“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.

“Infertility” Isn’t a Dirty Word: Part I

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.

Every day I gaze at our amazing infant daughter and realize how lucky we are. Every time she gives that toothless smile, says “Mama” or rests her little head on my shoulder, I thank my lucky stars that we were blessed with her, after everything we had to go through to conceive.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m infertile. Although many are reluctant to talk about it, infertility isn’t a dirty word. it doesn’t define who I am and, obviously, it didn’t stop me from becoming a mother.

The Infertility Diagnosis

Turns out that 13 years of being on birth control pills to not get pregnant masked the fact that I have PCOS — polycystic ovary syndrome. When left to do their thing, my little ovaries go into overdrive and produce a ton of follicles, few to none of which mature enough to make it down the fallopian tube once a month. No ovulation equals no chance of conception, which is hard enough to achieve as it is, believe it or not. Couple that with another diagnosis of a blocked fallopian tube, and our chances of conceiving, even with fertility treatments, dropped even further.

I won’t lie: hearing the word “infertility” tossed out by my ob-gyn and, later, my reproductive endocrinologist hurt — a lot. My reactions mirrored the five stages stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I lingered under “anger” and “depression” longer than I care to admit. I was barely past the age of 30. I wasn’t 16 and pregnant. Why me? I started a (mostly) private blog to get out some of the thoughts and emotions that were slowly eating away at me, which helped to some degree.

It took visits nearly a year’s worth of visits to doctors and specialists before getting pregnant — a LOT of $40 insurance co-pays. In addition to my ob-gyn, I was seeing an endocrinologist to keep my pre-existing thyroid disease under control, and visiting my reproductive endocrinologist at the fertility clinic every few days for months at a time. There were also a few trips to a radiologist thrown in for good measure. Despite being told it would never work due to my blocked fallopian tube, after just one cycle of IUI (“artificial insemination” — use your imagination, folks), we had our miracle.

Discussing Infertility

While I didn’t announce to the world that we were having trouble conceiving, close friends and family knew what my husband and I were going through (he’ll want me to mention that his swimmers are fine, in case you were wondering), and everyone provided support in their own ways. I discovered that others I knew also had needed fertility treatments to conceive, and it was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. Eventually, I resolved to talk about our experience freely. If I could help guide others on their journeys, why not?

From a young age, I knew I wanted to have children one day. When we were in our late 20s, I had friends who would say, “I’m too busy living life to have kids,” but for me, it was never a question. I never saw my future children as impediments to my happiness — they would be my happiness, my fulfillment.

Today, I smile every time our baby wakes at 2 in the morning or throws her food all over the place. I almost relish dirty diapers, and I gladly baby-proof the house. Because despite my infertility diagnosis — and her 5-weeks-early arrival — Baby Frugalista is here.

 

Tuesday: Look for Part II in this series, How We Got From There to Here

Baby Frugalista is Here!

Sorry I’ve been AWOL for a while, but it was for a very good reason — Baby Frugalista entered the world five weeks earlier than expected!

Emily Leia was born on Groundhog Day, following a nasty ice storm here in the Northeast. I woke up for work at 8 am that Wednesday and *woooosh* — my water broke! There was no turning back at that point. While Mr. NSF ran around in circles, I calmly packed a bag (which I was going to do the coming weekend) and off we went to the hospital, which was only 5 minutes away. Contractions didn’t start until 12:30 pm, and then I was put on pitocin & saline drips. IVs in my hand = ick. But the pitocin, which is supposed to help get the contractions going some more, did the trick. By 2 pm I was howling for the epidural. That wasn’t a fun experience, either, but it was worth it.

Baby Frugalista was born at 6:27 p.m. Our little peanut topped out at 4 lbs., 8 oz. and 17 3/4 inches long at birth. We were blessed that she was able to hold her own and didn’t have to be kept any longer than the 2 days I was in the hospital. By the time she came home, she was only 4 lbs., but two weeks later, we’ve fattened her up to 5 lbs.

We were underprepared — the contractor had just finished our bedroom renovations, and the room still needed to be painted — but I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

And in case you didn’t know how crazy ambitious I can be when it comes to home improvement projects, I was painting that room just a week after coming home from the hospital. The rugs were put in a few days after that, and we’re finally back in our bedroom — and out of the baby’s room. We’ll be putting the crib together this weekend. I can finally decorate the nursery!

