Your Path to Pregnancy is an interview series highlighting conception stories from real couples, brought to you by BeliMen Vitality.
Thank you for chatting with us, Blair! You’ve built a fantastic resource and community around fertility support. Our Beli community, too, is made up of folks walking a unique path to pregnancy and parenthood. What has your path looked like so far?
I’ll try to make it abbreviated, because it’s a really long story! My husband and I have been trying to conceive since we got married in the fall of 2017. We quickly went from trying “naturally”—I know that can be a triggering term for people—straight into IVF (in vitro fertilization) after about about eight months of trying to conceive. We skipped all the in-between fertility treatments. We skipped the medicated cycles, the Clomid cycles, and IUI (intrauterine insemination), and went straight from trying at home to doing an egg retrieval.
I really wanted to be proactive with my OBGYN. I didn’t want to wait the full 12 months in what is becoming this antiquated protocall, to wait a full year of trying “naturally” if you’re under 35. I’m too impatient for that!
We started doing some preliminary testing, trying to figure out if we could cross out some potential issues. We ended up finding out that my husband has a balanced translocation, which is a genetic issue where two sets of your chromosomes completely flip-flopped when you were conceived. If the chromosomes flip perfectly, that means they’re balanced, and you grow up to be a perfectly normal human. Until you try to have a baby, you probably won’t even know you have it! But when you’re trying to conceive with a balanced translocation, more often than not, that perfect chromosomal flip-flop does not happen, and results in an unbalanced translocation. Those are deemed non-viable embryos. When you’re dealing with a translocation, your odds of getting a viable embryo in IVF are about 25%, which is lower than normal. So it’s a pretty big roadblock.
What was it like to start IVF?
We had a wonderful start to our first round of IVF! We got 17 embryos sent off to biopsy, and four normal embryos back, which is great. We transferred all four of those, individually, through four different frozen embryo transfers. The first, third and fourth failed. The second resulted in a pregnancy that I lost at seven and a half weeks.
That was June of 2018 through February of 2019, so it’s been over a year since I’ve had an embryo to transfer. We did another cycle of IVF in May of 2019, and I had a bad response to the medication. It was really frustrating. We only got two embryos, and both of them had an unbalanced translocation—the bad version of what my husband carries.
It felt weird that my body responded differently in the second round of IVF. I pushed my doctor to test my hormone levels. My hunch was right that my AMH (Anti-Müllerian hormone) level, which is a predictor of your ovarian reserves, was low. The significant drop explained my different response to IVF.
That sounds like a difficult second round.
There was a lot of frustration! We were frustrated with our second cycle, and with the clinic our doctor was operating in. For a whole host of reasons, we decided to switch clinics. We’ve done two IVF rounds with our new doctor. He has been able to churn out some amazing results on my end of things. But we can’t seem to get any normal embryos. We’ve gone to great lengths to understand why this is happening. You just wrack your brain, constantly thinking: What the heck can I do? I would do anything. But the guidance we’re getting is that we’re already doing what we need to do. We talked to the genetic counselor at the place that tests our embryos, and they said, We know you don’t want to hear this, but it really is just bad luck. And they’re right, that’s not what we want to hear. But it’s also not the worst answer, which would have been that we need to give up.
I’m inspired by your resilience, and by your determination to stay clear-headed as your work toward becoming parents.
On one hand, we feel fortunate that we can afford to keep going. But actual currency isn’t the only thing you’re dealing with. You’re also dealing with emotional currency, and with physical currency. I’ve gained weight the past couple of years, going off and on hormones, having to stop working out at times for treatments. I literally am a science experiment right now. At times I was able to compartmentalize the fertility part of my life. But after some time, I was not able to compartmentalize. I felt like: I don’t have control of my body, I don’t feel like myself, physically, mentally, emotionally.
Where are you right in your IVF path?
The Coronavirus pandemic quarantine has forced us into a break, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing. I never give myself time to come up for air. But, in the past, when we have given ourselves a rest is when we have had our best cycles. We’re paused, but we’re not ready to give up.
It strikes me as quite generous of you to share so much of your experience. What made you decide to share, and to create the Fab Fertility community?
When I had my miscarriage in October of 2018, I was still kind of ignorant about infertility. At that point, we’d only been trying for about a year. I didn’t realize how often infertility treatments fail. I was really, really, really sad. If I’ve ever been depressed in my life, it was then. I felt so alone, and so isolated.
My husband was wonderful, but he’s not a female. He hadn’t physically experiened miscarriage. None of my friends were going through it. I decided to start Fab Fertility as an outlet for me to talk about my feelings, to talk about what I was going through, and hopefully find connection with other women who understood me. I found that, and so much more than I could have hoped for.
When I finally pulled myself out of the dark days, it was with the help of women online that I’m still friends with today. I’m never, ever going to turn my back on this community. I feel a calling to be a support system and a resource for people like me.
What has your partner’s experience been like?
I think, in the beginning, he harbored a lot of guilt. Our diagnosis in the beginning, our “problem,” was with him. And he had to watch me go through the fertility process, watched me get shot after shot after shot. IVF is no joke. It feels like crap! It changes you physically, it changes you mentally. It’s a total schedule disrupter, and causes you to have to do a lot of explaining to your family and friends and coworkers. I think he felt guilty about all of that.
Once we got into our groove, he started to feel more like we were truly in this together. And it’s true! Once we found out my AMH level was dropping and I was bringing issues to the table, a weight was lifted off his shoulders. He realized he doesn’t carry the entire load of our infertility.
You guys sound like a really good team.
It has taken a while to get there. Both of us have been overwhelmed during different points in this. What is good about Will and me is that we’re able to support each other when the other is really down. When I’m down, he always tries to point out the positives. And vice versa!
Your fertility journey isn’t over. Have there been any silver linings in it so far?
So many. Talking about my experience is how I heal. We have a lot of friends and family around us, and of course my online community is there every step of the way. Everyone in my life knows where they stand with me on infertility, and that is that they can ask me anything they want. I don’t want to be treated like I have a disease. I don’t want people to tiptoe around me. I think that, because I’ve become so open, I have more support.
And I would never have Fab Fertility without my infertility struggles. It has connected me with so many amazing women who inspire me—in the fertility realm and beyond! I have been granted opportunities to work with companies to help them reach out to people experiencing infertility. I have a strong sense of purpose, and I know I’m making a difference for people.
Also, my husband and I really cleaned up our act in terms of how we eat, how we exercise, and how we responsibly socialize. Infertility has got us on a healthy track. It’s also brought us so much closer together. In two years of marriage, we’ve experienced more than most people experience in ten. We’ve had to be very vulnerable with one another, and that closeness is a gift. We know we can weather any storm.