Lessons Learned: My Journey Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss
October 27, 2021
Three days after my fifth wedding anniversary, I had what felt like my thousandth early pregnancy ultrasound. But this time—for the first time—I saw flickering on the screen and heard my baby’s heartbeat. With tears in my eyes and an overwhelming sense of relief and hope, I thought to myself, “This would be enough.” After five years of struggling with infertility and early pregnancy loss, I truly felt that, even if this ended up being my sixth miscarriage, simply hearing that little heart beating and knowing that there was life growing inside me could fill my heart for a lifetime. Thirty-three weeks later my daughter was born.
My husband and I struggled with infertility for half a decade and learned lots of lessons along the way… One in eight couples battle infertility, so if you’re on this rocky road to parenthood, know that you’re not alone. My hope is that sharing my story can help others navigate this uncharted territory.
My husband and I both wanted children very much and started trying to conceive right after our wedding. Six months after our first attempt, we excitedly sat in our OB’s office. The ultrasound technician scanned my belly for a fetal heartbeat, but her words, “Let me get the doctor,” made my own heart drop. It was the first time we’d hear that sentence, but it wouldn’t be the last.
That first miscarriage was both devistating and eye-opening. I needed compassion, but my doctor was all business. When she attempted to do a completely unnecessary, in-office D&C (dilation and curettage), we quickly learned how important it is to ask questions—a lesson we would re-learn time and time again over the next few years.
Buckling up for a long journey
A few months later we had our first of many consultations with a reproductive endocrinologist at a local fertility clinic. Since we were relatively young and healthy, we started slowly by pairing timed intercourse with oral medication that tricked my body to produce more than one egg per cycle. Then we progressed to IUI (intrauterine insemination)—basically turkey baster conception. After a year we finally conceived again but had another miscarriage. Next, we tried in vitro fertilization (IVF), but the initial cycles failed.
After an exploratory laparoscopic surgery, I was diagnosed with endometriosis—but our infertility was still considered “unexplained,” and the next two IVF cycles resulted in chemical pregnancies.
At this point, we were emotionally, physically and financially drained and facing the hard truth that we may never have biological children of our own. Still, we weren’t ready to give up. But after six months and three trips to a top-notch clinic in Colorado, giving up felt inevitable. There were medication mix-ups, miscommunications, confusing phone calls and all sorts of second guessing. All this made the experience even more anxiety-producing.
And then I received a call from the doctor: “Congratulations,” he said over the phone. Our beta-pregnancy tests had come back positive. Given my history and four early losses, I was shocked by his call—I wasn’t ready to hear any congratulatory comments. It felt preemptive, but his team gave me hope. They told me that the pregnancy had a 92 percent chance of success. I let myself feel hopeful. A couple weeks later, I had my fifth miscarriage. Suffice to say, I was devastated.
One more “last chance”
At this stage in my five-year journey with infertility, I had experienced five miscarriages, seven IUI cycles, seven IVF egg retrievals and five failed embryo transfers. It was the end of the road. Our attempt in Colorado was supposed to be our last, and we started interviewing adoption agencies and scouring different egg donation sites for potential donors. But I was intrigued by a podcast I had stumbled upon. The host had interviewed and coached hundreds of couples experiencing infertility; so we signed up for a free consultation and a “deep dive” session. If I hadn’t connected with this coach almost two years ago, our daughter wouldn’t be here today.
Although we remained skeptical, my coach was encouraging and recommended a new doctor and clinic in New Jersey. We decided to give it one more try. Our new doctor and his team were tremendous. They were compassionate; they treated us with respect and spoke to us like we were their peers. Their routine (morning blood draws, daily ultrasound monitoring, emailing with the nurse) was seamless and effective. We tried a host of new strategies and lifestyle changes; and one transfer and nine months later, we welcomed our baby girl with full hearts and absolute awe that she finally arrived.
When I look back on this time, it’s interesting how my perspective evolved over the years. Every fall, around the Jewish new year, I find time to reflect, repent and set goals for the year ahead. Early on in our journey, my goal was to “get pregnant.” Then, after experiencing loss, the goal changed to “have a baby and/or maintain a healthy pregnancy.” And in the most recent years before our daughter was born, the goal was to “become parents or be on a path to parenthood.” Words will never explain how it felt to cross the finish line.
