‘How’s your alcohol tolerance?’ She administered the anesthesia herself. I heard myself flatline.’: Woman details ‘traumatizing’ IVF experience leading to rainbow baby, ‘It’ll all be worth it’

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“As we write this, we are around 26 weeks pregnant from our fourth IVF transfer. Let’s start by taking you back to the beginning.

We had everything planned out, from our wedding to our work situation to offer us more flexibility after we have kids. A year into our marriage, we were finally ready to start trying as everything else in our plan had fallen into place. We had the expectations within a few months, we would be able to share some good news with our family and friends, and our plan would continue on its original trajectory.

As a few months passed, our excitement for the future began to grow dim. As much as we tried to keep our enthusiasm high, we couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room. We started asking ourselves: Is there something we’re missing? Is there something we’re doing wrong? Is there something wrong with us? That was the beginning of our infertility journey.

Sunny Golden Photography

Not knowing what to do, we did the next logical thing, which was trying to find help. We started talking to doctors about our situation and quickly realized their opinions were mixed. We started sharing our challenges with our friends and family in hopes to gain clarity, and their opinions were also mixed. This totally blindsided us. We couldn’t get any straight answers or a definitive solution on how we can proceed, and we felt really helpless. We remember feeling very stagnant while everybody else was getting pregnant and had the magical formula which we weren’t privy to. We felt really alone.

In addition, at the time, my grandfather’s health started to decline and there was a sense of urgency to give him a great-grandchild to hold in his arms. I was really close to him and it almost felt like my duty to do this for him before he passed. This added a lot of strain to our marriage, making this stressful journey even more so. This led to us making many rushed decisions in hindsight, leading to poor choices, one of which was not finding the right doctor. We initially assumed all fertility doctors were created equal.

The first doctor we saw didn’t run any tests and prescribed Clomid to us. We followed his instructions for 2 months and did not get any results. The second doctor we saw ran some tests and recommended IUI with Clomid to start. We did two rounds of IUIs and didn’t get any results. This doctor then introduced us to a mini-IVF with less medicine and a higher success rate compared to IUI. She also talked to us about gender selection and asked if we wanted twins, which was all very new to us, but it gave us hope and excitement we were getting closer to parenthood. It was during the retrieval we realized, in fact, not all doctors are created equal and we needed to start advocating for ourselves. The hospital was a very foreign place to me and it was the first time I had to undergo a procedure.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

On the day of the retrieval, I was in my medical gown and had been mentally preparing myself for this day. It was early in the morning and the facility was cold and sterile, and on top of that, I was separated from Jeremy. While on the medical table with my feet in the stirrups, the doctor asked: ‘How is your alcohol tolerance?’ I responded with, ‘It’s pretty good.’ She then proceeded to administer anesthesia herself. At the time, I did not think anything of it as I didn’t know any better. I later learned doctors usually have an anesthesiologist that is responsible for administering the anesthesia and monitoring my vitals so the doctor can focus entirely on the procedure and not on my heart rate.

What happened next literally felt like a scene out of a movie. I heard myself flatline.

The doctor started shaking me profusely and asking me to breathe. I can remember thinking to myself this might be my last breath and I hope they can at least retrieve a couple of eggs. Eventually, my pulse came back and I started to stabilize before they proceeded with the procedure. However, I was awake the entire time, which made it even more uncomfortable. On top of that, I was trying to process what had just happened. Needless to say, my first IVF experience was traumatizing so far.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

After the retrieval, my nurse rolled me into another room, where Jeremy was waiting. The doctor shared she was not able to retrieve any eggs. Our world was shattered and the tears immediately started flowing and we were completely heartbroken. Although I came close to death, the most disappointing part was the fact the doctor was not able to retrieve any eggs. This was the first time we saw how serious the risks can be for IVF. And the kicker? We learned, later on, there weren’t any eggs because the timing of the trigger shot was incorrect. To go through all of this and the reason we didn’t get any eggs was because of poor timing?