Our upstairs renovations are finished!

Personal finance portion of this post: Man, are diapers & formula expensive! I’m nursing, but I have to supplement with formula right now. Luckily, I’d signed up with the formula manufacturers and already have a number of the ‘checks’ (coupons) they send.

I’m Now in Semi-Panic Mode

That “nesting instinct” everyone keeps talking about? It’s finally kicked in! And there’s not a damned thing I can do at the moment.

Our two upstairs bedrooms are in flux — but good flux, for lack of a better description. While we’d finished the baby’s room around Thanksgiving, our bedroom still needed to go through the complete renovation process. Thank goodness Grandpa came to the rescue! As our ridiculously-generous Christmas gift, he’s paying for professionals to replace the knotty pine walls and tiled ceiling with properly sheetrocked surfaces. In just 6 days, the contractors have done what took us 13 months to get through ourselves. On their end, all that’s left to do is put in new windows and molding/trim. That leaves us with painting and carpeting. No small tasks, either.

Right now, our bedroom is full of furniture — our set of bed/dresser/chest and the baby’s new dresser & chest of drawers. The crib is also in there, albeit in a humongous box. Can’t even put that together until after the carpet is ordered and installed, since once assembled, the crib won’t fit through the doorway to allow for the new carpeting to be put down.

So I can’t set up the baby’s room (“nursery” sounds so pretentious to me for some reason…) until this is all done. I’m not so concerned about our bedroom. But now, as I’m rounding the bases and heading for home — almost 34 weeks along! — I’m really panicking. My days and nights are consumed with thoughts of what I need to do before this little one comes. As I keep telling Mr. NSF, “full term” is considered 37 weeks and beyond. That’s just 3 weeks away! Although I’m convinced we’re going to have to coerce Baby Frugalista out of her current surroundings.

I’m hoping to pick out and order carpeting this weekend for the two rooms and the hallway in between, and also decide on the paint color for the walls. If I can get that done, I’ll at least feel better about our progress.

Duking It Out: Pregnancy vs. Blogging

I’ve been much more lax in my blogging duties in the past few months, as this little one is not only taking over my body, but also my thoughts and actions. My priority is keeping her safe, providing all the energy and rest she needs, and letting her grow big, strong and healthy. Pregnancy is hard work!

It’s also turning me from a window shopper into a shopper-shopper. I can’t pass the infant clothing section at Kohl’s without losing a half-hour immersing myself in all the little outfits — and then walking out with one or two, rationalizing the purchase with the thought, “Hey, it’s only $6!”

Came home with two little newborn outfits today — one from the discount rack, and both prices further reduced thanks to a 30% off coupon. And I paid with a gift card. So I’m okay with today’s purchases, despite knowing we have tons of wonderful hand-me-down outfits and gifted clothing that will easily get this little one through her first birthday.

Now that I’m 33 weeks along, I realize there are a ton of things to do: a crib and baby items to be assembled, little things to be purchased, a house to be put in order. Our bedroom is currently being renovated by professionals, which means our furniture and bed — along with the baby’s nursery furniture — are share a lavender-walled room at the moment. I’m hoping by the end of next week the renovations will be finished, and then it will be down to carpeting and paint. But it’s still going to be a race to the finish.

Every day and every evening, thoughts swirl around my head, taunting me about the unfinished work that needs to be done. But we can’t put the crib together, as it won’t fit through the doorway if we need to empty the room for carpeting. But I know everything will get done in due time. I can’t make the process go any faster.

And the exhaustion of the first trimester has returned with a vengeance in the third. I can’t stay awake too long after dinner (which usually happens after I get home from work; we eat at 7:30 or 8), which doesn’t leave me time to do things like laundry, the dishes, and blog. Unfortunately, clean clothes and dishes come before blogging, so that’s been taking up my now-limited awake time. The other consideration is that I don’t want to blog only about a baby who has yet to make her grand entrance into the world.

Another thing I’ve been slacking on: I have yet to draw up a solid post-baby budget outline, which is on my agenda for the next week. Although it will be hard to figure out all the variables without actually seeing how our expenses will pan out.

The result? Pregnancy, 1, Blogging, 0.

