21; Here I Go Again on My Ovum

I know it’s been almost four months since I’ve updated and I should’ve had more than enough time to come up with a wittier title, but just like baby-making, blog-title brainstorming is something I have enjoyed not thinking about. There is SO much to catch up on here, but I think talking to my loved ones and my therapist have really given me what I’ve needed these past few months. However, I do want our history down on paper to be able to look back on and appreciate everything we’ve been through, so here is that post. And I’m going to do my best to keep it short because to be honest, the last thing I want to do today is write or talk about anything conception related.

Previously, on Baby Haupt or Bust, Jen waxed poetic about how infertility feels like being locked between two worlds, neither of which you have the key for. That’s still true, but these past five months since we found out we had a miscarriage again have been…really nice. Josh and I have started thinking about living our lives again. We have each lost some weight, and gotten back into running. We’ve started truly enjoying (not fake enjoying) the things that we used to again, instead of them feeling like filler until a baby gets here. It’s very freeing and I’m very happy we have been able to find that again. I wasn’t sure we ever would.

One of those experiences was staying at this really cool AirBnB in St. Augustine this past September (two words: treehouse bathtub). It was the only time we’ve stayed at an AirBnB twice. The first time was in March 2017, after we’d been trying to conceive for six months and hoping “getting away” would be the secret everyone kept promising us it would be. (Spoiler: No.) But we enjoyed it there so much, we went again this past September and really relaxed. I also saw a tarot/palm reader in downtown St. Augustine, to whom I told I had been struggling with fertility. She looked at the side of my balled-up first for a few seconds and told me 1. I’m fertile, and have a good eight years of fertility left, 2. I had two miscarriages, both boys, 3. I should get my uterine lining biopsied, because that was my issue and after I got it cleared up with antibiotics I was going to get pregnant without the help of IVF.

Funnily enough, I already had my uterine lining biopsied at that point and was waiting for the results. I didn’t mention any of this to her. It was the last test result I was waiting for after a clean bill of blood tests from both Josh and me to check for reasons I might have miscarried twice (no chromosomal abnormalities in any of us, blood-clotting issues on my end, etc.) and our PGS results on our five remaining embryos. The latter was…not good. One of the embryos didn’t survive the thaw, and out of the four that did that they were able to test, one — ONE — is normal. Meaning we have one embryo left to transfer if we want to try that again, which we will eventually, but I will get to that shortly. We didn’t find out the sex of the chromosomally normal embryo, but the three that were abnormal were two male and one female. And our normal one? Our 1BB. The smallest 5-day blastocyst. Which is hard for us to wrap our head around, but for now, that embryo is our little lifeline.

But back to my uterine lining. I got the call a few days later that I did, in fact, have an infection (endometritis, to be exact — different from endometriosis) in my uterine lining, and I did, in fact, go on antibiotics which did, in fact, clear it up, according to the pathology. The doctor isn’t sure how long I’ve had it, but he suspects it happened after the D&C in April last year, which is apparently common-ish. And it can cause miscarriage. I am trying not to think about the money we sunk into two more IUIs and IVF after that, as they could’ve been a complete wash because of this infection, but it does eat at me, I won’t lie. It’s devastating to think about that possibility. So I’d almost rather be in the dark about how long this has been an issue, if that makes sense.

The palm reader also told me she saw children in my future, specifically girls. Which…I don’t know how I feel about when it comes to psychics and such, but I do find it really interesting the way certain people who may be more attuned to someone’s vibe pick things up. For her to know I’ve had two miscarriages and to call out the uterine-lining testing like that kind of blew me away, and inspired me to be a little more open minded. Josh and I have saged our house twice in the past week, hoping to cleanse the air and our minds a bit to welcome positivity and newness into our lives, and neither of us would’ve considered doing something like that a few years ago. But years of infertility will really change you. Luckily for us, I think it has mostly changed us for the better, but oh boy did it take a long time to get where we are now. And we’re nowhere near done.

