When the Going Gets Tough

Today I took my first Lupron Depot injection.  A few months ago when we were trying to prevent me from ovulating, I took small doses of Lupron every day subcutaneously.  Today’s shot was the big sister – a 30-day supply of Lupron in one hip shot.  The idea behind this new protocol is to cut off my body’s estrogen supply since estrogen feeds the endometrium.  We’re hoping that by giving the endometrium both inside and outside (that’s the endometriosis) of my uterus a break, then it will respond much better when we gear up for another transfer in 2018.  Lupron’s job is to tell my pituitary gland to stop releasing luetinizing hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation and the release of estrogen.  So what does no estrogen mean? You guessed it! An induced menopausal state for the next 2 months. Thank God a cold front is moving through.

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I have to admit that at first I was hesitant to start the Lupron protocol right away.  After our last failed transfer then the biopsy, I wanted a break from everything.  Our doctor gave me the option of taking as much time off as I needed, but we decided to move forward with this new protocol beginning in November since it only meant 2 shots for the rest of the year.  Still, a part of me was worried that I had let my impatience get in my way and had committed to this plan prematurely.  Sure it didn’t mean I had to take daily injections or pills, but I was still doing something infertility related.  “Does this really constitute a break?” I thought.

Then this weekend I realized…there is no such thing as a break.  Infertility, it’s just what we do! Seriously though, why did I even think that after 3 years of trying to get pregnant, I could just put that desire to be a mom on the back burner for 2 months?   Physically, yeah, we’re taking a break, but emotionally…I’m not sure we’ll ever get one.  In fact, despite the odds being stacked against us for so long, I still had a little bit of hope this past month that maybe we would be one of those stories people told about their friends who tried for years to get pregnant and did “IVF and everything” and then it just happened unexpectedly.   But Aunt Flo’s arrival this weekend shot that to hell. So no, there is no break, because every month is a reminder of what we are…childless.  And honestly, the closest I can get to a “break” right now is to shut down my ovaries for two months.  So with all that weighing heavily on my mind, I had a meltdown Monday night.

I was tired from traveling 5 hours for work that day.  Other than that, the evening was off to a good start.  Brennen harvested his first broccoli plant, so we were having fun documenting his suburban gardening milestone.  Then, we came inside to watch DWTS (Brennen, don’t kill me).  I was reaching across the coffee table to get my computer when the weight of my right arm knocked one of the loose boards out of place and I fell through the middle of it.  It’s ok to laugh! I did too, at first.  Then I realized my arm hurt pretty bad and that Brennen was still laughing.  I was embarrassed. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that in front of him.  With tears in my eyes like a 5 year old I said, “Stop laughing at me.”  And like always, once I started crying, it was hard to stop.  Forget the embarrassing fall. I wasn’t crying about that anymore. My tears turned into those of anger. I’m tired of constantly failing.  What gives? Why us? How much longer? And with every question, I cried harder.

Afterwards, I sat on the couch and stared at the TV with that all-too-familiar heaviness.  Today, I’m better. Still down, but better. Sadness hits me suddenly like that. And like I’ve said so many times before, when it does, I recognize it but then say goodbye to it.  Unfortunately, lately it’s getting harder to say goodbye. But I’m trying…little by little.  Things are tough right now on the infertile front, especially with the holidays approaching, but we’ll make it through. If being upset at Aunt Flo’s arrival means anything, it’s that we still have hope. And today marks the first day of a new plan and a new hope.

Hey, you know what they say! When the going gets tough, the tough get menopausal!

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Hanging on a “However”

Last week I had an endometrial biopsy and, y’all, that hurt. I didn’t read up on them beforehand.  I knew I wasn’t being put under or given any pain medicine for the procedure so I didn’t expect it to be much of anything.  Then, surprise!

Based on my recent experience, an endometrial biopsy involves inserting a skinny stick-like instrument through the cervix into the uterus and jabbing around a few times to collect pieces of the endometrium (aka lining). Man, when the uterus realizes some foreign object is just hacking away in there, she retaliates. I had sharp pains that made me almost jump off the table.  I kept looking at Brennen and asking with my eyes, “Is it over yet?”  He shook his head no, and the doctor asked me if I was up for it one more time.  Then again.  Finally, it was over…or so I thought.