Courtesy of Anna Wang

Our first IVF was such a traumatic experience our hope was completely crushed. We felt like if we were to continue with treatment, the risks were way too high. Jeremy started to see things differently as he didn’t want to lose me in the process of trying to conceive. We took a year and a half off from western treatment and started to explore eastern medicine that offered a more holistic approach. This led us to try acupuncture, taking herbal supplements, doing fertility yoga, and learning more about our bodies and what supplements to take. What was most interesting about this part of our journey was it led us to take a trip to Bali, Indonesia, where we met with a spiritual healer and not just any spiritual healer.

We learned about this healer after watching, ‘Eat. Pray. Love.’ and thought to ourselves, ‘Why not give him a try?’ It seemed like such an insane idea at the time but we were definitely at our wit’s end. We were desperate.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

It was an eye-opening experience because the advice he gave us was something we would’ve never expected in a million years! Our first impression of him was we got the wrong guy. When we reached his compound, we were greeted by his assistant who led to an open-air hut to wait for him. We could see a glimpse of him enjoying a cigarette. He had the biggest smile and some missing teeth. Jeremy and I looked at each other and knew we were too committed to leave at this point.

After he finished his cigarette, he proceeded to give us a physical exam, by poking us all over our bodies with a wooden stick. Talk about new experiences, this was definitely one for the books. We were in a foreign country in a small town trying a radically new medical approach to our infertility journey and as respectful as we were trying to be, at this point, we couldn’t help but think to ourselves, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’

After the physical, he proceeded to whisper something in Jeremy’s ear. This was his final piece of advice to help us get pregnant. Until this day, we don’t know what was more shocking: the fact he recommended Jeremy improve his oral sex techniques or that he was also making slurping noises at the same time. It was extremely uncomfortable to maintain eye contact with him, to say the least, but maybe it was also due to the fact my parents were present sitting next to us! Obviously, my parents were also really eager to hear what this magical healer recommended for us. That was an awkward conversation we never want to have again. My parents were in total disbelief and my father looked so uncomfortable it was actually kind of entertaining. Don’t worry, we still vacation with my parents and laugh about this experience from time to time.

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After a year and a half break and still not getting pregnant on our own, we decided to see our OB/GYN for more testing. My blood tests came back normal and laparoscopy was recommended for us. During the procedure, the doctor cleaned out all of the endometriosis that was visible on my lining and it was a straightforward procedure with no complications. Although I was terrified of going under anesthesia again, it was a completely different experience.

After the procedure and trying naturally for a year, we decided to see another IVF doctor who came highly recommended by a friend. After all of the lab workups, this doctor recommended our first go at a conventional IVF. The injections and side effects were no joke, I literally felt like a crazy person at times. But in the end, it was worth it when we retrieved 30 eggs and four of them passed PGS testing at the end.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

We were over the moon and thought: ‘This is it! At least one of them should work!’ We went into the first IVF transfer with high hopes, but it didn’t take. The doctor did more testing, one specifically was the ERA test to pinpoint my implantation window. I vividly remember this test as it was the first time they biopsied my lining while I was awake and the pain was excruciating. I felt every cut and scrape and by the end of it, I was exhausted and covered in sweat. The results showed my lining was receptive and the implantation window was correct.

They also biopsied my lining another time to see if there was any inflammation and that test came back positive for mild endometritis. The inflammation was so persistent I tried three different types of antibiotics over the course of 7 weeks before finally getting rid of the inflammation. The side effects of the meds were horrible. From the migraines to stomachaches to feeling like my skin was on fire from sun exposure, it was very difficult to be myself during these 7 weeks, especially around others. It was finally time for our second IVF transfer and we went into it with more confidence.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

It was a big milestone for us because we actually got a BFP on a pregnancy test! It was the first time we had ever seen a positive pregnancy test and I immediately broke down in tears. ‘This is it! We’re finally pregnant!’ I shouted.

However, our excitement was short-lived as soon as we got the blood test results back and learned my HCG levels weren’t where they should be, so it wasn’t a viable pregnancy. I felt numb and lost and continued with the injections until the final blood test showed it was an early miscarriage. It was one of the darkest times of my life and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

For anyone going through this, you know from firsthand experience the side effects and the mood swings from the drugs and hormones are no joke. While recovering from it physically, we also needed some time to heal emotionally. We decided to take some time off before continuing treatment.

