Nick and I met on July 5th, 2013, at Starbucks and had an instant connection. He was well spoken, charming, easy to talk to...not to mention handsome. I remember calling my sister that day and raving about the guy I had met. After a little more than three years of dating, we were engaged. A few months later, we had a small destination wedding with about 40 friends and family members. We knew we wanted to be parents, however, we wanted to enjoy time with each other first. Being planners, we decided we would wait before starting to build our family.
Fast forward to October 2017. We agreed it was time to stop birth control and start a family. The first few weeks were great! Who wouldn’t want to go along with thinking practice makes perfect? We were having fun and optimistic about our future.
After only two months of “trying”, we knew something was wrong. My period never returned after coming off birth control, and the pregnancy tests were negative. After visiting my OBGYN to see what was going on, we received the news that I don’t ovulate on my own. My blood work came back abnormal, but the doctor created a plan to get my hormones back on track and continue with our plan to start a family.
Over the next several months we would begin fertility treatments including monitoring, timed intercourse, medications consisting of pills and injections, and four unsuccessful cycles of IUI’s (intrauterine insemination). Each month we had new hope for what that cycle could bring us.
The IUI’s were anything but a pleasant experience. Each one was conducted using a tenaculum, which would be used to yank my uterus into place, and then the doctor would force dilation upon my cervix to make sure the insemination placement was correct. Painful is an understatement, but in my mind it would all be worth it. The third IUI, although painful, was comical as well. Nick came with me to each IUI and held my hand throughout the process. As we began the procedure, the doctor inserted her torture device and began dilation. I remember cursing loudly, and then profusely apologizing, as the pain was excruciating. I covered my face and wanted to scream. During this time, I felt Nick’s hand fall away. When I opened my eyes, my husband was as pale as the floor, sitting on the other side of me, breathing heavily, sweating, and staring at the floor. He was on the brink of passing out from watching the procedure. From then on, he stayed by my side at the top of the table, not venturing any glances towards what the doctor did or the tools she wielded.
As the months passed, we tried to share our journey with close friends and family. They were all supportive, but several still didn’t seem to understand what we were going through and the emotional path we had embarked upon. A few even felt that when we shared our experience, it was time to make fertility and pregnancy jokes. Needless to say...it wasn’t. Although the jokes were never intended to be cruel, they were like daggers each time. That said, other conversations left us feeling connected and not so isolated. A few friends began to share their own stories and struggles, as we confided in them. Nick and I wished we had shared more openly from the beginning and we were inspired to break the stigma of infertility moving forward.
We began to see a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) in July, after our fourth failed IUI. He scheduled his own battery of tests, blood work, and procedures over the next few months, before deciding we needed to use In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant. He told us about a new clinical trial that would soon be starting. If we qualified, we would have two-thirds of our expenses paid for. Yes, sign us up! The RE told us that all I needed to do over the next thirty-two days was relax, ovulate, and get a period on my own. HA! My body had continuously proven that it wouldn’t ovulate on its own, and throughout the testing, my period was becoming nearly nonexistent again. Despite these obstacles, we were still hopeful that this could be the month where everything came together. After a few weeks of waiting, it was confirmed that I didn’t ovulate and wouldn’t qualify for the clinical trial. This verified that we would self pay for IVF. Although we were disappointed, we were aware that things could have been worse. We refocused our energy towards the adventure ahead. IVF would bring us the child we had been hoping for...we just knew it!
As we embarked into IVF, we wanted to share our story as a segway to help others understand what infertility really looks and feels like. In November, we took a letter board and placed the words “We are 1 in 8” on it and had my brother-in-law take our picture in our front yard. We left for Thanksgiving with the thoughts of publicly sharing our life and raising awareness to the struggle so many people were living. People can’t be expected to understand what they have not experienced, but we can open our world to them in an effort to help them learn and sympathize. We were waiting for the “right” time to post the picture.
In December, we were ready to start our IVF cycle. However, we were anxious and somewhat hesitant to begin. Nick’s father, Bob, was battling cancer and his time was growing shorter.
We made the decision to put IVF on hold, so we could be with family. Our RE and nurses were compassionate and understanding. I started back on birth control to put my body and hormones into a neutral and controlled state. Over the next few weeks, much of our time was spent in Oklahoma with family. Bob passed away a week and half before Christmas. It was difficult to think about moving forward and starting our IVF process after losing someone so important to us. After the new year, we contacted the doctor's office and let them know we were mentally and physically ready to begin with IVF. Knowing that Bob isn’t here is incredibly painful, since he would have been a terrific grandfather. With that said, we know in our hearts that he is looking down, cheering us on, and would be proud.
January 4, 2019, we decided to start the new year with sharing the “We are 1 in 8” picture we had taken months before. That evening, we talked through the pros and cons of sharing our lives and ultimately posted the photograph onto my Facebook and Instagram pages. We were nervous to let people into our lives in such a big way but felt confident it would help others. We wanted other couples to know they weren’t alone. We also wanted those not suffering from infertility to understand what others were battling on a daily basis. More than anything, we wanted to break the stigma around talking about infertility and help build a compassionate and supportive community.
The social media response was far greater than we expected. Others were sharing their challenges with infertility openly on my pages and showing so much support towards what we were doing. Nick and I felt re-energized going into IVF knowing that we had a whole community supporting and encouraging us.
Our egg retrieval was on January 21st. Our doctor retrieved 18 eggs with 15 being mature. By day six, we had nine frozen “winter soldiers” as Nick endearingly would refer to them. After PGS (Preimplantation Genetic Screening) results came back, we were down to six, three boys and three girls. We were ecstatic and considered ourselves blessed to have such good results. We continued to share our story daily letting others see what IVF really looks like through the eyes of a couple going through it.
A few weeks later we began preparing for our FET (Frozen Egg Transfer). Going into the transfer, we knew that my uterine lining had been measuring on the thin side. I began high doses of estrogen to help build my lining, as well as taking my acupuncturist’s advice and adding suggested teas and foods to my diet. However, my weekly checks showed little progress. I was continuing to measure just under 4mm with the ideal lining measuring between 8-12mm. After 3 weeks of this daily routine and frequent monitoring, our doctor decided to cancel our FET. Although we were disappointed, we knew it was the best decision. So many factors go into an FET, and we want the highest chance possible for success. Our second cycle led to another cancelled FET due to a thin lining and unexpected bleeding. We are currently in the process of creating a new plan and protocol with our doctor that will lead to a thicker lining and our FET.
Our journey is far from over, but we are optimistic about what the future holds. Each day our marriage grows stronger as we work through new challenges together. We continue to share our journey, knowing that every post and conversation will help others not traveling this path to understand it better, and those contending with infertility to know they aren’t alone. We take each day one at a time and are confident that soon we will be able to say we have overcome infertility.
You can follow Abby's journey to mamahood on Instagram at simply.schultz