BEHIND THE LENS: our IVF journey

Posted on Sep 21 2016 - 8:05am by CARLY

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I struggled with whether or not to get real and share my life behind the lens, for infertility was never how I wanted to define my identity to the world. I have a loving husband, supportive family, health, happiness, success (damn, my life is almost as perfect as my Instagram feed). Needless to say, I have tons to be grateful for so over a year of trying to conceive shouldn’t be a big deal to me. My tear-filled episodes spent lying on the bathroom floor over negative pregnancy tests are nothing to the thousands of couples suffering 3, 5, 10 years of infertility. How dare I compare my ache to theirs? After five rounds of clomid, a couple invasive tests, and finally a diagnosis of Endometriosis (which is not good news, but at least an explanation from a great doctor and plans to conquer it), I’d go forward with the next “solution” called In Vitro Fertilization, get pregnant, count my blessings, and move on with my life as a normal mama, blogger and woman. Oh, and you better believe I’d force myself to do it with my chin up because I fall into the lucky 1% of the world who can afford the medical treatment that grants this amazing God plus science infused opportunity of motherhood. No complaints allowed, Carly.

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I’m not a victim, nor a hero, but the truth is, as much as I have wanted to continue living my daily routine these past months with a positive attitude, slowly but surely life has become 1% flowy wrap dresses and lavish lunch meetings, and 99% needles, meds, pharmacies and doctors appointments while I cling on through the wildest rollercoaster ride of my life. My social appearances have diminished into moments of isolation, and my anxiety of facing the outside universe increased in fear that people don’t understand (which if you are about to start this process, beware that not even your mom will understand unless she went through it. It’s no one’s fault so do me and yourself a favor, and give her a break). I’ve stayed strong in my consulting work, but my blog posts have felt empty (and much less frequent). The other day I sat at my computer for the hundredth time this month facing writers block, with so many outfits to feature (I made sure to shoot several looks before starting treatments), but so little words. It was another moment where my head was removed from my “Top Trends for Fall” post (by the way did I miss Fashion Week?? Woops.) and stuck in the clouds with my future babies, or completely glued to another IVF sister’s blog for inspiration and support. Although I feared I’d offend one of you mamas-to-be who have been suffering years of infertility (and I sincerely apologize if I upset you), I knew right then that on the flip side, I had an opportunity to help other women, just like other women have helped me. I decided it was my turn to contribute to the infertility community, and that this very blank page of mine was meant for my story. To my dear family member who is about to embark on this journey, and to all of you other women facing this struggle in silence. My tale may be young and still in the works but if I can provide comfort to even just one of you in knowing that you are not alone, and hope that we will each have our time…I am satisfied.

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Although I’ve stayed positive, naturally I’ve felt a sense of brokenness the last year in this quest for motherhood. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do the one thing that I’m supposed to do -bear children-? I knew I had to get over this overwhelming (and depressing) thought to make it through with a success story, so I shoved it aside and accepted that God had a different plan for me. I turned my self – administered injections that once terrified me into needles that empowered me each night. It sounds crazy but when you’re doing 3 daily (Follistim, Lupron and Menopur were the main go-to’s in my specific case), for 3 weeks, every night, same time, on the dot, you have to look at it this way. No, it wasn’t fun. But I reflect on the moments of my husband studying the pamphlet “shushing” me while I played my pump up Kygo Pandora jams in the background so he could concentrate to get the syringes prepped for stick time. Or the many times we had to leave dinners or events early so we could get home in time for our “nightcap” (aka injection) which will forever have a new meaning to me. I often look at the videos I took to remind myself how far I’ve come (I documented a few so when my child is having a tantrum down the road, I’ll remember just how badly I wanted his/her screaming face ;) ). They hurt (that Menopur was a stinger!) and sometimes even left welts and bruises on my abdomen…but each poke was one step closer to baby, and for me, that was enough.

