Rachel and Dan
Dan and I started dating in 2008, when we were just 18 years old. We both had big goals in terms of our schooling and careers, therefore we decided to wait to get married until we were done University and in a better place financially. On August 6th, 2016, we were married and excited to begin trying to start a family of our own. Dan and I had always dreamed about starting a family. Becoming parents was something we both deeply wanted in our lives. Not surprisingly, we were not the only ones who shared this dream. Our family and friends were also very excited for us to start this new chapter in our lives and were anxiously waiting for us to make a pregnancy announcement. Let me tell you, this did not make our situation any easier.
Fast forward to after 1 year of trying to conceive and Dan and I were still not pregnant. I started getting worried about things and as most people do, resorted to Google to give me some potential answers on what could be happening. Dan and I never expected to be in this position. In school they put so much time and energy teaching students how to prevent pregnancy that we considered ourselves experts in this field! However, the same cannot be said for infertility. Like most people, we had never been exposed to the infertility world before. After doing our own research, we decided to get a referral to a fertility clinic, but still wanted to keep trying on our own in the meantime. Continuing to try was not easy. Everyday it seemed like someone else on Facebook or Instagram was making a pregnancy announcement. In addition, my brother and his wife announced that they were pregnant with their first child.
There was a huge flood of mixed emotions that came over me after hearing this news. I remember bursting into tears and collapsing on the floor. I felt defeated, happy, sad and angry. I remember feeling so guilty about feeling this way. It was at this moment that I realized that our journey ahead was not going to be easy. I made the decision to start seeing a counsellor to help me work through all of the anxiety and depression that I had been experiencing due to infertility.
After 3 months of anxiously waiting, we finally started at the fertility clinic, and in January 2019, we completed our diagnostic cycle. We met with our doctor in February to go over our results. I remember being so nervous and feared the unknown. Our doctor let us know that everything looked normal, except for my egg count; it was deemed “low” for my age. She started asking me questions to figure out an explanation for the low egg count, such as, “Do you smoke?” “Did you have any surgeries in the past?” “Do you have a family history of infertility?” “Have you ever been diagnosed with Endometriosis?”. My answer was no to every single question. It was then when we found out that a lot of Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) cases cannot be explained.
After finding out that our chances of having a baby naturally were extremely low, we both felt defeated but also happy that we had made the decision to see a fertility specialist. My egg reserve was very low, and the doctor told us that she wasn’t sure how much time we had left to try and conceive. She said she was proud of us for acting quickly and getting a referral. These words meant so much to us at the time. Until then, we had been inundated with advice such as, “You shouldn’t be worried about getting pregnant. Just go on vacation and get drunk. You will be pregnant in no time!”. A note to people offering advice to others struggling to get pregnant, please don’t say things like this! It makes it so much worse!
After our diagnosis, we started our first round of medicated Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). To our surprise, after our first round of IUI, we found out we were “pregnant”. Sadly, my hCG levels were very low and continued to drop. Therefore, it was deemed a Chemical Pregnancy and we started our second round of IUI the following month. This round did not result in pregnancy. After two rounds of IUI, we started to think about moving straight to In vitro Fertilization (IVF). We knew that my reproductive time clock was not buying us much time but were conflicted because of the high cost associated with IVF. In Canada, there is government funding that will cover one round of IVF, but you are put on a waiting list. The waiting list at our clinic was about two years! This was less than ideal for our situation. After making multiple pros and cons lists, we decided that the best thing for us was to bite the financial bullet and move to IVF.
Our first IVF cycle started in May 2019. Due to my DOR, my protocol involved a very high dose of medication to try and trigger an optimal response from my “aged” ovaries. We ended up retrieving eleven eggs and seven of those eggs were successfully fertilized. After three days of growth, we still had six embryos. On day five, we were anxiously awaiting the phone call from the clinic to tell us how many Blastocysts we had. I remember making Dan answer the phone because I was just too nervous. Unfortunately, we had no Blastocysts. The clinic left the embryos in culture for one more day, but they all had stopped developing.
Dan and I were so upset. We had just spent all this money, time and went through physical and mental anguish to end up with nothing. That is yet another hard reality of treating infertility, it’s a gamble. We had a follow-up appointment with our doctor immediately following our first IVF cycle. She told us that it was looking like my eggs were not only poor in terms of quantity, but also quality. Once again, I felt so ashamed and mad at my 29-year-old body. I felt so guilty for being the cause of our infertility as a couple. Luckily, Dan is an amazing husband who reassured me all the time that he loved me no matter what. However, despite Dan’s reassurance, I still felt like I was letting him down.
We went home that night and started discussing our next plan of action. We decided to proceed with another private round of IVF. Our doctor let us know that we would need to wait three months before starting another cycle. She was also going to put me on a hormone called Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to try and improve my egg quality. In addition to the DHEA, Dan and I decided that we would do our own research and do everything that we possibly could to optimize our chances of conceiving. We did a lot of research on how to improve egg and sperm quality. One of the books that I would strongly recommend to anyone going through infertility is, “It Starts with the Egg” by Rebecca Fett. I found this book to be extremely helpful and it also referenced many scientific research papers, which are all cited in the back of the book.
We started going to a Naturopath, who recommended certain vitamins and antioxidants that could help optimize sperm and egg quality. In addition, I started acupuncture treatments. Dan and I also started optimizing our diet and minimizing our exposure to certain chemicals found in things such as personal hygiene products, food containers, etc. Once again, there are a lot of good recommendations in the book I mentioned above! Lastly, we made sure to do things to try and keep our mental health in check. I continued to go to counselling and we both found working out and yoga to be a good form of stress release.
Our second IVF cycle was in September 2019. My protocol was like our first round of IVF, except my medication dose was increased to try and get a better response in terms of follicle recruitment (when you have DOR, you tend to not respond as well to the hormones). It turns out that my left ovary decided to be a bit lazy this cycle and after retrieval, we ended up with only five eggs. This was less than half the egg count that we had gotten from our first cycle. The result triggered an immediate wave of fear that everything we had done to optimize our chances had failed us. However, to our surprise, all five eggs were successfully fertilized and after the five-day waiting period we got our first bit of promising news; we had two top grade Blastocysts! Sometimes, quality is better than quantity.
We went in for our first fresh transfer and then began the long and dreaded two week wait. Of course, I lost my patience around day 6 and decided to do a pregnancy test. The test came back a very clear positive! I remember running downstairs to tell Dan and then we just stood there together in shock. It was honestly such a weird feeling and I don’t think it fully set in until we graduated our fertility clinic. I was so terrified that something else was going to go wrong and it was very hard to get excited about being pregnant. In addition, I also ended up with Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which didn’t make things easier.
Fast forward to present day and I am currently 33 weeks pregnant. We are expecting our beautiful baby boy on June 12th, 2020! Words cannot describe how grateful we are. We are nervous to deliver during this crazy time of Covid-19 but keep reminding ourselves of how lucky we are. Our hearts go out to anyone who is experiencing a pause in their infertility journey due to the pandemic. Try to stay strong and know that there are lot of resources that you can use to help you during this difficult time, whether it be over the phone counselling, joining infertility groups online, etc. No one should have to go through this alone or suffer in silence. We hope that our story helps any couples out there going through a similar situation.
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