‘Worth the wait’: Photographer captures her grueling infertility struggle to let others know ‘they are not alone’

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“I have always wanted to be a mom. I’ve known this since I was little. I feel like I was put on this earth to raise and nurture children. Unfortunately, the process of starting a family with my husband hasn’t played out like they teach you in school it would.

Amanda Naor Photography

On my 30th birthday, June of 2015, we decided we were ready to start a family. For 13 months straight I cried every time I got my period. I charted my basal body temperature to track ovulation, started going weekly to acupuncture, drank smelly custom-made Chinese herbal tea, and peed on ovulation prediction sticks to monitor my LH surges. And ultimately? I learned way more about the science behind what it truly takes to make another life. More than I ever thought I would ever need to know. After a year of trying on our own, we knew we needed the help of medical intervention to get pregnant.

In a painfully serendipitous timing of events — on August 16, 2016, the day we met with our reproductive endocrinologist (RE) for the first time, we found out I was pregnant. Two weeks later I found myself at 2:30 a.m. in emergency surgery. I had internal bleeding, and the doctors didn’t know where the pregnancy was. The pregnancy ended up being in my right fallopian tube — and my incredible surgeons stayed an extra 1.5 hours in surgery to save the tube because they knew how we were right about to start fertility treatments.

Amanda Naor Photography

After healing, we went on to try IUIs, intrauterine inseminations. The goal of an IUI is to increase the number of sperm that reach the fallopian tubes and subsequently increase the chance of fertilization and a pregnancy. We did 4 cycles, 4 attempts, 4 months of IUIs—each time getting more aggressive with the medications. But unfortunately, all of them were unsuccessful.

Amanda Naor Photography

The truly frustrating part in all of this was that our diagnoses was ‘unexplained infertility.’ Doctors cannot find a single thing wrong with me or my husband — on paper, we both physically look perfect. There isn’t a reason, a cause, or a diagnosis as to why we haven’t been able to get pregnant.

Our only option left was IVF, in-vitro fertilization. This process involves fertilizing my eggs in a laboratory setting, hoping they grow, and then implanting them back into my body. Unfortunately, this type of procedure is not covered by insurance, and we were facing a debt of $20,000 to $30,000 for a single cycle, a single attempt to get pregnant.

In person, I’ve been very open about what my husband and I are going through. I had no shame in showing our waitress my ectopic surgery scars, when she candidly asks, ‘so, are you guys going to have kids?’ Because, here’s the thing: infertility struggles are SO common, and yet NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT.

Infertility is such an incredible, emotional roller coaster. It feels isolating. It feels unfair. It feels like mother nature and your body are betraying you. It is expensive. It is painful. It is full of fear. And couples silently suffer.

I became very passionate about breaking the taboo of not discussing the fact that sometimes couples and women go through hell and back to get pregnant and stay pregnant. All we see is the beautiful belly bump, ooh and aww at tiny socks at the baby shower, and smell the top of the baby’s head once they are born. Yet behind the scenes there was years of tears, pills, shots, doctor’s visits, tests, procedures, and even more tears.

Amanda Naor Photography

As a newborn and family lifestyle photographer, my work is fueled by storytelling. I decided to begin documenting and sharing our story because I wanted others to know that they are not alone. This journey that my husband and I were on is our story. It is the story of how we will, someday, become parents. It will be our future child’s story. And I wanted to celebrate and share other family’s stories too.

Amanda Naor Photography

I started a project I named the #worththewait series, where I gift a newborn or family session as often as I can to a family that has overcome infertility or pregnancy loss. I share their story, I celebrate the family they so desperately fought to create, and honor the incredibly painful route it took to get there.

Ultimately, for my husband and myself — we took out a $15,000 interest-free loan specifically dedicated for infertility treatments through the Feit4Kidz Foundation, and liquidated our savings account and my photography business account. We also set up a GoFundMe to which the response from family, friends, and even strangers was truly overwhelming.

We started our first IVF cycle in June of 2017, exactly 2 years after we started trying to have a family. The whole process is intense. A delicate dance and balance of stimulating your ovaries to produce as many good quality of eggs to be retrieved at the exact right moment. What that looks like behind the scenes is thousands of dollars in fertility drugs, and nightly cocktails of shots into the abdomen.

Amanda Naor Photography

I bruised. I went in to see my doctor for constant monitoring. I was a walking science experiment pumped full of hormones.

Amanda Naor Photography

At one of my appointments, my IVF coordinator and nurse was writing the latest updates in my chart. I laughed and told her that I was so greatly humored by its size.

She looked me in the eyes, and said: ‘I don’t call these charts. I call them stories. Because stories always have a happy ending.’ I couldn’t have imagined going through everything that we did without this saint of a woman.

Amanda Naor Photography

On the day of the egg retrieval, we had 21 eggs retrieved and were over the moon ecstatic. Deep down, I felt convinced this was it. Our baby was in this batch of eggs.

Amanda Naor Photography

The next day my nurse called with devastating news. A majority of my eggs weren’t able to be fertilized with my husband’s sperm. Out of the 21 eggs, only 5 were able to be fertilized by the lab, and then only 3 began to grow.

Amanda Naor Photography

We ended up only having 1 embryo make it. It was absolutely crushing.

