Note: this blog post was written throughout the past few months, before we announced our pregnancy on Instagram. I have been waiting to share until the time felt right and we were ready to share the details of our journey with each of you!
Confession: I have been hiding something from you guys for the past 18 months.
This likely won’t come as a surprise to most and especially those that are close to Jord and I, but here it is – we have been going through fertility struggles trying to start a family.
I have been very open about trying to regulate my hormones and get my period back on track over the past couple years (which you read about here). This has also lead to me taking control over my thyroid and high cortisol levels. Two struggles that were added during our journey of trying to make babies and start a family.
I haven’t shared our infertility struggles on the blog or social media and this is for a few reasons. For starters, this doesn’t only impact me but Jord as well. He is much more private than I am and I absolutely respect his feelings on that. We didn’t even tell family and close friends until we were almost a year into trying (besides my Mom, hi mom!). Secondly, this is the most emotional and scary thing I have ever gone through and sometimes putting yourself out there comes with a lot of negative feedback. I’m doing things that many in the “wellness” space may not support. Everyone’s health and life journey is different and this experience definitely taught me that you can’t always do what you planned.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
In January 2017, Jord and I were walking in TriBeCa right next to the Whole Foods, and I looked at him and out of nowhere said, “I am ready to start a family and make babies”. He was pretty shocked that those words came out of my mouth. We have never been huge baby or kid people. We always knew we wanted to have a family of our own, that was never a question but we weren’t excited by seeing other people’s kids or strollers around the city. Just the thought of our own excited us.
Jord was on the same page as me and we both agreed it was time to start trying. Please keep in mind I did not have a regular period at this time. In fact I hadn’t seen a period since going off birth control a year prior.
We were pretty nieve in the sense where we thought as soon as we started having unprotected sex we would immediately get pregnant. I spent my entire years of high school and college trying not to get pregnant. I was on birth control, used protection, everything. We are basically taught at a young age that getting pregnant is easy. At least that’s what I was told. And that couldn’t be any more farr from the truth for many. I understand for some this is easy and we need to learn this to help prevent teen pregnancies, but we also need to raise awareness about the infertility struggles.
After a few months of no positive pregnancy tests and still no period back, I started doing some research on what could be happening. This is also when I started to take a real interest in the female body and learn how the beep things even work in there. I learned that without ovulation, women cannot conceive. Sounds simple, I know, but I didn’t even know if I was indeed ovulating or not. I assumed no since I had no period but I had a few friends who didn’t have a menstrual cycle but did somehow ovulate. I unfortunately was not ovulating and I learned this by peeing on an ovulation stick basically everyday for a couple months seeing if any action happened. I also didn’t see any of the egg white vaginal discharge they say you get when you’re ovulating.
I then called my gynecologist at the time and mentioned how we were trying to start a family. He put me on a low dosage of clomid (an oral drug that can stimulate you ovaries to grow follicles). He said to have sex a few days later then we can see if it worked. Sounded simple enough to me. I later learned this isn’t really the best way to take clomid since you need to do vaginal ultrasounds before and during (more on that later).
I started looking into holistic and eastern medicine practices at this point on how to get my cycle back and ovulate. I self diagnosed myself with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. This pretty much is a way to label not having a menstrual cycle for more than X amount of months.
During my quest to get my period back on track and ovulate, I started seeing an acupuncturist who specialized in infertility. I went weekly for a few months (that surely added up $$), took herbs and did the most random woo-woo ISH ever. I also started an elimination diet for 21 days to see if clearing out any toxins in my body and resetting my gut a bit would help (this is around April 2017). After eliminating food, still no action. This was a prime example of how food and changing your diet isn’t always the answer friends.
A couple weeks after I shared my hormone struggles, a friend had referred me to a functional medicine doctor (not Dr. Lipman) who then told me I had candida overgrowth, my iodine was low and put me on a crazy protocol for a couple months. I followed it because I was so dedicated to get my cycle back and ovulate on my own. After following that and messing up my thyroid (more on that here). I began eating “normally” for me again. Aka eating what I wanted and not cutting out carbs, grains and all sugars.
At this point it was six months of Jord and I trying to get pregnant and we both felt it was time to go and see a fertility specialist to see what they would say. We went to a place here in NYC that was referred to by a gynecologist in the area. We did the standard blood work and did the genetic testing but nothing came back that seemed too crazy or intense, so we let it just sit and went about trying to conceive naturally still. We weren’t ready to start hormones or that part of this journey yet. The thought of IVF scared the crap out of me.
