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How Infertility Changes You | Andrea & Ralph's Story

One couple shares their emotional journey through a PCOS diagnosis, three unsuccessful IUI cycles, and fighting to find their path to parenthood.

January 17th, 2023 | 8 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

Trying to conceive brings with it a whole host of emotions and challenges, particularly when you need the help of fertility treatment. New parents Andrea and Ralph share how infertility changed them - and whether they wish they'd done anything differently on their journey.

In this article:

Meet Andrea & Ralph

After being together for nearly a decade, Andrea and Ralph were eager to start a family of their own. Like many couples, they never expected to have trouble conceiving. "My husband and I tried to conceive for about two years on our own before we came to Illume Fertility," Andrea says. "I would say to myself, 'Something just isn’t right, this doesn’t make sense,'" she remembers.

As the couple began to question why it was taking so long for them to get pregnant, Andrea says she kept getting the same advice so many fertility warriors hear over and over.

"I had medical professionals, friends, and family say things like, 'You’re just stressing yourself out, it’s all in your head...once you stop stressing, you’ll get pregnant,'" she says. But she knew deep down that it wasn’t all in her head. She felt there had to be a reason they still hadn't been able to conceive.

An Unexpected PCOS Diagnosis

Andrea and Ralph decided to take action. They made an appointment with Illume, choosing Dr. Joshua Hurwitz as their primary physician. "During our first consultation, he immediately told me he suspected I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)," Andrea recalls. "I guess [my PCOS] had simply flown under the radar for quite some time"

While getting a new diagnosis like PCOS was disheartening to hear, knowing the reason for their underlying challenges getting pregnant did provide some relief to the couple. "Once we knew there was a cause, we could address it and go from there," Andrea says. 

Step 1: IUI Treatment

After determining the root of their fertility issues (PCOS), Dr. Hurwitz encouraged Andrea and Ralph to start with intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatment. "We did three IUI cycles, but none of them took," Andrea says. "I remember this being such an ugly time in our lives...I'd go into every appointment feeling so hopeless."

Like many fertility patients, Andrea felt incredibly isolated. "I’d slap a smile on my face and just pretend I wasn’t dying inside," she remembers. One day while she was at her work's cafeteria with coworkers getting lunch, she received a call from her Illume Care Team letting her know that their second IUI pregnancy test was negative.

"I remember hanging up the phone, taking a deep breath and holding back tears so my coworkers wouldn’t suspect anything," Andrea says. "Later that day, I went to the bathroom to cry, and then right back to my desk to finish working - like nothing even happened."

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The Impact of Infertility on Mental Health

The day-to-day management of fertility medications, morning monitoring appointments, waiting for test results, the physical and emotional impact of constant stress and's a lot to handle in the background while life continues on around you.

Balancing the roller coaster of emotions that come with infertility while trying to maintain a busy career, personal commitments, and other responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming. The fact that this journey is so personal and delicate makes it especially challenging, because not many people know what you're going through - and those who do may not know how to help.

While surrounding yourself with trusted friends and family can bring comfort, it can also be tiring to try and continually share the barrage of information you're receiving.

There is no one right way to handle this journey, and each person chooses to handle it differently. Some share lots of updates with those they're close to, some keep the entire process quiet until they successfully conceive, and others never disclose that they've undergone treatment at all. 

4 Quick Tips

  • Schedule time for self care, whether that's a massage or acupuncture, a weekend away, an outdoor walk, meditation, art, or something else that helps you stay centered. 
  • If you have a partner, discuss early on what you're both comfortable sharing and stay in close communication as things progress to ensure you're both on the same page.
  • Reach out to a therapist who understands the unique challenges of infertility - it can be incredibly helpful to have a sounding board throughout your journey.
  • Connect with other fertility patients. Join one of our private fertility support groups led by Patient Advocate (and former fertility patient) Lisa Rosenthal. These groups are a safe place to express your emotions around infertility and connect with others who truly "get" what it's like to go through fertility treatment.

