My Hard Road to Motherhood and How I Learned to Advocate for Myself
October 2, 2020
Being a mom was always part of the plan. Growing up, I never really stopped and thought about it or questioned how it would happen, I just knew that I planned to have children someday. So when my husband and I got married, the next step in my perceived direction of life was to have a baby.
About a year into our marriage, we decided to start trying. I stopped taking birth control, which I had been on for about 10 years, and waited. Not surprisingly, nothing happened—no period, no ovulation, nothing. I say “not surprisingly” because when I was 17 and all of my high school friends were chatting about their periods, I had still yet to start mine. As you can imagine, I was worried and embarrassed. My mom took me to an ob-gyn who simply put me on birth control to start a cycle, and that’s how it went for the next 10 years.
This seemingly insignificant detail, however, was now a problem as I started to try for a baby. I had never in my life had a “real” period, which led me to believe I had never ovulated before. I went to my OB and explained the situation. She started by doing blood work and testing for a few months to see where I was at. She suspected that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)—a hormonal disorder that can cause infrequent menstrual periods and interfere with ovulation—but wasn’t able to confirm that for me. I started taking fertility medications (Clomid and Provera) to induce a period and then ovulation. I did this for four months, progressing to the highest dosage, all without any indication that it was working, as my progesterone tests always came back negative for ovulation.
I began that cycle of hope and excitement followed by devastation and disappointment that anyone who’s struggled with infertility knows all too well. I felt defeated that my body wasn’t able to do the thing that all other women’s bodies could seemingly do. Everywhere I looked, there were happy pregnant women and new babies.
My ob-gyn told me that I had reached the end of the rope with her, that she needed to send me to a specialist for more assistance. I made my first appointment with a fertility specialist, but the only opening they had wasn’t for another three months. In the meantime, my OB agreed to do one last round of Clomid with me. That round, I had little to no hope left. I tried, but my heart wasn’t in it. So when my mid-cycle progesterone test came back negative for ovulation, I just accepted it and moved on, looking forward to going to a fertility specialist where they would be able to give me more in-depth care and answers.
Shortly after that last Clomid round, I got a call from the fertility clinic saying they had a cancellation and asking if I would like to come in sooner. Of course, I excitedly said yes! When I got there, the first thing they did was confirm that I had PCOS by taking a look at my ovaries. From there, my doctor confidently laid out a plan for me that she was sure would have me ovulating and pregnant in no time. I did lots of blood work and they sent me on my way. I was feeling confident that I had a plan moving forward and was excited to get started.
On my way back home, I received a call from a nurse who gave me the most shocking news of my life: I was already pregnant! Apparently, that last round of Clomid had worked; I just must have ovulated much later than they had anticipated. I was elated. Just when I thought my infertility journey would be taking me on a whole new chapter, life surprised me in the best way possible.
I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in early 2016. I was flooded with feelings of gratitude. There were so many days that I had dreamt of getting pregnant and giving birth to a child, and to have it come to fruition was one of the most special moments of my life, one that I will forever be grateful for.
But my story doesn’t end there. By the time my son was around a year old, I started thinking about having another baby. I was led to believe that it might be easier the second time around because “my body knew what to do.” But I found myself struggling with the same issues: no period, no ovulation.
I visited my ob-gyn (a new one, since I had moved) and explained my situation. He advised that since I got pregnant with Clomid the first time, we would use that again to conceive another baby. I did multiple rounds of Clomid, but this time there was no mid-cycle ovulation check. I was just instructed to take the medication, have intercourse and then take a pregnancy test to see if it worked.
On my fourth round, I felt funny. I had sensed something had happened, but I took a pregnancy test and it was negative. I also asked my doctor to order a blood pregnancy test, which again came back negative. I didn’t want to miss my opportunity for the next month, so I went ahead with another round of Clomid, at the highest dosage, despite feeling uneasy about it.
A week later I experienced extreme abdominal pain. I knew something was wrong. I took a pregnancy test about a week later, and it was positive. I knew there was no way I could be pregnant from the current Clomid round, which meant I had conceived on my previous round and then taken Clomid, a drug that can cause serious birth defects. While seeing that positive pregnancy test made my heart soar, I knew in my gut that something was not right. What followed was a couple of weeks of blood tests where my HCG levels were rising but not as they should, ultrasounds where the technician didn’t see anything and a whole lot of tears as I realized this was not a viable pregnancy. I wound up needing to have a D&C.
