My Story: Navigating Infertility and Hormonal Imbalance
I touched on this several weeks ago, but I think it’s something that needs to be talked about more openly, because over the course of this process I’ve realized that countless women are struggling or going through a fertility situation they weren’t anticipating. Which also tells me that none of us are alone, despite what our own experiences with infertility look like. There is so much hope, and though I’m still navigating what my own journey to motherhood will look like, I have witnessed the power of my body’s ability to heal itself despite the medical claims. I think I can attribute that largely to the love, support and guidance I’ve felt from my friends, family, my husband, and doctors, but also from other women who were kind and brave enough to share their own stories with me. This past week was Infertility Awareness Week, so I wanted to share a bit more about my personal experience so far with infertility and hormonal imbalance…
Last Summer, I stopped having my period. I had been on the pill for 10+ years, and with birth control, our cycles are suppressed anyways, so what we experience is a “placebo” period. But when I was no longer having that for several months back to back, I started to get a bit concerned.
After talking to my doctor, he said we should have my AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) level drawn, which tests for ovarian reserve, and serves as a marker for determining egg count. I was only 30 at that point, and normal AMH levels in women of “childbearing age” are typically between 1-4 ng/ml, so when mine came back 0.21, I was pretty alarmed-- to say the least. I went off birth control, and a month later we drew my AMH again to make sure it was accurate the first time, only this time it had dropped to 0.111 (aka: very diminished egg reserve). I was referred over to a Reproductive Endocrinologist to talk about my potential options. My health insurance didn’t cover fertility treatment, and we weren’t in an emotional place where we had been anticipating this situation, at least not at the time. But Colin and I have always wanted children together, so taking the information we had, we moved forward with the egg retrieval and embryo freezing process… We got married on October 5th last Fall, and one week later, I started stimulating for an egg retrieval.
1st Egg Retrieval:
For ovarian stimulation, I was instructed to give myself subcutaneous shots in the stomach two times a day for 12 days (with Colin’s help preparing the meds), along with ultrasounds, follow-up appointments, and blood work every 2 days. They ended up retrieving 6 eggs, which we fertilized, and from there it funneled down to having 1 viable embryo. We were so happy to have even one, but we knew we’d be going through this process again. So in preparation for round two, I decided to give my body a break. I wanted to try and let it get back into its natural rhythm before going through it a second time.
What I did to improve outcome this time:
Colin and I went on our honeymoon a week after my egg retrieval, and for the next few months following, my biggest job was to simply let my body rest. I began doing yoga more regularly and backing off the intense exercises I had been so used to doing, eating more nourishing gut-healthy and hormone-healthy foods, practicing daily meditation, taking the supplements my doctors had recommended, and perhaps most effective… I started seeing a Fertility Acupuncturist.
Keith Bell has been known throughout Richmond as the go-to acupuncturist for many women undergoing fertility treatment, or struggling with infertility, and (along with my incredibly loving and supportive husband), he turned out to be a total saving grace. His intention with my acupuncture treatment was to build up red blood cells and increase the quality/quantity of my eggs for the next procedure. I was going to see him once a week for 2 and 1/2 months, and when I went in for my initial ultrasound 2 months ago, we found that I had 5 times the egg count I had back in October. 5 TIMES. They drew my AMH level again as well, and that too had increased significantly. We were completely blown away, (along with our well-practiced, science-driven doctors). This finding went against countless medical claims, articles, and information I had been reading that all said egg count can’t increase so drastically, and that AMH levels normally do not go back up. But somewhere buried in the files of “it’s not gonna happen” was some hope. And I had found it.
2nd Egg Retrieval:
I went through 2 weeks of stimulation again (shots, appointments, bloodwork, repeat) with Colin by my side. We went into the second egg retrieval and were able to get over 30 eggs this time, 21 of which were mature enough, and 16 of those fertilized, which was more than we could have hoped for given our situation only months before. With more eggs also unfortunately comes a greater chance of having OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome), which I did end up having some of. OHSS is an excessive response to taking the injectable medicines used to grow the eggs during stimulation, which causes the ovaries to swell and become super painful. It’s super common, but not a fun aftermath of the procedure. Cases range from mild-moderate-severe, and mine was on the moderate-severe end, though luckily the symptoms subsided after about a week.
Symptoms of OHSS:
- Abdominal bloating
- Shortness of breath
- Weight gain
- Tight/distended abdomen
We recently found out that we were able to get 5 viable embryos this time around (!!)… A huge leap in the right direction, and we feel incredibly grateful.
I am continuing to work on getting my period back after a year of being off birth control, though some recent bloodwork and labs have shown that I have PCOS (aka: the exact opposite of what I thought was happening 6 months ago) which could be playing a role. I plan to continue working with Dr. Bell on this too, as I take a deeper dive into my hormonal health.
We are all different, and what has worked for me so far through this process may not work for everyone, but I do know that our bodies are more intuitive than we give them credit for, and sometimes it takes all hands on deck; an Eastern Medicine AND Western Medicine approach, and a lot of hope to achieve a desired outcome. I have so much respect and appreciation for the countless women who undergo struggles with infertility, and who continue to push forward despite the challenges and heartaches that come with it. I’ve only seen a small piece of what many others have been through, and though my own story isn't finished, I truly believe that if you want to be a mom, you will be a mom. Regardless of what the road getting there looks like.
If you are considering going through this process, or have any questions, I'm always happy to chat. I can only speak to what my own experience has been so far, so none of this should replace your doctor's opinion, but I've found that reaching out and talking about it really helps.
You've got this <3