, and all of the bloodwork between during the egg retrieval and final ultrasound. Ultimately I took 70 shots, 19 during the stims and 51 progesterone in oil shots. I also had 7 blood draws and 3 IVs. So in total, I ended up stabbed with 80 needles. And I’ll be honest, every single one was worth it.
And if you’re curious, here is what the sharps containers looked like at the end. Each and every one of those injections went into my body at some point. Some people do cute pictures with their ultrasound images (shaped in a heart usually) with a quote about being worth the wait. For me, I preferred to keep the sharps in their containers. Eventually we’ll find the correct place to dispose of them!
Around the time that we were finishing up the PIO shots, we had our first 2 visits to the regular OB. The first was January 24th, but was only an informational session with the nurse. It was an interesting experience. I went alone because it’s a long appointment and it was during the busy season for Petra’s job. The intake process very much felt aimed at a heterosexual couple conceiving naturally. With the question in the digital questionnaire I filled out, it seemed to have me pegged as a single person that might have had a surprise pregnancy from a one night stand. When the nurse started walking through the questions with me, and I explained our situation as same sex couple with an IVF pregnancy, she stopped. She had to point out how awkward the wording felt, knowing that I had a partner and used an anonymous donor. It bothered her so much she made a note of it in the system with Petra’s name. I appreciated it, and I told her I understood it was the structure of the process and took no personal offense, but she was clearly annoyed too. It was just an awkward experience. Hopefully one day they are more accommodating for people in different situations.
On the following Tuesday, we finally had our first visit with the ARPN. I was so nervous because it was the first time we would have the chance to see the baby in an ultrasound since our scare with the clinic. And, we would finally get to hear the heartbeat. They could see it in the 6 week ultrasound, but it was still too early at that point to hear it. When she put the doppler on my abdomen we heard the most precious sound: a 150s heart beat. Then, they rolled the ultrasound machine in, and it got even better. The baby was super active, twisting, kicking it’s feet, and doing a little dance on the ultrasound screen. I fell in love immediately. It’s so weird to think that inside of me right now is this other little human being. And boy, is he or she active. Ha! I can’t wait to meet him, or her.
Speaking of, Petra and I are pretty excited to find out the gender. Me more so than her apparently. I caved and bought a Sneak Peak test, while they had a sale. It’s an at home test that uses a process similar to parts of genetic tests. You collect about 10 drops of blood from your finger, send it to their labs, and they look for a Y chromosome. The catch is, any male DNA, human or animal can skew the test. I scrubbed the bathroom down from top to bottom and spent 5 minutes washing my hands to do the test. I was relieved when the instructions worked well and the blood pour out of my finger to fill the collection tube. But then, as I went to close the lid… I saw it. A tiny piece of fuzz that must have come off of the clean sweatshirt I had changed into. NO! I did my best to pull it away and close the sample container. But alas, the results came back a BOY. So, now we wait until the 20 week ultrasound… it’s totally possible the results are correct! There’s also a high probability that I paid $60 to stab myself in the finger to find out my cat is male. Haha! But, it was kind of a neat experience… wouldn’t say fun, exactly, but the wait and wonder and guessing is exciting. We’ve waited so long to get here, I just want to enjoy the different stages of the journey.
So now, we’re officially ending our first trimester. Week 13 brought with it another OB visit, another listen to the baby’s healthy heartbeat. This time the heart rate was in the 140s. Things are going really well, and slowly but surely I’m starting to trust that we’re OK. I just want to bring a healthy baby into this world in August. I don’t care about the stuff like epidural or natural, I couldn’t care less. I just want baby to be safe. So Petra and I are in serious nesting mode preparing our new house for the next chapter. It’s been such a crazy roller coaster of ups and downs, but, I’m learning to take it a day at a time and be grateful for the good stuff. It’s not an instant switch by getting pregnant. Infertility has left me scarred and I’m still healing from so long of hurting and fearing. But each time we hit a milestone I feel a sense of relief, and know that we’re that much closer to meeting embaby. I try not to fixate on the bad possibilities. It’s way easier said than done, as always. I remind myself of how many healthy babies are born every year.
In the meantime, I was finally cleared to workout again at the end of January. I started with my first workout on February 1st. Getting back into a routine this year has been tough. But I have a good goal to continue to stay active as much as my body will allow. I have a beautiful new pain cave, good support network, and excellent doctors to help me along the way. The biggest focus for me is staying healthy and keeping baby healthy. There will always be big races to chase again someday. This year is about exploring different avenues and enjoying the journey. We’ve waited so long to get here, I can’t take a single moment for granted.