Disclaimer: This story mentions infertility and may be triggering to some.
Read Shannon’s first story here.
“What is your story?
I am a mother of 5, thanks to IVF. 3 total IVF cycles. 8 total embryos that made it to the stage of viability/transfer, 5 of which survived and now are my beautiful children! I’m also a Nurse Practitioner and Health Coach/Mentor. I feel so honored to share my story and can only pray it helps others maintain hope through what is an incredibly difficult, long, and sometimes lonely road… the road of infertility to becoming a mother.
There are so many unknowns when it comes to infertility. There is so much I can’t control (in fact, nearly nothing I can control). The one thing I CAN control is holding on to hope. So, I was determined to do just that.
‘3 or 4… God willing.’
When people have asked us how many kids we wanted, that’s the answer I gave. Initially, we decided we wanted to be married at least a year before growing our family. We traveled and enjoyed being newlyweds. And of course, when we first started trying, we thought we could get pregnant naturally. Others would ask how many kids we hoped to have. ‘3 or 4… God willing.’ And even after our first failed IVF transfer of 2 perfect embryos, our answer remained the same.
But eventually, that question became harder to hear when we weren’t yet parents and we wanted so badly to be! When we knew that IVF was our only option to become pregnant, when we knew how difficult of a path it may be, it was hard.
The last time I shared my story here, I shared a lot about the emotions surrounding my first IVF cycles, but recently I was asked if my anxiety went away after we had our first child. I was asked how my emotions changed during each subsequent IVF cycle and my pregnancies… and I realized that everything I had been through on my infertility journey had truly instilled a lot of fear, anxiety, and worry that would carry through EVEN when I became a mom of 1, and eventually 5.
I wanted to share my experience with my 3rd and final round of IVF. The cycle that eventually provided me with the absolute joy and blessing of becoming a TWIN mom. It also paints a very clear picture of how many emotions, heartache, struggles, and guilt come along with this journey, even when you’ve been through it before and so blessedly have come out on the other side of it as a mom. Because I realize we have been incredibly lucky! There are so many others out there fighting to become mothers, and for those of you still on your journey to motherhood, my heart aches for you and longs for you to become a mother, too!
My biggest hope is that by sharing my story, it allows you to see it can happen for YOU, too!
IVF Cycle 3, Appointment 1
To say I was anxious or nervous about the first check is an absolute understatement!
With my first 2 IVF cycles, my body always responded more slowly than normal. During the first IVF cycle, my doctor wasn’t sure if we would be able to proceed. But thankfully, my body then began to do its job and responded to the medications appropriately, and we ended up with those 3 embryos. During IVF round 2, I’m not joking, I had a nurse tell me after the first check, ‘I’ve never seen anyone not respond like you.’ She essentially told me we would probably be canceling the cycle. I was devastated. I cried. But we didn’t cancel, and we ended up with 3 beautiful embryos, and 2 of which are my boys, Jameson (2.5 years old) and Madden (1-year-old). The third embryo didn’t survive when it was transferred with Jameson.
So, despite the fact that I knew my body was capable of getting and staying pregnant, there is still that little voice in the back of my head, that ‘what if.’ My husband helped me turn it off. My friends and family helped me turn it off. I wore the same necklace for IVF cycles 2 and 3 that has ‘faith’ inscribed in Ogham, the first written Irish language. As best I could, I held on to hope, looked at the sweet faces of my 2 kiddos, and knew it was possible.
The infertility journey is one big emotional roller coaster.
The IVF cycle with daily shots and medications (sometimes multiple times per day). Will your body respond appropriately? Will the eggs grow to the appropriate size and in near unison, so you have eggs to extract? The worry of the upcoming procedure (the egg retrieval itself) requiring general anesthesia. Fear that we won’t get many eggs and/or none will fertilize. The multitude of questions…
‘How many will we get?’
‘How many will fertilize?’
‘How many will make it to day 5?’
‘Will I become pregnant?’
‘Will I stay pregnant?’
This is what my brain was constantly thinking. Through every IVF cycle. And I had to force myself at times to turn off that voice.
I had to remind myself: there is always hope. That was, and continues to be, my mantra ever since my first IVF cycle.
Then came the egg retrieval and fertilization…
The doctor will use an ultrasound while you’re asleep to visualize the follicles and then use a small needle to drain the follicles (where the eggs are). Smaller follicles can potentially hold a mature egg, so they drain all of them. They collect the fluid and then the embryologist can determine how many they retrieved. While you are in your procedure, they will have your partner (to put in nicely) give their ‘sample.’ You’ll find out on day of retrieval how many eggs they were able to extract. Then, the fertilization report doesn’t come until the day after your procedure.
The fertility journey is one that teaches you a lot of patience — patience while trying to remain hopeful and cautiously optimistic. During our first IVF cycle, we received that Day 1 report (how many eggs had fertilized), and only half had fertilized.
