This is one of those posts that’s hard to know where to begin. What I’m about to delve into is long and personal, with details that may make some of you wonder why I chose to share so much, but people close to me know how open I am. Though I spend most of my time discussing my thoughts on handbags with you, over the years, between both the blog and PurseForum, I’ve shared much more. I feel really close to our readers and have shared in some of your joys and sadnesses since PB started. I feel like this little community we’ve built online is an extended part of my family. I’ve shared my engagement, wedding, moves, work accomplishments, and now the news of our baby girl on the way!
I have to preface this by saying that my journey to motherhood while harder than some, was far easier than many others. I don’t ever want to come off as if my struggle was the worst, because truth be told, it wasn’t. Sure, I was frustrated at times and worried, but I am sitting here writing this post being nearly 6 months pregnant. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for those of you who have struggled for years, with multiple rounds of IVF, miscarriages, and beyond. I’ve always been someone who finds comfort in being an open book. It’s cathartic for me and helps me process situations that are less than ideal, and on top of that, I come from a very open family. Although some people worry that sharing the bad or hard things in their lives may leave people thinking differently of them, I’ve found the opposite. At the beginning of last fall, I was in the midst of trying to get pregnant and working with my doctors on it, and when it went from “trying to get pregnant” to “having trouble getting pregnant,” I wanted to tell you about it. I was frustrated, spending a lot of time at the doctor’s office and not posting as much as usual. I thought writing about the trouble I was having might make any of you having problems conceiving feel less alone, along with myself. Funny enough, just how timing always seems to work out, I found out I was pregnant put off the discussion for a few months so I could share the joyful news with you at the appropriate time.
In addition to the baby news, I also wanted to share a bit more about my fertility issues, which are the kind that plague so many women. I can tell you, without hesitation, I never thought I’d be in that position. I am one of four kids, and I never worried about getting pregnant; I was one of those people who just thought it would be really easy for me. I suppose most people never think it’s going to be them, just like so many health issues, but what I’ve learned is that there is a lot of misinformation on how long it takes a perfectly healthy couple, on average, to conceive–in reality, it’s around six months. On top of that, more and more couples are experiencing fertility issues, and though it may seem like everyone around you is getting pregnant, it’s likely that some of those women had problems to get there. It’s a feeling of shame for many, and I felt that too, but there are so many people who deal with it.
I don’t find fault with anyone for not sharing their struggles with conception–I totally get it. I went through it too. Fertility is deeply tied with womanhood and social expectations of women, and more so than I ever realized until my journey began. I won’t pretend I didn’t have my moments; I did feel “less than,” I did feel broken, I did feel alone, I did feel embarrassed. I felt like the one thing I wanted so much right then might never happen, and the first time that thought crossed my mind, I panicked a bit. It’s just not something I had planned for myself, and it took a bit of re-centering myself through talking to Vlad and my family and friends for me to pick myself up at times.
When I got the first indication that conceiving might be a journey for me, I wanted to hide that information. I closed up and thought I would keep it to myself. But a few days later, my mentality changed completely. Of course Vlad knew, and I told my family, but then I started telling some friends. Then some more friends. And soon, if it came up with an acquaintance and it was a natural progression into the topic, I would share with that person as well. By now, I have no problem sharing all of the details with anyone who asks–it’s been helpful to me and I hope it’s helpful to others. With that in mind, I’m going to get into the nitty gritty of my medical and fertility problems below, for anyone who is having trouble conceiving or worries they may have trouble in the future. (If I leave anything out and you have questions, go ahead and ask!)
For me it all started around the age of 16. Soon after I started my menstrual cycle, I realized a few things: I wasn’t regular at all, I had horribly painful periods and my experiences didn’t match up to those of my friends. I tried many things to regulate my cycle and help with the pain, including plenty of birth control pills and patches. They helped a bit, but I had a few hospital visits over the years for ovarian cysts that ruptured and caused such horrible pain I’d pass out. I had many doctors tell me something along the lines of, “Once you get pregnant, these issues should work themselves out.” I believed that; little did I know that getting pregnant would be harder than I thought.
