This Fertility Journey Is My Own
It’s been a while since I’ve written about anything on this blog, mainly because I haven’t had much to write about. But after Shady Grove Fertility, which I will henceforth refer to as SGF, highlighted the brief mention I gave them on my end-of-summer update, I decided that I want to write about my TTC (trying to conceive) experience and the incredible role SGF and its staff played in my fertility journey. (I will be using the pronouns “my” and “me,” but please recognize that this fertility journey is really an “us” and “we” experience that includes my spouse.) P.S. This post may be a bit on the long side, so settle in with a nice cup of coffee or tea.
My TTC journey began with another fertility clinic after the standard one year of trying on our own without success. This fertility clinic (whose name I will not mention) performed all the requisite tests on me but told my husband to have his semen analysis performed elsewhere. I figured that was fine. Of course, not every fertility clinic has its own laboratory on the premises.
I should mention that I’ve always had regular menstrual cycles ever since they began (which is why I thought I would get pregnant without a problem). The doctor at this fertility clinic put me on a low dose of Clomid on my first cycle with them. New to this portion of my TTC journey, I went along with it. Besides, Clomid would help stimulate my ovaries to produce at least two eggs instead of one! As I received my ultrasounds to monitor my egg production, I produced two good eggs as expected. My husband and I tried at home on our own for the first cycle. After that cycle ended, my period came as scheduled.
After receiving the results of my husband’s semen analysis from an outside lab, my doctor said that his sperm motility (ability of the sperm to swim up) was low. He suggested that my husband see a urologist for the problem and that we go straight to IVF (in-vitro fertilization). I was taken aback by the suggestion of IVF after our first cycle. Not only did we know that IVF was highly expensive, but we had also never considered it before. It seemed like an extreme step after only one year of trying and one failed cycle. We flat-out said no and were presented with the idea of IUI (intrauterine insemination) for our second cycle. After evaluating the cost of IUI, my husband and I felt like it was our best shot at pregnancy with a cost we could afford. In the meantime, I had an HSG (hysterosalpingogram) test performed to see if my fallopian tubes were blocked. A student doctor performed the procedure. She assured me that I’d be all right, but the test involved clamping my cervix which hurt beyond anything I had ever experienced. I don’t know if a medical doctor was actually present to oversee the procedure; I never saw him. I was awake during the procedure and felt that it possibly could have been handled better if a medical doctor had been attending.
My ovulation window fell on a weekend and the doctor scheduled to perform the IUI was not my regular doctor. (However, he was a doctor in the practice.) My husband and I went to the office with his semen sample where they “washed” it. Before the doctor performed the IUI, he informed me and my husband that sperm count was low and motility was low. In essence he said, “I don’t think this is going to work,” and went on to make a comment that made my husband feel less than a man. Then he performed the IUI, suggested we come back the next day for best results, and told me to lie down for 5-10 minutes. My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief after he left the room. My husband was already sensitive about his semen analysis results after our first cycle and to have a doctor demean him over something that he cannot control infuriated me. Yet, still hopeful that this doctor might be wrong, we returned the next day, paid for another round of IUI, and had it performed.
All our hope and prayers in the world did not prove this particular doctor wrong. We just wish he had been more hopeful and supportive of our chances rather than making us feel as though we’d flushed money down the toilet.
After our second failed cycle, we took a break from TTC. We did not go back to that fertility clinic. I made an appointment for my husband to go to the urologist. While he received treatment from the urologist over the course of a year, I reflected upon my disappointment with the fertility clinic. The atmosphere felt cold, impersonal, and factory-like. My experience opened my eyes to realize this fertility clinic was a business and that I was perceived as nothing more than a dollar sign to these doctors. I had hoped to be treated better as infertility is such a difficult and emotional stage in one’s life. It’s as if this fertility clinic took advantage of the emotions and desperation that people have in their desire to conceive.
In late 2012, my husband had a procedure performed to remove a varicocele from his left testicle. The urologist theorized that this might be the source of his low motility. He encouraged my husband to wait 90 days (3 months) for maximum results before getting another semen analysis. By March, I was itching to get a jump-start on trying again. After all, it had been at least a year since the IUI! He gave my husband a scrip for a semen analysis but the lab we had originally gone to no longer performed semen analyses. They recommended that we go to one of two places: the fertility clinic I had already been with (guess they eventually got a lab) or Shady Grove Fertility. I took SGF’s number down and called immediately to make an appointment for my husband.
After meeting the front-desk attendant (who also happens to be the financial counselor) during that appointment, I decided to give fertility clinics another try. The atmosphere of SGF struck me as markedly different from the fertility clinic that I had gone to: it was warm, friendly, inviting. I soon made an appointment for a consultation.
