Sunday, December 5, 2010

Catch-up: The Medical Journey

M and I decided we wanted to forgo refilling my birth control in October of 2008. Most of that conversation is a blur, but I remember how happy and excited I was. My dream in like has always been to be a mom. I was going to finish my college art degree no matter what, but I didn't have ambitious career aspirations; I was going to be a mom who made art on the side. I was even more excited when my first period off birth control was 6 days late. I was already planning what clever surprise tactic I would use to tell my family a couple months down the road... Obviously that didn't end up happening. I was really devastated. M is more realistic about these things and suspected that was too easy to be true. We tried again. Thanksgiving came, and we spent the holiday with my family. I was tired (I usually am) and my sisters were pestering me about whether I was pregnant or not (ps, this is super annoying). I threw up Thanksgiving turkey and they were convinced (side note: my little brother also threw up dinner and was not accused of being pregnant). But once again, my period came. So passed the next 7 months or so until June 2008.
I had gone to the Doc at the university's health center to get tested for a yeast infection. During my chat with him, I mentioned that we had been trying to conceive for 8 months. He immediately started trying to help us out. He performed a Post-Coital test to see how many of M's sperm made it to my cervix. The results were dismal. He said he could not find a single sperm. We repeated the test, this time with me inserting a plastic-wrapped sponge to hold the semen in. The results were not much better. There were a few found, but all dead. As you can imagine, this was very discouraging. We didn't know at this time that many Drs think this test is useless. We were definitely worried. He didn't do a formal sperm analysis but found more positive results with an informal checking under the microscope. He was constantly asking M is he had played football or had any other reason to suggest testicular damage, and that was kind of annoying.
The Doc said he could try an IUI for us. Take M's sperm, wash them, and insert them directly into my uterus using a catheter, which would give the few living sperm a better chance to get through to the egg. So I dutifully checked my LH levels (which is super stressful - sometimes those stupid lines are so hard to read). We took M's sample in and waited for them to wash it. Then Doc came in. "No sperm." He then described how before washing them he had looked under the scope and seen some live and some dead sperm but after washing them - nothing, not even dead ones. The Case of the Disappearing Sperm is still unsolved, but the Doc made us feel like it was M's fault - that there wasn't sperm there in the first place. We were really upset and devastated. I remember M was really discouraged and felt so bad, so broken. I was hard for me to see him like that. I was really sad, too, really worried that I couldn't have his kids. But he was feeling it worst. He was also unsatisfied with the Doc's conclusion - that M just didn't have any real amount of sperm. So we went and bought a little microscope. We looked at a lot of samples and always found lots of living sperm. More questions for the Doc.
We set up to do another try at the IUI. Again stressful LH testing and a stressful collection. And guess what? The Doc didn't show! The nurse had forgotten to tell the Doc about his appt with us. He was able to make it a couple hours later. I was so worried that the sperm would die before he got there, I was trying to hard not to cry in the waiting room. He came, checked the sperm- there they were, washed them... there they were not, again. We were so mad/sad/confused.
The Doc sent M to a Urologist. Uro didn't find anything wrong, but was not very considerate of our questions. We may have been naive, we definitely didn't understand everything - which is why we were asking him questions. We were trying to figure out what was going on! He made us feel like idiots. We were not planning on going back to him.
About this time, I graduated from college and we left for an internship in Texas. Driving down, I remember calling to set up gas, electricity, internet and a formal sperm analysis with a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE). After M's results came back "stone cold normal" our frustration with the Doc was complete. The RE was mortified by our experience with the Doc and quickly dismissed the post-coital tests and couldn't understand what could possibly happen to make M's sperm disappear. Looking back, the only two good things about the Doc were 1) We spent <$100 and 2) He motivated me to talk to a real RE. Even though we had only been trying for 10 months and so were not technically infertile yet, the RE began running tests on me. The blood work and ultrasounds were perfectly normal, but he found a septum during the HSG. I was a little freaked about this, but M was excited - something that could be fixed and pretty easily, too. A septum is a piece of scar tissue holding the uterus closed. My septum closed off about 1/3 of my uterus and despite not being a significant cause of infertility, it is a big miscarriage risk. So I did a hysteroscopy to remove it. It was a very simple surgery done with a scope through the cervix. A month later, I was given a good to go. We decided at this point to keep trying on our own, despite the RE suggesting that the septum wasn't the cause. However, we were also almost done with the internship and would be leaving Texas again. M was going to graduate after one more semester so we would be returning to Texas in 4 months (he got a job with the same company). If things didn't work out on their own, when we got back we would try a real IUI.
Well, things didn't work out. So when we moved to Texas this spring, we started making preparations to try again. There were still no signs of a problem with me or with M, so we decided to stick with the plan for IUI not upgrade to IVF. I took injections, though. They made me a little sick, but mostly I was just anxious. I really wanted this to work. When I took the sample in to be washed, I was so nervous that it was going to disappear again. Thankfully, it didn't. They were able to perform the IUI that day and again the next. Then we started the 14 day count down until the pregnancy test. I was convinced it had worked until the day before I went in for my test. At that point I was pretty sure I felt way to normal to be pregnant. And I was right and we were both very disheartened. The failure didn't narrow down what may be the problem too much. We decided to take a month off and let our lives calm back down. De-stress and focus on something else. The IUI was so emotionally consuming. The month off was great- we really needed it. The second IUI was pretty much the same although way less stressful. We knew what we were expecting and we were much more realistic about the odds. It didn't consume us but we were still disappointed when it failed.
We still don't have a cause of why we can't have kids. For the IUIs we didn't have ideal sperm counts, but not really low ones either. We have taken a couple of months off before we to our first IVF treatment. It has been very nice to relax, not think about it, have a life outside of infertility. Both of us are a little hesitant to go back to that craziness. I know I'm a little hesitant to try and fail again. But right now, life is calm. As I said, my dreams were of being a mom, so I'm trying to remold my dreams. I'm working on my career as an artist. Being happy with who I am now, what my opportunities are now - not just living waiting. I'll have to write a separate post about that, this one is too long as it is.


  1. I also 'don't have anything wrong with me' or my DH, but it's been 15 months and we don't have a baby. I am scared to try stressful and expensive IUI treatments without knowing what is going on... why can't fertility doctors try and find out what is going on before pulling out the guns?? :(

  2. -C,
    I'm sorry that you are on the same boat. I think the decision to try a treatment was among the scariest things. I felt like it represented a failure, plus I was embarrassed, plus it meant taking shots. Our insurance covered the actual IUI but not the drugs (which are insane expensive) so it was still a couple thousand bucks. (rant about insurance later). I was really glad our RE was patient and didn't push us into a treatment. Even so, I'm having the same feelings regarding trying IVF, maybe even more scared. Good luck with your decision.