Infertility & Making Babies
I have had a few people ask about this and I have finally felt like I have enough perspective on the subject to see it and am finally ready to tell our story of infertility and IVF
my husband and I were 'cycling' with IVF a few years ago we kept very
quite about it. I have to admit I had quite a bit of shame around it. I
was/am the broken one. According to tests my husband could fertilize a
small village without much effort. But one small test confirmed that
there was/is no way for me to get pregnant naturally.
you are given this kind of news the magnitude of it takes a while to
sink in. At first I mourned that I was broken, then the possibility of
never having children set in and then what that might mean to my
marriage. We had tried for years to get pregnant and now that it was
confirmed that the efforts had been wasted we stopped everything for a
while. We had always had a great sex life but the past couple of years
it had been dipped in the excitement of possible baby making. Sex IS
better when you are trying to create life. It makes it a far more
loving and bonding act. Now we had to find our way back and more often
than not I was just too emotional. Sex became a reminder of being
broken. I called myself 'the broken bird', not just because I felt that
fragile but because I felt like I had come slamming down into the
I was diagnosed with severe bi-lateral
hydrosalpinges. Essentially it means both my fallopian tubes are badly
damaged, blocked and full of fluid. This was as a result of a ruptured
appendix as a child that wasn't caught soon enough by doctors and I had
developed gangrene and peritonitis before they operated. There was no
chance to repair and in fact it was recommended to me that they be
removed to increase the chances of IVF working. The day of that
recommendation I booked the surgery. I have always been a bit of a 'rip
the band-aid off' type and wanted to get it over with. When and if we
decided to get brave enough to try IVF was something we could worry
about in the future, right now I could deal with getting this done. It
was booked for a couple of months later.
ligation was done by laparoscopy, something they claim is less invasive,
yes the incisions are smaller (but more of them and if you added
together the length of all of them it would probably be equal or greater
than one incision) but they also blow you up like a balloon to aid
looking around. My small scars healed fast, despite the fact that I
pick at stuf and my insides hurt for a couple of weeks. Once the
surgery was done Big Daddy and I stopped talking about having kids. We
just dropped the subject. It had become far too complicated and usually
ended with me in tears. I was 33 and I guess we felt like we had time.
years passed. It was the very early spring of the year I was to turn
35. Life needed to change. Big Daddy had gone back to school and was
about to finish. We weren't liking our neighbourhood due to neighbours
we had had to call the police on various times for domestic violence .
We wanted to sell our house and move. But to what ends? What was our
plan? What were we 'doing'? And where were we going? I had been
cancelling all appointments at the fertility clinic when they came up. I
wouldn't even discuss it with Big Daddy just reschedule again for 6
months later. I just wasn't ready. I called to cancel another
appointment but this time when the coordinator looked at my file she
said "You know you turn 35 this year?" She said it as a friendly
reminder but I knew it really meant "Shit or get off the pot". All things fertility get exceedingly more complicated and have a lower chance of success after 35.
listed our house but before the sign went up outside there was a
bidding war and it was sold 2 days later. We were moving. We had freed
up some equity, and I didn't have the time to ponder my sorrows and
decide if I was brave enough to try a cycle of IVF. Apparently I was
going to have a big shit whether I was ready or not...... Wow that really didn't turn out to be the right metaphor......
both knew this was a long shot but "you never know if you don't try'
and I knew we (I) would regret it if we didn't. I did everything to
save myself from the pain and devastation if it didn't work - I applied
for a new degree program which I was accepted for. I decided to start
right away and because of existing credits I was going to be picking up
mid semester. Cycling would start in February and school would start in
April before I knew if I was pregnant or not. We told almost no one of
the IVF. I told my best friend and my a cousin whom I am very close
too. This way the sorrow of a failed cycle could be diminished because I
wouldn't have to deal with everyone elses disappointment.