It’s hard to pinpoint what finally did the trick. Maybe it was the diet changes, supplements or the different treatment protocols. Maybe it was because I insisted on increasing my dosage of progesterone. Maybe it was the Polish fertility egg that my sister bought me or the pink leggings covered in pineapples that a friend sent. Maybe it was the Mercier therapy (pelvic massage) that I did before these final cycles. I don’t think we’ll ever know why this time—egg retrievals eight and nine and embryo transfer six—worked. What we do know is how our strength and persistence got us there. I share my story, not to seek empathy, but with the hope that I can help other couples experiencing infertility feel less alone—that I can encourage them to accept their journey and embrace the emotions that go along with it. Finally, I want to empower them to advocate for themselves. Here are my top three tips for other couples experiencing infertility.
1. Allow yourself to feel
Couples experiencing infertility feel the full gamut of emotions. I eventually learned that it was important to allow myself to feel, accept and embrace those emotions, but it wasn’t easy. I experienced so much sadness during my journey and often felt as though I had to mask it under a smile and go on pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t. I was paranoid that coworkers or acquaintances (who didn’t know what was going on) would be able to see through me and see that I was struggling. As someone who tries to “have it together” all of the time, infertility definitely made me question my self-confidence.
What’s more, it dawned on me that, although my husband and I longed to become parents, it wasn’t just motherhood I wanted. One day, I wanted to be a grandmother. I had already powered through many “kid” conversations with peers and was growing more comfortable being the childless one at the table. But realizing that the feeling of being inadequate or left out wouldn’t just encompass this part of life but would persist indefinitely (grandmas love bragging about their grandkids!) weighed heavily on me.
In addition to sadness, infertility can bring anxiety and extreme stress. I’m a planner; I have lists and spreadsheets. One of the most stressful parts of our five-year journey was not being able to plan. I shied away from opportunities at work that would require travel, I was reluctant to book vacations and visits with friends and I was noncommittal when making decisions with family about where to spend holidays. I hated not knowing where I would be in a treatment cycle or whether or not I may be pregnant. I pride myself on being a dependable and reliable employee, friend, sister and daughter, but during our journey there were countless times when I felt like I was letting others down.
2. Temper your expectations
As the years rolled by, I became more skeptical. I was in survival mode, and tempering my expectations was the only way to protect my heart. Awaiting calls about fertilization numbers or beta results was so stressful. I found it helpful to always have a plan—both a medical plan and a means of distraction for possible outcomes. I did a free counseling session at my clinic so that I’d have an established relationship with a therapist. I also had in the back of my mind what I’d do if I had another miscarriage: I’d have a cocktail, go for a run, order sushi and probably get out of town—all things that are tricky or risky during treatment and pregnancy. Finally, I did a ton of research on egg donation and adoption so that, if we were ready to pull the trigger, I wouldn’t have to start from scratch.
3. Remember that you are your own best advocate
The most important lesson I learned was that I am strong—and I am my own best advocate. In the beginning, we didn’t second-guess what we were told. Five years later, after our eighth and ninth egg retrievals and sixth embryo transfer, we knew to do our own research, vet our clinic and find the right doctor. We asked all of the questions and did our due diligence. I proactively created and maintained a massive spreadsheet to track each treatment cycle and compare one to the next. No one wanted a successful outcome more than my husband and I did; together, we made it our job to be as educated and empowered as possible.
Our journey with infertility has come to an end, at least for now. If you’re in the throes of it, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you stay open to alternatives, you can and will find your path to parenthood—whether you have success with fertility treatments, through egg or sperm donation, via surrogacy or through adoption. The less good news is that you’ll likely still carry the sadness and grief from your journey. I’m working to accept and honor that sadness, while simultaneously cherishing every moment with my young daughter; she brings light into our lives every day. My heart is full when she and I gaze into each other’s eyes or when I smile and she smiles back at me. She makes me feel like the luckiest woman alive. The trauma diminishes a little bit every day, and now I’m finding myself having to reinvigorate my strength for new hurdles. It brings me solace to know that I can pass that strength on to my daughter—and, perhaps, to you as well.
About the author: Sheri Rodman is an educator, facilitator and matchmaker. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her husband and daughter. Read about her work at www.matchboxyenta.com.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.