*Official Disclaimer that this is a long post!* I don’t often write about my experience with infertility, but on the eve of this Mother’s Day I want to put down in writing the triumph over loss that my husband and I experienced. May my children know how much I truly cherish, and never take for granted, their being.
When I was in 6th grade I began playing league softball. I really didn’t care for it, but I knew it was important to my parents that I participate in a sport. Soccer really wasn’t my thing so softball was a good option.
I continued to play through my 7th and 8th grade years and it was at the end of my 8th grade season that I learned an invaluable lesson: coaches, teachers, parents and teammates recognize perseverance when they see it. I might not have been the best player on the team (who am I kidding, I was pretty awful!), but I was awarded the end-of-season softball for displaying Perseverance: “The Player That Tries the Hardest”. That simple award changed my life forever.
I realized from that day on, that I might not ever be the best pianist, softball player, mathematician, but if I gave it my all, and then some, I would be rewarded. Sometimes the reward was extrinsic, but mostly it was intrinsic; the amazing feeling that I knew I had given something my all; that I hadn’t given up; that I kept going when the going got tough.
I have relied on my ability to persevere through many of life’s tough situations including job searches, graduate school, marital ups and downs and MOTHERHOOD.
“When the world says, “Give Up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.” ~Author Unknown
How prophetic those words are and how perfectly they sum up my quest to achieve motherhood.
Chris and I married in the Fall of 1993. I was 24, he was 26. Both successful and confident in our careers, we agreed that five years of marriage together would give us enough time to solidify our bond of matrimony, allow for travel, building a home, and establishing ourselves as “grown-ups.”
When I turned 29, I had just graduated with another bachelor degree; this one in education and had landed my first teaching job. In August of 1999 I began teaching 2nd grade and went off birth control. I was SURE I would be pregnant before the end of that first school year.
It didn’t happen, but I wasn’t overly concerned. After all, I had been on birth control for quite some time…I’m certain my system just needed to get itself regulated. Plus, with the stress of being a first year teacher, I wasn’t shocked that it hadn’t happened.
My 2nd year of teaching, (2000-2001) found me in a 4th grade classroom. Around mid-December I knew that my period was late and I was hopeful that I was pregnant. School was out for Winter Break on December 19th and that night I took a home pregnancy test. It was negative. I can still remember the bitter disappointment and wave of emotion that came over me. That night, I would watch a telethon on adoption and cry like know one’s business. Before bed I got my period. But, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. It wouldn’t be for another week, while Chris and I vacationed in Estes Park, CO for the New Year holiday, before I would experience my first miscarriage. It was awful. And although my husband was with me, and I managed to put on a happy face for the rest of the vacation, I never felt so alone.
Four months later, Spring had arrived and I found myself in a difficult medical situation once again. Something was not right about my period; it was late, it was not a normal flow, and I had this nagging pain on my left side. I made an appointment with my family practitioner doc, and he immediately drew blood to run a pregnancy test. I told him that there was no way I could be pregnant for in addition to a negative HPT, I was having my period. Thank goodness he wasn’t dissuaded by me. I was indeed pregnant, only this time it was ectopic (in the fallopian tube). I was immediately referred to a high-risk OBGYN who was a specialist in treating ectopic pregnancies using a form of chemotherapy called Methotrexate.
Methotrexate was discovered to terminate fetal tissue growth in women who were being treated for breast cancer and also pregnant. Thus, researchers learned it could be used in early diagnosis of ectopic pregnancies, thereby saving the fallopian tube. I remember experiencing such profound sadness and loss, yet I also knew that if this pregnancy was not terminated it could mean loss of my fallopian tube, or worse, death.
At the end of the ‘00-‘01 school year, I tendered my resignation and accepted a position with another school district. My 3rd year of teaching (‘01-‘02) I taught 3rd grade and loved it! I had finally found the grade-level that was the perfect match for me. And although I didn’t get pregnant that school year, I figured it was a good opportunity for my body to heal from the two previous losses.
During the summer of 2002, after school let out, I found myself pregnant once again. Things seemed to be going well this time. I actually got a positive on the home pregnancy test and my first OB appointment went well. I was scheduled for an early ultrasound at 8-weeks just to confirm gestational age and that baby was in the right place.
Chris and I were so excited the afternoon of the ultrasound. Finally, we were going to become parents and we had begun sharing the news with family and friends. The first indication that something was wrong was when the ultrasound tech kept asking me if I was sure of my dates (as in last menstrual period). The 2nd indicator was the eerie silence in the room. I knew something was wrong. I kept asking what was wrong. She would only say that my doctor would need to speak with us.
