PREGNANCY

TTC & IVF: Our Journey to Start a Family | Written by Caitlin Revane Richmond

From day one we knew Camilla was going to be a strong and determined little babe…we just didn’t know how strong that determination would turn out to be.

After we got married we knew we wanted to wait a little bit before starting our family, and the road to welcome our first born would be one that tested mental, physical and emotional states not only in ourselves but also with each other. It might seem crazy to be thankful for a hard chapter but in the end it brought us so much closer and made us appreciate each other and our family in all aspects so much more.

Doctors tell you not to stress when trying to conceive because this can hurt your chances of becoming pregnant…easier said then done! Especially when you are overthinking every little sign that could possibly mean you’re pregnant, mixed with your heightened level of emotions, it all just makes for one big stress ball. As the months tick away and the tests come back negative, your stress and emotions start to build and run high. It starts to get tough to keep a positive mindset and low level of stress. My doctor told me we needed to try for a year before discussing next steps, so that’s what we did. It was a frustrating and long year for us but finally after a little over a year we were referred to a fertility specialist to discuss what our options were to help us get pregnant.

They ran all sorts of tests on both of us to determine what was the cause and the next steps forward. We were excited to finally have some answers…but after all the tests the doctor told us we had unexplained infertility. However – our doctor already had a plan for us and we discussed where this result took us next. We had the absolute best doctor and nurse to work with us through this process and they were there for us in such a supportive way. They truly treated us as people and not just as another name in a file.

Obviously it wasn’t working to get pregnant naturally so we discussed different options to try as a first step. Even though we had been now trying for about a year and half we opted to try once more without help to see if that would work, don’t ask us why we decided to do this! That month came and went with another negative result so then we started with the fertility plan. Remember that we needed to take things literally one month at a time because you know…mother nature and all.

Clomid was our first option. This is an oral medication that can be used to stimulate ovulation in women that are experiencing infertility. It works by blocking estrogen receptors and in turn increases the hormone levels. By stimulating an increase in the amount of hormones, this helps to create more egg follicles upon ovulation. If there are more egg follicles, that increases your chances of a sperm and egg fertilizing and becoming pregnant. We tried two months of Clomid with no success.

Our next step was IUI. This is a bit more invasive but has a higher success rate so we were feeling optimistic. After three attempts at IUI with no success we had a long discussion with our doctor about our options. There was another drug we could try but it increased your chances of having multiples (twins or even TRIPLETS). Our doctor didn’t feel comfortable with this option because of my frame. If we got pregnant with triplets, he was afraid the chances of survival for one or more of the babies could be very low and that it could possibly harm my own body as well.

The other option presented was In Vitro Fertilization (commonly referred to as IVF). We ultimately agreed to go the IVF route, but this wouldn’t be as easy as the previous treatments we tried, and it would take a toll on my body like nothing I had ever imagined.

When you start IVF you have to prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally because it is a process…ooh girl! In an odd way, all the steps of IVF keep your mind so preoccupied with the current step that you almost don’t have time to think about what you just went through or have to go through next until its all said and done! You start the IVF process by taking shots in your stomach to encourage the follicles in your ovaries to produce more eggs. This process can be 8-14 days depending on how your body is reacting to the medicine. (Oh and did I mention that you give the shots TO YOURSELF?!) I did meet with a nurse to walk through how to mix the medicine, fill my syringes, and then actually administer the shots but it still didn’t fully prepare me for actually having to do it myself. I was giving myself two shots in the stomach each night for two weeks and it never got any easier. I had to hype myself up each and every night with lots of mini dance parties in our bathroom. You have to switch sides each day to get maximum egg production, so your stomach begins to bruise pretty quickly and ends up looking fabulously black and blue. I was also monitored by my doctor the entire time with blood work and ultrasounds to see how my body was reacting to the dosage and if things needed to be adjusted.

You have to be very precise with your shots — same exact time each day. I’m not going to lie there were some nights I dreaded giving myself the shot because I was in so much pain, so bloated, and so bruised. However, I knew this was all for a greater purpose and it would absolutely all be worth it, so each night I would get my medicine ready and give myself those shots as fast as humanly possible. Looking back now, I have forgotten the physical pain from those shots (or maybe I just blocked it out!)

After two weeks and numerous shots, my doctor felt we were in a good spot with the number of eggs they could retrieve, so next would be the retrieval process. The night before we went in for the procedure my husband administered my trigger shot (again at a precise time) which kicked things into overdrive and got my body ready for egg retrieval. Thank God I didn’t have to give myself that trigger shot because it was one of the biggest needles of the bunch. That shot took a lot of hyping up for both myself and my husband. I was given anesthesia for the retrieval process and when I woke up the doctor had great news for us, they were able to retrieve 12 eggs to begin fertilization.

The next few processes can look very different for everyone. Once we had our embryos we opted to have a type of genetic testing done called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This testing shows any genetic mutations or inherited diseases as well as lowers the risk of miscarriage because you are able to have some insight into which embryos aren’t as viable as others. The PGD does extend the process a bit because the embryos are about five days old when tested and then frozen while the results come in. The results take at least one full week and then the embryo(s) chosen will need to be unfrozen. The PGD testing also reveals the gender of all embryos should you want to know ahead of time. We did not want to know the gender, and opted to take the strongest embryo for implantation.

The embryos are frozen while the PGD testing is taking place  so you can wait if you don’t want to proceed with implantation right away. That being said, we wanted to keep things moving along with the IVF process, so once the results were in we scheduled the implantation. Those fabulous shots I took to start the retrieval process would come back to prepare my body for the implantation, although not as intense in terms of how many shots this time around. Under the recommendation of our doctor, we only transferred one embryo.

Something to note is that although 12 eggs were retrieved we didn’t end up with 12 embryos to be tested. After testing that number shrunk even further. Please don’t get discouraged by numbers, there are so many other stress points in this process and remember all it takes is one strong embryo to have that successful implantation.

We were very fortunate and had success on the first transfer and the embryo had implanted which means we were pregnant! The doctor’s office had drawn blood to run tests after the implantation to see if I was pregnant. I can still remember taking the call from our doctor with the fabulous news as I sat in a conference room at work…definitely not how I ever imagined finding out I was pregnant!

We were told by a few people (medical professionals and friends) that we shouldn’t rule out having babies naturally once we had our first. My doctor said she had seen plenty of unexplained fertility patients get pregnant on their own after their first baby. She also said in a half joking manner that we better adhere to her time frame for when to start trying again. We agreed that we would try to have our next child naturally for 6-months before trying IVF again. We knew we wanted our kids to be close in age and given that it took us two years with Camilla we also decided to start as soon as I was given the green light by my doctor. Well…we decided to try one month ahead of that month my doctor told me. What a different pregnancy story we have for our second, we got pregnant (naturally) the first month! You better believe my doctor told us “I told you so and I’m so excited!!” We thought “Are we crazy?! We will have two under the age of two!”

It’s definitely madness at times – but good madness – and just as quickly as you adapt to having one new little babe, you quickly adapt to two little babes and your new norm (obviously it’s not all smooth sailing every day). It has been so awesome to watch our two young babies together as they learn, grow and figure out their sweet little worlds.

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If you’d like to read more about Caitlin and her family, she recently started a blog to document their journey called “One in a Millie” – check it out here!

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