>> Thursday, January 21, 2016
Skip this post if you don’t want to read period talk, stuff about my ovaries, etc.
I often have trouble making sense of our TTC journey. I was diagnosed with infertility last year (the inability to get/stay pregnant over the course of a year). The thing is, I got pregnant a whopping four times in the span of 16 months. I’d read of similar struggles on birth boards or even hear from friends “at least you know you can get pregnant.” And while that’s certainly true and half the battle, it put me in a hard spot with knowing how to feel about recurrent pregnancy loss.
Anyway, since I’m an open book on these matters, I thought I’d answer some of the questions I have received about trying to conceive, our process, and what things we did to help along the way. It’s a lot of information, so today I’m going to cover why we started “actively trying” so soon into the process -- as well as what that means exactly (because I didn’t know at the time).
Then I’ll have a few additional posts, roughly divided into these topics:
- Charting 101
- The Weird Stuff
- Two Week Waits
- Surviving Early + Recurrent Loss
We started trying to conceive in early June 2014. As many teacher-families do, we were trying to get pregnant soon before or at the same time that Stephen might be out for the summer. This gave us a good 4 months to conceive, and with my history of conceiving successfully on the first try -- I felt overly confident (cocky!) we’d meet our “goal” easily. I’d been tracking my cycles for a few years, mostly just fertile signs (like cervical mucus, ovary pain, etc.), recording my suspected day of ovulation, and then when I’d get my period each month. My cycles weren’t too irregular, but my suspected ovulation would be anywhere between day 12-18, so each month was different.
When we didn’t get pregnant the first two months by timing intercourse this way (lots of CM = do it now!), I wasn’t thrilled. Looking back, I want to slap myself for getting so upset so easily. The thing is, it’s a common feeling. I give myself a break there. Still, we made the important decision to start actively trying versus just not preventing.
It was indeed a quick jump, but -- like I said -- we had wanted to try to conceive by a certain time (working from home and having Stephen around is a good scenario!). I also suspected something might be up with my body because -- as I was tracking my cycles more carefully -- I noticed I was spotting only 8-9 days after my suspected ovulation for several days before my period would start.
What is Actively Trying?
There’s a group called ACTIVELY TRYING: The Next Level on BabyCenter, I learned about them the deeper we got into TTC. They define actively trying as being “beyond just having sex to TTC.” The thing is, couples can just have sex all they want and time it incorrectly. If the sperm isn’t there to meet the egg at the right time, all bets are off. So, “actively trying” means you’re using other methods to determine when ovulation is happening to get the best results.
These “other methods” might include:
- Using ovulation predictor kits (OPKs)*
- Temperature charting (above)*
- Recording secondary fertile signs (CM, etc.)
- Doing monitored cycles, IUI, IVF, etc.
* Usually to be in the actively trying category, you do both OPKs + temperature charting at minimum.
Since I suspected that something might be slightly off about my cycles, I decided I wanted to gather more data to see if it was all just in my head. When I got pregnant with Ada, my cycles were relatively clockwork. I’d have ovulation around day 15/16 with a period following 13-14 days later.
When I realized that wasn’t at all my pattern this time around, I wondered what was up. My periods had also been a lot heavier, more clotty, much more painful, and just, well, different since they returned 16 months after having Ada. I figured it was normal to have changes after having children. I hadn’t fully noticed how different they were until we started TTC because we had a lot on our plates with Ada’s surgery that whole year before and then with our house move.
(Interpreting OPKs, which measure luteinizing hormone or LH)
Anyway, I started doing loose temperature charting (I am not a great sleeper and wake up all different times of the night and morning -- so I’d miss some days but keep a general graph), tracking all my fertile signs, and using ovulation predictor kits. It paid off. We got a positive test in early September . . . only to be followed by a really (!!!) heavy period after several days of what I thought was just implantation spotting. That’s something else I should mention: Whenever I have tested positive for pregnancy while trying for #2, it’s been as early as 10 to 11 days past ovulation. I’ll get to this more in the post about two week waits.
By this time, I was confused. I’d never experienced anything like this before. What a cruel joke. I decided to make an appointment with my midwife to discuss my concerns. I told her about the positive test, I explained how my cycles -- for me -- seemed off, and I told her that we were actively trying. She brushed it off as bad luck (which is what I wanted to believe, too) and said we hadn’t been doing anything long enough to really investigate yet. Keep and eye on it and return back if things continued on after actively trying for a total of six months.
So, that’s what we did. For the next couple months, I started to notice that my OPKs were positive for many days in a row but my temperature wouldn’t really climb that high after I suspected ovulation. My ovaries would not just ache but be in mega-pain around when I thought ovulation should be happening. I’d get spotting for up to 5 days before my periods. My periods continued to be clotty and weird. I had a bunch of other strange hormonal symptoms, too. Like a week after “ovulation” I’d get really sharp pains that reminded me of when I was pregnant with Ada (I felt implantation with her very distinctly!). I’d have lots of weird “signs” of pregnancy that I didn’t normally get (sore breasts, nausea, dizziness, etc.), but no positive tests.
By January, we had reached the actively trying for six months milestone. (That was a guideline the midwife had given me for making an appointment, since when you’re timing things -- you, in theory, should have success sooner. I felt silly going in so soon, but a lot of what I read said to be proactive about your fertility if you were tracking things carefully.)