After a year-long break, we finally had the courage to try again. For our third IVF transfer, we decided to transfer the last two embryos at once. Despite the warnings we got from our doctor and friends about the complications that can arise from having twins, we were desperate and thought why not improve our chances by transferring both. We were so positive it would work this time and we even recorded the moment we got the call from the doctor, certain it was going to be good news.  But instead, our world came crashing down in an instant when we heard the words, ‘I’m sorry. You’re not pregnant.’

By now, we were completely defeated and weren’t sure if we had the strength to keep going. We felt broken, guilty, and confused. It could never happen for us. Our doctor mentioned surrogacy, which was very difficult to hear as we wanted to give it at least one last try.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

Even though we wanted to push forward, we definitely weren’t ready to. It was time for us to step back, look at the bigger picture, and really figure out if we were able to continue on this journey. This brought us back to my near-death experience from the first IVF retrieval and I realized there was a silver lining. The experience showed me how resilient I was and what I was willing to risk to grow our family. We also came to the realization everyone has their own timeline and path to walk. We will continue to walk ours no matter how long it takes. This new perspective brought us comfort and gave us clarity.

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We felt as if a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders and for the very first time on our journey, we did something we should’ve done a long time ago: we consulted with eight different doctors after doing a ton of research. This experience was eye-opening as we were able to compare the doctors side-by-side and choose the right one for us, very much like a tasting menu where you can easily identify what suits you. We ended up choosing a doctor with a great reputation and one of the best labs in the nation. This was only apparent to us through the multiple consultations. The consults were expensive but ultimately gave us great confidence in our decision. If there’s one piece of advice you can take from this whole story, this is the one.

Our third IVF retrieval was also filled with challenges of its own as we went from a conventional IVF to a long Lupron protocol, which is supposed to yield better quality embryos. It was 33 days of injections, and this time, the side effects were the worst I have ever experienced. Meanwhile, this was happening with the backdrop of the pandemic and the risk of our cycle being canceled at any moment. It felt so surreal when we had to sign a waiver releasing all liability from our doctor and lab if our cycle was canceled due to COVID19. This was such a big deal at the time NBC News caught wind of it and interviewed us to gain insight, as IVF cycles were being canceled left and right. At the time of the interview, we were halfway through our cycle and prayed every day we would make it to the finish line.

Courtesy of Anna Wang

We are happy to report we made it to our retrieval day and retrieved 18 eggs successfully! 2 days later, our lab closed to the public and all cycles were canceled. Talk about cutting it close. We aren’t sure how we managed the anxiety and stayed level-headed through the process, but it definitely paid off in the end as we ended up with three PGS embryos!

Courtesy of Anna Wang

June 9, 2020, was the day that changed our lives. 436 injections, 2738 days of trying to conceive, one miscarriage, two surgeries, five biopsies, two IUIs, three IVF retrievals, four IVF transfers, hundreds of pills, blood draws, and ultrasounds, and so many tears and prayers later… our fourth IVF transfer was a SUCCESS!

Sunny Golden Photography
Sunny Golden Photography

Even though we’re 26 weeks pregnant now, it still feels surreal. Because of everything we’ve been through, we’re being cautiously optimistic until the baby is born.

Sunny Golden Photography

If there’s anything we’ve learned through it all, it is we are more resilient than we think and this applies to everyone. At times, you might think you don’t have what it takes to keep going, but I want to reassure you that you do. You are NOT ALONE and there are many of us walking the same path as you. Lean on those around you and give them a chance to be there for you. It is a difficult journey but it’s easier with the right support system and community. Everyone has a different path to parenthood, but I believe we will all get there as long as we keep trying. It will all be worth it in the end! We got this!”

Sunny Golden Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Anna Wang from Los Angeles, CA. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Enough. Let’s take a break.’ Having kids wasn’t just a silly dream. I KNEW this was it.’: Woman details infertility and embryo adoption journey, ‘She’s a gift’

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