UPLIFTED - Our journey with infertility and In Vitro Fertilization

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A detailed account of my experience dealing with infertility.

Submitted: September 20, 2017

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Submitted: September 20, 2017




The Intro

My wife, Melissa, and I have been trying to have a baby for about five years now. She has been very open on social media about our experiences, by sharing benchmark moments as they’ve happened, but I wanted to write about it from my perspective, in detail, from the beginning. It’s not easy for me to share all of this information with the world, but Melissa has inspired me to tell our story.

The Beginning

It’s the spring of 2012. After having just tied the knot, we stop using birth control and decide to let nature take its course. Melissa and I aren’t necessarily trying for a pregnancy, yet we aren’t doing anything to prevent one either. It’s freeing to open up that possibility without feeling pressured to make it a reality right away. The idea of starting a family excites us, though, and we’re ready to be parents in the event that we’re able to conceive right away.

Then a year goes by and nothing happens, which we acknowledge, but we aren’t overly concerned at the moment. More time passes and we start tracking when Melissa is ovulating, specifically trying during ovulation multiple times, but still have no luck! We are getting a little worried now so we decide to see a fertility specialist for some answers. Melissa goes through a battery of tests, from which the doctor confirms that she has PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), Hypothyroidism, and may have Endometriosis?—?all of which can make it harder to have a successful pregnancy, but they wouldn’t necessarily prevent one. I undergo a semen analysis and everything looks good on that end, so there isn’t an obvious problem.

Confused and impatient, Melissa and I opt to try IUI (Intrauterine Insemination)?—?this is when the sperm is shot into the woman with a device resembling a turkey baster (medically speaking) to give the sperm a head start to the fallopian tubes. In theory, IUI doubles your chances of getting pregnant so we’re hopeful it’ll work for us. Our first IUI attempt is a failure, however, so we try again the following month. That means two anxious drives to the fertility clinic, two rounds of watching a catheter being pushed into Melissa (no thank you), two $1,000 invoices to pay, two excited waiting periods for pregnancy test results, and two bouts of extreme disappointment when those tests read negative.

The Surrender

After two unsuccessful IUI’s we are defeated. Our doctor has no explanation as to what is happening, and the only seemingly viable alternative is to consider IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). For anyone who hasn’t heard this term, IVF involves taking a lady’s eggs and a guy’s sperm to let them party (medically speaking) in a petri dish until fertilization occurs. Since Melissa and I aren’t completely satisfied with our current doctor and can feel that our young marriage is under a lot of stress, we decide to press pause on the fertility treatments and go back to letting nature attempt to take its course once again, rocking no birth control, doing no proactive planning, and going with some old fashioned sexual intercourse.

Two years go by and we’re still not pregnant. Sometimes we try when Melissa is ovulating, sometimes we don’t, but there are plenty of opportunities for “nature to take its course,” and it doesn’t. We watch close friends and family members have children during this time and as much as we love all of them, it still hurts to not have a baby of our own. The emotions we feel are so confusing, a frustrating mixture of excitement (for them) and disappointment (for us) comingled together.

The Decision

It’s now the fall of 2016, and while Melissa and I take our beloved Australian Shepherd, Abbey, for a walk, she casually brings up trying fertility treatments again. The memories of our first experience flash through my head, and I’m instantly stressed out. I’ve grown comfortable with sweeping it under the rug and into the past, but in this moment I realize that dodging the problem for the last few years has been just as stressful as facing it head on, albeit in smaller, more manageable doses. We discuss the topic for the duration of our walk and come away with a plan. In the New Year we are going to get science involved again, with the stipulation that we find a different doctor and start over from the beginning.

As luck would have it, finding a new doctor ends up being easier than anticipated. A renowned group of fertility specialists absorbed our previous doctor’s practice so when Melissa has a routine visit for her lady parts (medically speaking), she is randomly assigned a new doctor. She comes home from that appointment gushing about how much she likes this new doctor and wants to use her when we’re ready to continue the fertility treatments. We’re suddenly excited for the process all over again, and we make a consultation appointment for February of 2017.

The Plan

As the end of February rolls in, we have our initial consultation with our new doctor. I immediately understand why Melissa took a liking to her?—?she’s the perfect mix of enthusiasm, compassion, and intelligence. A wave of relief comes over me knowing that we made the right choice. The new plan is to skip right to IUI and try it again for two or three months in a row. If it doesn’t work, then we are going to do IVF in 2018. We leave the hour-long meeting feeling excited, nervous, and overwhelmed with information. Even though we are back to square one, we feel more in control of the process this time around.

