Part I ~ First steps

Long post alert!

In order for anyone reading to get a full picture of the what of our story, particularly since I'm writing about this in past tense, I figure I should write a series of posts that simply break it down. This four part series of posts will be like your guide to the what, when, where and how we ended up with our miracle daughter.

It started on our wedding night. And I'm actually being serious.

I had tracked my cycles for some time, as a means of avoiding getting pregnant. (All those years I took precautions against getting pregnant... having no idea I actually couldn't!)  I had been told by my OBGYN prior to getting married that we shouldn't waste any time before trying due to my age. (If you ever feel like you need to be CONSTANTLY reminded of how fast you're aging, just be a woman trying to conceive past the age of 35. You'll be drowning in visions of your shriveled, decrepit old eggs wheeling around in wheelchairs in your dusty ovaries in no time.) She told me this at a routine appointment, when I had asked if she thought I could wait a year before trying to have a baby, since we were just getting married and I'm generally very healthy. She tactfully but bluntly explained that even if we started trying right away, it could still take a year before we actually conceived, and that considering my age, that year was better off taking place asap rather than once I turned (gulp) 37, when my eggs would go from bad to worse. Once you hit 35, I was told, every month counts. This pressure to hurry up and conceive before your eggs shrivel up and die forever puts a bit of a dark cloud above your head, but I was optimistic at the start of all this. I had some basic blood work done and my FSH level of 12 was "a bit high, but nothing to worry about." I was told I should be able to conceive no problem.

When we tied the knot, I was 35, almost 36. We knew we wanted kids. I just so happened to be ovulating on our wedding day. The doctor had advised that we get going on the trying. So, it was a no-brainer. All we had to do was stay sober and awake enough to actually have sex on our wedding night, and we'd be in business! (Which, according to many friends of mine, was often easier said than done!) Since we managed to pull that off, I was convinced. The timing was right. The doctor said things looked viable. Why wouldn't it work? It would be the perfect, romantic story for us. As you can probably guess, though, it didn't work, and it kept not working for the next eight months.

Although I am generally very healthy, my reproductive organs had already proved a little problematic, so a brief history is important here. Five years prior to getting married, in 2008, I had undergone a laproscopic operation to remove a dermoid cyst from my right ovary. That cyst reappeared in 2011, when a completely separate cyst ruptured, sending me to the ER in excruciating pain. An ultrasound revealed a ruptured cyst on my right ovary along with another mass they later discovered was the dermoid again. My doctor opined that it hadn't been completely removed the first time and thus had regrown. As a bonus, she also discovered a large fibroid in my uterus the size of a baked potato. The fibroid and the dermoid both had to come out, so I had another operation. The surgery left me with a scar that looked just like a C-section scar.

When I woke up in recovery and my doctor came to check on me, she somewhat cheerfully told me two significant things, both which turned out to be false: 1) That she had saved 80% of my right ovary and it should continue to work fine, and 2) that whenever I decided to have a baby, I would need a C-section due to the scar on my uterus.  She made this sound like no big deal, saying they would just go in through the exact same scar. Both of these things were just fine with me at the time since having children seemed far off at that point.  I had no reason to believe that I would later have problems.

Fast-forward back to eight months after our wedding; I knew it was time to seek some help. After months of perfectly timed trying with no results, and 36 years old at this point, I was starting to get nervous. I was lucky at the time to have some coverage for infertility through my work, so we made our first appointment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist. The closest one was an hour away from where we live. He expressed a bit more concern about the blood work results and wanted to do the tests over again as well as an ultrasound.

The blood work was essentially the same, but on our first ultrasound he couldn't find my right ovary (the one that my OBGYN "saved" 80% of). I was pretty alarmed, but he kind of brushed it under the rug, saying sometimes things "shift", and that it would probably show up at some point, in another ultrasound or when we started medication to stimulate my ovaries. (Long story short, it never showed up. I have had countless ultrasounds at this point by several different doctors and techs. It never responded to any medication and is basically, missing inside my body. Not a single tech or doctor has located the missing ovary and not one of them has had an explanation for me other than that sometimes after a surgery, the blood supply is damaged to the organ and it can die. I still find this explanation unsatisfactory, as did my RE from our most recent clinic. Although I've made peace with it at this point, getting there was a long process.) He suggested we start by trying a medicated cycle, using either Clomid or Femara to stimulate my ovaries to produce two or three eggs on my next cycle instead of one. This essentially simply ups your odds of getting pregnant because there is an extra egg or two for the sperm to try and fertilize.

I opted for Femara, which is actually a drug primarily used to treat breast cancer patients but is used in an "off label" fashion to stimulate ovulation for fertility treatments. It is supposed to have less severe side effects than Clomid, although the long-term implications are less known. My RE at that time told me that we wouldn't do more than three or four cycles with that before moving on. Ever optimistic, I agreed and was excited to get started right away.

While all this was going on, I was still working full-time as a public defender in a high-stress trial assignment. I loved my job and had always felt like it was what I was meant to do. And yet, I couldn't deny the toll the stress was taking on me. I worked long hours and often on weekends, dealing with emotionally taxing cases and a high volume of work that left me exhausted and never feeling like I was doing enough. There was little if no time to take care of myself in terms of my health and emotional balance. I never got enough sleep because my mind was always racing, my nutrition was marginal, and stress was a constant companion. The first thing I heard from every doctor I saw was, "make sure you're getting enough rest and doing everything you can to minimize stress in your life." I would always laugh this off, thinking there was just no way. But at 36 years old I knew deep down that if I didn't make a major change, I would be jeopardizing my chances to have a baby. I knew I had a choice not to surround myself with daily negativity and adrenaline, even if it was something I had worked hard for and enjoyed. I started to consider the previously unthinkable: quitting my job.

Continued in part II...