After meeting with our doctor, we decided to do another egg retrieval a month later in hopes of creating more embryos. We didn’t know if this single embryo that we had was genetically normal. There’s a risk of miscarriage that comes with a price tag of doing a frozen embryo transfer that we just were not willing to gamble on at that point. ‘Embryo banking’ is the phrase, doing egg retrievals to get enough frozen embryos to send off to genetic testing, to then hopefully have a small handful we know are genetically normal. So, with a deep breath, we hit the ground running again.

Amanda Naor Photography

The blessing and curse with IVF is that for how much incredible science there is available to us, there’s a whole lotta magic to the process too. For how much we do know, what we can learn from, and how much doctor’s can intervene… there’s a maddening aspect that mother nature is still in control when it’s all said and done. My body was a guinea pig to science, and with a brand new protocol, we were hoping to find the perfect cocktail of technology and pixie dust that will allow the stars to align and give us our baby.

Amanda Naor Photography
Amanda Naor Photography

Our second cycle yielded incredible results. The trauma from the outcome from our first cycle kept us extremely nervous and cautious the whole time, but ultimately after having 20 eggs retrieved, 13 were fertilized, and 8 grew to embryos to be able to be frozen.

Amanda Naor Photography

We sent those 8, along with the 1 from our first cycle, off to get genetically tested and anxiously waited for the results.

Amanda Naor Photography

About a week later, my nurse called with the beautiful results that 4 of our 9 embryos came back normal. This was it. This is what we had fought so hard for. 4 opportunities for life sat in a tank in a lab waiting for us.

Amanda Naor Photography

The process for preparing for frozen embryo transfer was equally as crazy as the process for a retrieval — but in a whole different way. I was on a regimen of pills, vaginal suppositories, and intramuscular shots. And by intramuscular shots I mean 2.5 inch needles that go into your butt. Nightly.

Amanda Naor Photography
Amanda Naor Photography

November 10, 2017, was our frozen embryo transfer. I officially became PUPO: Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise.

Amanda Naor Photography

Twelve days later, I went back to my clinic and did an hCG blood test.

Amanda Naor Photography

My nurse called a few hours later: ‘Are you guys ready….? This is the phone call you’ve been waiting for! ………You are very, VERY pregnant!’

The tears. Oh, the tears.

Amanda Naor Photography
Amanda Naor Photography

At this moment in time, I am currently 23 weeks pregnant. Which is so surreal to say.

I wish I could say that these past months have been full of sunshine and rainbows and utter elation. But the truth is, there simply are no easy ‘tied up in a neat little bow’ scenarios after going through this crazy, difficult, path. The roller coaster isn’t over simply because you’re pregnant.

A few days after my husband and I heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, I found myself googling ‘depression after successful IVF.’ I never would have imagined this would be how I was feeling. But here I was… so unbelievably grateful, but yet so very sad and numb.

I could have never anticipated feeling or experiencing what happened… a complete identity crisis. I was no longer a victim of infertility. We had, at least for now, made it to the other side. This is what we had been fighting for, what we had sacrificed for, gone into debt for, been through the most intense and emotional ups and downs for. This goal. This outcome. It was here, it had happened… and I had no idea who I was anymore.

Amanda Naor Photography

I all of a sudden found myself in limbo of two worlds. I didn’t belong in the infertility community anymore, and I didn’t fit in the natural pregnancy world either. In fact, I felt like I’ve betrayed the infertility community. How come this happened for me, yet so many women are still fighting and enduring? I was devastated to think I was going to lose this tribe of women who had become such a crucial support system in my life. We were no longer fighting the same fight, and I didn’t want to stop being a part this beautiful community. Full blown survivor’s guilt.

Amanda Naor Photography

I had two scary bleeds early on. We had decided to transfer two embryos, and learned at the first ultrasound that only 1 baby made it. I was finally pregnant and simultaneously deeply grieving the loss of another life that could have been. A son or daughter. A brother or sister.

I will be honest and say that nothing about this stage in the journey is anything like I thought it would be. Neither good, nor bad… but when you have years and years to dream about achieving this goal, it’s so easy to create a fantasy in your head. Fantasy isn’t reality. It’s a lesson I’m adjusting to every single day.

I am beyond, beyond grateful to be here… but all this still feels very surreal. Over time, pregnancy has become an abstract concept in my mind — and it’s nearly impossible to connect this miracle to me and my body. I take self-portraits of my growing belly because I know one day I’ll look back on these moments in awe.

The trauma and struggle from infertility doesn’t end with the positive pregnancy test, it doesn’t end with what so far is a healthy pregnancy and perfectly growing baby. Before starting IVF, I found an incredible therapist who specializes in infertility. She did multiple rounds of IVF herself and had very traumatic pregnancies and births. If there’s any professional who gets it, it’s her. And she reminds me constantly that all this is normal. ‘I can’t fix normal,’ she tells me. I know I’m not alone. I know so many women experience this, it’s just not something that is talked about. But this side of the infertility journey is just as important to address in my opinion. Does feeling this way feel good? Absolutely not. I dreamed for the pregnancy of rainbows and sunshine through years of tears and fear that this would never happen for me. But I am trying to take each day as it comes with no expectations on how I should feel, or what I should feel. I’m working on being present after years and years of dreaming.

But I do know one thing for certain — this baby that is growing inside me right now… they will have been worth the wait.”

Amanda Naor Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Naor of Amanda Naor Photography in Los Angeles, California. She was inspired to create her #worththewait series after experiencing her own infertility struggle. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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