Fertility Story: Part 6 – A New Path Forward

From Casper Mountain

This is the sixth and finally installment of six about our struggles with infertility. Read parts one, two, three, four, and five. This is our story, nothing more, but we share it to add another voice to this often unspoken struggle

I had often imagined that if and when I finally received that positive pregnancy test, I could finally move on from infertility. I would start buying onesies and stack pregnancy books on my nightstand. I would cross the threshold from a woman who cried herself to sleep because another month had passed to one who was glowing because of the child growing inside her. It’s partly why I was skeptical of advice and stories from women who suffered from infertility and eventually got pregnant. They likely forgot this struggle now, with a baby in their arms. They didn’t get it anymore. They made it out of this hell.

However, pregnancy after infertility is not a simple positive and then you move on to the world of the pregnant. My friends who haven’t had as much trouble getting pregnant may take a test then visit their doctor and begin preparing for baby. As someone dealing with infertility, I had to keep going to the doctor to confirm that the pregnancy was progressing at the right measurements. After one HCG test, I had to do another to make sure that the numbers had doubled. Then, a six-week visit to see an embryo and confirm a heartbeat followed by another two weeks later to ensure that the fetus was growing, and the heartbeat was picking up speed.

Between each of these appointments worry that something could or had gone wrong flourished. Besides a very early miscarriage a few months prior, this was my first time being pregnant. Also, at the ripe age of 36, I am a “geriatric pregnancy,” which increases the chances of miscarriage. Every time I felt a cramp or went a few hours without nausea, I feared that I was losing the baby. I looked for blood every time I went to the bathroom. I was finally pregnant, but I couldn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t let go of the idea that something could still go wrong. We had been struggling for three years to get pregnant, how could our luck turn good so quickly? So many others who suffered with infertility had miscarriage after miscarriage, so who was I to escape that horror?

In the midst of all of this, we were beginning our new life in Wyoming, which came with its own swirl of emotions. After the second HCG test, we reached out to friends in the Casper area for an OB recommendation and made an appointment. My fertility doctor in Chicago wanted to see me a week or two after my six-week ultrasound, but I couldn’t push our move date back any further (I already had to bargain with my new job to get me to start in August).  Through the nurses, he communicated that he would settle for me sending over the results from that OB appointment and reviewing them.

We also had to set up gap insurance. Health insurance from our jobs would not begin until September, and being newly pregnant, I couldn’t go without insurance for a month. We found a plan on the marketplace, and thankfully because we had worked minimum wage retail jobs for the entire year, we got a good tax credit that allowed for a very low premium. This was the only time insurance seemed to actually work as intended.

Our friends in Casper recommended that we work on securing a daycare as soon as possible. Even in a smaller populated area, facilities can have long waitlists. There is an early childhood center at the school where my husband got a job, which was reasonably priced and convenient. We were early enough to secure a place high on the list. We also toured a couple of centers our first week in town, finding a great backup option.

We moved forward as people expecting a baby, but I wasn’t always convinced this was real, that the baby inside me wouldn’t just disappear one day. We decided that because we had shared our infertility story widely to tell close loved ones. Many cried happy tears for us, knowing how long this journey had been, but I couldn’t match their emotions. Doubt’s grip robbed me of relishing in this miracle. It was impossible to relax after Googling “missed miscarriage” even though searching for such information was somewhat comforting. It was possible to lose the baby without bleeding or cramping, and so I couldn’t celebrate.

Once we got to Casper, I needed to re-up my progesterone medication. This hormonal supplement was, I believe, crucial in helping me great pregnant. While the doctor never came out and said it, I think I suffered from a short luteal phase, meaning the time between when I ovulated and my next period started was less than 14 days, which it often was during my regular cycles. Sometimes it was only a week. A short luteal phase means that the body doesn’t produce enough hormones needed for a pregnancy to stick. My doctor said it didn’t matter if I had this condition or not because he always included supplemental progesterone as part of the procedure. Only on these medications did my luteal phase seem to extend the expected timeframe.  

These were not cheap meds, at $260 per month. I had ran out of the progesterone the very day that my pregnancy was first confirmed, so I got another order from the pharmacy. To make my life a little easier, I tried to get a refill before I left Chicago. The insurance denied a refill so early, which is when I learned that the medication was even covered by insurance. Other fertility medication, like the Ovidrel shot, which helps jumpstart ovulation, was not. So, I would have to wait until I got to Wyoming and have the fertility nurses call in the prescription out there. It was only when I went to pick up the prescription that I remembered my own ranting and raving about many states not mandating fertility treatments in insurance coverage. Hesitantly, at the counter, I asked the pharmacist how much sixty tablets, or 30-days worth, would cost. She drew her breath.

The only words I heard were “one” and “thousand.” I am not sure if it was $1,001 or $1,999. All I knew is that this very vital medication was going to be about the same price as my rent, or more.

But, I could not not get it. If I decided not to take it, there was a chance I could lose the pregnancy. After discussing some options with my fertility clinic and the pharmacist, I decided to do 21-days of the medication, and with a coupon from GoodRx, the price jumped down. It was still several hundred dollars, but at least not a thousand.

