The number of the day is…

The number of the day is… FIVE! Ah ah ahhhhhh.

We got the call yesterday morning – five of our frozen kidsicles tested PGS normal! PGS – or preimplantation genetic screening – tests for any chromosomal abnormalities. Out of the eight embryos that made it to blastocyst, we only had one missing a complete chromosome. That embryo will be discarded. Two are partially missing a chromosome, which we’ll hang on to for now. The remaining five are 100% normal and waiting on ice, in a state of suspended animation. The future is here, y’all.

The phone call from my doctor went something like this:

Doc: “Congratulations! Five of your embryos are normal. (blah blah blah details on normal vs. abnormal embryos)”

Me: “Awesome!”

Doc: “Do you want to know the genders?”

Me: “No.”

Me: “Well…. Can you just tell me if we have one of each?”

Doc: “Are you sure you want to know that…? You can’t go back once you know.”

Me: “Umm… Never mind!”

See, I’m not a patient kind of lady. I think keeping the gender of a baby a surprise until birth is MENTAL. I was the kid who opened the wrapping paper on my Christmas presents under the tree ever so gently while my mom was at the grocery store, and then hurriedly taped them back up with as little evidence as possible. I, Stefanie Eva Potts Miller, am not a woman who waits.

So when Dale said a while back that he wanted to find out the gender “like a normal person”, I was a little dismayed. If we can know the gender of our future babies NOW, why would we want to wait?? But the more I thought about it, the more I was on board. Let’s say we had ended up with three embryos, 2 boys and 1 girl. If we transferred the girl and it didn’t take, I envisioned the worst. Not only would I be more emotionally attached (and emotionally devastated) knowing the gender of our baby, I also would be pretty bummed that it was probably our last chance of having a little baby girl. Yikes.

I almost caved talking to our doctor yesterday. It would be soooo easy to break down and find out, but knowing Dale’s wishes, I stayed strong. What if ALL five embryos are the same gender? It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but I would be left wondering if we might want to do this crazy process all over again just to have that choice. And I do NOT want to make that decision now, based off of the somewhat silly desire to have “one of each”.

When we move forward with the transfer, we won’t find out the gender until after we know it was successful. Dale would wait until the typical 16-20 week ultrasound to find out, but I think I have him convinced to find out earlier. I really don’t think I can wait that long…

Speaking of waiting, we are now in Embryo Purgatory. Our little snowflakes are hanging in their freezer tubes in a lab in Newport Beach, chilling out quite literally and waiting for the phone call to resume animation. My doctor wants me to do a full unmedicated cycle in between the retrieval and the transfer. That means that the next time I could do a transfer falls right around the Christmas holiday, which is a no go. It’s a blessing and a curse; waiting until January means not stressing about good news or bad news on vacation, and we can relax, celebrate, drink wine (yay!) and think positive thoughts. On the other hand, though, now that I know we have five (five!!) great embryos waiting for us, I’m anxious to get this show on the road. I also had this fantasy a few months ago that I would be pregnant by Christmas, especially because I was convinced last year that there was NO WAY I wouldn’t have a baby in my arms by Christmas 2017.

You know the saying, we make plans, and God laughs? Yeah. That.

In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to not gorge on pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies, do some yoga, and try to not let every second of the day for the next two months tick by in slow motion. Wish me luck! Clearly, patience is not my strong suit.

How we got here

You might be wondering how we ended up here, in the middle of an IVF cycle. Rest assured that IVF was something we didn’t just jump right into, and we certainly didn’t want to be here. And yet, here we are.

I’ve always known that I wanted kids, and as soon as I knew I wanted to marry Dale, I knew he’d make a great father. When we got married, we were excited to just enjoy being married for a while without the added pressure of having a kid. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel 100% ready to be a parent. So we grew our family in other ways – adding three furbabies to the mix – and had lots of fun. Trips to Hawaii, time with family, annual passes to Disneyland, and more delicious meals than I can count. Despite some family tragedies and ups and downs along the way, I can absolutely say that we’ve been blessed.

