Graduation Day 👩‍🎓

I graduated from my fertility clinic on July 4. Independence Day. Fitting, right? The greatest nurse on the planet came in on her day off to share the last appointment with us. Although I felt guilty that she took time out of her far-too-few-days-off, I knew that she would, and I was so grateful to be able to look into her eyes as I said my final thank you. (Although it’s hardly a final thank you since I’ve invited her to be in the delivery room with us.)

After what we’ve been through, I don’t think I’ll ever walk into an ultrasound not feeling at least a little nervous. By then we’d already seen and heard Little Wookiee twice, and my nausea, fatigue and sore boobs told me that things were still moving along in there. But I never feel 100% certain. Although they’ve been stitched up and will some day heal enough to scar, the wounds of infertility are still ever-present.

Following the ultrasound, when the wand was put away, my doctor took my hands in his and told us how excited he was for us. He said that while he was writing an email to my OB giving him my background, it stung at how much disappointment we’d seen when boiled down to a few paragraphs.

“You never gave up.”

He was right; I didn’t. I was very close many, many times. But I kept pumping my body full of hormones and wiping away the tears.

But I don’t see this pregnancy, or Little Wookiee, as a reward for not giving up. This isn’t a lesson about going through really hard shit to get what you want. For me — for us — it’s just not that simple. I’m incredibly happy to be pregnant, of course, but it doesn’t negate what’s happened to bring us here.

We’ve graduated but have a long way to go.

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Heartbeat

On Friday, for the first time in the last five and a half harrowing years of infertility, I saw and heard the beating heart of my growing child. No matter the outcome of the next 33 weeks, that swish and flicker is cemented on my own heart.

The whole of last week my brain felt like it was on fire. As much as I was genuinely trying to visualize the outcome I want to see, I couldn’t push away the intense anxiety leading up to the first ultrasound. I’m not being dramatic in saying that it was one of the worst weeks of my life. Every tiny pinch or twinge or pseudo-pain my brain told me, this is it, you’re miscarrying. This is happening again. There’s, unfortunately, nowhere to hide from the negative thoughts in your own brain.

I don’t want this post to be overrun with my anxiety, but I write this to say to anyone else out there in a similar position: I hear you. It is so terrifying to wait while you feel like your mind in running full speed toward a cliff.

On the drive to the clinic, I was, as always, looking for signs, wearing my magic bracelet. Anything to help prepare me for what was to come. The previous night I’d had only bad dreams. I’d texted my best friend that I was sure it was my subconscious telling me it wasn’t going to be okay. She replied, “NOT THIS TIME.” I wanted to believe her. Then, on the radio in the car played the song that I walked down the aisle to at my wedding. It was the first time in at least a week I felt like there wasn’t a boulder resting on my chest.

Fast forward to the exam room. My husband and I didn’t really look at each other while we waited. I don’t think we could. I closed my eyes and silently asked all of the people in my life that I’ve loved who are now gone for this to be okay. Please, let this be okay.

When my doctor and the greatest nurse on the planet entered, the tension was palpable. My doctor asked how I was feeling and I eeked out something to the effect of, “I’m really scared.” He nodded, in his warm way, and said, “I’m terrified.” That actually gave me a lot of comfort. He’s so invested in our outcome.

It didn’t take very long after he’d started the ultrasound for me to see the flicker. I said, quietly, “… is that…?” And he nodded with a huge smile. Then all the tears. I reached for my husband’s hand. I looked at him, and he started to cry, too.

Again, I’ll pause my touching story (ahem) to say here that infertility is incredibly hard on relationships. All relationships, but particularly marriages (or partnerships). Sometimes you feel miles apart in the same room. This moment, watching my Alpha Male ex-cop shows no emotion husband cry at the sight of the ultrasound screen allowed me to reconnect with him, and our passion to have a child. I’m so grateful we could share this.

By this time the greatest nurse on the planet was also openly crying. My doc definitely had tears in his eyes, too. Then he turned on the sound and the swishing of the heartbeat brought on another wave of tears.

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5BB is doing great right now. Heartbeat very strong at 123bpm. Measuring (then) at 6 weeks, 4 days, just one day behind my transfer timeline. All signs are positive. My husband has nicknamed the embaby Little Wookiee.

And then there were two: PGS results

After the cliffhanger of my last post, I’ll go ahead and immediately spoil the ending of this one with the title. We have two PGS-normal embryos.

