Many people don’t talk openly about their fertility struggles. For whatever reason — shame in not being able to get pregnant, not wanting to make others uncomfortable, or because it’s simply too painful — there are countless couples who keep their struggles to themselves. Well, we’ve decided to do the opposite and broadcast our story all over the internet!*
(*Technically only our friends will probably ever read this, but the point is that it’s out there.)
Some of you may already know what we’ve been going through recently. For those who don’t, my husband and I have been trying to become pregnant for over 4 1/2 years, with no luck. In March 2017, at the age of 34, I saw a new gynecologist here in Holland who was finally able to explain why: I have a condition known as ‘premature ovarian failure’ (POF), which is basically early menopause.
None of us had been expecting this news, and I think the doctor even used the word ‘shocked’ (which is a word I feel doctors should generally avoid using? But anyway…) Basically, my hormone levels are those of a woman 20 years older than me. This has been a devastating diagnosis for both of us, as you can imagine, as we both always planned to have children, and I’ve always been (ironically, it seems?) somewhat obsessed with adorable pregnant women.
The gynecologist recommended we jump straight to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), rather than trying the usual steps like intra-uterine insemination (IUI) for other less severe types of infertility. Over the past year, we tried two cycles of IVF at our local hospital in Holland. Unfortunately, my condition makes me a ‘poor responder’, which means my ovaries don’t react to the injected stimulating hormones as they should. They ideally aim for ~15 or so follicles in an IVF cycle, each which may contain a sufficiently developed egg, in order to increase the chances that one will make it through all the stages (fertilization, development of an embryo, implantation) required for a viable pregnancy. In my first IVF cycle, in June 2017, I only grew a single follicle. Miraculously, it contained a mature egg that fertilized and grew into an embryo, but that embryo did not implant.
In my second cycle, they managed to retrieve three eggs, which all fertilized, but the embryos were very low quality, which is another side effect of my condition. The two that they put back in did not implant. Unfortunately, that was also the last time they were willing to try IVF on me at all, since my chances are so low.
IVF is great, but it’s not magic.
In January, my husband and I went to the highly regarded university hospital in Ghent, Belgium, for a second opinion. They confirmed my diagnosis, unfortunately, but they agreed to try IVF on me one more time with different/stronger drugs to at least “give us closure” (another fun phrase?) that there is no hope of getting pregnant with my eggs. We started our third and final cycle there in late March 2018, going back-and-forth several times from Holland, and I had the egg retrieval surgery in early April. They got two eggs, but only one fertilized. Unfortunately, it didn’t even make it to transfer (which — of course — I found out the Monday before a huge work deadline). Even knowing it was probably coming, the news was still devastating.
I will never have biological children.
We’ve been simultaneously looking into egg donor banks, as I naturally researched the hell out of POF and knew that donor eggs were probably our best/only option for getting pregnant, and possibly even becoming parents at all (but more on that later). Unfortunately, Holland doesn’t have a donor bank, and the one in Belgium is only open to Belgian citizens (due to a shortage of egg donors). This means we have to find our own donor. This is not as easy as it might sound, however (if it even sounds easy?) The donor should ideally be under 37, have had children, and not desire more. They have to submit themselves to a battery of hormone injections and an egg retrieval surgery. They need to be psychologically willing to donate their genes. Oh, and they would need to put their lives on hold and come to the Netherlands/Belgium for several weeks, as we are extremely fortunate that the costly IVF process is (partly) covered here by our insurance.
We drafted an email to our friends in January, but there really is no good way to be like “Hey, can you drop everything and come have surgery to give us your genetic blueprint?” It was too big a thing to ask, and even discounting psychological factors, we didn’t think it would logistically work. Plus, we didn’t want to alienate our friends, who we are counting on for support right now! In the end, we never sent the email.
Then two things happened. First, a (new!) Dutch friend — who had seen up close what we were going through — offered to donate her eggs to us. Unfortunately she didn’t meet all the criteria, but her unhesitant willingness was very moving and gave us hope.
Then, around the time we were learning that I wasn’t responding any better to our final IVF cycle, one of my best friends from high school (and bridesmaids), Marie, offered unprompted to donate her eggs to us. Miraculously, Marie meets all the criteria AND is willing and able to fly from the U.S. two separate times for a total of ~4 weeks away from her life/children. This news made our last failed cycle much easier to bear. It’s still not a done deal — she has to pass a dozen genetic and psychological assessments, because apparently we’re attempting (her words) to “win a prize” with this baby. But we’ve already bought the tickets for her and her husband, my grad school roommate (also one of my ‘bridesmen’) to fly out next month for the first six (no kidding) appointments. She also prompted me to start this blog, so our family and friends can follow along (& help support us!) during this whole crazy process.
That’s it for now, but look out for more updates as things progress. You can also follow this blog by clicking the “Follow” button on this page. Thanks for reading to the end, and until next time.
Allie (aka ‘The Bunless Oven’)