I’ve always been open when discussing my infertility struggles when asked, but this is the first time I’m really sharing my story. I suppose I’ve been reluctant to share because I understand and respect that everyone who faces infertility has a different experience and a different perspective, and I know that I have been fortunate both in being able to finance my many attempts but also in the obvious fact that I have been able to attain successful pregnancies. I fully recognize that my struggle could have been much worse. That being said, I still feel it is worth sharing. Everyone’s experience and feelings are valid and deserve to be heard. In writing this my full intention is to provide hope to those who may be struggling to find any, and perhaps provide some additional insight moving forward. Everyone’s journey is individual, this is mine.
When I was sixteen years old I remember being diagnosed with PCOS and being told by my doctor not to worry, when I wanted to have children I would likely need fertility intervention but everything would be fine. It was presented to me in such a casual way that when the time came that I wanted to have a child I was convinced it would be a quick and simple process, which as it turned out was not the case at all.
It took three years to conceive my first child, a process that was prolonged by the fact that my family doctor carelessly prescribe me fertility drugs without knowing what he was doing. Once a referral was finally made to the fertility clinic we waited months for an initial appointment then spent even more time completing a variety of tests. Feeling like so much time had already been wasted we decided to try IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) as soon as we were able to actually “get started”. My daughter was conceived on our third IUI attempt.
When I became a patient at the fertility clinic I was fortunate at the time to have a friend that had just completed multiple IUI cycles and was about to move on to IVF. I’m so grateful for the advice she provided. She told me to set a limit in advance, to know what I was prepared to do and how many times I was prepared to try. It’s so easy to get caught up in it all; it took me many years to become assertive with my fertility care, to ask questions, set limits and be clear about what I was willing to do. The importance of demanding the appropriate care and maintaining your own boundaries have been my biggest takeaways from my fertility journey.
When our daughter was two years old we decided that we wanted to have another child. Because it worked relatively easy the last time, I was convinced it would be a quick and easy process and that my body would be ready to do it all over again. We returned to the fertility clinic to try another round of IUI. One round turned into five; my body was no longer responding to the fertility drugs and most of our cycles had to be cancelled. We then decided to try IVF. The IVF process is quite extensive. Before you can even start a cycle you have to attend a mandatory information session and complete additional testing. Then you start the drugs which involve self-injections three times a day, then you move into blood tests and ultrasounds every second day, followed by an incredibly painful egg retrieval, then daily updates on the status of your embryos survival. I hated the entire IVF process so I don’t have many positive things to say about it, but I know a lot of people who have been successful with it. Not only did the medication make me feel like I was losing my mind, but I had to drive an hour across the city to take a number from a locked box in the lobby that was on a timer. Picture this, twenty to thirty women waiting in a lobby at the crack of dawn for a box to unlock, then after grabbing a number waiting for the elevator to unlock so they could go upstairs and wait again. I felt the process was humiliating and unnecessarily stressful and anxiety inducing, especially since we were all on heavy doses of hormones to begin with.
While waiting in the lobby one day I met a woman who was on her eleventh IVF attempt, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand why she would keep trying. I now recognize our limits were different and I respect the strength it must have taken her to dig so deep to grab onto any hope she had left each time. Despite being told the odds of success I was convinced IVF would work for us. I decided half way through our IVF treatment that I could never do it again. I don’t know if I would have felt differently if I didn’t already have a child, but I was starting to recognize that my body could not manage the fertility drugs.
They retrieved thirteen eggs from me; nine were fertilized then six of those stopped dividing, they would stop and start and in the end we were left with three embryos. Two were implanted. We started shopping for mini-vans and my body gave me all the signs that it worked, until I received the phone call that my pregnancy blood test was negative. I remember exactly where I was when I got that call, I burst into tears. I couldn’t understand how I could feel pregnant and have gone through ALL of that and still have it not work. At the clinic they give you a picture of your embryos before they’re implanted, your first baby photo. It broke my heart. A couple of months later we did a frozen transfer with our last remaining embryo. I returned to the chaotic clinic visits and went on a different medication this time which was far worse than the injections. It was a nasal spray designed to put my body into a menopausal state, it made me so sick. I had to snort the spray five times a day for a couple of weeks, I was nauseous the entire time, something I would have been more likely to tolerate if I was actually pregnant. The frozen transfer was also unsuccessful. The same day I received that phone call was the day my sister called to tell me she was pregnant with her third child, unfortunately I burst into tears again.
