‘We didn’t know what was ‘wrong.’ Months went by with nothing. I was left more and more devastated with each negative test.’: Young couple fights through IVF, male-factor infertility, ‘We try to look with a positive light’

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“Jake and I met on move-in day of our freshman year of college. We dated all through college and got married in September 2015. We have always wanted 3-4 kids, but we were going to enjoy being newlyweds for a little bit first. Surprisingly, a few months after getting married my period was 10 days late and we thought maybe I was pregnant. It turns out I was not pregnant, but we both realized at that moment we wanted to start actively trying to have kids. Months went by with no pregnancies, so we decided to begin doing some things that are supposed to increase the chances of getting pregnant. I researched everything that I could on natural fertility and pregnancy health and cleaned up my diet. I remember the first few months I was convinced that it was so easy to get pregnant, and I would take an early response pregnancy test even before my missed period. Every month was a rollercoaster that left me more and more devastated with each negative pregnancy test. Finally, after over a year of trying (and failing) to get pregnant we decided to find a fertility clinic near us. We were scheduled to have a consultation a few months out, so it was more waiting.

When we got to the clinic, I was embarrassed to walk in and embarrassed to make eye contact with the other couples in the waiting room. I remember thinking, ‘What are we doing here? We are healthy 26-year old’s!’ I had always thought fertility clinics were for older couples or people with major health problems.

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

After a few quick tests, the reproductive endocrinologist came into our tiny consultation room and started talking about next steps. Fertility paths such as Clomid, IUIs, and IVF were thrown at us and we left there with our heads spinning. We were so overwhelmed with the information overload and left with a huge packet of even more information. We just wanted to have a baby! It should be easy right?! I had a few more tests done, including an MRI to rule out a tumor on my thyroid, and everything kept coming back normal. We thought stress may be preventing us from getting pregnant, so we opted to keep trying naturally for a few more months. In the meantime, Jake would have a semen analysis done. With a second test confirming the results of the first, Jake was diagnosed with azoospermia.

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

This means that there is absolutely no sperm in the sample. Obviously, these were not the results we were hoping for, but at least we had a new direction to go in.

Jake was referred to a urologist, and we had to wait until after the holidays for that consultation. At this point we were almost 2 years into trying to get pregnant and we still hadn’t told anyone we were even trying, let alone going through infertility testing. Going through all of this was really hard on both of us, but it was hitting me the hardest. I was going through extreme ups and downs and bouts of mild depression. I was in no place emotionally to spend another holiday season childless, with everyone (innocently) asking when we would finally have kids. We would always smile and try to make a joke or deflect, but inside I was broken. I wanted to either skip the holiday season all together or just spend them drinking a lot of wine. Jake and I had always been open books. We shared everything with our family and friends, and to not share this huge part of our life was eating away at us. Jake would have been fine telling people what was going on, but for some reason I just could not talk about it with anyone. As a result, we felt isolated and alone. Every pregnancy announcement and birth would make me cry. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for the couple, I was just sad for us. I knew this wasn’t a good way to view it, but for some reason I couldn’t help it.

We made it through the holidays, but we still didn’t know what was ‘wrong.’ Based on our own research, we were hoping Jake had obstructive azoospermia, which could just mean a one-time surgery to unblock the obstruction. The urologist did a physical exam and immediately knew something was not right. The doctor suspected Jake was a carrier of Cystic Fibrosis, which blood tests later confirmed to be the case. Some male carriers of CF have a genetic mutation called Congenital Bilateral Absence of the Vas Deferens (CBAVD), which Jake ended up having. The way that we like to explain it to people is that it’s like Jake was born with a vasectomy. That tube (vas deferens) never developed, and there was no way to surgically input an artificial tube. The urologist told Jake that our only chance of having biological children was through In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). It was devastating news to hear, but we actually look back at that day and laugh. Since the case was pretty rare and he was at a teaching hospital, the urologist asked Jake if some of the residents could come in the room and try to diagnose him on their own. He said ‘Sure, why not? Anything for the advancement of medicine.’ As he laid on a table with no pants on, 5 aspiring doctors walked into the room and each tried to diagnose the problem. After having to hear the urologist explain the diagnosis 5 more times to the residents, Jake left the hospital. I will never forget sitting at work as Jake called me to tell me that our only option to have kids is through IVF. So many thoughts rushed through my head. ‘But what about our 3-4 kids!?!’ ‘What does IVF even entail!?’ ‘Can we afford it?!’ I was confused, overwhelmed, and very emotional.

