A Mom Who Wonders About Infertility’s Effect on Her Parenting.
Because no two paths to parenthood look the same
Stacy, 32, is a teacher and the mother of a 7-month-old baby boy named Brooks. A diagnosis in her early 20s meant Stacy knew she might have trouble conceiving, which she and her now-husband, Jeff, discussed early in their relationship. When the couple started trying for a baby, however, doctors found that Stacy’s original diagnosis had been wrong — and that the recommended diet she’d been following for nearly a decade was the exact opposite of what her body needed. Stacy describes being correctly diagnosed in 20 minutes, the condition that made sex a risk, and what it feels like when your ovaries swell to the size of melons.
On having a fertility-threatening diagnosis in her early 20s. When I was about 22 I stopped having periods completely. I was diagnosed with PCOS — polycystic ovary syndrome — which generally means having cysts on your ovaries. It’s not painful, and there’s not a ton you can do — unless you’re trying to get pregnant (some women with PCOS have trouble; some don’t). I read books on the PCOS diet because a lot of the time diet can help, since generally people with PCOS are prediabetic or have other blood-sugar problems. I was like, oh if I change my diet it might help me later on. I always knew I wanted kids, eventually.
On being diagnosed correctly through infertility. About two years into our marriage, Jeff and I just felt like, okay we’re ready, our friends are having kids, we want ours to be close in age. And with the possibility of it taking a while, we kind of wanted to start on the earlier end. So many people can’t get help right away — a lot of times fertility specialists won’t meet with you until you’ve been trying for a year. We went off birth control and were like, let’s see what happens. If we get pregnant right now, great.
When I stopped birth control, so did my period. After about six months, I went to my OB and explained to her what the issue was, and since it had already been six months and I had the PCOS diagnosis they were willing to fast-track everything.
My OB put me on Clomid, a fertility drug that’s supposed to help you ovulate. At the end of two cycles, nothing — I wasn’t ovulating. Since my OB wasn’t sure what was happening, she sent me to a specialist. Literally, within a 20-minute conversation, the specialist said, “I know what’s going on.”
On receiving the correct diagnosis after a decade. Hypothalamic amenorrhea means that the hypothalamic hormone isn’t being released — that’s what caused me not to have periods. I think PCOS is slapped on a lot of women, and it oftentimes isn’t the right diagnosis. For my actual diagnosis, I’d been doing the exact opposite of what I should have been doing — eating a very low-carb diet, exercising a ton. I’m a certified yoga instructor and did hot yoga almost every day. In reality, the best thing I could have been doing was eating fats, proteins, lots of carbs.
It was so frustrating: I spent seven or eight years thinking I had something else, and all it took was a 20-minute conversation with the right doctor to find out what it was.
The specialist explained different routes and described a clear next step — stimulation shots to help me ovulate.
On preparing with YouTube and margaritas. The first time I was terrified to give myself a shot in the stomach; I told Jeff he had to do it. They give you a YouTube link that’s like “How to Administer a Shot in the Stomach.” They act like it’s no big deal, but I was totally creeped out.
We actually went to our favorite Mexican restaurant down the street from our house beforehand for margaritas — salted rims, the whole deal. Then we went home and sobered up and Jeff gave me the shot; it turned out just fine. But it is funny that the first time we did it we had margaritas beforehand.
On the situation that made sex a risk. The first time, we did 17 shots. And what happened to me is I hyperstimulated: I had 12 eggs that matured and were going to release at once. So if Jeff and I were to have intercourse, we could have ended up with octuplets. The doctors were like, You have to abstain; this is really dangerous.
We did a second round and that time — 13 eggs. We met with our doctor, who said it was just going to keep happening. My body was overresponding to the medication. It was a lot of money — a thousand dollars each time, and it’s hard on you, emotionally and physically. I remember sobbing during the ultrasounds, because you can see them measure each of the mature eggs. You can see how many there are.
Part of me wanted to take it into our own hands, like, Let’s just try. Obviously that’s not a good decision either. We had to remind ourselves the doctors were right — it would have been a huge risk. But it was tempting.
When the stimulation shots didn’t work, IVF was next. We had prepared ourselves, but it was still frustrating.
On how much to pay for making a baby. We had zero IVF coverage. It’s funny, because a lot of people where we live work for tech companies like Microsoft that pay for IVF. We were like, Man, we should switch careers.
