26 Apr National Infertility Awareness Week
National Infertility Awareness Week was observed this past week, April 21-25, to bring awareness to those with infertility and those struggling to build a family. Infertility does not discriminate anyone.
From the CDC website: In general, infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant (conceive) after one year (or longer) of unprotected sex. Because fertility in women is known to decline steadily with age, some providers evaluate and treat women aged 35 years or older after 6 months of unprotected sex. Women with infertility should consider making an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist—a doctor who specializes in managing infertility.
About 12 of 100 couples in the United States have trouble becoming pregnant. Approximately 10%…10 in 100 women (6.1 million) in the U.S. ages 15–44 have difficulty becoming pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bart and I got engaged in 2002. We got married in 2003; I was 26 years old and Bart was 28. In our early 30s we started trying to get pregnant thinking there was plenty of time. I thought it would happen easily and wouldn’t take a long time to try. After about a year of trying on our own, we sought help from a reproductive endocrinologist.
When we first met our reproductive endocrinologist, I was hopeful to still get pregnant. I just thought maybe our timing was completely off. I had no idea how intricate it was to get pregnant. We discussed the past year and current health issues: I did not have regular periods, had really bad lower back pain and a previous HSG procedure by my gynecologist showed dye went through the right fallopian tube but not all of the way through the left one. The doctor said the first thing he wanted to test was Bart because that could eliminate one possible issue quickly. Then, for me, bloodwork and a pelvic ultrasound to eliminate a few things. Once those results were back, he said everything looked normal for Bart and my tests also looked ok. He suggested I have two procedures, a hysteroscopy and a laparoscopy, to see what was happening internally.
After the surgery, we found out I had endometriosis. It had attached to various places: on the right ovary, underneath the uterus, a few spots above the uterus and under the left ovary. The doctor said he cauterized the places where the endometriosis had attached inside my abdomen to destroy the tissue. He wanted me to heal and then wait for my next cycle to then try again. My doctor also suggested I go to a licensed acupuncturist that specialized in patients with infertility that could help me with regulating my cycle and also increase blood flow to organs.
Once there were no positive pregnancy tests for another month, our doctor gave me a prescription for a fertility drug to help me ovulate, Clomiphene, to take for 3 months. We tried during those 3 months and again no positive pregnancy results.
Our doctor wanted to move forward with the next procedure called an IUI, intrauterine insemination. There were many more doctor appointments scheduled to monitor my cycle to find out when I was ovulating so that the IUI could be scheduled. Once ready, we went in for the procedure. It was awkward and it also didn’t work for us. We tried this same procedure again the next month. Both times were a failed attempt.
When two rounds of IUI’s didn’t work, we were given other options. This is when I got really overwhelmed. I was frustrated that these procedures had not worked and then began to feel like there was something wrong with me. I didn’t know any of my friends experiencing this and I felt like I was on my own. The next option was to try IVF and this sounded unnatural and so forced. It would include many more early morning doctor appointments, endless shots and physical changes in my body that sounded scary.
I felt alone in this process and even though Bart and I were in it together, it felt more one-sided because of the issues with my body. There was still so much uncertainty at this point because the doctor said IVF may not work. Then, our options had to weighed whether this was the right thing to try because of the financial investment and also the emotional and physical investment. We took time off from seeing this fertility doctor for awhile to think about our options. I went to a new gynecologist for my annual appointment after all of this happened. At this appointment, my gynecologist ran all of the regular annual tests and bloodwork. One of the tests showed my prolactin level was elevated and very high. Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. When prolactin is high, it can cause you not to ovulate. This gynecologist suggested I have a brain MRI to check the pituitary gland.
I had a brain MRI that showed I had a small benign tumor growing on my pituitary gland called a Pituitary Adenoma. He prescribed me a medication, Cabergoline, that would help slow the growth and help to shrink this tumor by reducing the prolactin being produced. The amount of the drug he prescribed was 5 pills, twice a week for 6 months. I took it as prescribed. The amount of the medication this gynecologist prescribed me was high and did stop the tumor growth, but it also effected my hormones in a negative way. My prolactin levels went from being really high to almost zero. Looking back, I wish I would have gone to get a second opinion, but just never thought to.
This gynecologist also referred me to a new reproductive endocrinologist and said he thought the pituitary adenoma may have been the issue with us getting pregnant. I continued to take the medication as he prescribed and I set up an appointment with the new fertility doctor. The fertility doctor ran all of the introductory tests: the bloodwork, the mammogram, the vaginal ultrasound. Unfortunately, a lump was found on my left breast during my mammogram that could not be biopsied due to dense tissue.
He referred me to a breast surgeon before going forward with any fertility options. The breast surgeon suggested I have surgery to remove the two lumps but also said you could do nothing and wait. Having two friends already diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted go ahead and have surgery to remove these lumps to find out if they were cancerous or not. I am thankful I chose to have the surgery to have peace of mind about it because both of the removed lumps turned out to be benign.
2nd Hysteroscopy & Laparoscopy
Once I had healed from the breast surgery, I then made another appointment to follow up with our new fertility doctor to discuss next steps. I told him I still had lower back pain and he said that endometriosis could still be an issue. He suggested another hysteroscopy and laparoscopic procedure to Laser the endometriosis instead of cauterize it. He also mentioned another procedure be done: Divide Septum.
This doctor felt that cauterizing the endometriosis may leave scar tissue behind that the body continues to attack and also attack anything that enters the body, including sperm. Going into these procedures again, I thought that clearing up the endometriosis with laser might be the answer. After the surgery, endometriosis was removed in multiple spots and also an endometrial cyst was removed.
