Friday Feature: Blog post by Brittenay Bell
When we started our journey to a baby in 2014, we had that blissful naivety that it would be easy, and initially it seemed like it would be. Our first month “trying” we became pregnant. I remember shaking with excitement and I remember Aaron panicking because he didn’t think it would happen that quickly. For 3 glorious weeks we basked in the joy of expecting our first baby. It had been a tough 9 months before hand, we were newly married and while Aaron was at basic training for the navy, my mom passed away from a short but courageous battle with lung cancer. Our lives were a constant rollercoaster. But the notion of a baby brought a sense of calm and excitement. It was something good in all that had been so hard. But as quickly as our excitement came it was dashed when I woke up one morning bleeding. After 2 days in and out of the emergency room we confirmed my fears, we lost our baby.
I was so new to the world of trying to conceive that I had no idea of how common loss was. In the moment I felt like I was the only one and for a while things seemed very dark. It seemed so unfair to lose a baby less than a year after I lost my mom. Aaron and I took a couple months to mourn and then decided we were ready to try again. Initially it was fun! We enjoyed the trying, it wasn’t a chore it was just love. Months passed and I started to feel defeated. It happened so quickly the first time why was it taking so long now? By this point I began to find support from others who were struggling to conceive. Two of them have actually become my best friends and who I couldn’t imagine not sharing my journey with.
When we hit the 14 month mark of trying we decided maybe we should look into things. I knew enough at this point to know that a year of trying could still be normal but more than that was cause for potential concern. Thankfully I had a wonderful family doctor who instead of referring me to just any old gynecologist, she instead referred me right to a doctor at the local fertility clinic, AART. On December 18, 2015 Aaron and I had our first appointment with Dr. Ripley and from the second we met him we just had the best feeling about him, and during our 4 year journey that never once changed. He has such an aura about him. You know from the first moment you meet him that he truly cares.
After some initial testing it was found I had uterine polyps and PCOS. All my blood work leading up to starting at AART had always been normal, and still was, but a saline sono showed 25+ follicles on each ovary. Textbook PCOS in Ripley’s words. We scheduled a polypectomy and made a plan to start ovulation meds. We thought this was it, we’d be pregnant before we knew it. However again months and months passed and even though I was having great ovulations things still weren’t happening. I knew long before Aaron that I was ready to move to something more aggressive, but I waited until he was there too. We scheduled an appointment to talk next steps and decided that IVF was the best route for us.
In February 2018 we attempted our first cycle but by day 5 were cancelled for poor response. I felt so defeated. I never thought for a second that that was even a possibility so it was quite a blow. I had to actually leave work early after getting the call because I was so upset. It was really difficult to think that we had to wait another three months to try again. We’d already waited so long.
May 2018 we attempted cycle 2. This time we made it to a retrieval! It was a bit of a gut punch though because I anticipated many more embryos than what we ended up with because each monitoring appointment showed a lot. But only 10 eggs were retrieved and only 5 were mature. By day 5 we had 2 embryos but they were phenomenal quality. On Father’s Day 2018 we transferred a 4AA embaby. We were officially PUPO! I held out 5 days before my excitement got the best of me and I tested. The faintest of faint lines was there and over the next week the line continued to darken! We were actually pregnant! Beta day rolled around and came in fantastic at 1,071! We were all ecstatic with that number and our 8 week scan was scheduled. Every day leading up to it my excitement (and my nausea grew). We walked in to the clinic on July 25th and you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our face if you tried! Within moments the walls came crashing down. Doctor Ripley got really quiet as he performed that scan. As he maneuvered the ultrasound probe I could tell from the somber look on his face that our baby wasn’t coming home with us. A blighted ovum. We were absolutely crushed. Besides the loss of my mother and grandmother I had never felt an anguish like I did in that moment. We opted to medically manage the loss at home and I took a leave of absence from work to mourn.
