Buckets of Hope: My Journey to Motherhood
I’m typically a pretty private person, and this post is going to get quite personal. When my husband and I found out about the challenges we would face in our efforts to start a family, few people outside of our family knew. It was such a lonely, devastating time for me. But this week is infertility awareness week, and I felt it was finally the perfect time to share our story.
Brian and I got married in 2010 (we celebrated our nine-year anniversary yesterday!). We had decided to wait a year before trying to conceive. I was so excited to start our family! All I ever wanted to be was a mom. When the first few months resulted in nothing, I started to get discouraged. I went and got my thyroid checked, which showed I had hypothyroidism. I started medication and was sure that once that got regulated, we would be able to conceive. Several months passed with negative result after negative result. About a year after we started trying to conceive, my husband went in for his full work-up. We found out we were suffering from male-factor infertility. Low count, low motility, low morphology. There was no apparent cause, which meant there was no reliable treatment. The doctor gave him some supplements which helped a little, but not enough.
My husband was heartbroken watching my tears every month. He says I don’t have an accurate memory of just how difficult that time was for me. Perhaps I’ve blocked out the worst of the memories. I spent all my free time searching online for possible solutions to our problem. We tried every random trick out there… if you’ve been in our situation, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. About 18 months into this journey, we decided to look into IVF. We felt like it was the right step to take, and we were lucky to have enough in our savings to cover the high cost. I gave myself numerous shots in my stomach, and my husband gave me many more on my backside. The IVF process in itself is extremely stressful and emotional, not to mention physically uncomfortable. You have to time every shot perfectly. Then you are sedated for the egg retrieval. The next several days you wait on pins and needles to find out how many eggs were mature, how many fertilized, how many embryos are developing normally. With our first round of IVF in January 2013, they retrieved 21 eggs! But only 11 were mature, and only 7 fertilized normally. By day 5, we only had 2 decent embryos remaining. Our doctor was not impressed with the quality of the embryos and did not seem super optimistic about their chances of “sticking.” He wanted us to wait one more day to see if they would develop into blastocysts, but we were already there at the office, so we pushed to have the two embryos transferred that day.
Then you wait. Many people are familiar with the “two week wait.” I had my first beta test (blood work) only 6 days after my transfer (11 days after retrieval). It’s funny that 6 years later, I still remember the dates of all of these steps. When I went in for the blood draw, I asked them to call my husband with the results. I had to teach a live lesson (online) that day, and I didn’t want to get a phone call with bad news right before teaching math to a bunch of 7th graders. They had told us that anything over 5 means you are pregnant. My husband called to tell me that my number was 29! HOORAY!! I was finally pregnant! You have to go back in 48 hours later for a second beta test. They want the numbers to at least double every 48 hours to show that the pregnancy is on track. My second beta result was 109. The beta results were the first sign that maybe we had more than one tiny babe growing inside me. But we had to wait until I was 7 weeks pregnant to go in for my first ultrasound. On Valentine’s Day, we went in and saw two tiny babies and heard two tiny heartbeats! It was official! We were having TWINS!
I was over-the-moon excited. Not only was I finally pregnant, but I was going to have TWO babies at once! I was thrilled to share my announcement on Facebook.
I know some people who are very open about their infertility journey. I was not. I had several very close friends who had no idea that we had done IVF, or that we were even struggling to conceive. I found it difficult to talk about. Every time I talked about it, I started to cry. Even after I was pregnant, I didn’t want to share all of the details openly. It was just too emotional of a topic for me.
It was wonderful to finally be on the receiving end of the congratulations. But I hadn’t really expected all of the questions that came along with being pregnant with twins. I could get on my soapbox and talk all about what NOT to ask an expecting mom, but I will keep it brief. Please respect people’s privacy. If someone wants to share details about how their children were conceived, they will! But you should never ask someone if their twins are “natural” or if they needed fertility treatments to conceive. Some people don’t want to be reminded of this terrible time in their life just to satisfy your curiosity.
