As little girls, we grow up thinking about our future and planning for our husband and our wedding day and our marriage and having babies and all those fun things that are so exciting to talk about and plan for. One thing that the majority of us do not plan for is infertility, something that very few of us think about until we’re actually trying to get pregnant. According to the world health organization, one in four couples globally struggle with infertility and it’s just something that we need to talk more about.
I had the chance to meet a really inspiring woman named Melissa who went through years of infertility before one day discovering that she was miraculously pregnant! This is her story:
I first went to my OB-GYN and said, ‘hey, I’m thinking about wanting to start a family, but I want to make sure there’s nothing wrong with me that would prohibit me from having a baby.’ They did a bunch of blood work and then a couple of days later I got a call from my doctor. He left me a voicemail that my AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) levels came back really low, which means that the egg reserve that I had in my body was significantly lower than most people my age.
He said to try for three months and if it doesn’t happen, then come back and see him. I just was like, what?! I didn’t think I was going to have any issue getting pregnant. Growing up, you’re just told, ‘use protection and you won’t get pregnant.’ I thought when I wanted to get pregnant, it was just supposed to happen.
After that point we tried for about a year. I was doing a lot of ovulation monitoring and all the crazy stuff that everybody, who I’m sure wants to get pregnant, is doing. That’s kind of like your first intro into having fertility issues… all of a sudden if it doesn’t happen naturally, then you’re doing all these crazy things. You’re monitoring when you’re ovulating and having weird conversations with your husband about when you’re supposed to be having intercourse, because everything’s timed. It just kind of starts to get a little crazy when you are trying to do it in a very calculated way and it’s not really fun.
So we did that for about a year and then I was like, okay, I think we should go back in. I don’t know why when he said to try for three months, I didn’t just go back in immediately. I don’t think I wanted to accept that maybe there was going to be a struggle, and that scared me a little bit. I think you can tend to want to drag your feet. I did that and I regret it.
The one thing I would tell people is, the timing that it takes, if you have to go down this road, is a lot longer than you think it’s going to be. Every step is medical and just takes a lot more time than you think.
After a year, we went to our first fertility doctor and talked to him about wanting to start a family and how long we’d been trying. They ran more tests on both my husband and I and It turns out it really was my issue of just having a low quality and quantity of eggs. But there’s nothing you can really do to fix that. I can’t produce more eggs. I can’t take any medicines to make them better or stronger. You’re just born with what you’re born with as a woman.
My eggs were acting 10 years older than I actually was. So when I was 30, they felt that they were 40. So we started with intrauterine insemination (IUI), which is basically what I like to call the turkey basting method. It is more cost efficient and kind of a first step into the fertility stuff. We ended up doing three IUI’s. You take some medications up until the procedure, and then you take a shot to make your eggs drop into your uterus, and then they basically take your husband’s sperm and push it up into your uterus at the time that your eggs drop.
You would think that the two are sitting there at the perfect time and then the sperm and the egg just have to do the work too.
The one thing I would say, and this is just my personal experience, but don’t waste a ton of time and money on it if you are really wanting to start your family. Because they are like $2,0000 to $3,000 a pop if insurance doesn’t cover your fertility stuff, which mine didn’t.
I wish I had taken that money and just gone straight to IVF. It’s just is a little more invasive. But it’s whatever you can handle as a woman.
When I decided to start IVF, one of the first things I got is one of those over the door, shoe rack organizers for all of the meds. I wanted to have all of the syringes and the meds organized, because it’s just too much.
The schedule itself is also very intense. It’s about two to two and a half weeks of shots every single day and night. I was traveling for work and had to have coworkers give them to me. But my husband was really the godsend, he did all of that stuff and kept track of everything. I just kind of managed the schedule, but you almost have to have something out on your countertop telling you step-by-step what to do.
What we were shocked about is, I mean, you’re basically mixing medicines and giving yourself injections, like. At home, just the two of you. I remember he and I just like looking at each other, like, ‘why are they trusting us to mix these meds?’ And, you know, there were times where he would give the wrong dose or something and we would freak out.
