Written by Elizabeth Lantry, guest blogger
It’s still a little hard for me to believe I’m pregnant and I’m sitting here writing about my SUCCESS story. My initial motivation for sharing my story was more selfish than anything. I needed the support and over time, it helped me through infertility. During our first two cycles, we didn’t tell anyone except my parents and a close friend. It was a really lonely and scary way to go through IVF. I didn’t realize how many people go through this process until I shared.
I am 35 in and I’ve always wanted kids, but I started to doubt if it would happen when I hit my late 20s. Tom and I met at work when I was only 20 and an intern right out of college. We became close friends right away and were best friends for years before we started dating and celebrated six years in April. Tom has two kids from his previous marriage and to have kids together was a HUGE topic for us when we first started dating. He was done (his kids were almost grown)and had a vasectomy several years back. I can still remember standing on our deck, having a drink, when he agreed to have babies with me in September of 2012…
Year 1 of Infertility: Vasectomy Reversal & Trying to Conceive
In January of 2013 Tom had his vasectomy reversed. We tried to get pregnant until October before we were concerned something was wrong. We each saw our doctors and found out that the surgery worked fundamentally (flow of sperm) but he had built up antibodies in the time while the vasectomy was in place. Getting pregnant naturally just wasn’t going to happen for us. IVF with ICSI was our only option. Luckily, as we completed rounds of testing in November and December, we found that I was good to go! Doing IVF should be a slam dunk for us. Or at least that’s what they thought…
Year 2 of Infertility: 3 full rounds of IVF
I planned our first IVF cycle around a due date of November 10th, to match my dad’s birthday. Aside from the obvious anxiety of starting a process we weren’t familiar with, the cycle went smoothly and I found out I was pregnant 5 days after my transfer. Later, we would start to understand that the results from that cycle were less than ideal, but I was blissfully unaware at the time. We only got 7 eggs and the embryo that resulted from the cycle was low quality. As a result, I miscarried some time between 5 and 6 weeks and I was devastated.
We took a break and started round two mid-summer. We went into the cycle hopeful but cautious. And still especially uneducated on the topic. I knew everything about how to do my shots, what the calendar looks like, etc. But I was completely unaware of critical pieces of information such as success rates of clinics, embryo quality, average expected number of eggs and fertilization rates for someone my age. We knew that the doctor was planning to adjust my medication to try to get more eggs and we got started. At retrieval, we were notified that we got the same number of eggs (seven). Then, we found out five days after our retrieval that NO eggs fertilized to a day 5 blastocyst and our transfer would be canceled. I was devastated again.
It was at this point that we started to suspect something was off with me. They ran a bunch of additional tests, including an insulin check and an AMH test. The AMH result confirmed what we thought, my egg reserve and quality was low for someone my age.
This was when I went into research mode. Who is the “Mayo Clinic” of infertility? How does my doctor compare? What do all these test results mean? What should I be seeing? This is also when we started sharing our story on social media. This was when we discovered Dr. Schoolcraft in Denver. It only took one phone consultation with him to know that we needed the “Mayo Clinic” of infertility and he was it. We decided to travel to Denver for our next round of IVF, despite the fact that the entire cycle would be out of pocket (previously, insurance covered quite a bit of our cycles).
We did our 3rd retrieval in Denver at Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) in November. I won’t lie, the process was intense. We had to do a bunch of repeat testing and some new tests I had never done before. The medication protocol was also much more involved. And there were so many rules (i.e. no caffeine or alcohol for either of us!)! But when I woke up from my retrieval and heard that we got 13 eggs, I was thrilled! Almost double. This was it. This was going to get me my baby(ies).
Six days later they called with the blastocyst results and once again, I was devastated. We got ONE. Only ONE potential baby. And that was IF it passed genetic testing (something we hadn’t done before). I still regret diving right into transfer at this point. I wasn’t ready emotionally and life was too stressful (we were moving and building a house). But the ONE blastocyst passed genetic testing so I dove in and we transferred the first few days of January. I took pregnancy tests at home every single day and they were all negative. The blood test 9 days later confirmed… BIG FAT NEGATIVE. Once again, devastated.
Year 3 of Infertility: A Break
After my negative result, we regrouped with Dr. Schoolcraft and he said the words no girl really wants to hear… “It’s time to start thinking about egg donors.” Yes, I realize an egg donor baby would still be “my” baby and I would love him/her just as much. Just like I would if I adopted. But what’s so wrong with wanting a baby that was made from me? I just wasn’t there yet. Anyone who has done IVF hoping for a baby made from their own DNA will understand. It certainly didn’t stop people from advising me to move on to adoption or egg donors. And it hurt every. single. time.
I pushed back a little on Dr. Schoolcraft and asked if there was ANYTHING we could do. Was there any hope? He said that the embryo we got certainly “could” have made a baby. So we weren’t totally out of the game. But in his opinion, the only way I might be successful would be to do something called Family Building. Basically 3 IVF retrievals back to back to bank up eggs that are fertilized to day 2. Then after the 3rd retrieval, grow them all to day 5/6 and biopsy them and freeze them. Then genetic testing and then see what we get. I’ll let you look on their website to see what it costs, but it’s more than a starter home in my town.
