Waiting Through IVF Again

We decided to wait a couple months before our second round of IVF. We went on a trip to China with our school and loved getting to pour out on our students and also on the kids at the orphanage that we went to work at. It hurt so much to leave the orphanage knowing that there were so many children there that needed parents and knowing that Derek and I wanted a child so badly. Again, I hated that I wasn’t old enough. I was 29 (You have to be 30 in China to adopt). So close, but not old enough. It really put such an ache in our hearts for adoption though. I really hope that one day we can be a part of a child finding a forever family. When we got back from China, we jumped right into round 2 of IVF. The fertility doctors suggested that we again only put one of our remaining 2 blastocysts in. IVF is a hard and long process. It’s expensive and is not usually covered by insurance. It’s painful physically and draining emotionally. Derek and I couldn’t be out past 8pm during the whole process because we had to be home for me to get my shot, or even more awkwardly…we carried the needle to strange places to give the shot while out. It never got easier or less painful to get my shot. I didn’t cry, but it wasn’t fun. However, in a weird way, it brought Derek and I closer together. There is nothing like having your husband stab you with a needle every night to create bonding time (ok no matter how I type that it sounds twisted…Im just going to leave it). Derek and I really did become such a team through IVF. We had our roles and we sat together every night allowing ourselves to keep dreaming about our family and encouraging each other on nights when it was tough. But we knew that no matter how long the day was, we would have this time together at night. Derek would tell me something he loved about me or was proud of me for each night he had to give me a shot. Again, I know this sounds weird, but I look back on those months with a happy feeling even though the shots freakin hurt. The second round was a little different than the first. We had our 2 frozen blastocysts so we didn’t have to do the retrieval part. I did have to take estrogen pills again. I had a lot more blood work (seriously I looked like a drug addict). And we started the big progesterone shots again. We talked at length about those 2 remaining blastocysts. We talked about only putting 1 in versus putting in both. The chances of getting twins was higher but the chances of it failing again with both was much lower. We were emotionally, physically, and financially pretty done at that point. We both decided that this was it for us. This was our last chance. If this round of IVF didn’t work, then we would focus on adoption only. We could have just put in one of the blastocysts and donated the other one for adoption to couples that want to carry a child but have problems with their eggs and/or sperm. We could have frozen one of them and come back to it later in the future. We could have even donated the other one to science. Contrary to some beliefs, fertility clinics never just dispose of blastocysts unless the couple directly asks them to. And we had to sign a mountain of paperwork designating exactly what we wanted to happen in case x,y, or z happened (Derek explained this in more detail in his ethical questions post). After a lot of discussion, we both felt very confident about putting in our 2 remaining blastocysts at the same time. Again, both of us had been through the ringer at this point and were completely on board with the possibility of twins. The emotional roller coster of infertility and of IVF is really really exhausting. And even though it is much cheaper to just transfer and not have to do the retrieval for the 2nd round of IVF, its still not cheap by any means. And finally, my body was physically tired of shots and drugs and tests.  We really wanted a biological child and this definitely increased our chances of having just that. So, in went 2 blastocysts. We called them our blastosaurs (Charmander and Squirtel to be exact – Pokemon Go was a thing at the time). And then we waited.

We waited…again. Life is made up of many seasons, but a lot of them contain waiting and longing. I waited to be a teenager. I waited to go to college. I longed to start dating. I longed to find a husband. I waited as I searched for the right job. I waited to not be so busy. I longed to have kids. In between all of the waiting and tugging of the heart, there are brief periods of time when we think we have everything that our hearts could ever want. But then, we find something else to wait for. We find something else that tugs on our heart and draws us into longing for the next thing. It’s so hard to just sit in the waiting and be still. It’s so hard to let my mind rest in contentedness and invest in the season that I am planted. This is especially true when the thing you long for is a good and Godly thing. Waiting hurts. Having God say no hurts. Trusting and releasing control is way easier said than done. But there is something beautiful about the forming of the heart that takes place in a season of waiting. If we allow the darkness and the emptiness to be used by God to transform us into a better us, it brings purpose to the pain.

