A personal story of infertility, loss, and hope from Alex Kornswiet.
When I was growing up, I changed my mind a lot about what I wanted to do – a teacher, a dancer, a baker, a psychologist. But one thing was constant. I always wanted to be a mom. Maybe that sounds cliché and stereotypical, but for me, it has always been genuinely true. I just assumed it would happen one day, when the timing was right. Eventually, it did, but my path to motherhood was filled with heartache and challenges and twists and turns – the kind of winding path I could never have imagined until I found myself walking it.
When you're younger, you know some things in life may be difficult to achieve. But it never occurred to me that becoming a mom would be one of them. It seemed guaranteed. And so I went about my life, trying not to have a child before I was ready. I figured that when I was ready, it would happen.
I wasn’t completely naive, of course. I understood that not everyone could have a child easily. But it seemed like an abstract concept – something that affected other people. In my family, the joke is that we only have to think about having a baby to get pregnant. Why would I be any different?
Maybe that’s why I skipped right over any thoughts relating to the actual conception. I figured I’d get pregnant within a few months – which sounds ridiculous to me now – and started dreaming about the future. I worked out when the baby would be born, counting the months ahead, and pictured myself pregnant and glowing, imagining how we would tell all of our friends. The last thing on my mind was how much harder – and longer – this would be.
And Then Reality Hit
After transitioning off birth control, I didn’t get my period for four months. Now, I find it hard to believe how much I didn’t understand about my own body. I had no idea that birth control created an artificial cycle. Instead, I thought that because I had my period every single month on birth control, it would just continue to come on a regular basis. Wrong. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t understand this, but I was never told otherwise. All I knew was I wasn’t getting my period, but I was still getting negative pregnancy tests. I needed some answers, so I called my doctor.
We were living in Boston at the time, but my doctor was back in California. I couldn’t see him in person, so I spoke with him over the phone. He told me that I was “young” and that it would “definitely happen.” He told me to "just relax.” Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t reassured and I definitely couldn’t relax. Luckily, I listened to my gut, ignored him, and found a new doctor in Boston.
This new OB actually took me seriously. She said that if I didn’t have a cycle soon, she would induce one and check me out further. She also suggested making an appointment with a fertility clinic. They can take a while to get into, so we made an appointment for a few months away and crossed our fingers that we’d never have to go. The doctor also ran my blood work. It came back with elevated thyroid levels, and I saw an endocrinologist to get a specialist's opinion.
After months of monitoring, we learned I have hypothyroidism. This was later clarified as Hashimoto’s Disease, so I was put on medication to help bring my levels back to normal. I was hopeful that we had found our answer, but I kept our fertility clinic appointment just in case.
A Specific Diagnosis
In February 2016, I still wasn’t pregnant. My period had begun, but it was all over the place, so we went to the fertility appointment. They ran all sorts of tests on my husband and me, including ordering an HSG dye test to look at my fallopian tubes. This is when we found out that my left fallopian tube was completely blocked and my right tube was what the doctor called “compromised.”
At a follow-up appointment, the doctor told us we had a very low chance of conceiving naturally – less than 1%. Under those circumstances, many people try IUI (insemination) first, but the doctor explained that it was very unlikely to work given my blocked tube. IVF was our best option. I was not expecting this news so soon, but it was a relief to have an answer.
One month later, we started our first round of IVF, and we were extremely lucky. After eleven days on medications and five days waiting for the embryos to mature, we did a fresh embryo transfer. Two weeks later, I did blood work to see if I was pregnant. The day after Mother’s Day, we got the happy news. I was pregnant! Luckily, the pregnancy progressed smoothly. In January 2017, we welcomed our first child – a perfect baby boy. And to say we were overjoyed would be an understatement.
At this point, we were back in California. We started talking with new doctors in August 2017, with the realization that I might not get pregnant right away again. To be honest, I really thought I would. IVF worked for us the first time, and I assumed it would work every time. I thought we could have as many children as we wanted, whenever we decided the time was right. That’s obviously not how infertility works, but I really believed that was our path.
Unfortunately, I was very wrong. 2018 was one of the worst years of my life. We were supposed to start our first cycle in February, but our doctor postponed it for personal reasons. This was a theme I would see over and over again with him, but it took me a while to notice. Finally, in April 2018, we were starting our first frozen embryo transfer cycle. I was so certain it would work that we told our close friends we were expecting the baby in February 2019. Looking back, I can’t believe I really thought that would happen.
After six weeks of daily injections and medications, our nurse gave us the bad news. Our cycle was canceled. I remember this moment so distinctly. I begged her to try for a little longer, I sobbed in her office. But she insisted. My husband and I walked outside, and I broke down. I cried harder than I had cried in a very long time – I started to lose hope. We had just started this journey again, and I already felt like it was never going to happen.
We kept going. A few weeks later, I started another cycle. I wanted to believe it would be okay this time, but my certainty was waning. After another six full weeks on medications and injections, we had the same conversation – canceled. Again. How? I actually said to the nurse, "How can you be surprised that it didn’t work when the doctor refused to change my protocol?"
She had the gall to tell me that it was not his fault, but mine, because my body wasn’t responding correctly. I should have known at this point to change clinics, but I had tunnel vision. I was desperate to continue.