The stress that my body was under from work and dealing with my hormone struggles and not being pregnant, really took a toll on me physically and mentally. My cortisol was through the roof and this is when I began seeing Dr. Lipman. Dr. Lipman is a functional medicine doctor here in NYC and he usually specializes in gut-health. He is a wealth of knowledge, has the most amazing bedside manner and is actually pretty funny and witty when you are in his company. He doesn’t sugar coat things and wants to get the the bottom of issues. I started taking supplements to regulate my high stress (more on that here) and seeing him for weekly acupuncture. He knew our goal in starting a family and wanting to make babies. Dr. Lipman has been so supportive during this process and I cannot thank him enough for helping my thyroid get back on track and managing my cortisol levels and stress.
After a few months of seeing Dr. Lipman, we both agreed it was time to go back to the fertility center. In January 2018, Jord and I went back to the place in NYC we saw over the summer and we saw the Chairman of the center. I was so uncomfortable in their office and I didn’t get a good vibe whatsoever. I was told I have a genetic disorder and that is why I don’t ovulate and there wasn’t much compassion or empathy for our situation. I couldn’t ever get in touch with the doctor without a visit (no calls – nothing). And I knew that if we were going to be going through something as sensitive as infertility, it wasn’t going to be here (I will not disclose which center this on the blog).
I immediately went home and began googling “best fertility doctors in NYC” (very descriptive, I know). This is how I found our amazing doctor. We saw Dr. Eric Forman and I was beyond impressed with his such amazing ratings and reviews from past patients. He has a 97% rating on the site Fertility IQ and I was reading so many stories about him and could not believe how many positive experiences patients have had. Most of the doctors I was looking at had 40% rating and as soon as I saw Dr. Forman’s profile, I knew we needed to meet with him. I immediately called Columbia University Fertility Center where he practices and made the earliest appointment. I jokingly told the coordinator on the other line that I felt like I was making dinner reservation at a popular restaurant, his reviews were so good!
We went into see Dr. Forman the first week of February and he had a very gentle and calming vibe. Amazing bedside manner. Just what I needed because I go a million miles a minute and I could tell he would have patience for my questions, concerns and the overall process. He mapped out on a piece of paper what our options were and his hypothesis on why I don’t ovulate and what was happening. Dr. Forman even asked me how my diet and exercise was, which truly won me over.
He sent us on our way with a plan in place, a contact guide on who our go-to nurses and coordinators would be and told me the next step would be to schedule an HSG procedure. I had never even heard of that before but it was to see if my tubes were opened. I made the first appointment at the office they recommended and didn’t think much of it until the night before and learned that this procedure was actually pretty painful. I had my good friend come with me for it so I wasn’t freaking out in the waiting room and felt okay after. For the sake of not grossing anyone out, I’m not going into full detail but that HSG was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. I thought it was going to feel like a pap smear but it was so much more intense and crampy. The good news though was that my tubes were opened and everything was flowing, so it was well worth the pain.
From there Dr. Forman recommended we start off with Clomid (that same follicle stimulator my gyno had me try year prior). He wasn’t convinced that I would grow follicles from it but it was a good starting point and Clomid has very little side effects for most. I went on the medium dose, took it for 5 days and went in every few days to monitor the follicle growth. And by monitor that pretty much means blood work to test LH and FSH and estrogen followed by a vaginal ultra sound (so.many.vaginal.ultrasounds). If you are afraid of needles (which luckily I am not), this process is definitely not easy at first. A few follicles were growing but no where near the size we wanted them to be. After a few days of waiting to see if they grew, Dr. Forman recommended we try the larger dose.
Since I don’t have a regular period, my cycle is very easy to mess with (aka there is no cycle). I started the highest dosage of Clomid for 5 days (this was actually during Expo West) and went in to the doctor when I returned and had some juicy follicles growing – YAY!! You typically look for 18-20mm follicles before triggering ovulation. I had an 18mm follicle (you don’t want too many large follicles or you have risk of multiples), so a couple days later we triggered ovulation with an HCG injection. This injection doesn’t hurt but you take the needle injection into the low abdomen below your belly button. It puts HCG in your body (the pregnancy hormone) and will make you ovulate. This is done at home (thanks Dr. Jord).