I read a book the summer of our 2nd round of IVF called Learning to Walk in the Darkness. In it the author explains that darkness, brokenness, and emptiness provide a new perspective on life in a way that normalcy never will. I am more aware of my pain and my joy while in the midst of brokenness. I am more aware of words and thoughts, more aware of my strengths and weaknesses in a season of pain. In fact, it frees me from my attachments to benefits promised for by believing in God.  It forces me to really stop believing in a health and wealth Gospel, a Gospel where believing in God always brings physical and worldly blessings. I have stopped believing in God solely for the purpose of Him fixing my problems. It allowed me to understand God more deeply. It freed me from my devotion to spiritual practices and instead moved that devotion to a more real savior. It helped me stop speaking in Christianese (Jesus language that sounds really good but deep down doesn’t really mean anything) and learned to speak truth and be real and angry and honest. It has freed me from thinking that I already believed all of the right things about God. I will never fully understand Him, and I like it that way. It’s much more exciting to follow a God that is wiser and more powerful and mysterious then me. It freed me from trying to fix my doubt because it turns out that doubting is a really good thing if you use it to learn more about God and ask good questions and really figure out what you believe about God and who He really is. It freed me, but I am still daily in need of this freedom.

The IVF process (round 1)

Once we decided to try IVF, everything started happening fairly quickly. We went to a special pharmacy and picked up tons of needles, syringes, medicine, alcohol swabs, gauze, and even a sharp’s box. It’s very intimidating and kind of crazy that they just hand all of this medicine and all of these needles over to people that have no medical training. I feel like you have to be fairly intelligent to do IVF because you have to mix each shot to the correct mL and measure it out with saline and then you actually have to give/get all of these hundreds of shots and put them in the correct spot. Thankfully, my husband is brilliant and an amazing partner. He took complete charge of the meds. He mixed and organized and gave me every shot that I had to have. First though, I had to take birth control pills to regulate my cycle, and I had to start having blood work taken regularly to check on my levels of all kinds of things. I had to plan my blood work appointments around my classes and even had to miss some school. The office was 30 minutes away, and I had to drive down there every time too, which ended up being a lot of driving. By the end, my arms where so bruised it looked like I had been shooting up drugs from all the times I had blood drawn. Then, I had to have some tests run to check and make sure my uterus looked ok. The HSC and trial transfer were actually pretty painful. I drove myself to this procedure and did not know that it would be so difficult. They found a polyp, and I had to have a small surgery to remove it a few days later. It didn’t affect my cycle thankfully, but was one more thing we had to deal with.  I think I only missed one day of teaching through all of this too, so I was still teaching and pretending like everything was normal at school. When it finally came time to start the shots, both Derek and I were so nervous. Derek always talks about how weird of a feeling it is to stab your wife with an inch long needle in the stomach. I’m glad that didn’t come naturally for him. haha Anyway, I started out with shots of Gonal F and menapur in the belly. Then we added centrocide and monostat the day before the trigger shot. This whole first batch of shots was so that my body would start and stop ovulating in order to produce multiple eggs at one time. On the night of the trigger shot, you have to give it at midnight and it is very precise. Derek accidentally drew out the wrong amount of the trigger shot and some shot out the needle so it was a few mL short. We were freaking out! Derek was so upset, he had to walk outside for a few minutes to calm down. Then, it ended up being a little bit late and the trigger shot is supposed to be right at midnight. It was such a stressful night. Again, it’s crazy that non medical people do this every day. Thankfully, it ended up not being a big deal at all that the trigger was a little late. The trigger shot made my body ready to actually take out the eggs. Two days after the trigger shot, I had a minor surgery to remove the eggs. I had 18 eggs taken out of my ovaries in the retrieval. This process made my ovaries so sore, but the surgery itself didn’t hurt. Next, I took a pill to get my body ready for pregnancy while we waited a couple weeks. We were so excited to find out that 11 out of my 18 eggs were fertilized. I then started taking estrogen (pill form) and progesterone (big shot) to further prepare my body for pregnancy. When you get pregnant your body naturally makes progesterone, but since we bypassed a couple steps (or did them in a different way) I had to have progesterone shots until my body realized it was pregnant. The progesterone shots were not small. haha They had to go in my hip (kind of in my butt). They hurt!!! They had to go in such a specific part of my hip that we drew big circles on my hip with a sharpie marker so that we knew exactly where it needed to go. I wore a bathing suit once in this time period, and it was really funny that I had these big sharpie circles showing. Then, just 5 days after the retrieval, they picked one of the 11 fertilized eggs to transfer into my uterus. At that point, the fertilized egg is called a blastocyst. Derek got to go back into the operating room with me and watched on the screen as they placed the blastocyst in my uterus. It did not hurt at all and was a really special moment. Out of the 10 blastocysts left, only 2 survived to be frozen for later. The other ones just stopped growing and would never be able to grow into a baby. I was really thankful that 2 had made it. Sometimes you only end up with 1 viable embryo even after pulling out 18 eggs. I continued with the progesterone shots and waited to see if the blastocyst would attach to my uterine lining. You have to wait 10 days and it was the longest 10 days ever. Sadly, we found out that our first round failed. I know that the blastocyst was not yet an embryo and that it is even different than a miscarriage. But it was so incredibly painful and felt like we had lost another child. We had lost the opportunity for that little one and it was very emotional. I still remember that I was sitting on the steps at our house when the doctor called. Derek was at work, and I immediately called him and just sat on the steps crying till he came home.

