I have a pretty good excuse...I think... I may be biased. Read ahead to see what I've been up to!
The day I was born, the announcement of the birth of the first frozen embryo transfer baby was the headline in the national newspaper. Though insignificant to you now, dear reader, this sentence will give you chills in approximately 2500 words. This is only the beginning of my story.
The desire to be a mother was placed in me from the moment my first baby sister was born. It grew with each birth of a new sister (three in total) and much to the chagrin of you the youngest, molded me into her second mother, a role I was happy to take upon myself. Though I had thousands of other dreams that changed with the seasons, the career path of being a Mom was the only one that stuck. I love kids. Seriously. I love them. Though I find joy in other places, children are always a guaranteed way of making me feel absolute bliss. I was meant to have children.
And so begins the saga…
When we started trying for our own two years ago, I knew in my gut that something was amiss. My Doctor knew as well, and sent me to a specialist 6 months earlier than they would normally send any other woman.
Dr. T confirmed my suspicions. Rarity #1 – I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. Why is this rare? You ask. Because these are the some of the symptoms:
1) Obesity – Well scratch that off the list. Seriously, I need to eat some donuts or something.
2) Abnormal hair growth – I shave my legs once a month, if that. The hair on my head is so thin, it takes literally 5 minutes to dry. I clearly don’t have an excessive hair issue.
Because I didn’t exhibit any of these symptoms growing up, it was never caught.
Women with PCOS have trouble ovulating because of the amount of cysts that grow in their ovaries. Normal women have a couple of follicles that generally develop into 1 or 2 eggs. In my body, 10-12 follicles would appear each month that would never develop into mature eggs. Don’t despair! I was told. This can easily be fixed with monthly doses of Seraphine, an ovulation stimulant.
Month 1 – I took those pills religiously. A slight change was noted in the cysts growth, but took a very long time to develop into anything substantial. Obviously, no pregnancy.
The second month, I was given a shot of extra hormones to jumpstart things. Nothing.
The third month the Dr. was on holidays so I had to skip the cycle and try something on the next. Here I began to learn the art of patience.
The fourth month, I was still waiting for another cycle to begin. Torture.
The fifth month, I began heavy duty injections to really get things going. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of needles as I had to shoot up in the bathroom every day. I still wonder what my garbage man thought I was doing every month. (Don’t worry, I’m responsible and threw the actual needles in a sharps bin. There were just loads of empty syringes and little tiny saline bottles)
I went in for my regular scan this month, really hoping that something would have happened.
The Dr. looked and me and told me he was baffled. He had never seen ovaries so stubborn and wasn’t sure what to do with me. I went home and wept. Rage at God began to take over. I can’t have kids, I thought. This is a cruel joke. I couldn’t function. My dream for my LIFE was falling apart in front of me. I was at a complete and utter loss as to what to do with myself. There were no answers.
After speaking with his colleagues at Genesis Fertility Clinic in Vancouver (and causing quite the hubbub of activity with my strange case), Dr. T gave us another option: Go on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) stimulants and try to get some sort of activity in my stubborn lady parts. The issue with this was the risk of hyper-stimulating the ovaries and causing 10-12 eggs to develop. In this case, they would suggest converting the cycle to IVF (fertilizing my eggs in a lab instead of letting us try naturally), freezing the extra eggs, and implanting only 1 or 2 back. Setback? This would cost around $7000.
Though I was still in a state of despair, the little voice of hope whispered in the back of my mind, nudging me forward even though I was terrified of being crushed once again. For some reason, I couldn’t give up yet. We decided to forget the cost, deal with our “baby loan” later and do what had to be done. Watch out! Those who manage to get through a university degree without student loans may be hit hard later.
The seventh month, I started on crazy injections.
Now let me tell you, I feel for diabetics. Your life begins to revolve around these silly ounces of medication you have to shoot into your body in order to survive. For me, it wasn’t insulin I was using to live, it was shots of hope. It was all I could hold onto. Despite the rash and the bruises all over my stomach where I had to inject every morning and evening, something pushed me on.
What I thought would finally be my last day of injections, I went for a scan. Sitting in the exam room, vulnerable from the waist down (let me tell you, that gets old pretty fast), I was shaking like a leaf.