Around two years ago, we started having a serious conversation about if it was “time”. Time to start a family. I vaguely remember around Thanksgiving that we decided we would start to try in the spring of that following year. So when January 2016 rolled around, I made an appointment with my OB. I let her know that we were about to start trying, and she gave me a clean bill of health. I kind of expected maybe some recommendations, things that I could do to improve my chances, etc, but since I was still relatively young and healthy, she said there was no reason to assume that we’d have any issues. She told me that it could take up to a year for a healthy couple to conceive. Hearing that, at the time, it felt like a year was a million years away. In the following few months, I started taking prenatal vitamins and read up on how to have a baby. Did you know that there are really only *maybe* FIVE days you have a chance of getting pregnant each month?!? I was dumbfounded. I’m a planner, and I like to be prepared, so I studied up as much as I could on babymaking. It is most definitely an art and a science.

Here’s our TTC timeline, from kicking things off until today:

June 2016: when we started trying in earnest. Those first couple of months of trying I remember being really carefree, and honestly not caring too much about whether or not we got that positive pregnancy test. We were having fun and I was loving the idea of the possibilities ahead.

August/September: I got antsy. I started using OPKs (ovulation predictor kits), peeing on so many sticks that I’ve lost count. I symptom spotted like crazy. Feeling slightly nauseous? I MUST be pregnant. Do my boobs hurt? Am I tired? Yep, I HAVE to be pregnant. At the end of every cycle, I couldn’t help myself; I started taking pregnancy tests a few days before my period was due, and would often take two, or three, or four, but always the same result: negative.

October: I got the gut feeling that something must be wrong. I started seeing an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility (shout out to Tina at Coastal Acupuncture!), and felt like for the first time that my concerns were validated. Tina listened to me, was compassionate and wanted to help, even if I was seeing her earlier than most people would seek help. My cycles were a little shorter than she would have liked, so I started getting regular acupuncture, which helped both my cycles and my sanity.

November: I get bloodwork done at the recommendation of my acupuncturist to check my hormone levels, and Dale gets tested as well. Both of our results come back basically normal.

December/January: The holiday season is tough. I have my longest cycle ever and this time, I REALLY  do feel pregnant: super tired, boobs are killing me, feel a little sick. This lasts for maybe a week or so, but I never see those two pink lines. Literally shocked when every test I take comes up blank. I’m a handful of days late, a few days after Christmas, and I have the most intense cramps and bleeding I’ve ever had, while on a red-eye flight to Maui with Dale for a tropical vacation. Later I realize that I probably had a chemical pregnancy and am miscarrying.

January through May: Three of my closest friends are all due within a couple months of each other. I help plan, throw and/or attend all three baby showers for three beautiful baby boys, born happy and healthy. It’s bittersweet.

June 2017: It’s been a year. A year is the socially acceptable and typically recommended time period of waiting before a doctor will suggest seeking medical intervention. We are officially diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”. I try one round of Clomid, a drug prescribed to help women ovulate, given by my OB before I meet with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) for the first time. I have two appointments scheduled with two different doctors; one I had to wait a month to get in, and the other one was initially booked out through September, but my acupuncturist works her magic and gets me in to see the doctor I ultimately chose in June. My friend who had struggled with infertility asks me how I’m doing as I am heading out to my first appointment. She says that for her, when she went to meet with her RE for the first time, it felt like she had been sitting on the sidelines the whole time and she finally had a chance to come off the bench and get in the game. I couldn’t have said it any better.

We hit the ground running; after choosing a doctor, we jump right into our first IUI cycle. I’m finally feeling positive about our situation, having been told by my RE that the both of us are young and healthy and there is no reason not to assume we can’t get pregnant with an IUI cycle. That being said though, in a best case scenario if all the stars line up right, we have a 20-25% chance of gettting pregnant via IUI. Regardless of what happens this cycle, it feels really good to get regular monitoring and to actually know what is going on inside my body in real time. I don’t even mind all the hours wasted in the waiting room. Our first IUI is on Father’s Day, which feels significant. We wait the requisite two weeks. We come up short.

July: IUI #2 is also a bust. My positive attitude is now tinged with pessimism. Third time’s the charm, right?

