When my husband and I started IVF, we thought for sure that we would be successful right away. We were both 32 with no known health problems. Everyone I personally knew at the time who had been through IVF was successful after their first or second cycle.
I had obsessively read horror stories on the Internet about couples who had been through multiple cycles with no success, but I thought for sure we would never be one of those couples. Those people had real fertility “diagnoses” or they were over 40. I honestly thought giving myself shots would, by far, be the hardest part. Little did I know, I was in for a very rude awakening.
So far, we have done four egg retrievals after high dose stimulation, and each cycle has yielded very few fair/poor quality embryos or nothing at all.
When our first cycle ended with one PGS normal embryo, we knew we had to take our doctor’s advice and try again. It wasn’t ideal, and we would have loved to have more than one embryo, but there was potential. I scheduled another cycle, along with a laparoscopic myomectomy (fibroid removal surgery) three days after retrieval.
What happened next was the beginning of a downward spiral. I went through my second egg retrieval and then had surgery, as planned, but what I didn’t expect was to wake up from surgery and hear that my doctor had accidentally cut my bladder. Um, WHAT?
In the grand scheme of potential surgical mistakes, a bladder laceration is not a huge deal, but it meant I stayed an extra two days in the hospital, was in a lot more pain than I would have been in otherwise, and went home with a very large foley catheter. In case that wasn’t enough, I got the call while recovering from surgery that none of our embryos were viable. We were going to have to do yet another retrieval cycle. I was devastated.
Fast forward a few months. I was finally fully recovered from surgery and cleared by urology. I had been working with a holistic health practitioner to change my diet. I had cut out exercise. I was going to acupuncture weekly. I was drinking nasty Chinese herbal tea three times per day. I was taking a big handful of supplements every morning. I was feeling like a yogi, nutrient-obsessed version of myself again, and my doctor had offered to cover the cost of our third IVF cycle to make up for the surgical mishap. We were in a much different headspace.
Our third egg retrieval was the most successful. I was positive our luck was turning around. I thought, for sure, this was it. We had embryos (plural!) on ice, and we were ready to move on to a transfer!
A month later, we were able to transfer two PGS normal embryos, and it was successful! Seeing those two pink lines on a pregnancy test for the first time ever gave me a feeling I will never forget. Seeing my husband’s excitement that day was such a good feeling. We were on top of the world.
But then something I had never even considered happened. My beta HCG numbers never doubled. If you have ever been in beta hell, you understand, and if you haven’t, I hope it’s a place you never have to visit.
I did a total of five beta blood tests, and the embryo did not appear to be developing normally on an ultrasound. My doctor at the time told me he was 100% positive it was not a viable pregnancy. Upon receiving my fifth beta HCG result, he offered me two options: Cytotec to miscarry at home or a D&C. I took the first option, and by the same time the following week, I was no longer pregnant.
Pregnancy loss is honestly indescribable. To go from complete elation to devastation in a matter of weeks is confusing, heartbreaking, and totally unfair. The next few months after our miscarriage was a whirlwind of recurrent grief combined with beginning to feel like my real self again—the self that existed before we started fertility treatments.
Here we were: one of those couples who had gone through multiple IVF cycles with nothing to show for it. Tens of thousands of dollars for heartbreak and what felt like wasted time.
I went through a period of mild depression, which is when I started seeing a therapist (who herself went through fertility treatments and then adopted children). With her help, I started to find myself again. I convinced myself that I no longer wanted children. I think my husband did the same. We started talking about the life we would have if we gave up trying, and we began to like the idea of a childfree life.
What my husband and my therapist both pointed out, and what my husband recently reminded me of, is that it’s the limbo that’s hard. Yes, we always pictured our lives with children. Yes, we still want that. Yes, having kids would definitely add value to our lives. But could we be happy without children? Yes.
My husband and I love to travel. We love to go out to eat. My husband’s job is very time-consuming and having children would be wonderful, but also difficult for him. I have always wanted to advance my career. If I have kids, that will have to take a spot on the back burner. If I don’t, I can do that sooner rather than later.
My husband and I will absolutely be okay and live a completely fulfilled life no matter what happens. Thanks to infertility, we know that now.
That said, post-miscarriage, we had some decisions to make. We had no more embryos in the freezer. We were looking at starting from scratch. We would have to do yet another egg retrieval before moving on to a transfer.
Since my husband and I are both science people, we obviously do our own research, so we went into our “WTF?” appointment with lots of questions.
We decided to try one last-ditch hail-Mary cycle with the same doctor. We decided to try a fresh transfer, which is something we hadn’t done before and something our doctor didn’t do often. As expected, the results were not ideal and we ended up doing a rushed transfer with two very poor quality day-3 embryos.
We didn’t expect it to work, and our doctor even advised us not to transfer, but we had to try (right?!), even if there was only a 0.01% chance that an embryo would stick. When my beta HCG result came back negative, we were obviously disappointed, but it also gave us the fuel we needed to switch clinics and seek out a second opinion.
So here we are. I did a ton of research, and I actually found our new doctor on Instagram. I liked her presence on social media. She seemed smart—really smart—and I knew someone who had a good experience with her and her clinic.
Get personalized women’s health content, tailored to your own unique experience.
Our best videos for you
Science-backed product recs
We went in for an initial consultation, and I was sold immediately. She sat with us for an hour, answered all of my questions before I even asked them, asked us how we felt about our previous doctor advising us to move on to donor eggs(!!), and suggested that we dig deeper for answers.
So, what’s our plan? We are going to try again with this new doctor soon. We’re currently gearing up for a fifth retrieval cycle, and we’re hoping a change in venue and perspective will make all the difference!
We are hopeful, but we have seen before that even when it looks like things are going our way, they may not be. We have seen things not go according to plan at all. We have been in the position where we were totally blindsided by the outcome. So now we come up with backup plans, and backups to the backup, in order to protect ourselves.
If we don’t see an improvement in egg quality on this next cycle, we are mentally prepared to move on to donor eggs. If that doesn’t work, then we are prepared to call it quits altogether.
The reality is that sometimes, fertility treatment doesn’t work.
Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan.
Sometimes, life is just plain unfair.
It’s totally okay to take breaks or stop trying altogether in favor of your mental health.
Our hope fire is still burning, but I know there will come a point when that light burns out, and I know now that that’s okay.
Emily Attenhofer is a nurse, fitness enthusiast, INFJ, type 2 on the enneagram, libra, neurologist’s wife, and southern girl living in Palm Springs, California. She and her husband have been trying to conceive for 4.5 years and have been pursuing fertility treatment for a year and a half. Emily has uterine fibroids and has had six surgically removed, but otherwise, her “diagnosis” is unexplained infertility.