Podcast Episode #12: Fertility Struggles
In this podcast episode, we talk with Lisa about her struggles with fertility and about the birth of her son, Ethan, who was conceived via IVF. This podcast is available to listen to on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Alyssa: Hi, welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas! I am Alyssa, co-owner of Gold Coast and post-partum doula. Today, we are talking to Lisa, who is a past client of ours. She was actually a post-partum client of mine. Hello, Lisa.
Alyssa: So we’ve talked a lot in the time that we’ve worked together, and you have kind of an interesting story about your fertility journey and how – you know, I think I thought the same thing. You get off birth control, and you think you’re going to get pregnant right away, and when it doesn’t happen, our brains just go straight to worry. So tell me – start from the beginning. You got off the Pill, and then what?
Lisa: Yeah. So it was the second marriage for both my husband and I, and I was 35. We went off the Pill, and I literally thought that same month, it would just be, boom. You know, we’re pregnant. And it didn’t happen. And I think he was 37 at the time. We were trying for seven or eight months, and nothing was happening, and we just didn’t – we were confused, like what could possibly be going wrong here? And so I went to my ob-gyn, and she said, you know, you should just get the initial fertility screens done to see if everything is working for both you and him.
Alyssa: So you got screened, or you both got screened?
Lisa: We both got screened.
Alyssa: And what does that entail? For you and him?
Lisa: Well, for my husband, he needed a sperm sample. And then they look at things like morphology of the sperm and – like, you can have all different things happen with your sperm. You can have two-headed sperm. The tails of your sperm can be too long or too short or whatever. I think the typical morphology is that four percent of the sperm is good. That’s kind of the average. But I think his was either one or two percent, so he was less than half of what a highly fertile man would be considered. And for me, it involved a bunch of blood tests that test your hormone levels at the different parts of your cycle, and then also some x-rays. I can’t remember – I think it was called an HCG where they pump ink through your uterus and your fallopian tubes to make sure that there’s nothing plugged, that basically the sperm can come up and the eggs can come down so there’s nothing blocking. And so we did that, and I was kind of considered more of advanced maternal age, and then my husband was, as it turns out, not super highly fertile at that point. And then we had a couple of miscarriages after that. Two, but they were really early, so I wouldn’t even have been pregnant quite a month. And then we thought, well, what’s going on with that? Then I had some other health issues going, and one of my health providers suggested I go get some more tests that were autoimmune-related, because it turns out, if you have a bunch of autoimmune things going on, that can lead to early term miscarriages. And then I tested positive for all of this autoimmune stuff, which led into a bunch of autoimmune suppressing therapies and two rounds of IVF. The first round, we didn’t get any viable eggs, and the second round, we got one. And I was just beside myself. We had 28 eggs, and out of all those 28, we only had one viable one. And my hopes were not high because of all this autoimmune stuff that was going on, and we just had one egg. We did a frozen embryo transfer because we did get the chromosomal testing done, which is how we knew if the eggs were viable or not, and then with the one egg, we got pregnant. But all said and done, it was a two-and-a-half-year process for us. And then we ended up having our son when I was 39.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah.
Alyssa: I did not know that Ethan was IVF.
Lisa: He was, yeah. And then during the whole pregnancy, I was highly monitored because of all the autoimmune stuff going on, and that was just –
Alyssa: So what do you mean by autoimmune therapies and stuff you had to do?
Lisa: Well, I had infusions every other week. I was on steroids to keep my immune system down the whole time. And a bunch of other smattering of things; drugs that I can’t really even pronounce at this point. It just basically calms a woman’s immune system down enough to not reject a fetus, and so then you’re highly monitored; you’re getting blood tests all the time to see where your inflammation and stuff like that is, and so we did that. And then it turns out I had placenta previa, which is where the placenta is covering the cervix, and so then I went on bedrest for five weeks in the hospital in the antepartum unit. I was bleeding all the time, and then we had the fourth big bleeding incident, and they didn’t think it would stop. So we went into an emergency C-section, and then he was born five weeks early.
Alyssa: Oh, my gosh.
Lisa: Yeah. It was a lot.
Alyssa: So how was your pregnancy up until the five-week bedrest point?