We let him know I’d have to switch to Tom’s insurance (so at least some of that house would be covered), which we couldn’t do until the following year. Could we wait that long? Would that ruin my chances? Of course, the older I get the worse my eggs will be and he confirmed. But if I was going to do that, he’d like me to try a vitamin protocol. “It’s mostly voodoo,” he said, “but I’ve never had someone patient enough to take it for a full year, so let’s give it a try.”
So I spent the year traveling, drinking, crying sometimes, playing and whatever I could to take my mind off of things. We still hadn’t decided for sure we were going to do the Family Building process. It was going to be SO much work. Could my body or soul take it? By summer the decision was overwhelming me. I started seeing a counselor to help me work it all out. It only took a few sessions to know I had to try.
On September 1st, I started prepping my body for this difficult process. No drinking, no caffeine, diabetic diet (no, I’m not diabetic, but insulin is bad for fertility), lots of exercise, and acupuncture. On November 1st, Tom started prepping too (no drinking, 1 cup of coffee a day, etc.).
Year 4 of Infertility: Family Building (3 Retrievals & a Transfer)
At this point, you have to remember I’m really smart when it comes to IVF retrievals. I can practically read the ultrasounds myself. I know what sizes my eggs should be each day and I even got to the point where I could tell when they would tell me to trigger or change meds. I did my best to just go with the process and not stress over the details. I didn’t do very well at that.
The three retrievals went something like this: 1 period cycle of priming (estrogen primer) and 1 period cycle of stimulation and retrieval. Then start all over again. January 18th, March 10th, and May 1st were my three retrievals. I stuck to the no drinking, no caffeine, exercise and acupuncture all 3 retrievals. I was on a strict diabetic diet my first retrieval, a loosy-goosey diet on my second retrieval, and for the 3rd retrieval I decided to go ALL IN with Whole 30. I knew the impact the diabetic diet was having on my fertility (which is basically centered around avoiding simple carbs and sugar and focusing on whole grains, protein, and real food). Whole 30 just stepped that up a notch to eliminate dairy and whole grains. It was worth a try! Keep in mind at this point that I was also still on the vitamin protocol prescribed by Dr. Schoolcraft. Another huge change we tried during the final retrieval was to use the growth hormone, Saizen. It was wildly expensive and I had a lot of concerns and doubts, but we went for it. Remember: ALL IN.
After the first retrieval, I cried when I woke up and found out we only got 11 eggs because the whole time I had been seeing upwards of 16 eggs on the ultrasound screen. I was thrilled with retrieval #2 because I got 14 eggs. And when I woke up from retrieval #3, I about fell out of bed when they said I got 21 eggs. We got so good at retrievals by the end that we were traveling home (driving) immediately following the surgery…not advised and literally against the rules, but man I just wanted to be home!
Fast forward to May 1st… And now, we wait. The torturous 5-6 day wait to find out if any of my eggs and 8 months of hard work would give us any viable embryos.
I will remember this phone call forever. We were sitting in our Four Seasons room by the lake when they called. Right away, the nurse said “Are you ready for this?!” And then… “ELEVEN!!!” I about died. I made her give me every single detail. I was certain she called the wrong patient. We got 2 blastocysts from retrieval #1, 2 from retrieval #2, and 7 from retrieval #3. (Details on quality of each can be found on my blog, along with a million other details.) I spent the entire day going up to anyone who would listen and saying “Do you know what?! I got ELEVEN embryos!!!”
They sent the biopsies off for genetic testing and 9 of the 11 passed.
This time, I was smarter going into my transfer. I took some time off between the retrievals and the transfer and enjoyed life and relaxed. It was easier knowing how many embryos I had waiting for me. I was excited, but knew it was better for my babies and for my heart if I was “ready.” I prepped for transfer for 2 months (diabetic diet/Whole 30, exercise, no caffeine, no alcohol, acupuncture). We transferred two of our highest quality embryos (ironically both from the final retrieval) on August 26th and found out we were pregnant on September 4th. On September 21st, we had our first ultrasound and saw TWO heartbeats. Later that day we were able to find out they were both girls (via the genetic testing results). I don’t have to tell you what this news felt like. You can picture it. I literally cried out loud when the ultrasound tech saw the two heartbeats on the monitor. After years of never making it to this point, the feeling of seeing actual hearts up on the screen was unexplainable.
I’m now 30 weeks pregnant as I type this blog. I keep posting my story as much as I can and I’ve even worked with several women going through this process for one reason: to give them hope. There is nothing wrong with hope. It’s going to hurt no matter what if it doesn’t work. But hope makes it bearable. I am also a big advocate of going ALL IN. Do your research, find out what could help and then do ALL OF IT. Both of my babies are from my all in cycle. I literally gave it everything I had and it paid off. If I had half-assed it and it didn’t work, I never would have forgiven myself.
I’m still not sure what happened between the first 3 retrievals and the second 3. Part of me has to rely on faith to a certain extent and assume that these girls were just meant to be my babies. Sometimes I like to look at the science of things and take comfort in the idea that I had some control over the outcome because of all the extra work I put into the last three rounds. Then common sense takes over and I remind myself I was 2 years older for the last 3 rounds and I still did better. Back to faith. At the end of the day, all I know is I went from getting 2 blastocysts from 27 eggs to getting 11 blastocysts from 46 eggs. Oh and did I mention…I’m having twin girls.