It’s the two of you, battling it together and figuring it out. My husband is afraid of needles and blood, and I remember one time, he injected me, and blood came out a little bit and he dropped to his knees and I was like, ‘really?! I can’t have you passing out right now. It’s not helpful.’
So our first round was definitely intense. There’s physical side, of just that many drugs going into your system and how it’s making you react. Then there’s the emotional side, too, of just having to be strong, to do all of that, because both you and your spouse are trying to stay strong for each other, and nobody wants to break down. But it’s just, it’s a lot, especially in those two weeks when you’re doing all of that stuff and taking all those meds.
Not only that, but from a scheduling standpoint too, you’re going into the doctor’s office every other day to get tested and see how your eggs are growing and all of that stuff.
What’s really hard, and what I would love to see changed at some point, is that insurance does not cover IVF for the majority of people. They say it’s elective for you to want to start your family in that way. It’s hard because the financial burden on top of the emotional and physical burden of what you’re going through is not fair to anybody who’s going through it. If you want to start a family, you should be able to do that and feel like you can do that and not be held back by the financial aspect, because it’s not fair to any woman out there who wants to grow her family to have to sit in those financial meetings on top of everything else and have to come up with that much money.
A lot of people who try when they’re 25, 26, just started their career. You’re not making that much money to where you have a disposable income that you can just spend $20,000 in one round of IVF. That is what I think is so unfortunate. I think you should be able to do it and figure out how to start a family.
A lot of people have unexplained infertility too, but the answer shouldn’t be either you have the money or you’re going severely into debt. I think so many people are going severely into debt because of it. I just think it would be great if insurance would cover more people.
The reason it is so expensive is because the science is so incredible behind what they’re doing. There is that aspect too, where, you know, it is a fairly new, a lot of the things that they are doing with IVF. Maybe down the road it will get cheaper the more they do it, but at least it’s available.
After we did our first round of IVF, I think I got 10 eggs and all of them were fertilized. They basically call you every few days to tell you how many eggs are in the Petri dish. They’re trying to see how they grow, and how the cells grow and divide over that time. The majority of them will die off just because they’re not in a natural environment.
At the end of that first round, I had one embryo that we froze and did genetic testing on and it came back genetically perfect. We were really excited because it was an A grade embryo, which is like the best you can get. At that point, all we had to do was go through the process to insert the embryo.
I was just thinking, ‘great, I’m going to be pregnant with this perfect embryo.’ Once you go through the first round of IVF and then they freeze the embryo, you need to take a month off to get all the drugs out of your system, because they don’t want to put the embryo in your body with all those drugs. You have to take a month off, which is what I was saying earlier about the timing. It’s really a three-month process when you think about it.
When we went back doctor, they put me on an operating table and they basically have a video up, showing them inserting the embryo into your uterus. I had taken drugs up until that point to make sure that my uterus was ready to handle the embryo going in. Then I laid there for a couple of hours and then they let us go home. Then you wait two weeks and go back in and see if you’re pregnant or not.
We did what you’re not supposed to do and took a pregnancy test the morning that we were supposed to go in for the follow up. We were just so excited and I just wanted to see. There’s actually a video of us taking the pregnancy test, because we just l knew we were going to be pregnant. But it was negative.
I had to go back in to see the doctor that morning and confirm with the blood work. I just remember sitting there and I balling in that doctor’s office because I just was so distraught. We had only had one embryo make it. A lot of people who do IVF hopefully have multiple embryos frozen so that all you have to do is go back and keep getting them put back in until hopefully it takes.
But we just knew at that point we would have to start all over again with all of the drugs and everything.
That’s just one of those things that’s unexplained. From there, I just like had to recover a little bit. I couldn’t go right back into doing it again because it was, it was heartbreaking.
I felt like my body had done something to reject it, you know, and I felt guilty about it. I felt so much guilt and sadness because I felt like my head husband deserved a baby so much. I wanted to see him be a father. It was my [body that was a problem. Like I was the issue and like, he was fine.
You start to go down these like really bad holes in your mind of, ‘well, maybe we should just get divorced because he’s fine, and he deserves a family and I can’t give it to him.’
