It Just Takes One: Our IVF Pregnancy Story

SURPRISE – I’m pregnant! Although you may have known already if you follow my Instagram or Facebook page. Besides sharing my braces journey, which was kind of beauty-related, I don’t typically share personal details on the blog because I like to keep it about beauty and style. However, in order to understand a bit more about me and my blogging journey (and blogging future), it’s imperative that I share this pregnancy story. It’s also for the millions of other women AND MEN who are too embarrassed, ashamed, scared, angry and/or in too much pain to know how to formulate the words around this disease. #BrighterDarlingBaby is an IVF baby. I am one in four women who struggle(d?) with infertility and this is our IVF pregnancy story.

*Warning: this is a VERY long post.

Our IVF Pregnancy Story | Brighter Darling Blog



the exciting beginning

A year after getting married, 2015, my husband and I decided we should start trying for a baby.

We had been living in Houston for a year and thought we were going to be there forever. Plus, you never know how long it will take to actually get pregnant (jokes).

After a few months of trying on our own with no success, I decided to talk to my OBGYN about what could be going on because I also struggled with inconsistent periods and breakthrough bleeding for years prior (previous OBGYNs in North Carolina said I was fine… even after ultrasounds).

As soon as she ran another ultrasound, my Houston OBGYN identified several significant polyps in my uterus. Although polyps alone do not stop pregnancy, depending on the location in the uterus, they can make it very difficult.

YAY! I was excited to remove the polyps and try again.

I had my first hysteroscopy procedure to remove the polyps in July 2015.

trying all of the things

After I was cleared to begin trying again, I, of course, started using every imaginable ovulation method in the history of ovaries.

Apps, pee sticks, digital tests, learning more about my vag than I ever thought would possibly be necessary, tracking my temperature every morning… the usual.

After approximately six more months of this, I went back to my OBGYN for a routine ultrasound to check in with my uterus.

MORE polyps came back.

I remember legit having a sobfest in the exam room by myself. Never once thinking this was going to happen again, I didn’t bother making my husband come with me, so I was entirely alone.

Looking back on this journey, this moment was fairly insignificant, but I remember feeling like this was the start of a much more complicated process than I ever expected.

At this point, we had been trying for a year and my OBGYN did the best thing she could for me at that time – she referred me to Houston Fertility Specialists to talk to a reproductive endocrinologist.

starting over – part 1 of 12310

I made my appointment to see Dr. Dunn at Houston Fertility Specialists and the initial protocol was that polyps alone don’t hinder pregnancy.

At this point, we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Me and my husband’s blood work numbers looked fine. We were normal, healthy 29-year-olds.

He recommended we try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) a couple of times before removing the polyps again. Continually going into the uterus and removing polyps does have a minor risk of scarring and impairing pregnancy further, so it’s best not to do it multiple times a year.

IUIFor those who are unfamiliar with fertility treatments, an IUI is when the woman takes medication to produce more eggs than a natural cycle, is monitored regularly via blood tests and ultrasounds (multiple times a week) and at the optimum time, takes a ‘trigger’ medication to release the follicles. The man deposits his sperm sample, which is then ‘washed’ down to a concentrated amount and injected via a catheter into the cervix via the vagina. The whole point is to increase the chances that the sperm will find an egg at the perfect time. A normal, healthy woman under 35 has about a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month if timed perfectly. With IUI, you’re at about 15-17%. You’re welcome for your science lesson. The first one of this post.

After our first failed IUI, we got the option to try another hysteroscopy to remove the polyps, or go with a more invasive surgery called a laparoscopy to do, what Dr. Dunn referred to as, “a full under-the-hood inspection.”

A laparoscopy would most certainly remove the polyps, and also check any other issues with my internal lady organs… such as endometriosis, etc.

The procedure is similar to hysteroscopy in that you are put under anesthesia completely, but while hysteroscopy goes into your uterus via the vagina, the laparoscopy actually makes a couple of incisions into your abdomen (for me, in my belly button and above my pubic bone). From there, the doctor can remove the polyps and get much better visuals of other concerns. Recovery from a lap surgery is a bit more intense. For me, I needed a solid three days of bed rest and a few extra of taking it easy. It also took me almost a month to recover from the air pockets that fill your entire abdominal cavity. I literally looked pregnant for weeks and could only wear loose dresses. Science lesson #2 of the day complete.

End result: polyps removed and it seemed that my OBGYN may have missed one (which can happen with hysteroscopies) that was fairly high up into the uterus. I was a clean engine!

