Infertility affects as many as one in eight couples of reproductive age — and my husband and I are one of them. But we are one of the lucky families to have had success with in vitro fertilization (IVF). We are due this week with one of only two viable embryos (the first one didn’t take), after three full cycles of injections, hormones, egg retrievals and fertilizations.
Throughout our journey to have a second child, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. No one talks about fertility. We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it, especially knowing how common it is. Yet, it’s still not exactly the topic of conversation. It’s no one’s fault — it’s a disease. And the more awareness we spread, the more informed couples can be in case they have to go down this road. I even wrote a series of blog posts on this very topic, but I did so anonymously because I was afraid to tell people about my infertility struggles.
2. IVF is not for the faint of heart. I didn’t think I could do it — handle the rollercoaster of emotions, the long and trying waiting game, not being in control of my own body, injecting myself with five different needles a night, multiple IVF cycles, the disappointment when it didn’t work. It’s brutal for everyone involved. I found the courage to do it, but it wasn’t easy, and I honestly don’t think I could handle it again.
3. Infertility isn’t only a woman’s problem, it affects men as well. Almost half of all infertile couples deal with male-factor infertility. Ours was unexplained. While I’m over 40, which decreases your odds of success, I still had a decent ovarian reserve (eggs) left.
4. Insurance is often not your friend when it comes to coverage of the very expensive, required treatments and drugs involved with IVF. Each cycle of medication for me was $5,000+ out of pocket. That did not include anything but medication. Insurance coverage for infertility is only available in 15 out of 50 states in America. Because of this, many couples choose to buy “packages” for multiple attempts at it working. Or, they choose treatments like transferring more than one embryo when they should, that have a higher risk of multiples, because you up your odds when multiples are involved — if you’re lucky enough to produce multiple eggs.
5. Your support system matters. I was oblivious going into IVF and learned so much during the time we were under the care of reproductive doctors. My doctor was amazing, I can’t say enough about her. She had been through IVF herself and could speak from example. She was patient and positive. She was knowledgeable. She was encouraging. She would give her expert advice but still encourage us to do what we felt was best for our situation. She ran tests to be proactive — one that resulted in a change in protocol of our third and final chance and ended in a pregnancy. When I graduated from her office to the OB at 10 weeks, I didn’t know what to do without her. It was like losing a friend. Speaking of friends, surround yourself by people who may not understand — but really want to. A dear friend had been through IVF for years unsuccessfully herself. She was there every step of the way for me and even met me in a Target parking lot to administer my “trigger shot.” If you mess that up, the whole cycle is a loss. I could not have made it through the many ups and downs without her. And I knew she could feel my pain as she experienced it, too.
6. It seems like everyone and their mother will get pregnant around you while you’re trying your hardest not to break down when reading or seeing the news on Facebook. Of course, you’re happy for them, but at the same time, want to cry because it’s not you posting the positive pregnancy test photos. Then, if you do become pregnant, you’re afraid to tell anyone, so you keep it a secret until you no longer can get away with the “I’m just bloated” excuse.
Even if infertility does not affect you, you can help others:
- Be vocal — talk about it.
- Share your story.
- Write a letter or call your representatives.
- Dedicate your Facebook status or tweet about infertility awareness.
- Support a friend or loved one going through infertility treatment; they will need it.
Some days I still can’t believe IVF worked for us. I count my blessings every single day. I know a lot of people who were also successful, and other well-deserving couples who weren’t. I wish everyone could have endless medical support and adequate insurance coverage to start or expand their family.
Update: Kerry Schicker gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Monday, April 23, 2018. We couldn’t be happier for her!