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Sometimes I laugh at this one, because in truth the only way to survive this period with sanity was to lighten up and chuckle a little. Along with three or so weeks of injections came visits to the doctor every. other. day. They want to ensure the injections are stimulating your eggs correctly and decide what meds to add, doses to increase or what not through blood draws and ultrasounds (during this time I obviously knew I wasn’t pregnant yet, but sometimes I thought if I saw one more empty uterus on the screen I’d lose it). Aside from trips, I canceled on my niece’s baptism and even a family wedding, and literally played my life by ear for a month because there was no such thing as making a doctors appointment more than a few days in advance. Every little move was on call and made according to my body (I’m seriously so over myself at this point. Thank you husband, for putting up with me and living your life by my cycle). The doctor called us around day 16 of my cycle and basically said your retrieval surgery is tomorrow at 7:30 am. Take x and y shot at precisely 10:30pm tonight and we will see you in the morning. Just like that, we dropped everything, prepared for the big day, and in we went. I remember the anesthesiologist being so nice to me. I’d never been put under before, and he made me feel like a champ. They rolled me into the OR, I asked them to put country music on (WTF? I never listen to country??) and the next thing I knew I was awake and in pain until the nurse gave me morphine (she said that although I had some of the healthiest vitals she’d seen, my pain tolerance was questionable… I had no poker face and my discomfort was written all over-haha). I asked why so much pain from what I anticipated to be such a seamless procedure, and she said “well, they pricked your insides with a needle 32 times and retrieved 32 eggs…” which was a heck of a lot more than they expected. Hallelujah. Things were going in the right direction. Meanwhile, my husband supplied a sample so we could create the embryos (you’ve all had the birds n’ the bees chat – it’s a bit different in IVF, but I think we’re good here?!). My doctor came to recovery and said that although the original plan was to freeze our embryos while they treated my Endometriosis, my uterus was “looking beautiful” from the past weeks’ meds so they were going to do a fresh embryo transfer in 5 days. It was the cherry on top. Within a few hours I was back at home in bed, sleeping off the anesthesia. The next few days were rough. Post egg retrieval bloating is no joke. I read about it, but really didn’t think it would happen to me. I don’t have any indigestion or stomach issues in general and rarely get sick, so I thought if I rested, I’d totally be an exception. WRONG. I looked like a 5 month pregnant person (a pretty mean joke to play on someone who so badly wants to be pregnant if you ask me), and the way I felt was on another level. I could hardly eat because my ovaries tripled in size from the 30+ eggs (remember we usually have only one mature egg each month), and were squishing my stomach. I kept this procedure under the radar, but the few who did know spoiled me with visits, texts and flowers (one friend’s note said “congrats on your 32 eggies” which made me grin – in going through this you learn that every progressive step is worth celebrating). It hurt to laugh but it also felt so good to get some giggles in with girlfriends who stopped by. Even if it was about my fake belly/bump or the handful of daily suppositories that my adorable elderly pharmacist instructed my husband, “do not go in the mouth” (thanks for picking those up hubby!!). Gets me every time. I spent the next 4 or so days on bedrest, and miraculously felt normal the day of the transfer (so thankful I didn’t have Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome- which is quite common and from what I hear, excruciating). Initially we planned on one embryo with the future frozen transfer, but after several conversations with our doctor, we decided 2 embryos was the best choice for this particular fresh attempt. We were ready.

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We told no one about our fresh transfer. Since IVF takes some of the surprise factor out of the equation, we took this as our chance to possibly gift our families and friends with a completely unexpected pregnancy. We went on a date the night before (which is when the above picture was taken) and I got zero sleep that night. The next day was so special between my husband and I…arguably the most sacred day of our lives thus far, and I don’t regret keeping it a secret. I detached from my phone, walked to the beach, wrote Hunter (my hub) a letter, watched our wedding video…name something super emo and I did it ;) We listened to Coldplay as we drove down the empty road of hope to the Fertility Center where we met my acupuncturist for a quick treatment (she’s the best. She’s been my therapist, my safe net in this whole thing who I have released all my unfiltered worries, stress and sadness to the past months). Hunter got in his scrubs and met me where I was admitted. They took us into the OR so we could meet our embryos for the first time and woa, what a surreal experience. It was the first look at my (em)babies and I was in love. They did the transfer (I’ll save you from all the really fun details there) and we got to watch the two embryos on a screen literally enter my uterus. If you are TTC, you know how deep that dark baby hole is in your soul, and this was the first time I felt a bit of it, maybe, quite possibly, filling up.

