My IVF journey
Nikki is mom to Stella (5) and Valentino (3), both conceived through IVF. She is cofounder of photo sharing app, Stellashare, and lives with her family in San Francisco. She continues on her IVF journey as she still dreams of a third. She wanted to share her story in hopes of connecting with other women on the long road to motherhood. You can read her story below.
I was newly married, just having celebrated our year anniversary. We had been trying to get pregnant for six months when my world was turned upside down. Having been a professional ballet dancer, I was used to being in pain and living with pain, but this was different. I was having on and off extreme pain in what I thought was my groin, until one day it was so intense that I was unable to move just lying there helpless on the floor.
My husband and I rushed to the ER to find out that I had an ovarian torsion and had to have emergency surgery. An ovarian torsion is when your fallopian tube wraps around your ovary cutting off blood supply. The pain is next level. I stressed to the surgeon that I wanted more than anything to have children and to please keep that in mind as they were cutting me up.
What was supposed to be an hour surgery ended up being a six-hour surgery. I remember waking up and having the doctor tell me that they fixed the ovarian torsion and discovered I had stage four endometriosis and that they would put me in touch with an infertility doctor for the next steps.
It was as though someone had slapped me in the face and I was shocked. I remember asking why I would need to see an infertility doctor and then sobbing with the answer they provided. The doctor had removed part of my left ovary and fallopian tube while my right fallopian tube was paralyzed by the endometriosis and unable to catch the egg.
I have always been such an impatient person even before my surgery. When my husband and I had been trying naturally to conceive, I was tracking my ovulation, going to an acupuncturist, and taking Chinese herbs to increase my chances. I was so ready for a baby and I wanted it five minutes ago. So of course I wasted no time and booked an appointment with an infertility doctor. The doctor who examined me and ran multiple blood tests concluded that my only shot at getting pregnant was through IVF because of my endometriosis. However, because of my surgery and endo, I was left with a very low egg count. I remember so clearly that he gave me a long shot at getting pregnant but wished me well and referred me to a friend of his. At this point, I began to wrap my head around the fact that I was never going to be able to conceive simply by having sex with my husband. I started researching IVF and was immediately overwhelmed and confused. I began to feel depressed as I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy road for us. Then I started looking at the financial costs of IVF and nearly had a heart attack. We were never going to be the lucky ones who could conceive after a date night out and a couple of martinis. At this time, I had no idea that we would spend over a hundred thousand dollars to conceive.
Since I still felt like I had some control over the whole process, I quickly booked an appointment with Dr. Herbert at Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco. Dr. Herbert is an older man who only wears bow ties and essentially has zero bedside manner (which is odd, but I love that. Just tell it to me straight. I have never needed my doctor to be my friend, just want them to be the best). He took a liking to me as his wife had endometriosis, and he also had a daughter my age.
We quickly proceeded with IVF and on day 12 stim of my cycle, Dr. Herbert canceled my cycle because I just wasn’t responding. With IVF you do about six injections a day, and the doctors monitor your estrogen levels with a blood test to see how you are responding. I was on the highest levels of meds and still no response. Also, IVF is very invasive with vaginal ultrasounds three times a week or more while you are in an active cycle. I got oddly good at making funny small talk with the doctors while they carefully placed a giant ultrasound that looks like a big you-know-what up my vagina. I wanted so badly to pretend that I was okay. Look at me. I am so fine, I can make jokes. But I wasn’t okay.
At that time, I didn’t even know that a cancel cycle was a “thing” and I was completely and utterly devastated like that Eat Pray Love moment when you can’t get off the bathroom floor because you are so devastated. I thought IVF works for everyone, I mean there is so much science and manipulation, what did the doctors mean that they did not think it was going to work for me?
The doctors immediately started throwing out that I might need to look into egg donors and going a different route. I was depressed and mad as hell at my body. I didn’t understand how I could be 31 years old and looking into egg donors. How was it that I tried my whole adult life not to get pregnant because they taught you in school it was so easy to get pregnant (kudos to the marketing people teaching sex ed in high school, I was always so careful and scared straight). Still, really it seemed next to impossible to actually get pregnant.
