The first time I thought I might have trouble conceiving was when I was 25 I had come off birth control, and I didn’t get a period for almost a year. I had no clue then the battle I would face to have children, and I would have never believed I had the strength to endure what I did. I hadn’t been exposed to many people who had gone through IVF, but what I did “know” at that time, was that it worked… and was a guaranteed solution. I was so naive.
I was referred to an OB at that time, whose only response to my absence of cycles was that I wouldn’t know until I started trying. It would be a while before I started trying, and my worst fear had come true. My cycle remained non existent off birth control, and I was finally diagnosed with PCOS. I was 31 at the time, following a year of trying to conceive.
We were fast tracked to IVF due to an additional diagnosis of tubal factor, we completed our first IVF cycle in Ontario, again, this was going to work. There was no other possible outcome. The unexpected started early on, during our first IVF cycle, it wasn’t long before they told me we wouldn’t have a fresh transfer. I had 60 follicles between my 2 ovaries, a clear risk for OHSS. I had never heard of OHSS before… They retrieved 31 eggs, the doctor stopped collecting after that. I had been triggered with HCG… I later learnt this was not good and significantly increased my chances of OHSS, within 2 days post retrieval I could tell something wasn’t right. I was nauseated, vomiting, bloated, extremely uncomfortable and waddling like I was 9 months pregnant. I called the clinic on numerous occasions and was told to limit my fluid intake and that this was all normal and to be expected. By day 3 post retrieval I insisted they see me at the clinic, I knew this couldn’t be normal. I had an ultrasound which showed 600ml of fluid in my abdomen, again was told this was normal, and to continue to monitor my fluid intake. Things deteriorated overnight, and I ended up passing out. We called the clinic AGAIN and they said if I passed out again to call them back. At this point, not happy with the answers we were getting, we decided to head to emergency. We spent most of the day there, mostly waiting for an GYNE assessment, all the while being given a lot of IV fluid, while constantly pointing out I hadn’t had any output. No one seemed to understand OHSS, or listen to me about restricting fluids. I was tachycardic so it seemed to make sense to rehydrate me. I feared it was all going into my abdomen. I eventually ended up turning off the fluid on my own. And was eventually discharged with pain meds, and told to come back if I worsened. No one would listen to that my bloating had worsened and I was having pressure in my diaphragm that wasn’t there before.
The clinic saw me the next morning, and it was seen on ultrasound that I had a significant amount of fluid within my abdominal cavity, the doctor on call told me that if I was his patient this would have never happened. He then told me he’d need to drain the fluid off, he seemed annoyed at me. I felt like this was all my fault. When I went into the procedure room, I was terrified. No one told me what was happening, or how they were going to drain the fluid. The doctor was rude, abrasive and condescending, making a demeaning comment when I didn’t understand instructions. The only way I can describe the fluid draining is traumatic. It was done without pain meds, all the while questioning my pain tolerance. He seemed angry, the tension in the room was palpable. They ended up draining 2L. The fluid returned within 2 days, but I refused another fluid draining. Within another couple days, I had finally started to clear the fluid through my body on my own. I never truly understand how dangerous and life threatening this situation could have been until my next retrieval. We had been able to freeze 11 embryos after this retrieval, it was news we need after such a horrible experience. We were so relieved thinking there is NO WAY we will ever have to do this again. Or so we thought…
Over the next 7 months we attempted 3 transfers, all cancelled after completing a test 2 days before transfer that supposedly assessed if your uterus was ready to receive an embryo. I failed these all 3 times. It was crushing. After the 3 failed attempts, we did an ERA, it came back receptive. So after all that the doctor said we could just go ahead and transfer, 9 months after retrieval we FINALLY got to do a transfer. AND much to our surprise we got pregnant! Unfortunately, our beta levels were not doubling as they should… and after weeks of watching them rise slowly they deemed the pregnancy not viable and gave me medications to pass the pregnancy.
We took the mandatory couple months off, all while arranging to have our embryos transferred to Calgary to a new clinic, and new doctor. We did our last transfer with the clinic in Ontario, and immediately sent out embryos to the new clinic. Unfortunately this pregnancy test was negative. BUT we were so happy with our new doctor, and were excited to have some fresh eyes, and someone who really listened to us. We immediately moved onto another transfer, and as luck would have it, we got pregnant again! This time, I started bleeding right around 6 weeks, and we lost that pregnancy too. We were in shock.
After this 2nd loss we decided to meet with the doctor and come up with a plan, he recommended we do another retrieval, and do genetic testing. We opted to also thaw and biopsy the remaining embryos from the 1st retrieval and test those as well. Our experience with our 2nd retrieval was night and day from the first. They truly understood the risk of OHSS and would do everything in their power to minimize it. Our 2nd retrieval we got 41 eggs, and no OHSS! Only 5 of the embryos from the 2 rounds came back as normal! We were disappointed and surprised by the number of abnormal embryos, but we thought we had our answer, and transferring normal embryos would be the key!
A few months later we finally were able to transfer 2 of our genetically normal embryos… and we were pregnant!! We were over the moon. It had finally worked this was it. We even made it to our 7 week Ultrasound! We were very nervous, it’s the farthest we had ever gotten! The tech initially did an abdominal US, and was happy to tell me she saw a gestations sac, and a heartbeat! We cried so hard. She then moved on to an internal US to get a better look… and I could tell immediately something was wrong. The baby had a heartbeat… but it was slow. My tears of joy turned to tears of sadness, and grief… disbelief. We were told to repeat the US in a week. We weren’t totally out yet… longest week of my life. I struggled to get off the couch. The day of the Ultrasound came, we had lost all hope, and unfortunately our worst fears were confirmed, they baby’s heart had stopped beating…. In fact, there were 2 babies… neither with heartbeats. The embryo that had implanted, had split into two, and neither had survived. We were crushed…. It was a lot to take in at once. It was surreal. The doctor told us a mistake likely occurred when the embryo split causing the babies to stop growing. It was bad luck. I ended up opting for a D&C to remove the pregnancy as I didn’t want to go through a 3rd miscarriage, I wasn’t strong enough.