The crazy part is, they jack you up on all those drugs and there’s so much stuff running through your body and they don’t give you anything to taper off of them. So you just kind of crash. They all come out of you, cold turkey and your hormones are off the charts.
That part was a bit of a challenge. I think you don’t really know what it’s like until you get out of it and can look back a little bit. I just didn’t realize how depressed I was until now, when I’m sort of on the other side. How I was coping was not the best.
In order for me to survive through it, I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t bring that all to the surface, because I just felt like I couldn’t get through it and I couldn’t be strong enough. I just felt like I couldn’t feel what I was really going on.
After all of that, we found a new doctor and started with our second round of IVF. He suggested a more aggressive drug treatment plan and we ended up getting eight eggs. But none of them fertilized or made it to the end. I just remember I was at work when I found out and I lost it. I tried to walk to my boss’s desk so that I could tell her I had to leave. She just like looked at me and escorted me out. I felt really defeated that day and I just was like, ‘what am I doing?’
At that point it was probably close to $50,000 that we had spent. I’ve never spent that kind of money and not gotten to anything in return.
I just kept thinking about my future and my family and was wondering, ‘am I just putting us in a bad position by doing this?’ I just not feeling very much hope at that point.
My husband was also heartbroken. I think what doesn’t get acknowledged is what the husbands go through because they’re having to watch us go through the physical part. I think he probably felt like he couldn’t mourn the loss of these cycles that we had gone through because he always felt like he had to stay strong for me, because it was like I was going to be the one that was going to lose it. I don’t feel like he ever got to also experience or feel that loss like he probably wanted to.
I think it started to take a toll on him too, because his friends started to have more and more kids and start their families. I think it was hard for him to just continue to watch me go through all of that stuff.
During this time, I was a little bit of a glutton for punishment. I would want to plan every friend’s baby shower. I don’t know what that was about. I just felt like there was a part of me that felt like even though I felt alone in it, I didn’t want any of my friends to ever have to experience it. What started to happen over time is that I think it was just too hard for some of my friends to understand how to be there for me, because I think they were sad for me, but didn’t know how to express it.
The friends that I had that would ask me about it and just say, ‘how are you doing?’ I’m thinking about you,’ and not act like it’s this big elephant in the room, made me feel better. It helped me if I was able to be open and honest and talk about it. If you have friends who are going through it, it’s helpful to say, ‘how can I be there for you? How can I support you through this?’
Then I had my second round of IVF and there were no viable embryos at all. After that I took another break because I do believe that those breaks in between are important. Financially you kind of have to build back up, but also just mentally, it’s important to disconnect from it and recover.
When I was taking time off, I was connected with a girl that I work with who now is such a godsend to me. She had had a lot of recurrent miscarriages and she was going to a specialist and even though I had never been pregnant, she said I should just go talk to him because maybe when they put the embryo in, there was something up with my uterus.
That is one thing that the IVF doctors aren’t really looking at. They are just doing all the science and putting it all together, and then yes, they’re giving you drugs to make your body ready. But I don’t know if they’re really looking at what the environment is like internally, to see if the embryo going into it is going to be able to like stick and take.
I thought it wouldn’t hurt to just make sure that my body was in a good place to accept an embryo, so I started going to that specialist and he did a surgery on me because basically my uterus was really callused over after a lot of years of taking a lot of birth control.
I just don’t think they do a good job talking about the long-term effects of taking a lot of birth control over multiple years. I don’t think that birth control affects everyone in that way. I’m not saying everyone should get off birth control. I’m just saying, we should think about what it can do to fertility.
I think these conversations have started now about freezing your eggs when you’re younger and doing a lot of things that weren’t really ever talked about before. I mean, for me growing up, it was always just like, don’t get pregnant, be on birth control. Now I think there’s a lot more conversation out there about it, which is good.
So I had surgery to get the blood flowing back into my uterus and also make sure it was a really nice environment. After the surgery, the specialist recommended me to a new IVF doctor.
Then I went through a third round of IVF. I was on the highest doses of all the medicine, but I did get 12 eggs out of that cycle. I remember the embryologist calling on Thanksgiving saying that there was one egg that was viable, but it was a C grade.