TWO. NORMAL. EMBRYOS.

I felt a little like this:

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Okay, rewind… As of day 3, I had 14. I knew well enough to know that over the next two and three days, the lab would see a drop-off of at least half, and I was fine with that. The entire goal of Stim Part Deux: Electric Boogaloo was quality over quantity. Quantity, in my previous experience, hasn’t made a damn bit of difference for me. Five of my six embryos from my first stim cycle didn’t stick, and Kristoff, the lone embryo still frozen, had the lowest grading of that pack. The odds weren’t in his favor.

Quality, of course, is much harder to measure. I’d done the work I could do to potentially improve the quality of my much-older-than-my-age-and-AMH eggs by losing 35 pounds. But, other than feeling better than I had in a long time, I didn’t know if that would prove fruitful fertility-wise.

When day 5 arrived I think I stared at my phone all day. For previous updates the lab had emailed me in the morning, so by lunchtime I was a ball of anxiety. Did this mean none had progressed? Was the news so bad that the lab would have my doctor break it to me? What day is it? Do I still remember how to count to five? By 3:00, I simply couldn’t stand it anymore and emailed the greatest nurse on the planet. Hey if you could just do me a solid and walk down the hall to the lab… She was like calm down, crazy, since you’re doing PGS the lab will wait until tomorrow to give you the final results of how many made it to blastocyst to be biopsied.

“However, you have 2 for biopsy today 🙂 And likely many more for tomorrow. Yay!!!!”

There was crying.

Day 6 went by so damn slowly. But then the email came…

Five.

Plus, Kristoff had survived the thaw for biopsy and continued to develop.

Even more crying. So much crying that my husband only understood every seven words that I said on the phone when I called with the news.

Six embryos held all of my hopes and dreams: 5BB, 5BB, 6AA, 5AA, 5CB and 5BC. No pressure, kids, but my entire future is riding on you…

The nine days between hearing that number from the lab and getting the call from the greatest nurse on the planet with our PGS results were absolutely on-par with the two-week wait. I did my best to stay busy and keep my mind occupied, but if I’m being real those results were the only thing of substance I could think about.

On the afternoon when my nurse called, she admitted she was very scared to tell me there were two normal embryos. Two of six is a poor ratio, all things considered. But as soon as she said two, everything else fell away. I’d save the questions about the others for another day. When you’re terrified that you’re going to hear zero, two sounds like a million. I was so unbelievably grateful for two.

Lots more crying. All the crying.

So here we are… Two. It’s my new favorite number.

Ps… Kristoff wasn’t one of the normals. And she’s actually a Kristoffina.

34 Farm-fresh eggs

I am, once again, a human farm animal. Such is #IVFlife.

And as I suspected, each stim cycle is a little bit different.  To recap: During my first, in June 2016, the doctors retrieved 23 mature eggs, which resulted in six embryos making it to blastocyst stage. While the meds no doubt kicked my ass then, the much more (physically) unpleasant experience came following my egg retrieval.

I’ll get to the good stuff straight-away, I know that’s what you’re here for… Somehow my doctor managed to find 34 eggs in my swollen stomach. As I was coming out of my anesthesia following the procedure, the greatest nurse on the planet popped her head in to say, “34,” with her big, bright smile. If I didn’t actually ask her at the time, I certainly wanted to say, geez, are you sure they were all mine? They claim they are. Thirty-four was more than my brain could actually process in the moment. Then she said something that I will stick with me, and will be a key piece of the story I tell my daughter or son about how they came into our family…

“One of those eggs is your baby.”

She said it with such hope and conviction that my heart swelled to match my enormous ovaries and I felt so strongly that she was going to be right.

“One of those eggs is your baby.”

To every woman who has felt beaten and broken by infertility, I wish you a moment just like this. I felt renewed and ready. I’ve been so careful not to ever really let myself believe this could still be possible in case it wasn’t. In that moment I let go of so much negativity, and let those words sink in.

Of those 34 eggs retrieved, 21 were mature. I did find it pretty surprising (and encouraging) that it was only two fewer than my first cycle, when I was the better part of two years younger. Physically the process of stimming felt much more intense this time than I remembered, and I again went for the full 12 nights. Perhaps it was because I knew this would be my last time, but I was feeling SO done before I’d even gotten to the trigger shot. The bloat and the fatigue felt especially powerful in the last few days of injections. And I was a straight-up nightmare emotionally-speaking.