After the loss of the twins, we took about a 6 month break. Had testing done and took a vacation. We came back fresh, ready for the next transfer, we were encouraged that the last transfer had worked, and kept telling ourselves losing the twins was bad luck, still convinced, using genetically normal embryos was our key to becoming pregnant.
We completed the transfer, and we had a few faint positives on home tests, but when our BHCG came due, whatever little HCG had been present for those short few days was now gone. I was officially not pregnant, the transfer failed. This failure crushed us. We had gone in so hopeful, knowing I could get pregnant, and knowing we were transferring normal embryos. Our hopes had been high. We didn’t think we could get any lower… yet here we were. It was time to regroup. Come up with a new plan, we wanted answers… why hadn’t it worked. There were no answers. After a talk with the doctor, we decided on one more transfer (leaving no embryos left), and if that didn’t work, we would consider looking into surrogacy. We needed this one last shot… if it didn’t work. We would have closure on the fact I may never carry a pregnancy.
A few months later (after a cancelled cycle, due to not being able to get my uterine lining thick enough), we transferred our 2 remaining embryos. 1 just barely survived the thaw. I cried most of this day, and through most of the procedure. 2 week later, we found out it hadn’t worked. It was tough, but… not a huge surprise. We were obviously dealing with something bigger here… and just didn’t know what it was. No knowing why in this process is so hard.
We just did what we knew how to do best by now, move on to the next steps. We were desperate to become parents, and since we had already put this much time, effort, and finances into it, quitting didn’t feel like an option. We did one last retrieval… but really this was the last. I grew a TON of follicles again… 30+, but for some reason at time of retrieval only 15 eggs were retrieved. We sent 5 for testing. 1 came back normal….1! Another hit, they just kept coming. We weren’t sure whether to do another retrieval or put all our hope into this one little embryo and a surrogate… we opted to first find a surrogate, and go from there.
Initially, we looked for a surrogate through agencies, we were matched on 2 separate occasions, the first match was… a very eye opening experience, and while we were grateful someone has chosen us, it wasn’t a good match (that’s all I’ll say about that…). We were matched again, through another agency, and the woman actually ended up needing a hysterectomy… so there went that match.
We didn’t seem to have much luck through this process… but what came next, was the luckiest we had been through our whole journey. My sister offered to carry. We were totally taken aback. Her and her husband had had their own struggle with infertility, and required an egg donor to conceive their daughter, we hadn’t even really considered this as an option… BUT there was nothing wrong with her uterus. We asked the doctor/nurse at the clinic, and they didn’t see a problem… so we began the steps of getting her medically cleared and screened. And… turns out, no one saw an issue with her carrying.
Things moved fast from here. We already had the embryo made, she had already been through treatments/transfer herself, so a lot of the steps could be skipped. Within 3 months of extending the offer to carry, we were transferring our 1 and only normal embryo into my sisters uterus… And wouldn’t you know…. It worked! We got a positive… although we all kind of figured it would be positive when her morning sickness hit before she even tested. 7 week US… good strong heart beat, 10 weeks anatomy scan everything looked normal… the morning sickness continued (unfortunately), but so did the pregnancy! At 12 weeks we finally told family, to say everyone was shocked would be a massive understatement. But sooo happy for us. It truly felt like this is how it was supposed to happen all along.
The pregnancy was uneventful and healthy. It was odd having someone carry our baby, and at times we definitely struggled to connect with the baby, or even have it feel real. I did what I could to make it feel more real, got the nursery ready, I started inducing lactation so I could try and breastfeed the baby. And finally in October 2019, 5 years after starting to try and get pregnant… we travelled across the country to wait for OUR baby to arrive. It was surreal… and boy was it a long wait. We had anticipated an early arrival, as our niece had arrived 2 weeks early after my sister became preeclamptic. BUT that baby and my sister just didn’t want to leave each other quite yet. They made us wait until 39weeks and 4 days…
Our beautiful baby BOY arrived on November 5th, by c section. We had a wonderful doctor, staff and hospital who let myself and husband in the Operating Room along with my sister (obviously), and her husband. We were very fortunate to have all this happen just months before covid or it would have looked very different. I was handed the baby immediately, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t this overwhelming love at first, it was confusing and overwhelming, and a bit of who the heck are you? Once we were allowed to bring him back to our room, I had him latch immediately, and it was flawless… in that moment, I fell madly in love with that baby boy, and KNEW he was ours.
We named him Camden, after my beautiful/amazing/wonderful/generous sister. Her initials are C.A.M and we had wanted to use that in his name and luckily found the name in the last months of pregnancy. He is a Camden, and he is wonderful, and a miracle. He is almost 3 now, and even though I’m grateful for my sister and her family everyday for giving us this gift, it’s also so easy to forget I didn’t carry this beautiful human, who I love more than anything.
I still get sad at the thought of the idea of never being able to carry a pregnancy on my own, or delivering a baby, or being able to have another child. But let me tell you, I have gained such respect and compassion for anyone that struggles with infertility, I know that I am strong, stronger than I ever thought I could be, and want to help other people through their journey as well.