I step out of bed and pad across the soft carpet onto the cool tile floor. I glance down at the calendar on my counter and next to today’s date, I see in bright pink ink the two hearts I have drawn and the words ‘ ♥ ♥ PREG TEST’. Today is a big day for us! I take a deep breath and try to let go of any fears and anxiety. Jeff walks over to our wooden bedroom blinds and pulls on the string to let the rays of the morning sunlight stream in. He exclaims, “The deer are back!” I rush to the window and look out towards our lawn, and there is the mother and her two babies that we saw yesterday morning. The fawns – with their long spindly legs and white speckled backs – frolic and play, while their mother stands and keeps a watchful and protecting eye over them. This sight makes me feel instantly relaxed and peaceful, just as it did yesterday. Perhaps it is a sign from God that I am a soon to be a mother too?
I look in my heart for the knowledge that today will be a day of celebration for us, a day of joy, a day of wonder and excitement. I imagine it will be right up there with our wedding day as one of the best days of our lives (along with the day our babies would be born)! We are so hopeful for our upcoming news. Would today be the day we would find out we are going to be parents?
I drive down to Salt Lake City to our doctor’s office. I feel a mixture of anxiousness and excitement on the journey. Aloud I run through some positive statements: “My body is a welcome and harmonious place for new life to grow. My thoughts are peaceful and calm. I am worthy and deserving to be a mother.” I make the six healing sounds from traditional Chinese medicine – hissing like a snake and shhhing like a librarian as I think of colors and different internal organs (hey, I am willing to give anything a go)! I think of Mark 5:36 ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe’. I feel a deep sense of peacefulness and the knowledge that things will be OK either way.
I arrive at the clinic and the nurse who draws the blood is so excited to see me. “I have been waiting to thank you!” she exclaims. “Your advice really helped me.” She reminded me that last time I had seen her to draw blood (I have had a lot of blood drawn over the last few years!); she had told me of her desire to find a large house to rent in the mountains this summer. She thanked me for really listening to her and giving thought to my answers. One of the websites I suggested had resulted in her finding a house to sleep 25 for her wedding venue! I was so excited for her news and thankful to have helped that I forgot to be nervous about why I had gone in.
I step outside of the clinic into the fresh air and I think back over the last six weeks. I think of all the injections, pills, appointments, and getting my body ready for this moment. This cycle is our third attempt at IVF and first time doing a frozen embryo transfer (FET). We previously tried two IVF fresh cycles in January and April of 2015, we also did two egg retrieval only cycles in December 2015 and February 2016, four IUIs in 2014, Clomid in the year prior, and earlier still good old trying naturally! We are now 4.5 years into our fertility journey. I estimate we have gone through over 50 cycles/attempts to conceive during this time. Sadly, none of these previous attempts has resulted in a pregnancy. 50 times to get our hopes up. 50 times to anxiously wait the two weeks between ovulation and when we would find out if we were pregnant. 50 times to have our hearts break a little at the sad news that we had not conceived again. And still no clear reason why it is not working for us.
Each of those months was difficult, but none was as difficult as the failed IVFs. The emotional, physical, spiritual, (and financial) investment in those cycles; all of the appointments, procedures, medications, injections; knowing that we had put developing embryos – human life – inside me; all of the additional hope and optimism pinned on this being our solution, made it all the harder to bear. We felt good about this third IVF attempt though. Third time lucky. Statistics of success for our cumulative efforts were in our favor. Several people I knew, both in person or through fertility blogs, had conceived on the third time of IVF. This would be our time to become parents.
