“Infertility” Isn’t a Dirty Word, Part II: How We Got From There to Here

This is a two-part series about a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now — our road to having a baby. I hope it inspires others to try to achieve their dream of becoming parents — know that you are not alone. Read Infertility: Part I here.

Soon after Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I married, I giddily tossed my pack of birth control pills out the window — okay, I stashed them in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, but you get the idea. While I knew it could normally take up to a year to “get the timing right,” I didn’t think that would be the case. You see, I’m a planner. I had stocked up on a bunch of ovulation test strips so there would be little doubt about when would be the best time to try to conceive.

I figured all I’d have to do was just wait for Aunt Flo to show up once I stopped the birth control pills, and then about two weeks later, start POAS (“peeing on a stick” in the world of TTC, or “trying to conceive”) using the ovulation tests. August turned to September, and September to October with no signs of getting a period. Well, I had tons of phantom signs, but nothing ever materialized, so to speak. I knew something was very, very wrong. While I’d been on the pill for 13 years, I’d been nothing but regular before that — my cycle was longish, but 32-33 days is nothing when you’re going on 100 days of waiting.

Eventually, Aunt Flo showed up, but when it was going on 90-plus days the next time, I was in full freak-out mode. My body was ruining my chance at motherhood.

I sought the advice of my ob-gyn, who gave me some pills called Provera to “jump-start” my menstrual cycle. The good news is that they worked to start the bleeding, but the bad news was that it only cleared me out, so to speak. It didn’t make the next cycle any shorter — I was still about 3 months in between periods.

At this point, I did some research and self-diagnosed myself with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. The last time I diagnosed myself with something, it was my hypothyroid disease, and I was correct. Unfortunately, I’d turn out to be two-for-two.

Moving Forward

The ob-gyn was up front with me and said there really wasn’t anything more he could do for me, since we didn’t know the root of the problem. He suggested that I see a specialist and mentioned the dreaded word: “Infertility.” But he was kind enough to write down “amenorrhea” (lack of menstruation) on my referral. Gee, thanks.

Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I decided that seeing a reproductive endocrinologist — which meant going to a fertility clinic — was our best option. We both wanted children, and it didn’t look like it was going to happen naturally. We were going to need some help.

The doctor we chose was very nice and interviewed both of us. Then, during a VERY thorough exam of my interior lady parts, he diagnosed me with PCOS. “Duh,” I thought, “I already KNEW that. What are we going to do about it?” Later, I would see on my paperwork that the doctor noted that I was “anxious” during this initial interview and examination. Ya think?

In addition to my physical exam, 8 vials of blood were drawn — I passed out twice. I don’t do well with blood draws, and little did I know that it would become an almost daily occurrence! My husband also had to go through the bloodwork and had to provide a, uh, sample. Neither of us had any issues, and his little guys were moving along swimmingly. Basically, our issues lay with my reproductive system.

Initially, we were advised that IUI (intrauterine insemination, aka artificial insemination), was our best bet. This would require a round of Clomid (pills), to stimulate my ovaries to make lots of eggs and grow them to maturity.  Then, after an extremely-painful HSG (hysterosalpingogram) test, in which dye was injected into my fallopian tubes as I screamed bloody murder, it was discovered that one of my fallopian tubes were blocked. A second HSG test didn’t unblock the tube, especially after the x-ray machine up and died toward the end of the procedure. I elected not to go back a third time, because despite being medicated with a Valium and some Percoset, I was in agony (and again screaming bloody murder).

We re-weighed our options, which were pretty much limited to in vitro fertilization (IVF) because in addition to the PCOS and my autoimmune thyroid disease (which was already under treatment for a decade), we now had a blocked fallopian tube. I’d read there was a chance that eggs from the ovary on that side could ‘float’ to the other tube, but it seemed like a ridiculous idea.

The Guilt

I wondered what I did to deserve this diagnosis. I wondered if I did something to cause my infertility. I’d always wanted to be a mother, and now, after marrying my husband, I had visions of never having the family we’d dreamed of. I wondered why, when I was so responsible about not getting pregnant all these years, I was the one who had to deal with it. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of “artificially” making a baby.

I had crying jags. I lashed out. I wanted to decline invitations to baby showers. I couldn’t even listen to people talk about their pregnancies. My husband supported me through all of my emotional swings with the patience of Job. He talked me down from ledges, held my hand and told me that we WOULD be successful.

Then I realized I wasn’t the only one out there. I discovered a number of friends and acquaintances who have had to deal with the same thing. I managed to put together a support team, so to speak. Our parents knew we were going to have to “work” to get pregnant. We kept them apprised throughout the process.