Also, during this time, we had just begun filming the reality tv show, Jersey Belle. Our fertility journey was part of our story on the show. This allowed me to open up more about this journey of infertility. I was filmed at the hospital before and after my surgery. We spoke on camera about our procedures, the steps we were taking in our fertility journey and the real feelings we were having during this process.
All of this began to consume my life. All the doctor appointments, the surgeries, acupuncture appointments, chiropractor appointments, the timing every month, what I ate and more. I drastically changed my diet to a vegan, gluten-free diet. I limited sugar intake and was doing everything possible to help have a healthy body. I met with a holistic doctor in Atlanta for months during this time. The holistic doctor ran bloodwork and other tests. She found I was severely deficient in B vitamins and also that my body absorbed B vitamins differently; it needed to be broken down for me to absorb. I began taking methylated B vitamins to help, plus many other vitamins and herbs that all of the doctors combined thought I should take.
After almost 6 months of seeing this new 2nd fertility doctor, we had an appointment on December 13, 2013, to discuss in detail what we had done so far and what to do next. My doctor said that each week my bloodwork results were very erratic, inconsistent and that my hormones could be triggered by my pituitary gland because my prolactin levels were almost at ZERO! I reminded him I was on Cabergoline 5 pills, twice a week. He recommended me to reduce the medication to HALF a pill, twice a week! When he said this, my heart sunk. I knew that this medication I had been taking for almost 6 months had been interfering with my hormones and preventing us to get pregnant, not to mention all of the time, stress, many emotions, and money we had spent for 6 months at this new fertility clinic.
The fertility doctor continued to discuss with us that since we were almost at a 6 month journey with his practice, he wanted to discuss other options with us. He said we could try IVF as our next step. But, he also mentioned that even if we were to be able to get pregnant, I would most likely not be able to carry the baby to term. My hormones were low and just not where they should be. He then went into other ways we could have a baby. Choosing a surrogate to carry our baby was one option. Then, he mentioned I probably would not be candidate to retrieve one of my own eggs due to quality, so we would need to choose donor eggs, too. When the fertility doctor gave us the news in his office that day and that IVF really was not an option at this point, I felt sick. I was not really able to comprehend everything he was saying. Not only was this information confusing but also devastating.
7 Years of Infertility
Soon after the devastating news of my low hormones and the overmedication of the Cabergoline, I immediately made an appointment with an endocrinologist that I had been referred to by a friend and got a 2nd opinion on my pituitary adenoma. This endocrinologist had me get another brain MRI to see what it looked like after 6 months of being on this medication. The MRI showed the tumor had shrunk. This doctor said he would have given me 1/2 a pill twice a week and would never have given me such a high dose of this medication for so long. I felt somewhat destroyed and also angry to have not thought to get a 2nd opinion immediately about this.
Bart and I made a decision to take a break from all of the doctors, the appointments, the stress and let things sit for awhile. We were having trouble agreeing on what the next step should be. This was extremely difficult because we both had different opinions on what we wanted to do and what we each thought was best.
God’s answer was different for us and we are happy with now this. Not every person is married, has children, a job, a home. Our story is different than many others. We are blessed beyond measure with two dogs now (we miss you, Willie), a wonderful family and many friends! We also have two nephews, a niece and so many friends’ children we get to love on and also even listed as taking care of one of my best friend’s children if anything happens to them.
At age 37 or 38, I started to have terrible hot flashes and night sweats. I had the worst sleep I had ever had and all of this continued for about a year. I also still had terrible lower back pain. I went to see a gynecological specialist that had huge success in pelvic pain and lower back pain for women. We reviewed all of the procedures that had been performed. He really thought there was residual endometriosis left and also scar tissue that was causing the pain. He suggested another surgery of the same procedures done before to cut out all of the endometriosis and also any scar tissue. This procedure was done in July of 2015 at age 39. He found multiple spots of endometriosis including on my left ovary and a fibroid on my uterus. He removed all of the spots he could find.
Once these procedures were complete, I had a follow up appointment with him and he showed my hormones, both progesterone and estrogen, were so low, that a man had more hormones than I did! He said I was in Menopause and probably had been for the past year or two. No wonder I was having hot flashes and night sweats for so long now! He asked me if I wanted to continue without hormones. I decided that I could not bear the sleepless nights and the sweating. I began taking progesterone daily and also wearing an estrogen patch to help relieve the symptoms. I have felt so much better since and no longer have the lower back pain that I had.
We were able to move past and accept that we were not able to have children, but for some it consumes their life going forward. We are grateful to have dogs that have filled so much love and comfort to us.
I get asked the question all of the time…even now, “Have you considered adoption?”. The answer is yes, we considered it. It wasn’t right for us at the time when we were told I was not able to get pregnant or carry to term if we were to possibly get pregnant. Options of surrogacy and adoption were explained to us, but those options Bart and I couldn’t agree on.
Many people watched as Bart and I embarked on part of our infertility journey on Bravo’s reality television show, Jersey Belle. It was difficult filming some scenes when we were going through something very personal in our lives. Especially not knowing what the outcome would be.
Filming scenes at the hospital, at our doctors appointments, in our home and during my interview sessions. It was exhausting to go through every day battling infertility, going to many doctor appointments, holistic doctor appointments, chiropractor and acupuncture appointments. And then, in addition to these appointments, filming scenes and talking about it to the world, too.
However, this reached so many women and couples going through this same battle. I am so thankful we did share this through the reality tv show. I was able to bring awareness to infertility and reach many people that also were going through the same battles and difficulties.