Infertility Awareness Week is April 18-24. In the past year, infertility has become a bigger part of my life than I had ever expected or wanted.
I’ve been pretty open about my cancer diagnosis, treatment, and on-going health issues as a result on my blog, but for some reason, I chose not to share until now that all this year we have been struggling to get pregnant.
This summer, with the guidance of my oncologist and reproductive medicine team, I paused my hormone therapy so that we could do another embryo transfer with our remaining embryo.
Everything that was an obstacle last time was SO EASY this time around. My body had completely reset itself, it seemed, after delivering Lola, and so what literally took a full year in order for my body to respond just enough to meet the lowest level recommended for a transfer the first time, all happened right away this time and we were ready for a transfer immediately.
Covid and the uncertainties that came with it brought a new set of challenges this time around that we didn’t face with the embryo transfer with Lola. Obviously, if I or Nate were to be exposed or contract Covid, the transfer would be canceled, resulting in time, money, hormones, energy, and potentially the embryo, being wasted, depending on what point we are in the process. So, as cases began to rise, we postponed the process until I got approval in August to teach remotely, which made it easier to minimize exposure, as Nate has also been working from home since March 2020.
On October 22, 2020, we had our second and last embryo transfer.
Somehow, because we had faced one obstacle after another before, yet still we got pregnant, it seemed like this time would be an easy guarantee, and I admit, I got cocky. I had begun thinking and planning in my head about this second baby, picturing Lola with her sibling, and our family being complete. This person was so real to me. Every little symptom I noticed I added to the tally in my mind that led me to believe I was pregnant, fortifying my confidence that this embryo transfer would again result in a baby. I remember telling my therapist at the Cancer Center so calmly that I really felt good about the outcome, but that if it didn’t work out, I felt at peace because we already had Lola.
Yet, when we got the results through MySanfordChart from my blood draw 11 days after the transfer, I was devastated to see my HCG was less than 1.2 (less than or equal to 5 is a negative test result). We had waited until my lunch break to check, so we could look at it together, and I remember emailing the nurse to confirm that the results meant I was in fact not pregnant and lost it when I got the response. Somehow I was hoping they’d say I had interpreted the test incorrectly and everything was great.
I cried hysterically through my lunch break and prep period that (thankfully) followed, and then had to put on a happy face, even though the redness and puffiness of my eyes and cheeks likely gave it away, even through Zoom, that I had been crying, and I had to teach my last class of the day like nothing was wrong. As if I hadn’t just lost our last embryo and the hope and comfort that came with it for the last five years. Something about knowing it was stored safely away until we were ready to use it was so comforting. Coming to terms with it being gone, knowing that Lola had once been just a tiny embryo, was a huge loss.
In the months that have followed, we haven’t been able to get pregnant, including two IUI cycles, which are far less invasive and physically taxing than IVF and, given my age, would yield about the same success rates. Once the school year is over, we will likely try a couple more times with IUI.
Infertility is exhausting. And heartbreaking. And maddening. And isolating. It is physically and mentally taxing. It is depressing. There were days that I couldn’t stop crying after our first IUI. I don’t think I really processed the weight of the loss of the embryo until those months later when we relived the devastation of another negative pregnancy test.
Even between Nate and me, it affects me to the point that I think about it at least a few times every single day, whereas it seems like he is able to set it aside. Maybe it’s just because it’s my body and that every little thing I feel or notice immediately reminds me. Every time I look at Lola, I am more and more grateful for her, as it seems like we truly beat all odds and it’s nothing short of a miracle that she is here and ours.
I’m not sharing this story now to seek pity, but I have learned that so many other couples are also struggling with this.
In fact, Everlasting Hope has found that across the US, infertility affects close to 1 in 6, rather than 1 in 8, which is the common statistic. In North Dakota alone it affects over 33,500 people.
Not one couple has the same experience with infertility, but we experience the same pain when we see pregnancy announcements, or when people ask invasive questions that our culture has normalized about when we are going to have a baby or give our existing child a sibling. People do not mean to be hurtful, but it IS hurtful, and sadly, so often couples suffer privately or are just not ready to even verbalize the pain they are experiencing. Maybe that’s why I needed to wait to write this. I couldn’t find the right words for a long time, but now it feels helpful and healing to tell my story, and with it being Infertility Awareness Week, I’m hoping that maybe some good can come out of it.
This is why awareness is so important. If we can help others who haven’t experienced infertility know what it’s like, it can bring about empathy and a realization that they might not know the full story of why some of their friends or acquaintances aren’t growing their family. It can make them more likely to support or even FIGHT for legislation that would provide insurance coverage, as infertility is the only disease that is not covered by insurance across most of the country.
Like cancer, infertility is a club that no one wants to be in, but that really has the most amazing members. Through friends who knew my story and had connections to a non-profit called Everlasting Hope, I was introduced to Tara Brandner, the founder and a nurse practitioner and IVF patient, who asked me to write my story and testify during two committee hearings of the 2021 North Dakota House Legislative Session. This bill would have provided insurance coverage for infertility and fertility preservation for cancer patients. Although the bill did not pass, this was an empowering experience and I am amazed by Tara and her tenacity to continue to fight until all patients have access to care. I am proud to know her and have taken part in this.
Tara and Everlasting Hope are hosting a number of online events for the week, featuring fertility experts, including two of my doctors, who will be sharing information, tips, stories, and creating awareness. I will be taking part in one on Saturday. Those experiencing infertility can chat with us, ask questions, or simply watch to connect and know that they are not alone. If you cannot attend live, all of these events can be viewed later on the YouTube channel as well.
I’d like to invite anyone who is, or loves someone going through fertility or someone who they suspect may be going through infertility to join us.