If this is the first time you’re reading about our infertility, I recommend you start at this 2018 blog post! You can find all my infertility-related blog posts here or browse my Infertility Instagram Story Highlights here.
As if dealing with infertility wasn’t a gargantuan challenge in and of itself already, this past year has also brought with it pandemic challenges too. For many, infertility is an extremely isolating experience, add pandemic isolation on top of that, plus disruptions in treatments depending on restrictions for where you’re located, potential economic stresses of lost or inconsistent work and income, AND seeing “pandemic pregnancies” occur (and with it, all the social media posts on your feeds)—if you’ve been struggling with infertility AND living through the pandemic—you’ve got a lot of things working against you.
I was actually not surprised to learn that despite an ongoing global pandemic, infertility still ranks as the #1 stress factor for those dealing with it—66% of patients in this new report says infertility is a comparable if not more stressful situation to endure than the pandemic itself.
Earlier in the pandemic (August 2020), and after many years of being told we had “unexplained infertility,” Mike and I discovered that I had asymptomatic endometriosis. While having endometriosis does not mean you will have infertility, if there are no other apparent causes, it could be a viable explanation, and after all our years trying unsuccessfully, we wondered if removing the endo would mean we could conceive naturally. This post is here to tell you that, we still could not.
2021 marks our seventh year trying to conceive, and another year trying new things to conceive.
With it being Infertility Awareness Week (April 18-24, 2021), I thought I would write this infertility update a little differently. I wanted to share my Seven Images of Infertility and feelings reflecting our seven years trying to conceive.
Thank you to those who have been closely following this part of our lives and for your very kind words whenever we share an update.
If you don’t struggle with infertility, I hope posts like these open your eyes to the invisible struggles that so many around you may be facing, in the hopes that society will become a little kinder about the assumptions we make or expectations we have of others.
I also hope being open about our experience draws attention and change to the current inconsistencies around standard fertility treatment procedures, medical recommendations, and lack of womens health and particularly reproductive health education overall.
If you ARE struggling with infertility, I hope these posts assure you that you are not alone. And that you do not have to struggle alone (or just with your partner).
We have been fairly open to our close friends and family from the start about our attempts and struggles, and when we decided to publicly share those struggles after the four-year infertility mark, I can personally say it was a big weight off our shoulders, and truly heartwarming the response, the support, we received from our community (from those we knew and many we did not know).
You may not be ready to tell people yet, but I just want you to know there’s no shame in being infertile, and when you’re ready, letting people in on what you’re going through can not only be so therapeutic, but can also help so many others who are facing similar battles.
I guess that’s sort of the whole point of Infertility Awareness Week too. Let’s talk about it.
Infertility Awareness Week 2021: My Seven Images of Infertility
Those who try to get pregnant will know this feeling well… the hope, the dread, all the emotions that weigh on you each month as it gets closer and closer to when you’re supposed to get your period. Each month, hoping this will be the month. Each month, gut punched, devastated when it is not. A rollercoaster.
For those with fairly consistent cycles, you have a pretty approximate sense of when you’ll bleed—or not. And when those days come, trips to the bathroom are, well, dreadful.
Actually, the entire days are filled with dread, but over the years, some of the most dreadful moments I’ve faced when it comes to dealing with infertility and trying to conceive, have been while sitting on the toilet, too afraid to look down to see if I got my period again this month. I can’t bear to look, to see if there’s blood. Because there always is. It’s dreadful.
Everyone’s fertility journey is different, but there are so many things—and so many feelings—that are the same. Desperation being one of them. This photo represents one of the so many countless things we tried to get pregnant. Could a “turkey baster” method help us conceive? Well, it didn’t, but we still tried it.
Not necessarily doctor recommended and seems pretty silly, but it could have worked?
When you’re desperate to become parents, you’ll try a whole lot of things to make it happen. You’ll see a lot of doctors. You’ll read a LOT of things online.
At one point I was taking so many different pills, supplements, acupuncture, massage, sitting upside down after sex—you name it, just to try and improve our chances or FEEL like we were improving them. (Some of these methods haven’t been proven to help conception, some of them, like acupuncture and massage—mindfulness based stress reduction, has been proven to help though!)
We tried naturopaths—I’ll always remember one time where they had me hold a bottle of medicine to my belly and pushed weight on my arm to determine if there was resistance and whether the energy was an indication that that particular natural medicines were going to work…???? lol. That was a bit of a bust.