Jake and I gave ourselves a week to feel sorry for ourselves. After we accepted this was our only option, it felt like a weight was lifted off our shoulders, because for the first time we had an actual diagnosis and an actual plan! We had no idea how we were going to pay for IVF, as we had already put thousands into tests and appointments and one round of IVF would end up costing about $20,000 out of pocket for us. We buckled down on our spending, sold some of our stuff, scraped together everything we had, and by the grace of God Jake secured a couple big construction projects and I received a raise at work that I wasn’t expecting, so we were able to move forward with IVF. Although I was scared, I was so excited to start the process. We decided that since this was official, we were doing IVF, we were going to start telling our family and friends. After suffering alone for 2 years, we were overwhelmed with the love and support that we received. We didn’t know anyone who had gone through IVF, but even though no one knew exactly what we were going through, they loved us, so they hurt for us. All of my worries about judgement and negativity were for nothing, and I wish that we would have opened up a little sooner, because we no longer felt so alone. I also discovered a huge community on Instagram of other couples going through infertility and IVF. I created a separate Instagram account (@faiththroughinfertility) and connected with so many people who were going through exactly what we were going through (and more). I was so inspired by so many amazing people and felt like our story was one day going to help someone, just like their stories had helped me, which is why I wanted to document our journey. It was such a great support system for me to learn, ask questions, get tips, and just get encouragement from people who had first-hand experience.

The first step of the IVF process was Jake’s surgical sperm aspiration (PESA). The urologist thought that Jake was crazy because he opted out of full anesthesia to save $500. It was a quick (but painful) procedure and the doctor came back to the waiting room and told me ‘We’ve got swimmers!’ It was good news, and everything looked great. We ran into a few roadblocks when they found endometrial polyps during one of my tests, which were caused from the hormones that I was on. Luckily, they were able to squeeze the polypectomy surgery in quickly, so that it did not push everything back by a whole month. We started nightly injections for 10 days to stimulate my ovaries to try to grow as many eggs as possible to retrieve from me.

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

The first injection was the hardest, and it took me a good 5 minutes of holding the needle an inch from my stomach saying ‘I can’t do this’ before I got up the nerve. Saturday night shots took on a whole new meaning for us, but we were a great team with Jake mixing and drawing up the meds, and me administering them into my bruised stomach. I was put under anesthesia for the egg retrieval and ended up having complications afterwards, but we ended up with 6 high grade frozen embryos.We had to wait another month to do a frozen embryo transfer (FET), which involved more meds and starting Intramuscular shots administered in my butt.

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

This meant that Jake would now be my shot administrator. These shots will last through 10 weeks of pregnancy or until a negative pregnancy test. I cried during the first shot (a combination of nerves and pain) and could barely walk the next day, but Jake has gotten so good at administering them that they are no problem now. The morning of the FET I was actually really calm and didn’t have much anxiety going into it (even before they gave me the Valium).

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

We had so many friends and family reach out that morning saying we were in their thoughts and prayers, which made us feel so loved. We transferred one beautiful, fully hatched ‘6BA’ embryo and the procedure was so fast and went so smoothly. Now we wait 10 days for a blood test to see if it worked! I have never been pregnant before, so I am excited to be considered pregnant until proven otherwise (PUPO) or better yet – pregnant and staying pregnant (PASP)!

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

Although our journey through infertility is not over yet, we try to look at everything we have gone through in a positive light. Going through this hardship has been the best thing for our marriage and has brought us so much closer. Together we have learned so much about communication, patience, and being grateful for what we do have. We are blessed with the best family, friends, a dog, a house, jobs, our health, and each other. We also learned to let our loved ones into our lives through the hard times, not just the easy times. We are choosing to believe we will eventually become parents one day and finally get our 3-4 kids!”

Courtesy Alicia Hoffman

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alicia Hoffman, 27 of Howell, Michigan.  You can follow their journey on Instagram hereSubmit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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