Infertility sucks – How I went from tough to triumph!

I know the pain and stress of the two-week cycle. First comes the disappointment of getting your period. Then ovulation. Did you have good mucus? Did you have sex at the right times? Did you ovulate too early or not even ovulate?? After an ectopic pregnancy and emergency surgery to cauterize one of my fallopian tubes and prevent me from bleeding to death (sorry to be so graphic) at 29 years old, I became terrified that I would never get pregnant.

I was in naturopathic medical school and had a number of female supervisors and fellow students make incredibly insensitive comments implying that the likelihood of me ever getting pregnant again was slim to none. I had only one fallopian tube. I was told there was always IVF. Or I could adopt. These were ignorant comments and very unhelpful. 

Growing up, I was an only child until 13 years old. I was a latch-key kid and spent way too much time alone. I always daydreamed about what it would be like to be part of my cousins’ family – 3 kids. I was so jealous. It was my dream to have three children – to have a big family. After this experience with the ectopic and emergency surgery, I was scared that this dream would never become a reality.

At almost 32, I officially started trying to get pregnant. A year went by and nothing. And honestly, it’s amazing how ignorant I was about my cycle considering the fact that I had been to medical school. During that year a friend who was also trying to get pregnant asked if I had ever read “Taking Charge Of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. I bought it right away. It is now required reading for all the my fertility patients. It is an amazing book.

What I realized from this book, was that I did not seem to ovulate every month. My periods were always like clockwork, but there was definitely something off. I had wicked cramps for the first day or two of my period  – so much so that I just laid around in agony. And truthfully this had been going on since high school. I was put on prescription pain killers at 14 because the pain was so terrible. 

I really started worrying that I would never get pregnant. So I decided to see a specialist who used more natural methods of getting pregnant. She was formerly an IVF specialist, but found that less invasive treatments were often more effective. First she did a lab work-up to see what was out of balance. I ended up on antibiotics for 6 months just to eliminate a bacterial infection I had picked up in Bali 8 years earlier – this was originally found because of a plural effusion (water in my lung sack) – that had been present since the vacation in Bali and I could actually feel a bubble in that area.

During that year I also did a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) and luckily, the one tube that I did have was clear.  The first time we stopped the antibiotics, my hair started falling out in buckets. I was afraid that I would go bald. After lots of tears, some iron supplementation and returning to the anti-biotic for a while, the hair loss stopped and started to grow back. 

She had also diagnosed me with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) – the reason I was not ovulating every month. She put me on Metformin, a drug used to regulate blood sugar issues, the cause of PCOS.  It made me very nauseous. I was really wrestling with taking it because I was already helping my own patients with PCOS using dietary changes and supplementation and it had been working.  I ditched the Metformin and started following my PCOS dietary and supplement recommendations. Duh!! We are not always our own best doctors. 

After following a combination of her directions and my own protocol for 6 months, she decided I was ready to try “naturally”. The 6 months of no trying since I’d started working with her was killing me. My husband kept saying “It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen” – I wanted to strangle him. He would see me being irritable, sad, controlling – he just didn’t know what I was going through on the inside.  I was already 34 – close to that magical death sentence of “advanced maternal age.”  She said we would try each new idea for 3 months. She said that in her experience if it didn’t work after 3 attempts, it was very unlikely to work in the future. The three months of “naturally” didn’t work. 

Depressed and so desperate get pregnant, I reluctantly considered the option of Clomid, but was concerned about multiple births and the idea that the drug would still be circulating when I was actually pregnant and I didn’t want that for the potential baby. So I settled on Femara, typically used for breast cancer. I was told it would help me have a stronger ovulation. So after 3 months of this, 2 years of trying, lots of tears, stress and worry – I got pregnant!  I couldn’t believe it. I had reached my goal after 2 years. I can remember having a conversation with my cousin at the time. She and I were the same age and she had also been trying, and was genuinely happy for me – she said, “It’s okay to be excited you know.” 

An aside to this – something I did not know prior to this experience. My ovulation happened on the right side. I thought, well – not going to happen this month. It’s my left tube that is open. The eggs will have nowhere to go. My doctor told me that fallopian tubes are like arms. They move around. They can pick up the eggs from the other side. I never thought of that as a possibility. In all my medical texts and when taking gross anatomy, we all made the assumption that they were glued to one place like they looked in the pictures and in the cadaver. Well she was right – because that was the month I got pregnant! She put me on progesterone for the first trimester because mine was not optimal for holding a pregnancy.

Now there was a new concern. It turned out that there were two embryos.  They were very different sizes. And the heartbeats were very different. So I made the mistake of calling some local midwife who ignorantly told me one likely had liver damage and the other had kidney damage. And that I would very likely have a miscarriage. I was only 6 weeks pregnant! They were just a bunch of cells!!! They did not even have organs yet – no matter! I PANICKED!! Dr. Google just made it worse. With nowhere else to go –  I demanded that my doctor do another ultrasound. We counted the exact heart rate, which probably would have prevented the panic in the first place. She said we would just watch it. 

