I’m so happy to be able to share this personal story with you. I hope you find encouragement in my journey to become a parent as you walk whatever path you find yourself on.
Since we are just getting to know each other I’ll start at the beginning - my quest to start a family really began when my husband and I met in 1999. We decided in short order that we wanted to get married. He’s 10 years older than I am but in our many discussions while we were dating we talked about how starting a family was really important to both of us. I was really quite a youngster when we got married – only 23. My plan was to enjoy a few years of married life and then have my first child at 25/26. I’m ever the optimistic planner…and everything went according to plan until month after month we weren’t getting pregnant.
I started to research and learn all I could about fertility. I learned about things such as taking your basal body temperature, charting your cycle and timing ovulation (feel free to check out the resource section of this site for more info about that). I bought the tests, the charts, I started reading about everything I could, timing our “time together” and I was fairly sure that I was ovulating and on time but month after month nothing happened. Side note - it really amazed me how much I didn't know. I grew up thinking if I had unprotected sex I'd get pregnant and that was that. But in a lot of cases that's just not so. Did you know a healthy, fertile couple only has a 20% chance each cycle to get pregnant?
Now I have to tell you friend, my period has been like clock-work since December of my 13th year. They tell you when you’re a teenager that you might be irregular your first few cycles or even years. Yeah, not me. On the dot every month. So I always thought that when it was time to have babies I’d have no problem. My best friend growing up was always irregular and I thought she’d struggle to have kids and turns out she was fertile myrtle. Go figure! Apparently its all much more complicated than I thought.
At this time my husband was an insurance adjuster and I was a graphic designer but we weren’t feeling called to those fields anymore, so we went back to school to become teachers. We kind of shelved the fertility discussion for a time while we focused on school, but it was constantly in the back of our minds. We decided we wouldn’t do anything to prevent it and still, month after month nothing.
We kept getting the “When are you two gonna make us grandparents?” question from our families. People assume that if you’re married a year or two you should get on it. Which just gets painful and awkward because you’re trying and it’s complicated and you don’t want to launch into the whole long story of what you’re really going through and trying. And besides – what if we didn’t want kids? Why were we expected to have them right away (well, our families knew we wanted to) but still! So many times I felt ashamed, embarrassed, tried to laugh it off but I really felt awful inside. I hated wanting something so much and not having any say in it.
Oh friend, time moves forward so fast and the years were starting to tick by! We were finally newly employed teachers with health insurance. This allowed me to see a doctor that specializes in reproduction. They performed all the tests they could do (some more uncomfortable than others), put me on Clomid (a medication that causes your ovaries to produce more eggs) with all the disclaimers of possible multiples. I did several IUI’s (where they inject the semen into your womb therefore bypassing the cervix and eliminating any issues with the sperm surviving the journey). Still…nothing. Negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test. It was so discouraging. And it was expensive. The IUI’s weren’t covered by our insurance. So finally we stopped. We needed a break both mentally and physically.
One thing led to another and we decided to jump on the opportunity to teach overseas and we accepted an offer to move to Hong Kong to teach at an international school. All the preparation to leave life as we knew if for what we thought would be two years consumed us and gave us the break we needed.
After we were in Hong Kong for a while we made friends with another couple who had seen a doctor specializing in fertility. So we made an appointment. Again the tests and the mental and emotional struggle of wanting to conceive and no-one knowing why we weren’t. It was determined that I had a large fibroid outside my uterus so I had laparoscopic surgery to remove the fibroid and “clean up” my insides. Still no luck.
Have you been there too friend? I desperately hope you can’t relate but if you can you’re not alone. I used to ride the train to and from work every day in Hong Kong and just listen to fertility podcasts and pray and ask why….
And then we thought we were maybe being called to adopt. The adoption process in Hong Kong was supposedly very cheap and fairly easy. So we decided to give it a try. I can remember dressing up for the appointment to meet our case worker – a very important meeting as they are the ones who advocate for you when you get in the matching pool (you don’t want to get on their bad side) – and on the way there I was feeling pretty rotten physically but determined not to miss the appointment. I think I was even getting a fever. It was always exhausting going anywhere in Hong Kong with the walking and long stretches of standing on the train (in boots with high heels nonetheless) but I pressed through it. Our case worker was really nice and a Christian which surprised us because we were as well and what were the odds in a non-Christian country? This was a confirmation I thought and we felt sure this was our path.
We filled out the paperwork and had the meetings and jumped through all the proverbial hoops. We were so excited because we were getting to the final stages before they put us in the matching pool and fairly quickly! Our caseworker felt very good about it and it seemed like a done deal. I would look at the sweet little Chinese babies on the train and imagine what our little one would be like.
