My Infertility Journey: IUI, IVF, and the Diagnosis I Had to Accept

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Photo: Courtesy of Florian Van Duyn

I met my husband in college in 1999, and we fell madly in love. We dated, got engaged, and finally, in 2005, we tied the knot.

I never went on the Pill, because I had heard stories of how it could affect women’s ability to have children. My thought process was: “I’m old and responsible enough to be a mother, so if it happens, it happens.” And so we went on with our lives, not trying to have children, but also not “not” trying. We didn’t want to focus on getting pregnant right away, but if it happened, then great.

As time passed, we simply enjoyed each other and our friends, but three years down the line I realized something was not right. It made no sense to me that after all this time I had never accidentally gotten pregnant or had a miscarriage. I decided it was time to speak to a doctor.

The Infertility Specialist

We were referred to an infertility specialist at a hospital. He was a lovely man and we could tell from conversing with him that he was definitely a man of God. I didn’t think medicine and religion mixed, but this man had put his entire faith in a higher being. He sent me to get a hysterosalpingogram (a test used to determine any blockage or leakage in the Fallopian tubes) and my husband to get a semen analysis to test his sperm count.

My tubes were okay and my husband’s sperm count was well above average (no surprise there; he’s always been an overachiever). The doctor said, “I don’t see any issues. I recommend you keep trying and leave it to God as it is not your time.” This kind of recommendation from an infertility doctor made my mind foggy, but I put my trust in the medical system and we went on with our lives. Side note: I would later find out that the doctor left the medical profession to become a pastor — a much more suitable profession for him.

The Infertility Program

And so we went on with our lives — traveling, partying, and enjoying every moment. Years passed and, before we knew it, it was 2013. At this point in our lives, many of our friends were pregnant with their second or third child. I started thinking more and more as to why I hadn’t gotten pregnant, so we spoke with our doctor, and he referred us to a new specialist.

If I had understood the mental, physical, and emotional pain I was about to experience, I might have pulled out of the program.

We were admitted to the hospital’s infertility program, which required us to first meet a social worker who would determine if we were mentally and emotionally ready to embark on this journey. I now understand why; if I had understood the mental, physical, and emotional pain I was about to experience, I might have pulled out of the program.

The new doctor wanted to run the basic tests again, and the results came back the same: my tubes were fine and my husband’s sperm count was high. She then recommended that we try the ovulation kits. So, we bought boxes of what looked like pregnancy tests, but in this case, when you peed on the stick, you either got a big smiley face or nothing. When that smile appeared, we were on a mission. We had one job: to make a baby. Sex became a chore, a responsibility, and a very stressful activity. We did this for six months, and it got frustrating after that. I just wanted the doctors to stick a baby in my uterus.

The IUI Process

At this point in our journey, and according to the Canadian system, it was time for us to start the IUI (intrauterine insemination), which meant they would insert my husband’s sperm directly into my uterus. Our doctor was very optimistic about this procedure working because she hadn’t seen any red flags or issues with my health or my husband’s health. During our first round of IUI, I was overly careful; I didn’t take any chances. I basically put myself in an invisible bubble and shut out the world.

My husband planned a trip for us to New York City on the day we were supposed to find out if the procedure had worked. He figured that, if it had worked, then we would have a reason to celebrate and, if it hadn’t, we had a reason to get away and get our mind off it. We were at the baggage claim when my phone rang; it was the hospital telling me that I was not pregnant, and so we would go for another round after my next period.

I took it very hard; I didn’t want to put myself through all of these tests and procedures to get pregnant. I am a woman and I was created to reproduce, I thought. I had a hard time understanding why this was happening to me when there weren’t any apparent medical issues. I agreed to the treatments because I knew how badly my husband wanted to be a father. I wanted to be a mother, but I had always said that, if it didn’t happen naturally, I wasn’t going to force it. If it was meant to be, it would happen.

Three unsuccessful rounds of IUI later, I had put on about thirty pounds. I was an emotional mess and broken in ways I didn’t think were possible.

But after many tearful conversations, I found myself sitting in a hospital chair for my second round of IUI. This time, I told myself that I would go to work and not change a single thing about my life — but that didn’t seem to work either. We ended up with a second, “You are not pregnant.”

