It seems like everybody knows somebody with an IVF baby, so when my husband Seth and I learned in June 2018 that IVF with PGD testing would be the route we would be taking to have a baby, we thought surely come Fall 2019 we would be holding a baby in our arms. Oh, the naiveté!

We had no idea that the road we were about to traverse was treacherous and filled with roadblocks and detours. We are many miles down this road now, after two egg retrievals and no viable embryos, and looking back, I just wish I had a Google Maps preview of the route we were about to take so I could know what we might experience on this journey to parenthood.

There are so many things I wish I knew then that I know now. And since Google isn’t able to provide a road map of what’s to come, I want to let you in on those things so that you might better prepare your heart for best AND worst-case scenarios. So without further ado, here are five ways in which my infertility journey has been different than I expected:

1. Doctors are human and make mistakes.

I was misdiagnosed with PCOS at my first clinic. After getting a second opinion at another clinic, I learned that I actually had Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR), which is a far cry from PCOS. According to my first doctor in May of 2018, I had 15-20 eggs per ovary. Imagine my surprise when, at my second clinic, I learned I had 4 eggs total along with two giant cysts in each ovary. With my new doctor, I also learned that I had Stage 4 Endometriosis during a laparoscopy/hysteroscopy that took way longer than expected due to the severity of it.

For years, I had talked to my gynecologist and then my first Reproductive Endocrinologist about my concerns regarding endometriosis, and they always wrote it off saying the “cure” for it was getting pregnant so to just keep trying. As a result of no action being taken, It was confirmed during my surgery that my fallopian tubes are nonfunctioning due to endometrial scar tissue. If this had been addressed years ago, we could have saved them.

During this surgery, I also had polyps removed from my uterus and the cysts in each ovary removed. Simply put, it was a mess in there, and I would have never known if I had stayed with my first fertility doctor. I would have just continued living with the excruciating pain while my endometriosis continued to grow and negatively impact what was left of my fertility.  The moral of the story is this: always advocate for yourself and seek a second opinion if you aren’t being heard.

2. IVF doesn’t always work the first (or second) time.

My husband and I have never made it to the embryo transfer stage of IVF. If you’re unfamiliar with IVF, there are two parts to the process: egg retrieval and embryo transfer. Our first egg retrieval resulted in no embryos, and my heart was absolutely not prepared for that. We had one little fighter growing into Day 6, but he or she arrested before they were able to biopsy and freeze the embryo.

I prepared myself for having no viable embryos following PGD testing, given that my husband and I are both carriers of the same genetic disorder and there is a 1 in 4 chance of our this affecting our embryos. What I didn’t expect was to not have any embryos at all to even send for testing. On our second IVF cycle, we had two embryos sent to testing, and they both had Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome and were abnormal.

I don’t like to be a Debbie Downer, but I think it is important during fertility treatments to hope and pray for the best while also preparing your heart for the worst so that you aren’t completely blindsided like I was. I’m not a cynic by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m not saying to go into IVF thinking the worst. There is definitely power in positivity, but I also think it’s important to be realistic.

3. Ignorance and insensitivity are everywhere.

If I had a nickel for every insensitive or ignorant comment made to me during my fertility journey, I’d be able to cover all of my treatment bills. There are the ignorant comments made by well-meaning people that are trying to be encouraging but just don’t understand it. For example, my husband has been congratulated on several occasions when people find out we are doing IVF, and I have been told the story countless times of how a couple somebody knew went through fertility treatments without success just to get pregnant naturally right after they “stopped trying.”

Then there are the insensitive comments made by not so well-meaning people like the mom on Facebook (who I don’t even know) that told me this might just be God’s will because of my bad genes. Yuck!

My advice is to try not to allow the ignorant comments to hurt you like I’ve allowed them to hurt me. Look at it as an opportunity to educate those people about infertility if you feel comfortable doing so and help spread awareness. And if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s okay, too. My advice is to just let it go, and don’t give these ignorant comments any of your time and energy. In my opinion, if someone chooses to be cruel to someone else, knowing they are going through a difficult time, that says far more about them than it does about you. This journey is hard enough. Don’t let nasty people steal your joy.

4. It has shown me who is really there for us.

Be the expert in you.

Take the Quiz

When we first started out on our IVF journey, I assumed that friends and family would rally around us and show support. That, unfortunately, wasn’t the case for us which, again, says a lot more about them than it does about us. Sometimes, the people you think are going to be there for you aren’t and the people you never expected to be there will become your saving grace.

5. Infertility has changed me as a person.

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. This road will most likely break you a little, or like me…a lot. But when you rise up, you will have more strength than you ever thought possible. Sure, you might not always feel strong, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are. There will be days where you crumble, but then you will pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. There will be days where you’re forced to put on a happy face even though you feel absolutely broken inside because time keeps on moving and the world keeps on turning. There will be days where merely existing feels exhausting. There will be days when you think you can’t go on, but then you do because you are stronger than you think. This journey isn’t for the faint of heart, and you definitely find out what you’re made of. You are a badass warrior, babe. Remember that.

This is a road that I never expected to travel, and I hope these takeaways will help shed some light on a process that has been so different than I originally expected it to be. The unfortunate truth is, doctors may provide us with success rates and prepare us for the clinical side of things, but they don’t discuss the emotional impact of an unsuccessful cycle or how this experience will change you, mind, body, and soul.

My intention in writing this wasn’t to discourage you from pursuing this avenue in any way, shape, or form. I just wanted to share what I so desperately wish I knew going into the world of fertility treatments, and hopefully give you a road map of all of the possible routes to your destination.

Going through fertility treatments is tough enough. Throw in several obstacles, multiple detours, and a dash of insensitivity, and it can leave you feeling hopeless. I just want you to know you’re not alone. If you’re having a hard time, reach out to somebody who gets it. And if you don’t have that person in your life right now, let me be that person for you. I’m just a DM away on Instagram @theawkwardwaitingwomb!

I’ll leave you with this: infertility is a part of who you are. It is not who you are. Don’t let it define you. You will survive this. And no matter what, this is still a good life.

Olivia McDonald and her husband Seth have been married for 4 years. They were referred to a fertility clinic after trying to conceive for 2 years. After a misdiagnosis and a clinic change, Olivia was diagnosed with Stage 4 Endometriosis and Diminished Ovarian Reserve. She and Seth are also carriers of Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome. When she isn’t injecting herself with needles during an IVF cycle, Olivia is working as a Marketing Manager at an advertising agency, watching football, FRIENDS, and Parks and Recreation, going to Disney, traveling, singing show tunes, playing with her two French bulldogs, Herbie and Finley, eating Taco Bell, and drinking wine. She lives with her husband and fur babies in sunny Melbourne, FL. You can find her on Instagram at @theawkwardwaitingwomb.