1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
We have a 3 year old son, and it took us about 7 or so months to get pregnant with him. No big deal, totally within an acceptable range, and the pregnancy was normal, other than the fact that he was a 10lb giant at birth. When we started trying for a second baby, I got pregnant on the first try, which was both terrifying and awesome. But then I started spotting, which I hadn’t with my first pregnancy, and I miscarried at 8 weeks. I was really upset and I felt ashamed, but I knew a miscarriage so early on was not unusual. I struggled because I was upset and grieved the loss, but felt like I couldn’t really be so sad because it happened so early. People always tell you not to get attached for the first trimester (which is entirely ridiculous advice, but there you have it).
We picked ourselves up and tried again. After 8 months of super-sexy ovulation test kits and incredibly romantic sex timed to my monthly ovulation, I got pregnant again. But I had spotting right away again, and I just knew I was going to miscarry - which I did, at 10 weeks. I was devastated, but hadn’t shared the news with anyone so I didn’t take any time off work and mostly just cried myself to sleep for awhile.
My doctor told me two miscarriages in a row isn’t uncommon, that I should try to relax. Told me to avoid stress (lololol, right?) But I just felt like something wasn’t right. My family doctor referred me to an ob-gyn, but the OB didn’t suggest any further testing. He told me since I was young and healthy enough, and already had a son without any issues, I should just relax and wait. Another year passed without getting pregnant. The ob-gyn told me there wasn’t really anything I could do, and I should just take a vacation. Best. Medical advice. Ever. RX vacation. By this point, we had been trying for two years. I finally asked for a referral to a specialist.
I live in Timmins, so seeing a specialist meant traveling to Toronto at my own cost. Which I did. The fertility doctor told me she expected everything to be normal, since two miscarriages in two years is not unusual, but she would run some baseline tests that my previous doctor had not.
One of the baseline tests was a chromosome analysis - basically, a blood test for me and my husband to see what our chromosome situation looked like. Turned out, I had a chromosome abnormality called a balanced translocation. Apparently, this is a totally normal thing that happens to about 1 in 500 people, and it means that part of one of my chromosomes is switched with part of another chromosome: they are in the wrong spots. I’m totally healthy otherwise, but when we try to get pregnant, it means that I will have a higher chance that the chromosomes won’t pair up right. This leads to a higher risk of miscarriage due to chromosome abnormality. Where most women have a 10-20% risk of miscarriage, I have a 50/50 shot every time. The more you know, huh?
When the specialist told me there was a reason for the problems we’d been having, my heart stopped. Everyone else, doctors included, had just been telling me to relax and it would happen, so part of me was just expecting the fertility doctor to say the same thing. I can’t even describe the complete and utter relief I felt when she told me there was a genetic reason this was happening to us. I’d been blaming myself so much - was I working too hard? Drinking too much coffee? Not exercising enough? Exercising too much? Not following my ‘prescription’ vacation? I had internalized that my actions were the problem, and to have her tell me that this was entirely beyond my control and that it wasn’t my fault - it felt like this doctor was taking the burden off my shoulders.
Armed with this new information, the fertility wizards had a protocol to follow and we had a plan. I felt so much lighter. It was the start of a hard couple of months of fertility treatment, but the not-knowing had been crippling. Now, we had options. Specifically, two options: egg donation, or IVF with genetic testing to find embryos with chromosomes behaving nicely.
It was a tough decision because we didn’t know how many good embryos we would get - could be one, five, ten, or zero. IVF would mean lots of travel to Toronto, arranging childcare, missing time from work and my family. Both egg donation and IVF were crazy expensive options, not including the emotional costs and the physical toll as well.
We decided on egg donation - if I had the chance to carry the baby, that was enough for me. We even started browsing the egg donor database to scope for tall, brunette women with ambition and a social conscience (apparently, I have ridiculous criteria for eggs). But the specialist ended up convincing me that IVF was actually a good option for us, based on my health and other indicators. The odds seemed favourable so we decided to roll the dice with IVF over egg donation. I have to say that we were in a really fortunate position - we knew that if IVF didn’t work, we could still proceed with egg donation if we wanted to. This didn’t have to be our one and only shot. I recognize we’re in a privileged place to have that freedom, because so many other people don’t have the same kinds of options. We moved forward with IVF this past summer and I traveled to Toronto with my son for two weeks to go through the regular ultrasounds, bloodwork, daily hormone injections, and general emotional upheaval.
It took about 6 weeks after the egg retrieval to find out the results of genetic testing, but we got 2 viable embryos. I was so relieved and grateful. We started the implantation cycle, meaning more hormones, ultrasounds, and trips to Toronto. My implantation was done at a teaching hospital, and nine doctors traipsed into the room for my implantation. I wasn’t ready for this kind of audience to be there and I reacted, like the sobbing, emotional mess I was.
Ultimately, I found the entire process, from start to finish, pretty traumatic. Totally invasive, probing, exhausting, often painful, and just generally not a fun party. That being said, I’ve been really lucky with my lot in life in most other ways - this was just one of life’s curves that I had to deal with.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
I wouldn’t say it made my life worse - it’s certainly been stressful and challenging and has changed me in a lot of ways. It’s made me more sensitive. People assume if you have one child, you can have another one. So many people asked when we’d get around to having a second. Like, “Oh, yeah! Another baby, I totally forgot about that. I’ll get right on it!” So I try to be careful and sensitive when I talk to other women about babies and pregnancy. Or, even better, I try to talk about things other than babies and pregnancy. Women have lots of other interesting things to talk about.
This whole process has also opened my eyes a lot in terms of access to fertility treatments for women in rural communities. My husband and I were able to afford to fly down to Toronto for treatment and regular ultrasounds. I’m a lawyer and my own boss, so I was able to bring my laptop, do work, and take calls, while I was gone. We had parental support and access to childcare. We had friends and family to stay with down south, so we didn’t have to pay for hotels. I had everything on my side to make this work, and it was still incredibly challenging. I can’t imagine how hard it is for women in rural communities who can’t afford the flights, can’t take the time away from their jobs, can’t afford to pay for the procedure out of pocket.
There’s a real discrepancy when it comes to women’s health outside of the GTA. This is a big issue for our province: unfair access to affordable treatments, drugs, and care. A lot of people think that there’s OHIP coverage for IVF now, so what’s the big deal? Well, the wait list for funded IVF is crazy long. I was told I wouldn’t get coverage until 2019. I was so fortunate to be in the position to choose to do it earlier without having to remortgage my house. So many families don’t have this luxury. And many women are facing real time constraints (ie age) to get the procedures done.
3) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
My son. It was so hard sometimes to just be in the moment with him and forget about all the fertility drama-drama. But I tried to dig deep as much as I could. He’s a hilarious and exasperating and ridiculous and empathetic kid, and I spent a lot of time reminding myself how lucky I was to have him in my life, even if our family didn’t end up getting any bigger.
4) In three words describe yourself before/during/after miscarriage (in miscarriage specific situations)?
Before - Naive
During - Isolated
After - Cautiously optimistic (that’s 4 words, but I think we can all handle it)
5) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
As much as I try to put a positive spin on it, it made me a bit darker. I hope this isn’t a permanent change. Going through the process, I felt a lot of despair. But I feel like I’m coming out of it now and starting to get lighter and back to my normal self, which feels pretty damn good.
6) Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I’m a mom to a 3 year old and I’m a business owner. I love spinning, which is basically active meditation for me. I’m pretty outdoorsy and I love the Northern Ontario lifestyle: camping, throwing a canoe into the water in the summer, and cross country skiing in the winter. The fresh air keeps me going.