After a year of trying to conceive with no success, an infertility diagnosis of male factor plus low AMH, the promise that we just needed “a little help,” five fruitless IUIs, and residual trauma that pushed back our inevitable try at IVF for another year...here we finally were.
We didn’t want to do IVF (I’m pretty sure it’s no one’s first choice when they decide to have a child). We never thought we would get to that point, but we were grateful the option even existed. We tried to do anything and everything else first. IVF was our last stop, our sure thing.
Before IVF, I was obsessed with doing everything “naturally.” At some point the internet told me natural was better, and I fully believed it. I mean it just sounds better, doesn’t it? Elevated, pure, somehow superior. If it wasn’t natural, it was decidedly less healthy, less good. So, I had practiced natural family planning for years prior to trying for a baby. I was positive I’d be having a natural birth, thank you very much.
Even once we started fertility treatments, I insisted on doing my first couple of IUIs without medication. And I absolutely looked into natural IVF. All of these are viable options for some, but I was so fixated on that one thing. The irony of ending up injecting myself full of synthetic hormones on my lunch breaks at work is not lost on me.
Infertility has taught me there is much I don’t know. I will forever be learning. But examples include: “Never say never” is a cliche for a reason. I never thought I would do IVF, but circumstances can change your heart. It’s okay to let them. You can grieve for something you’ve never had. I have grieved every month for nearly four years - sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. It’s hard to heal when a wound is constantly being opened again. Maybe it’s a fresh wound every time, and we are just walking around riddled with holes and puncture wounds of varying sizes and stages of healing.
Gratitude can be found in the midst of grief. There is still so much goodness! In fact, I have never felt more loved in my life than when our community (that wants this dream for us almost as much as we do) literally funded our egg retrieval. I will forever be grateful for their lavish outpouring of love and support.
Women taking on infertility treatments are willing to go to hell and back for a chance to meet the babies they already deeply love in their hearts. The hell I had to make it back from didn’t start until after my egg retrieval. Before that it was all milestone cards and injection photo shoots, cheery visits to my beloved RE’s office, and excitement we were finally here.
Really the worst - and most hilarious - part of that time was being a day or two out from retrieval feeling tired, bloated, and a little hormotional while at work. The hilarious part is that my job was escorting a very famous young popstar and his friends around an event that happened to be very loud, very late, very dark, and very spooky.
Me and my ginormous ovaries hung out with those cool kids until 2:00 in the morning. And while I was feeling pretty miserable physically, I truly found the situation quite funny. I had never felt older in my life - having to loosen my belt a notch or two to be comfortable, feeling like I must be waddling, and looking at these young people (so old!) without a care in the world while I’m doing everything I possibly can to get pregnant. The situation was so absurd, but I was the only one in on the joke. What a world, friends.
Egg retrieval day arrived, and man, I was so proud of myself. This was the part I had been most scared about, and I didn’t even waver when it took five tries to put in my IV. My husband has a great video of me coming off the anesthesia saying, “I did it!” And I did do it! Nine eggs didn’t seem too shabby for low AMH.
In hindsight, this is where things took a turn. I was very suddenly in a lot of pain, and just as quickly had a whole team of people around me. They brought in an ultrasound machine, and found I had some additional bleeding. I was given heating pads and blankets and a dose a fentanyl. My sweet husband stayed by my side and gave me his headphones so I could listen to worship music. I was the last retrieval patient to get to go home that day, but by the time they wheeled me around the office in a celebratory send-off, I was back to feeling like a total champ.
Then the phone calls followed by waiting for more phone calls started... only four eggs were mature enough for the IVF procedure. But all of them fertilized! Then we got the word that one single embryo made it to a five day blastocyst. Only one. Even as we waited for PGS testing results, we felt so hopeful. This was our one! I had been saying to people throughout our IVF journey that my prayer was for one of these embryos to become the baby in our arms. Just one.
Then that phone call came: Abnormal. Not enough chromosomes. Not compatible with life. A girl. I’m so sorry.
All of a sudden, our IVF journey came to a screeching halt. I think I can speak for my husband when I say that we were both shocked, numb, and so very sad. Our sure thing shattered. Everything had been in place, the pretty ending was in sight, and it was shaping up to be a real page turner of a story. Then it just stopped.
But time didn’t stop, and we were hurtled along into a future we didn’t understand. I had to deal with the grief of losing our embryo while my brain conjured up images of a daughter. It was a girl, they said. They made her real, and I couldn’t have her. I had to deal with the fresh hell my body was experiencing post egg retrieval - horrific cramps and bleeding, being sent home from work because I couldn’t even stand up despite the heating pad wrapped around my waist, hormone withdrawal that left me completely drained. My body didn’t feel like it was mine anymore. It’s like it knew what was happening in my heart, and it shut down.
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It took months to feel normal again, and honestly, a lot of effort. But I’m still here - holes, puncture wounds, and battle scars that you can’t see. Just like my retrieval - “I did it!” Hell and BACK, y’all.
I like to say that we are still in the messy middle of our story. It’s been more than half a year since our attempt at IVF, and we still haven’t decided what comes next. More “nevers” to reexamine. Do we try again? There are numerous factors to consider - the financial and physical tolls are real. And that’s to say nothing of the possibility that it still doesn’t work. Can we face that heartbreak again? Do we change directions? Examine how our hearts feel about adoption? Once more, finances are a large part of that consideration. So is opening up to something new and the potential for more loss and disappointment.
Can I give up my deep desire to carry and deliver our baby? Do we continue waiting and praying for a miraculous conception? Do we close this chapter and move on with our lives? No matter what we choose, we would be moving forward without knowing the cost or the reward. But I suppose that is true of any decisions we must make. Not knowing the outcome, we run after the best choices we can.
You might make a different choice than someone else - that’s okay. You might realize you disagree with what the internet told you was best - that’s okay. You might change your mind and find yourself rerouting - that’s okay. You might be scared or excited or both - that’s okay. We just keep going, one step forward at a time.
To my fellow infertility sisters and IVF warriors, longing for a baby you don’t have can make you desperate and irrational, empathetic and vulnerable, bitter and envious, strong and empowered. It will probably make you all of those things at some point. If you find yourself in your own personal hell, you’re going to make it back. I believe in you. We’re not meant to stay there, my friend.
Wherever you are in this journey, I pray you find bright spots of joy and moments of gratitude along the way. I pray that you will find peace and support in every decision you make. I pray for miracles and new mercies. I pray this journey leaves you more open hearted and with the courage to face down a “never” or two.
Joanna Hackman and her husband, Daniel, live in Los Angeles with the cutest cats in the world. They are super freaking proud to have just celebrated TEN years of marriage! After their infertility diagnosis in 2017, Joanna turned to writing as a means to process her heartache. She shares her story to put a real face with the name for those who aren’t familiar with infertility and for those who are all too familiar, she hopes to be a hand to hold and a source of encouragement. You can find her on JoannaHackman.com and Instagram @JoannaHackman. Joanna leads the Sarah’s Laughter Infertility & Loss Support Group in Los Angeles, and if you’re ever in town, you’re invited.