It feels very strange writing this post. Partly because we’re here - we’ve seen the two pink lines, something I was afraid might never happen - partly because I’m afraid talking about it might jinx something - but mostly because I know there are stories out there with a whole lot more twists and turns than ours. I’ve learned as we’ve gone through this that being 1 in 8 (couples who experience fertility struggles) can be comforting, but also so lonely because you’re afraid to share what you’re going through - afraid to complain because you know so many people have it worse than you do. But I want to share our story for a couple of reasons - so I can remember what we went through, but also because I poured over blogs like these when we were in the thick of things and the stories gave me so much to consider and mostly, so much hope. I hope I can do that for someone, too.
So let’s start at the beginning…ish. Andrew was set to graduate law school in May of 2018. We’d agreed that we wouldn’t start trying before then because we wanted to make sure he’d at least be employed before we started growing our family. But a year before that, in May of 2017, I’d had it with birth control and pumping my body with excess hormones. Between the acne and weight gain and mood swings and all the lovely things that come along with the Pill, I hated feeling like I wasn’t in control of my own body or own emotions (even on the lowest dosage pill available) and I was at my wit’s end. I quit taking it and we agreed to “be careful” for a year. As part of “being careful,” but also out of curiosity, I started tracking my cycles - I had no clue how or if my body would regulate. Little did we know, we probably could’ve been as un-careful as we wanted … #irony.
Surprisingly, my cycle regulated almost immediately. I used the Ovia app to keep track of things and by the time Andrew’s graduation rolled around the next May, I figured getting pregnant should be fairly easy. I could predict things to the day, always knew when my “window” was and never anticipated any issues. A friend had an Ava bracelet she wasn’t using so I started wearing that at night too, just to have an even better idea of my stats.
What is going on
In August 2018, after 14 months of consistent 29-day cycles, that number stretched out to 31 days. 32, 33, 34, 35 … I told myself I’d take a pregnancy test on day 37 (I’m not the person who takes a test the first day they miss. I wanted to be good and sure). I went to bed on day 36 ready to bust out that test the next morning, smiling as I went to sleep because there was no way I could be this late and not be pregnant, right? That morning at 4 a.m. I woke up with cramps and pain all too familiar. What. The heck.
A friend consoled me saying maybe it was a chemical pregnancy that just didn’t take … maybe it’s a super early miscarriage and you really were pregnant. Maybe … there’d be no way for us to ever know. I just wanted September to get here so we could try again. Again, day 30 rolled around … 31, 32, 33 … my hopes rising with each passing day. This time I took a test on day 35. It wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for. Two days later it was a no for sure, and at that point, I knew something was off.
A lightbulb moment
I’ve taken daily medication for an underactive thyroid since I was 11 years old. Got my levels checked every six months and for almost two decades, the medicine had been doing its job. But I had a lightbulb moment when a friend who’d been going through fertility treatments mentioned her underactive thyroid was causing her body to not ovulate, which causes extra long cycles. I put two and two together and figured it couldn’t hurt to have my levels checked again, just in case. I scheduled an appointment with an OBGYN for thyroid bloodwork and an exploratory sonogram, just to be ahead of the game. Sure enough, my thyroid levels had somehow gone wonky during the past few months and in fact, I probably hadn’t been ovulating. The OB didn’t find anything concerning on the sonogram, so he adjusted my medication dosage, suggested an HSG (another exploratory test), and sent me on my way.
November. At this point we’d been actively trying for only 6 months. Most fertility clinics won’t even see you until you’ve been trying for at least a year, so I was trying my best to be patient and thankful that the OB at least referred me for the HSG to confirm that it was, in fact, my thyroid causing the lack of ovulation and not a different issue. I went in, they pumped my reproductive system full of dye and a screen lit up, showing my fallopian tubes were open and not blocked - a good thing - but I could see concern on the doctor’s face as he scanned down over my uterus. What should’ve been shaped like an upside down triangle was shaped like a T. My cavity was extremely narrow. The nurse assured me that people with narrow uteruses can still get pregnant, but she didn’t sugarcoat things. It can make things difficult, she told me. I got to my car, called Andrew bawling, and left that day with a referral to a fertility clinic and an overwhelming fear that this may never happen for us.
The waiting room
A couple of weeks later, Andrew and I went for our initial consultation at the fertility clinic (DFW Fertility Associates and yes, we love them). Sitting there in that waiting room with half a dozen other couples, knowing all of you are somehow in the same boat, feeling the same fears, was humbling. I was surprised when we got called back that we first met with the actual doctor in his office, not with a nurse in an exam room. He sat down with us and listened to us explain our health history and findings up to this point. I showed him the scan of my uterus and to my surprise, he said, “Oh, I’ve seen a lot worse. We can work with that.” He assured us he’d do his best to find a solution. Another sonogram with his staff later that afternoon showed something no one had found before - PCOS. Multiple cysts on my ovaries. Nothing a prescription couldn’t help, they said, so after Andrew had completed his part of the exam to make sure everything looked okay on his end, we were cleared to start Clomid in December. Baby steps. I was cautiously optimistic.