The next few months are filled with numerous tests and doctor visits, primarily for Melissa. I have to get some bloodwork done as well as provide a sperm sample at some point, but I procrastinate on the latter since my prior results revealed no issues. Melissa’s ultrasounds and bloodwork are okay, my bloodwork is okay, so again nothing troubling is found. Our doctor recommends an HSG (Hysterosalpingogram) for Melissa before doing any kind of fertility treatment?—?this is when some dye is launched up into the female (medically speaking) and then an image is taken to make sure the fallopian tubes are not blocked. A Hysteroscopy and Endometrial Biopsy are also performed to check Melissa’s uterine lining. The procedures go smoothly, revealing a lack of issues, giving us the green light to move forward with fertility treatments.

The Sample

Shortly after the HSG, Melissa reminds me that I still have to schedule my semen analysis. I admittedly had forgotten after pushing it off back in March. Our doctor also wants me to have a CAP-Score done, which tests how well the sperm can fertilize an egg (actually medically speaking this time). I make the appointment to drop off my sample, but they recommend I produce it at the fertility clinic to ensure there are no issues. A clinic is not my ideal location for “producing samples”, but I have the easy part according to Melissa, which I do, so I have little room to gripe.

The day of my appointment I arrive at the clinic feeling anxious and self-conscious. To make matters more anxiety inducing, all of the patient rooms are on another floor that can only be accessed by a rickety old elevator. The receptionist escorts me into the elevator and up to the room personally as she has to unlock it. In my head, it feels like all of this is taking hours to accomplish, but it’s actually, literally, minutes. I enter the room and feel relieved that I’m finally (after a couple of minutes) alone. That welcome relief is short-lived, however, as I’m now realizing my surroundings resemble a glorified airplane bathroom. There is a small couch-like apparatus, a sink, some paper towels, soap, a garbage can, and a small TV hanging from the ceiling, all crammed into this early model Airbus A320 inspired room. It’s very apparent this space was designed for one purpose and one purpose only?—?“sample production”. By now, it’s also obvious that I’m not alone on this floor and there are patients, nurses, and doctors walking around right outside my door. I didn’t anticipate these distractions or this extremely utilitarian setup, but I sit down, try to relax, and then eventually get to a point where I feel comfortable enough to complete the act.

The Revelation

My numbers come back a few days later and the doctor informs me that my sperm count is deficient. Low sperm count by itself is not necessarily a big issue since it can be corrected in many cases, however, that’s not the only problem they found. I also performed poorly on the Cap-Score, which means my sperm have a really hard time fertilizing eggs on their own. Regardless of the volume, the chances are slim that my guys will successfully penetrate an egg. This information is the missing piece to our reproductive puzzle. Melissa had been blaming all the fertility problems on herself for years, damning her body in the process, but I was the cause all along. I am devastated. I am ashamed. I am angry at my body.

IVF is now our only option. Conceiving naturally, or even with IUI, is extremely unlikely. After receiving the news, Melissa turns to me and says, “I am okay with this, but are you going to be okay with it?” Her words help me to snap out of the pity party I was currently throwing myself. I’m reminded that it’s not my fault; I didn’t purposely or maliciously do anything to cause the issue, but instead it was the hand I was dealt. It takes a few days, but I eventually start to embrace this way of thinking and my resolve strengthens. We have come this far and there’s no way we should be dissuaded by these obstacles.

The Explanation

Even though we have the answer to our fertility problems, the low sperm count is concerning to our doctor, and she advises me to see a Urologist. My immediate assumption is that I have testicular cancer and am going to die, which makes all of this baby talk immaterial. Oh, and it also makes the 6-week wait for my appointment extremely enjoyable. When I do eventually see the Urologist, he informs me that the low count can be explained by something called a varicocele?—?a condition where scrotal veins become enlarged and put a sleeper hold (medically, and professional wrestler’y, speaking) on the testicles. I’ve known about the varicocele since high school and had been told it could eventually impair my sperm count, but I didn’t think it would be an issue since my results looked okay a few years prior.

Repairing a varicocele has been known to increase sperm count so there is hope that I can fix that issue with minor surgery. Because of my poor Cap-Score performance, though, the Urologist echoes our fertility doctor’s sentiments that IVF is our best option to have a child. With no concrete evidence to suggest that varicocele repair will help improve sperm fertilization?—?but that’s not to say it couldn’t?—?and considering that having the surgery would set us back at least 6–8 months, AND it could all be for nothing, I decide to skip the procedure as we refocus solely on IVF.

