What You Should Know About Pregnancy and Motherhood After Infertility
By Julie Marie
Some experiences in life stay with you and teach you lessons long after people think you should have moved past them. That’s what happened to me with pregnancy and becoming a mother after infertility.
As infertility patients, our focus is constantly on the next step: the next procedure, the next medication, the next blood draw, the next ultrasound, the next retrieval, the next transfer, the next pregnancy test, and the next month to try again. To hope those two lines appear. That’s what we are working towards, that’s our dream. Those two pink lines and a healthy baby.
I was diagnosed with severe diminished ovarian reserve at the age of 35. My AMH was undetectable and my antral follicle count was under 5. We were unsuccessful with IUI and moved quickly to IVF. We did two back-to-back egg retrievals, as time was of the essence with my diagnosis. We were only able to retrieve 1 egg each cycle.
During my infertility journey, my ovaries were called names like diminished, poor responder, insufficient, and failure. I even had follicles my Reproductive Endocrinologist said were empty at the time of retrieval.
I did everything I could to try and fix my infertility, to make it better. In addition to my RE, I went to fertility acupuncture, a naturopathic fertility doctor, took handfuls of vitamins and supplements, ate healthily, exercised, listened to guided fertility meditations, went to a reproductive therapist, and the list goes on.
From our two egg retrievals, we had two embryos. The first transfer didn’t stick and sadly, the second resulted in miscarriage. As heartbreaking as the miscarriage was, it was also incredibly hard to be back to where we started from, though now depleted mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially.
Like many infertility warriors, I became accustomed to receiving negative news. I began to expect to receive negative news. I thought the more I prepared myself for negative news, the less it would hurt when I received it, but things never quite worked out that way.
After the miscarriage, my husband and I took time to grieve and discuss our options. We still very much wanted to become parents, and the possibility of me carrying a baby was important to us. We made the decision to end treatment with my own eggs and pursue egg donation as a path to parenthood. For us, egg donation instilled a renewed hope that we might finally one day become parents.
Once our decision was made, the process with egg donation progressed quickly and a few short months later we transferred a single, beautiful embryo. At last, we saw two very strong pink lines. We were elated, over the moon, and absolutely beaming with excitement. I was so beyond happy and grateful to be pregnant, but I also had another feeling that I wasn’t prepared for.
What many people don’t know about my pregnancy is how scared I was that something would go wrong.
I learned that as hard of a transition as it was to go from a regular person to an infertility patient, it was equally as hard to go from an infertility patient to a regular pregnant person.
Our beta numbers were very strong and continued to rise well. The baby was wonderfully on track at each of our appointments. I had no specific reason to worry. I was pregnant and everything was perfect.
I wanted to be a regular pregnant person. I wanted to forget about my infertility journey and put it all behind me, but I couldn’t fully do that and there was a lot most people didn’t know during those months.
I learned that I needed a lot of reassurance my baby was okay. I continued to take many pregnancy tests for the first few weeks of pregnancy to check if the lines were still strong. I wanted the reassurance of those lines; I needed the reassurance.
I requested extra appointments with my OBGYN after ‘graduating’ from my fertility clinic. Fortunately, my OBGYN knew my RE and was sympathetic to my situation after I shared my story and that I just “wanted to be on the safe side.”
I still kept in touch with my naturopathic fertility doctor in addition to my OBGYN. She had been through IVF herself and was very understanding. She knew what it was like to be pregnant after infertility. She offered that I could make an appointment to come into her office to use the Doppler anytime I felt I needed to and I did on several occasions.
After we went on vacation when I was three months pregnant, one of the first things I did when I returned from vacation was going to my naturopathic doctor and use her Doppler, to make sure there was still a heartbeat.
Seven months into my pregnancy, I had a nursery closet full of adorable baby clothes that I still hadn’t cut the tags off of yet. I was afraid to let my heart have the full confidence and vulnerability that came with cutting off those tags.
What I learned is that letting go of the expectation of negative news doesn’t happen quickly.
The fear of expecting bad news was a feeling ingrained in me after years of infertility. I worked through those fears during my pregnancy and they gradually lessened as time went on. Despite the fears, I enjoyed my pregnancy immensely and it was very smooth. My OBGYN even commented towards the end of my pregnancy that I was one of the happiest pregnant patients she’s ever had. Eventually, as our due date got closer, I cut the tags off of the baby clothes and did the most wonderful load of laundry.
Still, infertility doesn’t end when you become a mommy.
Once my beautiful, healthy baby girl was born, I learned that infertility doesn’t magically disappear when you become a mommy. A baby doesn’t erase the years of heartache and pain it took to get there. I learned that regardless of the overpouring love for my child, I still needed to heal from my infertility journey.
Some people may think that once I became a mother, I was no longer infertile. I do not consider that to be true. I am a mother, and I am infertile. Some people may think that I should just “get over it” or that my infertility journey, the miscarriage, or the loss of my genetics no longer affect me. Infertility grief and loss both take time and work to heal from.
Infertility will always be part of my story.
Even though I have now done a tremendous amount of healing, life for my family will always be impacted by our family-building story and our choice to become parents through egg donation. Our child is now aware of our family-building story, and it will forever be a part of our life and future.
I learned that it’s okay to have these feelings. Through the passing of time, healing and self-reflection, I’ve realized it’s okay to have feelings of sadness for my loss and what infertility took me through. Being sad over my losses doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely happy and grateful for what I have. I learned that infertility has left me with a heart full of immense gratitude, happiness, and love.
A few years into motherhood, I still catch myself pausing to watch my child and I quietly take it all in. I see other mothers with their children on the playground or at birthday parties and I wonder if it was easy for them, getting to this place. Did it happen fast, did it take time, did they need help?
I look like them on the outside, a happy mommy with a happy daughter, but I carry something in my heart they can’t see. They don’t know that for years; I would look away from playgrounds and avoid gatherings of children. I still catch myself getting teary-eyed sometimes because I can’t believe I get to be a mommy. As the years pass by too quickly, I never take a moment for granted. I am so grateful.
Julie Marie is an infertility warrior, advocate, volunteer, and mama through the gift of egg donation. After going through her own infertility journey and becoming a mother through the gift of donor-assisted reproduction, she found various paths to parenthood were underrepresented in children's literature. She wrote Happy Together to help parents share the special family-building story with their child. You can follow Julie Marie on Instagram here.