Love, marriage, a house, kids. That was the dream (mine, anyway). I was lucky enough to find true love and get married to my best friend, and life seemed to be going perfectly. My husband and I decided to stop birth control and try for a baby, thinking that no contraception would equal a pregnancy.

Instead, months went by, and then years, with no pregnancy. Excitement and hope started to turn into fear and confusion. The reality that something was wrong started to set in. It was at this time that I felt like I went from living the dream to having my world flipped upside down.

I was diagnosed with both PCOS and Endometriosis in my younger years, and while I learned to associate those two conditions with symptoms like pain, irregular cycles, and acne, infertility wasn’t something that had crossed my mind. After finally seeing a Gynecologist, taking clomid for 6 months, and then being referred to a fertility clinic for testing, I found out that I also had two completely blocked tubes, a heart shaped uterus, and a septum. Lucky me.

After this multi-pronged diagnosis, I ended up having a hysteroscopy to reshape my uterus/septum and a bilateral salpingectomy in which both of my fallopian tubes were removed. My IVF journey could finally begin.

Like everyone else, I started IVF with no idea what I was getting myself into. Between the months of prep, appointments, around the clock medication schedules, ultrasounds, and procedures, all other life plans were put on hold. My first cycle didn’t go as well as hoped for. Since I was 23 at that time, my clinic was very cautious with stimulating me. At the end of this cycle, we had 3 embryos. Despite a not so great turnout, embryo wise, I miraculously got pregnant! I was ecstatic. All of the stress had finally paid off.

When my daughter was 11 months old, we decided to start prepping for another cycle. We optimistically went into IVF thinking it would work right away, but that’s not exactly how things went. All of the embryos we had in storage didn’t take. It was soul-crushing. We had no idea what to do. We wanted another baby so bad, but could we afford another fresh cycle?

At the end of the day, I couldn’t give up. I had to try again. This time my clinic was a little bit more aggressive with my meds, and OHSS kicked in hard after my transfer. I woke up from my egg retrieval with 10 lbs of extra water weight and was having trouble breathing. I called my clinic immediately, which led to daily ultrasound monitoring, weigh-ins, urine output measurements, drainage, and a few hospital visits.

On top of all of this, I was finally pregnant again. As happy as I was, I was completely terrified for the baby and felt like there was no way he or she would survive this. Somehow, miraculously, he did.

I thought I would be content with two children. I really did. But again, when my son was around 11 months old, I had a burning desire to try for one more. Little did I know how hard it would be trying for this one. It was a very dark period filled with lots of pain and tears. Fail after fail, loss after loss, none of our embryos would permanently stick, and no one knew why. Finally, two stuck. It was a miracle. Twins!

I was over the moon and couldn’t believe it. I started planning fun announcements and shopping for cute twin onesies. But as any angel mama knows, pregnancy after loss is incredibly difficult. Lots of what-ifs constantly run through your mind. So, as excited as I was, I held my breath before each ultrasound.

I will never forget the day I went in for an ultrasound to check on both babies. A girl who worked at the office approached me asking if she could sit in on my scan because she’d never seen a twin ultrasound before. “Sure!” I said, with a big smile. As the ultrasound began, the room suddenly went quiet. My heart sank. I knew something was wrong. My doctor confirmed that one baby didn’t have a heartbeat. I was to come back in a week for a follow-up scan to check on twin B and see if twin A was still there.

It was right after this scan that heavy bleeding started. It came on randomly and lasted for weeks. It was absolutely terrifying. I kept thinking, “There’s no way twin B will survive this,” but she did. This pregnancy felt long, terrifying, and traumatic. The saying “Not all twins walk side by side, sometimes one has wings to fly,” forever sticks in my head. I will always think about my baby girl who didn’t make it and will forever cherish the one who did.

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Though my journey to motherhood wasn’t easy, I’m so grateful that I now have my family. I would walk this difficult road a million times over to get to where I am now.

While going through IVF, the wait and the unknown are the hardest things to accept. You never know when your journey will end or when a new beginning will start. Once you’re on the other side, you think infertility will be a thing of the past, but I know now that it’s something that will forever live within me.

On my journey to baby #3, I decided to use my passion for women’s health and infertility as well as my education in counseling to create The IVF Warrior. My hope is to educate and empower others on their IVF journeys, as well as spread awareness and offer support to those suffering from infertility and pregnancy loss. Knowing you are not alone on your fertility journey can make all the difference.

Cheryl Dowling, Founder, The IVF Warrior

Cheryl Dowling is an IVF mama and a certified counselor specializing in women’s health and wellness. Her professional background and personal experience with infertility inspired her to launch The IVF Warrior as a source of inspiration within the infertility community. Her hope is to help educate, spread awareness, end the stigma, and offer support to women suffering from infertility and pregnancy loss. You can follow The IVF Warrior on Instagram here.