A couple days later we went in for our first IUI procedure. This is when the sperm is inserted right into the cyrvex. You then wait for two weeks (the longest two weeks of your life) to see if it worked. And by “worked”, I mean you know if you are pregnant in two weeks.
I went back a week later to test progesterone, which would tell us if I ovulated or not. My levels did indicate that I ovulated (thank you trigger shot!). During the two week wait, I also was taking vaginal progesterone. I think there needs to be a whole blog post just on that hormone and the crazy ass side effects from it. It pretty much mimics pregnancy symptoms, leaks out of you (I had to wear pads daily) and messed with my head like crazy. I was taking it twice a day to help build up my progesterone levels, which are needed for a healthy pregnancy.
Sadly a week later we found out we were not pregnant and this cycle did not work. Devastated is an understatement to describe how we felt. We knew it was only about a 10% chance but you want to be hopeful that something will work. There is so much time and effort put into the cycles and to feel like your hard work didn’t pay off was really tough to accept.
Dr. Forman was very positive and said to stop taking the progesterone and that I would now get a period since I ovulated and once I did, we can connect on next steps. I didn’t even believe him when he said I would get a period. I replied back saying “I haven’t had a period in basically a decade, I’m not counting on it”. But he was right! 3 days later I had my first period in what felt like FOREVER!
I know it technically wasn’t a “real period” since it came from taking hormones but it sure did feel good to see. I was skipping around my parents home (where I was when I got it) and felt like a million bucks.
Now that we knew cycle one didn’t work, it was time to move onto cycle two. This time instead of clomid, Dr. Forman had me try letrozole for 5 days. A drug similar to clomid that can help stimulate follicle growth. Sadly we did not see any traction and immediately went back onto the highest dosage of clomid since we knew it was probable my body would respond to it.
Luckily it did indeed! We grew another 18mm follicle and were able to trigger ovulation again with an HCG injection. The timing of the injection is very calculated and I was told to take it at 8:30pm on a Saturday. Of all the Saturday’s, it was when I was teaching a pizza making class here in NYC. At 8:30 during my Q+A (ha!), my alarm went off and Jord and I snuck into the bathroom and did the injection. We also had to carry it with ice packs because you cannot let the injection get to room temperature, it has to be cold.
We went in a couple days later for our second IUI and put every ounce of hope we had into it. I went in a week later for the routine progesterone and estrogen. Both were higher than cycle one and I definitely ovulated. We felt really positive after seeing the results. Now to just wait another week for the “big” results and another week of vaginal progesterone and the craziness that comes along with it.
The two week wait is honestly the hardest part of the process. Taking the drugs, doing an injection, going to the doctor for vaginal ultra sounds is nothing compared to sitting around trying “not to think about it” for two weeks. The only good part is my uterus got a break from ultrasounds and you only visit the doctor’s office twice within 2 weeks. Compared to every couple days when you take hormones.
Monday morning was finally here (the day of cycle two results) and I went to the doctor at 8am for blood work. I headed to take a barre class to get my mind off things and scheduled some acupuncture for after to relax me a bit. But as I was walking out of Whole Foods on my way to acupuncture, I saw that dreaded email from my doctor. Sadly this round did not work either. Cycle two was over and there was no rainbow at the end of this storm yet.
I called Jord to tell him the news and then called my Mom. When I was on the phone with my Mom I pretty much had a panic attack. I couldn’t breath, was in hysterics and was shaking uncontrollably. My poor Mom was freaking out, which I would have been too if I was her. I was on fifth avenue of all places and found a place to sit and take a few breaths.
This is really when it hit me that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. For the first time I was working really hard at something and putting all my might and effort into it and saw no results. I followed the instructions, took the drugs and hormones. I also was trying every woo-woo thing to help compliment it. I was doing everything I could. Fueling my body, taking it easy, getting acupuncture, I event started going to therapy.
It was so hard to digest that we really had no control over what was happening. And poor Jord. He was so supportive, came to all the doctor visits and just listened to me cry and complain and really just have a rollercoaster of feelings during this process. It put a lot of guilt and pressure on me that my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed but and I felt like I was the reason we weren’t getting pregnant.
So what is next? Two failed clomid + IUI cycles, now what?
For any of you who have gone through infertility, please share your story over on FertilityIQ! Say “rachlmansfield” referred you and let’s help make this community even more special.