We were getting close to the end of this phase as it was standard procedure to move to IVF after three rounds of IUI. We met with our social worker again, who wanted to chat about our plans; she recommended we have a plan B to make the whole process less stressful. My husband and I agreed that adoption would be that plan B.

Three unsuccessful rounds of IUI later, I had put on about thirty pounds. I was an emotional mess and broken in ways I didn’t think were possible. We didn’t share our experiences with family or friends. Culturally, it’s not acceptable to speak of infertility, and shame keeps us from sharing our struggles. I remember sneaking into the bathroom at my cousin’s wedding so my husband could inject me during one of our IUI rounds. We were so worried about someone seeing us sneak into a bathroom stall and then having to explain ourselves.

I didn’t want to keep going. My abdominal area had pokes and bruises of every color, and I couldn’t explain to my husband how much these procedures affected me. I would cry in silence and feel sorry for myself. I don’t blame him for being selfish; if the roles were reversed, I would want to go all the way and try everything possible to become a father. He will never understand the emotional and mental state I was in at this point; there is no way he could. Although we went through the process together, our experiences and our pain were completely different.

I took some time to reflect, and finally decided to go ahead with the IVF. My husband and I agreed that we would do one round, and one round only. Before we started, my doctor ordered a laparoscopy (an exploration of the abdominal area to check the organs) and again everything came back clear — no cysts, no polyps, and no endometriosis. So, we moved into our IVF round.

The IVF Process

On extraction day, the doctors were able to get seventeen eggs — that’s unheard of for a woman my age, so my doctor was beyond excited. We agreed to freezing as many as possible so that I could have as many kids as I wanted. It all sounded so exciting. The recovery from the extraction took ten days — ten days during which I couldn’t do anything because I’d be at risk of my tubes flipping, which could cause major complications.

The next day, I was on my couch, binging on Netflix with a freezer full of ice cream and a pantry full of snacks to get me through the rest period, when my phone rang. It was my doctor, who said, “I wanted to be the one to call you so I could explain things to you.” At this point, I was holding onto my phone and sitting up on the couch, shaking; nothing about the tone of his voice sounded positive. I remember my husband standing in front of me, staring at me and asking me repeatedly, “What’s going on?” I was frozen. In retrospect, I should have put the call on speaker so that I wouldn’t have to repeat myself, but who’s thinking straight at this point?

The doctor proceeded to tell me that he would not be moving forward with the insemination as all seventeen eggs extracted were dead. “Dead? What does that even mean?” I asked. They call it “maturation arrest,” where the eggs have no life in them, and therefore no ability to be fertilized. He explained that, in all his years of practicing medicine, he had never see a patient with this condition. He had only studied it in med school. He then apologized and recommended that we not waste our money on any more procedures as this diagnosis was final.

I mourned my unborn children. That day, a piece of me died.

Tears were streaming down my face. The only word I could say was “okay”, over and over again. I now had to get off the phone and repeat this to the man standing in front of me, anxiously waiting. Through the tears and the heartache, I managed to explain the diagnosis to my husband. I then curled up on the corner of my couch and spent the remainder of the ten days in mourning. Dead. The term kept replaying in my mind. That’s exactly how I felt on the inside — dead. I cried for myself and I cried for my husband. I cried for my parents and my siblings who will never get to enjoy a little version of me. I mourned my unborn children. That day, a piece of me died.

Moving Forward

A few weeks passed and I managed to pick myself up. I realized that I needed to talk; I needed to vent to someone who understood what I was going through. I went online and searched for local groups in my area. I browsed through the videos of one mommy group and saw women speaking about failed IVF rounds, miscarriages, and stillbirths. I noticed that each one of the women sharing her story had a little one sitting by her side, and had experienced fertility issues after the birth of their first child. None of these women are me, I thought to myself. Yes, these women experienced a loss, but they all have a child already. 

