PLEASE NOTE: If you are struggling with infertility or are currently trying to conceive and you DON'T want to read about my pregnancy (which I totally understand), I recommend starting at the beginning of the blog (March 2010) and reading from there. I find out I'm pregnant in June 2011 so there is a lot of trying to conceive posts in between that you might find funny, helpful or relatable. Wishing you all the luck in the world!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unexplained Infertility Explained

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet a very respected and prominent embryologist. I was thrilled to talk to him not just because he is a pioneer in the industry but because he arrived while I was taking a call from a gentleman inquiring about whether any clinic could help get him pregnant. No, he was not a sea horse and yes, I do believe he thought the movie JUNIOR was a documentary. I politely explained that he does not have a womb and that his options consisted of finding a surrogate or adopting. My point is it was a pleasure to go from a man who must have dodged Junior High Health Class to someone intelligent and enlightening.

During my conversation with the embryologist, I mentioned to him my personal experience with IVF. Quickly, these are my brief fertility reports:

IVF 1 – 8 eggs retrieved, 2 embryos
IVF 2 – 10 eggs retrieved, 1 embryo
IVF 3 – 13 eggs retrieved, 1 embryo

When I told him this, he actually said, “Yikes!” Not really the reaction I was going for. He went into this incredibly long analysis on what might have gone wrong. I wish I could tell you what he said but I simply couldn’t follow it let alone to repeat it. There were a lot of big words, sperm was mentioned and I felt as clueless as the guy I spoke with earlier in the day.

My favorite part though of this conversation was after this long dissertation on what possibly went wrong with my cycles, he added at the very end, “Or… it could have been stress.” Stress? Really? So basically one of the top embryologists in the industry and my mother have come to the same conclusion on why I had issues getting pregnant.

My son (the lone embryo from my 3rd IVF) will be turning one in a few days (click here for the post about when we brought him home). And no, I can’t believe it. Every time I think about this, I burst into tears. Part of it is extreme joy and gratitude and another part of it is the overwhelming sense of loss. The baby I never thought I’d have is now officially a toddler… and I will most likely never have another baby again.

Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough – I’m so f*cking humble and beyond grateful that he’s here. My astonishment that he’s mine, that we have this beautiful little boy who is loving, funny and worships both his parents and Elmo (I hope he likes us more but it’s very hard to tell) is never ending. Even when he’s crying, even when he’s not sleeping, even when he poops on… well… pretty much everything… I always think, “I’m so lucky. I’m just so grateful.” Truly.

However, as I said in my last post, I’ve been trying to reconcile that another child is not a very strong possibility. I firmly believe that even though, as we say often in the infertility world, “Hey! You got one! Shut up and be happy!”, I reserve the right to be disappointed that I can’t expand our family… or have a girl that I can put princess dresses on. I can tell you now – my son is not a fan of princess dresses. I’m just saying.

I have always been told that I have “Unexplained Infertility”. Frankly, the more time has gone one and more I’ve learned, the more I think, “Unexplained Infertility” really translates to, “I can’t find anything obviously wrong with you so let’s just dump you in this category so I don’t have to think about it.”

A clinic somewhere (I wish I could remember who) has on their website, “We don’t believe in Unexplained Infertility and neither should you.” I love that.

After speaking with this embryologist and thinking about whether or not my reproductive parts are really all that much of a mystery, I made a decision: I was going to go back to the doctor that I did my last successful cycle with and ask her now that everything is said and done, do we have any insight?

I guess you could say that even though I have my baby, that doesn’t mean I still don’t want some sort of explanation or diagnosis.

The whole experience of returning to the clinic felt surreal. In the waiting room, I was surrounded by women and couples who felt as I did awhile back: Desperate, frustrated, sad and resentful.  I wanted to give everyone there a hug and a baby. I still wish I were Oprah. “You get a baby… and you get a baby!”
Seeing my doctor again was also a little awkward. The last time I saw her, I was hysterically crying hugging her while wearing those oh-so-attractive-blue-paper-gowns. I was dressed much better for this visit… just wanted to mention it.

Overall, this is what I learned: Even though my blood work is fine, IVF in and of itself is diagnostic and by going through the process, it showed that I must have some sort of egg quality issue. She said what was interesting about me though was that my eggs are smart in the sense that if they aren’t going to form a healthy embryo, they just don’t form at all. Of the embryos I have had, they have always been 8-cell grade A fabulous. It’s like my eggs are saying, “This is either going to be perfect or it’s going to be nothing.” I had no idea my eggs had such high standards. If only I had these same standards when I was dating way back when. I could have saved a lot of heartaches!

She told me that my chances of ever getting pregnant on my own were 1% - 3% and if I did want to have another baby, she would recommend going straight to IVF with the understanding that she wouldn’t do it more than once. I am 39 years old, my eggs are choosy and she felt that it would save me heartache if my husband and I said, “One more and that’s it” as opposed to, “Let’s open this whole can of worms all over again.”

That night, I spoke to my husband and we came to the same conclusion: We would not do treatment. We’d rather spend the money on the son we do have and to be perfectly honest with you, as I said in my last post, neither he nor I can bear the thought of going through all of it over again. We may be pussies but we just can’t do it.

In the end, going back to the doctor was insightful and I did feel a sense of closure.  I’m not quite ready to let go of the hope of having another child but I am getting there.

And that’s why I think this birthday is with mixed emotions. It’s celebrating both what I have and what I’m letting go of.  I just hope I don’t burst into tears all over the Elmo cake we ordered when we sing “Happy Birthday”. I’ve got to hold it together for no other reason than to have nice pictures from the day.

Last year, around this time, as you may know, I was told I had cholestasis and had to deliver early (you can refresh your memory by clicking here). As some of you may remember, when my son was born, he had breathing issues and had to be in the NICU for a bit (click here for that post). When I think about all that we’ve done to get him and keep him and that so many of you were there to support me, encourage me and pray for us - that’s another thing that gets me extremely emotional.

I’m always acutely aware that many of you who read my blog do not yet hold a baby in your arms. If you knew me personally (although I hope you can tell this from my blog too!), I sincerely think of those who are still in the trenches every day. We infertiles have a short hand and a level of understanding of each other that few have. Yes, we have empathetic friends but when you say to another infertile, “I hate baby showers”,  they really know EXACTLY how you feel, what that’s about and most importantly, they know you’re not an asshole. You’re just someone who is trying to cope.

So, I want to say thank you a million times over. With all my heart, more than ever, I want ALL of us to have the best possible outcomes. It may not be exactly how we imagined, but it may surpass what our expectations were in ways we never thought possible. That’s my wish at least.

As always… with hope and humor.