The short-short version and a disclaimer: We are so excited to share we’re expecting a baby on 8/20/18! The hand of the Lord was on this situation, though it wasn’t a quick or easy journey for us. If you want the VERY detailed story, read on, though please know that some might find that I over-share in this blog. I share this level of detail to bring glory to the Lord for what he has done as well as possibly encourage anyone else on an infertility journey. End of disclaimer!

 

This story really begins with expectations. While training for my very first mission trip in college I was taught, “You never know you have expectations until they aren’t met.” I think that’s especially true about overseas travel, but maybe the saying for everyday life is more like, “You don’t know how deeply rooted your expectations are until they aren’t met.”

I’ve always been a planner and I’m generally overly analytical. I think things through in detail and then I want them to go just as I’ve planned it. When Leo and I started trying to get pregnant I said, “Well, we can’t be sure how long this will take, so we can start now and see what happens!” What I really was thinking, though, was that I’d been tracking my cycles since before we were married, I knew exactly what was happening in my body, and based on family history I knew there was a good chance of it happening the very first month of trying. My expectation and plan was that we’d be pregnant that very month! It didn’t go the way I had planned.

In addition to not having a successful pregnancy right away, there were complicating factors over the months that followed. We took malaria medicine to go to Kenya, so that knocked out two months. Upon return to Peru from Kenya, I developed what appeared to be a case of Shingles, so there was no trying that month either. When we were technically able to try again, some doctors would have recommended against it because of the time we spent in Kenya where Zika is prevalent, but for that matter, we lived in Peru where they also warn against Zika. During all these months there were also additional stressors outside my pregnancy plan: there was information gathering, appointments, and interviews at the embassy for Leo’s visa for the USA, but we were still hopefully that the pregnancy plan would be a go at some point.

The negative pregnancy tests were hard. I took them as failure on some level. I kept them mostly to myself because Leo preferred to know when it was a firm “yes,” but I couldn’t always contain the tears and frustration each month. I was doing what was in my control to make sure our plan was successful, but it just wasn’t working out. My husband is the ever-optimist who would simply say, “We’ll try again next month,” but I worried that there was something else preventing success – after all, we weren’t blinding trying.

Then came July. That second line on the test stick appeared indicating that there was HcG, the pregnancy hormone, present. It was faint, but I’d taken the test pretty early in my monthly excitement because I was a couple of days late. If you know anything about pregnancy tests, you know that false negatives are common, but a positive is definitely a positive because it means the pregnancy hormone is there. I hurried out and bought a little onesie that said, “Yo ❤ Papá” and I was planning how I would share the big news with Leo. Then the next morning my waking temperature dropped – I took it everyday and knew that wasn’t a good sign. It should stay high if I were indeed pregnant, so I waited another day before sharing the news. By the following morning I was certain that I was not, in fact, going to remain pregnant. It was a Sunday, so I couldn’t get to a doctor or have any blood work done to confirm what I was experiencing. Monday morning I did have some blood work done because I wanted to know what was going on in my body, but by the time I got to the doctor with the results, she dismissed it. “I can’t even tell if you were pregnant to begin with.” Her only recommendation was that I lose weight and that we get a battery of tests to see what our chances of conceiving were. That was not what I wanted to hear in the midst of that loss. We were moving to the US just over a month later and we didn’t have the money anyway, so we just let it go without further testing. I was devastated. I suspect Leo was also disappointed, but he hadn’t shared the day or so of excitement because I hadn’t shared the news immediately with him. I tucked the wrapped onesie I had purchased into a drawer, unopened and ungifted, where it would eventually be packed for the move to the US.

The pregnancy plan didn’t stop even in the midst of our transition. The next months were filled with packing for the US, traveling for several weeks, waiting for US insurance to kick in, setting up our apartment in Arkansas, the MULTIPLi annual staff advance, and other transitions. It didn’t change my feelings of disappointment seeing a negative test at the end of each month – I was still hoping each time.

I finally got an appointment with an OB-GYN here in Fayetteville, AR, on October 19. We talked fertility for probably at least 30 minutes. She agreed that we hadn’t been trying blindly and gave us several options for proceeding. One option, given the day of my cycle, was to start an ovulation stimulation drug (Clomid) that day and take it for 5 days. While I was pretty certain that I had been ovulating every month, that drug can also help ensure that more than one egg is released, increasing the chances that at least one is successful. We decided to give it a try (couldn’t hurt, right?) and also to do some basic blood work on me that would give us a picture of my overall hormonal state. I went home with some renewed hope that we could make some progress or get some answers.

