National Infertility Awareness Week was April 18–24, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a little bit about our fertility journey, which led us to Madelynn. Please remember that I’m not a doctor or fertility expert, I’m simply sharing our experiences & my opinions in hopes that if anyone that reads this is struggling with infertility, they feel comforted and they know they are not alone.
P.S. This story takes a deep dive into fertility procedures so if it’s TMI for you, I understand! It's a lot for me to share!
Shortly after getting married, Spencer and I started Natural Family Planning (NFP). We're Catholic & I had a hunch that it would take a long time for my body to adjust to being off birth control after being on it from an early age due to irregular periods, so it seemed like the best way to prevent pregnancy until we were ready for kids. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I’d later find out, I had PCOS to thank for those irregular periods. Through NFP, I learned what biological markers to look for to know when I'm fertile and quickly realized that there were no signs of fertility. The most important sign I was told to look for was cervical mucus. I never saw a hint of this, even after months of tracking, which told me that my body doesn’t ovulate at all.
After a very strange cycle one month, I asked my OB if I should be concerned. He brushed it off because we weren’t trying for kids yet and guessed that it was probably a bad ovulation cycle. Seems weird since I don’t ovulate—right? With some encouragement from my mom to seek a better explanation, I referred myself to Fertility Answers in Baton Rouge, even though we weren't trying for kids yet. I just knew that something was off and wanted to be proactive about fertility so that whenever we decided we were ready to try for kids, we could get pregnant as quickly as possible—God willingly.
That's when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) due to insulin resistance. Suddenly it all made sense—the irregular periods, acne, hair loss, extra hair, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, anxiety, depression, lack of signs of ovulation—it all added up. I’ve known since I was in high school that I have a form of diabetes called MODY2 that is caused by a genetic mutation. It basically means that my body is lazy and takes longer to process my sugars than it should. I make and process my own insulin, but my brain thinks that my body is insulin resistant & because of that, I don't ovulate.
After all of these years, all that it took was finding one doctor—Dr. Neil Chappell at Fertility Answers in Baton Rouge—that knew the ins and outs of PCOS & MODY to receive a proper diagnosis and explanation. Not to mention, he didn’t make me feel stupid for seeking fertility answers despite not trying for kids yet & even applauded me on how proactive I was being. I had plenty of eggs, but my brain wasn’t telling any of them to grow to the size they needed to be or that they needed to drop. Dr. Chappell described what was going on with my body in an easy to understand analogy—it’s like having too many players in the outfield in baseball & everyone’s running around trying to catch a pop fly, but no one is saying, “I’ve got it!” They’re all just running around aimlessly with no direction.
So, when we finally decided that we were ready to start trying for kids, we went through some baseline tests and decided to proceed with Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), which has a success rate of only 15% 😱, at the recommendation of Dr. Chappell. We discovered that Spencer also had some fertility problems (surprise!).
My baseline tests in the beginning of my cycle included an ultrasound to make sure that the lining of my uterus & my ovaries looked healthy and an HSG test to ensure my Fallopian tubes were open. For anyone that’s unsure what an HSG test is, a balloon catheter is inserted into the cervix and a dye is injected. The dye should travel through the uterus to the tubes. If there’s a blockage anywhere, the dye won’t make its way through. The doctor watches the dye move through the uterus to the tubes on an X-ray screen as it’s injected. It’s a relatively quick test that is uncomfortable, but was not painful for me. I passed both baseline tests so we were in the clear to start treatment!
The night of that baseline ultrasound, I started to take Letrozole to stimulate my ovaries and help them make good follicles. A follicle is a small sac of fluid that forms on the ovaries which has a developing egg inside of it. The Letrozole talked to my brain to help my brain overcome the hurdle of “insulin resistance” that prevented my ovaries from growing good follicles.
I went back 7 days later for another ultrasound to see how my ovaries were responding to the medicine and didn’t have any follicles that were quite big enough. Talk about disappointing! We were looking for at least one that measured a minimum of 15mm. To make matters worse, my left ovary doesn’t like to show itself on ultrasounds, so it’s really uncomfortable when the ultrasound tech searches for it. They’re just doing their job, so no fault of the techs, it’s just very painful for me. Dr. Chappell decided to give my body a couple more days to respond to the medicine and try to grow bigger follicles.