Free Formula and Diaper Coupons on the Brain

Baby Frugalista still has 8 weeks or so to arrive, yet I’m on the prowl for diaper coupons. Maybe she’ll arrive a few weeks before schedule, maybe she’ll be a week or two late (I’m thinking late — anyone want to start a Pregnancy Pool?). But either way, we’re gonna need diapers.

Lots of diapers.

I’m not “green” enough to use cloth diapers, so I already know we’ll be going with disposables. Every week, when I get the grocery coupon circulars in the Sunday newspaper, I now keep my eyes peeled for diaper coupons. And it’s still annoying to find that these coupons will expire before I give birth. So much for stocking up on coupons.

However, I don’t want to stock up on the diapers themselves, since we don’t know how big Baby Frugalista will wind up being when she gets here. At our last ultrasound at 29 weeks, she was measuring on the smaller end of the scale — but not too small — with her weight putting her into the 34th percentile for babies of the same gestational age. And her head? A petite 22nd percentile. Although at first the ultrasound tech measured wrongly (5th percentile? Eeek!), and the perinatologist was ready to give us a talk about microencephaly (small head). For a good 3 minutes, we were having visions of horror-movie characters who had their heads shrunken by evil voodoo doctors. But when the perinatologist re-measured, everything was fine. He called us into his office anyway to apologize, and then asked us what size hats we wear. I’m an XS, and Mr. NSF is a S/M, so it’s not surprising the baby would also have a small noggin. But I digress.

We’ll probably get a box or two of diapers in the newborn and 1 sizes. But moving forward, I’ll really be on the lookout for diaper coupons. Luckily, friends and family know my of my predilection for saving money and will gladly pass their coupon finds over to us. The coupons, paired with vigilant research to find the best diaper deals, will hopefully keep us in diapers with as little pain to our bank account as possible.

Free Formula

I also came across a post on a pregnancy message board that told how Enfamil was offering a free “case” of 24 bottles of its Premium Newborn Nursette 2-ounce formula. While I’m going to try to nurse at first, I’m sure I’ll have a need for supplemental formula at some point, and hopefully this stuff will keep for a few months.

It took 17 minutes on hold — thank you, speakerphone — but I got through to and requested the promotional offer. They happily obliged, and in two to three weeks, I should receive the baby formula. That was pretty easy.

Now, to sign up for every formula/diaper brand “club” known to man. Thank heavens for my ‘junk’ email address!

Home Renovations and Maternity Leave

As I mentioned right after Thanksgiving, we finally finished renovating one of the two bedrooms on our second floor, which will serve as the baby’s room. But with barely two months left before Baby Frugalista arrives, we still need to renovate the other bedroom.

As of right now, we’ve moved our bedroom set into the renovated bedroom AND have the baby’s furniture in there, too. Luckily, the rooms are pretty large. But I really want everything settled before March. Partly to stop me from freaking out over it and partly out of the goodness of their hearts, our parents are helping us get this room done a lot quicker than it would take had we done the work ourselves. Someone will actually be paid to do the work.

On Monday, a contractor friend of my father-in-law’s will arrive to finish gutting the room, start framing it out and then sheetrock it. Oh, how happy I will be to have it done. If they can finish it up in a few weeks, there’s a good chance we can get carpeting installed in both rooms by mid-February. Then we can sort the furniture properly into the two rooms, although I’m sure the baby will be sleeping in the room with us for the first few months. And if it doesn’t get finished before I give birth, it won’t be the end of the world.

Maternity Leave

I officially stated to my job what will be the last day before going out on maternity leave — February 24. I’ll be using up my vacation days from 2010 to go out early, because if I don’t use them by the end of June, I’ll lose them. And I don’t want to take a chance that I could use them at the end of June after my disability/family leave pay is finished, because with my luck, I”ll go late and blow any chance of using the days.

Thanks the the generosity of my employer and a lot of freelance work I’ve done over the past 6-7 months, I plan to be home with the baby for a full 6 months. The first three months I will receive disability and family leave insurance payments, but the rest of the time, we’re on our own. That’s where our savings account will come in. All of the bills will be paid, without putting a super-big dent in our savings. Plus, we should get a nice tax refund in March (or whenever the darned IRS gets to processing our return). The IRS has announced that people who itemize using Schedule A (us, of course) shouldn’t submit their tax returns until a to-be-announced date, estimated to be mid to late February.

I’m starting to feel like there’s so much to be done around this house, and I’m getting nowhere. Must be the nesting instinct everyone keeps talking about!