[I mark each birthday with a reflective post of what I've learned and who I've become: see the last two. For my 37th, I'm sharing my on-going experience with infertility. Discovering the lack of what one assumes to be a life 'right' is a terrifying situation to deal with.]
I was a late bloomer, with my periods starting just before I turned 18. Subsequently, my periods were irregular and long, with 32 to 47-day cycles. I thought it was awesome at the time. Freedom with more time spent blood-free! I never considered there could be a downside or reason behind it.
I’m also prone to light-headed dizziness when I don’t eat regularly. In extreme cases, sugar or alcohol can completely unbalance my body, leading to hypoglycemic attacks. I had my first one at age 22, during a family celebration for my cousin’s high school graduation. After drinking wine during a celebratory toast, my head filled with a loud buzzing with tinny reverb, muting real-world sounds. I panicked as my sight inexorably blurred out, despite rapid blinking of wide-open eyes. The world slid sideways into a painfully bright neon, day-glow oil slick, and then dulled into darkness. I broke out into a cold sweat – so heavy that within seconds, my body and clothing were soaked as if I was dunked under a shower’s full blast of water – and collapsed. Thankfully, my mom was nearby, and eventually brought me back through a combination of getting my head lower than my legs (forcing blood circulation) and temporarily stabilizing my blood sugar with some Saltines.
[Fast-forward to now.] I spent two years beliving Kaiser’s misinformed reassurance that my reproductive system was perfectly healthy and normal. Growing doubtful over time, I sought out a second opinion. In February, an infertility specialist observed the same exact ultrasound results as Kaiser, and diagnosed me with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and potential oligoovulation. As it turned out, my irregular periods and hypoglycemic attacks were indicative of PCOS. I wish I had known this far earlier – having that knowledge of my conditions would have changed my life-planning decisions
The past seven months have been defined by strict diet restrictions, a gauntlet of blood tests, and a daily ~20 pill regime, all of which have sent my emotions plummeting and shockingly engorged my midsection. As I have been undergoing my first IVF cycle these past few weeks, daily shots and medications continue to keep my system unsettled. As I write this, eggs have been retrieved, fertilized, and are now being incubated. Every few days, I’m updated of the narrowing number of viable candidates. My fingers are crossed that I’ll make it to the next stage of embryo implantation, but I’m worried.
This journey has been much longer, emotionally taxing, and physically challenging than I could have imagined it might be. It’s easy for me to commit and act with determination when I know the beginning-to-end process required and the estimated return on investment. In contrast, fertility assistance just may be the most undefined, uncertain process that I’ve gone through. There are so many considerations and variables at play, it’s hard to see even a few days into the future. And results are never certain. So all I can do is maintain optimism and am hopeful of ideal results.
So what does this mean? How could my experiences relate to you?
First, realize that the story of your body’s health and well-being is a lifelong story in the making. As my body developed, it was giving me subtle signs as to what was going on. I just didn’t think anything of it. I felt healthy, strong, confident, and self-empowered. I fully believed I was in control of my destiny.
But could your body be sending you subtle signals that perhaps you should pay attention to? Small, seemingly unimportant and unrelated things? Things that don’t even come up on the radar from general health exams? Or things that general-practice doctors say are nothing to worry about? I had two identical fertility appointments, with identical ultrasound results. The general Kaiser ob-gyn diagnosis was that I was fine. The infertility specialist diagnosis was that I was not, and in fact, would need to make immediate life changes to stave off Type II diabetes.
If you do notice signals that potentially could be symptoms of something larger, is it worth investigating? Pay attention to your body, especially when the unexpected happens. Spend the time to understand your body when you are younger, to better prepare yourself for future goals later in life.
Consider how having that additional knowledge could help you set life expectations. Does a different lifestyle or career make sense? Would you approach certain situations differently? (Does freezing your eggs, such a ‘brave new world’ concept, become a real consideration?) What are your major life goals, particularly those which are bound by your body’s natural capabilities?
If you do discover something that drastically changes your expectations, as I did… don’t panic (Okay, it’s natural to panic. I certainly did. But don’t let it overwhelm you for too long.). Look for sources of support to emotionally ground yourself with. A network is great, but having even just one person is critical for your sanity. Try to keep yourself open-minded upon realizing that your initial expectation is no longer an option. Stretch yourself to identify alternative opportunities and take the time to deeply consider them. And most importantly (as much as I struggle to do this myself), do not give up hope. Stay encouraged that you will find a path to take, even if it’s not the one you initially expected or wanted.
This is, by far, my most sobering and introspective birthday. I have only one birthday wish. As always, I reflect and learn. And deeply hope that my story helps others identify or face their unique challenges. Thank you so much for reading this.
- ~$5K of vitamins, supplements, and medication to get my body into the best possible condition for IVF
- $11K of IVF medication (shots, pills, etc.)
- $16K for the IVC procedure
- $TBD for embryo freezing
… for a grand total of $32K and counting. For those of you fortunate enough to get pregnant naturally, you just saved yourself the equivalent of a nice car, or a round-the-world trip. You should feel lucky!