After some time researching, I finally found the right support group. Today, it’s made up of five of us, neither one able to conceive a single child for varying reasons. We’re all facing marital and personal struggles and trying to figure out life without kids. At this point, maybe some of you are thinking, “Well, she still has her plan B. She can still adopt,” except I didn’t tell you that, during our round of IVF, my husband had confided in me that he didn’t like the idea of adopting.

I spent my time trying to heal, trying to understand this world and the destiny that had been set for me. I saw a psychiatrist who did absolutely nothing for my mental health. I also attended my support group once a month, and we would vent and cry, many of us in very similar situations. I decided to open up and share my story and my experience. I couldn’t keep it in any longer.

At every family gathering, family members would ask why I hadn’t gotten pregnant; they would pray for me, offer details of specialists, and ask why I was waiting so long. It was unfair to them and definitely unfair to me. And so I decided to share my experience and my diagnosis, and as much as they accepted it, they couldn’t accept its finality. They kept pressuring me to go see doctors in Jordan and get a second opinion. I didn’t expect them to understand my journey or my struggles, but I asked that they respect them. 

My mother couldn’t. She started reaching out to clinics in Jordan and passing them on to me to explain my situation and see if they could get me pregnant. I played along by emailing and calling doctors. Some said we would have to do the IVF procedures ourselves, and some echoed the sentiments of my Canadian doctor. I’m not sure why I entertained the idea of speaking to doctors overseas; maybe deep down inside I wanted to make sure I had done everything I could.

Exploring Options

Fast forward to 2017, and my husband and I are broken. He dealt with it all in his own way, keeping it bottled up and not speaking to anyone about it. The doctors proposed an egg donor, and my husband jumped on the idea. But I didn’t. As humans, we are all willing to go so far for the things we want, but there comes a point when we’ve had enough and are not willing to go any further. I was there. He couldn’t understand why I was opposed to the idea of an egg donor, and I was tired of explaining myself. There was no getting him to see my side of it. 

In the two years since we had found out about my condition, I had reached out to every orphanage and adoption agency in the Arab world. I had spoken with friends who connected me with individuals who would maybe be able to help, but it was a hard “no” every way I turned. Orphanages just wanted our donations; they weren’t going to just give children away. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq — it was one “no” after the other. I even stumbled on an Instagram post by a famous woman living in Dubai who had adopted a child from Lebanon. I called the law firm that helped her and contacted the people involved only to get ghosted. For two years, I did all of this behind my husband’s back, hoping that once I got a confirmation from an agency I would be able to show him a child. I knew he would fall in love and agree to the adoption.

I feel like I have robbed him of becoming a father, and a part of me is afraid he’ll resent me.

Finding Acceptance

Today, my husband is finally on board with adoption, having realized how badly his wife and his marriage were affected by the infertility diagnosis, but we don’t know who to turn to. There are days when we’re hanging by a thread and days I feel sorry for us. I live with this guilt in my heart. My husband tells me that I am more than enough for him, but it’s not good enough for me. I feel like I have robbed him of becoming a father, and a part of me is afraid he’ll resent me. He’s not that kind of man at all, but life changes people, and I fear that the day will come when he won’t look at me the same way.

Through this journey, this is what I have learned: Infertility is a silent struggle and it was and still is difficult to connect with others and speak up about it. No matter how supportive friends and family are, they know so little of what I was going through and what I am currently going through. Culturally, we are made to feel embarrassed about infertility issues, and our community does not make it easy for us to speak up about it. None of this makes sense, but maybe life is not meant to make sense. I go through days when I question God and I try to understand if this is a punishment or a blessing. All I know is that, if my heart could speak, it would be yelling out loud a prayer for a child.

My life is far from perfect. Yes, I go on in a very positive manner, but my soul is missing something — and it’s something big. I recently decided to pursue my dreams and make the best of what this life has given to me. I am learning to shift my focus away from the one thing that I don’t have to everything that I do have. I have good days and bad days. I’ve learned that, on the bad days, it’s okay to take some time and just be sad, and then I dust myself off and move on. I am giving voice to my experience and I hope that other women who are experiencing a similar infertility journey can read this and find some peace. To all the infertile queens out there, know you are worthy of this life. Keep pushing and challenging yourself to new adventures and know that you are not alone.