On my 25th birthday, I had a mini life crisis. I realized I wanted to have kids but had been single for a few years and doubted whether or not I would ever meet the right guy. So, I decided if I was still single at 35, I would have a child on my own.
I didn't think much about it again until I turned 30 and had a sobering thought - my current relationship had no real future and if I really wanted to have kids at 35, I needed to start planning.
I began researching everything to do with single motherhood, reproductive technologies, sperm banks, etc. I also started putting money aside every month into a baby fund. It was fairly easy for me - I already lived quite simply, had a good paying job, and my vacation time was usually spent backpacking around BC instead of taking costly trips out of the country. I continued to date occasionally but eventually just stopped altogether as my attention was too focused on my fertility plans.
RARING TO GO
By the time I hit 34, I felt ready and so decided not to wait any longer. I made an appointment at a local fertility clinic. My initial tests were all perfect and my doctor was confident I could get pregnant quickly. The only initial snag was that my cycle was very irregular so I went on Clomid right away.
Over the course of a year, I did 6 IUIs, all with negative results. It was hard, that first year, because I went into the process with such optimism and such great test results. I knew the infertility stats because I'd done all the research but you still always hope you will be the lucky one to succeed on the first few tries. After all, my mom had 6 kids and never had to try longer than 3 months for any of them. I'd hoped my story would be similar.
After the 6 failed IUIs, I had laparoscopic surgery to check for and remove endometriosis. Mine was a fairly mild case so ultimately my doctor couldn't tell if that had been what was stopping me. Nonetheless, we moved on to my 7th IUI full of renewed optimism. This time, however, my body didn't respond to the drugs at all and we had to cancel the attempt mid-cycle.
That was a serious blow. I had such high hopes after the surgery and to have them dashed like that was pure torment. At this stage, my doctor decided we needed to get more aggressive and we moved on to IVF.
DEALING WITH ANXIETY
I was just about to start the injections for my first IVF cycle when circumstances changed. I have struggled with anxiety since childhood; however, I had always found ways to manage it and keep it under control. For the first time, I couldn't rein it in anymore. One day, I had a severe reaction to a situation I found myself in and for some reason, I couldn't control my resulting anxiety. It built and built and built until finally my fertility acupuncturist, recognizing the signs, referred me to an anxiety clinic for help. It was then, after over a year of fertility drugs and treatments, that I was officially diagnosed with OCD.
The first thing I did was stop my IVF cycle - I wasn't in any state to get pregnant. As hard as it was to do, I put my fertility plans on hold so I could come to terms with my new mental illness and learn how to manage my thoughts and find my way back to myself. It was a long journey and it wasn't easy but after about 6 months, I finally felt I was ready to try again, armed with my new found knowledge about how to manage my anxiety.
Around this time, an old friend of almost 20 years came back into my life after living abroad in France for 5 years. On learning what I was doing, he offered to be my sperm donor. I had been using anonymous sperm up until that point but there were certainly some benefits with using a known donor. After some serious discussion and deliberations, we decided to give it a try.
SUCCESS & DEVASTATION
My first IVF was stressful but I weathered the storm nicely and was surprised when, for the first time, I got pregnant. I can still remember running around my mom's living room waving the home pregnancy test I had peed on shrieking “It's positive! It's positive”. It felt like everything was finally falling into place.
Then, my first ultrasound came around 6 weeks. I strode confidently into the room only to have the doctor look, frown, and give me the worst news of my life. My baby had a heartbeat but was too small; there was a 99% certainty that I was going to miscarry. Thus began a month of hell - ultrasounds every week first at my clinic and then at the Women's Hospital as they continued to assess my odds. The heartbeat continued (poor little thing was determined) but the embryo never grew in size. Around week 9 of my pregnancy, all doctors concluded that it was over, any hope had long since disappeared. My first miscarriage occurred on Mother's Day 2012. At my check-up ultrasound later that week, they discovered that some blood vessels had been left behind in my uterus and so I was wheeled into the hospital for an emergency procedure.
The weeks that followed were very uneventful, mostly because I refused to get out of bed or even remotely try to live. I went into a severe depressive state, refused to eat, refused to move, and refused to talk about it. All I did was sleep and cry on repeat. I just didn't care about anything anymore.