IMG-3428I sat up, and we began talking about what this test would tell us and then how we would proceed from there.  I didn’t catch much of Doc’s plan because, after a couple minutes, the only thing I could hear was a voice in my head saying, “Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up.” I got light headed, hot, sweaty, and finally interrupted the conversation with, “I need a trash can.”  The next thirty minutes were a bit blurry, but I know they consisted of vomiting, extreme cramping that radiated through my legs and back, and trips back and forth from my room to the bathroom, barefoot with my pants unzipped.  I hurt so bad that I didn’t even care.

Brennen went to the car to get some leggings for me to change into.  The skinny jeans I wore to the clinic that morning were not going to work for the trip home!  After he helped me change, I laid there on the bed squeezing his hand. Every 5 seconds he would ask, “Are you ok?” and then follow up with, “I’m going to ask you every 5 seconds.” He wasn’t kidding.  (Note from Brennen: I thought she was going to pass out.)

Finally, my uterus calmed down, and we could leave.  Doc gave me something for nausea since we had a 3-hour drive home, and I spent the rest of the evening lounging in bed and binge watching Gossip Girl (again).

One week and one season of Gossip Girl later, the results were in! My doctor called me at 8:30 am Wednesday morning, and of course, I missed it. In fact, I didn’t even notice the missed call until an hour or so later. I was so mad! Then, I saw where he had left a 3-minute voicemail.  My hands were shaking as I hit play. I listened and jotted down notes.  I was excited and relieved to hear that the Beta 3 integrin was present in my endometrium which means my lining is receptive to an embryo. This is a big win for us! He then went on to say my lining was “out of phase” and tested positive for BCL6.  I figured that wasn’t good. The 3-minute mark quickly approached, and the last thing I heard was, “You’re lining is receptive to an embryo, however…” And it cut off.  That was it. I was left hanging on a “however.”

I immediately called the clinic back and left a voicemail.  That “however” stayed with me all day long.  What does this mean for us? Is there a treatment? What’s next? Is this the end? Should I make sure my sister is still on board to be a surrogate? Has it come to that?  My production at work was spotty to say the least.  I couldn’t get “out of phase” and “BCL6” off my mind.  I did a little Googling but stopped myself.  With what little information I had, Googling was only going to make things worse.  Finally, Nurse Memphis called me back that afternoon with a protocol.  Sweet relief! And today, I talked to my doctor.  It’s difficult for me to put into words what the results mean, what we know now, and what we’ll do next because my brain is still processing all the information…and it’s a lot.

So in a very large nutshell…

The good news – My lining seems to be receptive to an embryo.

The not so good news – My lining was “out of phase” meaning it wasn’t where it should be in my cycle.  My biopsy was on day 21, but my lining was already beginning to break down for a period. Day 21 is right around the time an embryo is implanting, while my lining is breaking down, that’s not a good at all.

More not so good news that we sort of already knew – I tested positive for BCL6, which is a marker for endometriosis. Duh, I have endometriosis. But this test showed us that my endometrium is inflamed, and the likely culprit is, of course, the endo.

The plan to tame my uncooperative endometrium is to suppress my system with Lupron instead of birth control.  Birth control is estrogen, and estrogen feeds the endometriosis. Lupron, on the other hand, cuts off the body’s estrogen supply and puts me in an induced menopausal state. Now I’ve been on Lupron before, but it was a small dose in a subcutaneous injection. This Lupron shot will be a 30-day dose administered intramuscularly.  The first shot will be in November. The second in December. And as planned, we’ll start preparing for a frozen embryo transfer in January. This works out because it gives us the rest of the year to chill. Well, I hope I can chill considering the hot flashes that are coming my way!

So…there’s that. We have some answers thanks to this biopsy and can find some ironic comfort in knowing what we know now, even if it’s not all good news.  At least we have a plan though. Silver linings, right?  Still, I can’t help but think that we have an answer to a question that wasn’t really a question until recently.  That question – why won’t my lining thicken? Then again, maybe endometriosis has been our problem all along, and it’s starting to show its teeth even more so now with these lining problems.  Who knows! I try to stay positive and feel like we’re moving forward (more on that later), but overall, my mind just feels like…I don’t know…a bunch of scribbly lines.  I’m still processing and trying to straighten things out.  I just hope that this new protocol works because, even though I now know what the rest of that voicemail was going to say, I still feel like I’m hanging on that “however.”  That’s what this process has been for us all along.

Your cycles are normal.
You are young.
You are healthy.
Your husband doesn’t have male infertility factors.
Your hormone levels look good.
Your tubes aren’t blocked.
Your prolactin is under control now.
You respond well to ovarian stimulation.
You had an excellent retrieval.
You have multiple embryos frozen.
You did have implantation of an embryo.
You are capable of a thick lining.