IVF is not
fun. There is nothing that feels baby-making about it. It is cold and
clinical and mostly sad. Most ART (Assisted Reproductive Therapy)
appointments are very very early in the morning. Not only is this so
they have a better chance of monitoring your hormones uninterrupted by
daily stimulants like coffee but an attempt to keep your appointment far
away from the pregnant ladies coming in for various ultrasounds and
check ups. It is still impossible to miss them. The huge symbolic
incubators of what my body won't do, of what might never happen for me.
I would never begrudge someone their ease of getting pregnant but it is
a VASTLY different experience than I had. Yours was probably fun or at
least pleasurable for at least one of you.....I don't want to project on to your sex life so I will just assume the worst.....
first stage of IVF is to 'put your ovaries to sleep'. Essentially they
put you in a forced menopause. After all the preliminary testing,
monitoring and 2 months of being on 'the pill', March 7th 2007 evening I
did the first of many many shots. A needle full of Suprefact. I did it
myself, alone and on the phone with the friend. Big Daddy went to
hockey. I told him to. Something about him being there put more
pressure on the whole thing and I was freaking out enough for the two of
us. It didn't help that I had jokingly told him that the shots had to
be injected into my eye ball..........he has a eye ball 'thing'.
I still don't think he has recovered from that visual. They expect
that it will take at least 10 days of daily Suprefact* injections before
you are suppressed enough to move on to the next stage. These days are
filled with typical menopause symptoms - night sweats, hot flashes
etc. It is not pretty and feels pretty terrible. I was getting almost
daily acupuncture to help ease the discomfort of the IVF and to increase
it's odds of working. (Studies have shown that acupuncture during
fertility treatments greatly increases the likelihood of a pregnancy)
*Different drugs are chosen for different people's situations so no story is the same
first bloodwork(BW) and ultrasound (US) was on the 16th, 11 days in,
and I was lucky to already have a E2 (the hormone they are trying to
suppress) of 122 so I could move on to the 'Stim' (stimulate) stage.
The same day, I started injecting Puregon 225 in the morning and
Suprefact in the evening. They are now trying to stimulate your ovaries
to make follicles but only only under their control. The Puregon
stimulates while the Suprefact suppresses what your body might naturally
be trying to do. I was to continue this for the next 6 days.
March 21st I had BW and US. My E2 was now 6510 and I had 8 follicales on each side. I was told to continue what I was doing.
March 23rd - E2 over 14,000, 11 'follies' on the right side and 8 on the left. Daily Puregon lowered to 50
24th - E2 over 21,000, more follies...the final shot of yet another
hormone, HCG scheduled for that evening at 10:30 pm. This matures the
March 25th - Barely able to move. My stomach
hugely distended, tender and swollen from my enlarged ovaries. Sleep
that night had been terrible. I could only lay on my back because
laying on one side put too much pressure on the ovary on that side. I am
a side sleeper so no sleep was had. I can feel my insides move with
every bump in the car ride to the clinic. Big Daddy drives slowly
avoiding roads with streetcar tracks (this is impossible when heading
downtown in this city). I waddle into the clinic like I am already
pregnant. Everything look good and the egg 'extraction' is scheduled
for the next morning. Another sleepless night
26th - 7am in the hospital. Everything I had read about this procedure
was fairly tame. Even the women in my Infertility Support Groups said
it was as bad as menstrual cramps. The send home pamphlet from the
clinic said to take regular Tylenol when you got home from the
procedure. So I went in with no real 'fear', sure lots of anticipation
and some nerves but I wasn't worried about it hurting. Besides, I am
tough balls. I have tattoos and have had things pierced and well...
they drug you a little. 'Twilight' they call it....and yes, it does
involve vampires. While I am getting IV'd Big Daddy is suppose to head
next door and watch some 7 am porn to make his 'donation' to the cause.
Now 'next door' isn't the room next door BUT the building next
door...what? hospitals don't have 'porn watching rooms' on every floor??