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More bedrest. And lots of calls from my mom ignored. I tell her pretty much everything and I knew I’d let the secret slip if I talked to her too much. She senses any excitement or upset emotion of mine (and boy were there a lot of these in that 2 week period), so she for sure would have figured something was up if I’d given her too much phone time. I ended up caving and told one friend a few days post transfer, and one couple friend of ours who we hosted the following weekend. They say you are PUPO (pregnant until proven otherwise) post transfer so aside from hardcore rest, I had to eat and (not) drink like a pregnant person, abide all the rules and continue taking my 17+medications/vitamins/hormones. Too stressful to hide when you are entertaining people and living with them for 72 hours. They were – are – the three pillars who carried me through the 2WW and I don’t know what it would have been like without them.

(Side note: originally I intended this post to be short and concise, but it’s obviously gotten quite lengthy! I don’t really care because letting it all out is incredibly therapeutic for me-something I should have done weeks or maybe months ago, so thank you for keeping up and making it this far!)

Back to the drumroll.
The 2WW was ending. I was on so much estrogen among other hormones that I was crying every other day. The kind of cry so deep you don’t know where it comes from. But it’s there, and although exaggerated, it’s real. What if it didn’t work? What could I have done wrong? What if it does work? Do I deserve it? I was so optimistic the first week, that I think come the second I entered the reality that it might not all be butterflies and rainbows and things might unravel differently than planned (duh, you’d think I’d know this by now), but I kept my head up. It was hard to resist my cabinet of at-home pregnancy tests, but I refused to be heartbroken over one more little white plastic stick. On the final day, Hunter took me to get my blood test and although there are always tons of couples in the waiting area, I particularly noticed two other women who were getting their blood drawn. I remember thinking I could be ending Part 1 of my journey, and they very well may just be starting theirs. I smiled at them, and I felt for them. I then stuck my needle-bruised arm out for my lab guy who by now was my buddy. He took what he needed, said “good luck,” and I walked away.

It takes a few hours to get the results, therefore Hunter and I spent the rest of the day attached to my phone. The source of the rest of our lives. Or so it felt. We were going to call his parents who were traveling. Then my best friend. Then drive up to Lake Arrowhead where my parents were and tell them the good news in person (yes, we would have been only a month in, but we were willing to risk it and break that 3 month rule of thumb with close family members). We’d be over the moon. And we would breathe again. Ring ring. Hunter pulled the car over. Hello? I heard my nurse say “Hi Carly.” She didn’t need to say much more. I knew from her tone of voice it was unfortunate news, said thank you, hung up the phone and instantly fell into tears with my husband.  Neither embryo implanted-does this mean I was defeated…not once, but twice? No, but I couldn’t help but feel angry with myself and my body for a slight second. It was one of those moments I wanted to end so badly, but at the same time, I didn’t know what I would do once I opened my eyes. What now?

We failed. Our first IVF attempt. We know now in our hearts it wasn’t meant to be, but I will say that pressing the fast forward button was not the best idea. I woke up the next day with forced giggles and smiles, however by night time, my emotions exploded. So much for thinking (or pretending?) I was over it! One of the many things I’ve learned in this journey is to go through the motions and feel. I am human, and although I won’t let myself “complain,” I am allowed to cry. I am allowed to be sad.

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We’ve since had a lot of positive talks with our doctor about our remaining embryos and are very hopeful! I don’t plan on disclosing what’s happening now, next week, or next month as I feel some things still need to be kept private (but hey, ya never know!), however we’re excited to move forward and are thankful for another chance. We may not have our happy ending yet, but part 1 sure is a special piece of this adventure!