Speaking of “near done,” I think Josh and I are coming up on that point in terms of this baby path. Today, we did our sixth IUI, our first in over a year. We had them stim harder this time, and I produced 5 follicles on the left and one on the right — two or three they predicted would mature enough to release an egg, all on the left. If this try doesn’t work, we will likely try IUI one more time right after this and if that doesn’t take, come February, we’re going to transfer our final embryo. We wanted to try IUI again first because it has worked for us in the past, is cheaper, and we’d like to save that embryo for a second child since the best time to use my eggs is as soon as possible.

If I’m not pregnant by February, we’re considering a very big life change. Like, rent-out-our-house-and-move-to-NYC-for-a-couple-years change. Josh would need to find a job, but I’m very much hoping I can get on staff at PEOPLE next year and if Josh can get a job making what he makes here, we could do it, and be somewhat comfortable, albeit in a cramped space. And I think we’d have an incredible adventure. But for now, I’m going to take solace in the fact that my IUI went well (good sperm count, open cervix [I think – judging from comfort level based on past IUIs], good timing [again, I think, as I’m cramping like hell right now at 4 p.m. and the IUI was at 10:15 a.m.]). And hope that Haupt baby (or babies) come in 2020. Right when he/she/they were always supposed to. One day at a time.

16; Seventh Time’s a Charm?

I am not awake or energized enough to think up a clever title, so oh well.

Our transfer was Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The embryologist picked a 4AA day 6 blastocyst to put in. Here it is, our hopeful future son or daughter:

My same friend from before thinks this one is also a boy because “He’s sturdy.”
IDK why I did this.
“COME THROUGH, 4AA.”

My doctor told me it “couldn’t have gone better,” and said he would be praying for us. The sweet nurse, who knows I’m a writer, made small talk with me about a mini haiku she wrote and said she’d been reading a lot of poetry and name-dropped Shel Silverstein, whom I know nothing about except that one book.

I confirmed they had done traditional/conventional IVF as opposed to ICSI — which results in boys more often than girls (I think the split is 56%/44%), and involves regular fertilization of the eggs as opposed to injecting a single sperm — and that was it.

Then Josh and I went and got Red Lobster (which seems to have become a post-transfer trend, if you count twice as a trend) and ice cream and mini cupcakes for later, and bought some new clothes because we are both too fat for most of our clothes right now, which may or may not have to do with our habits as of late including but not limited to the beginning parts of this run-on sentence. We told the baby they should be thankful that Cheddar Bay Biscuits were their first taste of the outside world, and that there’s more where that came from if they’d just GTF here already.

Butter pecan with Reese’s cups mixed in, because I know you’re wondering.

We also went to Carter’s to look at baby clothes, which Josh was hesitant about but then got on board after he saw a onesie he liked and said, “THIS ONE HAS BUGS POURING OUT OF THE POCKET!” It was adorable.

I feel like I have a million things but also no things to say. Truthfully, this time doesn’t feel much different than the ones before, so in that sense I have nothing more to say. I hope more than anything that this is it for us, and I’ve already started thinking about how my due date (end of January) would be so nice weather wise and how it doesn’t interfere with family/friend birthdays and how nice of a bonus that is (as well as how I would juuuust make the cutoff for a non-“geriatric” pregnancy, holla). I’ve thought about a December baby shower. And I’ve dreamed about having a cute baby bump over the holidays for longer than I’d like to admit.

But the reality is that this might not be it, as much as I want to believe it is. Every little twinge in my lower abdomen (and they have definitely been happening off and on) sends my mind racing until I remember I had cramping with the first transfer and it didn’t lead to a BFP. I haven’t given up, but my heart just doesn’t have the capacity to hope in the way I did when we first started this journey. Even if I see two lines this week, I don’t think I will even be able to be excited until we level up from the last time I got pregnant, in the form of seeing a heartbeat. And if we get to that point, I know I will LOSE IT in the exam room because I start crying every time I think about that scene in my mind.

The balloon Josh brought home for me the night before the transfer. ❤

I try and be thankful for what we do have — each other, and our present and future together — but it’s not easy sometimes. It’s hard to meet two women who are going through IVF the same month as you, see them succeed, know the success rate is 60-70% and not think, “Well, I guess the 1 out of 3 statistical failure is going to be me.”

