After coming to terms with the fact that my husband and I likely wouldn't be able to conceive on our own, we decided to seek out the help of a fertility specialist. What followed was a long journey through fertility testing, procedures, multiple pregnancy losses, three rounds of IVF, and finally meeting our rainbow baby girl.
Skip to a specific section:
- The First Step: Fertility Testing
- Understanding the World of Fertility
- Our First IVF Cycle
- Trying Again: Our Second Embryo Transfer
- Experiencing a New Kind of Loss
- Getting More Answers with an ERA Cycle
- Giving It One More Try: Our Third Transfer
- Overcoming Loss & Grief
- A High-Risk Pregnancy & The Greatest Reward
- Preview: The Journey to Baby #2
- More IVF Resources
💜 Please Note: This blog contains discussions of pregnancy loss and unsuccessful IVF cycles. If you're not in a place to revisit these difficult topics, we encourage you to skip this post or save it for later.
My husband and I always knew we wanted children. We've been together since college, got married in 2015, and in 2017, we started trying to grow our family. After nearly a year of disappointing negative pregnancy tests, I finally talked to my OB/GYN. I never expected it would be this difficult to become pregnant.
At the time, I had no known medical history that would cause concern when it came to fertility. My OB/GYN encouraged me to get fertility testing done, since it might reveal infertility issues that I wasn’t aware of. She referred me to Dr. Joshua Hurwitz at Illume Fertility.To be honest, I had no idea what fertility testing or genetic testing involved, and the thought of going through all that testing seemed daunting. Looking back, it's possible that (subconsciously) I just didn’t want to admit to myself that I needed help getting pregnant.
Low and behold, a few months later, I finally got the positive pregnancy test we had been waiting so long for! We were elated and relieved after seeing and hearing the heartbeat at our first ultrasound. We started excitedly sharing the news with close family, friends and colleagues.
Sadly, I miscarried at around nine weeks and had to have a D&C (an outpatient procedure some people need to help resolve a pregnancy loss).
After recovering from the shock and devastation of pregnancy loss, we hoped we would get pregnant again on our own. Unfortunately, it just never happened, and after several more months, I finally scheduled a consultation with Dr. Hurwitz.
The First Step: Fertility Testing
Illume Fertility requires patients to undergo preliminary fertility testing before starting treatment in order to rule out as many issues as possible and maximize their chances of success. As we went through the fertility testing process, it uncovered a couple of things about my reproductive system that I hadn’t known until that point.
- I have a unicornuate uterus (which means I'm basically a unicorn, right?!) What it really means is that my uterus is essentially half the size of an average-sized uterus. This also caused one of my fallopian tubes to be completely closed.
- I had uterine polyps, which could hinder implantation.
Dr. Hurwitz recommended I have a hysteroscopy to remove the uterine polyps, and then move forward with an egg retrieval and medicated IVF cycle. Armed with this knowledge and a treatment plan, we forged ahead.
What is fertility testing & why is it important?
Understanding the World of Fertility
While I waited on insurance approvals and recovered from the hysteroscopy, I immersed myself in everything Illume Fertility had to offer in order to educate myself and get familiar with this mysterious world I'd entered into. Everything about IVF and infertility was so new to me.
I had so many questions and worries, and there were so many unknowns!
💡Pro Tip: Illume Fertility's Learning Center was a great place for me to learn more about fertility and what I was about to experience. There are also lots of encouraging patient stories to help you through the most difficult parts of this difficult journey.
I also didn’t know anyone close to me that had gone through IVF, so I was desperate to find and engage with a community who could genuinely empathize and understand the fertility treatment journey.
I found that community in the Ladies' Night In and Couples' Night In support groups, and joining medicine mixing class and Fertile Yoga with fellow Illume Fertility patients, and the support I had through my personal Care Team.
Ready for our embryo transfer - can't forget the lucky socks!
Our First IVF Cycle
My first egg retrieval yielded 11 eggs, which resulted in four "Day 5" embryos. We sent each of those embryos out for preimplantation genetic testing (PGT), and one came back abnormal. So we ended up with three genetically normal frozen embryos, all ready for transfer.
➡️ Related: Biggest Side Effects of IVF Egg Retrieval
My husband and I decided to transfer the highest graded embryo first, regardless of gender. We were ecstatic to find out we were pregnant after our first IVF cycle. We even saw a little heartbeat - only to relive the nightmare of being told I miscarried again around 8 weeks.
I also ended up needing another hysteroscopy to remove tissue still present in my uterus from this miscarriage. I couldn’t believe this had happened…again.
Trying Again: Our Second Embryo Transfer
Understandably, I was both discouraged and emotionally exhausted after enduring two pregnancy losses and going through the emotional roller coaster of fertility treatment. It was so difficult for me to find the courage to start another cycle.
I just didn’t think I could bear another loss and experience that deep level of grief again.
But we had two healthy embryos waiting for us, and they gave me a glimmer of hope that kept me going. We tweaked my IVF protocol, and decided to try traditional and laser acupuncture through Illume Fertility's Integrated Fertility & Wellness program. I had never done acupuncture before, so I had a lot of questions.
I met with acupuncturist Dr. Amy Matton to understand the benefits of fertility-focused acupuncture, and learned that studies have shown that acupuncture can increase embryo implantation rates by up to 15%.
Get the lowdown on acupuncture for fertility:
Because our insurance did not cover this part of treatment, we were only financially able to do a few sessions. Thankfully, we were able to strategically plan those sessions out with Amy to make the most of them.
We did about five sessions leading up to my frozen embryo transfer. Most notably, Amy did an acupuncture session with me immediately before and immediately after the transfer - while I was still in the recovery room!