I took a three-month step back from IVF and started seeing a holistic medicine healer in Carmel; she began to heal my body from the surgery with alternative approaches. It made sense that after my six-hour surgery, I should focus on reducing my scar tissue and inflammation. If you get your ACL repaired, you would do tons of physical therapy to regain mobility and reduce scar tissue. Why would this be any different? During this time, I was very depressed. I felt like my body had wronged me; I felt inadequate as a woman and as a wife. I was born to have children, it’s something my body was meant to do and yet I could not do it. The amount of shame, despair, and hatred I felt towards myself can only be understood if you have gone through hardships trying to conceive. My dearest friends were getting pregnant and I hated them and I hated myself for hating them and being so jealous. To be honest, I can’t say that I really came to any resolution here, I just kept moving forward.
Eventually, we tried a second round of IVF with Dr. Herbert and ended up on day 12 of stims with the same result, which was no result. I can still remember like it was yesterday, the doctor just looking at my lack of data and saying “Okay, so you aren’t responding, let’s just go two more days with meds and see what happens.” And we did, and I began to respond, and we did two more days and two more and two more and finally at 20 days of stim drugs (which is unheard of, no one ever does that much), I was ready for an egg retrieval. Because I have a low ovarian reserve and only one functioning ovary, they collected four eggs. Of those four eggs, three fertilized and two grew out to day three. We transferred two day-three embryos, and I was beyond lucky to get pregnant. One of those two embryos that they transferred is now my 5-year-old daughter, Stella. I cannot underscore enough to find a doctor willing to take a chance and think outside the box if that is what your case demands. My doctor trying something different is the only reason we were able to conceive, the other doctors at the practice were ready to call it another canceled cycle. Advocate for yourself and find a doctor who will do the same.
Fifteen months after giving birth to my miracle baby, I was ready to try for baby #2, but I was still breastfeeding and did not want to stop breastfeeding my daughter for a “maybe” second baby. If this was going to be my only baby, I wanted our breastfeeding journey to not be dictated by IVF. I looked up all the drugs I would be doing with my IVF and found this amazing Facebook group of women from all around the world who were choosing to continue to breastfeed safely while still doing IVF. This group changed my life. We did another round of IVF and had a similar response, 20 days of stim drugs, four eggs, three fertilized, and two grew out to day-three. We transferred both again on day three and found out I was pregnant with twins. I miscarried twin B at 12 weeks, and that rocked me in a way that I had never felt such loss and confusion before in my life. The best advice I was given was from a friend who had also experienced a miscarriage. She said, “You feel every last feeling. You take your time, you can stay sad for a very long time, you don’t need to try to make this okay for anyone else. You morn your loss and come out the other side when you are ready.” Her advice hit home for me because so many people said, “Oh well, at least you still have the other baby…” and although that was true, it didn’t give me any room for feeling the loss I did feel. I gave birth to my second IVF miracle baby, Valentino, a day before my 35th birthday.
I love being a mom more than anything else. You can ask anyone and they will tell you I am the baby whisperer. I love the newborn stage the most; I live for a baby. I never went back to work and created an app for private photo sharing called Stellashare, because nothing is more important to me than family.
I knew I always wanted a third and when Valentino was 15 months old, I began trying. Two plus years and four full IVF sessions later, we have no third child. We have not been lucky and it has been incredibly stressful, sad, and lonely. I think so many people think if you have to go through IVF to conceive, you should be content with any positive outcome. And while I feel so fortunate to have my two healthy children (yes, I know so many women out there are still working towards having their first child), I also would love to be in control of my family planning. A third baby would complete our family and yet I do not know if we will ever have another baby. I live every day with this at the surface of my life; if I think about it too much, I am in tears. IVF is never a guarantee. It is, however, insanely expensive and time-consuming physically, mentally, and emotionally. We live in a very expensive city and have made so many sacrifices in order to pay for IVF. Having the past four fail it has been soul-crushing. It’s as though we just throw money on the ground and walk away, each time a bit more bruised, depressed, and further away from our dream. My two amazing children are now 3 and 5 years old; they are big kids. We are so far away from the baby stage, and it breaks my heart to think that I might never get to do any of it ever again for the rest of my life.