It’s not fair for me to tell myself these things, and I’m trying not to compare, because these women went through hell too and I am SO happy for them, truly. But this has been our seventh fertility treatment, and that has weighed heavily on us. Figuring out how to toe the line between hope and rationale (and successfully existing among other humans) is something I have always struggled with and will probably spend the rest of my life trying to wrap my head around.

Luckily, I have the greatest support system in my husband. And even without a baby, we have learned throughout this process that we alone are enough.

8; Taking the (Needle) Plunge

Well, long time no talk. It’s been about three months since I’ve updated this blog after starting it and subsequently going balls to the wall with my brain dump, and I truly wasn’t even finished. I had lofty goals about rehashing the events up to this point — breaking out each failed IUI individually, for example — but I realized I really don’t want to. I don’t have the energy, and looking back to a stage I feel moved on from (mostly) sounds 100% unappealing. That’s probably why I stopped for so long.

What I do want is a place to just write out what I’m feeling along this path, when I’m feeling it — and from late October to now, I was feeling like I just didn’t want to think about it. Which was good. Josh and I were able to, despite a few bumps, enjoy the holidays, which came with five extra pounds for me on top of the 10 I gained post-miscarriage, but I’m working on it, OK?

I was also kinda sorta hoping that the miracle pregnancy people told me happened to their great-aunt’s neighbor’s niece right before she started IVF would happen to us, but here I am, which means it did not.

We *did* get to drink fancy warm winter drinks at Tavern on the Green in N.Y.C. at Christmastime, though. #win
Also grabbed a drink at Eataly’s swanky rooftop bar.
And ice skated at Rockefeller Center because it was a bucket-list item for me and not everything we do is alcohol related (unrelated side note, we gave up alcohol this month).

But NOW, this infertility shiz is priority No. 1 yet again because tonight, my friends, is my first dose of stims (stimulation drugs) for our IVF retrieval cycle. Hooray!

So to start — remember when I told you my AMH was .31 and all the details about what that means? Of course you do. Well, I got my blood drawn in December and after three months of taking DHEA, it went up to .79. Which at first consideration is still low, but when I really think about it, it more than doubled. Which is fantastic. I’m hoping by retrieval time at the end of this month/beginning of February, my egg count and quality will have made the four to five months of taking the DHEA 3x a day worth it, even if only in my mind. Good enough for me.

Speaking of shit I have to put into my body, here’s my pharmaceutical setlist for the foreseeable future:

  • Letrozole (more mild – oral stims)
  • Gonal-F (injectable stims – these are the $$$ drugs)
  • Cetrotide (prevents premature ovulation)
  • Novarel (trigger shot to ovulate 40ish hours later)
  • Vivelle dot patch (estradiol/estrogen)
  • Progesterone and oil – More on this fun later once I start it, but if you want a preview, you can read this amazing post by my favorite infertility blogger, Heather (and this one too tbh, she’s fantastic)
The spoils, part I.
Non-refrigerated spoils, a.k.a. part II.

$3,600 worth of drugs, folks, which…I’m relieved about. I never thought I’d say paying $3,600 for one month’s supply of medications would make me say that, yet here we are. I’m relieved because the clinic estimated $5,000 to $7,000, so Josh and I prepared ourselves for $7,000. And I should be getting a rebate from this amazing program my friend Amanda told me about called Compassionate Care, which anyone can register for and then they offer you a percentage off certain medications based on your income. Josh and I “only” qualify for 10%, but 10% off of the two in the above list that it covers — Gonal-F and Cetrotide — is $335! Big chunk of change for us.

To be candid, we applied for two grants and did not get chosen for either one, so we took out a home-equity loan to pay for this which, if we don’t end up needing more meds and do a fresh transfer, is costing us $16,500 out the gate including the meds. If we produce enough good-looking embryos to risk aging to day 5/blastocyst stage and doing the PGS testing with a frozen transfer later, that will add about $4,000 to the total. Each subsequent transfer/”try,” assuming we have embryos frozen, is $5,000 to $7,000, so the idea is that having PGS “normal” embryos to work with will make our chances of a successful pregnancy higher the first time. Our loan was for $25,000, so we have a little wiggle room for now, and time to save up if, God forbid, this journey continues beyond the first try or two.

