Earlier this year, I discussed our battle with secondary infertility and miscarriage. A little over a week ago, we finally got the answer as to why.
Warning: This article discusses miscarriage and fertility issues.
We have spent almost four years trying to add a third kid to our family. While I have never been the type of woman who can practically get pregnant just by breathing the air in the baby aisle at Target, we had had two kids and expected to be able to have a third within about a year of trying. It didn’t work out that way, and we decided to start working with our doctors to see if there was a blatant reason why this was not happening. A few tests later the only potential flag we had was that my hormone levels (as reported by a PA that was not my usual one) were a bit off, but nothing else turned up. I was in my early thirties, but I was assured that plenty of women get pregnant in their thirties so I shouldn’t be worried about an age factor.
Up front, we decided that we were not going to pursue any path that would require the involvement of a fertility specialist. Since we did have two kids of our own, we were concerned about jumping on what I have heard called the “fertility treadmill” where couples find themselves trying to scrape together more money for just one more test or one more treatment. We were not comfortable with the risk of spending thousands of dollars and coming up empty-handed and then being unable to afford certain things for the kids we did have (like trips to Disneyland or, you know, college tuition). I would like to emphasize that this is not a criticism of anyone who has built their family through fertility treatments, just that it was a route we were not comfortable with taking. I strongly believe that when you start down the infertility path it’s important to know how far and how long you are willing to take things.
We still had a few options before our situation would be flagged as needing a specialist to get involved, so we went through six failed rounds of Clomid and figured we were done. Then a little over two years after we had started trying, I asked them to run my hormone values at my yearly check up just to see what was going on so I had an idea if things were possible. They came back ideal, and we decided to try Femara instead just to see what would happen. I wasn’t expecting it to work, but one round later I got a positive pregnancy test on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, I lost that pregnancy at 11 weeks.
I had thought we were off the treatment treadmill, but my ability to get pregnant sort of threw us back on. I failed to get pregnant again, even with four more rounds of Femara. After those failed rounds, I took a step back to reevaluate and noticed something off with my cycles. That eventually lead to another hormone blood test and a conversation with my doctor’s usual PA about these results and my previous ones. She caught some language in the notes that the other PA had not expressed to me. My first blood test said my hormones were consistent with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome otherwise known as PCOS (but the follow-up sonogram had not shown signs of it). With that phrase in hand, we scheduled a follow-up sonogram and I did some research of my own on PCOS. I learned that PCOS is the highest cause of fertility issues and gives women a higher chance of pregnancies ending in miscarriage. The symptoms can also pop up sporadically, being more prominent at times than others. It can be tricky to diagnose because you often have to look at symptoms over a period of time. A number of the symptoms including infertility, cycle issues, and hormone levels being off felt familiar.
When I walked into my appointment, my research made me start to suspect what my doctor would confirm. I had borderline/minor PCOS. While I had skipped the more prominent signs like high weight gain and severe acne, I had gotten the issues that lead to fertility problems and being able to keep a pregnancy. She went over what sort of plan I would need to follow to try again. It involved a strict diet, four rounds of medication to prep my body, more Femara along with that diet and other medication, and then that same medication and diet through the first trimester to try to keep the pregnancy. It would be a five to ten-month commitment just to try to get pregnant again.
I burst into tears. At that moment, we both knew we were done. We simply didn’t have the emotional endurance to drag this out for another five to ten months especially knowing I was at a higher chance for another miscarriage. We were at the point where we simply needed to move on with our lives understanding that we were going to be a family of four. We took the kids out for a fun activity that day and then started letting our family and friends know that it was time for us to step off that fertility treatment treadmill, get the treadmill out of the house, and fill that space with something else.
It’s hurt, but that diagnosis was the closure we needed to move on with our lives. There’s been a fair number of things we put off doing or put on hold because being pregnant or having an infant would complicate that. We’re also coming up on our younger son finishing Pre-K within the next month, which means our days of paying for childcare are coming to an end less than six months after my student loans were completely paid off. Since we avoided running ourselves into debt over all of this, we now have more options to go and celebrate the family we do have. In fact, when we started to realize our infertility journey might not end the way we wanted, we made a plan to have something positive we could turn to in order to lessen the blow. Our state is getting a White Wolf Lodge and a Medieval Times this year. Disneyland is opening Galaxy’s Edge, and both of the boys are of the right age to make a Disneyland trip enjoyable and fun. We no longer need to leave a guest room that can be converted to a nursery in our house, so our youngest will be kicking off his elementary school years with a room of his very own. Our eldest is thrilled to get his own room again after five years of sharing with his brother. I can also stop stressing about storing all of our baby stuff and start the process of selling or giving it away. Our infertility journey may not have ended the way we had hoped, but we’re choosing to end it on our terms in a place that’s still pretty awesome.