When I asked my doctor if the reason I had a misscarriage was because I took Clomid when I was already pregnant, he said no. He told me that miscarriages are common. He advised that as soon as my HCG levels dropped all the way, we would start back up with Clomid again. I knew I needed more than that. I needed someone who would monitor my cycles, because it was now clear to me that I ovulated very late when I took Clomid. I didn’t want to continue down this path blindly, feeling every emotion in the book and not having any guidance and direction along the way. I made an appointment with a fertility doctor right away and was able to get in immediately, about a week after my D&C. I knew I either needed to move on right away or give up completely on my desire to have a second baby. I chose the former.
When I met with my new fertility doctor, she was confident that I would have another baby—it wasn’t even a question for her. She simply told me we were going to use a different drug instead of Clomid and that we’d keep a close eye on me throughout the cycle. I was so excited and relieved. As soon as my levels stabilized after my miscarriage I began Letrozole and a trigger shot with ovulation monitoring. For the first time in my journey, I was able to see my ovaries and the eggs maturing, getting ready to be released. It was working! However, after three months of trying with this protocol, my doctor decided that IVF would be my next step.
I was not sold on it. My husband was especially not sold on it. We had a 2-year-old at home. The fertility clinic was over two hours away. He has a demanding job and we had no family in the area to help us. The physical demands of IVF felt like it was too much. During my last round of Letrozole, I resigned myself to the fact that I was only meant to have one baby and that I should be grateful for that (which I was!). I just couldn’t do it anymore; the emotions were too much, and it was affecting my ability to care for my son. He deserved a happy mom, and fertility treatments weren’t making me happy.
Just as I was cancelling appointments for IVF preparation, I had a notion that I should take a pregnancy test. I was feeling off, which wasn’t uncommon given the fertility drugs, but this time felt different. Call it a sixth sense, mother’s intuition, a sign from above, but I knew I should take a test—and it was positive! I was shocked. And this time, I was nervous. After experiencing a misscarriage, I approached this new pregnancy with extreme caution, guarding my feelings. But to my relief it was a healthy, viable pregnancy.
I gave birth to a baby girl in late 2018. Again, I was flooded with emotion and gratitude for the life I was able to create and for her safe arrival here with us. Interestingly, the day I gave birth to my daughter was exactly one year to the date from the time when I was in that exact same hospital having my D&C. In one’s years’ time I went from one of the lowest points of my life to one of the highest. As they say, the universe works in mysterious ways, and the irony of that experience will never be lost on me.
Today, I am so grateful for the family I have. I worked hard for it, and it was full of so many ups and downs. I know my journey has a happy ending, and there are so many that don’t—and that is not lost on me. My heart breaks for every person out there who wishes to become a parent and is struggling to do so. It’s by far one of the most challenging and heartbreaking journeys you will ever walk.
What helped me throughout the whole thing was knowing that I wasn’t alone, even when it felt like I was. I didn’t have close friends I could talk to who had similar experiences; my mom could sympathize with me but couldn’t relate, as she didn’t share the same struggles. So I found other ways to connect. I listened to infertility podcasts, read stories and followed people online that I connected with. We celebrated each others’ victories and cried over each others’ heartbreaks.
Aside from the power of community, the most important thing I learned was to advocate for yourself. To listen to your gut instinct, because it’s almost always right. There were a number of times when I blindly trusted the word of my doctor, knowing in the back of my mind that I had questions left unanswered. I didn’t speak up and ask for more care when I knew I should have. Would I have been able to prevent my misscarriage had I asked my doctor to bring me in for monitoring? I don’t know. But after experiencing that heartbreak, I knew I needed to make a change and that I was the only one who was going to make that decision. I referred myself to a fertility clinic rather than continue on the same journey that my OB was recommending, and it made all the difference.
You know your body better than anyone. Trust your instincts and make sure you get the care and attention you need throughout your journey. And be sure to connect with some other ladies along the way. Although our journeys all look different, we’re connected by a common thread, and that’s a powerful tool when you’re in the thick of it.
Tami Smith is a mom of two small children, fitness enthusiast, infertility warrior and writer. She started Fit Healthy Momma as a way to help other women and moms on their health, wellness and motherhood journeys. She writes product reviews of brands and products relating to infertility, health, nutrition and fitness, with a mission of providing a valuable resource for women to turn to when they’re looking for honest, in-depth information about a product, and to create a community of like-minded women. You can follow her on Instagram at @fit.healthymomma.