This is the fifth installment of six about our struggles with infertility. Read parts one, two, three, and four. This is our story, nothing more, but we share it to add another voice to this often unspoken struggle.
There was no plan after the third IUI. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be able to jump into the next thing or begin preliminary conversations for a different kind of treatment. After this, it was unknown territory.
During the initial conversation with our doctor, he indicated that we would start with several cycles of IUI, and then, if none of them took, we would discuss IVF. I’ve always been hesitant about IVF. I did not want to put my body through daily shots of hormones nor the stress of going through the egg retrieval and embryo transfer. Also, I was very worried about the cost, even with insurance coverage (it’s about $25,000 a pop without insurance). Like IUI, I understand that it may take a few rounds, and the entire process seemed daunting and incredibly expensive. However, with each failed IUI, I started to consider it more and more.
For many people, IVF works. One former colleague told me that her IUIs were basically useless and that it wasn’t until she and her husband tried IVF that they were finally able to conceive. Sometimes, IVF is the only option. The success rates of IVF are almost double of IUI. Now I can see why many go down the IVF route. Many women in the RESOLVE group that I attended had gone through IVF, and hearing their stories gave me more confidence that I could endure it. Maybe I could put up with the surgeries and the self-administered shots. Maybe we could apply for grants or take out a loan. Maybe IVF wouldn’t be so bad.
The possibility of IVF died when we decided to move to Wyoming. While there are a few fertility clinics in the state, not a single one does IVF. This could be because of access to doctors or for religious reasons (I suspect both), but the closest IVF doctor would be somewhere in Colorado. Given the daily appointments one needs to do for any kind of fertility treatments, driving that far would not be feasible with my new job in Wyoming and would greatly add to our costs (let alone the stress). Plus, most of it would likely not be covered by insurance. As long as we lived in Wyoming, IVF would not be a suitable option.
Without IVF as a backup, there was immense pressure on our third round of IUI. We would have to do some searching to find a fertility doctor in our new town, but it would be more costly as it might not be covered by our employer-provided insurance. Adoption was still an option, which I was willing to consider, but I was not yet ready to give up on being pregnant.
Even with a bleak plan moving forward, some things were in our favor this round. For the first time, I had three mature follicles that were ready for fertilization. Also, my husband’s specimen numbers were better than ever. We stuck to our vitamin regiment, and I started getting acupuncture treatments. Again, I quit running and stayed off alcohol while limiting my caffeine and sugar intake. This was our last, best chance.
Because of everything that had to be done for the move, I wasn’t as caught up in symptom spotting and counting down the days until by beta test as I had been in the two previous cycles. Not long after my husband received his offer, I got one of my own for a therapist at a behavioral health hospital. We found an apartment, bought a car (need the AWD for those Wyoming winters), and began shifting our belonging into sell, donate, trash, and pack piles. Of course, the two-week wait was still on my mind, but it couldn’t consume my thoughts this time.
I didn’t seem to be as sick this cycle. In fact, many of the symptoms that are associated with my medication hadn’t hit me as hard. I chalked it up to my body adjusting to the medication.
My stress levels were not great. There were a million little pieces of the move. Weeks later, we still hadn’t signed a lease, even though our application was approved. Also, I needed to apply for provisional licensure in Wyoming. It was easy to concentrate on the move and all the things we needed to do for our new life because it kept me from thinking about our fertility journey. If this didn’t work, would it be the end of the road for us? What would happen next? Would we ever have a baby?
Throughout this cycle, unlike the other two, I took my body basal temperature. I had taken my temperature for a few months when we were trying to conceive on our own but found it cumbersome and gave up. However, charting my BBT could help me better understand if I was pregnant or if my period was coming.
The first half of the cycle was a bit of a wash, because I was taking my temp at different times (you are supposed to do it at the same time every day). Once I got into the rhythm, it all looked good. There was a sharp increase to note ovulation, and my temp stayed high, which is an indication that there are high levels of progesterone in the body.
However, a few days before my beta pregnancy test, my BBT temp was dropping, an indication that menses will start soon. I was distraught. My body was clearly telling me that this did not work. I would have to wait for the bloodwork to confirm, but I was convinced that three days of a temperature drop were telling me what I didn’t want to hear.
It was still three days until my pregnancy test. I had taken home pregnancy tests before, but I wouldn’t let myself this time. I just couldn’t see another negative. My husband told me that we should remain hopeful until we know for sure, but I didn’t fake it well.
On the day of the test, my husband went with me to clinic. We decided to run some errands after, and even though I was popping in for a few minutes for blood work, it seemed more significant with him nearby. In the time that I have been going to the clinic, they have completely rotated through their phlebotomy staff. All the more experienced techs, the ones who could actually get into my small veins, were gone, and the lead phlebotomist was a nice individual who even struggled drawing blood from the big veins in my hands. He called me to his chair, and after unsuccessfully locating a vein, moved to my hand, where he had to move the needle several times before it hit blood. The currier arrived to pick up the first batch of blood draws, and they asked him to wait until mine was ready. I watched the tech put it into a bag and hand it to the man.
