Love, marriage, baby carriage—right? Weddings and babies are blissful life events—until they don’t happen for you the way the song says. Even if you have the love and marriage part down, when it comes to babies, you can unexpectedly, devastatingly get stuck on a long, hard infertility road. It’s a path that takes you to difficult physical, emotional, and psychological places you could never have imagined. But you continue until you have your family. You have to, because it’s your dream.
In 2012, my husband Greg and I attended a wedding every month from May to November, including our own. The following year brought nearly as many. Weddings are, on many levels, similar. You drink, eat, drink some more, make friends with your table mates, dance, and drink a bit more.
In the fall of 2013, though, we attended the wedding of my husband’s very best friend, and it was different. We were excited to share this event with such special people but at this wedding, I wasn’t drinking. September 2013 marked the first month that we were officially trying to have a baby. We had been married for about a year and a half, I went off the pill, my cycles regulated, and we were giddy about trying to make a family.
We had both always wanted to be parents and had some wonderful examples in our lives. We were both raised by loving stay-at-home moms and hardworking fathers. We both had happy childhoods and wanted to recreate similar memories for our children one day: family vacations, playing catch in the backyard, jumping into piles of fall leaves, learning to swim, camping. Knowing that we were going to start trying to make this dream a reality was nearly surreal.
The wedding was truly beautiful, but I felt inspired, energized, and was almost buzzing with excitement inside for a different reason: I was ovulating, we had a hotel room, and we were “trying.” I had a secret and my secret was baby-makin’.
By the time we sat and had dinner, I somehow felt comfortable enough with our new wedding friends to reveal the full details of my secret. In retrospect, I’m mortified that I shared this private information, but at the time I apparently thought the whole table of 12 needed to know. By the time the wedding was over, people were practically giving us high-fives as we headed back to the hotel.
To add to our lack of success, me and my loud mouth continued to tell everyone including family, friends, and coworkers that we were trying. This was a huge mistake, because everyone shared words of wisdom.
Alas, two weeks later my period arrived. Month 1 was a bust. This was okay! It was our first month. Nothing to fear here. I would continue to use my ovulation kits and we would try again next month. Everything would be fine. We would get our two kids and have our happy family.
This went on for 13 consecutive months. Morale got lower and lower with each passing month. I never gave up on my ovulation tests, and they seemed to show I was ovulating, but I never had any double lines on the pregnancy tests I obsessively took each month. Sex became a chore; we were both working full time at stressful jobs as medical professionals. Coming home after work and finding out I was ovulating was becoming more of a burden than it was fun.
To add to our lack of success, me and my loud mouth continued to tell everyone including family, friends, and coworkers that we were trying. This was a huge mistake, because everyone shared words of wisdom. Over those 13 long and trying months, I heard everything from “just relax and have a few beers; it’ll happen” to “this is what worked for us” to “have you tried just not thinking about it?” to “put your legs in the air afterward, let gravity do its thing.” We did it all and then some, but still no positive pregnancy test.
The feeling that something was really wrong overcame me. The thought that we would need to seek help wouldn’t go away. I could also feel the strain on my husband and on our relationship. I was not only concerned that this was not happening naturally for us, but I was also dealing with feeling sad, anxious, fearful, frustrated, and most importantly, worthless. Why was this happening to us? What was wrong with us? Why couldn’t we do what humans are put on earth to do?
We had our first meeting with a fertility specialist in November 2014. We went to someone highly recommended who had helped friends of ours conceive a beautiful baby boy. Yet, when we met him, I immediately did not like him. He did not give me the warm and fuzzies. Something about him seemed off, yet I knew we needed help and he seemed like the man to do it.
He did some testing on both of us and I was diagnosed with decreased ovarian reserve (DOR). Apparently, I had some eggs remaining in my 32-year-old body, but there weren’t many and they weren’t the best quality so IVF would be the natural choice for us. Despite not being madly in love with our doctor, I felt encouraged. He will find my good eggs, fertilize them, and bing bang boom…baby. I thought: Maybe our bodies were having trouble mixing egg and sperm on our own, but with a little help, this guy can make us a perfect little embryo and we will be off and running.
