Our Fertility Journey: Road to Diagnosis

Before I begin with my usual narrative, let’s talk numbers for a minute.

Our fertility doctor said: 16-20% of couples will get pregnant the first month of trying, about 50% will be pregnant by 6 months, and about 95-98% will be pregnant within 12 months.

Other sources suggest:

 

Regardless of the actual percentage, all sources agree that most fertile couples will conceive on their own within one year. Because of this statistic, most OBGYN or fertility doctors won’t investigate for infertility until at least one year of unprotected sex has gone by. (Though doctors may check early if either party has already been diagnosed with something that effects fertility; like PCOS or endometriosis in females. I certainly don’t speak for all doctors here).

Eight Months of Trying

We knew this, but it didn’t make the first eight months of trying with no success easy to bear. We kept telling ourselves, “This is normal. We are okay.” But there was a part of me that felt something was off. Perhaps because we’ve always felt like Calvin was a miracle and it may be hard for us to have kids in the future (though we had no real proof of that yet).

So when my current OBGYN was retiring, I used that as an excuse to meet with him about my fertility. He was very kind and encouraging. He said we were most likely fine (especially because we got pregnant so easily with Calvin), but that we can take the first test in checking for fertility issues. 

The fertility test he recommended (and what would be the first thing my next two doctors asked about) was a simple blood test. It checked for three things: my progesterone, prolactin, and thyroid hormone levels.

Progesterone is what I call “the pregnancy hormone.” It helps prepare the uterus for pregnancy and maintain the pregnancy. It is also crucial in breastfeeding. The progesterone blood test checks to see if I ovulated that month.

The thyroid is a gland in the neck that releases hormones. WebMD says, “thyroid hormones act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature.” If the thyroid hormones are unbalanced, it can sometimes decrease a woman’s ability to get pregnant.

Lastly, high levels of prolactin are what help make breastmilk. Sometimes, a woman can have high levels of prolactin even if they aren’t breastfeeding. If you have raised levels of prolactin, it can make it more difficult to get pregnant (hence, the old wives tale that you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding).

All of my numbers were great, so my doctor told us we needed to be patient and keep trying. And despite my bad feeling, I had no reason to doubt him. So we simply kept trying.

12 Months of Trying

After 12 months of trying to get pregnant, we still had no luck. We went to my new OBGYN, and he wanted me to retest my progesterone levels and get a hysterosalpingography (an x-ray of my uterus; checks to see if the fallopian tubes are blocked, if I have endometriosis, and if the uterus and uterine wall are normal in appearance). If these were normal, we could discuss doing more invasive tests later.

Oh and, he wanted us to get a semen analysis done for Garret even though “everything is probably fine with him.” It was an afterthought; nothing more than “wearing suspenders and a belt.”

We scheduled all of our tests and waited for the results.

Mine were good. Garret’s was not. 

In a semen analysis, the doctor will evaluate several factors of the sperm. The most important facets are sperm count, morphology, motility, and vitality. These refer to the volume, size and shape, movement, and health of the sperm, respectively. In most of these categories garret was about half of the standard, fertile amount.

For example, if the standard was having 40% of sperm with the correct morphology (size and shape), Garret had about 20%.

It was determined that Garret had moderate infertility and was to begin a regimen of pills that had a 1/3 chance of bettering his sperm and improving his fertility. 

The doctor also told us that an IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) would give us a much better chance of getting pregnant. My US fertility clinic says, an “IUI is a painless procedure where a small catheter is used to pass concentrated sperm through the vagina, past the cervix, and into the uterus.”  Essentially, it delivers the sperm to the doorstep of the egg and it typically is an affordable fertility treatment that works well in cases of mild to moderate male infertility.

Sperm takes approximately three months to completely rejuvenate, so we began Garret’s pills and tentatively scheduled an IUI for three months in the future. Let me tell you, three months is a long time to wait after diagnosis. I had wanted to get started right away so we could get pregnant within a few months, not wait three and then take a few more to get pregnant. I felt like Garret had broken a leg but couldn’t get surgery for three months and normal life was halted.

However, IUI’s are still a lot of money, so it was worth waiting three months to potentially improve our chances. Though knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have made the same decision.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

We'd love to hear your story of struggle and how you found hope when it seemed all hope was lost. #HopeDay

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