I’m putting these numbers out there because it’s completely insane that so many insurance plans (including ours) do not offer to help couples struggling with infertility. It’s garbage, and I really hope that changes ASAP. We are in the lucky group who can somewhat reasonably afford it, if not via our ideal scenario. So many people cannot.

Anyway, the plan is to start the stims (Letrozole and Gonal-F) tonight and take them for four nights. Then I have my first follicle-check ultrasound on Wednesday morning to see how those babies are growing. I should mention that on my medicated IUI cycles, I took 75 UI of Gonal-F two or three times, every other day. This time? 300 UI every damn night for what they estimate will be 12 nights. Oh boy.

I’m pretty worried about how they’re going to affect me, physically and emotionally. Josh says he’s ready and not worried because the 75 UI didn’t really have a big effect on my moods, but I don’t think he really knows what he’s getting into. I already asked him in advance to forgive anything that comes out of my mouth this next month and, if I get pregnant, the next 18.75 years after that.

The list of things he does for me is endless. This is us having fun.

There are a few more exciting things going on for me. I got full-time hours at my job, writing for PEOPLE.com, which is faaaaab. I’m very thankful to be working 8 to 4, Monday through Friday at my dream publication and not having to feel the need to seek out side projects. And I’ve rejoined Weight Watchers (sorry — it’s “Wellness That Works” now) and lost almost 5 lbs. these first two weeks back. Overall, I’m feeling good, and like I’m allowed to relax some and move forward.

But this post was mostly to tell you guys that IVF is officially a go, and moving full steam ahead. We’re scared. We’re nervous. But mostly we’re excited — truly. It’s been a lot of waiting up until this point and regardless of how this all turns out, we feel like there’s nowhere to go but up.

7; Infertility Makes the Marriage Grow Stronger (Right?)

Full disclosure: Josh and I fought a LOT in the earlier days of our fertility treatments. A lot. Just last month, after finding out I had an ovarian cyst that meant our days of IUI were numbered a month earlier than we expected, I ripped all the clothes out of my closet while screaming, then calmly hung them all back up while my husband sat in a catatonic state for 15 whole minutes because he had no idea what to do with himself or me. We have threatened to leave, multiple times. Nights sleeping on the couch. You name it, we have done it. I cut up a baby onesie once and left the pieces on the stairs, you guys.

And 99% of this behavior has stemmed from insecurities about ourselves — mainly fueled by our own individual penchants for self blame, and thinking it must be one of us screwing the whole thing up somehow. Or (and this is strictly a me issue) both of us, because our love isn’t “good enough.” And yes, I know plenty of people who have kids end up divorcing so this makes zero sense but during my especially low times, it seems perfectly reasonable.

We still struggle with these feelings but things are so much better now than they were a year ago. We have been seeing my therapist together once in a while, and actually did this past Tuesday to ask her for some tools on how to deal when I’m extra cray on the IVF hormones and we’re both stressed about taking out a home-equity loan to pay for this procedure. Her advice was very simple and similar to kinda what she always tries to drill into my head: Let it be, and don’t just expect the worst. I have a tendency to want to prepare myself for the Worst Possible Scenario so that if it happens, the distance I fall isn’t so great. The chink in that armor is the fact that I end up stressing so much about “what might” that when I get to “what is,” the amount of energy I’ve spent preparing myself is either greater than it needed to be or a wash. I haven’t just hoped for the best yet during a fertility treatment (and rarely at all, with anything), so maybe that’s something I need to try.

We also talked about how I feel better prepared to try that route now because Josh and I have already been through something really, really hard with the miscarriage after already having tried to conceive for a year and a half and with three fertility treatments. Neither of us really went into that second ultrasound prepared not to see a heartbeat even though we weren’t necessarily shocked when we didn’t, but if I could go back and “prepare” myself for that, I don’t think I would. Yes, it was hard, but I wouldn’t trade that month we got to live in the parents-to-be dream state for anything. Buying a crib was fun. Re-imagining how we were going to turn our upstairs loft area into a play area with baby gates was fun. Going to Walt Disney World for my birthday and taking our unborn baby on their “first ride” was fun. Browsing the going-out-of-business sales at Babies ‘R’ Us was fun. Avoiding alcohol was fun (I know, WTF!). Preparing myself for the sadness would’ve ripped that experience away from me, and honestly I don’t feel like I “learned” from it in the sense that we’d do anything different if I get pregnant again. We’d still tell our close friends and family and obviously, with this blog, much of the world will know (well, the tiny slice that reads this, at least).

