‘People say, ‘You’re so strong.’ I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted to be pregnant, and we were willing to do whatever it took.’: Couple battling infertility say ‘the future will be beautiful’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of miscarriage that may be triggering to some.

“My husband and I met when we were 14 years old. I would not say I ‘knew’ then… but I knew we had something special. It’s such a cliché, I know. We were so young, but I just felt immediately drawn to him. He has deep blue eyes, a warmness about him, and a quick wit that met me at my level. 4 months into dating, he told me one day we’d get married.

And a little over 9 years later, on the most perfect day, we did.

young couple smiling
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson
couple on their wedding day
Heidi Graves Photography

We always knew we wanted children ‘eventually,’ but we never felt in any sort of rush or hurry. It never seemed like it was time, and we felt we’d know when it was. There was so much life to live, and we had waited a long time to start our lives together. We made career moves, we traveled the world together, we enjoyed our time. It had been us against the world since ‘us’ began… and we could never fully imagine there being someone else in that picture… until one day we could.

In the summer of 2019, we were ready. Everything feels whimsical and meant to be starting out. I stopped my birth control the week before we left on a trip to Italy and Greece. I couldn’t shake the idea of how special it would be if I got pregnant on that trip. Still, I had no expectations. I assumed it would take a few months, and that was okay. We came to the process of trying to grow our family with such nonchalance and very much not wanting to ‘think about it too much’ or stress.

couple in Greece
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson

Months went by with nothing and suddenly, I was having to think about it. I was tracking cycles. I was taking my temperature at 6 a.m. every morning, trying to pin down an ovulation window. I was taking ovulation predictor kits with no clear answers either way. We continued to live our life despite this. We went to Germany and Austria in December of 2019 where we stumbled into a pharmacy affixed amongst the Christmas markets and bought a pregnancy test. I just felt like this was the one. It had to be. I ‘felt pregnant’ the whole trip. Negative.

couple on boat
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson

Suddenly, we found ourselves at that dreaded 1-year mark where it’s time to get some help. Amidst the COVID pandemic, we met with our reproductive endocrinologist virtually for the first time in July of 2020. What seemed like it would be scary was a breath of fresh air as it was determined I likely wasn’t ovulating on my own. We had answers, AND we had potential solutions. We jumped right into medicated cycles with pills and injections trying to get me to ovulate.

We felt rejuvenated and hopeful, but when we saw the positive pregnancy test… we didn’t believe it. I got pregnant the very first medicated cycle. We were in complete shock for days followed by so much excitement. That was it. This was all we needed. We had beaten infertility and we were finally moving on! We told our best friends almost immediately, and we bought a onesie and made plans to tell our parents after our first ultrasound. After over a year to get here… we wanted to see a heartbeat and know for sure before we shared any further.

The morning of our ultrasound came and we made plans to meet at the clinic together. We sat in the room together, feeling like in just minutes our lives would change forever. We would be seeing our BABY’S HEARTBEAT. How surreal. We soaked in the moments until our doctor walked through the door.

We soaked in the moments as we made small talk. We soaked in the moments through our nerves. We soaked in the moments of what I thought would be my last transvaginal ultrasound. We soaked it all in up until the moment we heard the words no one wants to hear, in hindsight, one is never really prepared for. ‘I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat.’

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about miscarriage. Because this is so under-discussed and almost treated as something to sweep under the rug… I  was REALLY unprepared. I was unprepared for the physical pain that did not relent for hours and ended in an emergency room visit. We were both unprepared for the emotional pain. I assumed earlier losses were ‘easier’ in some aspect. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We felt a love we never knew before and imagined a future with a world of possibilities in a few weeks’ time. And now, overnight, we had to mourn those ideas.

We felt that we had a strong relationship before this happened. But there was a depth we reached when the ground fell out from under us that we had never known. We hated this happened, but we were grateful for those few weeks of bliss. In some ways, it was incredibly special and vulnerable to share the same grief together, which only we could fully feel.

What an absolutely bittersweet privilege to share that connection.

couple outside
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson

We came out of our miscarriage feeling like we had overcome something. We emerged at a united front. We had worked through our feelings, processed what had happened, and were ready to keep trying. The medications worked for us, and quickly! It was just going to be a matter of time. One month we’d get it right. So we continued on.

It gets monotonous. Especially after a few months. Report your period, take a few days of Clomid, head in for an early morning ultrasound to see if your body is producing a follicle, trigger ovulation with an injection when instructed. Then follows a few days of sex timed from your injection, a 2-week wait to take a pregnancy test, a negative, a mourning, a rinse, and repeat. You learn to roll with the absurdity of the scheduling, make things as spontaneous as possible, and become very comfortable with your doctor’s office. Something that starting out so nonchalant and magical became not necessarily mundane, but it was simply our everyday.

At our fifth medicated cycle, we were getting a little discouraged. Three failed cycles in a row and we started to feel like my previous pregnancy had been a fluke. Would we ever get back there? We were a bit unsure. So unsure when we once again saw a positive pregnancy test, we didn’t believe it.

This happened right at my 30th birthday and it felt meant to be. We had a trip planned and we left the day we found out I was pregnant. We were celebrating more than just my birthday! We overcame our valley, and now we had our redemption. We spent the dreamiest weekend getting to revisit conversations we had to table after our miscarriage.