During our 2nd cycle, 5/9 fertilized. However, we also received a Day 2 and Day 3 report… by Day 3, we had 4 embryos that had continued to grow. By day 5 (our transfer day), only 3 had made it.
On IVF round 3, we got the Day 1 fertilization report and then we won’t know anything until transfer day — Day 5. And all we could do was hope and pray that we had at least 1 that made it to the blastocyst stage (giving us the highest chance of it implanting and resulting in a pregnancy).
The wait is brutal!
Minutes feel like days and the days feel like years. My mind was constantly running. Will any make it? If so, how many? Will we have any to transfer? Will we have any to freeze? I always felt so grateful, but I also held onto and STILL hold onto a bit of guilt.
I know there are others who have not been so fortunate. My heart BREAKS for those whom it hasn’t yet worked for. For those who have experienced loss. The inability to get pregnant ‘naturally.’ The failed fertility treatments. The loss of embryos that failed to develop or were not genetically viable. The loss of a pregnancy, a baby, or a child. Each and every day I say a prayer for those that have suffered, endured, and walked through loss.
It’s not easy for me to share my story at times. It makes me crack wide open with vulnerability. But I felt so alone during the first few times I went through this. I can only hope that I can provide a source of support, hope, and inspiration to those who also struggle with infertility or loss.
Then comes embryo transfer day…
Transfer day is ALWAYS an incredibly emotional day for me! To be honest, I never expected to cry the first time we transferred embryos. And I cried every other time thereafter, too!
With our twins, they handed me the picture of the 2 we were going to transfer. Again, I cried. They’re the very ‘first’ pictures I have of my 3 other kiddos — their embryo pictures. It is so beautiful and emotional every time I see it.
The science and medicine aspect of IVF is incredible. Remarkable, really.
Before the actual transfer, the doctor did a ‘test’ to make sure that the transfer would go smoothly and that they could easily visualize my uterus. They then switch the camera so that we can visualize the embryos in the petri dish. We watch as the embryologist sucks them into the catheter, and then hands that catheter to my doctor.
Man, talk about a high-stress job — literally, our embryos were IN HER HANDS. Sheesh, and sometimes I think my job has a lot on the line, but it’s nothing compared to that!
We watched as she transferred the embryos into my uterus, with tears streaming down my face. And just like that, it was done. The transfer itself takes all but a few minutes.
I’m getting pretty used to the waiting game. HA! As a friend of mine who endured the journey of infertility recently said, ‘If nothing else, this journey teaches you patience.’ And isn’t that the truth!
And, finally, we reach the 2 week wait.
If you talk to anyone who has ever gone through infertility treatment, the two week wait is one of the most difficult time periods! It’s the period of time you have to wait from the time the embryo(s) was/were transferred, to the time you take your first HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin level) test to see if the embryo stuck. (Are you pregnant?!)
During that 2 week wait, the doubt floods your mind…
‘Did it work? What happens if it doesn’t work? Then what? We don’t have any embryos left. Would we try again?’
‘I don’t know if I could go through that again — physically, mentally, emotionally, financially.’
It is a LOT to go through not knowing if you’ll even end up with even ONE embryo. And, unfortunately, just because you get embryos doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a baby.
And then, even if I had symptoms, which I hoped were because I was pregnant, I always tried not to get my hopes up or read too much into anything, because I know that hormones can cause very similar symptoms to pregnancy, too. It’s always a game of wanting to remain hopeful, but not too hopeful. Infertility can cause a lot of disappointment, unfortunately. And at times, it affects your future outlook. It’s a constant battle to keep that hope alive.
To test or not to test at home with a traditional urine pregnancy test before your HCG blood draw to determine whether or not you are pregnant?
It’s certainly a hot debate in the fertility community! The doctors will often tell you no — there’s a chance for false positives. My ‘trigger’ shot before the egg retrieval contained HCG and sometimes that is picked up on a pregnancy test if you test too early — and it doesn’t reflect that you’re pregnant.
There is also the chance of a false negative (when it’s just far too early to detect), which would send someone easily into a downward spiral after all they’ve been through.
I went in first thing in the morning, January 2014, and had my blood drawn. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I got the call late afternoon — a call I’ll never forget.
‘I’m so sorry, Shannon. It didn’t work.’
I remember wondering if I’d ever be a mom. I went into a really dark place for a long period of time. The depression and anxiety settled in even more than it had before. I remember the day I got that call, my husband came home from work and held me. My sister came over and also held me as I cried.
Thankfully, that was not the end of our story.
After that, I wanted to be prepared for the phone call. So, on the morning of the blood draw for the twins, I tested at home. I saw TWO lines appear. I had to see those two lines. With my twins, I actually used one that was in a two pack with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And then, I wanted another one that said ‘pregnant.’ It’s a little ridiculous that I spent so much on those tests, but I was so nervous that the first one was a false positive and was still just the HCG in my system from my trigger shot two weeks prior.