We did three cycles of IVF with this doctor. With each failure, I cried harder, gained more weight from hormonal bloating, and lost more hope. What did we do to deserve this? I am a physician assistant and my husband is a physician; we know medicine. We know how the body works. Why were we given bodies (me in particular, the one with the egg problem) that couldn’t do this? I fell deeper into a depression, crying daily. Financial problems were on the horizon; IVF is not cheap. I blamed myself for everything and apologized to my husband that he married someone who was broken.
After the three failed IVF cycles, we turned to adoption in August 2015. I focused on weight loss and giving my body a well-deserved hormonal break. We signed on with three agencies: two national online agencies and one local agency. I felt a renewed sense of optimism. I spent hours and hours creating our online adoption profile. Look at us! Two medical professionals in a cozy, four-bedroom home in the country. We have a dog, loving family, we like to travel and we went to good colleges. I included fun pictures, glowing background reports, and made us as irresistible as possible. Perhaps IVF wasn’t for us, but adoption? Adoption was for us.
Signing on with two national agencies meant we would have feelers out in many different parts of the country. I was giddy when I thought about the prospect of getting and raising a baby. I couldn’t wait to see what he or she would look like and where we would have to fly to get him or her. How exciting this all was!
We even created a gender-neutral baby room, a requirement of the adoption process. After dealing with so much infertility disappointment and loss, it was a bit hard to create this nursery with no guarantees of success, but we wanted to show how absolutely ready to be parents we were.
We were contacted by many women looking to place their babies with us, but zero of those contacts ended up being legitimate. Mostly, young pregnant moms were only looking for expenses to be paid and then they kept their babies. Luckily, our agencies screened these women for us so we never ended up paying any expenses, but it was quite taxing to constantly get contacted and never have a match made.
We got a bit worn out by the lack of progression with our adoption journey. We had done the multiple background checks, the fingerprinting, the home study, the social worker visit, we ready the four required books, and made our profile. Now where’s our baby?!
But then the call came. It was as though it was out of a movie; our agency phoned us at 4 am on a Thursday in March. A woman in Chicago was in labor, she was to have a baby boy, and she was a rape victim. She decided she couldn’t keep this baby, and she was handed an iPad with adoption profiles. She chose us. Us!
Our agency called and said we must buy flights to Chicago immediately since the baby was to arrive soon. We jumped out of bed, packed our bags, washed baby clothing, grabbed random items out of our beautiful nursery, and purchased tickets to Chicago to meet our baby. I was texting with the birth mom the entire time, telling her our baby name and showing her photos of the nursery. Yellow was her favorite color. She loved the name we chose. She felt so connected to us. As we drove the two hours to the airport, I couldn’t believe our time had come.
But it hadn’t. We were victims of an adoption scam. This was our most heartbreaking bump in the road so far. This was worse than 13 months of trying and three failed cycles of IVF with a questionable doctor. This was an innocent man and woman driving an hour to an airport with a car seat in the back of their car for a baby whom did not exist.
We had never even heard of this before. That women scam prospective adoption parents for some kind of power trip. They aren’t pregnant, they aren’t looking for money, and they have no intention of helping you in any way. They simply get satisfaction out of messing with people’s heads and giving them false hope.
This was rock bottom for us. It had now been 2 1/2 years since our journey began. Between IVF costs and adoption fees, our finances were seriously hurting. We were still both working full time. Our stress levels were at an all-time high, while our relationship was probably at an all-time low. Sex was horrible and we had lost any interest; it reminded us of the torture of trying to conceive for 13 months.
