Saturday, January 17, 2015

Our Journey to Parenthood

First of all, thank you for all the love, support and well wishes over the last week.  We feel extremely blessed to be on our way to parenthood and to have such great friends and family supporting us even when we live thousands of miles away.

If you read about our exciting news then you know it took us longer to get pregnant than my perfect plan :).  Even though the journey was hard and I'm thankful we are not on that part of it anymore it will still be worth it if at least one person is encouraged by hearing our story.  Jake and I grew so much over the last two and a half years individually, as a couple and in our relationships with God.  Our relationships with friends and family were strengthened as they encouraged us and prayed for us.  I pray that you would be encouraged reading about what we went through and what we learned along the way.

Before you read our story just know that this is the story that God has written for us.  If you are in similar shoes know that your story most likely won't look like our story.  It took me a long time to figure that out.  There were so many times over the last several years that I would hear/read about a couple who struggled to get pregnant but then finally got pregnant after x, y or z (praying until their heart was content to not have kids, giving it all over to God, going on vacation, stopping meds for a month, having it taking 14 months, etc) and then I thought if it worked for them surely it will work for us.  What I finally realized is that those were their stories and ours will be different.  Just know that God might not ask you to move to Sweden just so He can use your experience with IVF as a way to share how God is working in your life.

I started to make a cliff notes version and even that one was long :).  If you don't really care about the details at least consider reading the paragraphs at the end of this post. I tried to make it brief but this was the best I could do.  I thought the IVF process was really interesting so I'll probably write a longer post about that with more details but here is what we have been through the last 2.5 years.
  • Summer 2012 - We started trying to get pregnant.  
  • January 2013 - I saw my doctor because at this point I had been taking my temperature daily and using ovulation kits and I knew I was ovulating but it wasn't working.  Jake and I both did testing and everything came back great which was awesome and frustrating.  I told my friend Angela we were struggling and she has been my rock, encourager and comedian the last two and a half years.  I do not know how I would have made it through all of this without her hilarious emails support!
  • February-March 2013 - We tried Clomid to get my cycles more regular which would help predict when ovulated since my cycles did vary some.  It didn't work. I handled the medication just fine without weird side effects and there was a small chance of multiples which Jake thought would be awesome.  He is insane!
  • April-May 2013 - Took a break from meds because I was just frustrated that we were "fine" and yet not pregnant. (In April, Jake mentioned over gchat that his company wanted us to move to Sweden. I brought this up with my obgyn and she mentioned that fertility treatments are typically cheaper in other countries.  At some point around this time I told my roommates and Jan we had been trying and that it wasn't working so that they could be praying for us.)
  • June 2013 - Went back to my obgyn and tried Femara (a different fertility med).  Visited Stockholm, Sweden for 10 days to see if we could live there for a year.
  • July 2013 - Had an ultrasound to check my ovaries and they looked good. Got another dose of Femara in case we found out we weren't pregnant this month while we were in California on vacation and I needed to start the next dose.  Did another round of Femara.  At the end of the month I had the HSG test done where they shoot dye into your Fallopian tubes to see if they are open.  My body did not handle this test very well and it was really painful for me.  The pain and how your body reacts can vary from person to person but the results were normal, again, and my tubes were open.  I was thankful for every "normal" test results but it was hard to get help when they couldn't find anything wrong.
  • August 2013 - Moved to Stockholm, Sweden and hoped that the 3rd round of Femara would work.  We found out shortly after moving that I wasn't pregnant which meant I had to find a new doctor in Sweden . . . while not knowing the language or where to start looking.  I met Lisa and at our second fika date she told me she was pregnant.  Of course she was pregnant because why wouldn't my one friend in a new country be pregnant.  It was hard to hear at first but she was awesome through all of our treatments and I am so thankful I had her support over the last year and a half.  
  • Side note: While calling multiple doctors and clinics to try to find a doctor, I learned that fertility treatments are significantly cheaper here than in the US.  If you go through a private clinic it is about $4000 for IVF, plus a shorter wait time than the public clinic.  Through the public clinic you can get 3 full rounds of IVF plus 5 frozen embryo transfers for free if you are under the age of 40, have been trying for a year and don't have any kids.  I started to possibly figure out why God moved us to Sweden . . . (although I'll explain later that I don't think God needed IVF to get us pregnant but I still think He is using it to help others learn about Him.)
  • October/November 2013 - Met with obgyn in Sweden.  She wanted to run more tests to confirm there wasn't an issue.  Jake and I were both tested again and everything came back great except I didn't have immunity to rubella.  Rubella immunity doesn't affect fertility but it is important to have it before getting pregnant.  Our doctor suggested I get the booster shot.  After getting the shot you shouldn't get pregnant for 1-3 months (different recommendations depending on what you read) which isn't what you tell someone who has been trying to get pregnant for 16 months.  She suggested we get on the public IVF waiting list.  She didn't recommend us trying IUI first because we knew that I ovulated and that Jake's sperm were great, which are typically two reasons why they suggest trying an IUI.  The IVF waiting list can be 6-12 months long but after 3 months you can call the "care guarantee" number and get moved to a private clinic but the public clinic still pays for your procedures.