The horrible words came again. Nothing much to report. Just a whole shitload of tiny follicles. Pardon my language, but sometimes these situations call for foul and strong vernacular.
Seriously? SERIOUSLY? My ovaries were that resistant? What war did they think they were trying to win here?
Dr. T, determined to conquer these two beasts, gave me a couple more days of shots and said to come back for a scan in a couple of days. It was still early.
Two days later, I went in for another scan, shaking like a full out tree in a windstorm this time.
There were two follicles that had grown to medium size.
A couple more days, he said. They’re growing slowly. I’d heard that before.
Here’s where things get interesting. A detail I forgot to mention. When Daniel and I got married, we began attending a church where we instantly connected to a small group of 8 couples. Unbenownst to us at the time, 6 of these 8 couples would have fertility issues along the way. Co-incidence? I think not.
The Friday following my appointment, we met with this group for our weekly bible study. Though they had all been fervently praying through this entire process, we decided to bring out the big guns this time. There was oil, there was some anointing, there was definitely the laying of hands. Sound weird? Maybe! Keep reading. We believed those biblical promises with all our hearts and prayed for those 2 little eggs to grow.
Saturday morning, I went for another scan.
Two healthy, juicy eggs.
Give them a couple more days to grow, and you’ll be ready to ovulate! The Dr. said. I cried with joy (literally) as I called my God-made support group to announce the good news.
Monday, I went back to check on my little guys. There was a funny look on the Dr’s face as he scanned me. We’ll call you in the afternoon with your bloodwork results, was all he said. The fear started to creep back in.
That afternoon, at exactly 4:15, they called me. Change of plans. Prayers worked…but too well.
There was still 1 egg growing and ready to drop, BUT there were several more that could potentially develop with continued stims and then we could do the convert to IVF. In this case, we’d be taking a risk as the healthy egg would be absorbed and we would have to wait to see if the other ones really did make it. However, as we want a big family, this was the option the Dr. suggested. We had 20 minutes to make the biggest decision of our lives. So many questions ran through my head.. What if they don’t develop? What if this is the last chance I have to even have an egg and I waste it? What if? What if? What if?
I sat outside the office crying to my Mom, not knowing what to do. Pray. She said. We’ll pray.
As I was an emotional wreck, Daniel had to be the leader he is and make the decision he thought would be best for our family. We would risk it.
I continued the shots for the next couple of days. My stomach was starting to get used to them by now. I had abs of steel, literally.
Then I got the stomach flu.
I showed up at my appointment and sent the nurses into a tizzy when I told them the reason I looked like death was because I was barfing all night. Apparently one of the signs of Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome is throwing up. This was NOT good. It’s a very serious condition that can be really bad. Like, I’m talking in the hospital, on your deathbed, bad.
Luckily, it was just the stomach flu. But I was still showing signs of the syndrome. Guess why?
Appointment number 416, I sat on the table, praying with all my might that there would be something there. Anything! Even just 1 or 2!
There were multiple.
When I say multiple, my friends, I’m talking 20+. This explained the terribly bloated belly. My ovaries were literally the size of grapefruits.
Once again, the bad news washed over me like a horribly frigid bath. Not only are you in terrible pain, but this many eggs means really low quality. Though they had developed past the follicle stage, they may not have any insides and therefore, not be able to grow past a certain point. The doctor suggested we go ahead with the extraction and fertilization of the eggs, but to be prepared that we would probably only get 1 if we were lucky. $7000 on MAYBE one egg? We chose to believe that God had gotten us this far, he would keep us going.
I showed up at the clinic on the morning of our extraction, doubled over in pain with a stomach the size of a 4 months pregnant lady (sans the baby) but hoping for the best.
They extracted 27 eggs. Holy crap is right.
Now here’s some math:
27 eggs extracted
27 eggs fertilized
17 survived the 3 day test
8 survived to blastocyst stage (ready to implant)
Can you say crazy? Let me quote verbatim what we had been told way back in the day
“If you want to have 4 kids, ideally I would suggest freezing around 8 eggs,”
If you are still denying that God had his hand right deep down there in this whole mess, keep reading.
