Around this time last year, we went through one of the most gut-wrenching things that could possibly ever happen: my ectopic pregnancy. Unlucky for us, it happens in only 1% of all pregnancies. Following my ectopic pregnancy surgery, I’m grateful to be healthy and whole. But now that it’s been a year, I thought I’d share where we are in our journey.
It’s become a tradition on this blog to share a personal update on or around Valentine’s Day. It started 3 years ago, when I decided to share my love story with Alex. The following year, it was unfortunately about the marital issues we faced during our first year of marriage. And last year, it was to address all the questions we got about having kids.
Never, in a million years, did I think this year I’d be sharing a post about our journey to conceive.
Trying to Conceive: Our Fertility Journey
The ectopic pregnancy left us devastated. Lockdown started shortly afterwards and neither of us could imagine being in a hospital during a pandemic. I also needed to heal (physically and emotionally), so we waited a few months before starting to try again.
There was also the question of my right fallopian tube and whether there would’ve been any blockages resulting from scar tissue. The chances of having another ectopic pregnancy after your first shoot up to 15%. After being in the 1%, that’s a frightening statistic.
TBH, neither of us even considered the possibility of having difficulty conceiving. After all, I had gotten pregnant relatively quickly the first time around. I had normal cycles and no known reproductive health concerns. The only major factor was age (I’m 38 and Alex is 35). But my mom had me (her 4th child) when she was turning 38, and one of my sisters had her 3rd child at the age of 42.
I didn’t think I’d have to track my cycle more than a couple months. But it reached a point where I finished an entire box of ovulation strips (there are 100 in a box) and filled multiple lined pages with the results.
After months of tracking and burning through the ovulation strips, it begins to weigh on you. Why haven’t I gotten pregnant? Is this abnormal or to be expected at my age? What are we doing wrong? Is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with him?
Fertility journeys are not easy. In fact, every cycle is an emotional rollercoaster. There’s the timing and scheduling (which makes trying to conceive so much less sexy). Then there’s the dreaded 2-week wait when time stops, and you think every little twinge in your body could be something. Are the bloating and swollen breasts PMS or early pregnancy symptoms? How many more days until I can take a test? Should I even bother testing or should I wait?
There’s the anticipation in your stomach when you do take a pregnancy test, followed by the HUGE let down when you see 1 instead of 2 lines. Then, more questioning. Did I test too soon? What if this test was defective? And I can’t even tell you how many times I googled “implantation bleeding vs period”.
All the while, you just feel so alone. Not even your partner can fully comprehend how you feel.
For me, trying to conceive has definitely been a lesson in patience and managing my expectations. I had to eventually get to a place where I learned to focus on other things each month. You can only do your best each cycle and then it’s out of your hands.
After about 5 months, I was very diligent in making an appointment with a fertility specialist. You’re supposed to see a specialist after 6 months of unsuccessful trying if you’re over 35 with regular cycles (it’s 1 year, if you’re under 35).
We did all the tests – AMH, bloodwork, semen analysis, ultrasounds and tube test. As I shared in my ectopic pregnancy post, the transvaginal ultrasounds were one of the most horrific parts of the experience. Little did I know back then that they’d become a recurring facet of my fertility journey. I’ve lost count of how many have been performed on me – each as uncomfortable as the last.
Our Diagnosis: Unexplained Infertility
The result after doing the full fertility workup on us? Unexplained infertility. In other words, a reason for being unable to conceive naturally could not be found.
My ovarian reserve is good, my uterus is okay, my ovaries look good, and the thing we were most worried about (i.e. my tubes) are open. Alex is fine too.
So, what’s the deal?!
Receiving a diagnosis of unexplained infertility is the most frustrating part of this entire process. It could mean there is something wrong that couldn’t be found, or it could just mean I’m in line with the statistics.
Here are some things I learned:
- At 35, you have a 15-20% chance of conceiving each cycle, after which it drops off significantly
- Fecundity (the ability to produce offspring) reduces with age & the more months you’ve been trying. I was told by my doc that at my age (38) and after trying for as many months as we have, we have about a 2-4% chance of conceiving naturally each cycle
- There are actually several steps that play a role in conceiving, each with their own likelihood of success:
- An egg has to be released from the ovaries (some women may not ovulate every cycle)
- The egg has to be fertilized (this depends on timing, and the motility and morphology of the sperm)
- The egg has to travel down the fallopian tube into the uterus (we had problems with this step the first time around)
- The egg then has to implant into the uterine wall (there’s a 50% chance of successful implantation)
- Not to mention all the other things that can go wrong after implantation
I state these facts not at all to scare anyone who is of ‘advanced maternal age’ (35 and up), but instead to highlight the fact that there are SO MANY people having difficulties conceiving.
We are made to feel like getting pregnant is easy. In actual fact, infertility is a common problem. We just don’t hear the stories. Couples are suffering in silence or are too ashamed to speak about it.
My Mixed Feelings
On the one hand, I am frustrated. But on the other hand, I am okay. I cycle through different feelings: anger, sadness, fleeting feelings of regret, followed by understanding and acceptance. Sometimes I wonder if it’s weird that I’m not heartbroken about it.
Reality is, it was our mutual decision to wait and we always understood not being able to naturally conceive to be a real possibility. We did not want to start trying until we were ready for a child, and we would not have been ready any time sooner.
So, What Next?
Now we’ve reached a crossroads in our journey. We previously thought that IUI or IVF wasn’t going to be for us. We thought they were going to be too cost-prohibitive, invasive, and emotionally heavy.
But after going through this process, getting all the facts, and understanding the nature of the procedures and costs, we feel differently.
It feels okay. It doesn’t feel scary. We feel the options presented to us suit our current circumstances. Now I think I would actually regret it if I never tried to get assistance.
What if it never happens? I mean, it would be a little sad, but life goes on. My life is filled with so much love already.
Would it be nice to have a child now? Of course! But I genuinely won’t feel incomplete without a child.
For any women trying to conceive, just know that you are not broken. You are not any less worthy. You are not any less of a woman.
For me, whatever happens, happens. I love our life now and anything else will be a bonus. How this plays out will be a part of my story. But in the meantime, it would be a shame to focus on what I don’t have in my life, rather than what I do have. There’s so much love here and I’m grateful to already feel complete.
Photography by: Laura Clarke Photography