Throughout the IVF and frozen transfer processes I was selective with who I shared my experience with. You can control what you share and with whom you share it. You cannot expect others who have not had a similar experience to understand, but you can most certainly expect them to be supportive and to listen. I think women are reluctant to talk about their stories because we are often met with pity or people don’t know what to say and they end up saying something that pisses us off. Such as, “maybe it’s just not meant to be” or “what’s IUI again?“, or “at least you already have one child” or “when are you going to have another one?” or “she really needs a sibling”. Let me tell you, over the years I tried my best to receive people’s comments with grace and understanding, but it has not always been easy. After the failed frozen transfer I became brutally honest with my responses to people, letting them know how hard and for how long we’d been trying. I never intended for my response to come across as aggressive, but to bring some awareness. I could see some people get uncomfortable and regret having said anything, but I felt it was important for them to understand the depth of their statement, and honestly, it felt empowering to own my experience.
I have never felt jealous when hearing of friends or family who were pregnant, (my sister’s phone call aside, that was just bad timing and I did call back for a re-do) but people assumed I was. People assumed I was too delicate to attend baby showers or hear their news. When in reality, women who suffer with infertility are tougher than you could ever imagine. I’ve always looked at other people’s experience as separate to mine, this was just what my journey looked like and it didn’t have to take away from theirs. I was never upset seeing other women with babies, because I suppose I never gave up hope that what was meant for me would eventually be mine. That being said it is okay to feel however you feel: angry, sad, or jealous… but it is incredibly important for your mental and emotional health to feel what you need to feel than move through it so it doesn’t weigh you down and rule your life.
After our failed frozen transfer attempt I needed a break, getting pregnant had become an all-consuming experience that had resulted in me completely disconnecting from myself. So I took some time to really work on myself; mind, body and soul. I lost weight, with the biggest benefit of that being that I discovered that if I did resistance training 3-4 times per week it did something to balance my hormones and I would ovulate on my own, still with an irregular cycle but every month none the less. Then I explored natural supplements with a Naturopathic Doctor to continue to balance my hormones until I found a mix that made me feel the best. I didn’t want to balance my hormones just for the sake of conceiving, I wanted to optimize my health and how I felt long term, regardless of pregnancy. My partner was also taking natural hormone balancing supplements at this time. I ate nutrition rich foods that made me feel good, and I journaled and learned to listened to my body. After my fitness competition in the Summer of 2019 I decided that I was ready to try again to conceive. We tried to conceive naturally for a few months with no success so I went back on Clomid, which I found to be the nastiest fertility drug of them all – it caused headaches, eye pain and visual impairment that seemed to worsen with every cycle. We attempted another IUI cycle that was unsuccessful.
It was at that moment that I made the conscious decision to surrender any illusion of control over the situation. My partner and I finally came to terms and accepted that our family would likely remain as it was. We spoke to our daughter and let her know that despite trying really hard she would not be a big sister because it just wasn’t working. I started making a list of all the baby stuff I’d held onto for the past six years that I would be selling. I meditated and told the universe that if I was meant to guide another soul in this lifetime than so be it. My partner and I decided to give it six more months, no fertility drugs or intervention just trying naturally and if it didn’t work than we were done. For real – done. Half-way through our six months a miracle happened and we conceived our second child naturally. After all of that, after four years of holding onto hope, when it was meant to it happened effortlessly.
I have always loved hearing stories of people who conceive naturally after years of infertility, and I am honoured and incredibly grateful to now be among them. I have shared my story because I want to provide people with hope. I also want to stress the importance of not losing yourself in the process, listening to your body, and knowing your own limits. I will continue to hold hope for all of the women still on their journey.