After struggling to get pregnant, Sonal and her partner were given a 5% chance that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would work. They decided to brave the odds, despite their first doctor’s lack of support for their decision. She spoke to Faces of Health Care about how she got through the failed IVF cycles, and what it was like when she and her husband first heard a heartbeat on an ultrasound.
“When I was 35 and my partner and I had been trying to conceive for a year without success, my doctor referred me to a fertility clinic. We tried intrauterine insemination (IUI) and that didn’t work so we wanted to move on to IVF. I quickly discovered, through blood work, that I was a very poor candidate for IVF. The doctor gave us about a 5% chance of IVF working. The other option, which she recommended, was to find an egg donor. Basically somebody else donates the eggs, they fertilize them using my husband’s sperm, and then they are implanted in me. That was a really, really hard thing to hear. Someone was telling me I couldn’t have children that are genetically mine.”
“One of the complicating factors of using an egg donor is that I am South Asian. In Canada, you can’t compensate people for a donation.”
I think for cultural reasons and because of the the small population here, there are virtually no South Asian egg donors.
“I actually found a media article and someone from a US clinic was saying, ‘Yeah, there’s a big problem with South Asian donors but, you know, often we find a donor who is Hispanic or Native American and that works out close enough.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, close enough?!’ First you have to let go of the idea of having genetic children, and then you have to let go of having ones that are linked to your own heritage. It was just bad news followed by bad news.”
“After taking some time to think about it, we went back to the clinic and said, ‘Listen, we know the odds are bad, but we don’t think we are ready to search for donors until we try IVF.’ I needed to know that my own genes were just not going to work. I needed to know that for sure, before I could move to something else. I got the really strong sense that my fertility doctor was humouring me because she really did not think that proceeding with IVF was a good idea. I know statistics. I have three degrees and my husband is a physicist. We could add up the numbers of how much it would cost and we were willing to say, ‘Okay, you know what, 5% stinks but we’re willing to try.’”
“It gets really crazy because when you going through an IVF cycle, you are going in for monitoring appointments every couple of days or, when you get close to ovulation, every single day. You are giving yourself injections every day. At one point, I had to inject myself in the parking lot of a Home Depot to keep on the schedule. Meanwhile, I had looked up every single thing that could possibly have a slight chance of helping.”
I changed my diet. I was taking supplements. I was doing acupuncture. Every single day, there was something I was doing, usually multiple things, to try and support the process.
“Before we started all of this, I thought that I didn’t want to become one of those women who spend thousands and thousands of dollars and it takes over her life. But it’s easy to say that when you think that you have choices. When you find out you don’t have choices, all of a sudden it’s crystal clear. If you want your own genetic child, this is where you have to go. If you don’t, then you don’t have children.”
“One of the things that’s really difficult about IVF is that you go in with some assumptions about how things will go and the reality is completely different. It’s a process with a lot of guesswork in it. Doctors give their best judgement on a protocol, but it’s not like it’s formulaic. It’s very much try and see. The reality is that, normally, you go through multiple cycles and, even then, it doesn’t always work.”
“This whole process is really emotional. You go in one day and everything looks good. You go in the next day and everything looks terrible. You are bouncing up and down. I am very practical in most things and I think I am great in a crisis, but infertility is one crisis after another. During this whole process, I cried twice in the doctor’s office.”
“After three cycles that were cancelled for medical reasons, my first doctor told me that she didn’t want to continue with IVF using my eggs. We asked if there were other protocols we could try and she just kept shaking her head no. We went to another fertility clinic for a second opinion, and it was like night and day. The doctor had the exact same conclusion that our odds were terrible, and 5% was about right. But he understood and respected our decision to keep going with IVF. It was such a change, because I felt that the doctor I was working with trusted me to make the right decision. He was fantastic.”
“We went through six IVF cycles in less than a year. Finally, they were able to transfer two embryos and one of them took.”
My doctor said, ‘Wow, you proved everybody wrong.’ I absolutely know this was pure luck. We rolled the dice and we happened to get lucky.
“It was a really joyous feeling to see the heartbeat. We were so happy. And then we walked out of the clinic and it felt totally surreal. You don’t really feel pregnant at that stage and it was hard to believe that I actually was. It was more of a gradual realization as the pregnancy progressed that I was actually going to have a baby. Now that we’re starting to prepare and buy stuff for the baby, it’s getting fun and we’re actually beginning to imagine what it will be like.”
“What emotional support did you have during all this?”
“My doctor at the second clinic was fantastic. I emailed him a lot. My acupuncturist was probably my biggest source of support because I was seeing him every week and he deals exclusively in fertility. A large part of what he is doing is relaxation, so we would talk about what was going on. He had a week-by-week view of everything.”
“Once we decided to move forward with IVF, I realized that I couldn’t deal with it if I didn’t treat it like a normal part of my life. For me, a normal part of my life is something I would talk about on Facebook. So, I put it out there. It was actually amazing because I got a huge amount of support.”
I discovered about 20 of my friends from high school had experienced infertility in some way or another, and I had no idea.
“At one point I mentioned I was going to see a fertility acupuncturist. Two male friends from college suddenly were like, ‘Oh, he’s a charlatan! It’s not science!’ and blah, blah, blah. I am sitting here thinking okay, a) I am still working with a doctor; it’s not like I am blowing off everything for acupuncture and b) acupuncture is not going to harm me, why are you acting as if I am about to inject heroin into my eyeballs? If it makes me feel better, why not?”
“My mother-in-law passed away from lymphoma while we were in the middle of this process. The first thing I thought of was that if everything grew at the expected rate, I might have to do an egg retrieval on the day of her funeral. One of the doctors said maybe I should just skip the cycle.”
What really stung was that he walked out of there without even saying I am sorry.
“One of his fellows said, ‘I am really sorry for your loss.’ This is basic courtesy you know?”
“I said no way, we’re not skipping this cycle. The night before my mother in law had died she had had a dream that I had got pregnant. It made her so happy she felt like she was in 9th heaven. I talked to my main doctor and he gave me some medications to prevent me from ovulating so that I wouldn’t miss the funeral. That was amazing.”
“I am now under midwife care. I chose that because the whole fertility process was so clinical and medicated that I thought it would be nice to do something more personal.”
I’ve talked about infertility in every appointment because it feels like I’ve accomplished such a mission.
“When I told one of the midwives that I had conceived through IVF, she applauded.”
“That was great. But the other ones were like, ‘Okay….’ And I am kind of like, ‘No, sorry, listen, I did a big thing here!’ On one hand, I don’t want to be treated like a special snowflake. But gosh darn it, I just proved two doctors wrong and I am a special snowflake!”
“Leading up to this pregnancy, I have been monitored, blood tested, I’ve had over 50 ultrasounds and six egg retrievals. Essentially, I’ve been doing all of this because my body was not doing what it was supposed to do. And now I am supposed to trust my body to do things properly? It has been a huge mental shift to make.”