  • December 2013 - We told our parents and Jake's sister that we had been trying to get pregnant for about 18 months and that it wasn't working and there wasn't a medical reason at this point explaining why it wasn't working.  We told them we were going to get on the IVF waiting list.  We also told them that we wouldn't be giving updates on when we were doing IVF so we could still try to keep things a surprise, to help keep the pressure off us and because talking about it was draining.
  • February 2014 - Got the letter saying we are on the waiting list but since it had been 3 months I called the care guarantee number and we were moved to the shorter list.
  • March 2014 - Had an appointment with the IVF clinic in Stockholm.  They looked over our test results which were great.  (Jake and our male doctor had a little moment when they talked about his test results.  Let's just say the doctor bragged about his little swimmers for about 5 minutes before I thought "okay, that's great, but how do I get pregnant?" Boys.)  We could try my next cycle but we would be in the US so we had to wait until we were back. I got the rubella booster shot since it would be about 2 months before we started IVF.
  • May 2014 - We started our first IVF cycle. Over the course of 9 days Jake had to give me 15 shots in my stomach to let more than one egg mature, make sure the eggs stayed put and then the last shot releasing my eggs for egg retrieval.  Our egg retrieval was the day Jake's parents landed in Stockholm.  We had been alone, in a different country, for 280 days but on this day we had guests.  God is funny sometimes.  Thankfully, Lisa picked them up from the airport bus and brought them to our apartment while I had the procedure done.  They were able to retrieve 9 eggs and 8 were successfully fertilized.
  • June 2014 - 3 days after the egg retrieval they transferred one embryo.  There is a law here that they only transfer one at a time.  I started taking progesterone tables three times a day (which are horrible and way worse than the shots, in my opinion) until we could take a pregnancy test 18 LONG days later (and about 4 days after Jake's parents flew home).  They didn't know we were doing the IVF cycle at this time.  On June 20th (1 day before our 6th wedding anniversary), we found out I was pregnant!  I couldn't believe it.  I had taken and failed at least 24 months worth of pregnancy tests and yet somehow this one had a different answer. (I actually took several more than 24 tests because who only tests just once a month? . . .What if you took it too early or you are one of those people who ends up in the ER 9 months pregnant because you still get your period and didn't know you were pregnant.  Infertility makes you crazy.) 
  • July 2014 - We had a follow up ultrasound with our IVF clinic to check on the progress of the baby and to make sure there was just one.  At the appointment they couldn't find a heartbeat and they couldn't really see the baby.  We had to go to another office for follow up ultrasounds because our IVF clinic shuts down the whole month of July (along with most businesses in Sweden). We waited two long weeks before the follow up appointment only to find an empty sac.  No baby and definitely no heartbeat.  I had miscarried but my body apparently missed it because I wasn't showing any signs of a miscarriage. I was given the choice to take some medicine or wait it out, so I waited about a week to see if it would happen naturally.  Nothing happened.  I went in for another ultrasound to check and then took Cytotec.  A follow up ultrasound showed that not all of it had passed.  I did another round of Cytotec and made an appointment for a d & c.  Waiting for my body to miscarry a baby I had prayed for and longed for, for over two years was the hardest thing I had to do in the last two and a half years.  Remember my summer struggles blog?  Well, this definitely played a huge roll in my struggle this summer.  
  • August 2014 - The morning of my d & c they checked to see if the second round of Cytotec worked and it didn't so I had the d & c (about 3 days before I went on a bike trip across Gotland - maybe not the smartest idea but the doctors said it was okay).  
  • September 2014 - After my cycle started naturally, I called the IVF clinic and we started the second round of IVF.  We had 5 frozen embryos that made it to the blastocyst stage (where the two cell embryo from day 1 grows into hundreds of cells by day 5) which meant they could be frozen to possibly use in the future.  So this round I didn't have to do all the shots or the egg retrieval.  
  • October 2014 - I had two ultrasounds to figure out when I would naturally ovulate and Jake had to give me one shot.  We transferred the frozen embryo on October 13th and I took progesterone tablets again but this time only twice a day. On October 26th, 13 days after the transfer I took a test and it was POSITIVE! (Two days after finding out we were pregnant we went to Italy with Jake's parents for 8 days but didn't tell them because we were waiting until it was confirmed at the follow up ultrasound.)
  • November 2014 - November 14th we had the follow up ultrasound and we saw the heartbeat!!!
Along the way there were a few triggers that usually caused some hard days.  When we first started trying I naively thought we'd be pregnant by Christmas so when Christmas rolled around and we weren't pregnant it was hard.  Then I told myself well surely by next Christmas I'll either be pregnant or maybe even have a newborn.  That next Christmas came and went and still we weren't pregnant.  This Christmas was so much fun because we got to tell our family and friends the exciting news and we got a few baby gifts :).  Another silly trigger was going to the dentist.  I know, how does the dentist cause a meltdown but when you only visit every six months surely we could get pregnant within the next six months, right?  I told myself that every time and each time my appointment rolled around I was greeted with the harsh reality that I wasn't pregnant.  Another trigger was my birthday.  I knew I had to get pregnant before October or so in order to have the baby before my next birthday.  For some reason it was really hard to be a year older by the time I would have a baby.  I am due 4 days before my birthday and you know what?  If I have the baby after my birthday it will be awesome because I will have a baby!  All these triggers don't actually matter when you finally get pregnant.  You are just so thankful to be pregnant.  I wish I would have tried harder to not let these triggers effect me so much but it was hard.