Fast forward a bit, and we arrive to 18 months ago. Most people are told to try to conceive for a year if they’re under 35 or six months if they’re over 35, before seeing their OBGYN. I decided that, with the issues I’d had over the years, to be more proactive. A bit over a year ago, I was due a yearly checkup, so I decided to talk to my doctor about wanting to start a family. We had already been trying for a few months (Isn’t there a better way of saying that? It sounds so weird.) and my doctor knew the erratic history of my menstrual cycle, ovarian cysts (which, for a while, they thought could be PCOS or endometriosis), so he ran some blood work to check my hormone levels. I expected great results to follow a few days later.
Instead of the positive news I had been hoping for, my doctor told me one hormone level, progesterone, was very low at a point in my cycle that it should be spiking, and even if I were able to get pregnant with it like that, my chance of carrying the baby to term was low. That’s when I started learning a lot about hormones, cycles, ovulation kits and beyond. I could go into every detail, but the gist of the next few months was taking Clomid (a drug to raise my estrogen levels and hopefully spike my progesterone level after ovulation), monitoring my ovulation with an at-home kit, and a lot of blood work. I was optimistic, and I remember with my first round, for some reason I thought not only would I get pregnant, but I’d end up with twins!
Clomid is given to a lot of women struggling to get pregnant, and I was on it for 5 months. I had hot flashes, acne and weight gain, and with each blood test that showed my progesterone levels were still low, we’d have to up the dose. We had one cycle where my levels were so good, the doctor thought I could be pregnant, but he told me not to get my hopes up. I did, though, and when I took the pregnancy test and “not pregnant” flashed in front of my face, my heart sank. Actually, I can attest to the fact that each pregnancy test that has an empty circle or a “not pregnant” or only one line is a little stab to the heart, whether you’ve been trying for one cycle or more than a year.
The Clomid wasn’t getting it done, and my doctor didn’t want me on it for more than 6 months at a time. After a few cycles of that method, he told me it was time for a fertility specialist. If it weren’t for such amazing doctors along the way, I would have broken down much sooner. But my doctors were so positive and knew we could find a way. Our fertility specialist was amazing. He was one of those people who I know was supposed to come into my life. His staff was wonderful and he was so calming, and upon our first meeting, he looked at all of my results (and Vlad’s, because by this time, they involve the man as well) and told me confidently, “We’re going to figure this out, something is going on.”
There were a lot more tests. A lot of blood was drawn. Specific appointments and specific times with specific instructions. Lots of ultrasounds. (Not the fun ones.) And more testing. Slowly, the fertility specialist whittled away possible problems until he found exactly what was happening. I don’t know how to say this without being a bit graphic, so feel free to skip this part if you want, but I told you I wanted to be open: the reason I wasn’t getting pregnant was I had a “hostile cervix,” meaning his swimmers could not make it to my egg. We don’t know what caused it, but the drug I was on could have played a part, or it could just be how my body is–we won’t know until we try for our next baby. My doctors solved this problem with intrauterine insemination (IUI), in addition to hormones to support a pregnancy. The IUI procedure would bypass the cervix and allow me the chance to get pregnant.
With more ultrasounds and blood work, my first IUI was a few days later. Two nights before the procedure, Vlad had to put a shot in my stomach that helped release the mature eggs. It didn’t hurt, but it was emotional; actually, it was all emotional. I went in early on a Sunday morning–timing is very important–and had the procedure. IUI itself, while not the most comfortable, was very quick. Then came the waiting. With all things working correctly, the doctor told me to be optimistic but remember it could still take up to 6 months with IUIs to get pregnant. I mentally prepared for more months ahead, and the doctor still had a few tests he wanted to run to rule out other issues. I was hopeful, but to be honest, I didn’t think the first cycle would work. From everyone I talked to and what I read, it seemed unlikely. So I sat, and I waited. I had to wait for two weeks to go back to the doctor for a blood test to check if I was pregnant, because the shot Vlad gave me a couple nights before the IUI had a chance of giving us a false positive pregnancy test.