August: IUI #3, aka TRY ALL THE THINGS. This month we threw the freaking book at it, full steam ahead. The past two months I ovulated quicker than expected, so this month I make sure that I’m going in for daily monitoring early, especially since we are due to head out of town for a wedding right around when the doc estimates I might ovulate. We end up doing two IUIs, one a day earlier than the last couple months, just in case. We also end up hastily booking our own hotel room on site when we arrive in the Bay Area for the wedding, when our “two bedroom suite” we were supposed to share with my parents ended up being a “two bed room suite”. No babymaking to be had when the beds were practically touching, so we snagged a room a few doors down. Despite all of our, ahem, efforts, our results are still negative.

September: Feeling like we are back to square one, I decide I don’t want to keep throwing money, time and emotional effort at IUIs any longer. I’m heading into the busiest time of year with my work, replete with plenty of travel, and can’t even think about spending countless hours in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or my legs up in stirrups any more. I. Am. Over. It.

I asked the doc during my last IUI cycle in passing her thoughts on us trying IVF. She was supportive, and said that with what she knows about both me and Dale, we’d have an 85% chance at a successful pregnancy on the first try.

WHOA. 85% is pretty freaking good.

Despite every fiber of my being wanting to get pregnant on my own, without shots, without being put under, without spending thousands and thousands of dollars, I book a pre-IVF consult with my RE. And despite knowing our odds, I’m feeling pretty doom and gloom about it.

October: Holy crap. It’s here! The month we start IVF. There’s phone calls to me made, medications to be ordered (and delivered in a giant box that needs to be refrigerated), bills to be paid, consents to be signed. This is getting real.

I start shots on October 24th, the night of the same day I’m struck with the stomach flu. Seems like piss poor timing, but doc gives the go ahead to start, so start we do. The shots really aren’t so bad.

I built it all up in my head. IVF was this big scary monster that I didn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. But, once we finally got started, I was just happy that we were doing something. And I thank God that it seems like, for once in the last 20+ cycles, things are finally, actually looking up.

 

TTC, BD, AF, WTF

 

 

Last summer when we started to try for a baby, I remember being (mostly) footloose and fancy free, psyched about making the decision to put my big girl panties on and become a mom, but also nervous about the possibility of it happening *right away*. Like, BOOM, pregnant. Then a few months of reality set in, and I started to get a little anxious. I turned to the first resource everyone goes to when they need some answers: THE INTERNET.

Oh, boy. Did you know that there is an ENTIRE subsection of the interwebs dedicated to women (and the occasional man) trying to have a baby?!? It’s like some secret club that you only learn the password to once you start timing sex and peeing on sticks. I had stumbled upon a wealth of knowledge, questionable judgement, advice (both solicited and unsolicited), and the motherload of freaky acronyms. I felt like I was entering a foreign land. The Land of TTC: Trying to Conceive.

With every message board and forum I visited, I fell deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of TTC terminology. Quickly I picked up the lingo, but was still mystified at some of the acronyms this community had created. For the uninitiated, here are some examples you might come across on a TTC forum:

AF: Aunt Flo, also known as a period. We are all adults here, can we please call it what it is??

POAS: Pee on a stick/take a pregnancy test

VVVFL: See above; very very very faint line on said pregnancy test. Also known as a “squinter”.

BFP: Big. Fat. Positive. Also known as the opposite of a squinter or a BFN (big fat negative).

DPO: Days post ovulation; also known as “how many days till I can POAS or until AF arrives”

BD: “Baby dance”; aka HAVE SEX. Again, if we are all doing it, we should be able to call it like it is. Also, every time I think of baby dancing, it reminds me of that Oogachaka baby from Ally McBeal (yes, I was a 90’s kid). Wondering what I’m talking about or want to reminisce like I just did? Click here: https://youtu.be/4ooD2CMlPBQ

GSD: After a heated and hilarious discussion in one online TTC group I am a part of about how lame the BD acronym is, I came up with what I considered to be an appropriate alternative. GSD stands for “Get Sh*t Done”, and in my humble opinion, is way less lame and more appropriate for all situations, including ART. I’m proud to announce that GSD has taken off like wildfire in that community and it gives me a weird sense of pleasure that I was able to contribute positively to all of this acronym craziness. *pats self on back*

ART: See above; advanced reproductive technology. This could be IUI, IVF, using donor egg/sperm, surrogate, etc.