Everything had gone well with our embryo transfers 12 days earlier. Both embryos had survived the thawing process (there is about a 70% chance for an embryo to survive thawing). Our doctor told us we now had a 40 – 45% chance to conceive by transferring two embryos (30 % chance with one). Post transfer I went home and spent the next three days resting. I read, slept, looked at photos of pregnant bellies and babies, sat in our garden looking at the flowers and butterflies, I colored drawings, and sketched a picture (of Jeff and myself on a bench holding our children). I did acupuncture and craniosacral therapy. Over the next week or so, I prayed, I meditated, and I visualized (our embryos implanting, the babies growing inside me, being pregnant, holding our babies). I spoke to our babies in my tummy. I looked at my vision board and said positive mantras. I ate the right foods and avoided the wrong ones. I did gentle walking and avoided strenuous activity or lifting anything heavy. And I laughed as much as possible! Occasionally my mind would wander and worry, searching for signs or pregnancy, or lack thereof. But I tried to let go of the anxiousness and just focus on the now. Overall, I felt a sense of calm and relaxation in my body and mind. I did everything I could. Even though I knew on most levels, it was really out of my hands.
After my blood draw I left the clinic. It would be several hours now until we got the results. I opened the door of my warm car and sank into the leather seats, to find a lovely text waiting from Jeff. He was letting me know he loved me and it would be ok whatever happened. I thought back to the day before at church, when he had whispered similar sweet sentiments in my ear in prayer, as the choir sang about using God’s strength to support us on our journeys. We held hands in the pews and the tears flowed down my cheeks at the beauty and comfort of both of those things.
As I drove to meet Jeff I thought about our conversation concerning with whom and how we would share our good news. First, we would tell our parents and siblings, (we could even go to Jeff’s sister’s house and make the announcement in person, as she lives locally – that would be so fun and joyful). Then we would tell our remaining grandparent, Jeff’s grandma Marge. We could not wait to do that, she is 94 and had joked with us that she is sticking around to meet our children. Then we would share our wonderful news with our aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends. So many people are supporting us on this journey; it would be hard to wait until the often-customary 12 weeks before telling anyone. Our loved ones were anxious and excited for the news too and to share our joy.
Jeff and I ate a quick lunch and drove to a local park to make the phone call to our clinic for the results. We sat on an empty bench; I put my phone on speaker and called our nurse’s direct line. It rang and rang, the loud noise filling the relative silence and stillness of the park, our hearts beating anxiously. It went to voicemail. My nervousness increased. We would give her a few moments. I told her I would call at 1 pm and it was 12:53 pm, we were early (we had eaten our lunch much too fast). I looked at the large trees lining the pathway opposite us, at the sheer circumference of their giant trunks, their wizened bark, their branches outstretched like arms offering shade from their canopy. I tried to take some peace from the trees. We waited the longest 3 minutes of our lives and called again. This time she picked up on the first ring. A pause. She composed herself. “Guys, I’m…” And we knew. Our hearts sank. We could tell by her tone that the news was not good. “I’m… so sorry to tell you your test results are negative.”
No, no, no. Our hearts sank. One of our biggest sadnesses was happening again. This was the third time we had received a phone call like this. We ended the call. We were numb. I felt empty inside – emotionally and physically. The babies we had been talking to over the last few weeks were not there. At some point, the pregnancy had failed. We were devastated and disappointed. We looked at each other, the sadness on our faces mirroring each other. I cried. We told each other it would be all right, that we have each other, that we have our health, that we have so many good things in our lives. That we would not give up, that we would keep trying. There would be a way for us to become parents and fulfil our dream. God has a plan for us.
That evening at home Beyoncé’s song ‘I’m A Survivor’ came into my head. I sang the words in my head, the lyrics growing louder in my mind. Then I sang the words aloud. Then I changed the I’s to We’s, as this journey is about both Jeff and I. We have both shown incredible strength, resiliency, tenacity, and determination in this journey. We are in this together and for the long run:
We are survivors
We’re not going to give up
We’re not going to stop
We’re going to work harder
We are survivors
We’re going to make it
We will survive
Keep on surviving
In these sad couple of days following our disappointing news, I have reflected on a lot. I have reflected on surviving. Surviving something makes us stronger. Almost all of my friends have survived something, to varying degrees – illness, divorce, addiction, depression, loss of a loved one, job loss, or like us fertility struggles – at the time, it is so painful to experience. However, it is during hard times that human beings show some of their most amazing character traits. Family and friends rally around people surrounding them with love, compassion, hope, and joy. These are the silver linings amongst the dark clouds.