With Clomid, a drug that tells your body to produce multiple eggs at a time rather than just one, the calendar is an essential part of the equation. Taking the pills on certain days of your cycle (and doing the deed on certain days, too) is non-negotiable. To complicate things, our clinic required me to complete bloodwork on day 3 of my cycle before they’d call in the prescription, just as a precaution. Day 3 that month fell on Christmas Day. With the clinic closed and us out of town with family anyway, we’d missed our chance that month. I put the Ava bracelet away and just tried to get through the holidays without thinking about any of it.
Finally, in January, everything was lining up. I’d read about diet affecting fertility, especially PCOS, so I dove head first into Whole 30 that month and finished without cheating. I was determined. Eating all the right things, working out … our test was negative that cycle but I went into February with high hopes and the realization that as long as we were with the fertility clinic, getting my blood drawn would become a very frequent part of life. Seemed like I was back in that phlebotomist’s chair every dang week! After another negative test in February, my post-cycle bloodwork showed something else concerning. My prolactin levels (a hormone controlling several aspects of fertility) were off the charts, and not in a good way. The clinic referred me for an MRI of the pituitary gland at the base of my brain (where lots of hormones are produced) to check for a benign tumor, a common cause of high prolactin levels, at which point I just had to laugh. I’d gone from thyroid issues causing lack of ovulation, to finding out my uterus was misshapen, to a PCOS diagnosis, to an MRI of my freaking brain. Obstacle after obstacle, and we hadn’t even been at this a year. Fortunately the MRI showed nothing of concern, so I was put on yet another drug, Coburgilene, to help even out those levels. Our nurse assured us that many, many patients who pair Coburgilene with Clomid get pregnant super quickly. Maybe we were finally on track!
A new approach
Yet again, the calendar had to mess with things. I would be working out of town the weekend we needed to start Clomid and do all of that, so we decided that we’d take March off and come back in April - this time for Clomid and IUI. The way our clinic priced things, we paid $750 for a monitored Clomid cycle (Clomid with one round of bloodwork beforehand to confirm ideal hormone levels + another afterward to confirm ovulation), or we could pay $950 for Clomid plus IUI. That, for us, was a no-brainer. Our insurance covered none of this. Rather than another month of pills and crossing our fingers, why wouldn’t we pay 200 extra dollars for a procedure and give ourselves the best chance, outside of IVF, of conceiving?
I started my pack of Clomid on April 17. A pre-IUI sonogram on April 26 showed the Clomid had worked and I had 4 good follicles with eggs ready to go. The nurse counseled me about the possibility of having multiples if we chose to move forward, but I genuinely didn’t care. I’d take twins, even triplets at this point if it meant getting to be a mom. In hindsight, probably not the smartest logic, but she told me our chance of the IUI working at ALL was 15 percent. Fifteen. Of that, we had a 40% chance of twins and a 20% chance of triplets. Sign me up - no way was I waiting another month just to play the odds again. That night, Andrew gave me a shot in my stomach that forced my follicles to release the eggs. 36 hours later, on a Sunday morning, April 28, we went in for our IUI. I laid there for 10 minutes after the doctor finished, until a timer went off, and then went to our new house to paint all day before our furniture arrived the next week. It was surreal, knowing what we’d just done but going about our normal lives, not having any control over the final outcome.
On May 10, my brother graduated from A&M. That entire morning, I felt extremely bloated - to the point where I had to unbutton my pants under my shirt. I figured it might the two giant potato-filled breakfast tacos I’d had earlier, but in the back of my mind, I thought ‘PMS.’ Before we went out to lunch to celebrate, I went to the bathroom and saw blood. I was bummed, obviously, but that day was about Ben, not about me, so I fought back tears, put on a happy face and ordered 2 glasses of wine with lunch. For the next 3 days, more blood. It wasn’t as much as I was used to seeing, but it was blood and it’d been there for 4 days. On May 14 a friend texted to check on me and I told her I’d had blood for several days, just not as much as usual. To me, that meant a light period, but she wondered if it could actually be implantation spotting and begged me to take a pregnancy test. I grabbed the cheapest test they make - the paper one that comes with the box of 50 ovulation tests because I just knew it wasn’t worth wasting a perfectly good $8 pregnancy test, and waited.
Two. Pink. Lines.
The most surreal moment of my life. Staring at two tiny lines. One was faint as could be, but it was there. I chugged water and grabbed another test strip. This one was a little bit darker. I still wasn’t convinced. I grabbed a “legit” test - the plastic kind, not the cheap paper strip, chugged some more water, and saw two more lines appear shortly after. Still though, I needed to see it in WORDS. I ran to HEB, grabbed the fancy kind that says Pregnant or Not Pregnant in clear, plain English, ran home and waited again … Pregnant. I couldn’t even cry or let myself feel any emotion aside from pure, complete shock.
I’ll leave this story here for now … still so much I want to remember about how I told Andrew and my parents, the ugly realization that staying pregnant might be even more of a challenge than getting pregnant, and the road we’ve been down after a terrifying ER trip in July. But for now, I’m just thankful. So beyond thankful we’ve made it to this moment, with a tiny bump and a 17-week baby girl inside of me who I can feel rolling around late at night. It’s unreal and it’s the best miracle we could’ve ever asked for. Thank you, Lord.
More to come!