IUI: Intrauterine insemination; what is colloquially referred to as the “turkey baster” method. A catheter is inserted into the vagina and washed sperm is deposited in the hopes that it will assist the sperm in meeting the egg.

IVF: In vitro fertilization; the process of egg retrieval and subsequent fertilization of said egg(s) outside of the woman’s body in a petri dish, then transferring the embryo or blastocyst back into the uterus. This is the process Dale and I are embarking on, after three subsequent IUIs failed.

Baby dust: This last gem isn’t an acronym, but it deserves a mention. Somebody at some point years and years ago in the advent of the Internet decided it was a nice sentiment to wish other ladies trying to have a baby “baby dust” as a substitute for good luck, sending prayers or other well wishes.  Many well meaning women continue to use this phrase on the regular, but I for one find the term weird, bordering on disturbing. Some women feel it reminds them of their miscarriages or lost babies; regardless of whether or not you can relate to those sentiments, conjuring up images of babies as dust just seems wrong.

That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the list of acronyms you might find on a TTC message board. Not to mention all the hyped up worry and concern that women will post about on the regular, seeking other women to validate their concerns, ameliorate them, or both. Message board post titles might look like this: “Spotting at 11DPO: Implantation bleeding??” “Nausea, weird taste in mouth, bad farts. Am I pregnant??” “POAS this morning. Is this it??”

For those of you who haven’t stumbled across this Narnia closet just yet, I hope I’ve given you a worthy introduction – and maybe a reason or two to stay away for a while. However, while much of the TTC La La Land is full of misinformation, somewhat questionable advice, and pregnancy test results analysis, there are a few corners of the internet I’ve found where the advice is genuine and well informed, and the community is more than supportive (more on this to come in another post). I’m thankful that I’ve found some pretty awesome support from friends, family and neighbors, as well as a select group of ladies I’ve never met except for on the Internet.

A year and a half later, I’m slightly older, slightly wiser, and a smidge more jaded (ok, ok, a lot more jaded). Now I know better than to spend hours of my day on TTC forums looking for squinters on other ladies’ pregnancy tests. (No judgement here if you are a “line eyes” kind of lady – been there, done that!) I feel like a “smug married” from Bridget Jones’ Diary, but instead of being a smug married, I’m a “smug infertile“. No wasting my time on “Is that a line??” message boards any longer; I’ve been moved up to the big leagues.

Penciling it in

 

Going into the IVF process as a newbie, I thought that I would be handed a calendar with the timeline all laid out for me, with exact dates and times down to the hour. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out that every step of the way, this process is just one big fat question mark.

When I share that we are starting IVF soon, the number one question I’ve been getting is “When does it all start?” My response is usually along the lines of, “Well, I think we’ll get started on X date, and have the retrieval around Y, and maybe hopefully have the transfer done around Z.” The planner in me wants everything to be precise, exact, and predetermined. Since IVF is so technical and a miracle of modern science, I was convinced it would be. Turns out it’s not quite an exact science, no pun intended.

Some parts of the process will be exact, down to the hour or even the minute. I’ll start shots in a couple of weeks, two a day done within a certain window of time each evening, and then adding in a third shot per day around the day 7 mark. I’ll be going in for a monitoring ultrasound every other day starting on day 4, then around day 8 or so I’ll go in every other day. Once my body has matured the eggs to the point of my doctor’s liking, I’ll do the trigger shot – a dose of the pregnancy hormone, hCG, to ready my follicles for the retrieval procedure. This particular shot has to be done in a precise spot (the doc will literally draw a spot in the lower small of my back where Dale will have to stick me up),  and will be administered exactly 35 hours before the retrieval is scheduled, and not a moment too soon.