But I had 3 positive tests, including the morning of the blood draw. My blood draw was 9 days post-transfer of our 5-day old embryos. The day of my blood draw, I honestly wanted to vomit as I was so nervous. I knew I had 3 positive tests, but it’s not all said and done until the HCG blood level confirms it.
We were so incredibly grateful to hear the words, ‘I am happy to tell you, you are pregnant.’
310 – that was my HCG level. They want it above 50, and ours was 310!
I immediately started crying. I thanked the nurse a million times and hung up the phone. I turned to Dan and my kids and said, ‘Mommy’s pregnant!’ I continued to cry, and Jameson and Brooklyn kept asking why I was crying. ‘Why are you sad, mommy?’ I had to explain that it’s possible to cry HAPPY tears!
Then came HCG #2
My fertility clinic had us do a second HCG to ensure that my levels were rising appropriately. Generally, they hope to see your level double in 48-72 hours as evidence that the embryo(s) have implanted and are starting to grow appropriately.
They always ask me at my appointment, “How’s your day so far?” And my answer is generally the same, ‘Good, but I’ll feel a lot better after I hear the results!’ The WAIT for the phone call is seriously painful. You have no idea if it will be 2 hours or 8 hours, and the minutes drag on!
I left the appointment and drove back to work, willing the time to fly by!
It didn’t. Unfortunately, it was a slow morning at work, so I was literally watching the clock. After three hours, I started getting a huge pit in my stomach. ‘What if it’s lower? Am I actually pregnant? What if they are waiting for my doctor to call because it’s bad news?’
I’ll be honest… I couldn’t wait for them to call. I called my nurse.
I swear, she probably thinks I’m so annoying, but I was dying for results! I called the office and asked if my results were available yet. The front desk staff said to me, ‘It looks like the results are available, but your nurse hasn’t reviewed them quite yet. I can transfer you if you’d like?’
She transferred me.
My heart pounding.
Only to go straight to voicemail… NOOOO!!
So, ten minutes later, I tried again and my nurse, Jenna, answered.
‘Hi, Shannon! Your results look beautiful!’
My HCG was up to 717.6 (more than double then approximately 44 hours earlier). My TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level, though, was a little low, meaning that I would have to begin levothyroxine 25mcg every morning for the near future.
We finally made it to the 1st ultrasound.
I was so nervous about the ultrasound. I knew that I had 2 great HCG levels. I knew I was exhausted and nauseated occasionally. But the little “what if’s” persisted. As much as I try to stay positive and hopeful, I think that once you’ve been down the infertility path, it’s hard to make that little voice completely silence itself.
They had scheduled me early because it was one of the first available with my doctor. And to be totally honest, the more ultrasounds the better. For anyone who has experienced IVF or loss, you know that there is a LOT of anxiety with each pregnancy. I’ve had bleeding with every previous pregnancy before, which heightened the fear. I’d be lying if I didn’t say every time I go to the bathroom, I hold my breath for a half second, worrying.
And despite being SO happy I was pregnant, I was also SO scared. Scared we’d go to the ultrasound and there would be no heartbeat — for either baby. Scared of what a twin pregnancy looks like. Scared they’ll come early. Scared of what parenting 5 kids under the age of 5 looks like! Is that normal?!
Above all, though, I was BEYOND thankful!
I’ve learned that living in fear will paralyze you.
I realize how lucky I am and how blessed we are. I believe that God has a plan for us all. And though it’s hard to see it in times of struggle, darkness, or fear, I have no doubt that He has our lives mapped out! As my favorite IVF nurse always said, we always entered each new phase of our fertility journey and/or pregnancy with ‘cautious optimism.’
We had made it to to ultrasound #2 and I had been nauseated most days and super exhausted, so, I hoped those were both good signs of thriving, growing baby/babies!
We arrived 5 minutes before my scheduled appointment time, which thankfully didn’t give me extra time to consider the “what-ifs.” As my meditation app has said multiple times, ‘I am pregnant. This is a normal and healthy pregnancy.’ I told myself this as I waited.
Shortly after, my doctor came in, smiled reassuringly, and we began the exam. The lights were dimmed and very quickly she said, ‘There is the first sac, and there is the heartbeat!’ She quickly moved to the other sac, ‘and there is the other heartbeat.’
Tears began streaming down my face.
Seeing those heartbeats on screen is, by far, one of the most beautiful sights in the world — it brings me to tears every time! Tears of relief. Of gratitude. Of joy.
And we saw TWO heartbeats!
Two perfect, beautiful heartbeats.
The lights turned on and I was sobbing.
I said to her, ‘Thank you SO much. For everything. For helping us become parents.’
Here we are… 8 years after we first found out our journey to become parents would require fertility treatment. And now, we are parents of 5 healthy children. We feel so unbelievably grateful.
Here is my #1 tip as you go down this path… Surround yourself with people who will instill hope and love and baby dust into your life. I’m so thankful for so many that did that for us, and I can only hope that I can be that person for YOU or someone you know and love!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Leach of Everett, Washington. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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