Adventures in infertility

wed1.jpgAugust 9, 20o4, was our first adventure as the NewGriswolds. It is the day we became a family.  On a small beach (actually it became tiny at high tide – which we failed to plan for when arranging the ceremony) on the island of St. Thomas, Jim and I exchanged vows.  Not only did we say vows to each other, but we made vows to his daughters as well.  When we exchanged rings, we included the girls by giving them each a bracelet with a charm that matched the design on our rings.  We tried to truly make it a ceremony that marked the beginning of our family, not just our marriage.  I have always been grateful that Jim shared his role of parent with me so freely and generously, and am glad we chose from the very first day to focus on our entire family.  At that time we were a “Table for Four.”

Being a “Table for Four” was great, but Jim and I wanted to add to our family.  When we hunted for houses, we focused on those with at least 4 bedrooms.  We were planning for our not-to-distant future.  We wanted to add to the family right away.  We had romantic dreams of getting pregnant on our honeymoon (we must have thought we were still in early 20’s).  The girls were 5 and 8, and we didn’t want their to be too many years between the kids.  We thought it would work out better if children we added to our family were as close in age to Jim’s girls as possible.  Apparently God had other ideas.

A month after our wedding, I went in for a physical to make sure everything was as it should be to get pregnant.  I never expected anything to be wrong.  I had no reason to think anything but “all systems go.”  However, my enthusiasm quickly turned to fear when Dr. L told me he thought I needed to have some tests run.  After having about 2L of blood taken (or at least it seemed like much), I found out I was hyperthyroid.  I was told there was no way I could maintain a pregnancy until my thyroid issue was figured out and under control.  Dr. L referred me to an endocrinologist for that.  I thought, “What the heck is wrong with me?  How can I get this under control?  How long will it take to fix this so we can try to get pregnant?”  However, that wasn’t the worst news.  Dr. L had more to say.  Besides my thyroid going crazy, my “female hormones” were all out of whack.  That had to be checked, too, so Dr. L referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist.  Yikes!  It was too much for me to absorb.  How much was wrong with me and why didn’t I have a clue before now?  Going home to tell Jim we had to put thoughts of babies on hold for a while was so hard.  We hadn’t even had a chance to try to get pregnant before being told our chances were slim to none.  I was crushed and had no idea how to tell Jim this terrible news. 

After sharing the news with Jim (which he handled very well), and shedding a few tears, it was time to take care of the thyroid.  After the first visit with the endocrinologist, Dr. S, we figured out I had something called Hoshimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Basically, some virus attacked me, which then caused my immune system to go into overdrive and attack my thyroid.  First I was hyperthyroid, then the thyroid burned out and I became hypothyroid.  Then I was put on meds and told I’d have to take these every day for the rest of my life.  Thanks, virus!  After many months, a biopsy, and playing around with various levels of the meds, my thyroid had been regulated.  Hallelujah!!  We could move on to the next step.

Meeting with the RE was very intimidating.  Dr. C, however, had a very calming demeanor. Jim and I had to go through all kinds of tests – I swear they checked every chemical that exists in our bodies.  One piece of good news is that I found out I’m not a carrier for Cystic Fibrosis.  I never had any reason to think I was, but it was part of the evaluation process, so at least that’s one test I passed.  However, there were other tests that I failed and it was at this time that I was told I had “premature ovarian failure.”  I have always been told I’ve been mature for my age, but I really didn’t think my ovaries would take that so literally.  In addition, in reviewing my history and learning I’d had complications from my gastric bypass operation that included an incredibly large abscess in my pelvis (seriously, it was the size of a cantaloupe!), Dr. C referred me to another doctor to have my tubes evaluated.  He said we could not move forward with treatments until we knew my tubes were open. 

That is how I met Dr. Beadle. Dr. Beadle  is one of the kindest and most talented doctors I’ve ever worked with (and, sadly, I’ve worked with many).  He is right up there with my gastric-bypass surgeon, Dr. Schwartz, and he literally saved my life!  Dr. Beadle just had a way of easing my fears and letting me know exactly what was happening and what to expect.

We stared with something called a Hysterosalpingogram.  It is test where dye is placed into the uterus.  It is supposed to flow through the fallopian tubes and out into the surrounding tissues near the ovaries.  Instead of a nice flow of fluid, I ended up with what basically looked like a small balloon inflating on the end of each tube.  Not good!  Both tubes were blocked.  The left one was so damaged by scar tissue that it had been pulled completely out of place and was stuck under my large intestine!  Dr. Beadle explained, as I was balling my eyes out, that he would do surgery to attempt to open the tubes.