Even now as I sit here holding one baby with 2 more asleep in their cribs, it still makes my heart ache thinking about how hard that moment and this whole process has been. I’m just now able to process that I fully believe that God disappointed me. I still feel angry at God and don’t understand how His timing works. I don’t think that He caused the bad things, but He let them happen. Sometimes He intervenes and sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes He heals, and sometimes the person you are praying for still dies. Sometimes the baby you pray for never comes. Sometimes bad things still happen after lots and lots of prayer over them. It makes me question prayer and how God listens and answers. It makes me not want to trust God because I trusted Him and He let me down. ya ya I know, I have my babies and they are seriously a miracle and beautiful, BUT I didn’t do anything to deserve them. I just cant believe that my prayers or faithfulness are the reason that they are so healthy and happy and wonderful. I want to trust God again and then as soon as I make peace with Him and peace with not understanding WHY, something else tragic in my life or in the world happens again, and I’m thrown all over again.

I need a new framework because the one that I keep trying to fit God into just doesn’t fit. I need to redefine prayer. I need to redefine answering prayer. I need to redefine success. I need to redefine what it looks like for God to be with me and what it looks like for him to fulfill His promises. Maybe, just maybe, He never really did let me down. Maybe, just maybe, He never left. Maybe prayer isn’t about me at all. Maybe Jesus isn’t as concerned about me as much as He is concerned about the world and His Kingdom coming more fully here. Maybe Jesus is more concerned about the Kingdom coming on Earth and in my life than about the things I want. And maybe I need to quit being selfish and start looking up and around. That may seem harsh, and I know that God does care about the details of our life and sometimes He answers with a big fat YES that makes everyone jump for joy, but sometimes He says No. The NO doesn’t mean that I have less faith or that I did something wrong. It doesn’t mean that God let me down or isn’t good. Life is full of messy, painful things. I don’t follow God because He makes my life full of good things. I don’t trust Him because I think He will make my life successful by the world’s standards. I don’t love God because I think He will take away my pain. I am a believer in Jesus Christ because in the most painful times, He promises that I will have the strength and the peace to carry on. I don’t want to be afraid of darkness and brokenness. Yes, it is going to hurt. Yes, it may last a long time. Yes, I will probably doubt and be angry and be sad and ask questions. But that’s ok!! If Jesus can be angry through the pain and beg God to take it away, then so can I, and maybe He will. But the real struggle comes from believing that even if He doesn’t, He is still good. He is still a God to trust and love even in the moments when I wish He had said Yes. His goodness is shown in the truth that love always wins and that Sunday (the Resurrection) is always coming. The pain is never the ending place. This is so much easier said than done. But If I keep speaking it over myself, then it eventually becomes truth.

Ethical questions about IVF

This is Derek. I’m trying to write some too for the blog as we talk about our story. For this post, I’m going to discuss some of the ethical issues within IVF and infertility. I’ve put this into a question/answer format to answer questions that either people have asked us, we’ve asked ourselves, or our friends who have gone through IVF were asked by other people. I hope this makes it a little easier to see various objections to the process ethically, and kind of walks you through how we arrived at the decision we did.

IVF is incredibly expensive, so why don’t you just spend the money on adoption? Why don’t you just adopt?

