There are a lot of challenging aspects to infertility, and one of those challenges I find most discouraging is the feeling of not making progress in life. Infertility treatments, particularly a series of failed infertility treatments, feels a lot like running on the treadmill. I go to multiple different doctors, have countless tests performed, spend loads of money, I give myself injections in my stomach and take medicine that makes me feel sick, I pray a million prayers and cry a million tears. I exhaust myself and my resources. I fight as hard as I can- and then I get the news. Another cycle has failed. I step off the treadmill. I’m tired and sweaty and battleworn, I feel like I’ve worked so hard and come so far, and yet when I look around, I realize- I’m in the exact same position I was before.
No baby, no family, no positive pregnancy test, and on two different occasions- no more embryos.
It’s a frustrating thing to work so hard and have nothing to show for it except a few bruises on my stomach, a gigantic medical bill, and the feeling of complete exhaustion.
Coming into my February retrieval cycle, this is exactly how I was feeling- like a hamster spinning on it’s little wheel, working so hard but getting nowhere. It’s demoralizing and I desperately needed a win. I remember thinking, “throw me a bone here, God” I just needed a little something to prove to me that I’m on the right path and my efforts have not been completely in vain.
Well, my February cycle finally did throw me the bone I needed! And it brought me way more encouragement than I ever could have hoped for!
Here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on with our treatments- after several months of recovery for Andrew from his procedure, we were finally ready to start our third IVF cycle with our new doctor in Las Vegas. It was a brand new protocol, specifically for women like me who have a decreased ovarian reserve.
Things went great with this cycle and Dr. Sher was able to retrieve more mature eggs than I’ve ever had before! Of the 8 mature eggs that were retrieved, 6 were able to be fertilized using ICSI, and 2 of those that fertilized made it to day 5 for biopsy and freeze.
(The biopsy is the removal of a few cells from the embryo for genetic testing and the freeze is exactly what it sounds like- the embryos were flash-frozen and will be kept safely in the lab in Las Vegas until it’s time to transfer them back inside me where they will grow into healthy little babes!)
Getting 2 blastocysts was a mixed bag of a whole lot of emotions. On one hand, there is a level of disappointment and confusion- why didn’t the others make it? was it something we did? There’s also some grief- we love all our embryos and the fact that several didn’t survive is heartbreaking.
And yet, there was a lot of rejoicing too. TWO day 5 blastocysts! We’ve always transferred or frozen on day 3 with lower quality embryos, so the fact that we had 2 that made it to day 5 is a big deal!
Infertility involves a lot of waiting. A lot. And being in the middle of an IVF cycle is no different. You wait to start the cycle, then you wait for the monitoring appointments and lab results, you wait until it’s time to give yourself a trigger shot for the retrieval, you wake up from anesthesia and wait for the doctor to come in and tell you how many eggs were retrieved. Then you wait until the following morning for your fertilization report- how many of the eggs fertilized. Then you wait another 5 days- how many embryos made it to biopsy and freeze.
And then, if you’re doing PGS (genetic) testing you wait another week or so for those results too.
I really hated waiting for our PGS results- on one hand I desperately wanted to know that both embabies were doing alright and would be able to be transferred one day, on the other hand I was worried about getting disappointing results. If neither embryo was genetically normal, it would mean that neither would be appropriate for transfer- leaving us right back on the same old treadmill where we started. Ignorance was bliss- or at least it was bliss until I received an unexpected email from my nurse!
I was at work when the email came in on my phone with a subject line that read “PGS Results” – I opened the email right away, assuming that it would say “Hi Lauren, we’ve received your PGS results, please call us to schedule a consult to discuss them.” But nope, there was a surprise inside! This email contained my actual results! I read and re-read the message multiple times, tears of joy in my eyes.
One embryo came back as “no result.” This basically means that the test didn’t work. The results weren’t normal or abnormal and they weren’t inconclusive either, there just wasn’t enough DNA in the biopsy sample to run the test. This embryo is still considered transferrable and has the same chances of implanting as any other Day 5 Blastocyst that didn’t undergo PGS testing.