We tried two more IUIs. Two more failed.

I had been seeing Dr. Dunn for approximately six months at this point and had nothing to show for it except a couple tiny scars on my stomach.

At my last appointment with Dr. Dunn to discuss our next steps before we moved to New Jersey, he recommended at this point moving to IVF. For our ages and the unknown issues we were having, he felt very strongly that we would have quick success with IVF.

Since we were moving to New Jersey, Dr. Dunn highly encouraged me to ensure I see the doctors at RMANJ. He insisted they were the best and led most infertility research in the world. He even worked with the founder when they first graduated medical school and knew I would be in amazing hands.

RMANJ success rates IVF

I can’t thank Dr. Dunn enough for pushing me in the right direction.



the insurmountable financial burden

I would be remiss to not discuss the insane cost factor of making a baby the nontraditional way.

My husband’s job did not offer medical insurance that would even cover 1 pill of infertility medication… let alone IUIs or IVF.

As for my job, I stopped working full-time for several reasons – mainly being that we had just moved to Houston a few months before this started and it was very challenging starting a new career while balancing all the doctor appointments and focusing on our #1 goal, which was to have a baby.

I took on a couple of at-home freelance positions and ramped up my blogging efforts to contribute financially while allowing me the flexibility of going to all of these doctor appointments constantly while maintaining some semblance of sanity. This type of employment obviously does not provide company-offered health insurance, so everything has been out-of-pocket.

The point of this section is to address the financial burden that you don’t hear as much about until you’re REALLY going through it. To give you an estimate, each IUI cost us approximately $500-650 including/depending on the medication. My surgeries cost $8,000.

Many reports on IVF found online are dated or taking a cumulative average of the entire country. They say IVF costs around $13-15K without insurance. That is not the case in New Jersey or Houston if you are out-of-pocket. I’d push that estimate up to about $20K… and that does not include your medications. Medication alone runs $4-6K per cycle. Many women need at least two IVF cycles to get pregnant.

There are a few financial institutions that offer loans and multi-cycle packaged deals for IVF treatment. Typically, they end up costing slightly more if you get pregnant on your first cycle, but the benefit is you have more chances without having to shell out the entire cost again… minus medication.

In the end, my IVF cycle was a multi-cycle plan that cost $32K and my medication cost about $4K per cycle.

In 2017, we spent $47,000 on my medical bills alone. Out of pocket. 

Yes, we nearly died when we filed our taxes this year. But at least it explained why we hadn’t been traveling the globe!

The point of this section is to shed some light on not just the emotional stress that comes with infertility treatment, but the immense pressure that comes from the financial burden on a relationship/marriage.

This isn’t something you can say, “Well, let’s save up and try again in a couple of years,” because with infertility, time is NOT on your side. The older you get, the harder it becomes.

My husband and I decided that we were never going to give up. We were just going to push through no matter what and try to recover, financially, later in life.

meeting our new doctor in NJ

When we met Dr. Franasiak of RMANJ and shared our story with him, we also learned that there are a ton of different combinations of medicine to try with IUIs. We had only tried one.

There are also double-IUIs, where you don’t just do the insemination on one day, but go back to back days for the procedure to give yourself ‘extra insurance’ (so to speak) on ‘catching the egg at the best time.’

With a fresh uterus post-laparoscopy, we decided to try a couple more rounds of IUIs using different medications and trying the double-IUI method.

After my fifth IUI (2nd in NJ), we discovered I had another polyp return. I named him Frank. In the exam room. While the doctor was all up in my lady parts looking at my uterus.

At this point, I wasn’t even upset anymore. I was just like, “When can we schedule another removal?”

5 failed IUIs, total. We were over it. We were simply draining financial reserves and our chances of success were still only about 15-17%.

Dr. Franasiak agreed with Dr. Dunn in regards to us being great candidates for IVF. He didn’t want to do another laparoscopy, however, because it’s invasive and recovery is longer. Based on Frank’s location, he felt they’d have no problems removing him with another hysteroscopy.

In July 2017, I had my second hysteroscopy. Bye, Frank.

starting IVF – egg retrieval

By November 2017, we were cleared to start IVF treatment.

We had to sign away our lives on dozens of documents. Have you ever thought about who gets your unused frozen embryos should you get divorced or both of you die? Those were fun conversations.

The first part of IVF is to retrieve the eggs. You do this by taking injectable medication (hormones) to overproduce follicles. It’s similar to IUI, except these drugs are a lot more intense.

