Of all the subjects I intend to blog about, this one is probably the most difficult and emotional one for me. The one I have shed the most tears over. The one I have nearly lost my mind over. There’s nothing tragic about our particular situation, it’s just that I want something that it seems other people obtain so easily (even though I know that’s not always the case.) I’m talking of course about that thief among women (and men) that rids people of their God-given right to become parents: infertility.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this journey through infertility, it’s that infertility is something that no one is ever prepared for. We’re never taught in health class all throughout our years in school that sex might not lead to pregnancy. Or that 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. Or that trying to conceive a child via modern medicine costs so much (and it doesn’t always work the first time, or the second time…). Or that adopting an already partially grown human child could bankrupt you.
And there’s another thing no one talks about either. For me, sex was…a challenge. Which I unfortunately discovered on our wedding night (well, I was virginal, of course it was going to hurt). But it never stopped hurting. So I started coming up with every excuse I could think of not to have sex. And my dear husband David, while hurt that we couldn’t routinely show our love in the most intimate of ways, fully respected my decisions and never once pushed me beyond what I felt I could handle. So as far as the first 3 1/2 years of our marriage went, there wasn’t a whole lot going on in the bedroom.
From my reckoning, our struggle with infertility began in the fall of 2013, when I convinced David to start trying-not-trying. He reluctantly agreed, though stated that he didn’t really want kids until he was 30 (which would mean 2016). But I figured I would get pregnant and we would love our child so much it wouldn’t matter if David was 27 instead of 30. But the pain of intercourse kept things to the bare minimum to even possibly get pregnant, unless we got really lucky.
However, things radically changed in spring 2014 when I was diagnosed with endometriosis, which we quickly came to realize was the culprit behind the painful sex for me. But discovering that it was the problem versus fixing the problem were two completely different challenges. To read about my journey with diagnosis and now living with endometriosis, check out these blogs posts:
As mentioned in the first of those three blog posts, when we tried being intimate after my first surgery, we discovered that I was in just as much pain as I had always been. It wasn’t until I had excision surgery in Atlanta that I truly had all endometriosis removed. This was proven to us in January 2015, when we had painless sex for the very first time. Ever. To say that we were both thrilled is an understatement. Now that we could engage in intimate acts without pain like the rest of the world, now we could conceive a child!
So we tried…and tried…and tried…and tried…and tried. Then I just stopped menstruating altogether, but I wasn’t pregnant. By the time the end of summer 2015 rolled around, I scheduled an appointment with my OB/GYN to try and figure out what was going on. By the time of my appointment, we had been trying for 9 months straight, but more like 14 months if you count all the months before and inbetween my surgeries. We made the decision to bring on a period and then start Clomid.
Clomid is a difficult medication. *Pharmacist nerd moment commencing* It works in the brain to release a hormone called GnRH from the hypothalamus (part of your brain) which tells your pituitary gland (part of your brain) to release hormones (FSH and LH) that causes the follicles in the ovaries to mature and eventually be released during ovulation. *Pharmacist nerd moment complete* Bottom line: it messes with your hormones, and any woman can tell you that when her hormones are on a roller coaster like that, duck and cover. Or hide. Which is why one of the most common side effects of Clomid is emotional disturbances.
Excerpts from my diary during my first round of Clomid: “I’ve just randomly been bursting into tears all morning for no apparent reason whatsoever.”
“He wanted to cuddle last night and I just wanted to…get to sleep…so I screamed at him to go away and leave me alone.”
Another common side effect is a visual disturbance called scotoma, which looks something like this:
It was especially evident when moving from darkness to bright light, such as when getting up in the morning. It was very disturbing, and in the last of my three cycles, it lasted for a full 10 days.
After starting on 150 mg (a fairly robust dose) and then having no ovulation, my dose was increased to 200 mg. As to be expected, the side effects were worse. And to complicate matters further, I kept getting my period 8 days after I supposedly ovulated. But with no temperature shift, it’s not likely I actually ovulated at all. This indicated a possible luteal phase deficiency, meaning my body wasn’t producing enough progesterone to maintain a pregnancy. So if I ever did ovulate, I’d have to supplement with progesterone to establish a pregnancy and continue taking progesterone for the first trimester to maintain the pregnancy. But none of that ever happened because I never ovulated during any of the three cycles we tried, even on a whopping 200 mg.
“I just feel entirely blank with something rageful simmering below the surface. Like I’ll go off any second.”
What was especially difficult about all this is that I was trying to hide from my coworkers the fact I was taking the Clomid. Everyone knew we were struggling to get pregnant and I work with some very fertile women. I didn’t want to be pestered with questions by people who could do the calculations themselves to figure out where I was in the baby-making process. But I eventually had to let the cat out of the bag in December when I found myself doubled over on the bathroom floor with incredible ovarian pain. I had to call off work, but luckily I already had a check-up scheduled with my OB/GYN for that afternoon. Based on my symptoms, he thought it likely I had an ovarian cyst that had ruptured. (Cysts are another common side effect of Clomid). An ultrasound the following week confirmed the presence of not one, not two, but four ovarian cysts, two on each ovary, running 3-4 cm in size. I named them Eenie, Meenie, Mynie, and Moe. Why not?
During our third cycle, a day 21 progesterone level confirmed that I hadn’t ovulated during that cycle either. At this point, it was suggested by my OB/GYN that we see a reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI) specialist. If massive doses of Clomid weren’t making me ovulate, something else was wrong. And it was going to be up to this new specialist to figure out why.
Want to know more about our infertility struggle? Stay tuned for my next post, I Have What, Now?