The second embryo, however, came back NORMAL and I KNOW THE GENDER!!!!
I felt like my heart was about to burst! For the first time in this process, I felt like I could finally picture the baby that our little embryo would become. And so I stood there with tears streaming down my cheeks, the biggest smile on face, and feeling like I might actually explode from the excitement of it all.
I know it’s a bit controversial to find out the gender ahead of time, but I can tell you that I have absolutely no regrets. For the first time I felt like a real mom who has a real baby on the way. This news brought so much joy and so much peace and so much celebration with it- I couldn’t be happier to know!
Plus now I had the opportunity to surprise my husband with the news! This was huge for me- for years I’ve watched videos of women who surprise their husbands with a positive pregnancy test. I’ve watched as the soon-to-be dad’s faces lit up in excitement and I’ve cried feeling happy for them but sorry for me. Infertility and IVF takes a whole lot of surprise out of the whole process of getting pregnant. Andrew knows exactly when I should be expecting to find out whether or not a cycle has worked- and he is always there with me for the results. It’s easier to find out together. Since I had no idea our results were coming that day, he had no idea either, so even though it took everything in me not to call him immediately and tell him on the spot, I knew I had to capitalize on the opportunity to make a special memory for us!
I stopped at a Marshall’s on my drive home and picked up onesie that would give away the gender, I found a (gender-neutral) turquoise gift bag with gold pineapple print, and rushed home in an absolute frenzy and beaming from ear to ear. When I walked in the door, I told Andrew that I had a surprise but not to ask what it was and then ran off into the bedroom to get everything set up- including my phone on a little tripod to record the whole thing.
The moment was absolutely perfect. He came in and sat on the bed. I told him I got our PGS results and that I had good news. I started crying. He started crying. He opened the bag and cried some more. Tears of joy and relief and excitement and amazement. Tears that proved that all our hard work had resulted in something so incredibly miraculous.
We sat and admired the onesie. We joked about our baby taking a long, cold nap in Las Vegas. Our tears turned into laughter and so much rejoicing! It was beautiful and special and exactly what we needed.
For now, we are keeping the news about which gender babe we have a secret and keeping the video to ourselves as well. I’m hiding this news away in my heart as a little tree of life to keep me going through our next banking cycle.
There were so many days the past few months where I thought to myself that I simply couldn’t go on. The treatments were too difficult and the disappointments hurt too badly- but this little embaby has brought me the encouragement I needed to press on. I feel like I could do a 100 more retrievals if that’s what it takes for us to get the family that we’ve been praying for.
As for our other embryo, I believe in my heart that baby is normal as well. We’re calling that one our “mystery babe” and I fully intend to give that embaby the opportunity to come home with us one day too.
For now we are still rejoicing in our little PGS normal miracle- our little babe that proved to us that despite all the physical challenges we’ve faced, our sperm and eggs really can make a little life! Eeek! I’m so so happy and beyond encouraged as we step into our April IVF banking cycle. (I began injections earlier this week, and we’re looking at a potential retrieval date of April 24th).
Thank you so much to all of you who have been such an amazing support in this process. I couldn’t be happier to be jumping off the treadmill of failed treatments and taking these next steps forward to bring our babies home!
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Sidenote for those of you curious about PGS testing– so what is PGS testing and why did we decide to shell out several thousand dollars extra to do it? Basically, PGS testing is genetic testing of the embryos. PGS looks at the number of chromosomes present in the embryo’s DNA. This is important because in order for an embryo to develop into a healthy baby, the embryo’s DNA needs to contain exactly 46 chromosomes- 23 from mom and 23 from dad. The chromosomes do a fancy little trick where they combine and then copy and then divide to make new cells and pass the genetic information from one cell to the next. However, mistakes can be made during the early phases of embryonic development- these mistakes lead to genetically abnormal embryos with the wrong number of chromosomes. These embryos have a low likelihood of establishing a pregnancy and pregnancies that are established have an extremely high likelihood of ending in miscarriage. By transferring embryos that are genetically normal, we decrease our chance of miscarriage and heartbreak and improve our chances of having a healthy baby!)