The day of surgery came and Dr. Beadle asked if I wanted to sign a form allowing him to tie my tubes if he was not able to open them.  He explained that if he couldn’t open them, and IVF was a possibility in the future, the tubes would have to be tied to avoid a tubal pregnancy.  I just could not bring myself to sign the form.  I was not ready to take such a permanent step yet.  Instead, we agreed he would try to open the tubes and we would follow up after he saw the condition of the tubes.  The surgery was relatively successful.  I still remember Dr. Beadle telling me that my right side, “opened up and blossomed just like a flower” when he removed the scar tissue.  He wasn’t quite as positive when discussing the left side, but he said he was able to open that side too.  The plan was to do another Hysterosalpingogram in a few months to see if the tubes maintained their function.  

When we did the follow up test, the right side was open and functioning, but the left side looked like a balloon again.  More tears from me, more reassurance from Dr. Beadle.  This time, surgery was scheduled to remove my left fallopian tube.  He would check the right side again too, just to make sure.  Fortunately, surgery went well, the left tube was removed successfully and the right side was still functioning.  Now Jim and I could return to Dr. C to begin our actual fertility treatments.  It was now the summer of 2006.  Nearly 2 years had passed in our infertility journey and we hadn’t even gotten to the treatments!  

We started our treatment cycles in the late summer of 2006.  I’ll tell you, nothing is more invasive or literally puts you out there “naked for all to see” than going through an infertility treatments.  Things… very private things… have to be discussed and done in the presence of others.  Ugh!   Work schedules had to be juggled.  It isn’t easy to “sneak out” of a classroom to run to an appointment.  It’s not like I can say to my class, “Hey, I have to run to the doctor for an hour to have blood work done/get an ultrasound/be inseminated, I’ll see you later.  Behave.”  Being a teacher and going through this process is nearly impossible!  And, of course, there were the medications.  

I was put on injectibles right away due to the nature of my own hormones (that premature failure issue).  I didn’t have a problem with the shots so much (other than the cost – sorry to my colleagues for jacking up our insurance rates).  I’ve been poked and prodded so much, needles don’t bother me.  I had to give myself shots in the belly every day for a week.  Jim, on the other hand, had a really hard time with it.  He nearly had a heart attack the first time he had to give me the final shot…in my butt.  Some guys might have a secret desire to inflict pain on that part of their wife’s anatomy, but not Jim. He struggled with it every time.

Once the shots were done, blood tests were run and an ultrasound was done to see if my body responded by making eggs.  When the body responded, Jim would go in and do his part (I won’t expound on that) and then I (or many times we) would go in a few hours later for the insemination.  I would usually listen to music with some kind of love/child/happiness theme.  To this day, I can’t hear Arms Wide Open by Creed without crying.  

Each cycle I would get my hopes up.  Each cycle would end in disappointment.  We went through a total of 8 cycles, 2 were canceled due to my body’s poor response and the other 6 were failures.  Since insurance would only cover 6 complete cycles, we had reached the end of that treatment option and had to start thinking about other options.  This was the winter of 2007.

Dr. C met with us on March 28, 2007, to discuss our situation and lay out options for us to consider.  We were told that adoption or IVF were our options.  However, Dr. C added, “even with IVF, if we use your eggs, there is less than 5% chance you will conceive.”  I thought, “Gee, doc, while I appreciate the honesty, that was harsh.”  I left that office visit devastated and Jim and I decided to take a little break from the issue.  We didn’t discuss it for a month.

On Mothers’ Day, 2007, we went for a walk.  We wanted to make a final decision about our next step.  We decided had 3 options: do nothing (definitely the best choice for us financially), foreign adoption (very expensive, but virtually guaranteed if we were willing to wait), and IVF using donor eggs or embryos (very expensive, with no guarantees, but it would give me the chance to experience being pregnant and the child would at least be half biological to us).  Doing nothing, while best in terms of money, really didn’t end up being an option.  We both wanted to add to our family and I needed to know I had done everything possible to make that happen.  Foreign adoption definitely had its advantages, but in the end, I really wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth.  I was already helping raise children that I didn’t give birth to (and, don’t get me wrong, I love being a “Mom” to Jim’s girls), but I felt I needed to add to our family differently.  So, that left the option of donor eggs or embryos.  Yikes!  Controversial.  Expensive.  No guarantees.  We decided that would be our option, if we could find the money to pay for it.  We, however, made no immediate plans to move forward with it.  We just weren’t quite ready to take that step.

 

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