I asked to see a fertility specialist because of all the symptoms I was having. We met, and he agreed that things didn’t at all sound normal. We decided to do a round of initial infertility blood work, a sperm analysis for Stephen, and he asked me to keep even more detailed charts including temperatures for every single day despite when I’d wake up, etc.
And a week or so later, I found out I was pregnant again.
Since I was seeing the specialist, I went in for blood work to see if my levels were doubling. They were and everything looked good at the start. His protocol meant I’d go in for an ultrasound just shy of 6 weeks. You guys know how this pregnancy turned out.
We had an e.x.t.r.e.m.e.l.y slow miscarriage. It would have been a missed miscarriage (MMC) had we not had all the weekly monitoring. I had tremendous morning sickness the whole time and wouldn’t have suspected the pregnancy wasn’t going well. Instead, we watched the heartbeat slowly fade away for weeks. At a few days shy of 10 weeks, I had a D&C and was told to take off 3 cycles. One of these cycles was only 15 days long -- score (insert sarcasm face -- but cycles after miscarriage can be wonky)!
We were trying again by early June, and I was convinced that it would be our month. My charting skills had greatly improved. I noticed that even if I didn’t wake up exactly at the same time each morning, the trend in the temps were still good enough to show me that something was weird with ovulation. I’d still get several days of positive ovulation tests followed by a really slow temperature climb, not a jump like I had seen in the Fertility Friend galleries. I had even more pain during this ovulation period. Then I saw a big correlation for when my temperature would drop and my spotting would begin.
But the doctor said to try for at least three months of actively trying before seeing him again. So, admittedly, three months of our 16-month journey were taken “off”. But the waiting was so difficult as the many bellies around me grew and other pregnancy/birth announcements mounted. I used the time to become a charting pro, I started taking my temps vaginally (TMI but it works so much better!), and I noticed my cycles did take some time to regulate after the procedure.
In September, we got yet another positive test. I was thrilled. How could bad luck strike THREE times?! No way. But then my pregnancy test line started to disappear. A digital read a mean old “NO!” several days after my initial positive. So, I went in to get the blood work and quickly found out that my progesterone levels were rock bottom, my HcG levels were decreasing, and I -- yet again -- was having a chemical pregnancy. I was put on progesterone to see if the hormone could salvage anything, but I started bleeding a little over a week later.
I was beside myself with confusion. I was starting to wonder if I had a bigger medical issue. Even when you lose babies early, it hurts. It’s a whole month, months, year+ that you’re living on this roller coaster. The time accumulates to a crushing weight. I kept asking myself why this was happening to me. I started this process when I was 30! Why was my body not able to do what it should do? Especially when getting pregnant with Ada had been so easy?
What I’ve learned throughout my experiences is that someone’s loss at 5 weeks can be just as weighty as one at 10 weeks or more, and so on. You should never diminish or belittle someone’s feelings about these matters because you rarely know the whole story.
Actively Trying: About More Than Just + Tests
I share all this stuff today because I am really glad that I decided to be an advocate for my reproductive health. I knew something was wrong early on, but instead of just trying and praying it would work out or go away, etc., I wanted answers. Actively trying enabled us to get pregnant by improving our timing significantly. Since our timing was good, I’d get pregnant often (and, yes, that also makes me just lucky because you can chart, do OPKs, etc., and not get pregnant) . . . and then miscarry, which was the information my doctor needed to see that something really was going on with my body despite clean blood work and other testing.
Had I not been tracking, I might not have known much of anything was going on.
The thing is that . . . no. We didn’t get deep into the trenches with infertility treatments, so sometimes I really feel like a joke saying I had infertility. It’s a deep insecurity because I know so many people face such difficult circumstances and continue to face them. But I share because I know a lot of people are going through similar situations. So far, we think/hope/pray our story will have a happy ending.
After having the third loss, my doctor decided that since my losses were unexplained that we would try progesterone (5 days after ovulation, right before my temperature would usually start to plummet) and baby aspirin. It’s sort of a bandaid approach when you don’t know what else is wrong. Then we got pregnant right away and -- so far -- these things have helped up get to almost the halfway point.
My doctor thinks possibly my ovulation was weak or that I had a hormone imbalance that wasn’t showing up or possibly a slight clotting disorder. We will likely never know. I did a lot of other things along with the help from the doctor that I will go into on another post. The month we got pregnant with this baby, I had a huge temperature spike on my chart. I also ovulated with just ONE day of positive OPK. I was pinching myself at my “normal” it all seemed.
There are days when I’m still convinced that something bigger is wrong and it will all disappear.
But that’s a whole different story.
So, you haven’t been trying for a full year (or if you have) and something about your body seems just . . . wrong. Or you’ve been actively trying for six months. Or you have any other reason to think that something is up. SEE YOUR DOCTOR. If you have a good one, he/she won’t dismiss your concerns. It’s even better if you have information to back up your worries. Actively trying, for me, helped us prove that -- despite having cycles that fell within normal ranges -- my body wasn’t normal. The doctors want this kind of information.
Give yourself the power to at least see what’s going on if you’re concerned. You can do this all cheaply and, in some cases, for free. I bought a simple basal temperature thermometer and downloaded the free Fertility Friend app. I also bought ovulation predictor strips on Amazon for cheap. These things will give you so much information, and they’re easy to learn and add to your daily schedule.
Thanks for reading this super long post. I hope it was somewhat helpful! If you have more questions, I’d be happy to answer them, I realize I wasn’t able to touch on absolutely everything . . . and I’ve probably left out some major stuff. But I did the best I could to get a general overview of why I feel this is such an important thing.
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