For spring break we went to a teaching conference in Bangkok Thailand. Then after the conference we flew down to Phuket for the rest of the break. It was beautiful there and our room got upgraded to a suite. We were lounging on the bed just enjoying the time away when my husband checked his email. (Never check your email on vacation). Our casework said that we didn’t have enough disposable income and that we’d have to both work and hire a helper (an Indonesian or Philipino woman who lives with you 24/7 – cooks, cleans, provides childcare because there weren’t daycare facilities). She meant to catch that earlier but had forgotten. The rub there was we were really arbitrary with the numbers as it wasn’t deemed important – we qualified. We could have changed the numbers slightly and it would have been fine but at that point it was too late. Again devastated. If I adopted a baby I wanted to be the one to take care of it and bond with it. Not just pass it off to a stranger (not only a stranger but a stranger from yet another country with culturally different practices than our family) that then had to live with us in our 700 sq ft apartment (as most of the housing is in Hong Kong). I wasn’t opposed to help but it’s just not how we saw our journey unfolding.
I can remember going for a walk along the beach alone and asking God why? I’ll admit I was angry at him. It seemed like he was leading us down these paths and then slamming the door in our faces. I know that wasn’t true but the feelings were very real. Have you felt that way as well?
At about the same time I had a parent of one of my students who was a doctor and knew our story, really encouraging us to meet with a doctor friend of hers – a professor. He specialized in cases just like ours and did IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization). I had told her we weren’t interested at that time because we were in the process of adopting. Then she had emailed me again that same day saying that she could get us in to see him the Saturday we got back. A wonderful Chinese woman full of the Lord and to this day I’m so thankful that she didn’t give up on us. So I thought – well what do we have to lose? Ok, we'll see him.
Fast forward to our appointment. We walk into this Chinese hospital and up to the fertility clinic. We were then ushered back to the office of a tall Australian Professor. We met for about 10 min and gave him the brief synopsis of our story. He said right away (and I’ll never forget because he was right) you have a fertilization problem. For whatever reason your sperm isn’t able to penetrate the egg. You are perfect candidates for the ICSI procedure where they harvest your eggs and collect some sperm and inject the sperm into the eggs (that’s the short version). I sat there stunned because no one had ever suggested this before. Out of all the tests and procedures could it be that simple?
That was in April of 2012. We got a print out of the costs (which are like 1/3 or less of the cost of IVF in the US) and said we’d be back in the fall. We were finishing the school year and then we had tickets to go back to the US for the summer.
We had a grand time going back to the US and when we got back to Hong Kong and got settled we began the process. We had another consultation and then it all depended on my cycle. When doing an ultrasound he found that one ovary wasn’t really producing follicles so we were down to one and that one had a large chocolate cyst. It was a long shot at that point. Clinging to what little hope we had left we proceeded. I had to call the office when I started my period and come pick up these shots. Then my husband gave me a shot every day (because I just couldn't bring myself to do it) for so many days (the needles were tiny and didn’t hurt going into my stomach but I had a slight layer of chubb to help that out…) and I also had to go into the clinic every few days to get other shots. I was on one of the strongest protocols to allow me to have enough follicles to harvest enough eggs to make it worthwhile. It’s really a numbers game at that point.
I can remember so many anxious times throughout the process. Will the medicine work? Then the ultrasounds to monitor my follicles – not many but maybe enough. Then the egg harvest. You go under general anesthesia and they go through your cervix. Did they get enough? Are any of them viable? Then they fertilize them. Waiting for that call was soooooo hard. I can remember my students were working and my assistant was in the room during that time (I shared her) and I got a call from the clinic saying to come in for the implantation. Wait –what? So we have embryos? How many? She didn’t have that information over the phone but we knew we must have at least one. Ok, so far so good. But a big part of me was waiting for that door to slam shut again. It was almost too hard to pray.
Then came the big implantation day! I can remember every minute of that appointment so clearly. How we met with the Professor and told us we had two of the best embryos he’d ever seen quality-wise. How that didn’t guarantee it would work but that it was a good thing. How we needed to make the decision to do both or one at a time. My husband and I looked at each other and we were both thinking the same thing. We both didn’t expect it to work. Both at once we said. I really think we couldn’t stand to prolong the process. Either it was going to work or it wasn’t. Then I got taken back to a room where the chair tilted back so I was laying almost upside down and the stirrups came out. The embryos were placed in my womb and I had to lay down for an hour after. I was excited and scared and I had to pee!! I called my mom in the US while we waited for me to be able to get up. I can remember running to the bathroom when they finally let me up.
We went home and I had taken the next two weeks off of work to rest and paint, be creative, pray and basically not be around any stress. I googled every single early pregnancy symptom I could find but I was on progesterone suppositories so the symptoms could have been from that. I bought my pregnancy test to be ready. I can remember talking to my best friend long distance from Hong Kong one night and I kept feeling what I can only describe as a pulling feeling in my womb and looking back that’s when I knew. But I couldn’t let myself believe it. It seemed too much of a long shot. Well, friend, this letter has gotten a bit long and I’m a tired mama. Read my next letter “Finding Out” to learn the next part of our story. Until next time, rest well my dear friend.
Hi! I'm a mom of 5 year-old fraternal twin girls. While I'm by no means an expert - I do have stories to tell and ideas to share.