Despite this close monitoring and tight schedule, I still have only a rough general idea of when all of these things can and will take place. I have a potential date penciled in of when I’ll be starting the shots, but it’s still up to my doctor as to when I’ll officially be kicking things off. The average person will go through the stimulation phase (nicknamed “stims”) for ten to fourteen days; again, the timing is totally dependent on how my body responds to the medications and the doctor’s wisdom. I’ve been feeling a little on edge not having an exact plan. It doesn’t help Dale figure out when to take time off from work to be there for me during the procedure and the recovery, either. It leaves this already mysterious process feeling even more nebulous and fuzzy.

I also had no idea just how long the timeline might be for the IVF process from start to finish. Before starting shots, I had to go back on birth control (I know, right??) to help regulate my cycle. The retrieval timeline from shots to retrieval is roughly two weeks or so. What I didn’t know is that most IVF clinics will choose to perform a frozen embryo transfer (FET) rather than a fresh transfer, which means another cycle of waiting in between the retrieval and the transfer. Doing PGS testing of the embryos to check for abnormalities guarantees a frozen transfer as well. During our initial meeting with the doctor to discuss IVF, we learned that our IVF lab that will be preparing our embryos closes early around the holiday season, giving them time to go through their annual auditing procedures and inventory. As luck would have it, their closure falls right around when we would be able to do our transfer. So, it looks like we most likely will have to wait another month and do the transfer in January. I was pretty bummed when I heard that. But ultimately, what’s another month of waiting when we’ve already waited so long? It does sting, though, to think about my dream of being pregnant at Christmas being dashed. For a second year in a row.

This doesn’t even take into account any unforeseen delays or complications. Doc finds a cyst on my ovary, cycle gets cancelled, start over. Uterine lining too thin to perform the transfer, wait until the next cycle and cross our fingers for the next month. No normal embryos after PGS testing? Well, then we’re back at square one.

So, here we are. Drumming our fingers, penciling in dates on the calendar, and hoping for smooth sailing.

 

 

Support group

“Hi everyone, my name is Stefanie, I’m 31, and I’ve been diagnosed with unexplained infertility.”

“Hi, Stefanie.” (said in unison)

I’ve never been to a support group, but if I had, this is how I imagine making my introduction in my head. So I guess I’ll just introduce myself to you all, anonymous readers on the internet.

Hi everyone, my name is Stefanie, I’m 31, and I’ve been diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Unexplained infertility, also known as the most annoying and non-committal diagnosis of the fertility world, and the bane of my existence for the last roughly year and a half. Being unexplained means that my doctor has run all of the tests that are currently used to find any conditions or issues that might prevent me or my husband from having a child, and come back empty. Shrug. You know what’s fun? Paying out of pocket for a bunch of expensive tests, only to have every single one of them come back completely normal. If a doctor suspected cancer and all my tests came back normal, I would be overjoyed. In this case, not so much.

Looking back at last spring when we started to think about trying for a family, it’s almost laughable at how adorably naive I was. I was convinced that I would get pregnant right away, and timed going off birth control perfectly to allow for “perfect timing” so we could have a baby when it wouldn’t interfere with our work schedules (hah!). The fear of God had been struck in me, as it has for most of us. When I learned that you can only get pregnant maybe 3-5 days out of a month, I was literally dumbfounded. Turns out, this whole trying to have a baby thing is not as easy as everyone makes it out to be – for some of us, at least. Obviously there are people out there who come off birth control and immediately get pregnant, or have “oops babies”. Apparently, I am not one of those people.

There have been many ups and downs, some funny moments, some totally soul-crushing moments, and everything in between over the last year and a half of life. The one constant that remained is that no matter what I was going through, I looked to others who were going through the same thing, and when I did, I felt a little less alone. I’m choosing to share glimpses into this crazy world of infertility I’ve been plunged into unwittingly, despite my reservations, because I want to be the person that helps another person feel less alone. I also aim to educate those who have been blessed enough to not be exposed to the struggle of infertility. My hope is to bring to light those topics that have been cloaked under a layer of shame or embarrassment.

So, here I am, sharing past stories, sharing current struggles. I didn’t choose this story for myself, but it is mine to tell. If you’re here, thanks for being a part of my story already. I hope you’ll stick around.