Apparently not. So not only did he have to get the 'deed' done with
numerous people knowing what he was doing in the 'porn room', after
numerous OTHER people had done the same thing in that room that morning
but he then had to carry the now captured 'sample' in a small brown
paper bag down the street to the next building. And he was told to
carry it in the armpit of his jacket to keep it warm.......he arrived
back at the clinic with the paper bag with a cup in it which he handed
to one of the nurses. In my slightly drugged state I thought one of the
nurses had sent him out to get her coffee so I berated him and said I
couldn't believe that he had the 'nerve to leave me to go get another woman coffee while I'm laying here trying to start OUR family'....do I have to remind you that I went to theatre school?
So again feet in stirrups....you know I swear that almost as many men saw my 'gina during IVF as in college...it was
a teaching hospital after all!! The egg removal is done with a huge
needle, maybe 12" needle!!! (remember I was drugged, and men have lied
about size to me for years) with a tube attached to the end. They go in
vaginally and poke it through the cervix wall into your ovary and using
ultrasound pierce the follicle that holds the egg and suck it out into a
test tube that is at the end of the tube. One test tube per egg, one
poke per egg. Big Daddy sat beside me holding my hand. We could watch
the whole process on a series of tv screens mounted to the walls. Every
time a test tube was filled it was taken off the tube and replaced with
an empty one. The full one was passed through a window in the wall to a
'lab' where the contents were dumped out on to a microscope. If a
viable egg was in the contents they would call out "one" for the first
one, "two" for the second etc. We could see the microscope contents on
one of the large tv screens. The contents look like, in my opinion,
blood, pus and wet kleenex. It isn't pretty. We made it through the
right ovary fascinated by the process. We were 11 eggs in at this
point. They moved to my left ovary. I could tell right away it was
going to be different. The first piercing really hurt. I told them.
"Twelve" she called from the lab. The doctor said it might just be where
there is more scar tissue and to let him know if the next one hurt.
"YES!" it hurt. "Thirteen" the lab called. He tried the other side of
the ovary, I gave a little scream and squeezed Big Daddy's hand.
"Fourteen" said the lab. Big Daddy started to turn white. Suddenly the
fascination ended and reality came crashing in. It is harder to be
distracted from the hospital smell, the blood and the anxiety by the
pretty colours from the big screen tvs when you or someone you love are
in pain. "Fifteen" Big Daddy started to look bad. A nurse asked him
how he was doing...."Sixteen"...feeling faint he had to leave and I
could only keep doing this if I wasn't concerned about him. Two nurses
escorted him out to recovery. "Seventeen" It was me, the doctor and the
'tube runner' left in the room. I closed my eyes and started chanting.
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo Nam Myoho Renge Kyo "Eighteen" Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
Nam Myoho "Nineteen" Renge Kyo Nam Myoho Renge Kyo "Twenty"......and
then he stopped. "We have enough, there are more, but we have enough,
you are in a lot of pain, lets stop'. I was taken into recovery to be
set up in the bed beside Big Daddy who sat sipping apple juice, still
slightly white, embarrassed and being attended to by 3 nurses....so
totally loving it.
I was, or should I say WE were sent
home a couple of hours later. I was sore, emotionally and physically. I
went back to bed and slept for a couple of hours, woke up, took some
pain medication and went back to bed. I must have slept for age because
I woke up in the middle of the night in the most pain I had ever
experienced in my life. I went to the bathroom and vomited a few
times. The bathroom floor was nice and cool, I was hot or at least felt
hot. I spent the rest of the night on the bathroom floor trying to
sleep, in pain and unable to keep pain meds down. I called the clinic
in the morning and spoke with the doctor. I was told it was probably
because of all the scar tissue in my abdomen and that this is unusual
but not surprising considering the extent of the damage to my insides.
They said to take pain meds and try to sleep. If it didn't get better
over the next 24 hours then there might be something to be concerned
about and come in. I did get better.
The process is to
wait 2 days and they call you telling you how many of your eggs
fertilized. They then call you again the following day with a day 3
update. Usually on day 3 you have a few less 'eggs' as ones have died
off or stopped dividing. I was told on day 2 that we had 16 and then
called on day 3 to be told we had 17. They mentioned that it was one of
the most successful IVF fertilization percentage they had ever had. I
credited this to the acupuncture.