My medication consisted of 3-4 injections a day in my stomach. I alternated sides and had minimal bruising with my supreme technique (more on that in another post if interested).

Every other morning for about 2.5 weeks at 7am, I would be at the doctor’s office getting blood drawn and having ultrasounds to check how my eggs were growing.

When your eggs look about ready, there is a specifically timed 2-part trigger shot that you take to (again, similar to IUI) mature the follicles but not totally release them (the doctor will retrieve them manually).

After 36 hours, you go to the doctor or a surgical center for an outpatient procedure. They put you under a mild anesthesia and the entire retrieval process only takes about 15 minutes.

The doctor will look at your uterus on an ultrasound and go in vaginally to retrieve all the eggies they can get.

I got 16! 16 is a great number. Not too many, not too little. Perfect for a 32-year-old.

So Excited IVF Egg Retrieval Day | Our IVF Pregnancy Story Brighter Darling Blog



making embryos

After retrieving the eggs, the clinic will use the husband’s (or partner or donor’s) sperm to fertilize them. This can be done organically in the petri dish, or they can perform what is called ICSI.

IVF Egg Retrieval Day | Our IVF Pregnancy Story | Brighter Darling Blog

ICSI is when they take a single sperm and inject it into the egg – ensuring the best chance at fertilization. We opted to use ICSI on our 16 eggs.

You have to wait 3 or 5 days to let them mature into blastocysts (remember that word from biology?). Not all the eggs mature. A good estimate is that about half of what is retrieved – if you’re lucky – should make it to blastocyst.

icsi procedure

image c/o www.fertilitysmarts.com

Some clinics only wait three days, but RMANJ (and many others) wait until the full five days because they only want to use the strongest, and best-surviving blastocysts for transfer. Oftentimes, this means you may lose a few extra embryos waiting until day five… but, those may have died in your uterus anyways… it’s a tough call.

Also, there are options to do fresh transfers and frozen transfers (FETs). Fresh transfers mean as soon as the embryo hits the 3-5 day mark, they immediately transfer it back into the woman’s uterus. Frozen transfers mean they wait at least a month for the retrieval medication to fully leave the woman’s body before transfer. Frozen transfers are also easier to schedule since they can be done essentially anytime you want if you have the eggs-on-ice.

Studies show higher success rates with frozen transfers.

Lastly, there are options to send the embryos out for genetic testing prior to transfer. This tests for chromosomal abnormalities to help ensure the embryo transferred doesn’t have Downs Syndrome, Spina Bifida, etc. These tests take approximately 1-2 weeks for results… so if you choose to do PGS or CCS (what the tests are called), you are going to be doing a Frozen Transfer.

IVF Pregnancy Story

so over injections and ice packs…

“i’m so sorry”

After my egg retrieval, I was told I would get a call on the 6th day to report how many made it to blast. This day was Thanksgiving Day.

I was hosting my first Thanksgiving this year… having my family and my mother-in-law visiting from Texas, so we had a full house and lots going on when I got the call that morning.

“I’m so sorry,” was how the call started.  I instantly died and my husband and MIL weren’t even home because they took our dogs out for a hike while I was cooking.

“All of your eggs arrested except for one.” Arrested = died.

I still feel bad for the nurse who called me that day. I hung up on her with no response.

This was the lowest of low I have ever felt during this entire process. 

How the F&!K did this happen!? I am 32 years old, healthy, normal numbers, got 16 eggs and they ALL DIED BUT ONE!? What does that even mean!?

Because it was Thanksgiving, no doctors were available to talk to, so I had to wait until the following Monday to speak with my doctor and find out more information since I hung up on the nurse that day.

You can imagine how Thanksgiving Dinner went this year. I felt like a dead shell of a person.

what went wrong

Of course, my husband was convinced it was his fault and somehow his sperm killed all of the eggs.

To be honest, we all kind of thought that.

When I finally spoke to my doctor that Monday – which felt like a month from the Thursday prior – he suggested two possible reasons this can happen:

  1. My body didn’t respond as well as it seemed to the medication we used this cycle
  2. My eggs – although I have a lot of them based on blood tests and ultrasounds – aren’t of the greatest quality. There is no way to know the quality of eggs unless you go through IVF and have something like this happen.

So, really, it had nothing to do with my husband. Which was nice for him to hear.

But of course, instead of assuming it was the medication (which my body has been notoriously sensitive to), I instantly felt worse. All this time it’s been my fault?

was the embryo normal?