I also have been struggling with feeling not so much that Josh will leave me but just the idea of a more fertile woman being able to give him biological children. The little devil on my shoulder sometimes pokes at my brain with its stupid pitchfork and conjures up this image of my husband with a much younger, prettier, more successful woman with a few little blond kids running around and I just lose it internally, both from pure anguish and from guilt that I might be somehow holding him back from something because he deserves to be a dad so much. He is built for fatherhood, way more than I am built for motherhood. But I think the latter thing has changed a lot over the past couple of years, which I’m sure I’ll touch on in a later post.

There are two flaws to this Twilight Zone-worthy nightmare fantasy, though, when I step back and look at it through the lens of a non-crazy person. One, the “issue” isn’t necessarily me. My gut tells me it probably is but it could be him, too, or both of us. Or neither of us and we’ve just had super shitty luck. And secondly, there’s a very slim chance we will not be able to have children. Biologically, there’s a bigger chance, but at all, no. We’re both open to adoption down the road if the biological route doesn’t work for us, and Josh has assured me time and time again he would rather adopt with me (or even not have kids) than have biological kids with someone else. In fact, he might’ve even suggested the adoption route naturally if I had been on board with it instead of trying IVF first. We haven’t delved super far into the idea of adoption yet because I have always imagined having children biologically and at this point it’s still very much a word I, regrettably, associate with failure (for myself, not others), as in, “Well, you weren’t enough to do it the other way.” Which is a TERRIBLE thing and not at all the actual truth, but you know. Insecurity is a bitch. And adoption is amazing. I’m so thankful to know people who have done it, and I hope I can eventually come around to it fully if our journey takes us in a different direction than the one we’re going right now.

My point is that anxiety-ridden times of trying for a baby are NOT fun. I do not recommend it. In this way, we are so happy to have a few months off before we take this next step in fertility treatments. I actually feel like I can relax now and not just fake relax, or “relax” a.k.a. just not tell people who are telling me to relax that I’m not actually relaxing and on top of that, feeling guilt for not relaxing.

And honestly, if I have to hear one more time that “Omg it’ll happen when you’re waiting for IVF, watch!” I will kill someone. It won’t. I mean, if it does, great. I know it happened to your aunt’s hairdresser’s friend and she had triplets or whatever. But all I hear with that sentence is, “Aw, you haven’t fully failed yet, you still have a couple more months!” Again though, probably a me problem, but I’m a little sensitive at the moment.

5; Being My Own Advocate, or It’s My Ovaries and I’ll Plan If I Want To

If there has been one constant in this ever-changing puzzle called Baby Haupt or Bust, it has been the fact that the only person who is going to advocate for what is best for me is myself. Josh too, of course, but to a point — over the past two years, our idea of what’s best has differed from each other’s. More on those super-fun fights in a later post or seven, but rest assured these experiences have actually made us so much stronger in the long run. Even now, before we have a baby in our arms, we can feel it. Wine helps.

Yesterday, we had a big disagreement — over Google Hangouts of all places, even though once we started this journey, we swore we wouldn’t talk about anything important over email or chat or anything like that. But when you’re married to a writer who can go on forever about things, you learn that sometimes that person has to get it all out through writing — and when that writer is a neurotic psychopath, they have to get it all out through words right. The. FUCK. NOW. (Being married to me is paradise, really. Can’t wait for all the hormone shots! Lucky Josh!)

Our disagreement was over how to proceed with our IVF treatment. We met with our doctor Wednesday to go over some of the basics and here’s basically what transpired:

Me: So doc, blah blah, egg retrieval in January plus PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening) and a frozen transfer in May, right? YAY!

