Experiencing Infertility PTSD (part 1 – pregnancy)

You would think that the joy of being pregnant would erase the traumatic ordeal that had been infertility.

It didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong.  I was overwhelmed with happiness that I was finally pregnant, but I was also consumed by fear.  I’m aware that most women experience fear of loss. Pregnancy is scary.   However, I truly believe fear is compounded when you’ve had a loss or gone through infertility (or worse, both).

The desire to be a Mother was so encompassing that I couldn’t imagine living without realizing this dream.  Every ounce of my future happiness was dependent upon the growing life inside of me.  It was hard to shake the thought of something happening to my baby.  I feared what I might become if I experienced another loss.  I was out of funds, energy and hope.  If I lost this pregnancy I knew that I’d become bitter, hopeless and depressed.

There is a weird limbo to being pregnant after you’ve fought an infertility diagnosis.  You have a foot tentatively in both worlds.  Until there’s a baby in arms, it’s hard to get your mind out of the world you’ve just left.  You’re so used to being entrenched in it.

In spite of this, I LOVED being pregnant.  I embraced my changing shape.  I documented each month by going to a local photographer.  I wore the most figure hugging clothes.  I embraced the light whilst silencing the black fear that lurked beneath the surface.  I was conscious of being as positive as possible to infuse my future son with as much bright energy as I could.  And I was genuinely happy.

I didn’t equate being pregnant with having a baby though.  I know this sounds insane.  It felt like it was happening to someone else, not me.  Ultrasounds were an out of body experience.  That baby was actually inside of me?  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  And while I loved being pregnant and was beyond excited to be a Mother, I didn’t believe it was going to happen until I was on the operating table waiting for him to be born.  There is nothing like a surgeons knife to give me a reality check!

Before that flesh and blood boy was placed on my chest I had fully pictured him only as a cartoon character.  A Pinocchio of sorts.  Like I was the Geppetto wishing for my real boy and never computing he was there all along.

Once my son was in my sight I knew him.  It was him all along.  I knew who he was and I loved him beyond anything I felt possible.  The relief… now I could see him, touch him and hold him it felt like I finally had control.  Infertility was behind me.

It’s one of the hardest things to explain to anyone other than a person who has lived through it.   I named it infertility PTSD but have since discovered that its a recognized syndrome.  I was never diagnosed with having it but there’s no other way to describe how it felt than this.

I thought these feelings would disappear once my son was born but in a strange way they actually just changed shape.  I think they’ll always be with me in some form.

I’d love to hear from others who have had these feelings.  How long did they last for you and did you feel like they changed once the baby was born?

IVF for the 3rd time.

After my miscarriage and the subsequent discovery that it had been a ‘blighted ovum’ which was not compatible with life, I started dreaming of ways to do one more round of IVF.

I was in the process of selling the house I owned with my Mother (but didn’t live in) and buying another property where we could both live in separate abodes.

This certainly wasn’t leaving me with any disposable income but what it did do was to clear my debt.  In order to qualify for a mortgage I had to roll my existing debts into my new mortgage.  My fertility loan had a very high interest rate due to lack of collateral… they can’t very well take the baby away if you fail to make payments and in my case there was no baby.  It was a relief to do this.

So there I was, with a new home and no debt.  It seemed like the perfect time to get back into debt and try again!  I made an appointment at the bank.  I remember the loan officer asking me if I was doing home improvements with the money.  I told her that a baby most certainly would be a home improvement for me!  Luckily I qualified and within 6 weeks of buying a new home I was back on the IVF train.

I’m telling you this because people are often mystified as to how I afforded IVF.  The answer is that I worked my ass off, picking up as many shifts at work as I could. After 2 rounds of IVF I rolled my debt into my mortgage.  In addition, I burned through all $15,000 of my savings doing IUI’s, buying sperm and meeting my health insurance deductible.

