•Written by Elizabeth Johnson, Guest Blogger
My husband is a solid, secure and wonderful guy. And when I say solid, I mean solid – 6’3, 250 and bench presses almost 400 lbs (yes, that is a real stat). He is funny, sensitive, a serious planner and the most intuitive person I know. We met at a wedding – very cliché, him a groomsman, me a bridesmaid – and started dating soon after. We loved (and still love) planning trips, entertaining our friends and family and going to the beach. The only thing we didn’t plan for was infertility…
Pat and I were married in August 2012 in Northern California, and while we were excited to start a family, to me there was no rush. I said “let’s be married first” with the idea that being a parent is forever, being a newlywed is temporary. But, after a little convincing from him, we decided to “pull the goalie” the following January. After a couple little bumps, we found out we were pregnant at beginning of August 2013, a few weeks short of our first anniversary! We were surprised and excited to say the least. Unfortunately, it only lasted 7 weeks. I was at work one day and I started to bleed, so I rushed to the emergency room. Pat met me at the ER and I will never forget the look on his face and tears in his eyes before we even saw the doctor. After that horrible ER experience (another story for another time), we went home and mourned. But, we also tried to find the silver lining – we got pregnant really fast, I could get pregnant in general and my OBGYN was super optimistic. So we, how you say, got back in the saddle and…
Nothing. For 2 years. Nothing.
We started how everyone does, having sex every other day during the fertile time, taking temps, using ovulation sticks, the works. We would get excited and hopeful, and then…the two week cycle of optimism and then defeat would come and go. Pat has since commented to me that his least favorite words in the English language became “I’m spotting.” And each time I was disappointed he was there to comfort me and say “next time” or “let’s do this differently” always with a solution and not getting bogged down. We did the rounds of clomid and each time while my hormones were up and down, Pat was there to be supportive and calm – yet a little part of him was dying inside. It was getting harder for him to hide his frustration and sadness and when the last round of clomid prescribed by our Doctor failed, he broke down. Tears and beers in the backyard, this wasn’t happening for us how we thought it would. We were at an impasse – take a break or take it one step further and get help. I wasn’t getting any younger so we decided to get help and researched clinics. After choosing the clinic and having our first round of tests (beyond blood tests) in January 2015, we were resolved that this was going to happen – the clinic will figure out the problem, tell us how to fix it and we’ll be good!
We met with the doctor and the diagnosis didn’t go as planned – unexplained infertility. What? Oh there’s nothing wrong with you, we ran every (massively invasive) test but can’t find anything, your infertility is unexplained. We can’t fix it, because we can’t find the problem. WTF?! (literally people, WTF).
But our doc was positive, all the signs pointed towards yes – high egg count, sperm is shaped right and motile, we were a layup, easy peasy, IUI would do it. The light and excitement came back into Pat’s eyes – hey, we’ll get there, we just needed a little assistance. IUI time – let’s do this! IUI, billed as a simple, painless (turkey baster) procedure. Not so much. Turns out, my cervix was a trickster and the doctor kept missing. As I went through the pain of the catheter being reinserted multiple times, Pat went through the pain of watching me and being helpless. I squeezed his hand hard, but he squeezed right back. I got through it, we took a deep breath and he bought me a milkshake (which became a fertility treatment tradition).
Nothing happened, BFN. Another visit to the clinic, rude receptionists, more tests, another IUI, demanding billing department, another milkshake and no pregnancy. We had one more chance at IUI, so decided to try it and if it didn’t work, IVF it was. Ok, game plan! Pat was pumped, he loves game plans. We went in for the last IUI and low and behold, BFP!!! Finally! We had just bought and started remodeling our house, we had resolved to taking the next step if we needed to so we just kind of let it go and there it was! A positive pregnancy test! We were excited and cautiously optimistic. Monday I was pregnant and according to the blood tests the levels looked great, Wednesday, number went up, trending in the right direction, then Sunday, while sitting at brunch with my family, I got the call. Numbers had dropped and I was going to miscarry or it was probably a chemical pregnancy. We left before the coffee came.
When you hit a wall with something, you hit a wall. Pat was done. Done with the clinic, done with the rude receptionists, done with the financial advisors who had no bedside manner when it came to explaining what it would cost, just done.
We were at another impasse – try another clinic or quit. Pat’s gut told him we should switch clinics, I wasn’t so sure. We sat down with our doctor, who he was also starting to lose faith in, but I still loved and trusted, to discuss IVF. Pat brashly decided to ask her about the other local clinics that we were looking into, and she gave the very diplomatic answer that all of the clinics were fine, just went about things differently. When he asked more pointedly about a clinic we were looking into more closely, she seemed uncomfortable and just said “oh they are great people.” Awkward. We went home, and talked a few things out and then tabled the discussion for a few days. When you are battling infertility, tabling something for even a few days feels like a lifetime. I knew what I wanted to do – stick with our doctor and start IVF – but Pat needed to come to the decision on his own. A few more days went by, clock was ticking, and he said he was ready to take the next step and start IVF. Hurray! We would stay at the clinic, begrudgingly, but with a doctor who all but guaranteed us we would have a baby.