However….you still aren’t a mom.

Hopefully, we can let go of that “however” in 2018.

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It’s Over

“It’s over. It’s over.”

That’s all Breanne could really say the day everything hit her and she finally broke.  She had been strong throughout the whole ordeal, and up until that point had somehow held it together.  With every doctor’s appointment, every hCG test that wasn’t rising properly, every ultrasound that showed that the pregnancy wasn’t progressing as it should, and even the miscarriage, she managed to stay positive and focused, able to see the silver lining in this dark cloud of infertility.  Still, I knew at some point it would hit her.  It needed to hit her.  Otherwise, how could we move on?

The miscarriage happened on Christmas morning.  Yes, you read that correctly – Christmas morning.  Certainly not the holiday we had in mind.  We were opening presents at Breanne’s parents’ house like we do every Christmas morning, when all of a sudden she started cramping.  Being the trooper that she is, she was able to make it through breakfast and opening presents before retiring to her old room to sleep off the cramps.  So while Breanne was incapacitated, I headed outside to fry the Christmas turkey on our 80-degree Mississippi Christmas morning.  About an hour later, I got a text from Breanne.  She was in the bathroom…miscarrying.  My heart sank.  Not because we didn’t expect this – we did and had prepared ourselves – but the timing of it seemed like a cruel joke.

She said the rest of the day was a blur for her.  If you remember from my last post, Breanne LOVES Christmas.  We have a tradition of eating Christmas dinner with the Ivy crew (her mom’s family) and playing games afterwards, so Breanne was determined not to miss out on the festivities.  So I passed her her straightener and make-up bag through the bathroom door so she could slowly get ready, she “hopped on the saddle” (a term I wish I had never learned), and we headed over to the Ivy’s with a bag of feminine products and pain relievers in hand.  Breanne wasn’t quite herself while we were over there – she even relinquished her duties as Dirty Santa coordinator to her sister.  At that point, I knew she didn’t feel good!  Despite the difficult timing of our loss, we wound up having a great night surrounded by family, which is exactly what we needed.  It turns out that having the miscarriage occur on Christmas Day was a blessing in disguise.

We had an appointment with Breanne’s OB/GYN the Tuesday after Christmas.  The ultrasound confirmed that the pregnancy was officially over.  There was no longer a sac.  Ironically, we looked at each other with relief.  After what we went through on Christmas morning, we had hoped the worst of it was over.  Her hCG was still measuring at 3,100, so we were instructed to keep checking it every week to confirm that it was continuing to decrease.  A plateau or rise meant a D&C (surgery).

The next day was Breanne’s first full day back at work since the holidays.  I had taken the entire week off, so I walked her to her car and climbed right back in bed.  A few minutes later, Breanne was back home.  I knew something was up.  I greeted her with a “Well hey there!”  She just stood in the doorway to our bedroom, shook her head, and started crying. And even though my wife always gets bummed every year when Christmas is over, I knew that wasn’t what the tears were for.  She had finally broken.  And in a way, I was relieved.  She’s such a fighter that she often blocks out her emotions to keep her mind focused on the process and our goal of being parents, but sometimes it’s good for her to stop fighting and just feel. And when the tears slowed down long enough for her to speak, she whispered, “It’s over. It’s over.”

She was right, the pregnancy was over.  This chance was over.  But here we are almost 5 weeks later, and even though the pregnancy is over, it feels like the miscarriage isn’t.  We’re still waiting for her hCG levels to drop below 5 and for her cramping and bleeding to stop.  A week after Christmas, her hCG had only dropped 300 points, from 3,100 to 2,800.  We felt so far from the end.  We wanted the bandage ripped off, not slowly pulled back.  A week later, her level had dropped all the way to 850.  We high fived each other when the lab called us with the “good” news.  When people say infertility is like being on a roller coaster, boy are they right!  A few weeks ago, we were praying with everything we had that her levels would keep rising.  Now we are celebrating every drop. She’s now at 59, which means this should all be over in a couple weeks.

We appreciate the outpouring of love we received since we posted that the pregnancy was likely not viable.  I can’t say enough how everyone’s thoughts and prayers are felt and have helped us keep going. We’ll always hold a special place in our hearts for this embryo and the hope it brought us – our first pregnancy!   Now we’re ready to use that hope to push forward to the next step – Transfer #3, coming Spring 2017.