IVF Round III

This time I decided to come at it a little differently.  I decided to do PGD testing.  This is where they take a few cells from a day 5/6 embryo and test the chromosomes to ensure that the embryo has the best chance of viability.  There’s definitely some controversy to it but I wanted to try to reduce my risk of miscarriage if possible.

I was sure it wasn’t going to work and had steeled myself for the phone call with bad news that none of my embryos were viable.  It took almost 3 weeks for the results during which time I did my resolute best not to think about it.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I sent an email to the PGD coordinator asking if she had any news.  I remember the day so vividly.  I was about to attend my end of season work party.  I opened my email to the news that I had one, viable male embryo.  I happened to be with my heavily pregnant friend moments later.  My lost child would have been born within 2 weeks of her imminent baby.  I had missed her baby shower and she had been unaware of my pregnancy as I didn’t want to make her feel bad.  I explained all of this to her that night along with the wonderful news in my email.  We both shed tears of sadness and joy for each other.

I decided that I was going to wait for 3 periods/cycles until I transferred my perfect embryo.  I ate well, took good care of my body, rested and made space in my heart to receive a boy child.  I let myself imagine him (something that I’d never allowed myself to do before now.)

During this time, the relationship I had been in all year abruptly ended which was a blow.  He had been a great source of support and comfort during my miscarriage and a big distraction from the craziness that is infertility.  Whilst upsetting, I hadn’t been sure that I wanted his influence around my future child so I did my best to see it as a blessing.

I went to see my abdominal massage therapist and told her that once again I was preparing to accept a child into my womb.  She helped me to free the tension I had been carrying there since the loss and the break up.  We visualized my child.  I was finally ready.

On Tues Dec 8th 2015 I transferred my last hope into my uterus.  It was the most traumatic and uncomfortable of all the transfers but once done was declared to be ‘perfect positioning’!

I went out for celebratory dumplings… I wanted the first meal I had as a potentially pregnant woman to be a delicious one.  I kept the chopsticks for his memory box.

I swore I wouldn’t test early.

5 days later I caved and peed on a stick.  It was 7am and a squinter of a line appeared on the stick.

I awoke my mother to tell her!

Later that day I met with two friends who had also struggled with infertility and were miraculously both pregnant too!  I told them the news.  It had been my dream to be pregnant at the same time as these women and it had happened!

After more than 2 years of fertility treatments I was finally pregnant and this time, in spite of the fear, I felt like I might actually bring home a baby.

 

 

A Guide to Understanding IVF

While every protocol for IVF is different there are some steps that are pretty much the same for everyone.  If you’re just starting out here’s what you can expect;

  1. Initial consult with RE to discuss protocol
  2. Wait for start of period. You may already be taking estrogen/birth control pill.
  3. Vaginal Ultrasound to assess baseline
  4. Start injections
  5. Another Vaginal Ultrasound to see how you’re doing and to tweak meds if necessary
  6. More injections
  7. Another Ultrasound, maybe add in another shot to stop you ovulating.
  8. More injections until they finally tell you to do trigger shot.
  9. 36 hours after trigger shot you have your egg retrieval
  10. A day after egg retrieval you find out how many eggs fertilized
  11. Maybe a day 3 transfer, maybe a day 5 transfer.  You might choose to freeze all or have embryos tested.

Here’s my experience...

When I started on the journey to have a child I remember naively saying that I wanted as little intervention as possible.  I was against taking drugs.  I said I would never do IVF.

Health insurance back then did not cover fertility treatment for single women.  You had to be married.  I was paying for everything out of pocket and none of it was cheap!!

In order to boost my chances I tried a couple of rounds of clomid.  RE’s often like you to do a ‘clomid challenge’ to see how you respond to drugs.  What clomid does is it makes your body produce extra follicles, which is where the eggs grow and mature.  I responded well but didn’t achieve a pregnancy.