Despite the more intense stim (guess that meant it I was firing on all cylinders?), the retrieval recovery was a breeze compared to my Dark Willow situation last time.

When the lab reported that 21 eggs were mature, they relayed that 14 of those had fertilized. This was virtually the same ratio as my previous IVF cycle, and I felt fine with that and eager to see how many of those would progress.

On day three, I waited for news from the lab. And it was good… ALL 14 embryos were developing! I read the message a few times, and then squealed and cried. Things hadn’t gone down this way before. To still have all of them thriving on day three? It was the injection (ha!) of encouragement we needed.

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I agree, Ron. Stay tuned…

Is it time to move on?

It’s a question I don’t really want to ask, but it may be time: Is it time to move on from my clinic? 

The stats:

  • “Unexplained” infertility, diagnosed in January 2015
  • Six total assisted cycles over two years
    • Four IUIs, resulting in two miscarriages (#2 and #4) and two failed attempted (#1 and #3)
    • Two failed IVF cycles
      • One fresh stim cycle
        • Resulting in five embryos for freezing
      • One double embryo FET
    • Two different “lead” doctors on my case

Not great, I hear ya. But here’s the thing: The support staff at my clinic warms my soul. I feel bonded, especially, to my IVF nurse, who I’ve written about before. She’s rooting for my success as much as I am, and that means a lot to me. She answers my questions and eases my concerns day, night, weekend, whatever. She’s in this.

Having said that, it’s counterproductive to throw money (not to mention time) at a place that, to date, hasn’t been successful getting me to my goal. Ultimately, that’s what matters most.

We will meet with the doctor later this month for a post-mortem on this failed cycle, after which, I feel like I will need to make the decision about moving on from this clinic. Dislike.

23 eggs and 12 embryos later

I am basically a human farm animal.

My IVF cocktail of Lupron, Follistim and Menopur worked so well that, even though the growing took the full 12 nights, my doctors were able to retrieve 23 eggs from my incredibly swollen ovaries. The last few injections had become uncomfortable, for sure, but I was anticipating that the discomfort would subside not long after the retrieval procedure.

Nope.

While getting 23 eggs was incredibly successful by any measure, the discomfort was really just beginning. Apparently it’s pretty uncommon, but the days following my retrieval were very painful. Aside from the normal bloating going into it, the bloating became worse and was accompanied by shooting pains in my lower abdomen basically any time I moved. My retrieval was on Friday, and by Saturday night — feeling worse than I had the previous day (shout out to my anesthesia for keeping me fairly out of it!) — I emailed my nurse to say “the good news is that the lab called and said we have THIRTEEN embryos that have fertilized and appear normal, but the bad news is I feel like someone tried to gut me like a fish, but failed.”

I’m not a religious person, but IVF nurses are angels and should be carried around by stunning shirtless men (or women, if they prefer) while being fed grapes. I’ve only known my IVF nurse for about six weeks but I trust her more than I do some of my own family members. She is, no lie, one of the best people I’ve ever met, and regardless of what happens next, I am so grateful for her help and encouragement in my life. Thank you.

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#IVFnursesFTW

After spending the weekend almost exclusively in bed with varying degrees of pain, I was called back to the doctor today to ensure that nothing was wrong, since it’s abnormal to still be experiencing discomfort several days after retrieval. The very straight forward doc that I’ve seen only once before checked me out, while noting that I am not one of those annoying patients that complains about everything. With help of the ultrasound, he said that my left ovary was “enormous,” and would most certainly be the cause of most of the discomfort. I also had some fluid behind my uterus, but not enough to cause for concern. Non-medically speaking this means that my ovary is saying, “WTF did you do to me?!” and is seriously pissed. Not that I blame her.

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My left ovary has gone all Dark Willow on me.

In much more positive news, I am the very lucky winner of TWELVE “good” embryos! #13 is lagging behind a bit, but still of the “fair” camp. Despite leading with what a crappy retrieval experience I’ve had physically, I am thrilled that, if I had any desire to, I could make a football team with these little guys (or girls). While I don’t have any intention of creating a family of Duggars, it makes me feel quite positive that the embryologist will have lots of squirmy cell clusters from which to choose the best one. YAY 12!!

My transfer is scheduled for Wednesday. To be continued…