I am honored to be a part of The Blossom Method's Chicago campaign so perfectly titled - You Never Know!
Why "You Never Know"? The answer is simple. We often never know who among our family and friends is having difficulty getting pregnant, has experienced a loss, or is dealing with postpartum issues. Moreover, we chose You Never Know because we often start our reproductive journeys thinking everything will be a breeze, and then we never know until it happens to us how quickly things can change.
I can say the phrase “you never know” is perfect to describe my infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood journey.
My husband and I started trying back in 2008. I got off the pill and thought, bam my period will come, we’ll try for a few months, and we’ll get pregnant! Well my period never came, we never got pregnant, and I ended up in my obgyn’s office in early 2009 wondering what was going on with my body!
Several rounds of tests later, in June 2009, I ended up being referred to an RE (reproductive endocrinologist), where there was more testing, and the beginning of a lot of drugs, a lot more testing, and a lot of monitoring.
I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) a condition in which a woman’s hormones are out of balance. It can cause problems with your periods and make it difficult to get pregnant. PCOS may also cause unwanted changes in the way you look. PCOS is common (so I learned) affecting as many as 1 out of 15 women.
While I was new to infertility treatment myself, it wasn’t something I was completely unfamiliar with, I had several close friends go through infertility before me. At the time I didn’t know what to say or how to support them. When I was going through my treatment I leaned on them for advice, support, and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on. On one hand I felt so grateful to have them, they knew what I was going through, what I was feeling, they could empathize with me. Yet on the other hand I felt guilty for not knowing how best I could have supported them while they were going through their struggle.
I can describe my experience as like riding a rollercoaster, it can be used to describe going through infertility treatments, as well as experiencing pregnancy, and all the trials and tribulations of motherhood. The rollercoaster analogy is perfect, you are in a constant up and down of emotions, you are hopeful, yet also bracing for heartache.
Fast-forward a year in late 2009 and finally, after you name it I was on it hormone drugs, my period came. Now we could finally begin “trying” to get pregnant! We tried several rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination) – a couple cancelled, one tried and failed. Then in April of 2010 we moved onto the big gun of infertility treatment - IVF (in-vitro fertilization).
IVF is intense, it is a very regimented protocol, it involves injectable medications (in your abs and butt), monitoring appointments (blood work and ultrasounds), and you in essence feel like a science experiment. Each week it’s a different combination of drugs to either suppress or stimulate various fertility functions. While it is intense, it is also VERY structured and organized, which I liked and actually comforted me. I knew my plan and had detailed instructions on what to take and when, and would get updated after monitoring appointments if doses or medications were changing. Any bit of good news I would celebrate and use as motivation to take with me into the next step (like your follicles are growing like weeds, or your uterine lining is thickening beautifully – what nice compliments huh!).
For IVF there are two big procedures – the retrieval and transfer surgeries. Retrieval is when all your hard work (and meds) pays off, this is when your actual eggs are retrieved. Transfer is after the egg and the sperm have been introduced and carefully looked after, the strongest one (or two) embryos are placed carefully back in your uterus with the hopes that one (or two) will stick or implant and you will become pregnant.
Next up is the two week wait (otherwise known as - 2WW-in fertility lingo) is the two weeks between the transfer and the pregnancy test, otherwise known as the most excruciating two weeks of your life. Waiting sucks, I can’t remember a time in my life where I worried more, and put everything I felt with my body under more scrutiny. You may feel cramping, or you may not, you may experience some spotting, or you may not, you may feel headache or breast tenderness, or not, and all these can be good signs and not so good signs – you can literally drive yourself crazy on the internet!
Fast-forward, the 2WW is over, it’s the day of my pregnancy test. It’s a sunny summer day, Tuesday, June 1, 2010, I can still remember all the details of when I heard the glorious words: “You are PREGNANT”! I was walking on the lakepath wearing my lucky t-shirt that had been with me throughout our infertility journey. It felt like I had walked for hours, when finally my phone rang, it was my doctor. I answered, he asked how I was doing, and I responded in a broken tone “nervous”, and he said “why??” (and then it felt like the earth stopped, time stood still, until I heard those words) “YOU ARE PREGNANT!”. I screamed, and immediately starting tearing up! “I am so excited, REALLY?” He replied, “YES REALLY!” He explained that my HCG levels were at 1200…which was really REALLY strong. He said “Congrats, now go call your husband and celebrate.” We hung up and I was in a complete state of elation. I was overwhelmed by emotion and overjoyed, I was trembling. I remember just walking around for a bit with what must have been the worlds biggest smile on my face! I immediately called my husband and shared the news!
Fast forward again, at 10 weeks pregnant, I get released from our RE’s office back to my OBGYN. And again I feel like I am back on that rollercoaster. I was excited but also nervous something would happen and we would be back at square one heartbroken. Luckily my pregnancy was the easiest part of my journey. I had it easy, no morning sickness, was able to stay active, and enjoyed the eating for two part of it ;) The hardest part was not being monitored as frequently as you become accustomed to while going through infertility treatment.