I was supposed to wait, but I tested the day before I went to the doctor–I couldn’t contain myself. I didn’t think I was pregnant, I didn’t feel pregnant, nothing seemed different. I took the test and waited, as usual. I walked out of the room and came back a few minutes later. I saw the word pregnant but assumed the word “not” was included. It wasn’t. It said “pregnant.” That was the only word on the test, and I kept staring at it. This test that had told me month after month that I wasn’t pregnant was now telling me I was. Vlad was getting our car fixed, and I was supposed to go pick him up. His birthday was a few days later, so I ran downstairs to get a card that I had been holding on to for the longest time. The outside read “I can’t wait to meet Mini You!” On the inside, I wrote, “Coming November 2016… I think!” I told him it was an early birthday present, and when he opened the card he had tears in his eyes. I did too. It was surreal.
The next day, the blood test confirmed it, and in the following few weeks I continued with blood work to make sure my hCG levels were rising at the rate they should be. I was also on progesterone, twice a day for 12 weeks, to keep those hormone levels ideal for pregnancy. My first ultrasound was around 6.5 weeks, and our baby looked like a bean. (Actually, I thought she was a mini manatee, but most people see a bean.) Her heart was beating so fast, and when I heard it, I started crying. She was there, inside me, growing.
My journey was so much longer than some people’s, but far shorter than others. I’ve talked to so many women who have been through so much more, it makes my heart heavy. We were lucky; Vlad and I tell everyone that anytime I tell my story. I had an issue that was discovered very quickly, and there was an answer for it. Not everyone is so lucky, and I learned so much along the way: how to remind yourself you aren’t broken, how to feel whole and love yourself even when one part of you isn’t working the way you want it to, how to be patient with yourself. I also found that people want to help but sometimes say things that aren’t helpful at all. No one wants to upset you, but sometimes they will. Some people will tell you how they took much longer, and it always came off like I shouldn’t be sad for not being pregnant yet because it took them or someone they know longer. It’s still sad, I still caught myself feeling “less than” so often. If you have a friend trying to get pregnant and having issues, support them, offer them a hug or a shoulder to lean on, let them talk to you if they want to. There is no perfect thing to say, but I would suggest staying away from the “just relax” or “this isn’t meant to be right now” and go with “I love you and I’m here for you in any way, I’m sorry.”
It’s hard. And for so many of my friends and people that I don’t know and will never know, it is still a journey and a struggle. I wish I had a fix for you. I wish it were as straightforward for you as it was for me. I know that isn’t always the case, and I send you my love. Some don’t just struggle with the emotional and physical toll, but also the financial toll of trying to conceive. You are not alone; there are a lot of us with you.
It all felt so long during the process, but now I have a baby girl inside me and the issues feel like a distant memory. I feel her kicks and movements and keep learning a little more about her each day. Last night, I learned she loves fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Her favorite time to have a one-woman dance party is right when I lay down for bed. I found my morning sickness with her could only be cured by constantly eating. Vlad touches my belly each night and for weeks has been able to feel her kicking. The other day our dog stepped on my belly by accident and she kicked right back. I already knew this part, but now am living it: not everyone will only gain belly weight and be back in their normal jeans right after delivery, and that is ok! If you have one of those bodies and pregnancies, amazing, that happens too! The one aspect I catch myself thinking of daily is that this little girl is inside of me growing, and I love her more every day. This is my little girl, she was meant to be with us, and I cannot wait to be her mom.
Everyone’s journey is unique, but I hope this helps even just one of you, gives you a little hope or helps you know you aren’t alone if you’re struggling. And if you are at your wits’ end with your kids driving you nuts, this may help you remember those little moments that you savored while pregnant and anticipating your little one’s arrival. Thank you all for sharing in our joy; it means more to me than you’ll ever know! Someday, I’ll be able to show Baby Girl Dusil all of your well wishes, and I know it will be something special for her.