Lisa: I had to take short-term disability from work because I was – I only know this because I had to do this for insurance, but I was doing 30 to 40 hours of medical care a week to do all the autoimmune stuff, and that lasted through week 20. And so I had this kind of honeymoon period between week 20, which is when your body starts calming down as it’s getting through the second trimester. So from an autoimmune perspective, if you get through to the second trimester, or into the second trimester, then you’re pretty much considered in the clear.
Alyssa: Your body is saying, “Okay, I get it. You’re staying. I’m not going to try to get you out anymore.”
Lisa: Yeah. And from a NICU perspective, if you get to – I think it’s week 23 or 24. I can’t remember which of those two, but with all the technology that we have today, it’s pretty much considered that they can help along a 24-week old. So once you get there, at least even if something should happen, then you can –
Alyssa: That would be tough. That would be a lot of NICU time, a 24-week old baby. So did Ethan have any NICU time at five weeks early?
Lisa: He did. We were in the NICU for eight days, and that was enough.
Alyssa: That’s not bad. I’m glad you didn’t say five weeks.
Lisa: No, we thought we were going to be in there for five weeks because they basically set your expectations that whatever would bring them to full term is typically considered what your NICU stay would be.
Alyssa: So even though he was born five weeks early, he was pretty healthy. Was he big?
Lisa: He was big. He was 5 pounds, 9 ounces, at 35 weeks and a day, so that was good. He just had some issues with keeping warm and then keeping his blood sugars up. And then I didn’t – I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t really ever have any challenges with breastfeeding, and so that went really well, and I was just so grateful for that because there was so much that had been a challenge, you know, leading up to that.
Alyssa: Yeah, that on top would have sent you over the edge!
Lisa: I think I just would have melted at that point.
Alyssa: Yeah. So do you have any advice for parents who, like you, get off the Pill, think it’s going to happen right away, and now two and a half years later and two IVF treatments later – how do you deal with that? How do you and your partner deal with that together?
Lisa: Oh, that’s a hard one.
Alyssa: I mean, it’s probably very individual, right? Based on personalities and how you handle stress and how you handle stress together, but do you think there’s one universal piece of advice? Is it be patient? Is it –
Lisa: I would say if you’re older, and I would say maybe the 35 age range and plus, if things aren’t happening right away, I would just say, just go get the stuff tested. Don’t wait a year or whatever. Just go get stuff tested out because those years, from even 35 to 36 and from 36 to 37, those really start counting for the quality of your fertility. Not that you couldn’t ever make a child; it’s the quality of the –
Alyssa: It’s going to get harder every year.
Lisa: For the woman, it’s the quality of the eggs. It gets harder every year. And I think the other thing that, looking back, I would suggest for anybody who is doing fertility treatments, try to do one thing a day that is just for you that makes you feel cared for because during our fertility, and then pregnancy, and then delivery, I think that my husband and I – we were just out of juice by the time our son got here, and that’s when you really need it. Right? That’s when you have a baby then, in your arms who isn’t sleeping, and you just need help, and so I think if I just would have, I don’t know, maybe slept more – I mean, that sounds ridiculous, but –
Alyssa: Like take a nap?
Lisa: Take a nap! Like, take a nap when you’re pregnant, you know? Just try to nurture yourself in whatever way possible that is meaningful for you. And I am not saying, like, go buy a new wardrobe. I am literally saying, if you really like to read, go spend an hour a day and read. Indulge yourself and rejuvenate yourself a little bit because you’re going to need it.
Alyssa: And you don’t have to read about fertility or read about baby stuff. Read something that you enjoy.
Lisa: Find the absolute best providers that you can, and ask good questions, and then trust. Because otherwise, it’s just –
Alyssa: You can constantly question, right? Everything and everybody because we can Google it.
Lisa: Yes! That’s another thing. Don’t Google! Limit yourself to five minutes of Googling a day or something, but don’t do that, yeah. That’s a rabbit hole.
Alyssa: Well, next time we talk to you, Lisa, I think we’re going to get into your post-partum journey and how you got here; how you ended up here in good old Grand Rapids. All right, thank you for sharing.