The bleeding started just days after, and I was so matter-of-fact I walked up to Cody from the bathroom and exclaimed, ‘Well… it’s over.’ A few weeks of confusion and the emotional back and forth of rising and falling pregnancy hormone levels followed. I couldn’t shake an overwhelming feeling that something was really wrong, which eventually landed me back in the emergency room. Another pregnancy hormone level was drawn and the doctor told us our levels were dropping.

Here we were, again. In the emergency room, again. Being told a pregnancy was not looking good, again. Of course. ‘This is just how it is for us,’ I thought as I headed to our ultrasound. This time, in the winter of 2021 with COVID-19 cases spiking in our area, my husband was not allowed to go. As I held my breath alone during the ultrasound, and as the ultrasound went on longer, the ground again fell out from under me. There was no uterine pregnancy detected, and it was suspected I was having an ectopic pregnancy.

My husband found out we had another nonviable pregnancy via text message in the car outside. And this time, feelings of grief were waiting at the door to greet us like an old friend. We knew this complicated, sinking feeling. But this pregnancy was different in my health was in danger if it continued to progress as my fallopian tube where our pregnancy implanted could rupture. Less than 24 hours after finding out about my ectopic pregnancy, we arrived at the surgery center and the pregnancy was removed along with my left fallopian tube.

We were so disappointed. We settled into the fog we knew too well. We retracted good news from people we had told. We felt the sting of people just not really knowing what to say once again. When we got to the point of being ready to move forward: suddenly our answer wasn’t going back to medicated cycles. My ectopic complicated things. I was terrified to have another, and after two consecutive losses, we wanted to lower our chances of another loss as close to zero as possible. We then elected to move to IVF.

woman injecting herself
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson

It’s odd being THAT couple that is doing IVF. It is so much your every day, but people around you say all kinds of things to be encouraging as they watch you plunge into something so unnatural: ‘You’re so strong.’ ‘You show so much grace through this difficult path.’ I did not want to be strong. I did not want to be graceful. I wanted to be pregnant, and we were willing to do whatever it took. You will surprise yourself with the amount of fight you’re willing to put up to get there.

Before you start IVF, lots of workups is done to figure out how to best optimize your medications for your body’s needs. In that testing, we discovered yet another hurdle, and it was a big one: Diminished Ovarian Reserve. My ovaries contained a much lower number of eggs than is normal for my age. As I had just turned 30, I felt ancient with this news. This was also the first time in this trek we began to truly wonder: are children just not in our future?

I can’t explain how devastatingly paralyzing that thought is. Something we just assumed would be waiting for us when we were ready is not, and now we aren’t sure if we can get there.  Time is of the essence and we were now being prepped to expect to not get a large number of eggs through IVF. If the most invasive fertility treatment can’t help us…. what could?

woman on doctor's table
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson

We had to at least try, so we fought through our uncertainties and decided to give it a shot. Many shots, actually. I got bloated and emotional but remained positive this could finally bring us our baby. I remained positive through ultrasound after ultrasound showing I was growing few mature-sized follicles. I remained positive when we were told we ended up with only one. All of the shots, blood, sweat, and tears for JUST ONE.

We chose to roll the dice and proceed to egg retrieval. And somehow, our one egg grew and divided normally, and we transferred.

It was a day that we both describe as magical. We knew all too well this could still not implant and result in a pregnancy, but it was such an accomplishment making it to this day and we were determined to enjoy it. They asked what music we wanted played during. We got to watch our embryo being transferred on ultrasound, seen as a flash of light. What a privilege to get to SEE life at its very primitive stages. The life we created together, with some help from science. It was amazing.

couple watching embryo transfer
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson

We spent a week in bliss. When I took my first pregnancy test and saw the line I’ve seen twice before, I still did not believe it. There was NO way this worked. There was no way our one embryo pulled through. And again, those old feelings of grief filed in to greet us at my blood draw to confirm pregnancy that told us I was pregnant, but the level was low. The second blood draw confirmed what we feared as it had dropped even lower: chemical pregnancy. Our embryo implanted… but it stopped.

As we are now in the midst of planning our next steps, we are brought back to an overwhelming feeling of why: why are we doing this? Why is this so hard for us? Why are we in this constant state of waiting and wanting? Why do we have to put so much thought, time, energy, and money into the possibility of something that for many just… happens? Why us?

I tell our story for many reasons. As humans, we are drawn towards a clear-cut story arc with a happy ending and clear resolution. How do you share a story that has not yet ended? For many of us walking through this, the road is much longer than anticipated and oftentimes complicated. That can feel intimidating and heavy at times. In a sea of pregnancy announcements and baby showers, it’s easy to feel left behind. It’s also easy to want to put on a brave face and prove to others you are doing great, this isn’t as heavy as it feels. But it’s okay to sit here in the uncertainty for a while. It’s harder to move through it without acknowledging it. And while this has brought us a lot of heartbreak, it’s also given us strength and appreciation for life and one another we never had before.

There was a moment we realized our trek through infertility was uniquely ours. The time this is taking and the setbacks we’ve experienced have no bearing on our future. What is that future? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. We have picked ourselves up off the floor time and time again, knowing even the outcomes we don’t hope for are propelling us towards something good. And we continue on, in the midst of murky waters, making the best decisions we can and walking hand in hand towards whatever that may be.

One day, one way, we’ll be on the other side of this. And no matter what the future may hold, knowing we have each other, it will be beautiful.”

couple embracing
Courtesy of Sarah Rogers Johnson
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