Now comes my due date, Friday, February 4, 2011 (it was the week of the major snow-mageddon that hit Chicago back in 2011). I woke up feeling like something just wasn’t right. I felt sorta like I was coming down with the flu and was having cramps and contractions that wrapped around my body. I immediately texted my best friend (she also had to go through IVF to have her daughter) to see if she was up, I explained my symptoms and she confirmed it, I was in labor!!! Holy crap I thought the day is here – I am going into labor on my due date.
I started monitoring my contractions, and tried to relax and catch up on some magazines. By middle of the afternoon, the contractions were getting more and more intense, I called my husband and said you have to come home, we are having this baby. I still remember the sound of his voice and the feeling of my heart racing, thinking OMG this is happening. We got stuck in major rush hour traffic getting to the hospital, and my contractions were so intense by then that I was gripping the car like you’d see in a movie practically hanging my head out the window in the freezing winter air just to yell “get out of our way”.
I checked into the hospital, and was only 1cm dilated, and am forced to “walk” around triage to hopefully make progress. When I say “walk” I mean take a few steps and then curl up into a ball when a contraction hits. This may sound crazy but I was sickishly curious about contractions and labor. I had run several marathons, and felt like I had a high pain threshold, so I wanted to see how having a baby would compare. Let me say, I was in such intense pain, tears were coming to my eyes, and I didn’t how much longer I could take it when finally transferred up to labor and delivery and got my epidural. Ahh finally I could breath again.
Fast-forward hours, it’s now the next morning, Saturday, February 5th and come 11:59am, after 4.5 hours of pushing (and the help of several bags of epidural meds), my daughter was born. It was an amazing flood of emotion. My husband and I started to cry as we held our little bundle of joy, it was like all our struggles flashed before our eyes and we were finally in this moment. She was perfect, everything we had dreamed about.
Our first week home wasn’t as blissful, we had a hellish first night, our daughter cried for what seemed like 12 hours straight, and we hadn’t slept in 2+ days, and were delirious. I was on the phone with the 24 hour nurse line trying anything to get her to go to sleep so we could get some relief. We knew it would be hard, but we didn’t know it would be hell. Finally we got in touch with our pediatrician and tried formula as well as a tight swaddle and miracle, she fell asleep. Those 36 first hours home were so raw, I don’t think we were ever pushed that close to loosing it.
As the weeks went on, I grew more confident in my abilities as a mother, but my anxiety and trouble sleeping were growing worse and worse. I finally talked with my alternative medicine doctor about what I could do naturally. I knew that if I went on anti-anxiety meds and sleep aids, I would become addicted or fearful of not being able to survive without them. I was open to any natural solution and ended up on Chinese herbs. The regimen was intense but worked! I think it took me until my daughter was 6 months old to not wake up and feel this intense anxiety of was I going to make it through the day.
Fast-forward, my daughter is now 2.5 and I feel a night and day difference in myself and how I am as a mother. Before I even had my daughter I just knew I would be a better mom to an older child vs the baby stages. I would joke that maybe I could just give birth to a 5-yr-old. I love the fact that she is more of a “little person” now vs a baby. Sure there are still struggles, and challenges, and moments where you just don’t know what to do, but I am able to work through them more. I love that I can talk with her, and go to dinner with her. I think what was so hard about the baby stage for me was I was just lonely.
I also love that I am back to me! I am running and training for the marathon, for me when I am able to run and race, I am better at every other aspect of my life, so to have that back, makes me a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, cat mother, you name it!
The Blossom Method's You Never Know hits home with me. You never know how you are going to feel when you learn you are infertile…you never know how you are going to feel when you hear the words “ you are pregnant” for the first time…you never know how you are going to feel when you see your daughter for the first time…or the first time you see her smile, or laugh, or walk, or go to school on the first day. Maybe that’s what’s so amazing and yet so hard, the “not knowing” aspect of life.
Looking back, I needed my infertility journey to get me ready for my motherhood journey, I needed the struggle to prove to myself how much I wanted it. Similarly I needed my early struggles in motherhood to feel more confident in the mom I am becoming now as my daughter grows up.
My journey has made me a stronger woman, my husband and I have grown closer than we ever thought possible, and I have a new appreciation for my body. My journey also was the inspiration for the creation of Shine: a unique support community to help women overcome infertility.
I wouldn’t change one part of my story, and I am trying to inspire others who have overcome infertility to share their stories of hope, struggle, and success to let the women who come after us know that they will overcome it too.
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Katie O’Connor is the founder of Shine Chicago, a unique support community to help women overcome infertility. She is a wife, mom, only child, marathon runner, fitness instructor, and infertility advocate! Check out my blog, like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and explore my Pinterest!
The Blossom Method is a therapy practice offering support, community, comfort and hope to women and couples experiencing issues related infertility, pregnancy loss, genetic complications, pelvic disorders, NICU preemies and postpartum depression.
**My participation in The Blossom Method’s You Never Know campaign is voluntary and I have not received any financial compensation. All thoughts and opinions are my own.