I put this first because, honestly, we wrestled over this question more than any other. It hits close to home because Megan and I are passionate about adoption. We actively support and work with a special needs orphanage in China, and we think adoption is something Christians in the world should be more active in. IVF is also incredibly expensive and costs about the same amount as a new car. Is it justifiable for us to spend so much money on something unnecessary when there are plenty of other kids in the world that need parents? Should we spend money on something medically unnecessary when that money could be spent on adoption? First off, it’s absurd to think that only infertile couples should be asked this question. We rarely think about adoption before buying a car, or buying a new house, or getting the kitchen remodeled. Infertile couples do not solely carry the burden of adoption or the weight of financial decisions in lieu of adoption. “Why don’t you just adopt?” is a question that can be asked before any major purchase. Many object to the cost of IVF while failing to look at their own finances. It’s an easy way to pass the buck onto someone who we don’t understand. This is something we often do to the “other.” Any question that begins with “Why don’t you…” is often a failure to empathize or understand a person’s background. Secondly, I can’t explain how much infertility hurts, and how strong the desire for biological children is. We really wanted to explore all of our options, and after three years of trying, we needed to take this path to its end whether that was biological children or not. While we were working with the fertility clinic, we also were actively pursuing adoption through various programs in the Atlanta area. However, we decided we really wanted to explore our options for biological children until we ran out of them. We decided we would give one round of IVF, and then stop. But at least then we could have closure, and wouldn’t have to play the what if game.

Doesn’t IVF create a lot of embryos which in turn causes the death of many unborn babies?

I get this concern, however it’s primarily based out of a misunderstanding of biology. In “normal” pregnancies, women regularly miscarry around 20% of the time. On top of that, it is estimated that around 30 to 50% of the time eggs which are fertilized naturally miscarry before even implanting in the woman’s uterus. This is why even fertile couples don’t get pregnant the first time a woman ovulates and has sex. This is why no doctor will consider you infertile until a year of actively trying (which is incredibly). Sometimes (obviously not all the time) when a woman’s period is late it’s because an egg was fertilized but didn’t make it past the first couple of days. There’s a natural dying off of fertilized eggs because of natural factors at play. We see a lot of the same tendencies and percentages at play in fertilizing eggs during IVF. Also, I find it interesting that the same people that would like to decry IVF creating life through embryos dying do not hold funerals for miscarriages. We obviously see a difference between a baby and an embryo in the way we as a society treat losing each. Miscarriage is incredibly painful, losing a child more so. While all life is sacred (embryonic or not) and should be treated with incredible dignity and respect, there is also a difference in our treatment of these two and should be.

Is IVF playing God?

The rationale goes that we should accept what God gives us and that IVF is taking life into our own hands and trying to replace God. I would push back against this. We regularly do not accept the hand given to us. I reject the fact that I am near blind without corrective lenses, so I wear glasses. Oliver was sick last week, and we gave him antibiotics. We play God every time we treat a disease or have life saving surgery. We give prosthetics to people who were born without the legs or arms. Aren’t we playing God every time we heal a disease or correct a birth deformity? IVF is simply curing the disease of infertility. IVF brings life to this world and undoes the damage of inferility in people’s live. It’s a beautiful thing and participating in the work of God restoring creation.

What about the left over embryos?

Before you sign up for IVF there is a enormous packet to fill out with what to do with the embryos. You can destroy them, give them to research, or anonymously donate them to another couple. We chose to adopt them out to another couple if we didn’t use all of ours. I was actually really excited about the option of donating unwanted embryos to couples who were struggling with infertility. Part of me was excited to help other couples in need, but the other part of me was excited to imagine every little ginger I see from now on as possibly my kid. Sounds weirder as I type it than it is in my head. However, many object to IVF but don’t realize adoption is an option. There is no need to discard any viable embryos created during the IVF process.

Is implanting so many embryos dangerous and does it cause multiple pregnancies? Will the doctors need to abort one for the others to survive?

You can always implant one embryo and in fact our fertility doctor demanded it for our first attempt. For the second attempt our doctor did not want us to do two embryos, but he understood and eventually after signing a waiver allowed us to implant both of them. Implanting 3 – 4 embryos at a time is something that is highly discouraged today, and was something more common when the percentage of success was much lower. The rates are so much better now that doctors want most couples to do one and at max two. At no point did any fertility doctor suggest we should abort one. Our high risk OB did offer that as a possibility, but we declined and she seemed pleased about that. She wasn’t pushy, and it was definitely not expected or encouraged just simply offered as a medical option, and after that day it was never mentioned again.

There are numerous other issues surrounding infertility such as suffering and the why behind painful issues like it. There’s even more advanced issues such as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). Hopefully I can write on here about some of those in the future. I think Christians need to start having conversations about reproductive technologies and bioethics.  The world is changing and creating questions that the Church is ill-equipped to handle currently. I believe we as a Church must move past the stigma of infertility in order to be able to grapple with these bio-ethical dilemmas that both this generation and the next will be forced to answer.