It most certainly made me feel more relaxed before, during and after the transfer, and provided me with extra peace of mind knowing I had done everything I could to make this cycle a success.
Experiencing a New Kind of Loss
Sadly, despite our best efforts, what happened next was not what we'd hoped for. I experienced another kind of loss: the news that our little embryo didn't "stick." There’s a unique pain that comes with a failed embryo transfer.
I felt physically broken and guilty that my body couldn’t even give this embaby a chance.
Even with PGT normal embryos, a revised medication protocol, fertility acupuncture, and doing all the stick-baby-stick manifesting, the transfer failed. I needed to press pause.
Getting More Answers with an ERA Cycle
With just one frozen embryo left, Dr. Hurwitz suggested we do an ERA cycle. Unfortunately, insurance did not cover this either, but since I had experienced recurrent pregnancy loss and a failed frozen embryo transfer cycle, we were willing to do it.
The ERA cycle helped reveal what point in the cycle my body is most receptive to embryo implantation. Given the results of our ERA cycle, we ended up adjusting my protocol again, and adding another day of progesterone in oil (PIO) injections.
How does IVF work? What are the side effects?
Snapshots from our pregnancy with Nora.
Giving It One More Try: Our Third Transfer
It was February 2020 when we went into our third frozen embryo transfer cycle. We went in with low expectations, but gave it everything we had: an adjusted medication protocol and regular acupuncture sessions scheduled. We knew we had a single embryo waiting for us, and were determined to give it our best shot.
In the days that followed my embryo transfer, I stayed as busy as possible to prevent myself from spiraling into the anxiety of wondering “what if," not an easy feat while we were on the brink of a global pandemic lockdown at the start of COVID-19. Needless to say, the intrusive thoughts persisted.
I was so wracked with guilt and traumatized from my past losses. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to protect and grow my last little embryo. My body had failed me before, even with PGT tested embryos, holistic and medical support and the perfect protocol.
➡️ Related: Why You Should Have Hope After Failed IVF
Overcoming Loss & Processing Grief
I had my HCG blood test ten days after my transfer. When my nurse told me I was pregnant, I felt numb. There were no tears of joy - barely any emotion at all. Because why would this time be different? What if what happened before...happened again?
I had been pregnant twice before, so I couldn't imagine why would this time be different, especially when we had transferred our lowest graded embryo. The reality is, after experiencing pregnancy loss, infertility and failed transfers, I felt (and still feel) deprived of the joy of pregnancy.
Despite having regular ultrasounds, blood tests, being closely monitored and continuing PIO injections and Estrace, I just couldn’t convince myself that this was real and this baby was sticking around. A couple weeks later the world shut down due to COVID-19, which of course added a whole new layer of worry and stress.
Luckily, I was able to proceed with my appointments at Illume Fertility given that I was newly post-transfer and in the early weeks of my pregnancy. If I had waited another month, I wouldn’t have been able to move forward with this frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle, and who knows how long I would have had to wait.
L to R: Nora meeting her dad; with furry brothers Wrigley & Howard; on her 1st birthday; ready for the holidays!
A High-Risk Pregnancy & The Greatest Reward
I recall the day I graduated from Illume Fertility very well. I was the only patient in the office, I sadly couldn’t even have my husband present for my final appointment (due to the COVID safety protocol at the time). When Dr. Hurwitz presented me with a "graduation" certificate, I had tears running down my face - it was all so surreal.
For so long, I'd had to remind myself that I am worthy of becoming a mother, and now it was finally my time to step into that role.
What happens after you "graduate" from a fertility clinic?
I ended up having a high-risk pregnancy and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes (because...of course), but we welcomed our rainbow baby girl, Nora Quinn, in October 2020. She is our little embryo that could!
We are so grateful that we had a support network to help us pick ourselves up after each loss, instead of give up, despite all the odds against us.
It’s crazy how much courage, strength and hope you find in yourself when you’re in the thick of fertility struggles and don’t know what your future is going to look like. Our hearts goes out to everyone who is currently in the thick of it. We see you, fellow warriors.
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We needed a village to have a child. We're so grateful to the entire team at Illume Fertility and modern medicine for helping us bring our little rainbow girl into the world!
Our family enjoying life together as a new crew of five!
Preview: The Journey to Baby #2
We are hoping to grow our family again through another medicated IVF cycle with Illume Fertility this month. In the next blog post in this series, I share more about how my second egg retrieval went and my journey to Baby #2!
Here's a little preview:
Since my Nora was our last frozen embryo, we knew that we were going to need to do another egg retrieval and embryo freezing cycle in preparation for Baby #2. Knowing how many embryos we needed and how long it took for us to have our first child, we were proactive since we didn’t want to waste too much time before freezing more embryos...
Follow us on Instagram for behind-the-scenes content from my IVF journey.
More IVF Resources
- 6 Things Everyone Wonders About Embryo Transfer
- IVF Attrition Rate: Why Don't All Eggs Create Embryos?
- 5 Secrets of IVF: One Patient's Attempt to Demystify Fertility Treatment
- Preimplantation Genetic Testing for Improved IVF Success
- What to Expect at Your IVF Embryo Transfer | A Nurse’s Perspective
- What to Expect at Your IVF Embryo Transfer | A Patient’s Perspective
- IVF Dos and Don’ts: Your Guide to Diet, Exercise, Sex, and More
Katie Cacchiani is Illume Fertility's Head of Patient Acquisition (and even more importantly, Nora and Carter's mom). Having experienced years of fertility challenges and IVF, Katie knows firsthand what it's like to go through infertility. She brings this empathy and knowledge to her work every day, and uses her skills to help other fertility patients feel empowered and supported on their own journey.