Doc: Actually I think we should do a fresh transfer in January and skip the testing, a.k.a. the exact opposite of what you’re telling me lolz!

Me: …?

Doc: Your diminished ovarian reserve means you probably won’t produce a lot of eggs so we don’t want to put them at risk by testing them, freezing them, defrosting, etc.

Me: OK cool that makes sense.

A little background, which I touched on previously but didn’t go super into: I have something called diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), which means the little ovarian follicles that produce eggs? I have fewer of those than most women my age, and therefore fewer eggs and years of fertility remaining than most women my age. Dr. Google gave me this handy article predicting IVF success rates at this one clinic based on AFC (antral follicle count).

I had 12 at my last scan, which is pretty close to the low end of normal but my doctor says the Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is a better indicator of how my body will respond. Anything over 1.0 is considered OK, with somewhere around 2-3.5 being average for my age. Last blood draw, in April, mine was a freaking .31. Nine months before that it was 1.3, so it dropped like whoa. My doc said that can happen as a result of fertility medications, which…great. Nice catch-22. My ovaries are literally a perfect reflection of my personality, which is the type to throw out shit I might need later based on the self-assurance that I probably won’t need it, and half the time I’m kicking myself because I trashed an important document or something. See also: My nails, which I have bitten since before I can remember, and my eyebrows, which I over waxed/plucked in high school and are now mere shadows of their formerly bushy selves. Josh is even worse — he thinks I’m a pack rat, and I probably am compared to him. But the point is, if he had ovaries, he’d have NOR, which is Nonexistent Ovarian Reserve, which is something I made up. But alas, he’s a man, and his man reserve is fine because OF COURSE IT IS.

I’ve been taking this supplement called DHEA, which is a controversial thing in the medical field. My doctor gave me the OK to safely take it but warned me there haven’t been enough studies to back up its supposed benefits, which are that it could help elevate AMH and AFC. This, in theory, seems absolutely ridiculous because AMH and AFC are indicators of how many eggs you have left and women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, meaning you can’t magically start producing more like Yoshi. But I’ve heard stories from other women who beg to differ and whose egg quality and AFC/AMH numbers have been improved as a result of DHEA supplementation. There have been been some studies that report this, too — specifically for younger women with DOR, like me — such as this one, but I’ve also read it can be detrimental to women whose DHEA is not low to begin with. From everything I’ve read, I think we can assume mine isn’t great. ALSO…my AFC was always around 8-10 before this last ultrasound I had (my first since starting the DHEA, about three weeks prior), which tells me the DHEA might be up to something. Regardless, I’m taking it until my retrieval cycle and going to get my blood drawn again in December. So we’ll see.

Oddly, DOR doesn’t really affect pregnancy rates because you’re usually still ovulating fine. So even though I have this, I’m still a case of unexplained infertility.

Anyway, back to the soul-crushing IVF consultation, with a little aside. This was also a fun convo:

Me: I’m thinking May if we do a frozen transfer.

Doc: Why wait that long?

Me: I’m not trying to have a baby over the holidays, we already have way too many of those plus our anniversary.

Doc: Wow, I’ve never heard of a woman caring about timing before when it’s taken them this long to have a baby.

Me: First time for everything huh? HAHAHAHA. (< I did not say this but I should have, like GTFO I do what I want.)

I shit you not, he used the word “inappropriate” twice. TWICE. Not about this, but in general — and he meant it like “not the right course” more so than “Bitch, what are you on?” (I think). I’m probably the most annoying patient he has ever had but when I pay you $20,000-$25,000 after I’ve already paid you at least $10,000, you will take it. I have learned in the past two years not to apologize for asking questions or for pushing for a certain test or procedure, and I’m so thankful for that. I truly believe it has made all the difference in getting us closer to becoming parents.

So many tangents. I’m going to wrap this up and finish over the weekend with the thrilling conclusion about how I Josh and I decided to move forward and why. Surprisingly, it involves me letting go of some of the control, but it’s not blindly following exactly what the doctor says either — which is something my husband wishes we could do, but we cannot. Not for this much money and not when so many variables are at play.