For those of you struggling in this hardship, you are not alone, and I hope that reading this has brought you some sort of strength or comfort. Feel free to comment or email me (carly@bunbunbook.com) if you have any questions or want advice. I wrote the majority of this post a couple weeks ago, so thank you to those bloggers who have shared their story and given me the courage to finally hit “Publish.” Whether about your ongoing journey or your now miracle babies, your stories continue to keep me strong and inspired.

Friends and Family: to me, you are gold. And Hunter, well you are everything. Thank you all for helping me find peace to close the first chapter, and power to endure the second. I am grateful.

carlykenihan

15 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Megan September 21, 2016 at 9:27 AM - Reply

    Carly, such a beautifully written post! So proud of you for sharing! You are amazing! Looking forward to your next chapter in this journey! We love you!

    • CARLY September 24, 2016 at 2:30 PM - Reply

      Thank you so much friend <3

  2. Royce Gainsborough September 21, 2016 at 11:31 PM - Reply

    What beautiful pictures they are.So great.
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  3. Judith September 21, 2016 at 11:54 PM - Reply

    Dearest Carly, be brave, well done and all my prayers are with you both
    Lots of love xxx

    • CARLY September 24, 2016 at 2:30 PM - Reply

      Thank you Judy! XOXO

  4. Erin September 22, 2016 at 6:43 PM - Reply

    I’m about to embark on IVF for the first time in the next week or so. Thanks for writing and sharing this. Good luck to you.

    • CARLY September 24, 2016 at 2:31 PM - Reply

      Oh my! It’s an exciting (and yes, scary) time, but wishing you the best of luck! I’m always happy to chat if you want to email! XO

  5. Laura September 22, 2016 at 6:54 PM - Reply

    You are so strong and inspiring! Sending you all my love-xoxo
    Laura @ Sequins at Breakfast

    • CARLY September 24, 2016 at 2:31 PM - Reply

      Thank you Laura-means a lot! Hope you and that lil’ bump are well :) XO

  6. Olivia September 26, 2016 at 7:19 AM - Reply

    So glad you got real!! You’re so strong girly!! Sending lots of love towards your way!

    xx Olivia
    http://www.hellooliviablog.com

  7. Georgina September 27, 2016 at 8:12 PM - Reply

    It’s a pleasure to read your blog :)Look forward to your updating:)
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  8. Ness October 6, 2016 at 12:09 AM - Reply

    Beautiful post. keep your chin up and keep going with the acupuncture – I hear you when you say yours is like your therapist so was mine. We fell pregnant on our 2nd full round of ivf and hadn’t told anyone we weee doing it which was the easiest way after being very public during our first round. all the best, it is not an easy road and but one that will be so so worth it eventually xoxo

  9. Kristine November 11, 2016 at 9:52 AM - Reply

    I stumbled upon your blog and this post and I’m so glad I did. We just had our FET on Tuesday, and should find out next week. The struggle is real.

    I plan on writing something too, but I, too, have felt writer’s block on my blog because our lives have been consumed by appointments, needles and uncertainty.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • CARLY November 11, 2016 at 2:45 PM - Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to read! I wish you and your husband the best of luck…it can be a long and rough process but keep your head and heart up! XOXO

  10. Caroline May 16, 2017 at 7:17 PM - Reply

    I’ve been going through something similar. My husband and I have been ttc for almost 3 years with unexplained infertility. I developed severe ohss on our first ivf attempt and let me tell you it was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever gone through. We got pregnant on our first frozen transfer and it was the happiest few weeks of our lives but unfortunately I miscarried at 7 weeks. I know all too well the hope, disappointment, devastation, and determination. I came across your blog while browsing an instagram page dedicated to pregnant women. Sometimes all things pregnancy related make me very sad but sometimes they give me hope. I’m so glad I came across your story because it inspires me to keep trying. Congratulations on finally starting your family. ❤❤❤

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