When we decided to do our FET in November we just went through the motions. We didn’t feel excitement, we talked more about another loss than it actually working. We transferred our little frosty, a 4AB on October 23rd, 2018. Even though we weren’t excited I still tested early. We got our first positive at 4dp5dt and it continued to progress, but I just knew, I knew things weren’t ok. On beta day it only came in at 170. They were happy enough with it but I pushed for a repeat and it confirmed things for me, it only went up by 10 but the clinic wanted to repeat a few days later to be sure. It was agony. I had to continue PIO shots knowing I would miscarry a 3rd baby. On November 19th they did an early scan to confirm it all for us, no baby.
We went to the IWK later that day to do the repeat loss blood panel and after an agonizing 7 week wait we had no answers to why we lost 3 babies. Everything was normal, we were healthy. It’s a weird feeling to want to find a genetic issue, but it would have been a reason, something we could treat. You can’t treat bad luck.
It took a long time for us to be ready to move forward again, our hearts needed a rest from loss. We took an IVF break from November 2018 to May 2019 and when we did our next attempt it led to another cancelled cycle, this time due to large ovarian cysts. Another kick in the guts. In August we decided to try again and even though I once again had cysts my levels were low enough to proceed. We felt ok about this attempt, we had a plan for this cycle to add blood thinners, a Hail Mary if you will, because it couldn’t hurt to at least give it a shot in case there was something going on that was missed in testing. The retrieval was awful, I had some internal bleeding and issues with my blood pressure. The room got quite chaotic and they had to put ice packs on me and some oxygen. Aaron actually thought he was going to lose me that day with how frenzied it was in the moment. I was in a lot of pain that night, couldn’t move without help, couldn’t sleep, it was awful. But then it got worse. The morning after retrieval we got the call no one going through IVF ever wants to get. Zero fertilization. In the moment I felt like I couldn’t breath. How I held it together on the phone with the embryologist is beyond me. They gave us an option to either call things a bust and try again with a new cycle or we could attempt rescue icsi. She was upfront though, they’d never had a successful pregnancy as a result of the rescue procedure. I asked if I had time to think about it, I couldn’t even process it in that moment. She told me unfortunately it was very time sensitive and they needed an answer within 15 minutes to give it the best chance. How do I make this decision on my own, Aaron was at work and I had no idea if I’d be able to reach him.
The motto of those going through IVF is follow the path of least regret. For me it was doing anything we could, even if the odds were zero percent not to mention the idea of another retrieval while I was in so much pain was something I couldn’t imagine doing. I ok’ed the rescue procedure then called Aaron to tell him the news. He and I spent the next 4 days grieving because we anticipated nothing to fertilize let alone make it to a transfer, but somehow on day 5 we had 2 to transfer, but the grades were low, one was still a morula and our embryo was a 1DD. We transferred both and once again, like we had been twice before we were PUPO. There was no excitement. We told no one aside from very close friends who knew we were cycling and my husband’s brother and wife. We wanted to keep the circle small so that it was less people to have to tell about a loss.
As I was known to do, I tested at home. My first positive once again came at 4dp5dt. I was convinced it was still trigger shot but it continued to darken. But instead of being hopeful we waited to miscarry. There was no joy in positive tests only worry. Even with a call from one of our favourite nurses with a phenomenal beta we felt only fear. On October 2nd 2019 we walked in to the clinic for the 8 week scan. I felt physically ill and it took every ounce of my strength to not turn around and walk out. I wanted to live in this moment of blissful ignorance where I could still let myself have moments of imagining things being ok. I didn’t want that to be taken away. They took us in to a room I’d been in many times before for monitoring appointments. I laid back on the exam table and had to remind myself to breath. The room filled, our doctor, our nurse and a med student along with a fellow who was getting training at the clinic. The air felt heavy, they knew our history, they’d been through so much with us. We all kind of just held our breath. And then I looked at the screen and I saw the most incredible sight, a baby, a baby with a perfectly beating heart.
On May 11, 2020 we welcomed our beautiful, zero percent chance, rescue icsi baby. If it wasn’t for all the staff at AART we wouldn’t be where we are today, parents to a perfect, funny, amazing almost 6 month old baby boy! Every day I look at him in complete awe, awe that against every odd he is here with us and healthy. His smile lights up our lives and I often catch myself just crying from the pure joy that with the worst odds we got the best gift. He truly is our miracle baby!