On day 3 there is the
option to do the transfer (or as some people call it the 'implant'
although nothing is actually 'implanted') and really it is more of a
turkey baster themed party. I spoke with the doctor telling her how
much pain I was still in for the egg removal and we decided that with 17
eggs I was the ideal candidate for 'going to blast' which is
essentially waiting another couple of days and letting the eggs mature
further to a stage called blastocyst. Blastocysts have a much higher
chance of creating a pregnancy but you can also loose all your
fertilized eggs (they die) having them outside of you body for so long.
If you only have a couple of eggs it isn't worth the risk but when you
have 17 and you are in physical pain it just makes sense. A blast
transfer usually happens on day 5. My day 5 was April Fools
Day.....after all this work, all the drugs, all the pain....all the
everything...I refused to 'get pregnant' on April Fools Day!! Luckily
they called the morning of day 5 and said they were over booked and I
still had 17 eggs! (unheard of craziness) did I mind coming in tomorrow.
I didn't mind.
The next day we arrived and had a chat
with the doctor. We had 9 eggs that were 'perfect' and had a very high
probability of creating a pregnancy but I was also close to turning 35
so we had a choice. Ontario rules are that at under 35 they will only
transfer only 1 blast but at 35 and over they will transfer 2 blasts
(these numbers are 2 and 3 respectively for 3 day old fertilized eggs)
Did we want to transfer 1 or 2?? We had waited so long, spent so much
money (Wait stop the presses, IVF costs money? Yes even in socialized
medicine Canada it is EXPENSIVE, at this stage we were already in the
hole close to $10,000), we knew we wanted more than one kid so we didn't
need to think about it too much. Two!!
the best two, squirted them in, I lay down for 30 minutes and went
home.....to wait and know nothing for 2 weeks....Everyone in the groups I
belonged to said this feels like the longest two weeks of your life.
Waiting until you can POAS or Pee On A Stick. I didn't find it too bad
but I was going back to school and had school supplies
on the mind. I did eventually POAS at around 2 weeks. The results were
kinda questionable. The clinic had asked me to come get blood work a
week after the transfer but it meant finding somewhere to take blood on
Easter Monday and no where was open. Because of my school schedule I
didn't manage to go for another couple of days. They called me during a
class with the results. Yes you are pregnant and from these numbers you
are very pregnant. At 8 weeks along they do your first US. This is
what we saw
Daddy stared at it having no idea what we were looking at. The nurse
asked us if we knew what this meant. I gave a scared grunt....Big
Daddy, knowing he was the only one who didn't know, goofy grin on his
face studied it closely for a minute and said 'no'. Twins they said.
You are having twins. We both laughed nervously and fell silent. We
left like zombies. Walked all the way to the car and drove half way
home before either of us said anything. Big Daddy said "the dog is
going to freak out!!" It was another 2 hours before I realized I left
my purse at the clinic.
We waited til I was 9 weeks
pregnant before we told anyone. Just days after we found out it was
twins. It would've been impossible to keep it a secret much longer.
Not only was there a huge birthday bash for Big Daddy and someone would
notice if I didn't drink at all but I was already starting to show. It
all starts to pop that much sooner with two in there.
And now on the other end of all that fear and sadness, I carry this act of bravery, of doing IVF around like a metal. My
shame of infertility became pride for how much I had to do to have these
children. The most wanted children, the hardest worked for children.
The NICU smells like hand sanitizer. The lighting, the whispering,
the constant sound of monitor alarms going off, and the
barely-keeping-it-together parents blend together to make it feel like
the twilight zone. I sat there in a wheelchair more than 12
hours after my preemie twins were born (via emergency c-section),
meeting them for the first time through the plastic of their incubators.
These were the children that I had longed for, begged for, prayed for,
WORKED for. Years of infertility, a surgery, IVF and a high-risk
pregnancy, and there they were…two tiny total strangers? Two total
strangers with tubes and monitors and things that went beep. Was this a
normal way to feel? Being a new parent is overwhelming at best, and
premature birth by emergency c-section isn’t the best way to arrive at
parenthood. So what do you do if your first job as a parent isn’t what
comes naturally? Holding, bonding and feeding are replaced with
watching, waiting and pumping.