The Buildup

It is now June 2017. The original plan of starting with IUI was scrapped and we’re moving right to IVF. Melissa and I are unsure if we’re emotionally ready to take this great leap forward with our biggest shared emotion currently being fear. We’re scared to spend a large chunk of our savings on a 50/50 chance. We’re terrified to find out that even with science’s help we can’t have children of our own. We’re also nervous to be parents if IVF is successful. We’re both feeling an acute range of permutations on our various fears, so we spend weeks talking it through, trying to wrap our heads around this crazy situation in which we find ourselves.

An IVF consultation with our doctor helps to shed more light on what we’re likely to experience over the coming months?—?lots of ultrasounds for Melissa, an egg retrieval, fertilization, a 3–5 day period for the embryos to grow, and then an embryo transfer. During that whole process, Melissa will be pumped full of medication to help her egg quality, uterine lining, and hormone levels. The doctor also explains, to complicate matters, that we need a special kind of IVF called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). With ICSI the sperm is placed directly into the egg for fertilization, which is necessary due to my Cap-Score results. Shrouded in mystery up until this time, the IVF pricing is also revealed to us. Someone grab the defibrillator.

Our insurance, like most, does not cover anything related to IVF. We already knew this from the start and had a rough idea of what the cost could be, but we weren’t prepared to see the actual numbers. It is roughly $9,500 for IVF from start to finish, but then add on another $1,500 for ICSI, plus $1,000 to freeze any leftover embryos, and $4,000 for all the medications?—?now if my math is correct, that’s a grand total of $16,000 for one (one!) round of IVF. Charge the paddles and restart my heart again. If the first try is unsuccessful and we have extra embryos, though, the second round would be significantly cheaper since the eggs were already retrieved and fertilized, but that’s not a guarantee. An optional financial share program is also offered, which means you pay significantly more upfront but can try six rounds of IVF for a fixed cost (excluding medication).

Melissa and I take a few weeks to discuss all of our options. Should we go for the financial share program? When do we want to start? Are we sure we’re ready? Since we originally did not intend to do IVF in 2017, spending even more money on the financial share program feels too daunting, so we decide against it. Between summer travel plans and our doctor being out on maternity leave in July, August seems like the best month to start. Now it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling “ready” in this situation, but we feel as prepared as we can be emotionally, physically, and financially.

The Retrieval

August 1, 2017?—?it’s go time. Melissa has to get her initial ultrasound, and I accompany her to the appointment as I want to be in the loop on what to expect as we move forward. Over the next two weeks Melissa returns to the fertility clinic every few days to see how her follicles are progressing. The follicles are what hold the eggs, and it’s important that they are retrieved at the correct level of maturity otherwise the eggs won’t have a chance of being fertilized. Melissa is also injecting herself with an intense amount fertility medication, which requires receiving shots in the stomach every day. I don’t know how she does it, (it’s tough to watch!), but Melissa takes each and every shot like a champ, AND she has the strength left to remind me about how easy I have it…. again. Ten days later Melissa’s follicles are ready and the egg retrieval date is confirmed for the upcoming Sunday.

I am overjoyed to learn that I can provide my contribution at home, as long as I remember to bring it to the fertility clinic with us. There’s no need for a chaperoned visit to “the room” this time which makes my stress levels surrounding the day much more manageable. I’m still a tad nervous, though, because our fertility treatments could be done for good after today. Melissa may not have enough viable eggs, and even if she does, it’s not guaranteed that any of them will fertilize. To compound matters, once they do fertilize, there’s a 3–5 day waiting period to see if any of the embryos will progress along far enough to use for an actual transfer. All the different variables are overwhelming, but I try to remain calm.

Thankfully the egg retrieval goes off without a hitch. Even though the procedure only takes about five minutes, Melissa has to be put under anesthesia since it can be quite painful, and the doctor cannot risk any sudden movements that may harm or destroy the eggs. When the procedure finishes, I can’t wait for Melissa to wake up. They retrieved 17 eggs?—?way more than anticipated?—?and I want her to share in that great news with me. We still have to wait a day to find out how many fertilized, if any, but we’re off to an excellent start at least!