At the consultation, my husband and I sat down with our SGF doctor who kindly explained to us that we could attempt IUI if we wanted to, however, based on our age and medical records, we had at 13% chance of achieving pregnancy. However, if we tried IVF, we had a slightly higher than 50% chance of achieving pregnancy. And if we chose to use two eggs, we’d have a 60% chance of conceiving twins. He also briefly mentioned a program SGF has that guarantees us a live baby through IVF or our money back (the Shared Risk program). But we weren’t put on the spot or forced to make a decision right then and there. He gave us literature on IUI, the financial counselor broke down the cost of IUI for us, and only explained the cost of IVF after we asked about it. My husband and I went home feeling much more informed about whether to pursue IUI or IVF.
In the end, my husband and I decided to pursue IVF and our family pitched in to help us swing the cost. We spoke with our SGF doctor who agreed that IVF might be the best choice for us, especially given my husband’s low motility, and encouraged us to pursue the Shared Risk program. The financial counselor helped us get a discount on the cost of IVF based on our income. As we began our fertility journey again, it was with renewed hope; the nurses and doctors at SGF treated my husband and me with integrity. I was assigned an awesome nurse who I could call with any questions I had during my cycle.
After an ultrasound in April, one of the SGF doctors discovered that I had a polyp that needed to be removed because it could interfere with my ability to get pregnant. Because the particular SGF clinic I went to had a surgical center on site, the surgery was performed right there. Later that month, the doctors discovered an ovarian cyst that needed to be drained and that procedure was performed on site as well. It was a blessing not to have to run to the hospital and back for these surgeries.
Soon after my polyp and cyst were removed and I’d finished 21 days of birth control, a new cycle began that would be my IVF cycle. I had my injectable medications at the ready and my husband was a sweetheart for assisting me with them. Again, if I had any questions, I could contact a SGF nurse (didn’t have to be my assigned nurse) who would call me back with an answer within 24 hours (if it was early enough, she would call back that day). I produced 5 eggs after stimulation from the injectable medications and the egg retrieval went smoothly. My husband, whose sperm count had actually gotten lower after his varicocele surgery, contributed his semen sample. Using ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), my husband’s sperm was injected into those 5 eggs. Each day thereafter, the embryologist called me to update me on how the embryos were doing. (“They all fertilized!” “The cells are growing!”) Five days later, it turned out 2 were viable blastocysts and the other 3 embryos needed to be discarded. We were given the option to transfer both blastocysts but were strongly counseled to only transfer one due to the high probability of multiples. In the end, we chose to freeze one blastocyst (which we hope to use in a few years) and transfer the other.
The embryo transfer went smoothly. The SGF staff made no demeaning comments about our chances but wished us all the best of luck as our 2-week wait (2WW) began.
After one week though, I couldn’t help but take a home pregnancy test (HPT). I knew I’d be setting myself up for disappointment if it came back negative as all those others in the past had but I simply couldn’t wait any longer. To my surprise, a very faint line showed up as positive. I tested every day thereafter (thanks to a friend who had given me a host of HPTs) and the pregnancy line only grew stronger. I wouldn’t recommend taking an HPT to any woman after only one week, but I just hated waiting!
When my pregnancy test appointment came around, the SGF nurse asked if I was nervous. I replied, “Slightly.” She gave me a sly smile and asked, “Did you test?” I said, “Yes.” “What did it say?” she asked. “Positive,” I replied. She smiled broadly but remained noncommital. “We’ll see,” she said as she prepared to draw blood from my arm.
Later that day, I received a phone call assuring me that I was indeed pregnant with my first child. I had blood tests over the course of several days to ensure that my pregnancy hormone levels were doubling. I received my first ultrasound at 6 weeks. I was so thrilled to see its tiny heartbeat on the screen. By my 8-week ultrasound, my child had the small shape of a baby even though it was no bigger than a raspberry.
All the nurses and doctors congratulated us and seemed genuinely happy that we had achieved a pregnancy. It was as if our joy was their joy as well. I didn’t feel like a dollar sign or another cog in a baby-factory wheel. SGF nurses sat down with us and helped us plan our next steps to make the transition from the fertility clinic setting to a regular doctor setting. (In my case, I’m using a midwife and going to a birth center.) Before I left SGF for the last time with a strong invitation to return with my baby in tow, an SGF doctor said, “You are now a regular pregnant woman.”
That’s all I ever wanted. Thank you, Shady Grove Fertility and staff, for helping me to realize my dreams.