A couple of days into taking the Clomid, I got a call that left me feeling more hopeless than I had anticipated. My expectations of the blood results were clearly not in line with what I heard on the phone. It was very matter-of-fact from the nurse at my doctor’s office. “Most of your labs were normal, but your AMH is low (0.42), so we’re going to refer you to Little Rock or Tulsa to a fertility clinic. It needs to be as soon as possible.” I mumbled something about needing to think about it and she told me to get back to her, especially at the end of the month regarding the results of the Clomid.

I turned to Google: I learned that AMH is a hormone that all immature eggs secrete, and that as an egg develops for release, it secretes less and less AMH. So, theoretically, if AMH is low, there are very few immature eggs waiting in the wings to develop and be released. What that also means, then, is that even IVF treatments aren’t theoretically successful because there simply aren’t eggs present to stimulate for harvest. Most fertility clinics will not do IVF and would recommend donor eggs, I read. I had not technically been told that I had “low ovarian reserve,” but that can be the official diagnosis of someone with low AMH.

[As a side note for anyone who may want more details or who stumbled on this article because it contains the words “low AMH,” there are recent studies that indicate that AMH may not be a good indicator of fertility. A study done in North Carolina showed no appreciable difference in conception rates between those with normal AMH and low AMH over a 12-month period. Here’s one article that reference the study: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/nation-world/national/article178330131.html]

My Google searches also led me to this article on egg health: http://natural-fertility-info.com/increase-egg-health. While all my reading indicated that AMH is NOT a measure of the egg health (rather only of eggs present), there are some who theorize that it is possible to produce new eggs and that we are not, in fact, born with all the eggs we will ever have, as has traditionally been thought. I don’t know about all that research, but I was willing to try some of the things I found in that article. I had already heard about and tried Maca in Peru to help regulate hormones, but I specifically ordered gelatinized Maca which can be easier to digest and more potent. I started taking two 950 mg tablets per day. On one hand it’s just a root, but on the other hand it couldn’t hurt and Peruvians have been using it for centuries. I also ordered Royal Jelly and tried to get in two pills per day, not with a meal, because I read it was more effective that way. I generally failed at remembering that, so I gave up and got in one pill with breakfast most days. Both Leo and I cut out caffeine from our diets since this can also cause thickening of bodily fluids on both sides. We added some orange juice since this can apparently thin bodily fluids. I tried to eat better and get more exercise too, keeping up with the pre-natal vitamin I’d been taking for nearly a year.

The end of the first month of Clomid ended as so many months before had ended. I called the nurse to inform her and also to let her know that we’d decided that we couldn’t afford to go to the fertility clinic so late in the year. We were going to have to wait until the new year, with new insurance, a new deductible, and with foreknowledge of what our costs would be. I wasn’t exactly sure that we’d go to the fertility clinic anyway since I had read that they would probably not accept us with my eggs, but that’s what I told her. Meanwhile I was researching options that included a fertility clinic in NY that specializes in women with low AMH and auto-immune issues (The Center for Human Reproduction), as well as adoption agencies and advice from friends who have adopted. I also asked the nurse if there would be any harm in simply continuing the Clomid for the remaining months of the year. I’m not sure what caused me to ask that, but I think it was me needing some sort of plan until the new year, or perhaps simply the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The doctor had no problem with us continuing the Clomid.

The only other thing that I can say I did was buy some “Tussin” (guaifenesin) at Dollar Tree. A friend had told me, “Well my friend swears by Robitussin,” so I checked back into my reference book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Sure enough, Toni Weschler also says that a woman can take 2 Tbsps of guaifenesin three times a day in the 3-4 days leading up to her most fertile day of the month [make sure it doesn’t have any letters after it – just plain Robitussin]. I also read online that it’s a myth, but I was willing to try it with the idea that it thins the cervical fluids and makes it easier for the little swimmers to reach their destination. I needed to be doing something and this was a $1 investment that might help, so I tried that the second month on Clomid.

Now, if you’ve read “The Transition Story,” you may like to know that by now we are arriving to the part of the car saga where we’re parking our first car back on the lot where we bought it after two frustrating months of transmission issues that haven’t been resolved. We were at the lowest point of our transition to the US and discouraged in a way that I can hardly describe effectively. We had and have many prayer warriors and friends alongside us that knew enough details to know we were struggling hard, and they stood in the gap to pray for us in a way that we simply couldn’t even pray in this time frame. I’m so thankful for those sisters and brothers. Prayer was the most powerful medicine through all of this.

November and early December included four 16-hour trips to and from my sister’s house in NC (two round trips, also described in “The Transition Story”). In the middle of the night, in a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee, as we traveled to NC for the second time, I got a little surprise in the bathroom. It crossed my mind at the time that it could be implantation bleeding, but I had seen the same thing on the same cycle day the month before to no avail, so I dismissed it… mostly. A night or so later I saw it again, but more this time. Again, I tried not to read anything into it, because it could easily be hormones that were a little confused or some low progesterone. Spotting comes from a number of sources, after all.