We knew people who’d adopted, and they never put pressure on us or anything, but it was on our minds. We had to ask ourselves, do we want to spend this money to have IVF potentially not work, or do we want to spend the money to adopt? I know some people think, There are children out there who need families. Why would you spend all this money to have a biological child? We had to get over the guilt feeling.
On tackling moral decisions before starting IVF. Before you do the egg retrieval for IVF, you sit down with the doctor and sign all these legal documents. You make a tentative plan, like if you have way more embryos than you want, what do you do with them? We faced a lot of questions morally — you’re given the option to donate extra embryos to science, to terminate them, or put them up for adoption. We knew termination wasn’t for us, so we had some worry about creating lots of extra embryos. But once we found out other families were waiting for the opportunity, we decided to put any extra embryos up for adoption — so another couple struggling to have a family could have a baby.
On what it means to have ovaries that “kiss.” After 12 days of shots, they put me under to retrieve the eggs, and I had hyperstimulated again — I released 27 eggs. That’s a ton. My ovaries swelled to the size of melons — they call them “kissing ovaries” because they’re actually touching each other. It was incredibly painful, and I looked six months pregnant.
When they were mixed with sperm, 17 of our 27 eggs turned into embryos and then, after developing over the next few days, 6 of those 17 were viable.
When I knew we had 27 eggs, I was like, Oh my gosh, I hope we don’t have 27 embryos. Because what do you do with that?
If you get pregnant when you’re hyperstimulated, your body stays that way the whole pregnancy — you get super-sick. So we had to wait, and do a frozen transfer instead of a live one.
On watching a potential pregnancy unfold on a screen. It was so crazy. You go into this exam room and there’s a glass wall, with a window to a lab. You have to drink 32 ounces before the appointment and you can’t pee and they’re rubbing all over your stomach to set up the ultrasound, it’s so uncomfortable. They show you the embryo — it was the size of a poppy seed to the eye but you could see it up close, under a microscope on a screen. Then you watch the embryo being sucked up through a catheter as they push it into the correct place. You’re actually watching it being implanted; it’s surreal.
On deciding whether to do genetic tests. The success rates are much higher for embryos that have been genetically tested. For us, not doing the testing was partly a financial decision — it’s expensive, about $5,000. We also agreed that if there was a genetic disorder it wouldn’t have changed our minds about carrying out the pregnancy.
But actually, our embryos were tested — what happened was we’d agreed to be part of a research study looking at whether genetic testing really helps the odds of IVF. We knew we’d either be the control group, where embryos weren’t tested, or the research group, where they were. So it turns out we were the research group — but we didn’t know that until later. It’s kind of strange that someone else knew, and we didn’t.
On the “two-week wait.” The day we found out, Jeff had gone to see a movie with my dad, and I went and met a friend to go for a walk. When I got the call I was home, but Jeff was still out at the movies — it was The Revenant, which lasts an eternity. I went to the store and bought Dad’s Root Beer. I handed it to him as soon as he walked in the door and he was in this weird mood from the movie and he kind of looked at me like, What, I don’t even like root beer. And I was like, Be smarter, hello.
On the nervousness of early pregnancy. We were so excited, but it was subdued; we were trying to be realistic about the chances of miscarriage. I was having severe cramping, getting up at 3 a.m. to take baths because it was so bad. But at the seven-week ultrasound we saw the embryo, at eight weeks we heard the heartbeat. I didn’t really feel comfortable until around 12 weeks, and then we announced it to everyone around 13 weeks.
The rest of my pregnancy was super smooth — I’m one of those people who enjoyed being pregnant, oddly enough. I think maybe our previous struggles gave me a different perspective. The birth was easy; I was in active labor for 22 minutes. I pushed 12 times and he was out.
On whether infertility feels in the past. Sometimes I wonder if I worry more because it was hard to have him — or is that just being a mom? And I do think about fertility a little more, as we think about when to do the next transfer. We already know the sex of the remaining embryos: all girls, every one. The one boy was randomly selected. It kind of makes it easier — I wouldn’t know how to make the decision if we had to choose.
Even though it was hard for us, there’s always someone else who has it harder. We were lucky we could afford IVF. In the end, we spent close to $50,000 — we spent what we’d been saving to buy a house. It was $15,000 to do it once, but our package let you do it multiple times if the first time didn’t work. We figured we’d spend more upfront because we knew we’d be mad if it didn’t work and we hadn’t spent that extra money for insurance. We knew if it did work, we wouldn’t care that we’d spent more. And that’s what happened. We spent so much money to have a child, but at the same time — it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.