Struggling With Fertility | Part 1
In 2011 I had emergency surgery to remove a pituitary brain tumor. Despite being quite a traumatic experience, I recovered quickly and continued unscathed for years before getting diagnosed with regrowth. I was told another surgery would be in my future if the tumor continued to grow and got large enough to warrant the primary surgery. I continued to go to regular checkups, and thankfully no additional growth was detected since the initial discovery. My endocrinologist asked me if I was interested in starting a family at an appointment. At the time, I was 29 years old and newly married. Children were always something I knew I wanted, but it wasn't my intention to begin trying that quickly. He then explained that given my medical history, it would be his recommendation to start sooner than later as tumors tend to expand during pregnancy. The last thing he wanted was for the tumor to continue to grow, and eventually, when I did want children, the possibly larger tumor might expand and may put me at risk of needing brain surgery while pregnant. Soon after, my husband and I started trying, and we are so thankful we did because it ended up taking us five years to have our daughter.
For one year, I did everything someone on their TTC (trying to conceive) journey would be expected to do. I tracked my menstrual cycles and ovulation, took many vitamins, and did acupuncture. You name it. I did it! Month after month, we would be confronted with negative pregnancy tests. We circled back with my endocrinologist and got referred to a local fertility clinic. Little did I know I was 1 in every six women deemed to face challenges with infertility. After our initial consultation with the fertility doctor, my husband and I began doing the preliminary tests. They tested my husband's overall health and the health and mobility of his sperm. Tests for me were ongoing and consisted of numerous blood tests, ultrasounds, and pelvic, cervical, and uterine exams. Some were very mild, and others quite physically painful. As the results of our tests came in, I was told I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). In a nutshell, I had very irregular mental cycles, did not always ovulate regularly, and produced more eggs than the average; however, not all my eggs were "good eggs" and were labelled as 'brittle.' Thankfully, my husband's health was perfect, so immediately I felt the guilt of being somewhat "broken" or "inadequate" sunk in. That little voice in my head scolding me for not doing the one thing I was physically built to do on this earth, procreate, was louder than ever!
Our doctor weighed out our options which were IUI (IntraUterine Insemination) and IVF (InVitro Fertilization). My husband and my initial concerns were the financial strain and physical toll it would have on my body, but more than anything managing my emotional well-being was by far the most significant hurdle for both my husband and I. It felt like our newly wed bliss was somehow coming to a halt as we had to face this new reality of navigating this new journey together. We proceeded with IUI treatment. The chances of success, we were told, were less than 20%, which was utterly disheartening to hear given the big price tag and exhaustive process. Despite all this, I was bright-eyed and hopeful. I practiced daily mindfulness and did everything in my power to push any fragment of negativity/doubt out of my mind. As I led up to the transfer, I had to prime my body by starting hormone therapy/stimulation or what some refer to as "stems." This meant administering 3-4 hormone injections daily into my stomach. The first time doing this, I had a panic attack at home and ended up calling my nurse friend to help administer it. After the 3rd or 4th day, I had mastered self-administering my stems and had a beautiful bruised, leopard print stomach to prove it. The hormones themselves were wild. Lots of ups and downs, most of which I had little to no control over. It did not help that I felt completely overwhelmed with information, anxiety, fear, and frustration, IUI number 1 was unsuccessful… IUI 2, unsuccessful… IUI 3, unsuccessful.
I knew the chances of success were slim, but with every failed attempt, my heart sank lower and the glimmer of hope I once had dimmed. I realized I might not be one of the lucky women I watched on YouTube, sharing their IUI success stories and that I might end up being one of the many women I came across on forums and in online support groups who had been on their journey for ten plus years. My 4th round of IUI sadly halted and had to be cancelled when my doctor could not identify any mature follicles necessary for us to proceed. This was soul-crushing when so much went into preparing for the procedure. After the cancellation, my husband and I decided to take a break. My doctor felt our best chance of success would be IVF, so we took several months to save up for the procedure. My doctor reassured me that I would get pregnant. It would just be a matter of time and financial resources… not precisely the reassurance I was hoping to receive after so much disappointment and already thousands of dollars into the failed IUI treatments.
When my husband and I had off treatments, we continued to try the old-fashioned way, using ovulation strips, monitoring my menstrual cycle, and continuing acupuncture. Within that time, I got pregnant twice and lost both pregnancies within the first trimester. After the pregnancy losses, my mental health suffered tremendously. I knew I needed to do significant work on my mental health. I focused on improving my health, worked out regularly, took my vitamins, ate a clean diet, tried to be more communicative with friends and family about my mental health, took a social media hiatus, continued with acupuncture, and did a lot of mindfulness exercises. Eventually, I felt like I had regained my footing again, and we proceeded with treatment. At this point, I felt reinvigorated and was convinced my visualizations would manifest themselves. The process of IVF took a couple of months. There were many ups and downs along the way as we did stems once more.
Danielle is wearing Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra in Roseclay
We ended up doing genetic testing, and of the five embryos, one was labelled abnormal and was later discarded, two normal, and 2 'mosaic,' which meant they could lead to either a normal, full-term pregnancy or could result in us miscarrying or having a child with some abnormality/ disability/ learning deficiency. We transferred 1 of our two normal embryos and hoped for the best. Despite our efforts, everything crumbled when I found out the procedure was unsuccessful. At this point, I wanted to give up entirely and didn't know if I had it in me to keep going. I also began to notice that my husband, who up until this point was a pillar of strength for me, also started to show signs of exhaustion and overwhelm. The endless disappointment and energy it took to 'stay strong and positive' became too much for us. Throughout the journey, I came to acknowledge the immense privilege of being able to carry, birth, and raise a child. I realized the privilege my husband and I had to access resources to help us achieve parenthood. But it didn't make the journey any easier. Sharing my story with friends, family, and others became a way for me to not only create space to talk about infertility and mental health, but it was also a way for me to honor our journey and acknowledge the strength my husband and I had, despite feeling powerless the majority of the way.