I started stuffing my face because I was now worried that I would have preemies. I ate to the point of being stuffed everyday because I wanted to have a natural birth – I know, rare with twins these days. But I wanted to make sure they were at least a healthy weight and that I could carry them as long as possible. I also didn’t know how I could possibly nurse two babies at the same time. To say that I had anxiety about all of this was putting it mildly. 

I made it to 12 weeks. No miscarriage. And I was gaining weight at a professional speed. I had signed up with a practice where the ObGyn was really well liked and known as the “mid-wife in pants”. I wanted a mid-wife, but thought this the best option considering my situation. It turned out that he was so busy, I would be seeing another doctor he had hired. She did not last long at his practice, and unfortunately I saw first hand why. 

There was nothing natural about her, and many other things which I do not need to expound upon here. Short story, short – we went in for my 12 week ultrasound. She had a hacking cough that day with terrible congestion and a runny nose. She remarked about how healthy the baby was, she showed us the heart beat and that all the parts were tact. So I said, “And what about the other one?” 

“Hang on!” she said. And left the room for 10 minutes. 

“The other one….is no longer viable” And to be honest, I felt a great weight lift, but at the same time panic. This not to say that if I had had twins it would not be wonderful, but I was so preoccupied with how I would handle it, knowing that I had at least one, healthy baby, was a relief. I was concerned however, about what would happen with the other one. I had an image of them doing some weird and dangerous extraction process. Luckily, she said that my body would resorb it. So there was nothing to do. Finally I had some peace. I had made it past the first trimester. 

Now the next reason for concern. I had just reached 12 weeks and turned 35 all in one week. I got a call from Stanford Hospital. “Hello, I am calling because we need to do some additional testing. We see that you are now 35. You know this is considered higher risk. We will need to have you come in to do some genetic counseling blah blah blah blah blah….”

I couldn’t listen to her anymore. Would this cycle of worry never end? This was not the experience I had been hoping for – not the care-free pregnant woman with her beautiful bump running through a sunlit field. Nope. That definitely wasn’t happening here. 

So we went to the hospital. They let us know all of the things that could go wrong. And then to be 100% sure (this was in 2009) things were okay, I would have to do an amniocentesis – which also came with the risk of miscarriage. We opted not to do that – and in general after it was all through at about 18 weeks, I finally felt in the clear. Able to be happily pregnant. And after 30 weeks, and really done with this doctor – I started working with a midwife. I also recommend watching “The Business of Being Born”, by Rikki Lake. After watching this and doing some more reading, we decided to have a home birth. 

So at 40 weeks and 3 days. My first son, Max, was born at home. On our bed. Perfectly healthy. Yay!!!

Baby Number Two.

Fast forward a couple of years. We were ready to have another baby. This time the story is much shorter. I went back to the same doctor before we started trying and had a bunch of tests done. Diet and blood sugar under control (this is where PCOS comes from) – there was only one thing to address. My thyroid hormones were less than optimal. They were not out of range, but she said it was much more likely that I would get pregnant easily and stay pregnant if these numbers were more optimal. So she put me on Nature-Throid. I took a few other supplements religiously and this time, at 37, I got pregnant after 5 months of trying naturally. I was so relieved that I didn’t have to go through the struggle that I had last time. The only thing I would have changed if I could have, was having her at home. The curious thing about my births were that the first one from start to finish took 5 hours. And my daughter Zoë, because of where her cord was inserted into the placenta had a “theoretical risk” of it tearing during birth – was forced to have a hospital birth. Her labor started at 7pm at night. By 1am the next morning my labor had completely stopped. Because I was already at the hospital they would not let me go home and so at 7am I was induced with pitocin. at 4pm – 21 hours after my labor started, she was born. Also, perfectly healthy. And almost 3 years to the day after Max was born. 

Baby Number Three

Again fast forward a little more than two years. I was still really hoping to have a third child and I wanted to start trying. Unfortunately we had a little hiccup that was not in alignment with getting pregnant sooner than later. I was already almost 41 years old.  But this hiccup had nothing to do with me. We had a flood at home and had to move into a hotel for a while. Not great for baby making!! But it gave me some time to prepare my body to be at it’s peak for getting pregnant. This time I tested myself for all things I would test my own patient for – I put myself on a rigorous program for 12 weeks. 

And this time…I GOT PREGNANT ON THE FIRST TRY!!!! 3 Weeks shy of turning 41 years old. I felt better during this pregnancy than I had in over 10 years. Pregnant for not. Everything went smoothly. I opted for a home birth again. And on December 10th, 2015 – I had my third child in our bedroom, in a big blow up tub. The labor was 4 hours from start to finish. Exhausting and painful, but exactly what I had imagined. With two midwives, a doula and my husband – I couldn’t have felt more supported. And this time, my baby was 9 pounds, 4oz – the biggest one yet. I did not tear, I healed in a couple of weeks. He was perfectly healthy. I had done it. I was so happy. And so relieved that it all worked out. 

And now at 46 years old, I sit here so happy for all the struggle and each step along the way. I’ve learned so much, and because of this I can help other women who are struggling to get pregnant. My kids are now 11, 8 and 5. And I just want you to know that yes, it’s great to have babies when you’re young. But you can also have them when you get a little older – when you have the right formula. When you optimize your health – so many things become possible.