Because of the multi-cycle package I paid for, the rules were I HAD to use all viable embryos before starting another cycle to retrieve more eggs and try again.

So we sent our one embryo out for genetic testing and prayed to God it was normal.

However, if you are a statistics analyst, you may see the downside to this embryo coming back normal and ‘working.’ This meant that I would essentially be done. The egg would take, I’d be pregnant, and I’d have no remaining embryos on ice for future use.

So if I wanted to have more babies in the future, I’d have to get really lucky and get pregnant naturally or pay another $20-30K for IVF again.

One week after that Thanksgiving Day call, my phone rang and it was my nurse (yes, you get your own nurse at my clinic) and she was so excited to tell me that the embryo was CHROMOSOMALLY NORMAL!

I, again, was shocked. How did all 16 eggs die except this one, and not only did it survive… but it’s normal!?

I asked my nurse what grade it was. All blastocysts are graded prior to transfer. A perfect blast would be a 5AA. The number refers to how many days ‘old’ the embryo is, the first letter refers to the evenness of the cells dividing, and the second letter refers to how healthy the outer shell (which becomes the placenta) appears.

For what it’s worth, the grading is not relevant if you send your embryo out for genetic testing. And personally, I’ve witnessed more ‘perfect’ embryos failing post-transfer than not-as-great ones.

Most clinics won’t transfer below double CCs… at least ones that want the best chances of boasting high success rates.

My embryo was a 5CB. It basically just cut it.

And it was a GIRL.

Our IVF Pregnancy Story | My Embryo

completing IVF – FET (transfer)

Just when you think needles are over, they’re ONLY just beginning and get way more fun for frozen transfer.

When you’re prepping for a frozen transfer, there are different hormones you take to:

  • A) Not ovulate
  • B) Create the optimum uterus environment for the embryo to want to stick around

For me, I was taking a mixture of estrogen orally multiple times a day, with progesterone injected into my butt daily (that can also be an entirely separate post on how to do this without bruising your ass up and ending up with huge muscle knots lol).

Our IVF Pregnancy Story | IVF Progesterone In Oil Needles

This continues for about two and a half weeks, with regular blood work and ultrasound monitoring every other day at 7am, until you’re ready for transfer.

If you get a positive pregnancy test, you then continue the progesterone injections until you are 10 weeks pregnant. If you aren’t blessed with a Cuban booty like I am, you may have a harder time tolerating these 1-2″ long needles in your bum.

On January 26th, I was scheduled for my transfer.

Again, the entire transfer process takes about 15 minutes. It’s very similar to the IUI procedure and, if you’re a woman, feels like a slightly more intense Pap Smear.

But it was probably the coolest part of this entire process. I wish I took pictures.

I opted to have laser acupuncture before/after my transfer – which was another $200, but at this point F IT, YOLO, FOMO whatever! Studies show that having acupuncture of some sort increase the chances of success by 4-6%. Give me all the percents, please.

After my painless and interesting laser acupuncture session, I was in a nice peaceful exam room with my husband with spa-like music playing. You have to have a pretty full bladder so the doctor can see more clearly on the ultrasound machine where he is placing the embryo in your uterus. So the spa music is a nice distraction from possibly peeing yourself.

The embryologist, nurse, and doctor come in with this giant embryo incubator machine that held our one surviving embryo.

As the doctor prepped me for the catheter, the embryologist showed us our embryo in her little petri dish on a monitor screen as she sucked it up into this tube for transfer. It’s the wildest thing you’ve ever seen.

Once the catheter is placed in your uterus, you watch the doctor literally inject the little embryo (surrounded by an air bubble) into a good spot.

photo c/o GoFundMe.com

And that’s it! You go pee instantly before you explode. Get dressed and go home.

For a frozen transfer, you go for a blood test 9 days later to see if you’re pregnant.

positive or negative?

My transfer was on a Friday, so I slothed on the sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix the rest of the day.

I also took it pretty easy that entire weekend, with the exception of going for a blood test that Sunday to ensure my progesterone level was good and going to church.

OF COURSE, my progesterone level that Sunday happened to drop, so they increased my dosage, hopefully catching it in time to not affect implantation. Yet another stress.

That next week was torturous. As any woman who has been through this will tell you, it’s important to stay busy and plan something to do every day. Even if it’s just “go to the mall and walk around.”

I wasn’t feeling any sort of way that entire week, so I had no idea if it even worked. No spotting, no cramping.

