Her Story: Sarah SaeghAugust 5, 2020 12:15 pm
My journey to motherhood was not an easy one, but I do want to share my story in the hopes of being able to help even one person navigate similar challenges.
I was 12 years old when I got my period. I was never one of those girls who had a “normal 28-day cycle.” There were months when I had crazy heavy 7-day periods, and other times months would go by and I wouldn’t even get a period! I never thought much about the logistics of my cycle; I accepted that this was my normal.
Once, when I was 19, I got my period and it was exceptionally heavy. It felt out of the norm, but I kept telling myself it was going to stop or slow down the next day. A few days went by and my heavy period wasn’t letting up. I noticed that my face was starting to go pale. Little did I know, my “heavy” period was really my body hemorrhaging. My doctor sent me to the hospital immediately for a blood transfusion. After some blood tests and multiple sonograms, the doctor told me that I had PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. He couldn’t explain why the hemorrhaging had started, but he told me that I had a hormone imbalance and cysts on my ovaries, which are all components of PCOS. The doctor put me on birth control right away and told me that this should help stabilize my periods moving forward. After a few months on the pill, I finally had “regular” monthly cycles. This was my “normal” for the next 3 to 4 years, until I got married.
I got married in March of 2014, when I was 23 years old. A couple of months into marriage I had a feeling that getting pregnant might not come as easy for us based on my history, so my husband and I decided to start trying. I stopped taking birth control and waited to get my period. Months went by but my period did not come. I called my OBGYN to check in and he assured me that it was normal and that sometimes our bodies need time to re-regulate after being on birth control for a long period of time. I was really not satisfied with this answer. I felt like something was off and I needed to be more proactive. I called the doctor every couple of weeks and he finally told me to come in around November 2014 for a checkup. At that visit, he told me that PCOS was likely the reason that my body and hormones were out of whack. The doctor told me not to worry and that I could still get pregnant with PCOS. He prescribed me Provera to induce a period and Clomid to help me ovulate for my next cycle. I finally felt some hope that we were starting the process!
I became obsessed with tracking my cycle. I was taking ovulation tests every day to make sure the Clomid was working. When I saw that smiley face on the ovulation test showing that the medication was working, I was ecstatic! I didn’t get pregnant that cycle, but my OB said not to worry and that we would try again. I did Provera and Clomid for another cycle, but this time I never got a smiley face showing I ovulated. At this point, my OB told me that I should see a fertility specialist. I made an appointment with a fertility specialist and started a more thorough process of testing, blood work, sonograms, tube checking and more. My husband also got tested to make sure all was OK on his end – and thankfully, it was. It seemed that PCOS was getting in the way of us starting a family.
My fertility specialist really wanted me to achieve a natural cycle. He put me on Metformin, which is a diabetic drug, but helps women with insulin resistance – a common side effect of PCOS. Along with a healthy diet, Metformin usually helps women ovulate, as it did for me. Although my doctor really wanted me to try “naturally,” I felt like so much time had passed already and I wanted to be a little more aggressive with my treatment plan. It was very hard watching friends and family progressing in their own lives, announcing pregnancies and having children while I was still stuck in the process.
We decided to start with a fertility procedure called an Intra-Uterine Insemination, or IUI. I didn’t necessarily have so much faith that THIS would be the way I got pregnant, but all test results were showing my husband and I as healthy and normal people, and this was the recommended next step. I began the routine of shots, watching my follicles grow, tracking blood work and finally injecting the trigger shot to release my follicles. I had grown a couple of larger follicles and the doctor was very optimistic. I finally felt that sense of hope that I hadn’t felt in so long.
Unfortunately, I did not get pregnant via the IUI and I felt that the next step was to start IVF. My doctor and husband kept telling me to have patience and faith and that everything was pointing towards an IUI working for us. We did another IUI, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to work. I just went through the motions so that I knew I had tried and could cross it off my to-do list.
I advocated for myself and pushed for IVF. I knew it was expensive and invasive but almost a year had gone by and I was still putting myself through shots and medication and blood work. I wanted to do the most I could to get pregnant. We finally agreed to start the process of IVF. The next few months were draining; mentally, physically and mostly emotionally. I was working full-time in the city and my schedule was hectic. I would wake up at 5 am to get blood work done, run to my office, and then head to my fertility doctor after work for routine sonograms and checkups. I wasn’t getting home until around 11 pm every night. It was hard but I really had this determination in me and this faith in Hashem that it was going to happen.