At this point, I am not entirely sure how much we have spent on fertility. Ballpark, somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000, which is with good insurance. Most of that balance is currently sitting on a no-interest credit card that will be paid down slowly with a steady income. I supposed I could count it up, but it doesn’t matter. It is what it is. This is much lower than what many, many others spend on fertility treatments, so in a way, we are lucky. However, for most of this time, we were two people working minimum wage and just surviving. I often felt like we didn’t deserve to go through this treatment process because there was a question mark on how we were going to pay for it. There was a real fear that we would spend more than we could handle or that finances alone would dictate where our journey ends. Thankfully, we did get pregnant before our fertility debt became unmanageable, and for the first time in three years, my husband and I have good jobs and we can pay that debt off eventually (living in a more affordable place also helps).

We had our first OB appointment our second week in Wyoming. I had already started my job (mostly training) and had to discretely excuse myself for a long lunch. The OB our friends recommended seemed to have a good reputation. Anytime someone asked me who I was seeing and I said his name, they almost always say, “He is the best.” He seemed like a good choice based on an internet search because he works with couples struggling with fertility, which is a rare find in this state. He was an older man, in his own practice, and warmly greeted us. Our decision to use him as our provider was confirmed when both he and his nurse applauded our vaccination statuses. This made me feel safe with him.  

At our appointment, he took my vitals and did a quick health history. Then, it was time to see our baby.

My husband was with me for this appointment, and I was looking forward to having the normal external ultrasound. However, my uterus was pointed down and he couldn’t see anything, so he switched to the probe. He searched a bit, and then he found a squiggly little baby. In just two weeks, the baby had grown from a blob on top of a circle to a figure with a head and the beginning formations of hands. The picture he took had one of those almost-hands pointed up, as if the baby was waving at us. “There is your miracle,” he said.

Then, without warning, we heard the heartbeat. A strong heartbeat right on track. My husband grabbed my hand. Our miracle, indeed. Arriving in March 2022.

The next day, after my fertility doctor had reviewed my ultrasound from the OB appointment, we officially “graduated” from the fertility clinic. I was no longer a woman struggling with fertility, but a pregnant woman. Two weeks later, I fully stopped the progesterone suppositories. I called the clinic and put the last of our balance on my credit card. Our time with the fertility clinic was over.

It’s still a bit surreal to have a human growing inside me. Some foods still turn my stomach and my pants fit less and less each day. We’ve spread the news more as we are able, including telling the jobs that just hired us. We have a list of baby names, and we’ve already begun buying diapers and have a few big items, thanks to hand-me-downs from friends and family. However, I haven’t bought any clothes for the baby yet. I want to, but I am still scared. Just that small purchase feels too much like testing my luck.

Even so, much of my doubt is gone. The further I get through my pregnancy, the more excited I am. I love resting my hands on my belly and singing to the baby. Sometimes my growing belly catches me by surprise in the mirror, but then I smile. I’ve waiting a long time for this.

I have come to terms with the fact that this might be my only pregnancy. I will not go through fertility treatments again. We may look at adopting or fostering, and who knows, maybe Mother Nature will surprise us (we’ll see as I am now 37), but we are done with the fertility appointments, tests, and medications. Mostly because I want to use that money to enrich the life of the child we do have. If this is the only baby we have, I am OK with that.

Recently, an old friend posted her pregnancy on social media. This was a friend who I used to see frequently, but life separated us and we lost touch. Her pregnancy announcement likely would have sent me into deep sobs, grieving what I couldn’t have. Instead, I was incredibly happy for her.

People often ask me if we plan to find out the sex of the baby while pregnant, and we say no. We plan to take a gender neutral approach to parenting, but also it’s one piece of the pregnancy we get to leave as a surprise. Everything up to this point included lots of appointments, blood draws, tests, and nerve-wracking calls. The sex, though, we get to live with that little mystery for a few months, and that’s exciting.

In a way, I have moved on from the version of myself struggling with infertility. I am now focused on being pregnant and becoming a mother, but I have not, nor will I ever, forget our struggle. We went through some pretty dark and deep valleys to get here, and while I am so grateful we were able to get to our baby, those difficult moments were instrumental to my path. Writing this out has helped me reflect on and accept our story. I wouldn’t have chosen infertility to be a part of our path to parenthood, but I do not resent it. Our baby needed more time, more resources, and a little bit of science to get to us, and that’s OK. I am just so incredibly thankful and excited to be a mom and to bring this little one into the world that the rest of it seems worth it.

We had our 20-week ultrasound this week. It was the first time I got to do an external ultrasound, and we spent nearly an hour looking at various parts of the baby’s body. The heartbeat was still healthy, and all other measurements fell into healthy ranges.

At the beginning of this fertility journey, there were so many times I went in for ultrasounds only to see empty gray areas. I wondered what it would feel like to actually see a baby in there wiggling around. This week, it was no longer a wonder. A tear streamed down as I watch our baby move inside me, knowing it’s just a matter of weeks until the little one was in my arms.

Our baby was too busy to have their photo taken, so all of our photos are a bit wiggly.

Published by The Running Therapist

A runner, writer, and therapist in training.

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