Mike and I are both spiritual (though not religious) and we’re both pretty open minded, which has been helpful for us trying all sorts of things to conceive but some things have definitely felt sillier than others, and ultimately, none of them worked for us. Again, some of these things methods would and have worked for others. You just never know what will work but you’re desperate to try.
Mike and I have tried three Intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures in our efforts to conceive. When you suffer from infertility, typically IUI is recommended as a fertility treatment before IVF (in vitro fertilization).
An IUI treatment is when sperm is taken and placed directly into a uterus, in the hopes that sperm will meet egg and conception will occur.
IVF is when sperm and egg are combined externally (outside the uterus) for fertilization and injected back into the uterus in the hopes that it will implant to create a baby. IUI is much more affordable, and less invasive than IVF, but with lower chances of success. Though many do successfully conceive through IUI—others, like Mike and I, are not so lucky.
Three rounds of IUI is still cheaper than one round of IVF, so if you look at it that way (we did), we thought we’d be getting three goes at it for a better price, though each round of the procedure resulted in a feeling we knew well, coupled with desperation, disappointment had become common in our fertility journey.
I’ll always remember coming in for our third IUI and the nurses and doctors at PCRM were still greeting me with “is this your first time?” That was more anger and frustration than disappointment—but that feeling of just being a number rotating through the clinic doors, that they wouldn’t even have a patient note that says “this is a repeat patient?” that feeling the clinic gave us of really not knowing or caring about our specific situation (to the point of not even knowing it was our first or third time doing IUI with them), made us resolve we would not be doing anymore procedures with that particular clinic. (More on that later).
In this photo from our wedding in 2013, Mike and I had both assumed we’d be pregnant a year or so later. That we would be “trying” to conceive within the year. We were 24 (me) and 22 (Mike) years old in this photo and no one else in our respective families, or friend groups, were even thinking of children. Over the years we’d been told many times that we were
“so young” or “still young” with “lots of time” left to conceive. As I’ve written in past blog posts, we hated hearing this. It didn’t, and never, mattered that we were “young and had lots of time” because we knew when we wanted kids. We wanted kids then. We want kids now but we wanted kids then. And couldn’t have them. Telling someone they’ve still got lots of time isn’t really the helpful line you / society may think it is.
We didn’t think we’d have any issues. Who does? No one assumes they’ll have issues conceiving (though now that we’ve been through it, I recommend to anyone who asks that they SHOULD assume they’ll have issues, and be more proactive about advocating for the health care and procedures they may need to determine if or help resolve, if they do sadly have trouble like we did).
So I look at photos like this and I think how unfair it has been. At the same time I reflect on our privileges and what an amazing life we’ve had over the last seven years we’ve been childless as well. That good, doesn’t mean the feelings we have about the bad aren’t valid, or that it still, isn’t fair.
Mike deserves to be a father. Don’t get me wrong, yes, Mike is a pawrent and amazing fur dad to our four fur kids Thor, Loki, Olive, and Artie, but he’s not a *father* and he so, so, so deserves to be one. He would be the best one (sorry to all the existing dads out there). I don’t like the phrase that someone was “born” to do or be something, but I do believe some people’s dispositions, personalities, who they are, do make them more suited for some things than others, and in this case, I think Mike would be such a stellar dad that, well, all of this journey has been unfair, but I look at Mike and I think about our failed attempts to have a baby, and it pains me how unfair it all is. It’s unfair that currently, there isn’t a kid who has Mike as its father. And it’s unfair that Mike isn’t currently being the world’s best dad as we speak. Because he really would and WILL be. The very best. And I regularly think of how unfair it is that he—and I—aren’t parents yet.
After we discovered I had asymptomatic (no symptom) endometriosis, and then underwent a surgery to remove the endo in August 2020, we thought—is this the reason why we haven’t been able to conceive? Is this finally the “explanation” to our “unexplained infertility”?
Not all women who have endometriosis are unable to conceive, but for some, it is the cause. Was it ours?
Of course, with our fertility track record—the pattern of dread, desperation, disappointment, and unfairness we’ve faced over these many years—it wasn’t a surprise to find that even after my endometriosis was removed, we were still unable to conceive naturally.
And while mostly everything we had faced to date had been difficult on us mentally, for the first time, we now have a physical reminder of our struggles through my endo scars, which I see and feel every day.