As we made the second trip back to Arkansas in our new-to-us Honda Fit, the fourth 16-hour drive in about 3 weeks, I was so exhausted that I told Leo that I just needed to rest my eyes for 20 minutes in a rest stop. It wasn’t the first time this had happened on these long road trips, but I did feel exceptionally drained at that moment. The end of the month was approaching, though, and that can cause exhaustion anyway. We rested and then made the remaining couple of hours to our home. The following morning, as always, I took my temperature. It spiked on a day that it should have been dropping for the inevitable end to the month, it was exactly day 28 of my cycle. It was about 6 in the morning, so I snuck over to the guest bathroom so that I wouldn’t wake Leo. I chided myself a bit as I did it, but I pulled out my Dollar Tree pregnancy test from the cabinet. I mentally prepared myself for another negative, but I glanced down before the three minutes had passed and saw a second, bright-pink line. I stared in disbelief. Could it be?

I waited all of an hour before I woke Leo up early to tell him. It was unceremonious this time because all I could think about was July. I didn’t know if this was going to stick, but I knew I needed Leo to be in the whole process with me. As soon as the doctor’s office was open, I called and left a message for the nurse to call me. I told her, “I got a positive pregnancy test this morning, but I don’t know if I should believe it because this happened in July and then it didn’t last.” She was so kind and told me to come in that afternoon for a blood draw and then I’d come back in two days to see how the numbers were progressing. When she called that afternoon, she told me that I was definitely pregnant. My HcG levels were in the 200s (a home pregnancy test detects them around 25). Then she asked if I was taking a progesterone supplement. My heart skipped a beat in fear as I said that I wasn’t, thinking that perhaps my progesterone was low and I might be losing this one too. She quickly assured me that everything was fine, “We typically are looking for your progesterone to be over 15, but yours is 47, so that’s great!” I was elated, though still anxious to make sure that the HcG was increasing as it should two days later. Those results took a little longer because my doctor and her nurse were not in the clinic to call with my results, but after a slightly panicked call to the nurse line, someone realized what results I was looking for and called me to say that the HcG had more than doubled and that it was all looking good! It was only then that I pulled the “Yo ❤ Papá” onesie in wrinkled wrapping paper from a drawer where it was hidden.

It might have been hard for me to believe what was going on inside me except that less than a week later, I lost my lunch for the first time. From about week 5 and on, I was queasy 24-7, and often downright nauseated. I tried all the traditional remedies for morning sickness, but I just felt awful. I slept with a trashcan beside the bed. Around week 7, I ended up in Urgent Care because I was vomiting blood. Apparently my vomiting was so violent that I was rupturing capillaries in my esophagus. Eww! Around week 9, we ended up in a 14-hour, threatened miscarriage, ER adventure where Leo got the first glimpse of the little one (I didn’t get to see anything!). While we unfortunately met my insurance deductible that night, we did find out that baby was still alive in spite of bleeding near the egg sac. We got our first pictures of baby two days later at my doctor’s office for the emergency follow-up, and more pictures another week later and the regularly scheduled, 10-week appointment.

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The good news continues. At the February 22 appointment, baby looked good. We could see arms and legs this time, we got a wave from baby, and then baby put his/her hands together as if in prayer. I tear up even now as I consider this little miracle inside me. The road that led to this little one was nothing like I expected and I sometimes struggle with fear of the unknown in this process. A wise friend told me that Jesus is the same before we walk into an appointment, as he is after the appointment, so whatever happens in there, He is unchanging. Another friend says her husband told her during her pregnancy, “You’re pregnant today, so that’s what we’re celebrating.” I find myself repeating often, “God, you are the same yesterday, today, and forever,” as I acknowledge that He is our hope and in Him we put our trust. I also confess with regularity, “God, this baby was yours, is yours, and will always be yours, so I trust You with the future. All that days ordained for her were written in Your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16). We want her here with us (yes, I’m convinced baby is a girl), but our trust is and will remain in You.”

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This is the picture of the baby’s arms together like s/he’s praying. Pray with us for this little one!

If you’ve read this far, thank you! This is a long entry because this has been a seemingly long and tough road for us. We are excited and we appreciate your continued prayers! Our next regularly-scheduled appointment is on March 22, and on April 3rd I will have a special level-2 ultrasound where doctors from Little Rock will be watching via technology and looking for any abnormalities (there is always an anatomy scan around 20 weeks, but because of my age I will get the more in-depth scan and measurements). We expect this little one to arrive around August 20, 2018. The name will remain a secret, but we will likely be sharing the gender along the way when we find out. Stay tuned and please pray with us!

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