So I've decided to begin a series of posts telling the story of my infertility journey.
Approximately 1 in 8 couples are affected by infertility in the United States. That's about 6.7 million people each year who have trouble conceiving. I bet you had no idea it was actually THAT common? When my husband and I first starting dating I was 24. Simultaneously I started having some weird symptoms that I brought up at my annual OBGYN appointment. I was noticing my period to shorten to just one day on birth control pills. I was experiencing painful sex and frequent urinary tract infections. At the time my doctor suggested I take break from birth control. I had been on it since I was 16 to regulate my periods. As soon as I went off the pill I didn't get my period at all. Month after month I would take pregnancy tests to make sure I wasn't pregnant- and the other symptoms that I had mentioned to the doctor were still present.
At this point my doctor ran some routine labs to make sure my hormones looked OK. To no surprise- my labs came back abnormal and my OBGYN referred me to a specialist for hormonal and reproductive disorders.
I now find myself 25 and at in infertility office. I met with the specialist who did an ultrasound and immediately told me that my ovaries looked consistent with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. He said my ovaries should have 2 or 3 follicles at any given time- and a polycystic ovary had so many follicles the ovary looked like a string of pearls was inside. This was problematic because these follicles don't ever mature into eggs, they can turn into large cysts and rupture or even turn into masses and cause cancer.
The specialist wanted to run some more blood work to confirm the diagnosis, but he felt 80% certain by looking at my ovaries that I had this reproductive disorder.
Within two weeks, the diagnosis was confirmed and the specialist put me on a different birth control pill to balance my hormones and keep my ovaries clear of cysts and healthy.
So what is PCOS?
According to womenshealth.gov:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a common health problem caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The hormonal imbalance creates problems in the ovaries. The ovaries make the egg that is released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. With PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or it may not be released during ovulation as it should be.
PCOS can cause missed or irregular menstrual periods. Irregular periods can lead to:
Infertility (inability to get pregnant). In fact, PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women.
Development of cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries
The infertility specialist told me I would be unable to get pregnant without intervention because my ovaries wouldn't ovulate on their own. He assured me I had a common type of infertility problem and that when I was ready to conceive his office would successfully get me pregnant.
This was all a bit unsettling because I of course worried- what if they didn't ever have success getting me pregnant? What if I wasn't able to have children? What if the guy I was falling in love with ( who would later become my husband- Matt) didn't want to risk marrying me and not being able to have a family. It was a lot for a 25 year old girl to process. The beautiful part of this story is when I told Matt about my diagnosis- he didn't care. He told me if we couldn't have children we could have dogs. As long as we had each other that was all that mattered. Cue the tears... he was ( and still is) a pretty amazing guy.
For the next five or so years I battled having ovarian cysts rupture. This caused frequent trips to the emergency room for pain medication and monitoring. When a cyst on your ovary ruptures it feels like a knife is stabbing you on one side of your abdomen. The pain would sometimes cause me to vomit and put me on bed rest for a few days for the fluid that the cyst released into my body to absorb. The specialist would change my birth control pills frequently to try to find the correct hormone combination so that I wouldn't develop cysts.
Matt and I were married on May 12, 2012. We went to our first infertility specialist appointment to discuss the process of trying to conceive in January of 2014. I was 30 years old.
My new doctor (same practice) was and is the absolute best. Dr. Cohen told us this should be a pretty easy process. She started by putting me on a medication called Clomid. This medication was taken orally in the beginning of your cycle to help stimulate hormones that support the growth of eggs. The office would track my hormone levels by blood tests and watch the follicle's which are what turn into released eggs via ultrasound. When the follicle was large enough they would instruct me on the exact day and time to inject myself with a trigger shot that would release the egg from my ovary. This was then followed up with specific instructions on when to " have relations with my husband" in hopes to time things just right to conceive. So much for getting drunk- having fun- and making a baby- right?
Pictured on top- healthy ovary.
Pictured on bottom- an ovary with PCOS.
The next super weird test I had to have occurred the afternoon after we were instructed to have "relations." It was SO funny to us that the doctor's office referred to having sex as relations! This test was called a post coital test. The doctor would take a sample from my cervical fluid to make sure the sperm were alive and well. ROAD BLOCK- I killed all of Matt's sperm. We were no longer candidates to conceive without MORE help. Round One- I was not pregnant. In fact I was a sperm killing machine.
To be continued...