I threw out my no intervention and no drugs rule.  I took out a loan and moved to IVF.  I had found an RE that I liked.  I went to a consultation where I asked 5000 questions and then waited to start my cycle.  I remember being terrified but also confident that it would work.

IVF is not at all glamorous.  You’re constantly undressing and having vaginal ultrasounds.  It becomes so routine that when I was pregnant I once got undressed only to have the doctor tell me it wasn’t necessary anymore! (embarrassing!)

I had one last hurdle to overcome.  I was terrified of needles!  I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the courage to inject myself!  The sheer volume of meds and equipment was terrifying.

meds

I swear that first shot took me half an hour to prepare and inject.  To my surprise it didn’t hurt in the slightest.  I think the adrenaline and fear of doing it wrong  makes you not even notice the needle going in.

About 10 days in I started feeling quite delicate.  I used to say that my lady balls were swollen.  I found myself being a little more cautious as I sat down and stood up.  Imagine your ovaries as a golf ball and usually they have a little marble or two in them each month.  Now imagine that you’ve put 6+ marbles in there.  That golf ball is turning into a tennis ball… or maybe even bigger.  That’s what I was feeling.. I couldn’t wait til retrieval day.

Once my follicles had reached their goal size I was brought in for my egg retrieval.   It was a little scary (isn’t any surgery?) but over quickly.  I felt a bit sore for a day or so after my first one but nothing major.

Then I waited to see how many had fertilized… then how many made it to day 3, then to day 5.  I was lucky and was about to transfer one and freeze the rest.  It didn’t take.  Nor did any of the frozen ones.

There’s a lot more research now that points to frozen transfers being more successful.  Taking a break gives your body a chance to get rid of all those nasty drugs and find its equilibrium.  In hindsight I wonder if taking a break between tries might have brought my child to me more quickly…. I was on the train, month after month and I wasn’t going to give up until I got my baby! (Or went bankrupt.)

I did a second round of IVF and got even more good looking day 5 embryos.  I did a fresh transfer which didn’t take.  I did more Frozen transfers that failed.. and then I took a much needed break.

to be continued.  

The Importance of Finding the Right Fertility Doc for you.

Once I had picked a donor, done a couple of IUI’s, had the HSG and had a couple more failed IUI’s I came to a realization;

I couldn’t stand my RE!!!

I had thought that all you had to do was find a Reproductive Endocrinologist and they would unlock the secret to getting you pregnant.  This was not the case.  I didn’t feel like I had an advocate in my RE.  I felt like I was walking through glue.  After 6 months of this I was ready to move to IVF and a new RE.

This time I did some research aka: I googled.  I called a couple of clinics and rejected the ones who would only accept applications via fax. (I’m supposed to have faith in your state of the art reproductive technology yet you won’t accept my emailed application?  No thanks… )

I loved my new RE.  He was a wealth of information.  He was encouraging.  He was never too busy for questions. He was up on the latest technology.  He never let me lose hope.

He eventually got me pregnant.

 

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

These days it’s much easier to choose an RE thanks to a great new website called Fertility IQ.  You can use this site to research the clinics and REs in your area.  These are verified reviews from people who have actually used the clinics/RE’s.  I have submitted my reviews and I urge others to do the same OR to use this resource when choosing their RE.  I’ve heard so many horror stories of bad RE’s – especially from single women.  Fertility IQ will help you avoid them.   Incidentally, I am not affiliated with them, merely think it’s a service that everyone should know about!

How to choose a donor again, and again and again…

Once I had decided that I was going to try to have a baby on my own it was time to start thinking about who was going to Father said child.  I considered all the options, some more than others…

  • One Night Stand?  Totally out of the question.  Gross/diseases/timing and of course morality.
  • Known Donor?  I considered this briefly after a ‘close male friend’ offered.  It has its pros and works for some people but I didn’t want the danger of ever having to fight for full custody of my child.  I also didn’t want to be tied to this person for the rest of my life.
  • Sperm Bank?  Overwhelming as there are so many.  For me this was the most logical way even though it was the most expensive.