Step 2: Taking a Break From Treatment

After their third unsuccessful IUI, Andrea says she and her husband felt defeated. "Any shred of hope I had was slowly disappearing - I started to think that maybe we weren’t meant to be parents," she says. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

"I saw this as an opportunity to take a break," Andrea says. "We really needed time off from trying to get pregnant - both mentally and physically." She says she knew her body needed a reset, and she took this as a sign it was the time to focus on her physical and mental health.

"I needed to work on myself," Andrea says. "I started going to therapy, working out, eating healthier, and overall, just taking better care of myself." As she shifted her attention to self care and healing, Andrea found strength to continue pursuing their dream of becoming parents.

Need support? Check out our Integrated Fertility & Wellness program, which offers acupuncture, mental health counseling, nutrition counseling, peer groups and more.

Step 3: Moving On to IVF 

After taking a break, Andrea and Ralph were ready to dive back in and try again. They reached out to their Illume team and let them know they wanted to start back up with fertility treatment. Since their previous three IUI cycles had not proven successful, the couple knew that this time around, in vitro fertilization (IVF) would most likely be the next step.

They had a telehealth consult with Dr. Hurwitz and made plans to move forward with IVF, feeling stronger than before. "This time around, both Ralph and I were in better places mentally, our relationship was thriving, and I stopped being so hard on myself and just trusted the process," Andrea says. "There were a couple hiccups here and there, but that's to be expected - you can’t assume the journey will always go as smooth as possible!"

"Going through IVF was eye-opening, to say the least," Andrea admits. "I pushed my mind and my body more than I ever have in my life, and it was worth it." They were able to retrieve thirty eggs at Andrea's egg retrieval, and ended up with nine embryos. 

Why don't all eggs create embryos? Dr. Murdock explores IVF attrition rates in this article, explaining why even when an egg retrieval yields a large quantity of eggs, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll end up with a large quantity of embryos.

"We had our first embryo transfer on August 1, 2021, and on August 10th, I got the call from my nurse, Kathy - I was pregnant," Andrea remembers. "It felt surreal, the tears just started flowing down my cheeks. I immediately FaceTimed my husband, and then my mom."

Is IVF right for you?

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How Infertility Changes You

Like most fertility warriors, Andrea was excited to finally be pregnant, but that joy was clouded by anxiety. "Once you go through infertility, the worries never leave your mind," she admits. "Even though I was pregnant, I still had the intrusive thoughts like, 'What if it doesn’t last? What if I miscarry?' It’s a constant struggle to keep your head right."

Knowing that these anxious thoughts might creep in, even when things are going well, can help prepare you to handle them. Some find solace in finding a community of others who are pregnant after infertility. Others find that outlets like exercise, art or therapy work best. 

"What helped us was having a support system: people that my husband and I trusted that could be there for us emotionally," Andrea says. "Infertility changes you - little things that used to matter to you no longer will; you stop sweating the small stuff."

As difficult as infertility is to navigate, it comes with growth and perspective. "You realize what’s important and what’s not, real fast," Andrea says. "You also realize who your real friends are when you go through something like this, because people will judge you, or make ignorant comments, but that’s not on you. You just have to keep moving forward, even when you want to throw in the towel. It’s not over til it’s over."

Welcoming Their First Baby

After five years of waiting, Andrea and Ralph finally welcomed their son, Dominick Ralph, on April 26, 2022. "As he sleeps peacefully next to me, I can’t help but tear up," Andrea shares. "Looking at his precious face, I can’t believe he’s real. He has no idea how much we prayed for him. He has no idea what a blessing he is to both our families."

"Our team at Illume Fertility turned something unpleasant into a pleasant experience," Andrea says. "I felt supported and heard throughout the entire process. I can’t say enough good things about all of the doctors, nurses, and other staff - it's because of them that we have our beautiful baby boy."

As difficult as their journey was, Andrea says that she and her husband know it was meant to be. "Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything," she says. "Every little decision we made over the last few years lead us to where we are now."

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.

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