Trying to conceive

Canadian Infertility Awareness Week: The roller-coaster ride

For Canadian Infertility Awareness Week, we asked five incredible, strong women to share their infertility stories.

1iStock_000005903146Medium-5

Photo: iStockphoto

We thought we were like every other young, newly married couple. We waited a year after marriage before thinking about starting a family. We decided we were ready, and we thought I’d get pregnant easily. We were used to instant realization of our desires—we wanted a car, we got a car; we wanted a house, we got a house; we wanted a baby, we…

I didn’t get pregnant right away. In the fall of 2003, after trying for about a year, we began going to a fertility clinic in Toronto. They ran all the standard tests for both me and my husband, Andrew. They discovered that I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and that my husband’s sperm had motility issues. But they told us neither thing, even together, was enough to explain why we weren’t getting pregnant. But it did help them determine their approach in our fertility treatment.

The fertility clinic culture is unique and fatiguing. We found we couldn’t sustain going every cycle until we became pregnant. It’s not only the physical drain of early morning appointments, giving blood, undergoing ultrasounds and waiting to see the specialists, sometimes jeopardizing your work career because of timing issues, but it’s also an emotional drain. Every cycle, you are hopeful it will be the one where your dreams will be realized. When that doesn’t happen, you can easily become depressed. Almost everyone in the throes of it describes it as a roller coaster, with intense highs and lows.

Read more: An in-depth look at infertility >

From fall 2003 to spring 2006, we underwent six intrauterine inseminations (IUI). With every attempt, there was a different cocktail of drugs. The first was a normal cycle. They then started me on metformin (a drug typically used for treating diabetes, it can be useful in women with PCOS). With the second cycle, I was on Clomid. The third through sixth cycles saw hormone injections of increasing strength, with the hope that I would produce more than one egg in a cycle, increasing our chances at conception. For whatever reason, my body resisted, and I produced one egg per cycle, except in the fifth attempt where I produced two.

By April 2006, together with our doctors, we decided to try IVF (in vitro fertilization) with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The idea was to shut down my ovaries, and restart them using fertility drugs, forcing my body to produce as many eggs as was safely possible for harvesting. On Thursday, May 11, 2006, they retrieved 22 follicles. We thought they’d be able to put my husband’s sperm right into each one of those 22 follicles, and we’d have 22 embryos to choose from for insemination at the blastocyst stage five days later.

Our doctor called us on Friday. They had retrieved 22 follicles (that was great!); however, of those 22, only seven were viable (that wasn’t great). Of those seven, only five were mature (which was OK), but of those five, only one took (which was terrible). Since there was only the one embryo, they couldn’t risk losing it by letting it go to blastocyst stage, so they wanted to implant it on day three (and the coaster train pulled onto the platform).

On Mother’s Day, May 14, 2006, they put our lone embryo into my womb. We called it Squishy. We chanted to Squishy all the time, “Stick and grow, stick and grow, come on Squishy, stick and grow.”  We told only our immediate family about the IVF.

Read more: Fertility treatments: Our reader survey >

I went in for a blood test on May 28, and they called that afternoon. I was pregnant! Squishy was sticking and growing! We were over the moon. We chanted some more, we laughed, we were effervescent with joy. I went back on Tuesday and my betaHCGs had more than doubled. Finally, we were on the road to having a family.

On Wednesday, I began spotting.

The clinic hadn’t wanted to test me again until Saturday but asked me to go in Thursday.

I did, but by then, I was outright bleeding. They called later that day. My levels hadn’t increased at all. Together with the bleeding, they said I was miscarrying and there was nothing that could be done. I’d later heard a doctor describe Squishy as a chemical pregnancy, as if to imply that my Squishy, my special embryo that I saw in the dish with my own two eyes before the transfer, was nothing more than a series of chemical reactions in my body. It implied to me that Squishy never existed, when it did.

We were angry, hurt, depressed, numb, tapped out emotionally, tapped out financially, sad, joyless. We had needed so much help to get pregnant and after all that time, we were nowhere closer to having that dream realized. We needed time to recuperate and figure out our next steps.

In mid-October, I was a couple of days late, so I went in for that blood test. The nurse called, and the conversation went like this:

Nurse: You’re pregnant.

Me: What? How did that happen?

Nurse: You tell me!

Unlike with Squishy, my betaHCGs went up and up. We’d decided not to say anything to anyone until after the first trimester. We knew about one in four pregnancies ended in miscarriage in the first trimester, while that rate drops considerably in the second trimester. I reached the second trimester by mid-December. We made our announcement, and everyone was so happy for us.

The pregnancy was great. I didn’t have any morning sickness, my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to, and the baby was healthy and growing well. On Monday, March 5, 2007, at almost 24 weeks along, I had a routine appointment, and the obstetrician confirmed all was well. Despite not yet feeling the baby kick, he reassured me I would soon.

He wasn’t wrong.  On Friday, March 9, I felt the baby kick for the first time. It was the most magical moment in the entire pregnancy.

On the morning of Saturday, March 10, something wasn’t right. I had mild cramping and then saw some spotting. I decided to go to the hospital to get it checked out. By noon, the cramping was happening regularly, but I thought nothing of it since I was only 24 weeks in.

My husband raced me to the hospital, and we arrived by 1:00 p.m. I subconsciously knew I was in labour, but consciously couldn’t accept that. By 2:00 p.m., they rushed me into Labour and Delivery, and the doctors all worked hard to help deliver the baby. However, with great sadness, our son, Ryan, was born still at 3:50 p.m.

Read more: Love labour loss: The heartache of a stillborn baby >

With every pregnancy, with every treatment, they had gathered more information about my body. After Ryan, we learned I had an issue with my blood that likely caused the acute placental abruption that led to Ryan’s stillbirth. My doctor ran special blood tests and found I had a genetic mutation called MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) and a couple anti-cardiolipin factors that cause clots. Once we were ready to try again, I was treated for these things. I now have two wonderful, living girls who are five and three, and bring us so much joy and happiness. Despite how long it took and the heartbreak we endured, I feel truly blessed.