My twins Gabriel and Beatrice were born at 33 weeks
gestation. My water had broken a week earlier with no contractions, so
they kept me in the hospital, trying to ‘keep me pregnant’, with the
hope of getting me to 36 weeks. This threw my birth plan out
the window and sent my midwife home. Exactly a week from when my water
broke I started having contractions at 11 p.m. Around 1 a.m. I called a
nurse, thinking I had eaten something that wasn’t sitting well (dumb I
know but it just didn’t feel as bad as everyone had warned me) Turns
out I was 8 cm dilated with an arm hanging out of my cervix. There was
no other choice but c-section, and no time for an epidural. I would have
to have a general anesthesia. I yelled our home phone number to a
nurse to call as they rushed me down the hall to an OR. My husband and
mom would arrive just in time to see them whisk the twins down the hall
to the NICU.
So there I was 12 hours later, groggy, sore and high on morphine,
meeting the great loves of my life. I just didn’t know it yet. At
birth the twins did great. They were both good sizes for 33 weeks
gestation -- Gabe weighed in at 4 lbs 3 oz and Bea at 3 lbs 11 oz.
Neither of them had breathing problems. In theory babies don’t learn
how to suck until 36 weeks gestation, so like many parents of preemies,
getting our babies nursing was going to be one of the biggest
challenges. We were told that they needed to spend a couple of weeks in
the Level 2 NICU, to monitor and make sure they were feeding well and
NICUs have a strict schedule, feeds every three hours (with a
reminder to pump every three hours) with a diaper change and a weigh in
before the feed. Twice a week they work a bath into the
schedule. They want parents to be as involved as possible and it is a
wild learning curve. Not only are you learning how to handle your
too-small babies, but you also learn what every monitor does, what every
alarm means, every nurse’s name and which ones you like or don’t, and
the breast pump room procedures and protocol. You quickly make strange,
intimate friendships with the other moms in the pump room. Learn their
children’s names and condition. They are the only other people who know
what you are going through. But then you quickly forget them once home,
out of survival instinct to leave the painful time behind you.
I was released four days after the twins were born. Although they were doing great, I was going home without them. With
all the medical intervention, feeding tubes, the beeping and whirring
of monitors, endless hand washing, all the alien hours we spent in hard
chairs, disconnected from the world, peering through plastic at them,
leaving the hospital without my babies hit me as the most unnatural
thing possible. I cried the whole way home.
Our usually cool grey rainy October days had become a cold but sunny
November and it felt like we are out of the woods. It was Saturday
November 4th and the kids were a week old. I was healing
nicely, the kids were gaining weight, and I was doing well with my
pumping every three hours and was bringing milk in to the NICU. My
husband, my mom and I had showed up at the NICU to spend the day with
the twins. A nurse blocked the path to our section. There was a
‘complication’ she said. That morning they had found blood in Gabe’s
diaper. They had already started antibiotics but wanted to do some
other tests. The doctor on duty for the weekend sat us down.
We could tell it wasn’t good. She said the next step was a spinal tap
and gravely handed me consent forms. I couldn’t sign them. I handed them
to my husband.
After the spinal tap and another diaper with blood they concluded that Gabriel needed higher level care.
Hours later we were in an ambulance with a transfer team taking us to
Sick Kids Hospital. There he was placed in the Level 1 NICU. Most of
that evening is a blur. His new doctor sat us down in a private waiting room and told us the diagnosis: Necrotizing Enterocolitis, or NEC.
This is a condition seen primarily in premature infants, when portions
of the bowel undergo necrosis (tissue death). They think it’s because of
an overgrowth of bacteria. She didn’t give me any hope for survival;
she made it very clear that this was VERY serious.