Our decision to do IVF wasn't quick or easy.  I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember.  I had more baby dolls growing up than any little girl needed.  I always thought I would get pregnant quickly and maybe if another friend couldn't get pregnant then I could be her surrogate.  I had thought about if I would ever do IVF and I kind of always thought of it as a last resort so when we were presented with the option I wasn't ready to admit that we were at that last resort.  After praying about it a lot we finally decided to give it a try.  We had been struggling with no real reason and then after trusting God we moved to a country where they offer free IVF.  Seems like God's hands were all over this.  I truly felt at peace about it because I felt like IVF wasn't going to get us pregnant, God was going to make it happen.  He didn't need IVF for me to get pregnant but maybe he would use it for His glory.  I still believe that we could have gotten pregnant without it but for some reason God wanted to use IVF and this whole journey as part of our story.

Moving to Sweden was a bigger blessing than I ever could have imagined.  At first it was nice to just get away from the constant questions from friends, family and even acquaintances about when we were having kids.  When we met new people here they would ask if we had kids but once we said no they dropped it which was really refreshing.  All of the traveling we have been able to do also helped keep our minds off of the monthly emotional roller coaster of another negative pregnancy test.  Plus, had we gotten pregnant according to my perfect plan we probably wouldn't have moved to Sweden with a newborn or been able to do all the traveling we have done.  Last but not least, the fact that we were able to do IVF for free is unbelievable.  We feel so blessed and fortunate.  We know others who did IVF and they spent between $12,000-20,000 for one try.  It felt like such a weight lifted off our shoulders to not have to think about paying for a second round of IVF while we were still healing emotionally and physically from the miscarriage.  (If you are thinking about doing IVF, I know of a great fertility clinic with better prices than the US and you can stay in our guest apartment!)

Jake has been awesome through all of this.  The first 8 months or so he was not worried at all but after that he started to get a little frustrated as well that it was taking so long.  He was so supportive and understanding each month that it didn't happen and would just hold me while I cried.  When we started going to appointments in Stockholm he went to more than his fair share.  There were a few appointments I went to on my own because I knew I didn't need him but he was there every step of the IVF process and the miscarriage.  He got pretty good at giving me shots in the stomach and even played the "Shots" song a couple of times before giving me shots to get me pumped up.  When we started on this journey to parenthood he was on board but terrified.  Since it took us a while to get pregnant he is pretty much over being terrified and is just ready to play with our kid.  He has been reading baby books and talks about all the fun things he can't wait to do with our kid which is so fun to hear!  I can't wait for the three of us to be a team and to figure out this parenting thing with him.

Some might wonder why I am sharing so many details about what we went through.  Infertility is lonely.  Not many people talk about it and yet once you are walking that path you start hearing/reading more and more stories about couples who have struggled.  The more I have opened up the more people have shared their struggles and I just feel like it shouldn't be so lonely.  Whether you will walk this path or someone you know will I hope knowing about our story will help you be more understanding and help make infertility less lonely.  I still think that it is okay to not share with others if you are trying to get pregnant and to keep things to yourselves if you want it to be a surprise but it would be nice to feel less alone knowing that others have struggled as well.

I also hope to raise awareness that getting pregnant isn't easy for everyone and talking to people about when they are having kids isn't the casual conversation so many turn it into.  It feels like as soon as you start dating then the "when are you getting married" questions start and then even as early as your wedding day is when some feel it is appropriate to ask "when are you having kids."  You never know what others are going through so hopefully being more aware of the struggle for some will help you be more sensitive in the future and think before you ask a couple without kids when they will be having kids.

If you have any questions about treatments we tried, medicine or anything else I am basically an open book.  During our struggle, I didn't want to share too much with too many people because talking about it was exhausting.  There were friends that I am very close to that I choose not to tell about our struggle because I wanted to know that when I was with them there was no chance the topic would come up.  I also wanted them to be genuinely surprised when we did tell them the news.  But now I'm ready to use our story in any way that might help or encourage someone.

Thanks again for praying for us while we enjoy this pregnancy until we can hold our little baby this summer!

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