Part of me thought it may have worked, but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up at all after over three years of failures.

My pregnancy test was scheduled for the following Sunday morning, bright and early at 8am.

I had Blake join me that day and afterward, we went to church.

It may be a bit hokey to some, but since January 1, we decided we were going to start going to church again every single week and haven’t broken that promise since.

As we entered the church for the 9am mass that morning, my phone rang and we both ran back outside.

At first, she didn’t seem particularly upbeat and then she said, “I have good news!”

Our IVF Pregnancy Story | Ultrasounds Week 5 Week 6 Week 8

on 6 and 8 weeks, we began to see the heartbeat rate (steady at 170+)

My eyes literally widened and watered up as she confirmed we were pregnant with VERY strong numbers.

I was to come back in two days to ensure the numbers were doubling.

Two days later, the numbers more than doubled. So much so, they were a little alarmed I may have had twins.

No, there were no twins. Thankfully. One is enough 😉

It may have taken us over three years, but one was more than enough.

closing the chapter

 

#BrighterDarlingBaby Girl is due October 2018!

I knew I wanted to share this story once I had a happy ending.

RMANJ Congratulations Card From Our Dr Dr Franasiak

I don’t want pity.

I don’t want attention.

I wanted this story – just like my braces journey – to inspire.

I still consider myself immensely lucky that IVF worked for us the first try.

I was convinced I’d have to have a second cycle.

After all, the success rate for IVF for one round is only 56%, on average (slightly higher for my clinic and for my age…) and considering this was the only surviving embryo out of 16 duds… I was apprehensive.

But even with the so-called *success* I’ve had, I’ll tell you the fear doesn’t go away. And I know all moms worry. But the worry that comes with an IVF mom is unique.

Every day I wake up worried that there’s no more heartbeat.

Every day I worry that something will go wrong.

Every day I panic about that massive loan payment we took out to finance this life.

Every day I think about how we’re going to afford to give her a sibling if getting pregnant naturally fails us again.

It makes me sad that it’s hard for me to enjoy being pregnant the way many of my friends have.

But then I think about how incredibly thankful I’ll be – in a different way than a natural pregnancy – for when this baby girl is born.

How thankful I’ll be when she cries.

How thankful I’ll be when she smiles at me.

How thankful I’ll be when she takes her first step.

How thankful I’ll be when she rides a bike.

How thankful I’ll be when she gives me side-eye and attitude.

How thankful I’ll be when she goes to her first day of kindergarten.

So on, and so on…

I’m excited but petrified every day. 

But then again, I guess that’s how every mom feels. No matter how we get here.

Welcome Packet from My OBGYN | Our IVF Pregnancy Story

For those of you going through fertility treatment, please talk to someone about it. Share it with your family or friends.

I cannot fathom doing this all without the support of those around me lifting us up and cheering us up when we were so very low.

Know that you’re not alone. The more you share your story, the more you’ll find SO many others who went through it or are going through it. I promise.

For those who know someone going through it… don’t give them advice. Don’t give them false hope.

Don’t act shocked when they tell you what’s happening to their body as if they’re some mutant that can’t function properly. Do yourself a favor and just say, “I’m so sorry. Let’s go do something to get your mind off of this stuff for a bit.”

For those who make the ignorant innocent mistake of asking when someone’s going to have a baby…. just STOP. Just stop asking.

People will have a baby when they can have a baby. In fact, some people don’t want babies. And don’t want to or need to explain that to you.

Just wait for their pregnancy or birth announcement. It will come when it’s the right time. Don’t add to the pressure and guilt they could be feeling.

as for my blog…

I’ve felt like crap the last three months but I’m still VERY excited about blogging about beauty again.

I’m starting to feel better and have so many products and blog posts that are way overdue to talk about!

Luckily, being pregnant provides a ton of new beauty and style content to include, so I will be sharing some posts and videos about that along the way… don’t worry though, Brighter Darling will not become a parenting blog. I still can’t stop shopping for makeup, so that will never change. 😉

Thank you all for taking the time to read this massive post (or memoir at this point…).

Thank you to all of you who have congratulated me already.

Thank you to my followers, readers, PR teams and brands who have been patient with me over the last few months.

Your support means so much and I’m very thankful I have you all here to share my story.

Excited to share more of my life with you.

 

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-Steffanie

Our IVF Pregnancy Story | IVF Success | Miracle IVF Story #Infertility #InfertilitySucks