The Fertilization

The 24 hours following the retrieval seem to take forever. I cannot concentrate on anything until I know if any of the eggs were fertilized. I see my phone ring while I’m at work, Melissa is calling, and I immediately jump out of my chair to go outside and take the call. Melissa thinks she’s doing a good job of being coy about the results, but she can’t fool me?—?it’s good news. Out of the 17 eggs, 11 were mature enough to attempt fertilization and 7 of them were successfully fertilized. My eyes welled up with tears (it was a high pollen count day, I think…) while I struggled to find anything to say, but no words could express how I was feeling. I knew this didn’t guarantee a pregnancy by any means, but it just felt so good to hear positive news for once.

Melissa and I are “on call” the rest of the week because there could be an embryo transfer on day 3 or day 5, depending on the quality of the embryos, and we need to be ready on short notice. If the embryos don’t look like they will make it past day 3, the transfer will be done at that time to ensure at least some of them can be used. Transferring day 5 embryos is the goal, though, because they yield much higher pregnancy rates than the day 3 embryos. We get a call Wednesday morning from our doctor and she is excited to tell us that all seven embryos made it, and they’re pushing the transfer to day 5. More good news! It’s an incredible feeling to think this actually might just work after all these years of waiting, confusion, and struggle.

The Transfer

It’s the day of the transfer and we’re both anxious, but in a good way this time. We won’t know how many embryos are left until we get to the fertility clinic, but the plan is to transfer one embryo this time and then freeze any additional ones in case we need to try again. After our arrival we’re surprised to learn that I cannot be in the room during the embryo transfer. It’s an extremely delicate procedure so they have to keep the room as empty and sterile as possible, which is understandable, but it doesn’t change the fact that I wish I could be next to Melissa as she goes through this process. I part ways with her and hang out in the waiting room for the duration of her procedure.

I’m completely in the dark about the number of embryos that survived until the transfer is over and after waiting this long, I will myself to make it another 30 minutes. When the transfer is finished our doctor comes out to talk to me. She has a slightly concerned look on her face and I start to feel uneasy. I am told that only two of the embryos made it to day 5; the rest did not progress far enough along to be viable. The doctor goes on to explain that because only two were viable, they transferred both embryos to help increase the chances of success. This two minute conversation is loaded with new information that I have to take some time to process.

On one hand, I am happy that we at least have two usable embryos and I trust the doctor’s judgment that transferring both was the right decision. On the other, now I’m faced with a chance of having twins or maybe more if one or both embryos split. Melissa and I never really discussed that possibility. Our plan was to only have one child, but by this point in our journey I’ve learned to expect some curveballs. I’ve also learned not to get ahead of myself. A few days prior, Melissa and I thought we’d be swimming in embryos and would have some to save in case we needed to try IVF again. Knowing now that the only two surviving embryos are in Melissa’s uterus definitely ups the stakes for us and all we can do is wait for the results.

The Ending

I’m sorry to say the story stops here, which may be a disappointment if you were expecting some sort of big reveal. As of this writing, Melissa and I don’t know if the transfer worked and won’t know for some time. The point of sharing these details is more about the journey, not the end result, so that others can understand what it’s like to have this experience. Whether you’re going through fertility treatments right now, thinking about doing them in the future, or just curious about the process, I hope this piece proves useful for you. At the very least, please remember these takeaways that helped Melissa and I have a more positive experience throughout all the uncertainty:

Communicate and support each other every step of the way

  • Fertility treatments are mentality, physically, and financially exhausting. Both you and your partner will feel fed up at different times, but don’t let the negative emotions win. Remain a team no matter what happens.

Find a compassionate doctor that you trust

  • You will be seeing your doctor dozens of times so it’s important that you develop a close relationship with a physician who you believe has your best interest at heart.

Trust the process

  • No matter what some anecdotal story on the internet tells you, it’s not more reliable than the professionally trained and educated doctors who will be helping you. Ask questions along the way to stay informed, but don’t veer from the treatment plan. Do all the recommended testing and procedures, otherwise you might regret skipping something if your fertility plan isn’t successful.

Expect the unexpected

  • There will be many times when your expectations won’t align with reality. It can be hard to swallow, and you may be disappointed on numerous occasions. Learn to go with flow as these obstacles come up, and don’t let them stop you from moving forward.

Lastly, feel free to reach out to Melissa or me with any questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a friend, family member, or a complete stranger?—?we’d be happy to discuss all of this in more detail at any time. Wish us luck!

(To contact Melissa or me directly, please email us at infertilefritz@gmail.com?—?yes, that’s the actual address).

© Copyright 2019 Nicholas Fritz. All rights reserved.

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