The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult your doctor for the most appropriate treatment.
As a teen, and even when I was a young college student, fertility was never something I thought about. I assumed babies would come when the time was right, so all I focused on was prevention. The constant pain I felt, and the missing or painful periods, didn’t push me into action. It was all just a nagging noise pushed to the back of my mind in favor of sports, classwork, and friends. I was partially right: the babies did come when the time was right. My first husband and I had 2 beautiful children. I donated eggs. I thought nothing of my own fertility, or of the challenges that I would face in only a few short years.
I was a divorced mother of 2 only a few years after having my son. I’d begun dealing with constant ruptured cysts and agonizing pain during my cycle. Because of that, I had no desire for intimacy. I’d find myself mid-conversation having to curl into a ball on the floor because the pain was so unbearable. Being a young and divorced mother meant I put my own health on hold. There was no time or money for me to see doctors. I’d grown used to taking whatever medicine was on hand and carrying around heating pads. In my mind, I knew this wasn’t normal and that something needed to change. Learning to live with and trying to ignore the pain is the route I took.
I began dating again. After a short engagement, I was married for a second time. My husband came to the marriage with 3 of his own children. After my last pregnancy with complications and preterm delivery, we both felt comfortable saying our family was complete. But only a few months later, we started imagining our own pregnancy and child together. My husband had 2 vasectomies and was 20 years my senior, which meant we would need to explore options to conceive. I had conceived my own children with no issues, so we thought this process would be relatively quick and problem free. I started documenting the journey on my social media account as a way to share our lives, but also to open up the conversation about fertility struggles, especially within the African American community.
Life has a way of surprising us. The process was neither quick nor problem free.
Our first fertility clinic was expensive, and neither of us felt comfortable with our doctor after they commented on our age difference and the fact that we “already had so many kids.”
After moving on to the next clinic, we discovered that scar tissue, a blocked tube, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and endometriosis would all make conceiving again much more difficult than we had imagined. We moved forward with more testing and finally decided to do our cycles with a new fertility clinic located in New York.
Nothing about the story is pretty. I had complications at every turn. Each routine test left me stuck in bed in pain or bleeding for weeks at a time. Being “travel patients” meant we needed to be hypervigilant. Timing was everything since plane tickets needed to be booked, hotels secured, and childcare arranged.
My egg retrieval was hard. I woke up with bandages on my stomach because all the eggs couldn’t be removed vaginally. 64 eggs were retrieved, and we’d later find out 25 were fertilized. I developed severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). I needed to be put under twice for the fluid to be removed. These complications meant additional time in New York, away from my children, and meant we could only do a frozen transfer—another trip would be needed.
When I was finally stable enough to travel home, we triple checked instructions and our medication list. Now all we could do was wait for the genetic testing to be completed and for my period to start. Waiting for our results to come in felt like an eternity. It wasn’t the news we were hoping for.
From 64 eggs, we had 3 “normal” embryos. We also had 3 untested embryos and 5 abnormal or mosaic embryos. It was a punch to the gut and felt like a cruel joke. We prepared for our transfer with as much positivity as possible. We documented the flight back to our clinic, as well as the whole transfer, and we came home hopeful that we were pregnant. I didn’t care about the 2-week wait. We picked out furniture and decided on a name for our little girl. It was blind faith that got us through the following couple of weeks.
It was a punch to the gut and felt like a cruel joke.
As I got dressed for my husband’s daughter’s baby shower, we received the call that the transfer failed. Somehow, I continued to get myself and the kids ready to go. I went home that night and cried like I hadn’t cried in a long time. What was I going to tell the kids? What was I going to say to the people texting and sending me messages on social media? I should have been prepared for this possibility—IVF doesn’t always mean you get a baby.
I kept going. I had my follow-up calls with the doctor, and then got to work scheduling appointments with geneticists. We only had 2 poorly graded genetically sound embryos, so I had to consider them. My husband and I decided to have our untested embryos biopsied. We’d hoped to get lucky and have a few more embryos to work with. Instead, we got a phone call that all 3 had been arrested (stopped growing) and there would be no more embryos. I spent weeks researching and having meetings with anyone that could help me understand mosaicism. In the end we decided to try our lucky embryo.
Our 2 poorly graded boys would be saved as our last hope. My transfer protocol started and instead of eager anticipation I was just scared. What if this transfer didn’t work? What if it did and our baby had major health issues because we transferred a mosaic?
Two weeks after our flight back from New York I was officially pregnant.
My journey didn’t end with my pregnancy. Since having Emilia, the worry that her chromosome didn’t self-correct still lingers. I worry about a lifetime of concern over any ailment. We still hold onto our frozen embryos: our “normal” boys and a handful of mosaic and abnormal ones. I’m unsure what to do now. A year after having our rainbow baby, I had to have a hysterectomy. I’ll never again carry another life, but it doesn’t make letting go any easier.
The scars, both mental and physical, will likely stay with me forever. They are a reminder of how strong I am and how hard I fought. I’ll never forget what it took.