Once the decision had been made there were a barrage of decisions behind it.  I decided against an anonymous donor immediately.  I am a very honest person and intended to be open with my child about how they came to be.  Choosing someone who had opted out of contact with their offspring seemed wrong to me.  I’d spent time reading up on donor offspring and felt that my child would be a lot less likely to resent me if I had at least afforded them the opportunity to speak to, or meet their donor one day.

So I decided I would choose an ID release or Open Donor, which means that the donor is anonymous until his offspring reach 18 years old.  They are then entitled to at least one contact with him.  This costs more, but in the great scheme of things is a paltry sum to perhaps offset a lifetime of genetic curiosity.

The Sperm Bank and actually choosing the donor.  It took me weeks to stop being overwhelmed by this and to settle on a sperm bank.  I went with one where you could see adult photos.. lets face it, you can be a cute baby but a creepy looking adult.  The bank I chose happened to also be the most expensive one but I reasoned with myself… ‘who wants cheap sperm?’  It didn’t feel like an area I should be saving money.

Choosing a donor is a lot like internet dating… you just have to delve a lot deeper before you can swipe left or right.  The bonus is that you get to read family health history and you know he doesn’t have a drug problem or any STD’s right off the bat.

Donor Number One

I agonized for days over more profiles that I can count.  I took notes.  I had a short-list.  I pored over family histories, interviews, profile pics.  I paid attention to their star sign.  I wondered if we met (and I were younger,) would I date this person?  When my child finally speaks to or meets this man will he understand my choice.  After days and days I finally had my future baby Daddy paid for and winging his way to my clinic.  I was so nervous but so relieved.  I bought Donor One in bulk so I would have enough for 2 kids… but even a bulk buy wouldn’t see me to the end of my journey and after 6 treatments I’d run out of stock.

Donor Number Two

It was when I was 5 days into belly injections for my second round of IVF that I received a call from my clinic to ask when my specimen would arrive.  I was, at that time picking flowers to sell at a local farmers market.  I was gob smacked to discover that they had used up my last two vials during my previous round of IVF but had failed to let me know.

I couldn’t get home fast enough.  I made a call to the sperm bank who informed me that my original donor was sold out.  They kindly let me look at full profiles for free for 3 days.  Of course I didn’t have 3 days.  I had 3 hours to choose my potential kids potential biological other half.  I hurriedly absorbed as many as I could and favorited a handful as I narrowed them down.  At the end of the 3 hours I had picked a donor who seemed even more wonderful than Number One.  I figured maybe it was a sign.  Maybe Number One and I just weren’t compatible but Number Two… now he really seemed like he would have what it took.

Donor Number Three

I was jaded.  Another failed round of IVF behind me.  I had spent more money than I make in a year chasing my dream.  I had had a miscarriage.  I had decided to give it one last try.  I didn’t believe it would work.  I called the sperm bank and tried to get a free trial again to no avail.  I didn’t have money to spend looking at multiple donors.  Then I remembered my favorites.  Fifteen minutes later I had picked the most handsome one.  He had an amazing jawline and good family health history.  That’s all that I cared about.  Besides it was never going to work anyways.

And that is how I picked the best donor.  The donor who would (with a lot of help from Science) make me a mother.  And I couldn’t believe that after all the agonizing he was the one I had spent the least time worrying about.

I have since heard it a lot from women who fight infertility.  That the donor selection becomes less and less important as you go on.  As your hope wanes.  You just want a baby, any baby and it really doesn’t matter where that baby comes from in the end.  You’ve already fallen in love with a couple (or a few) donors along the way and the only person you have energy left to be disappointed with is yourself.

I’m also happy to report that I have now read up on Donor Don (affectionate nickname.) I now know more than his family health history and exquisite jawline.  I even know his star sign.  And if my younger self were to meet him in a bar she would most definitely try to talk to him.