My first pregnancy: Why I still pinch myself every day that it’s real

When I was 20 years old, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to have kids naturally. Almost 10 years later, I’m sitting here, five months along with my little belly, writing about the journey that led me to my first pregnancy. It’s an indescribable feeling that I hope to never take for granted. As excited as I am, sometimes I’m still in disbelief that it’s real. I guess it takes some time when so many years have built up to this moment.

It’s important to me to document this experience for myself. But I also want to let my guard down, be vulnerable and share my experience with women who might take comfort in knowing someone else has been in their similar situation. So here it goes…

Unbeknownst to me, this journey actually began when I was a baby. At 10 months old, I had a bit of a health scare. After a two-week period at Stanford Children’s Hospital I had a surgery that left me with the possibility of not being able to get pregnant. It was exploratory surgery, which means they basically took pieces of my abdomen out to search for a mass they found in an ultrasound. After they removed it, they put all the pieces back together (pardon the lack of medical terminology). The doctors announced that I was going to be totally healthy and the surgery was a success. They also mentioned to my parents that they didn’t know if I would be able to get pregnant. I’m not totally clear as to why, but I assume it had something to do with how they moved everything around to look for the mass. Of course, I have no memory of this experience, but I can only imagine how relieved my poor family was to hear that I was going to be totally fine, aside from my future fertility.

Fast forward 19 years, I found myself with some abdominal pain. An ultrasound showed two large grapefruit sized ovarian cysts near my ovaries. Because these cysts were so large, my doctor wanted to remove them, which required another surgery.  

Now this surgery experience is very clear to me. I woke up in recovery to hear good news first – I did not receive a hysterectomy while I was under (which was a potential option) and my cysts were benign. However, my exploratory surgery as a baby caused so much scar tissue that my doctor said my abdomen was like nothing she’d seen before – imagine lots of spider web-like tissue stretching and pulling on multiple organs. She said she pulled lots of doctors into the operating room so they could witness the craziness. The cysts were so intertwined around my ovaries that she ended up just draining them in fear that removing them could cause serious damage to my ovaries. In fact, one ovary already seemed to be damaged and one fallopian tube was completely deformed and removed. The other tube was nowhere to be found. My doctor shared that I most likely would not be able to conceive naturally. This was really the first time I was truly aware of my infertility.

I’ve wanted to be a mom ever since I can remember, so I did not take this news lightly, but at the same time I was only 20 years old and not at all ready to have kids. So I put the news in the back of my mind.

I put off my infertility situation for about 5 years while I finished college and started my career. But when I turned 25, I swear it felt like my biological clock just punched me in the gut. All of a sudden, I started wondering when I was going to have kids. I remember sitting at Starbucks one day and a mom with twins came in, probably a couple months old, and my eyes just started watering.

I think it was the first time the reality set in that I wanted kids fairly soon and I didn’t know if I would be able to have them. The circumstances of my situation became more and more real. That’s when I began to feel the emotional aches and pains knowing my journey to motherhood wouldn’t be easy and there was a real possibility of not being able to get pregnant at all.

Two years later, my longtime boyfriend and I got married. Within six months of being married we started on the road to figuring out my fertility situation. The process started with six months of trying to find a new doctor, as mine retired. These doctors had me do lots of lab tests, ultrasounds, hysterosalpingogram (HSG), etc. The HSG experience is a story of its own – oh my gosh! Many women say it’s worse than child birth pain, yet you are not given any option of pain killers. It was the worse pain I’ve ever felt in my life.

Some of the doctors wanted to do surgery again to try to remove my cysts before moving forward with any fertility procedure. But instead, I moved on and started working directly with fertility clinics. I interviewed with three different clinics in the bay area. This process took another 6 months as two of the doctors I wanted to see were booked out months in advance.

After a year of simply trying to find the right doctor with the right plan, I was very ready to start our family. I brushed it off to everyone else, making it seem like I was in no rush, but that was really just a defense mechanism. I would tell people that we were just starting to look into the process to be prepared for later, but really, I would have been pregnant that day if I could have.

Within a couple months of deciding on our clinic, we were ready to start the IVF process. I’ll go into our whole IVF process in another journal entry, but for now, I’ll just share that it was the hardest thing I have ever gone through – more so emotionally than physically, although the physical effects were certainly intense as well.

The waiting sucks. The disappointments are paralyzing. The loneliness hurts deep. But at the same time, it’s totally doable if that makes sense at all. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. And I will have to for our second child as we only got one embryo out of the process.

I have to stress the point that it’s also been the most rewarding experience of my life. It’s a true testament to your strength, your relationship with yourself and your partner. You get the gift of learning to not giving a sh*t about petty things or what other people think of you because all you care about is being healthy for your best chances of success and doing what you can to make your dream come true.

Over the five-month process, we had a couple setbacks. The first was ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome from the FSH drugs, which meant I had to do an additional two-month cycle of shots and meds before being able to transfer the embryo. Two months can feel like two years in IVF world. Secondly, we went from having 15 embryos (that’s a lot!) to ONE on the last day of embryo development. All but one died on the last day before being frozen.

This meant that our five months of IVF shots and other meds, our MANY multiple hour drives to the IVF clinic and our $30k savings from the past 10 years, was all riding on our ONE embryo.

If this transfer didn’t work, we had to start from the very top – shots, emotions, money and all – there were no frozen embryos to fall back on. We were given a 28% chance that this embryo would attach and make it to live birth. This was a hard pill to swallow. I could see from an outsider’s perspective how lucky we were to have a chance at all. Some people don’t get any viable embryos out of the process. But it didn’t feel lucky. It felt like an enormous amount of pressure and fear of disappointment in the weeks to come.

Our embryo transfer went very well. Our doctor said it was the best transfer he could have hoped for. Ten days later, we received the news of our positive pregnancy test! We were beside ourselves. The odds were against us, yet we got ‘the good news’. I’ve read so many stories of women who have to struggle far more than I did. How did we get so lucky? It was so surreal and breathtakingly blissful at the same time. It’s everything you’re hoping for delivered in one moment in time. In many ways, it felt too good to be true.

With that said, we were incredibly nervous throughout the entire first trimester. There’s always a risk that this insanely overwhelming feeling of joy could end. And there would be another uphill battle to follow. Not to mention we don’t have another $30k sitting around to start another cycle right away.

But here we are now, 21 weeks pregnant. Baby girl is almost a pound and doing well. I still have to pinch myself pretty much every day that I’m actually pregnant. And although the worry never goes away (welcome to parenthood, I guess), this process has taught me how to deal with those feelings in a productive and healthy way.

We are SO grateful for our pregnancy and I truly appreciate this entire experience for not only teaching me many life lessons, but showing me that we are always stronger than we think.