6. (Adoption) Woes
Part of our journey saw us go down the path of adoption. We would have been on the wait list at this time had the adoption agency we chose not suddenly shuttered—leaving dozens of hopeful parents in a lurch. We were nearly at the “profile book” stage of our application, and were really excited because we’d hired our graphic designer friend Nicola Pringle to professionally design the book for us.
A profile book during an adoption application is a book couples put together that those creating adoption plans for their babies review to help decide who should become the baby’s adoptive parents.
It’s basically like an in-depth dating profile but, trying to convince people that you’re going to be great parents, that they should choose you. I really, truly believed our profile book was going to stand out amongst all the rest… Nicola had done such an incredible job putting the book template together and now, having faced adoption woes, I do wonder how we may use the book sometime in the future, for some purpose.
Unfortunately the agency’s sudden closure and subsequent adoption set back turned us off of the process (we viewed it as a sign, we’re “sign” people lol). As we hadn’t yet tried IVF yet (our big decision after three failed IUIs was, do we try IVF, or do we try adoption, and we had chosen adoption, initially, others may choose adoption after failed IVFs, others may not be able to do IVF so their remaining option is adoption… again everyone’s situation is unique).
Which leads us to the seventh and final image of this post, the next step in our journey to become parents…
The final photo of My Seven Images of Infertility is a representation of the hope we still, somehow, have.
We’ve decided to move forward with an IVF procedure, but we’ve decided to do it outside of the city—really outside of it, in Barbados.
We didn’t have a great experience with the Edmonton clinic during our three rounds of IUI so we knew we didn’t want to do the IVF procedure there.
Over the years we’ve also received a few recommendations for Calgary clinics if we were planning to pursue IVF. Calgary is not far from Edmonton, and I love visiting, but it seemed a bit much to drive back and forth (basically six hour days on days we’d have to go in and out for procedures and treatment).
As part of the many things we looked into throughout our years attempting to have a baby, “procreation vacations”—or fertility treatment abroad—had come up a couple of times. Treatment is often more affordable (technically—the procedure itself is usually a bit more affordable but it works out to cost more overall once you start factoring in flights, hotels, etc.) We had been looking in Europe but then our friend Sharman had mentioned that a mutual acquaintance had gone to a tropical location for their treatment.
It didn’t take long for us to find the highly recommended Barbados Fertility Clinic (which we later found out was the same one that mutual acquaintance had gone to as well).
We’re now in the process of booking an IVF treatment, a “procreation vacation” in Barbados.
We’ve chatted with the doctor, we’re in their system as potential patients. We need to get updated blood work and other tests done here in Edmonton before we proceed to book dates for our IVF procedure, and with the pandemic, there are of course, layers we’re working through (and delaying the process) including long wait times for certain procedures here, plus when can we travel again, will quarantines and other restrictions impact this process, will we be fully vaccinated before we go, the list goes on.
But we’re excited again.
If you’ve been following our journey, I think my last few updates have been more on the losing hope side than it has been on the hopeful side, but with this renewed path forward, IVF, and not only IVF, but IVF in a beautiful, tropical, vacation setting, has us hopeful and excited again.
We recognize that a “procreation vacation” is not a reality for so many who are suffering. We are privileged. But we have been saving towards a big spend related to this journey—whether it was going to be adoption payments, or paying for IVF locally, and now, international IVF to include a little vacation for us too.
Will all those other emotions factor into this next step in our fertility journey? I think we’d be foolish to discount it. But we are hopeful and excited and I truly hope my next updates are happy ones.
If you are struggling with or interested in learning more about infertility, its treatment options, hear stories from courageous women who have struggled and what supports they’ve found helpful, as well as learning about the extra challenges to infertility presented by the pandemic, there’s a free Infertility during a Pandemic virtual event being put on by one of my clients, Edmonton-based Whole Family Health, on Sunday, April 25 from 2-3:30 p.m. MST.
You can also register for Whole Family Health’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (participation is by donation) with classes starting later this April 2021 (check dates on the website).
And if you are a subscriber to my newsletter, Whole Family Health has generously donated a free massage and acupuncture treatment as a giveaway I’m doing for Infertility Awareness Week, for subscribers only (free or paid subscriber options available), on my Wed, April 21 newsletter (subscribe before then).
This post is NOT sponsored, I just felt the virtual events, free (by donation) stress reduction programming, and stress-relief giveaway were all very relevant to this topic, particularly as they’re all in support of and aligned with the 2021 Canadian Infertility Awareness Week.
Thanks for reading this update and following along on our journey.
Fingers crossed that 2022 will finally be the year we become parents.