SHARED BY KARISSA CIOCHAN
A Growing Family
I met my husband, TJ, sometime after my son, Anthony, was born in 2010. We worked at the same hardware store together and would make googly eyes at each other every time we worked together. At some point shortly after, we became friends. I was twenty years old and balancing my son, my life, my friends, and my then-boyfriend, all while attempting to be the best single mother I could be. Meanwhile, he was enjoying his life as a single twenty-one-year-old. He quickly became one of my closest friends, and we talked nonstop for the next few months, to the point where even my boyfriend at the time would joke that we were going to get married one day.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve. I was freshly dumped by said boyfriend, and TJ was there to pick up the pieces. We spent the evening listening to our favorite artists at the time, eventually cuddling up on a couch to ring in the new year. I fell for him quickly, despite my commitment issues.
From October 2011 through most of 2013, TJ fought a horrible heart condition. After two open-heart surgeries, three additional heart procedures, and several procedures on his leg (due to complications from the first surgery), TJ’s health was as close to normal as it will ever be. In August 2013, TJ and I moved into our first home along with Anthony, and five months later, TJ proposed to me.
On October 4, 2014, I married my best friend. It was then and there that we had decided we wanted to grow our family and give Anthony a sibling. We waited a few months to start trying, but pretty soon after that, we found out it may not be as easy as it was for me the first time around.
Treatment and Testing
In March, I made an appointment with my doctor, as I had not had the pleasure of my "Aunt Flo" coming to visit since getting off of my birth control. The doctor made me aware of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and told me that my symptoms were consistent with that. Unfortunately, he did not make a diagnosis at the time. He told TJ and I to keep trying and put me on a medication to bring on my cycle. (For those of you who have not been through this process, you have to actively try to conceive for a year—if you are under thirty-five—before they will consider you to be “infertile” and move on to treatment options.)
So, we did that. I went in to see the doctor every few months, with no changes.
When the year was finally up, with obviously no success, it was time to reconvene with my doctor. I was finally diagnosed with Anovulatory PCOS. This means that my body does not ovulate on its own, making it almost impossible to get pregnant naturally. We discussed starting me on starting Clomid (a medication to help bring on ovulation), pending test results from both me and TJ.
After finally completing all of the required testing, we met back up with my doctor. He discussed my test results (I had passed with flying colors, thank you very much), and we discussed starting the Clomid. Then, towards the end of the appointment, he got the test results back from TJ’s semen analysis and stopped in his tracks. TJ had one percent morphology. This means that only one out of 100 of his “swimmers” were normal. Doctors like this number to be around at least fourteen percent. Instead of writing the prescription, he ended up writing us a referral to see an infertility specialist—because even with timed intercourse and Clomid, our chances of conceiving naturally were very low.
I was heartbroken. I remember leaving that appointment completely crushed and feeling like a failure. How on earth could something that happens so easily for most people (and had happened so easily for me in the years before) be so difficult for us?
The Next Steps
Over the next few weeks, I researched fertility doctors, cried a lot, and ate my feelings away. I remember putting a Facebook post in a local group asking for fertility doctor recommendations. This was my first public post about our journey. I received an overwhelming amount of responses from friends, family, and strangers from the post. Most were amazing, optimistic, and uplifting. (The others were the opposite, but we choose to ignore those.) One woman, named Jennie, stood out in the conversation. She suggested Dr. Allison Rodgers from The Fertility Centers of Illinois, as she was freshly pregnant from seeing her. She was my first infertility sister, but there were many more to come.
Two years after that first doctor appointment, in March 2016, we met with Dr. Rodgers and discussed our options. We ordered all of the tests that were needed and went over our success rates. We had a less than five percent chance of conceiving naturally with medication, slightly better chances of conceiving with medicated Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), or a sixty-five to seventy-five percent chance of conceiving with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Unfortunately, the most successful option also came with a very high price tag. So, we chose to do three IUIs and move on to IVF if those failed.
(For those of you who do not know, IUI is a method in which your ovaries are chemically stimulated. When your follicles are about to release an egg, you are given two trigger injections that cause you to ovulate. You then go in and have a doctor thread a catheter into your uterus, and they inject your partner's or donor’s sperm into you.)
Between July and the end of August, we underwent two unsuccessful IUI treatments. Our hearts were officially broken, our savings account was draining slowly, and we had nothing to show for all of our hard work. I spent many weeks in a depressed state and felt like everything we tried would just end in failure. Many days, I just thought about giving up on this dream. We decided to try once more, and if this was to fail, we were going to start planning our life in a different way. To us, that meant moving into a tiny house in Marathon, Florida, with our son.
One Last Try
Near the end of 2016, after two failed IUIs and a ton of money lost, we decided to move on to IVF. In September, I started mandatory birth control pills for a month to calm my ovaries down before starting injections to help stimulate growth of my follicles.
By this time, I had met two more infertility sisters, Caitlyn and Christine, who have now become close friends. They both had gone through this process and helped make things easier on me. Caitlyn had used the same doctor and was the one who honestly talked me into IVF without really having to say anything at all, while Christine was with a different doctor at the same clinic. One of them would check on me after every "trip to the stirrups," as they say—at least three times a week. They honestly kept me sane through my IVF journey!
On October 20, I underwent my egg retrieval. Thirteen beautiful-looking eggs were retrieved, and all of them were fertilized. Five days later, we found out that six had grown into beautiful embryos. We transferred one and froze the remaining five. I remember taking a pregnancy test every single day after my transfer and scrutinizing each and every one (and sending them to at least four different people to help).
Almost two weeks later, I got my first very faint—but very positive—pregnancy test! We told our parents right away (because I am crazy).
A New Perspective
A lot of people seem to think that once you're pregnant, your infertility just disappears, and you are now a pregnant woman. But that is just not the case. Every single cramp, twinge, (I’m about to get gross) change in discharge, or weird symptom you feel makes you think that something is wrong. I mean, how can it be possible that after all this time you are finally pregnant?
On November 1, 2016, we got our first positive beta (a pregnancy blood test that shows the amount of HCG in your system), but I had experienced some spotting close to what I would normally get during the beginning of my cycle. I was heartbroken! I called TJ at work in a frenzy, crying, saying that I got my period and that I knew it was too good to be true.
The next two days were a waiting game, and I was very nervous. The next day, the Cubs were playing in the World Series. I'd had a dream the night before that I was giving birth, and I told the nurse that, if the Cubs won the World Series that night, then I knew everything would be okay. If the Cubs won, I would live out the dream in person. Obviously, the Cubs won. The next day, my beta came back—my numbers had more than doubled, and the third one came back even better! I had three ultrasounds, and by early December, I “graduated” from my fertility clinic to my obstetrician.
Today, I am twenty-seven weeks pregnant with a baby girl! I still think back to my journey, and I see how much my perspective on life has changed. I would not wish infertility on my worst enemy, but I also wouldn’t go back and change how my baby girl was brought into this world. Infertility made me value my life and made me appreciate the people that I had in it. It made me realize that life is not about the things that you own, the home that you live in, or the career that you have. Life is about the people you have in it. Infertility made me grow up and see the world through different eyes. Every day I am thankful for the people it brought into my life and thankful that this technology is available to help people who would not otherwise be able to grow their families.