Gut Feelings

Before we officially knew our first IVF cycle had failed, we both had a feeling. When we got the call the day after the transfer that our other eight embryos didn’t survive, the uneasiness started settling in. During our two-week wait, I didn’t develop any pregnancy symptoms, and I had been testing negative at home. Plus, I just had this strange feeling. It’s hard to describe, but I know my body better than anyone. And I just knew it.

We found out IVF didn’t work on a Wednesday afternoon. That night, we hit the ground running looking into other clinics, doctors and treatment options. If you know me, you know I’m a planner, so this shouldn’t come as surprise.

After a year of being fertility patients, we realized in that moment that we were also fertility consumers. We are our own best advocates, and we have to shop around for the clinic and treatment plan that best fits our needs. And we needed a second opinion. Maybe even a third and fourth. We also realized we had to trust our guts.

There’s a lot to be said for a gut feeling. My gut told me to go to Southern Miss. It told me to take that Hancock boy to my sorority date party. And it told us to drive all the way to Arkansas to adopt the cutest puppy in the world, our Nelson. Like Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift.”

We started our research with SART online success rate reports. SART is short for the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology. These SART reports tell you the live birth outcomes of IVF at the society’s member clinics and are available online through www.sart.org. We first looked at clinics in our home state but then expanded our search to bordering states – Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. From there, we searched Google, Facebook, YouTube, and infertility blogs and websites for more information and reviews. We also talked to our parents and prayed for guidance in our decision making.

For those of you who are just now beginning your search for a fertility clinic, and even those in our situation with a failed IVF and an uncertainty of what to do next, let me drive this point home to you – RESEARCH. So often we rely too heavily on the opinions and experiences of others, that we ignore our own needs…and our own gut feelings. Each patient is unique, and each patient experience is unique. Know what kind of doctor you need. For me, I need someone who will discuss the facts with me, even when those facts are ambiguous as “Heck, we don’t know what’s going on,” as long as the next sentence is “But here’s what we need to do to figure it out.”

My gut told me to travel North to Memphis for a second opinion after reading this review on a clinic’s Facebook page, “While the anxiety of the patients is palpable in the clinic, the physicians are straight forward and factual.” Sold! By that Friday, we had an appointment scheduled. And this coming Friday, we’ll travel to Memphis equipped with medical records, new patient forms, our questions jotted down in Brennen’s “It Started with a Dish” notebook, and a craving for BBQ. Wish us luck. We’ll keep you posted.

So We Decided to Start a Blog

Welcome! Let me begin by saying that my ovaries are not “fried” in any sense of the word. As we explain on our “Welcome” page, we’re just trying to find the lighter side of the infertility struggle.

We began addressing our infertility in the Fall of 2015 after a year of unsuccessfully trying to conceive. For that year, we didn’t let anyone know we were trying to get pregnant. We played it cool. We first started seeing a Reproductive Endocrinologist (aka Ferility Doctor) in November and began to open up to our close friends and family little by little. What we found is that when we started sharing, we stopped getting those annoying questions like, “So it’s about time for a baby, huh?” and “Do y’all have baby fever yet?” or the much less subtle “When are you going to have a baby?”

After three failed IUI’s and over a year of trying to conceive, we scheduled our first round of IVF in April during National Infertility Awareness Week. If the timing wouldn’t have worked out like it did, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to make my first IVF-related Facebook post. But after watching a video that I ended up also sharing on Facebook about what it’s like to struggle with infertility, I felt empowered.

We weren’t quite sure what the response would be. If anything, we thought, “Hey, this will at least get the word out to more people to stop asking us when we’re going to have a baby!” But we were overjoyed with the amount of support that rolled in through phone calls, texts, and Facebook messages. To our surprise, we also heard from other couples who were also struggling or had struggled with infertility. Some had been through multiple rounds of IVF. Some had successfully conceived with IUI. Some were just starting the journey and had as many questions as we did. Every story was different. With that first Facebook post, we began building a network of support that would mean more than we could have ever imagined in the coming months.

During our first round of IVF, we bought a selfie stick and shared some of our favorite and most significant moments on Facebook and Instagram. It became our way of coping, and we like to think we helped others cope with their own struggle along the way. After finding out our first round was unsuccessful and knowing we still had a long road ahead of us, we started throwing around the idea of starting a blog. Brennen started throwing out names, and before we knew it “Southern Fried Ovaries” stuck!

Now, here we are. Our decision to blog was not an easy one. We know it means hashing out details about our personal life and our medical history, but we also know it means opening up the conversation about infertility, raising awareness, and helping other couples going through the same thing. We hope you enjoy our story!