Finding answers (IVF)

After about 2 years of trying to get pregnant, we finally went to a fertility clinic. We really wrestled with the ethics of IVF and what was best for us. We went to multiple adoption agencies and looked into fostering. We really still want to adopt and have always seen it as a wonderful option for us, but also wanted biological kids. We wanted to see this out, but kept also pursing the options of adoption at the same time. After much prayer and research, we knew that our hearts were with Chinese adoption. Derek lived in China for a year and both of us have worked at an orphanage there for several years. However, we learned that you have to be 30 in order to adopt a child from China. I longed to be 30. While we waited, we decided we could at least go to the fertility clinic and see what they had to say. Our preconceived notions of IVF were so different than what we were told on our first visit to the fertility doctor. First of all, for the first time in 2 years we got an answer from the doctors as to what could be wrong. He said that he was 90% sure that the cilia lining my fallopian tubes were not working. The only way to test this to know 100% is to put radiation into my ovaries which would in turn sterilize me…which wasn’t an ideal option. haha. Since we had been trying for 2 years and the only successful pregnancy ended up ectopic, there is evidence that I do ovulate, but that the egg can’t be carried into my uterus because the cilia that carry the egg were not functioning properly. Because of this diagnosis, IUI was not a probable solution for us. Essentially, we were told that IVF was our only option if we wanted a biological child. Honestly, even though this was really hard to hear, having someone give me an answer and a reason other than “you stress too much,” was freeing.  It allowed us to really start moving forward. For so long we had just been in limbo. We thought there was something wrong and we just kept waiting and waiting  and finally we could make a plan. haha Sorry, it’s funny now looking back that I still thought I could make a “plan” even after everything we went through. I definitely did not plan on triplets. People ask me all the time if I planned on having triplets. Does anyone “plan” to have triplets??? Anyway, I honestly believe that even if the doctor had said that even IVF wouldn’t work for us, having an answer and a direction (direction is much better than plan, lets stick with that) having a direction for what was next was a breath of fresh air. If you are still in the middle of waiting and wondering and questioning – whether it’s with infertility or not – just know that waiting is a season. It’s a season that isn’t fun, but it’s a season and hopefully in that season, God will make you a better you. God definitely molded me and shaped me in our waiting. He taught me to be still and to enjoy the stillness which is a huge feat. He taught me to listen better and to not be afraid of doubt or unanswered questions. He taught me to have compassion for the broken. He reminded me that I have incredible cheerleaders all around me. Life is full of waiting seasons. This wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last one. So, Im learning to let myself mourn and be sad but also to allow myself to be shaped in the waiting.

Anyway, back to IVF…For most of our infertility journey, both Derek and I were against IVF. We thought the chances of it working were low, it was way to expensive, and we both love adoption. So, when the doctor told us that IVF was our only option, it was weird that both of us didn’t immediately shut him out. We listened as he explained that the odds of us getting pregnant through IVF were incredibly high. Science has come so far now and my uterus and eggs were in great shape. So we listened to him explain the process and so many of our fears and preconceived ideas seemed to fall away. The cost was still getting me though. I thought it just seemed so crazy to pay all this money and not know for sure if it would work, when I could pay money to an adoption agency and guarantee that it would work. I did lots of research and realized that the chance of it working was really high for me. On the day that I finally decided that I wanted to try IVF, a friend got into a car wreck and totaled her car. She was fine, but she had to buy a whole new car. We don’t think twice about spending $20,000 on a new car. And if our kids need a surgery or a special tutor or private tuition or really anything, we would pay it in a heartbeat. It made me realize that my reasoning for not doing IVF should not be based solely on money. I spend money on things all the time, so why was it hard to spend money in order to have a chance at a biological baby. I really do understand that some people have ethical issues with IVF, and I understand that it is not the right journey for others. Derek and I still really want to adopt, but for me, choosing to do IVF was the same as other people choosing to have a biological child the “normal” way. It just cost a little more money. People choose everyday to have biological children instead of or in addition to adopting and we don’t think twice if someone gets pregnant the “normal” way. My biological children just cost a little more and took a little longer to get here. Science rocks by the way. I love that I was able to have this opportunity thanks to amazing scientists that figured out how to bypass my non working fallopian tubes and place a baby straight into my uterus. It’s actually pretty incredible. Later this week, Derek will post answers to common about the ethics of IVF and questions that we have been asked or had ourselves in this process. So, be on the lookout for that soon. Next week, I will detail our first round of IVF so if you are curious what that looks like, stay tuned!