I was overweight, eating my feelings, and miserable. I couldn’t figure out what I could have done to deserve this. I kept thinking: I know I have poor eggs, but if that is the case, why didn’t adoption work out? Why weren’t we given a baby like so many other potential adoptive couples? Is a baby not in the cards for us? Would we be horrible parents so God doesn’t want us to have a baby? There were endless questions circling in my head, yet not a single clear answer.
The adoption scam was the end of our adoption attempt. We could not deal with heartbreak like that again and there was never a guarantee that it wouldn’t happen a second time.
Back to IVF we went. We found a new fertility doctor and I immediately loved her. She reviewed our history, took copious notes, and told us donor-egg IVF would be a great option for us. She said everything so simply to us: You have poor eggs. Go and get some good eggs and everything will be fine. Duh! Why didn’t we think of that the first time? Why did the first doctor allowed me to use my (old, poor-quality) eggs three times over? We’ll never have an answer to that question, but onward and upward! This doctor says try an egg donor, and try an egg donor we would!
We purchased 13 frozen donor eggs and, sadly, only got one embryo. (We had been told that we might get around five to six embryos.) The embryo was transferred into me, and the procedure was successful. It was successful! I was pregnant with my one out of thirteen chance. I had never seen a positive pregnancy test before. My mind was blown.
After 3 1/2 years of infertility, I was carrying a teeny tiny baby in me. As happy as I was, I was a nervous wreck. The anxiety was overwhelming. I had some bleeding issues in the first trimester. Every day was consumed by crying, worrying, and Googling. Then, before I knew it I was in the second trimester, and then the third.
In June 2017, we welcomed the most perfect baby girl. I can only describe the moment of her birth as unbelievable. I could not physically believe that we were parents, and that this happened, and that we had a baby.
When I look at my kids—my adorable little babies who will never look a darn thing like me— I know exactly why we endured what we did.
It was so thrilling, yet the days that followed and the postpartum period were not easy for me. I felt disconnected from my daughter and often blamed it on donor eggs, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, postpartum hormone fluctuations are no joke. As time went on and my husband and I got used to our new normal, I really began to enjoy our baby girl and motherhood.
Still, for a great deal of the first year of her life I kept thinking to myself, “Did this really happen?” I had a lot of self-doubt that first year; struggling with infertility makes you think you don’t deserve anything good. When your norm becomes bad news, your brain stops accepting the good.
A little more than two years later, though, we got a new egg donor and repeated the process. Lo and behold, we were given a son and our daughter was given a brother. He is the most amazing little boy and we again cannot believe how lucky we are. We wanted two children, and they’re here.
To call infertility an emotional roller coaster could not be more accurate. Years ago, I read a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff that my mom bought me when I entered high school. While that was a terrific lesson for that time in my life, in the infertility world, we actually learn to sweat (and celebrate) the small stuff. We have to. Every up is an up (and unfortunately every down is a down)! We have to celebrate positive ovulation tests, messages in the adoption Inbox, eggs that survive fertilization—heck, we even celebrate getting our period to kick off the IVF cycle.
Each person’s story is different. I share my story not for comparison with anyone else’s, but to show that perseverance even on the darkest of days and celebration of every victory is important. It reminds us to stay grounded and appreciate life for what it has to offer you at that exact moment in time. To be present in that moment and stay on your path.
And to never, ever lose sight of your goal.
When I look at my kids—my adorable little babies who will never look a darn thing like me— I know exactly why we endured what we did: Because these were meant to be our children and without going through everything we did, we wouldn’t have them.
You will doubt yourself and everyone around you, you will face so many highs (this is it!) and lows (this was not it), you might buckle under the emotional or financial strain. That’s OK, you’re human. Be open to the possibility that there are options and trust your dreams. You can make them a reality.
Lori Sayegh is a dermatology physician assistant, wife, and very proud mother. She has coached many women through infertility and the IVF process. Her passions include dermatology, raising infertility awareness, her kids, weekend getaways to New York City with her husband, running, cooking, and reading. She lives in northeast Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and Maltese, Quincy.
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