In order to give my poor body a rest and time to recuperate, we decided to wait a month. They would freeze our little embryos, then when we were ready, defrost them (I’m hoping they didn’t use a microwave, I don’t want alien children) and transfer them back into my prepped uterus.
The month of waiting was surprisingly not very torturous. By this time, I believe I had mastered the art of patience.
I’d like to take one moment here to mention the fact that I had reached a point of feeling so sure and so comforted by the miracles God had already performed. I was convinced without a doubt that the transfer the following month would work. I knew that God was good and wouldn’t bring us this far just to say, “Haha, take this, I’m going to crush your dreams again”. He’s not like that.
And so we waited
Surprisingly, the transfer process is very simple. You take some estrogen (pill), you take some progesterone (another pill) and when your uterus has a nice thick lining, they shoot a catheter up into your business and let those embryos fly (Too graphic? Too bad. I’ve gotten over normal social conventions by now). It takes 5 minutes, literally.
December 5th, I had my first transfer. December 19th, I found out it wasn’t successful.
I am going to be frank here, I was pissed off. I was angry and I was hurt and I was very, very disappointed. To me, they had placed something alive into my body and now it was alive no longer. The doctors would call it attachment failure. I say, my embryo, my baby, died. To understand this, you must understand that I see life at the moment an egg and a sperm unite to create something that doesn’t naturally exist. I realize that many don’t share my views, but it doesn’t make them any less real to me. I had to grieve. I am still grieving. It was incredibly painful, and I didn’t get over it easily.
But the story continues.
By this point, I was angry with God. Everything I thought was true seemed to be a lie. I believed with all my heart that it was going to work. Then it didn’t. I wish I could say that God came down in a bolt of lightning with a glowing heavenly telegram (or email in this day and age) that gave me an answer, but he didn’t. I still don’t know why we had to go through that, but I choose to believe that my small perception of this life is no match to what God has laid out for me. I chose then and choose now to believe that he knows best, even when I can’t explain it.
Ehem. Well that was heartfelt. Let’s get to the happy part, shall we?
January 9th, we went back for another transfer. This time we decided to transfer two embryos with the hopes that it would up our chances of having at least one. Same as last time – pills, scan, catheter, see ya later, wait.
When I saw the positive sign on the test 2 weeks later, I screamed and told God he better not be shitting me. Again, sometimes profane language is called for. He wasn’t! It was true. But this couldn’t be the end of the story, could it? Of course not! I have come to accept my life just is simply not normal.
I started bleeding 2 days later. If any of you know my husband, you’ll know that he is the perfect counterpart to me, and is incapable of worry. His response to this? Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. Everything will be fine. NOT A BIG DEAL, MY FRIEND? Um, I’m pretty sure that bleeding is one of those great things about pregnancy that you get to miss out on for 9 months. Needless to say, I was terrified.
After 3 ER trips and several ultrasounds, they finally discovered the cause of this bleed – a failed twin pregnancy resulting in a blood clot that was slowly being expelled. Now, don’t ask me too much about this because I haven’t really thought about it yet and I’d prefer not to. I’m focusing on the good part – the baby I knew was there all along is totally fine! The bleed has nothing to do with him/her and will hopefully clear up by the 2nd trimester.
And now, if you’ve actually lasted this long, we are nearing the end.
As of today, our baby is healthy and growing. I don’t know what the future holds for this pregnancy, but I do know one thing. This is a miracle baby and God has his hand firmly entrenched in it all. My hope is that you, my dearly beloved and precious reader, can see a glimpse of that now too.
The day I was born, the birth of the first frozen embryo transfer baby was the headline in the national newspaper. Co-incidence? I don’t believe in that.
I look back on this entry and wish I could return to that optimistic, trusting girl that once truly believed it would all work out in the end. I don't have much to say, other than 5 years later, I'm still in shock that this even happened to us. Our baby was fine. We truly thought God's hand was holding us so strongly along the way. When I was fearful throughout my pregnancy with Quinn, I literally thought I heard him say "Don't worry, you've been through enough, I wouldn't do that to you."
I'm learning to trust again. Slowly. But it's so hard. And there are a lot of tears, and a lot of yelling, and a lot of bitterness and fear. And reading the words above, feels like I'm reading the words of a total stranger.
We had it all, and then we didn't.
I just want that baby, my baby, my Quinn.