Getting Pregnant, Getting Lucky

Despite my medical maladies, our reproductive endocrinologist did okay one shot at IUI, despite getting us approved for IVF treatments. But instead of using the Clomid pills, I would have to “move up” to injectibles. As someone who can’t even stand the sight of her own blood (but I was an EMT in a past life, so I’m okay with other people’s injuries, go figure), the thought of poking myself with needles every day for weeks was terrifying (refer back to my anecdote about bloodwork).

Also terrifying? IUI procedures have the highest risk of multiples, because you can’t control how many eggs are produced and possibly fertilized. Ever hear of Jon and Kate Gosselin? Kate had six babies at once because she produced too many eggs during the IUI/injectables cycle. She and her husband were advised to “cancel” the cycle — meaning, to abstain from sex — because if all of those eggs were to be fertilized, it’d be a very risky pregnancy. You all know that they ignored that advice. Unlike the Gosselins, we’d follow our doctor’s advice to cancel the cycle if it came down to it, but there would still be a chance of multiples if we went ahead with two or three mature eggs. Or, we’d even have to consider selective reduction if there were “too many” fertilized eggs to have a safe pregnancy. We didn’t even want to think about that, though.

So we had to wait for Aunt Flo to show up again, and she finally made an appearance on Memorial Day weekend of last year. I had already gotten my stash of needles and medications through the specialty pharmacy. I would be on the Follistim to “grow” a number of eggs to maturity, to be followed by two injections of Ovidrel, which serves as the “trigger” medication that tells my ovaries to release their mature eggs.

I had bloodwork and an ‘internal’ ultrasound (use your imaginations) every two days. The clinic hours for this were from 6 am to 7:30 am, and I had to travel 20 minutes in each direction to do so. If it was a weekend or a holiday, it was a 40-min trip each way to their other location. I had to give myself a shot of Follistim at the same time every evening. As I went in for morning monitorings, the doctor would check my ovaries for signs that follicles (eggs) were growing, and on which side.

After nearly two weeks, there were 6 egg follicles near maturity. Five of them were on the right ovary – the same side as the blocked fallopian tube. Of course. One was on the open, clear side, the left. I was devastated because our chance of success was reduced. After two  days of Ovidrel shots to trigger the release of the mature follicles, we went ahead with the insemination portion of the IUI cycle. Let me just say that Mr. NSF was a trooper, because he had to go two mornings in a row to give a ‘sample’ at the clinic. About an hour later, I’d show up, ready for my injection of ‘cleaned up’ sample. It sounds so gross, but it was a better shot than us doing the deed ourselves.

Then, the waiting began. We were heading to Vegas for a vacation with family and friends, but I knew I’d be a wreck the entire time — the blood test to check for pregnancy was scheduled for the day after our return.

The night before we were to leave, I started bleeding. I couldn’t believe it — I’d gotten my period. I didn’t think it was going to work on the first shot, and now, I figured I’d be able to have a good time in Vegas. We got on the plane the next morning. But the bleeding had stopped. I was confused. I decided to abstain from alcohol completely just in case.

Being the planner I am, I brought a few pregnancy tests to try, just in case. It would be a few days before I would know for sure, but I wanted to find out before the scheduled blood test. When two little lines showed up, I was in shock. I took two more tests before telling my husband. It was a miracle — it only took the one little egg!

I wasn’t 100% convinced I was pregnant until I went for my blood test after our return home. When they called me a few hours later to confirm it, I was in shock again. The nurse said I could have had implantation bleeding, as the fertilized egg was nestling itself into the uterine wall.

I was monitored by the fertility clinic until I hit 8 weeks. Every week, I held my breath as they did the ultrasound. At the 6-week visit, we saw the heartbeat, a little flicker of life in this apple-seed-sized embryo.

I would hold on to my secret for a few more weeks. It may have been bad karma, but we originally lied to our families and told them that the procedure had failed. I wanted to be sure the pregnancy continued to be viable. After the morning (and afternoon, and night) sickness appeared, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide it much longer, so we shared the news with gifts of baby onesies.

My pregnancy was normal with no issues until Baby Frugalista decided to bust out of her amniotic sac five weeks early, and enter the world on Groundhog Day. What a holiday to be born on! It was worth traveling through the aftermath of an ice storm to receive the greatest present in the world.

The Takeaway

I know how damned lucky we were that the IUI worked on the first cycle, and that we didn’t have to move to IVF. I know people who waited years to have their children, and those who are still waiting. That’s why I want anyone facing an infertility diagnosis to know that you’re not alone. We’re out there.

I don’t know what it will take to have a second child should we decide to give Baby Frugalista a sibling. But I do know now that we know what we’re facing, it will be easier to deal with what life throws at us. And I know that even if I never have another child, I know how lucky we were to have the one.