They had put him on strong antibiotics and he would be monitored closely. The fear was that the bowel would perforate and dump its contents and bacteria into his abdomen. Even
though visiting hours were long over, they let us sit with him. I sat
there like a zombie wondering how I could say goodbye to someone I
barely knew and had waited for my entire life.
At 2 a.m. my mom and husband said that we should head home and try to
get some sleep. They were concerned that I was still weak from surgery.
I said I couldn’t leave and I had to be there if he died. I asked the
nurse what the chances were of him making it through the night. She
looked at me like I had asked her what planet she was from and said,
“Oh, he’ll make it through the night, he is going to be fine.” When she
noticed I was staring at her like she really did come from another
planet, she added, “The doctors have to tell you the WORST case
scenario, but we have much tinier preemies in here with much worse
cases, and they are fine. You have a big boy there, his case was caught
early and he hasn’t perforated. He is really sick but it looks good, go
get some sleep, I’ll call you if anything happens.” We went
home, but I didn’t sleep much. We went straight to Sick Kids in the
morning to find out he had perforated overnight. They scheduled the
surgery for later that day and I went to the pump room.
Many of my memories of that time are of the pump rooms.
Travelling back and forth between the two hospitals every day, all day,
and pumping every three hours wherever I was. Maybe because it felt
like the only thing I could do to make them well. It was the one act of
‘Mommy-ness’ I was allowed, this I could do.
I was allowed to hold Beatrice for short periods, but with
all the tubes and constant concern for body temperature, the cuddles
were awkward and short. After about ten days she was doing so
well they took out the IV, which made things a lot easier. They also
wanted me to start putting her at the breast even though she might only
lick and sleep. It would help with my milk production (which wasn’t
great from all the lack of sleep and stress) and it was bonding time,
which we both desperately needed. I think I finally started to feel like
a mom during those short periods.
Gabe’s surgery was 3 hours long. It was a Sunday and the hospital
was quiet. The three of us sat in a huge empty waiting room…waiting and
praying. The surgeon slowly walked over to us and sat down. “It went great.”
I’m not sure I heard much more of what he said after that, but I did
learn that Gabriel lost 10 cms of his distal bowel (apparently the best
part to lose) and also his appendix (which is weird because, if you are
an anatomy geek like me, you know that the appendix is on the other side
of the abdomen). Essentially they cut out the dead tissue and
re-joined the pipes. They had created an ileostomy (like a colostomy but
from the small intestine instead of the colon), which he would have for
approximately four months while his gut healed, after which they would
reverse it. He had a long road ahead of him, but he had a road, and I
could breathe again.
I’m not sure how we made it through the next few weeks. The
landmarks that meant they were one step closer to being able to go home:
tolerating feeds, gaining weight, no bradicardias, no apneas, moving
from an incubator to a cot. Slowly losing all the tubes and
wires, one by one. The NICU nurses taught us how to bathe them, how to
check temperatures, different tricks to encourage decent feeds and ways
to burp efficiently. Although they are twins they had very different
challenges. Gabe was a great eater but would often spit it all up.
Bea was slow and would fall asleep in the midst of a meal, forcing us to
put the rest of her feed into her NG tube (a tube in her nose that goes
into her stomach) She wasn’t going home with an NG tube, so we had to
find ways to keep her awake to finish her meal.
I managed to keep it together most of the time until the day Gabe was transferred back to the level two NICU.
His (and my) favorite nurse at Sick Kids, Hillary, helped with the
transfer back to the hospital he was born in. As soon as she walked in
with the ambulance transfer team I broke down. In their first week
together they had been on opposite sides of a partition. On this day we
put him into the cot next to his sister. So this was the first time
since they were born almost four weeks earlier that I got to look at
them together. It was the first time I felt like I could enjoy the
gift of these amazingly wanted babies. It was the first time we were a
It is now three and a half years later and as I write this I hear the kids playing outside with their dad.
Everyone is happy and healthy and although we had a lot more drama,
stress and tears than most trying to make our family it has made us hug
them a little tighter, kiss them a little more and watch with wonder
every minute with them that we almost didn’t have.
Read the story of how they were conceived through IVF