We then went to get bagels at our favorite place in Chicago. I felt nauseous that morning and couldn’t eat before our appointment. At another time, I would have taken this as a sign of pregnancy, however, I’ve had fairly consistent bouts of nausea since I was in the Peace Corps, and combined with the medication, thought it was nothing more. I also couldn’t drink my coffee, too bitter. Maybe the barista miscalculated this batch.
I was napping when the nurse called. For most of the morning, I had felt tired and nauseous, which at this point could be symptoms of anything. I saw the number flash across my screen and picked up. The nurse said hello. Her voice seemed softer this time, but I hushed away any detective work so I could focus on what she said.
“Your HCG was 300,” she said.
“Which is positive.”
Then she said I needed to come back to the clinic in two days to make sure my numbers are rising, and if they did, we would schedule an ultrasound. I couldn’t remember much of what she said because I was in shock and I needed to ask a few important questions, like what does all of this mean if we are moving in two weeks.
My husband overheard the conversation from the other room and came in. We hugged and cried. “We are going to have a baby,” we kept saying. Yet, the words didn’t feel real. We had had such a tumultuous journey to this point, why would it all of a sudden start to work out?
I had one home pregnancy test that I was keeping for I don’t know what, and we decided I should take it. Even though bloodwork will always trump the home test, I still wanted that confirmation. After years of negative tests with that awful stark white next to the control line, I finally got a positive. The test changed immediately, and there was no denying it. I was finally pregnant.
We had initially decided not to tell our parents until the next week, when we would see them in person to help us move, but we couldn’t wait. I’ll never forget their faces when they heard. This would not be their first (or even second or third) grandchild, but it would be a grandchild they were eager to welcome.
Two days later I went in for another blood draw to confirm that my HCG was still rising. The doctors want to see the number double within 48 hours. The day before I convinced myself that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I knew that idea was ludicrous, but my anxiety often gets the best of me. I decided to walk over to the Family Dollar to get a test, just to calm my nerves, but they were all out. Maybe my aching back, relentless fatigue, and persistent nausea were enough confirmation that I was indeed still pregnant.
A few hours later, the nurse called and said that my HCG rose to 899, almost triple of my initial beta. I had to come in a week and half later for an ultrasound. This put a small dent into our moving plans, but we could adjust. Everything from now on would take a backseat to this baby.
My in-laws, my mother, and my youngest brother came a week later to help us move. The plan was for my husband and his parents to go to straight to Wyoming while my mom, my brother, and I went to the Twin Cities and then South Dakota for some family time. Everyone loaded up our belongings into four cars, and I found other tasks to keep me busy, hoping my lack of carrying heavy things down steps wasn’t a tip off to my brother, who didn’t yet know about the pregnancy. Our mothers were worried I would overdo it and quietly told me to rest while feeding me snacks. My nausea had turned into full-on morning sickness, which lasted most of the day, and fatigue overwhelmed me. After my husband and his parents left for Wyoming, and my brother back to his home, I spent hours on an inflatable mattress, trying not to get sick, as my mother deep cleaned our apartment.
Our first ultrasound was on my very last day in Chicago. Our fertility doctor wanted us to come in one more time before transferring to an OB, but we didn’t have the time. Instead, they settled on letting me see an OB in Wyoming at eight-weeks and then sending them the ultrasound. It wasn’t ideal, but it had to work.
My husband was already in Wyoming and checked into our new apartment when my mom and I went to the fertility clinic. It was the last time I would have to make the hectic drive down to River North. The last time I would have to fill out the two check-in slips of paper at the reception before entering into the main lobby. The last time I would have to sit in the waiting room, wondering if all of this time and money was worth it.
I had a habit of arriving at the clinic 15 minutes early so that I could be the first in my timeslot to be called. This little plan worked only half the time, not including when I went in for my ultrasound. My mother, who had to show her proof of vaccination to come in with me, was nervously checking her phone, putting it her purse, and pulling it back out. I was too. There was a chance that no baby was growing or that a baby was growing in the wrong spot. When you are pregnant and have dealt with infertility, these are the stories you linger on, where your anxiety blooms. The time continued to pass, and I shifted my worry to getting out on the road soon enough to avoid Milwaukee rush hour.
Finally, my name was called. I was too early in my pregnancy for a regular ultrasound, so they did an internal one, like the ones I had been doing during my monitoring appointments. From my online research, I knew there was a chance they might not be able to see much this early on, but I held my breath as the tech moved the probe around my uterus. There, she found a big black blob and inside that blob a small figure that looked like a diamond ring.
“That part,” she pointed to a circle, the ring portion, “is the yok sak. And that,” she pointed to the diamond part,” is your baby.”
She told us to look closely, and we could see the baby pulsing. That was the heartbeat.
We then Facetimed my husband and told him that the baby was measuring right at six weeks and had a heartbeat of 100, which is exactly where it should be at that time.
My mom and I both cried. After I was dressed, the tech handed us a little folder with a few photos, and we called my husband as we walked to the car to recap the appointment.
Then, we left Chicago.