Slowly but surely, I came out of my depression with the help of my family and re-entered my life but it was a lonely existence. I didn't really know how to act around my friends anymore, especially those who didn't even know what had happened. And despite how supportive they were, it was hard to be around family. Since I had started trying, three of my siblings had successfully conceived and birthed their daughters and just a few weeks after my miscarriage, I found out that my brother and his wife were pregnant with their second child. My sister and her husband soon followed. It was a lonely time for me filled with a lot of hurt, anger, and increased anxiety.
Eventually, I came to a point of acceptance and felt ready to move on and try again. About 7 months after my miscarriage, I braced myself and went in for IVF #2. I got pregnant again but my new fears about what could happen were well-founded on this cycle. It was exactly like the cycle before - there was a heartbeat but the embryo was again too small. I had multiple ultrasounds before the heartbeat finally stopped and I miscarried in week 9. This time, however, I went straight to the D&C in hopes that they could test the remains to see what had gone wrong. It turned out to be a rare chromosomal abnormality; the embryo had been doomed from the start.
FINDING NEW WAYS TO HEAL
While my grief was again intense, this miscarriage was different in that, as devastated as I was, I was determined not to go through it alone. So, I came home from the hospital and told everyone everything - about the miscarriages, the years of trying, the struggles I'd been through, and the anxiety disorder I'd picked up along the way.
The response was amazing; the support I received was overwhelming. Friends who had also been through miscarriages or infertility struggles shared their stories with me. Others just offered to take me out for an evening of fun to take my mind off the loss. Everyone was so compassionate and understanding and my recovery was 100 times easier than the first had been. Yes, I still grieved but I no longer felt so alone, I no longer felt I was living multiple lives and hiding my true self.
Once again, I took some time off to recover but also to take a long look at what I wanted to do. I took some well-needed vacation time and headed on my dream trip to Iceland and Greenland. It meant putting a serious dent in my remaining baby fund but it was worth every penny. During the trip, I was finally able to envision a life for myself without motherhood, something I had been unable to do since my journey began. I had 3 frozen embryos left over from my second IVF and I decided to try one last time. If it didn't work, I would walk away with no regrets and embrace a different life for myself.
THEN THIS HAPPENED...
The day before I was to start my meds for the frozen cycle, my known donor came to me and told me he had met someone. Initially I was happy for him but then I filled with dread as he continued to talk. He had told his new love interest about me and what he was doing to help me. She couldn't accept his involvement and gave him an ultimatum - if he wanted to start dating her, he had to stop helping me. In the end, my friend of 20 years chose her over me.
This was a blow, not only to our friendship but also because he would no longer allow me to use the remaining frozen embryos. I had no choice but to sign the paperwork to have them destroyed. This was more heartbreaking than even my miscarriages had been because I knew the embryos that had been miscarried had not been viable. These embryos, however, were still full of promise. I recall breaking down crying when signing the paperwork, having the nurse at the clinic hold me as I cried for what felt like an hour. She then brought in the lab manager who promised to send me a picture of the embryos before they were destroyed so I would have a reminder of my babies-who-might-have-been.
It was yet another tough stage in my journey but my recovery time was the quickest yet, spurred on by anger and determination. I knew there was absolutely no way my fertility journey was going to end like this and so I decided to start over and do one more IVF. I went back to my original anonymous donor and once again started the lengthy process. My last IVF was both a failure and a success - a failure in that I did not get pregnant but a success in that I produced 9 quality embryos, 7 that were ultimately frozen.
MY LITTLE MIRACLE
A few months later, I did my first FET with 2 of my frozen embryos and I got pregnant for the third time. This time it stuck. I can still remember the first ultrasound when my doctor told me everything looked great. I honestly didn't even believe it. I told her to double-check just to make sure but she was sure that everything was exactly as it should be. The same thing with the next ultrasound and then the 21 week ultrasound and so on. By the time I reached my third trimester, I felt like any other pregnant woman. I no longer felt like I was "broken" or infertile or a mystery to my doctors; I was just a very nauseous mommy-to-be excited about soon meeting her child.
My mom calls my daughter, now 2 years old, "our little miracle" and she truly is. There were so many times when I was convinced I would never be a mom, when I really felt I was being denied this path. I know not everyone who struggles will be successful in the end and I believe it takes a strong woman to know when it is time to move on. For those women out there who are still fighting or for those who have chosen a different path, I wish you much happiness and luck.
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Olive Fertility Centre resides on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Tsleil-waututh Nations (Vancouver and Surrey clinics), of the Lekwungen people (Victoria clinic), of the syilx/Okanagan people (Kelowna clinic) and of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation (Blossom Fertility clinic in Prince George).
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