I went back 2 days later for another ultrasound and I had ONE follicle that was barely big enough (on my left ovary to our surprise!), but it was enough to move forward with the procedure! Whoohoo!! If that doesn’t scream ‘God’ I don’t know what does! It felt like such a God thing that that one follicle, that was barely big enough, appeared. We didn’t know it then, but Madelynn was destined to be our little miracle.
The next night, I gave myself a shot to trigger ovulation. Well, actually, I chickened out at the last minute and called my friend Brittany—who is a nurse practitioner—and asked her to come give me the shot 🤣. The shot speaks directly to my ovaries to tell them to release an egg (ovulate). My brain should be talking to my ovaries and telling them to do this, but is unable to get past the obstacle of “insulin resistance.” Therefore, the shot makes sure that my ovaries do what they’re supposed to!
Two days later, we went in for the procedure. IUI is a step below IVF, but IVF seems to be much more well known. The great thing about IUI is that it’s far less invasive (& far less expensive!). The procedure was quick and painless! We followed the old wives’ tale—lay with your hips tilted up for 10 mins after the procedure—and then we waited for what felt like the longest 14 days of my life. Testing early can give a false positive because of the hormones, or even a false negative if your body hasn’t had enough time to make enough hormones, so we had to wait the fullll 14 days.
Fertility treatments take away some of the fun of getting to share the news with your partner and parents because anyone you tell what you’re going through knows the exact date you’ll find out if it worked. So, while I waited, I planned for how I’d tell Spencer IF I got a positive test. I decided our four dogs would be the ones to tell him, since they’d be the first to greet him at the door when he got home from work. I ordered them some fun bandanas for them to wear when they’d greet him. I told everyone that knew we’d done IUI that they wouldn’t hear from me the day of the test until after I’d told Spencer. I decided to take the day off of work so that I could test and get blood work done to confirm & have the day to process my emotions if the test was negative.
FINALLY that 14th day rolled around. I woke up and used SIX pregnancy tests so that I could be 100% sure. Two of them were negative but I got 4 positive tests!! I was ecstatic!! I called the fertility clinic first thing in the morning to let them know so that they could check my bloodwork to verify. I went in, had my blood drawn, then waited—yet again—for that call to confirm that I was actually pregnant. The call finally came, and they confirmed the good news!! I was so excited but couldn’t tell anyone, which felt almost impossible! I was practically bursting at the seams. When Spencer got home from work, the dogs greeted him at the door—just like I’d planned—and gave him the good news.
We told all close friends and family members immediately & announced the good news to the world at 10 weeks! We also brought Dr. Chappell & his staff some gifts to thank them (I thought I was hilarious with the cake LOL).
We know that our fertility journey is unique. We didn’t try for months and months before seeking fertility treatments as most couples do. I knew that my body didn’t work right & was very proactive about seeking treatment. Not everyone is fortunate enough to realize this so early on. We know that we got super lucky to have conceived Madelynn so easily. But, there’s still something that feels very disheartening about knowing that my body doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. I still feel so frustrated sometimes, that my body can’t just do what it should, so that we don’t have to go through all of these tests and spend so much money and take all of these hormones that make me feel crazy to have kids.
My heart goes out to those couples whose hearts break with every negative pregnancy test. To the ones who lost their little miracles before they could meet them. To the ones that can’t conceive and have no explanation why. To those struggling to afford the expense they must undertake to start families. To those that resolve to live childless.
Infertility is very real and very common. 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. 1 in 4 couples suffer a miscarriage.
The pineapple has become a symbol of infertility, as they are thought to help with implantation. However, they also represent the women who experience infertility, yet stand tall, wear a crown, and stay sweet on the inside, despite the tough outer shell that can be all most people see. Our journeys aren’t always known to the world.
Sharing our story & my infertility struggles isn’t easy. It’s a very private matter, but I have always tried to be very honest and real about who I am and my life experiences. I choose to be open about this in hopes that I can help others who are struggling with infertility feel comforted in knowing that they are not alone. They have nothing to be ashamed of.