It took three months for my body to recover from all of those medications. Three months of weekly blood checks to see if we could keep going. In September, we were finally cleared to start another cycle. This time, we did a full egg retrieval and fresh embryo transfer in an attempt to repeat what had worked for my body the first time.
My doctor had me on injections for twenty-one days, a timeframe I would learn is far too long for an egg retrieval. Finally, after more time on medications, I had my second egg retrieval. The doctor was two hours late and I was panicking, but luckily they were still able to retrieve mature eggs. Less than a week later, we transferred one beautiful embryo. This time we were told the gender – a baby girl. I could already picture it – a little sister for our beautiful boy.
A few days after the pregnancy was confirmed, I started bleeding. I called the doctor's office and they refused to help. I laid in bed at night, feeling my body cramp in a way I have never experienced before and I knew. I kept the lights off, I went to the bathroom, but I knew it was over. The following day, blood work confirmed it. We had lost our little girl. My heart was shattered into a million pieces, and I cycled from sadness to anger to numbness.
We had spent a full year with a doctor who didn’t care about us. We had wasted a full year, a year that ended in a horrific loss. It was time to move one. By the end of 2018, we had found a new doctor, and I felt the first stirrings of hope.
A New Direction
In January 2019, we scheduled an appointment for a full work-up. My new doctor wanted to make sure everything looked good before scheduling my next transfer cycle.
That’s when we hit another roadblock. My uterus was so horribly scarred that he couldn’t even see into it. I needed another surgery, and he diagnosed me with Asherman's syndrome. He said he would try his best, but he could not promise he could heal me. I spent my son's second birthday party with a balloon inside my uterus to keep it from adhering to itself and causing more damage. I kept a smile on my face, but my emotions and physical state were all over the place.
Luckily, the doctor was happy with the results of the surgery and scheduled my next embryo transfer cycle. I had to be on medications for another six weeks, but the cycle was not canceled. I really believed this new doctor could be our answer. Unfortunately, I was wrong again.
It wasn’t his fault, but the transfer was unsuccessful. I was devastated, hopeless, and doubtful that we’d ever have a second child. Worse, I felt terrible about all the time I was spending away from our son. He didn’t seem to notice, but I felt awful about it. That guilt combined with the desperation for a second child was completely overwhelming.
One Last Chance
In the spring of 2019, our doctor sat us down to talk about options. I knew things were not going well, but I just wanted to jump into another cycle. I didn’t want to keep waiting, and. I was desperate to keep trying. He didn’t agree at all. He suggested that I take a six month break but continue taking medication. My uterine lining was way too thin, and I needed help. He told us it could help or do nothing at all, a pragmatic take that hardly instilled hope. Still, we were willing to try anything. This was the doctor’s last idea for my body.
After the waiting period, our doctor told us he would be willing to try one last cycle – with a caveat. If it didn’t work, he highly suggested that we consider surrogacy if we wanted to use our own embryos for a child. We felt blindsided by the idea – how could we already be at that point? I was desperate to become pregnant on my own again.
We took our doctor’s advice and began a six month break. During this time, we talked with surrogacy agencies and set up another backup plan. October 2019 was our last cycle on my body, and it worked, but it didn’t last. I had seven beautiful weeks of pregnancy, followed by a horrible, lengthy miscarriage that we discovered at an appointment. I wasn’t bleeding, but there was no longer a baby. The doctor called it a "missed miscarriage.” My husband and I looked at each other at that moment and knew – it was time for surrogacy.
A Different Path
We signed up for the agency while I physically continued to miscarry. We didn’t want to wait because we knew it could take six months or more to match with a surrogate. We needed to heal, but we also needed to keep moving forward. To our surprise, we matched in three weeks. It felt like a sign. This was our path.
After a few months of legal, medical, psychological, and other clearances, we were ready to start with our surrogate. The first transfer was in February 2020. We felt so good about it, but it failed. It was yet another loss, and it’s hard to fight the feeling that it may never happen. Luckily, our surrogate was ready to try once more, and so were we.
In April 2020, after begging to continue among pandemic shutdowns, our beautiful baby boy was transferred to our surrogate. We anxiously awaited the results, and on April 23, we got the call. It worked! Her pregnancy went smoothly. Because of the pandemic, we could not attend a single appointment, and we only saw each other a handful of times, but our baby boy was safe. Finally! In December 2020, on my 32nd birthday and one of the happiest days of my life, we finally brought him home.
After everything we went through, we truly believed this was the end of our family journey. We were beyond grateful to have two children, and we were ready to move past all of the fertility appointments. In April 2021, I was still taking my prenatals just in case, even though I knew our chances were low. I started to feel strange, and I nervously assumed something else was wrong with me. I went in for blood work in preparation to see yet another doctor, just to make sure everything was okay. To our immense surprise, we got a call that night. “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” I was so stunned, I actually asked the nurse if she was calling the right person. After everything we’d gone through, becoming pregnant naturally felt absolutely miraculous.
I spent the first trimester visiting my fertility doctor two to three times a week. I needed constant blood work-ups and ultrasounds, a lot of extra hormones, blood thinner shots twice a day, and more. We were doing everything we could to keep me pregnant. Luckily, it worked! On January 4, 2022, I gave birth to our third baby boy.
If someone had told me my story in advance, I would never have believed them. We’ve navigated so much heartbreak, pain, and waiting for our family, but I know I’m one of the lucky ones.