At my first appointment to start the IVF process, my doctor came out to the waiting room and asked me to come back to her office, instead of the receptionist leading me back. All I thought was “this can’t be good.” Well, I was wrong, first good news we had in awhile – she was switching clinics, to the clinic we were considering and wanted to let me know personally, so that no more time could be wasted. I didn’t even go to the rest of the appointment, I called Pat immediately. It was a no brainer, leave the rude, expensive clinic and follow her. Finally a sign! At our first consultation appointment at the new clinic, it was a complete 180 – warm friendly receptionist, a financial advisor who understood the burden of the cost and nurses who brought us snacks into our meeting (snacks!) – and we knew we were in the right place. Pat’s intuition once again was right.
Once we charted a course for meds, and shots and egg retrieval we felt, in a way, like ourselves again. There was a plan with set steps to the desired outcome. We made it as fun as we could, played the song “Shots, shots, shots” every time he would have to stick me with the needle in my stomach (yes, I made him do it), and then do a little celebration after, we were on our way. The first ultrasound showed that all of the follicles looked great! I went in for the egg retrieval on October 23, 2015. I was nervous, but ready. I guess I was so excited as I was going under, I was talking about what kind of Halloween themed dishes and drinks I was going to serve at our annual party (Halloween is my favorite holiday), cracking up the nurses. Pat was there for me when I woke up – funny story, as folks know the dad has to make his “deposit” during the retrieval so that the eggs can be fertilized in a timely manner. Well when he went to the designated room, it was occupied, and for a LONG TIME. He panicked and found a nurse and let her know my procedure should be done momentarily, what should he do?! She led him to a regular bathroom and told him to lock the door. Yikes. And like I said, he was there for me when I woke up, sample safely with the doctor, guy can perform (winky face emoji?). All of this related to me as I was coming off the anesthesia, I chuckled and thought the hard part was over!
The doctor came in and let us know they didn’t get as many eggs as they thought they would, but they got 8 which was still really promising. We felt good about it, they would let us know in 3 days how many fertilized, and then in 5 days which eggs became blastocysts and ready to implant. When we came in on day 5, it was a good news/bad news situation – good news, my uterine lining looked great, we should transfer right away instead of freezing the embryos, bad news, only 3 made it to 5 day blastocyst stage – 2 that looked perfect, had super high “grades” and 1 that was about a B+. She recommended transferring 2, hedge our bets, place all (well almost) our eggs in one basket (overused fertility pun?) so we did it! Watching the transfer I cried, we were so happy, this is the moment where our baby(ies) were starting their journey. We went home on cloud nine, celebrated at our Halloween party (me sneaking mocktails and non alcoholic wine without people catching on) and started talking about babies.
I went in for my blood test 10 days later, but didn’t feel the same high. For some reason, I knew. When we got the call later that day, instead of breaking down, I had to stay strong for Pat. It is pretty hard to get some of the worst news of your life and not be able to melt into a puddle. But, we pick our partners based on what we need and in that moment he needed me to be the solid one, so I was. And for awhile, that was my role. I stayed positive and Pat broke down. As I got more injections, I stayed optimistic and he went blank and numb. After the wrong hormone dosage by a nurse that delayed us another month, sending him into a little spiral, we came to our final chance – my uterus was ready for our final transfer.
Going in to the transfer this time was a bit different. It was our last gamble, back to square one if this didn’t take. We transferred the final embryo, our little B+ fighter, and took a deep breath. At this point, it was no expectations. We had even booked a trip to Belize and Mexico (hello Zika) because we would need a getaway if and when we got the bad news. Our embryo transfer was February 4th, blood test scheduled for February 15th. The weekend of February 12th and 13th I was traveling to San Francisco for work and Sacramento for a friend’s baby shower. I still drank the mocktails and blamed not being able to drink with friends on “hormones” but this time I meant it, I felt different. I told Pat, and now him being the skeptic, he just told me to wait to get the blood test. When I got home Sunday night, I bought a test. Monday morning, I took it and there it was BFP. POSITIVE.
This felt different. I went in to get the blood test and when my doctor called, she said “Could you hear me screaming in excitement all the way from the office?” Numbers were great, 2 days later they more than doubled, 2 days after that, they were off the charts. And we knew it wasn’t twins, one embryo and all, so this was happening!
When we saw the heartbeat at 8 weeks, we both had a milkshake to celebrate (and maybe an In N Out burger too). Telling our families at 11 weeks, on my 35th birthday, was amazing, and our due date was exactly one year after the retrieval – October 23, 2016.
Theodore Hogan Johnson arrived at 7:10pm on October 30, 2016 (yeah he got pretty comfortable in there) and after a stint in the NICU (another story for another time), we have a bubbling, babbling baby boy who is hilarious and because of his mom’s love of Halloween will be stuck with costume parties for his birthday.
They say a mom can forget the pain of childbirth after a while, so that they can have more kids. But what about dad? I have forgotten the pain – of childbirth, of failed tries, of IVF. True, it was a struggle and I know that, but I would do it again. Pat has not forgotten. The pain has stayed with him, and is something we take into consideration when discuss adding to our family. Could he go through it again? I hope that we won’t have to and things will happen naturally, but we will cross that bridge if/when we come to it. Every day I am thankful for my husband and my teammate in this process and parenting our son together has been a dream, messy but I wouldn’t change it for the world. People always talk about the toll infertility takes on moms, and it does, but let’s not forget about dad.
To all the guys out there – struggling, expecting, a new parents or a seasoned professional – you are important in this process, thank you for what you do and Happy Father’s Day.