Throughout the process, it was very comforting for me to have a close friend who had done IVF a few years earlier supporting me. A lot of my friends knew what I was going through and always offered support, which was so helpful, but it wasn’t the same as having someone who literally went through the same thing. There was always a limit to what friends could say or do to make me feel better. I also did a ton of research on my own, reading stories and articles online to gain insight on what different women go through during this process.
After a couple of months, I was finally ready for the egg retrieval – our first big step in starting a family. Because of the PCOS, I was able to get a nice number of eggs retrieved, thank G-d. I did, however, overstimulate from the procedure – another common side effect with PCOS patients – and couldn’t transfer the embryos back in for another couple months while my body restored to neutral. The waiting was literal torture, but every day I would get up and cross another day off in my calendar, knowing I was one step closer.
The day finally came, and we were able to transfer 2 embryos. It was nerve-wracking, exciting and every emotion packed into one moment. After 14 days, we found out that one embryo took, and we were pregnant! Everything was progressing normally. I graduated from my fertility doctor to my regular OB in the city.
I wish my story ended here with a healthy full-term pregnancy, but I ended up having a late loss. At 19 weeks I lost the baby due to an incompetent cervix. Everything was totally normal at my 16-week sonogram, but at 19 weeks I went to the bathroom and saw blood. We ran to the hospital and found out I was 4cm dilated and it was too late to save the pregnancy. I had to have a D&E to remove the pregnancy and in the following months needed two more D&Cs to remove excess tissue that was still lingering from the pregnancy.
I don’t really have words to explain how I felt after the loss. I was depressed, devastated, angry, confused – a lot of different emotions. The one thing I will say, however cliché it may be, is that I did have an insane amount of Emunah in Hashem that this happened for a reason and I would have my family soon. Personally, I feel in times of sadness and mourning, all you can really do is turn to Hashem. Also, the number of girls and women that reached out to me after hearing about my loss was overwhelming. Friends of friends and people I only knew as acquaintances were reaching out and telling me their stories. This support provided me with the most comfort I had ever felt. While most people that reached out had earlier first trimester losses, and I could not really relate to that – in terms of having to “un-announce a pregnancy”- I appreciated every single person that reached out and especially the women that I spoke to that had later losses. They really helped me get through this tough time and see the light at the end of the tunnel. While I mourned the loss, I was also overly eager to try again. I knew I was able to get pregnant via IVF, and I wanted to do another transfer as soon as possible.
After a few months I did another transfer and unfortunately ended up having a chemical pregnancy. Again, we were devastated and broken to go through another miscarriage and loss. For my third round of IVF, I advocated for myself and requested to transfer two embryos instead of one. And thank G-d I trusted my instinct. After a crazy first trimester and a few trips to the emergency room, I was pregnant with my twins. This time I never “announced” I was pregnant, let alone told people I was carrying twins. When people ask me why I kept it a “surprise” it is hard to put into words the fear and anxiety I had every second of every day of that pregnancy because of what I went through previously. I had a cerclage done at 14 weeks to stitch up my cervix, but still started to have a shrinking cervix at around 22-23 weeks. I ended up giving birth to my kids after a week-long stint in the hospital at exactly 29 weeks. They were both under 3 pounds and stayed in the NICU for 7-8 weeks, but I promise the NICU was the least of my issues. My babies were here and healthy and just growing out of the womb. I had a few people reach out to comfort me from the NICU and everyone would say the same thing – “you’re really so positive” or “you’re doing so much better than I was.” It was hard for me to explain that I KNEW my babies would be okay. I knew Hashem was watching over us every second. My twins just turned 3 in May and while they are a definitely a handful (!), they are also my biggest daily reminders of what miracles are.
I know how isolating it can feel going through fertility issues and miscarriages and all the emotional and physical stress that comes along with it. There is this huge stigma and shame that surrounds this topic, but to see how our community has been coming together to show support is beyond amazing. I wish 5 or 6 years ago when I had started my journey there was a support group for me to reach out to. There is no better feeling than connecting with someone who knows how you feel or what you are going through. The two pieces of advice I would give any woman going though infertility is to always trust your instinct along with your gut. It’s always beneficial to do your research and most importantly advocate for yourself. Challenge your doctors, ask questions, ask about the process and get a second opinion if you need! The second piece of advice may sound like a no-brainer but trusting Hashem and having Emunah is so powerful. There are going to be very hard and very challenging days, but if you can remind yourself that you are doing all you can and that it is all in Hashem’s hands, hopefully it can bring you a little sense of peace.
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