My twins, Ella and Lily, were born on August 31st, and I was ecstatic to finally be a mom! I’ll spare you all the details because this isn’t meant to be my life story. When my girls were about a year and a half old, we started to think about baby #3. Brian had more labs done and his numbers were actually better! Still way under normal... but better than they had been. Our doctor agreed to try a round of IUI. However, that round was not successful, and he strongly recommended moving onto IVF. We did another round of IVF in July 2015 and were able to conceive our son. That round was even more of a rollercoaster. We had fewer eggs retrieved, which resulted in fewer embryos. On day 5, our doctor told us not to come in because he wouldn’t transfer that day. We had two embryos, but one was not going to be viable. The other had potential, but it was not a blastocyst yet (just like my girls!). This time he made us wait until day 6 to find out if there would even be an embryo to transfer. Waiting for the text that next morning was torture. Finally we heard that the embryo was good, so we hurried in to the office. My first beta came back positive. Yay!! But then my second beta did not double in 48 hours. My doctor had a conversation with me all about chemical pregnancy and early miscarriage. It was a holiday weekend, so I had to wait 4 days before I could go back in for another beta. Thankfully, this time the numbers made up for the slow start, and things were on track! Carson was born on his due date in April 2016! We were so happy to avoid the NICU this time.
Ever since we got married, we thought 4 sounded like a good number of kids. So when Carson was nearing his 2nd birthday in early 2018, we started making plans for a third round of IVF. We had set up a Skype consultation with a fertility specialist in Utah. We were planning on doing the round of IVF that summer while visiting family. By habit, I had been tracking my BBT (basal body temperature), so I knew my cycles pretty well. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just be grateful you’ve never had to worry about it. Well, on the morning of January 17, 2018, I took my temperature expecting to see the steep drop I always saw at the start of a new cycle. I was completely surprised to see the number go up! I jumped out of bed and found the old pregnancy tests hidden in the back of a drawer. I shakily took the test. POSITIVE. WHAT?! I didn’t believe it so I took another test. Still positive. I called my husband who was on his way to work to tell him the news. We were both in total shock! In our nearly 8 years of marriage, this was the very first time we had achieved a positive pregnancy test without the help of modern science. The next few weeks were wonderful as we basked in the joy of adding another precious baby to our family. We canceled our plans for IVF that summer.
A few weeks later, I had some light spotting. I knew that some spotting is normal in early pregnancy, so I didn’t freak out. I called my doctor a couple days later when the spotting continued and they had me come in to test my progesterone levels. The next day I went in for an ultrasound, but I knew before going in that I should expect the worst. The ultrasound confirmed that I had lost the baby. Miscarriage. The devastation that wracked my soul that day is hard to describe. I didn’t understand why we had been blessed with this spontaneous pregnancy, only to have it taken away just a few short weeks later. We were heartbroken.
Life moves on, as it always does. I was changed by that experience, and I will never forget it. Once again, I did not share this with very many people. The friends and family who were aware were so wonderful and helped bear the burden of the pain I was feeling. We were left unsure of our future. We didn’t want to jump right back to IVF because now we know that it’s possible for us to conceive on our own! So we went back to trying on our own. It felt very similar to that 18 months before we conceived our twins. Every month I’d get my hopes up, only to have them dashed. However, this time we already had three beautiful children, so that emptiness was not the same. After trying for nearly a year after our miscarriage, we decided to press pause. We will be moving soon, and that causes enough stress on its own. We don’t know what the future holds, but I think we are both in a good place right now. We are happy with the three children we have, and we are content with knowing that our family may be complete.
I have several friends who have experienced infertility. Many are still waiting for their miracle. My heart aches for them. I know how painful it is to not know. To not know if you will ever hold your baby. 1 in 8. That’s how many couples struggle with infertility.
Miscarriage is even more common. 1 in 4 women have suffered a loss. 1 in 4 women know the heartbreak of carrying a child in their body, but never in their arms. So many people suffer in silence with both infertility and loss.
I am aware that my struggle with infertility has been significantly shorter than the road many have had to travel. Many wait much longer, and are still waiting. My heart breaks every time I learn of another friend who is in the midst of their infertility journey. I weep for my friends who have had experiences with failed fertility treatments and losses. I hope that by sharing my story I bring hope, and not added sadness.
As a photographer, I’ve been drawn to maternity and newborn photography. I’m sure my past struggles have contributed to this passion. During infertility awareness week, I join with many other newborn photographers to share buckets of hope. These empty buckets symbolize the emptiness that many women feel as they await their miracle baby. They also represent hope. If you are struggling, please know that I mourn with you. I pray for you. And I will be there to celebrate with you if and when your miracle arrives.