It’s not a very good grade, but I was thinking about all of the people who get pregnant, you have no idea what quality of egg you got pregnant with. I was just thanking God that there was one egg that made it. I was just so happy and so excited at that point.
We did the genetic testing on the egg and it came back genetically abnormal, so they had to discard it. I was left with nothing again.
At that point I decided I did not want to spend another dime when we were not getting anything in return. I needed to accept that biologically I may not have my own child, but I did want a family. I didn’t want to wait anymore. At that point I was 34 or 35 and I was ready. I was tired of the heartache and wanted to put my money towards something that was going to help us be able to have a family.
We talked about adoption or going with an egg donor.
The egg donor route was something that felt very emotional. How do you look through a bank of women and try to pick one to put with your husband’s sperm and then make a baby? There are egg donor banks where you basically are given profiles of girls and in most cases they’re putting themselves through school or something like that. They get paid around $10,000 or more to donate eggs. They then put their eggs with your husband’s sperm and make good quality embryos that they then put inside of me so I could physically be pregnant and carry the child.
We ultimately landed there, because at least the baby would have my husband’s DNA. But it took me a while to get there because I was having such a hard time looking at these girls and thinking, how do I pick? That part was really heartbreaking, but I just had to look at it as a business transaction.
Adoption, if we wanted an infant, was around $50,000 and that’s a super long road, that was what was the struggle for us. The timing is not a guarantee. It can take a really long time to start a family that way.
At that point it had taken so long for us to get to where we were that we just wanted to start the family already, so we decided to go the egg donor route and identified a girl up in Philadelphia who was putting herself through law school and we were ready to cut her a check.
I decided to go on a girl’s trip to Mexico with my girlfriends, I hadn’t been going to Mexico because of Zika, but I was finally like, ‘screw it. I’m not getting pregnant. I’m going to Mexico!’ When I got back, my stomach was really bothering me – all of our stomachs were bothering us. So I was like, ‘I’m going to go to Care Now, and I will figure out what’s wrong with all of us and report back.’ I went into Care Now and they said a lot of people were coming back from Mexico with a particular bacteria and that they would give me some antibiotics and I would be fine. I said, ‘could it be Zika?’ and she said, ‘that only matters if you could be pregnant, could you be pregnant?’ And I was like, ‘no, it’s like physically impossible for me to be pregnant.’ She asked me what my last cycle was, and I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t keep track of that.’ She said I should go ahead and take a test, and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to take a test!’ I was annoyed, I just wanted the antibiotics.
But they made me take a pregnancy test and she walked back in and she said, ‘you’re pregnant.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not, you must have switched the test up with someone else. That is not my test. I mean, there’s just no way.’ I asked her to run it again. I just could not believe it. And she walked back in and she’s said, ‘look, it’s two lines before it’s even done running, you’re pregnant and I have to send you to the emergency room now because you’ve just gotten back from Mexico and you could have Zika. As part of our protocol, we have to send you to the emergency room.’
I was hyperventilating and sobbing because my initial thought was, something is wrong. I felt joy, but I was immediately scared. I just couldn’t believe it was possible. I had gone through so many years of wanting this so bad and had kind of put it to bed and now they are telling me that I somehow naturally got pregnant. I hear about these stories happening to other people, but I couldn’t believe it was happening to us.
The next couple of weeks were scary. I told you earlier about the godsend specialty doctor that I had. I called him that night and they answered the phone and I was in his office the next morning at 8:00 AM. He specializes in preventing miscarriage. So he put me on a concoction of shots that I took for the first 12 weeks, twice a day, and a bunch of drugs and other things to make sure that the baby took, and this baby made it!
I still feel really blessed, because if you think about it, all of the IVF and fertility drugs didn’t work for me, but I still believe in it and in the science and all of that. I don’t know how I was blessed enough to just have him naturally after all this time, knowing that my egg reserve is not there. The quality is not there.
During my last round of IVF, my doctor said, ‘look, I’ll keep doing this with you and you can keep going, because somewhere in there there’s probably a few good eggs left, but I just can’t tell you when in a cycle that you’ll actually get it.’
I think this baby just ended up being one of my good eggs that was left.