It’s National Infertility Awareness Week, and we want to #ChangetheConversation by telling you about our story. Infertility is a painful struggle. For those of you who know someone going through infertility, please feel free to forward.

It was after the New Year eight years ago that my husband’s semen analysis came back reading “zero.” It was devastating, especially after a year of trying to conceive. After some testing, he was diagnosed with Congenital Bilateral Absence of Vas Deferens (CBAVD). He was not born with the ducts that allow sperm to swim out of the body.

We were told we had only a 5% chance of success with In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). We were in a place of darkness, hopelessness, and defeat, knowing that it would be an uncertain road ahead. Ryan questioned whether he was supposed to pass his genes to offspring. One thing I know about the journey through infertility is that you have conversations that the general public would never even know existed.

We didn’t know how we would pay for a round of IVF, but it happened with the help of family. Later that year, Ryan had his first surgery to extract sperm. We got the green light. It was viable; it was cryopreserved, and we began our first round of IVF. Three embryos were transferred three days after fertilization, but a couple days after Christmas, the pregnancy test was negative.

As exciting as it had been, it now hurt more than anything. We felt alone. The world around us kept going while ours seemed to go in slow motion. Our friends and family had no idea how to help. We had done everything right…

Unfortunately, we had to wait another year to have the money to pay for another round of IVF. We followed a different protocol with different drugs. After the retrieval, as I was on my way to a baby shower, I got the call with the news that nothing fertilized…not even one embryo.

At this point, after two fresh IVF cycles failed and two years of time had gone by after Ryan’s initial diagnosis, we were numb. I felt my age catching up to me, but there was nothing I could do to speed things up.

When you’re ready for a baby but you can’t have one and you can’t do anything about it, it’s a stabbing feeling in your heart. Month to month you are waiting on doctors, waiting on test results, waiting for the IVF lab to open, waiting for so many things to have to line up before you can finally wait on your period to come. At that point there are more shots and drugs, more appointments where you wait again hoping that each appointment will allow you to pass and move forward. Then sometimes you hit a roadblock where a result comes back not being optimal and this causes you to start all over again. Today, my heart breaks for those having to wait due to COVID-19. Waiting is one of the worst parts of infertility.

I think this was about the time we surrendered. We had hit rock bottom, and we found a way in our minds and bodies to surrender to the process. We both did acupuncture and herbs and decided that Ryan needed to go back for another sperm extraction. We thought about how connected we are to the universe. Yeah, we got “hippie.” On the days that were really hard (because you can’t always be positive), our mantra was “we won’t know the reason why this has all failed until we meet that baby that is supposed to be here.

For our third IVF cycle, we were unwavering on doing a fresh fertilization of sperm and egg (not using a frozen sample), which complicated things for everyone involved. It meant both Ryan and I had to be on different operating tables across town at the same time. Our embryologist drove across town to OK the sperm the urologist was extracting in Ryan and drive the sperm back to the IVF lab for fertilization. Meanwhile, they were retrieving my eggs.

We transferred two, day-5 embryos, and on the morning of my 37th birthday, I got the call that I was pregnant. Ryan and I had successfully conceived a baby across town from each other!

As our first-born reached one, IVF loomed in the back of my head. It was a familiar, but not very welcoming feeling. We went to the doctor to start the process and then decided to wait through the summer so I could still live in the world without IVF in it. When you live in IVF, you cannot wholly give yourself to your life and those around you. It is mentally and physically demanding.

As we did not (ever) have any remaining embryos, we prepped and did a fresh IVF cycle in the fall. Protocol had changed and my progesterone was too high after egg retrieval, so we had to freeze the embryos and begin a frozen IVF cycle in order to transfer an embryo. The four embryos were genetically tested, and one was viable. We went through the six-week process of our first frozen IVF cycle, and I became pregnant with a baby girl.

I lost the baby two weeks before Christmas. I remember thinking it was almost too easy for this to work on the first go around for baby #2, but we ached for our baby girl and ached for the feeling we so briefly had of the idea that the world of IVF was finally behind us. After the New Year, we did another fresh IVF cycle and opted to do a fresh transfer over a frozen transfer because of our past success with our first child. Two embryos were transferred, but the pregnancy test came back negative. The remaining five embryos were frozen and sent to be genetically tested, and we got news that one of those embryos was viable.

We had one more chance.

For seven weeks while we waited, we tried to live a normal life without the anticipation of uncertainty. Transfer day finally arrived, we waited ten days, and that little frozen embryo became our second baby.

IVF stole so much time and energy from me. It took time away from my friendships, relationships, and my children. It took time away from me, and the ability to be me. It impacted our mental health. We did go for another child one year after our second was born. I could not mentally do another fresh IVF cycle, and we thought Ryan’s last sperm harvest was good, so we went through the process of a donor egg fertilization and frozen transfer, but it didn’t work.

Going through infertility is real. One in every eight couples goes through it. Infertility is one giant roller coaster with the most extreme emotions at its peaks and lows. It is messy and frustrating. It is something you heal from both physically and mentally. Everyone’s infertility story is different, but I think a common thread in all of them is loneliness. My wish is to raise more awareness about infertility and to remove the loneliness it brings to those who navigate it.

Change the conversation. Tell your story. Be a friend.

Michelle G.