No one ever knows how long it will take them to become pregnant, but for me, there was a time when I wasn’t sure it would ever be possible…
I was a college athlete playing soccer during my senior year when I stopped having a menstrual cycle — totally not uncommon for female athletes, so I didn’t worry too much. But later on, in 2008, I saw a specialist who told me that my hormone levels were, “possibly a little low, but nothing I would worry about, since you’re not trying to have kids yet.”
Fast forward to 2013 my husband and I started to talk about growing our family. I was no longer playing soccer, but still very active – I was actually finishing up my training for the Boston Marathon (year of the bombing, sadly)! So, when I talked to my OB/GYN she suggested I complete my marathon and then give my body time to rest allow my cycle to return. But, my cycle never returned, my OB ran some tests — tests which told us the same thing I was told years ago, that my hormone levels were low. But this time was different. This time, I was ready to try to become pregnant.
So, I was referred to another specialist. Quickly, received a diagnosis — hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Not sure what that means? I had no idea either! Well, to put it simply: my body doesn’t ovulate on its own.
What this meant for me
I would never be able to become pregnant on my own.
So, our fertility journey began with 2 attempted intrauterine inseminations (IUI). When both failed, we were told that IVF was truly our only option if I wanted to become pregnant.
We went home that night and talked about it, but honestly, it wasn’t even a question! We had talked about adoption, as my youngest brother was adopted from Korea and he is one of the best gifts my family has ever received! But, we decided to give IVF a try before looking into adoption — we trusted the clinic’s expertise and were cautiously optimistic that a healthy pregnancy and delivery was possible for our family.
Below is something that I’d written on January 4, 2014. I felt lost, alone, and wasn’t sure if I would ever become pregnant.
“I know I was meant to be a mother… I always envisioned having 3 or 4 children. We bought our first house, a 3 bedroom home, envisioning our children growing up there. But now what I have come to find out is that I may never be able to become pregnant.
Where to even begin… Growing up, you hear the stories of young girls who get pregnant “by accident,” or who have had “surprise” pregnancies. As a teen, I figured it must be pretty easy to get pregnant as it seemed so many people often got pregnant when they weren’t ready. You hear stories that women get pregnant while on birth control. So of course, when we finally decided that we wanted to start our family, I thought it would be fairly easy.
It seems unfair that becoming pregnant is easy for some, and either difficult or impossible for so many others. It’s unfair that some insurance companies will pay for an abortion, yet won’t cover any expenses related to infertility. I guess some would consider me lucky as my insurance company had coverage for infertility… $500 for the entire year, and could only be towards a consultation fee or testing to determine the cause of my infertility. But after my very first doctor’s visit … my insurance company had already fulfilled their infertility coverage.
What many insurance companies don’t cover is all the subsequent office visits, medications ($1000-2000 per IUI cycle and more than $3000 per IVF cycle), ultrasounds (minimum of 3-5 per IUI or IVF cycle), blood tests, sperm analysis for your husband, the cost of IUI, and the cost of IVF (average cost is approximately $13,000).
Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful that technology exists to allow me to have options to become pregnant. I am grateful that my husband and I are in a financial position to move forward with infertility treatments and to attempt to get pregnant through IVF. But, I also have a tremendous amount of guilt that I am able to do IVF when there are many others just like me, who cannot, simply because of the financial barrier.
I feel guilty for a multitude of reasons. I am infertile, I have hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. The hormones that I need to be able to become pregnant are nearly non-existent without help from medications. So of course I feel guilty.
I feel guilty because I look at my husband who is the most amazing man in the whole world. Someone who would be the most amazing father in the whole world… and I don’t know how long it will be before he becomes one.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get pregnant. I don’t know if our child will have his genes or will be adopted. And I know when he married me if he never imagined I would struggle to get pregnant. He has never once blamed me. Instead, he has held me while I cried and wiped away my tears. He’s made me stronger because he is so patient and optimistic. But I feel so guilty that it is because of me that I am delaying him from being a father.
Infertility has what seems like an infinite number of external and internal stressors. When I first found out I had to see a fertility specialist, I was so naive as to what the next months or years would entail. No one ever told me that I would have days where I would start crying for no reason at all. I had no idea that I’d have to give myself injections in my abdomen for 10+ days in a row per IUI or IVF cycle. I had no idea the stress that came with trying to arrange my work schedule to accommodate for the many doctor appointments, ultrasound appointments, IVF procedure day, day of embryo transfer, and other appointments. Or that I would constantly worry about the smallest details the entire time.
I would often lay awake at night for hours thinking some of the following: Is my estradiol level rising appropriately? Am I exercising too much? Am I eating the right things? Will my follicles grow as they are supposed to? Will I be pregnant this time? How many eggs will they be able to retrieve on the IVF cycle? Did I cause all of this by running marathons or exercising too much, or eating too healthy? What is too much exercise? What if we never get pregnant?
I had no idea that I would constantly think about what it might be like to be pregnant. Or how grateful I would feel to be nauseated and exhausted if it meant I was pregnant.”
“I know the darkness”
Even after all these years, even after 5 kiddos all thanks to IVF, the emotions still flood back like it was just yesterday.
My heart aches for those who still suffer from fertility challenges. For those who are trying. For those who are going through what I’ve been through. For those who have experienced the heartbreak of failed attempts, of miscarriages, of pregnancy loss in any way. My heart aches for all of those longing to be a mother, longing to grow their family.
People often think that once you become a mother, the above feelings of guilt and stress go away — they don’t. When I hear of others going through an IVF cycle, particularly when it fails, I cry with them. I have been there. I know the darkness.
Just a short time after that journal entry, I received a call I’ll never forget…
While at work on April 3, 2014, my phone rang, it was my fertility doctor. I was shaking, I didn’t want to answer. Why? Because I had received a call from her just about 2 months prior — a call in which she told me that neither of the 2 embryos we had transferred during our last attempt had implanted. That we were not pregnant. In that moment, when she told me I wasn’t pregnant, I was convinced I would never become a mother.
But this call was different. Dr. Klein said to me, “Shannon, you’re pregnant. It worked.” Our first child, our miracle, Brooklyn was born on December 5, 2014. She was the first addition to our family…
Over 6 years of fertility treatments.
Endless tears & tests.
Countless blood draws & ultrasounds.
Through 3 rounds of IVF.
And 8 embryos transferred.
With the loss of 3 embryos.
And 4 healthy pregnancies.
With 5 kiddos (3 + twins).
Our family is finally complete!
But even though my journey to motherhood is complete, my fertility diagnosis is such a big part of who I am today. It’s helped me to be patient and keep hope during times of darkness. It’s also helped me to be grateful each and every day for being a mother. And it has helped me connect with others who have also struggled with their fertility.
We say a thank you prayer each and every day for our miracle kiddos — I realize we are an anomaly to have 5 kids from IVF with 3 total IVF cycles.
Every day I say a prayer for those struggling to have children of their own. For those who have had suffered a loss in any way… through miscarriage or a failed embryo transfer, or before they never got to watch their children grow.
I share my story, because you might be fighting a similar battle. You might know someone who has the same struggles that I do. My hope is by sharing my story I can inspire hope in a time that is filled with doubt and fear and darkness.
I will share my story over and over again because I want you to know I am here. I have been there. My heart will break with you while you are struggling. I will celebrate your successes. I will simply be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Whatever you need, no matter how close we are, whether we know each other or not, I am here.