We were shepherded into an exam room and waited for what felt like an eternity. Finally, Dr. E. (the same high risk OB who had managed my ectopic pregnancy) entered. The look on her face said it all. “I’m so sorry,” she started. “You have what is known as a blighted ovum. No embryo developed; only the gestational sac.” WHAT?!!! At the time, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. And, I felt pregnant for goodness sakes. Dr. E. explained that it was one of Mother Nature’s crueler jokes. Seems that little sac that eventually becomes the placenta is what produces all those pregnancy hormones. We were devastated. Friends and family were as shocked as we were to hear the news. Nobody had any words or the “right” words for that matter. I was scheduled for a D&C the following week. After the surgery, I remember waking up in the recovery room feeling cold and empty; literally and figuratively.
At my surgical follow-up visit, I remember Dr. E saying that either I was the unluckiest gal she had met (to have experienced both an ectopic and blighted ovum pregnancy) or Chris and I had a more serious problem on our hand like infertility. Because I was now 33, Dr. E. recommended that I visit her friend and colleague who was a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). Dr. E. persuaded us that we make an appointment sooner rather than later…time was ticking.
At our REs office, the first thing they did was run a battery of tests on BOTH my husband and me. After all, close to 50% of infertility cases can be due to male-factor infertility. But not us…right?
Wrong. Very wrong. The phone call that we received letting us know of the severity of Chris’ problem would be burned into my brain forever…or so it seemed. I have since forgotten all the numbers and what they were affiliated with, but suffice it to say that the outlook wasn’t rosy.
Our RE outlined a plan of action for us, including a time table to follow. We would attempt at least one round of IUI (artificial insemination), but no more than two. She was honest with us; while she wouldn’t say there was no hope in IUI, she also didn’t want to see us spend $500.00 a pop for a procedure that she knew would probably not end up in a conception.
In April of 2003, we tried a round of IUI that was not successful. Dr. B (our RE) recommended we go straight to IVF or use donor sperm. Again, a phone call I will never forget; after I hung up with her I was in near hysterics…I wasn’t even close to being able to consider using donor sperm. I wanted to have a baby with MY husband.
In June of 2003, we took the next step in infertility treatment and attended a consultation to begin our IVF plan. We mapped out a course of action and were set to begin in July when I got my period. By now, I’m sure you know where this story is headed…I never got my period in July. Chris and I were so excited to be pregnant once again and were just giddy with excitement over the prospect of saving $15,000. Who needs REs?!!!
Well, we did. An early ultrasound showed an empty uterus and once again, I was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. That miracle chemotherapy drug, Methotrexate, once again saved both my life and my fallopian tube. But this was my 4th miscarriage. I wasn’t even sure IVF was going to work for us.
“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” ~Bill Cosby
Yet somehow, through the power of prayer, support from our parents and the rallying cries of my colleagues, I picked myself up and embraced this thing called IVF.
As you know (if you’ve been reading this blog for some time) our first and only attempt at IVF was successful. We did do an added process to IVF called ICSI in which the embryologist picks up one individual sperm and injects it into one specific egg for our RE did not think that traditional IVF alone (put eggs and sperm in a petri dish together for conception to occur) would grant us much success.
I will say it was a nerve-wracking, painful drug-injecting, experience, but one I would absolutely do over again to be granted the gift of conception. Our IVF cycle was completed in November of 2003 and Mary Catherine arrived in August of 2004, just in time for my 35th birthday!
And the rest of the story…well, Benjamin Paul was conceived without medical intervention 18-months after Mary Catherine’s arrival, pregnancy #7 occurred 2 years after Benjamin’s arrival, but sadly ended in miscarriage (a baby with a weak heart beat); and now pregnancy #8, Baby Boy Kueter is due to arrive in August of 2010. Incredibly Baby Boy was conceived (again, without any medical intervention) nearly exactly when our IVF baby was conceived and is due within days of big sister’s birthday. It is as if my journey to motherhood has come full circle with my first born and my last born nearly sharing a birthday!
And I too will celebrate another birthday by welcoming into the world a new life. As I do, I feel ready to close this chapter of my life. I feel complete as a family of 5. Would I have liked to have more children? Perhaps, but through my ability to PERSEVERE, I have ended with three beautiful gifts that many told me would be impossible to achieve.
I do not know why I was chosen to walk this road, but I do know that through it all, I was never alone. Even though I often felt that way, I know that at many points along this journey toward motherhood, God was holding my hand, if not carrying me. After over a decade of struggling with infertility, I feel blessed that my marriage is intact and at age 40 I find myself pregnant and the proud mama of a 5 year old and 3 year old. God never ceases to amaze!