22 April 2015

Infertility Awareness Week

Soooo... I've never gone into much detail in this space on my struggles with infertility. I have (finally!) been blessed with two gorgeous children, and hopefully there will be more, but they were years in arriving. So buckle up, here comes all the nitty-gritty.

Michael and I were married in October of 2008. A couple of days after we got back from our honeymoon, I realized my period was overdue and we went to CVS to buy a pregnancy test.

{I'm not going to go into details about the fight we had in the car about my husband's reaction to finding out I might be pregnant already. ;)}

It was the first of many, many negative tests.

My period arrived a few days later, typically keeping to no kind of schedule, and we went on with our lives. We had been married for two weeks and we were relieved that we could get used to being married before having to make such a major adjustment -- Michael especially.

It was probably seven or eight months later that I had reason to take my next pregnancy test, which was again negative. At this point I started to wonder if something was wrong; we had made absolutely no effort to avoid pregnancy -- and I knew Michael was ready now, as I had caught him eying up strollers -- and I come from a long line of endlessly, effortlessly fertile women.

I was between gynecologists. When I had last been, just prior to getting married, my doctor had asked me what I intended to "do about birth control." I told her that we were practicing Catholics and would be learning NFP. She laughed in my face and told me that with my irregular periods, "there's no way that's going to work for you." I immediately resolved never to return, but I hadn't yet found a new one. It was almost time for my yearly exam anyway, but I didn't know how to go about finding a doctor who would not laugh in the face of my deeply-held religious convictions. On a whim, I Googled "pro-life OB/GYNs" and stumbled on Tepeyac Family Center.

{I have since discovered the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is a great resource for finding out if there's a pro-life doctor in your area.}

Founded by Dr. John Bruchalski, Tepeyac is named for the hill on which the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego. It is an entirely pro-life practice, and I immediately called for an appointment. I was unable to get an appointment with Dr. Bruchalski, who's a very busy man, so I took one with another doctor in the practice, Dr. Cvetkovich. {I mostly see Dr. Bruchalski now; he's a wonderful man. A third doctor in the practice, Dr. Pereira, happened to be on call and delivered both my babies.}

After my first appointment, I had a raft of blood tests done and was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is when I started to get mad. The previous doctor (you know, the laugh-in-your-face secular nightmare) had done the same blood tests for PCOS (but her office had neglected to call me with the results) and had sent me for a pelvic ultrasound, which uncovered no ovarian cysts. Dr. Cvetkovich told me that the actual ovarian cysts need not exist for PCOS to exist; my bloodwork made it clear.

At this point, we still weren't necessarily trying to get pregnant. I started taking metformin, the non-birth-control-pill protocol for PCOS, in hopes of getting my hormones under control. Unfortunately, I was completely unable to tolerate it. It was months before I was ready to admit it; nausea is a known side-effect, but it typically subsides as your body adjusts. Mine never did. I slept with a mixing bowl next to the bed in case of vomit the entire time I was on the stuff. Dr. Cvetkovich prescribed me the name-brand version, which tends to be better tolerated. When I filled it, it was $90 for a 30-day supply so I thought, "This stuff had better be a magic bullet," but if anything I felt sicker. Dr. Cvetkovich took me off of metformin. She also referred me to a doctor who would give us private instruction in the Creighton Method for NFP. {We hadn't yet learned a method because I wasn't getting pregnant and it didn't really occur to me to get that ball rolling; Dr. Cvetkovich wanted me to have charts so we could find out if I was anovulatory.}

My charts showed that I probably wasn't completely anovulatory, but that during each cycle my body was trying two and three times to ovulate before it happened.

A healthy chart usually looks something like this:

We have a period, then a handful of infertile days, followed by a week or so of fertile days, a peak day, three post-peak days, followed by another (usually consistent from one month to the next) number of infertile days. And then another period, or a pregnancy.

And mine looked more like this:

Imagine that first line starts with a menstrual period. Then we have a bunch of infertile days, dotted with the occasional maybe-fertile day, and two-to-three peak days, after which the period does not come but instead another bunch of fertile days and a peak day. Eventually a period.

At this point I had been married for more than a year, and we were starting to move from the if-we-get-pregnant-it's-fine stage to the let's-get-this-show-on-the-road stage. Since my hormones were not fixed, I began taking fertility drugs.

I took cycle after cycle of fertility drugs, but I did not get pregnant. My charts got more uniform, but I did not get pregnant. I had horrible hot flashes and routinely woke up in a puddle of my own sweat, but I did not get pregnant. I prayed and cried, but I did not get pregnant. My friends had baby after accidental next baby, but I did not get pregnant. I took a dozen premature pregnancy tests and then got annoyed with myself for effectively peeing on $8 each time, but I did not get pregnant.

I was so sad all the time. I wouldn't say that I was ever mad at God, but I did ask Him a bunch of times what the deal was. I had maintained my virginity for my husband. I had never taken birth control pills or otherwise messed with my fertility. I had done everything "right," so why the heck could I not get pregnant?

Eventually, I marched into an appointment with Dr. Cvetkovich and pretty much demanded a laparoscopy. I was 99% sure I had endometriosis on top of my PCOS. There's no test for endometriosis except laparoscopic surgery. On December 1, 2011, I underwent a (thankfully outpatient) laparoscopic procedure, which uncovered and addressed the endometriosis that I was right that I had.

In mid-February of 2012, I finally, finally, finally took a pregnancy test that showed that wonderful little plus sign. Me, plus a baby on board. Thanks be to God. It felt like a million years, but I gave birth to my firstborn a week before our fourth wedding anniversary.

I know it takes a lot longer for some, and those people have my utmost sympathy. If you're still struggling, know you have my daily prayers. It's a terrible burden.

When we started thinking about a second baby, it only took two cycles of fertility drugs before I conceived again. I think God knew I didn't have another protracted battle in me again just then! I found out I was pregnant again with my little man a year ago today, and gave birth to him just after Christmas 2014.

Questions? Leave 'em in the comments and I'll get right back to you!

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