I reflect on all that I have learned on this fertility journey. I am so thankful for this. Had we conceived right away I would never have had the opportunity to learn all I have. One of the most important things I have learned is to be thankful for all that I have, to be present and look for the good, positive and joy in the now, and in each day. Rather than worrying about something I do not have or waiting for something to happen to bring me happiness (e.g. a baby, a relationship, a new job, a new house, to retire, etc.) There is something extremely rewarding and peaceful about being grateful and appreciating what you have now.
I have learned to be more accepting and forgiving. People often say the darndest things regarding our fertility journey. I know that they all have good intentions and are trying to comfort us or offer us hope. So, I let the comments that fall a little short roll off my back. The most helpful thing we have heard is when people let us know much we are loved.
I continue to be happy for parents-to-be or new parents. I have still never felt the desire to compare our journey with anyone else’s journey or have the ‘why them and not me’ mentality. I feel genuine joy for each prospective or new parents I see or meet. I sometimes hear pregnant women complain about their pregnancy symptoms, and I think about how I would give anything to be pregnant and readily deal with the weight gain, swollen ankles, food aversions, nausea, just to know I have a baby growing inside me. But even if I let brief frustration seep in to me, I quickly let it go. I am happy for, and encourage people to express their human experiences, I am interested in them, and I do not expect people to filter them for me.
Above all, this long fertility journey has taught me patience, faith, and the love of my husband. It has taught me how strong we are, both individually, but more importantly as a team…and what a great team we are! As we go on a bike ride the early evening of our sad news, the high warm summer sun beating down on us, and as we push hard up a hill, strong and healthy, side-by-side, I smile and breathe, and know that everything will be alright.
Jeff and I have two more embryos frozen from February 2016 (classified ‘good’ quality). We plan to do another frozen embryo transfer (FET) as soon as possible. We hope that this next, 4th, cycle of IVF will be our time. There are likely unknown/unexplained infertility factors at play for us. But our doctor has suggested it is often just a numbers game with IVF. Several studies have shown that overall, about 50% of human preimplantation embryos from IVF are chromosomally abnormal. So, while some couples are fortunate enough for IVF to work the first time, others it might take two, three, four or more attempts to work. We could also do further egg retrievals if we need too. (One of the hardest things for us is just time/age. Even if we can deal with the rollercoaster that is this fertility journey, we just want this to happen for us before it is too late. There is likely a little longer for us to try through IVF or naturally. We know there are many options though). We feel secure in the knowledge that we will be parents! We are strong! We are not giving up!
Friends and family have been overwhelming supportive of my blog. Some people may wonder why I would share something so personal. There are several reasons. I find it incredibly therapeutic to write. It allows me to freely express my emotions. It helps me to connect with people, and to share our story with our loves ones, and those for whom it might be helpful or comforting to hear. I have an amazingly supportive husband, who knows and encourages my love of writing. But mainly I write because we are not alone in our struggle. People struggle and survive through so many hurdles in life. Writing helps us share the joys and sorrows, the richness, that is human life. With regards to fertility in particular, sadly there are so many couples around the world feeling our same heartbreak. There is still somewhat of a taboo surrounding the topic of infertility. Couples facing it can sometimes feel alone, shunned, and judged. I want to shed a little light on the topic. To normalize it. To help others know they are loved and not alone.
Previous posts on fertility:
|Mother and baby deer in our back garden
|IVF Attempt 3!
|Trying a ‘baby-bump’ photo after the embryos were transferred
|Wildflowers on a walk
I felt good most of the waiting period, but when anxious thoughts came into my mind, I did my best to be in the present and notice the beauty around me.
Jeff and I feel so fortunate for all we have, and the fun travel and adventures we do. But it doesn’t fill the space in our hearts for the children we desire so much. We cannot wait to be parents.
|We Are Survivors
The early evening of our sad news. But feeling strong after our bike ride together in the sun. We Are Survivors!