For those who struggle to grow their families, it's hard to imagine ever being able to conceive without the help of fertility treatment. But for some, a spontaneous, surprise pregnancy comes after infertility. Mayra shares her journey through infertility and what happened next.
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Editor's Note: We are so grateful to Mayra for being willing to share her story with us in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week. To learn what RESOLVE and other organizations are doing to fight for increased access to fertility and family-building care across the United States, please visit their website.
Born in Ecuador, Mayra remembers herself in childhood as a "typical" girly girl who loved to host pretend tea parties and always have a baby doll in her arms. As she grew older and thought about her future, Mayra says, she began to explore her options, eventually deciding she wanted to work with special needs children.
However, her lifelong dream was to have a family of her own and be a mom. Little did she know, a future medical diagnosis would make that journey quite a bit more challenging.
"When I was 16 years old (and right before I moved to the USA), I got my first period," Mayra remembers. "The transition and assimilation to living in the USA was difficult - I was depressed and missed home so much."
After moving, Mayra noticed she wasn't getting her period for months at a time.
"When we went to the doctor to get me checked, they said it was due to my depression and suggested I try getting on birth control," Mayra recalls. But there was no follow-up consultation or prescription ordered afterwards - so she continued to suffer without an actual diagnosis.
On Struggling with Body Image
As time went on, Mayra noticed she was suddenly gaining weight, growing facial hair, and getting dark spots between her breasts and neck and under her arms. She didn't understand why this was happening, and it was distressing, especially as a young woman.
"I would scrub and scrub, thinking I was just dirty," she says. "I would also get acne flare-ups and my period would often disappear for as many as eight months at a time, or show up twice in one month instead."
Along with all of her puzzling physical symptoms, Mayra says she also suffered from body image issues. "[Struggling with body image] was a constant theme in my life, at times more bearable than others," she admits.
Finding Her Soulmate
When she was 18 years old, Mayra met the love of her life, Hervin. "We met through mutual friends and had a 10-year relationship before we got married," she says. "We decided to wait until we were done establishing our careers before we even moved in together."
Once they were married, the couple enjoyed life as newlyweds to the fullest - traveling, sleeping in and partying as much as they could. However, it was always in their plan to have children.
Finally... a diagnosis!
For a few years, Mayra had been using the Mirena IUD - the only birth control that she was able to tolerate without severe side effects. Three years into their marriage, her IUD was dislodged and became stuck, necessitating an immediate removal.
"We took this as a sign that it might be time to start family planning," Mayra recalls. "I was excited, but I was also nervous!" While the couple were aware of the ongoing issues with Mayra's menstrual cycle (including its irregularity), they never knew what that would lead to.
A few months after getting her IUD removed, Mayra still hadn't had a period, and was referred to an endocrinologist for further exploration.
"In the first five minutes of that appointment, the doctor me the answer to all my health issues," Mayra says. "I was told I had insulin-resistant polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and although it was relieving to get answers about my mysterious body, the fact that I was told it would be hard to conceive with PCOS killed me."
What is insulin resistance? Insulin resistance occurs when your body creates enough insulin, but doesn't know how to use it effectively. While not all patients with PCOS have insulin resistance, and it isn't a part of the formal diagnostic criteria for PCOS, insulin resistance does occur in 35-80% of people with the condition.
Gathering Answers & Support
After receiving an official diagnosis of PCOS, and knowing she and Hervín wanted to try to conceive soon, Mayra decided to attend an Illume Fertility info session with a friend. As soon as they left the event, "I felt so comfortable and full of hope," she says. "I knew it wasn't going to be an easy journey, but I was willing to do anything to have a baby."
Mayra and Hervín quickly became patients at Illume, attending weekly appointments and undergoing diagnostic testing. Mayra followed every instruction she received closely, never missing a single medication dosage or follow-up appointment.
"We had an amazing experience at Illume," Mayra says. "All the doctors were so caring, gentle and just gave us a hopeful aura." In addition to the doctors' bedside manner, the couple felt confident seeing that everything was always so clean and orderly at each visit. "It helped us trust the process and feel safe," Mayra recalls.
Starting Fertility Treatment
The side effects of the fertility medication she had to take during her IUI cycle were difficult to manage at times, and the early morning monitoring appointments weren't easy, but taking steps towards their dream of a baby gave Mayra hope.
All that hard work paid off, and the couple was lucky to successfully conceive after their first IUI procedure, welcoming their beautiful firstborn son, Hervín, around nine months later.
"To be honest, fertility treatment seemed more difficult than my actual pregnancy," Mayra admits. "Once I got pregnant, I had no morning sickness - I felt like the most blessed, beautiful woman ever! Maybe my baby bliss helped with the morning sickness."
Ready for Baby #2
Two years later, the couple felt ready to begin their next round of IUI treatment in the hopes of conceiving a sibling for Hervín. "I always wanted two children, and I wanted them close enough in age to be able to play together, but far apart enough to enjoy each of them," Mayra says.
The second time around, the process went a lot quicker. Mayra's doctors already knew what dosage of medication she'd responded to previously, which helped speed things up. "On my first son’s birthday, November 15, 2019, I had my second successful IUI, and our little Samuel was born on July 31, 2020," Mayra says.
The Hidden Pain of Infertility
"Getting through fertility treatment required a lot of patience, self-love and support," Mayra recalls. "It was so hard to go to events where all I would hear was 'It’s about time for you guys to have a baby!' or 'When’s the baby coming? Time's ticking!'" Mayra admits. "Like I didn't know that - like I didn’t pray and plead for my children more times a day I could count."
While those comments may have been well-intentioned, the invasive line of questioning from friends and family only provided more reminders that they were still waiting for a baby.
Like many couples struggling with infertility, Mayra didn't feel comfortable sharing her journey with many people at first. "At the time, I felt embarrassed," she says. "As much as my husband supported me, I felt I was letting him down."
Thankfully, Mayra's sister, mother and best friend were huge supporters throughout the process. Whenever she felt like she was losing her patience or needed distraction, she would reach out to them to plan an outing. "Fortunately, they never said no," Mayra says.
"I also talked to my husband openly about my feelings and he was the most understanding, compassionate person during treatment," she remembers. "He never lost hope, even though at times, I did." Whenever Mayra went to appointments at Illume, she says she felt hopeful because of the kindness and professionalism her Illume doctors and nurses offered.
On Life as a Family of Four
The couple's first son, Hervín, is now five years old. They report that he's a healthy, smart kindergartener who loves to learn and can run around for hours!
Their second son Samuel is now two and a half years old. "He's my troublemaker - he loves to be the center of attention," Mayra says. "He keeps us on our toes, but he is also the most loving, expressive little boy ever."
After having her two boys, Mayra transferred over to working with Illume's PCOS team for help getting her PCOS symptoms under control. "I have continued to trust my team and follow their lead, going to every referral they suggest," Mayra says.
But they'd never guess what would happen next...
The Big Surprise They Didn't Expect
In the most shocking turn of events, during a routine appointment in the summer of 2022, Mayra learned she was pregnant - without the help of fertility treatment! "I've never felt so much fear, confusion and excitement all in one," she says. "We were not planning on having more children!"
"My husband had been meaning to get a vasectomy since Samuel was born," Mayra admits. "But with the COVID pandemic, a change of jobs, moving into a new house and managing life with two children, it got put on the back burner because we thought we'd never be able to conceive without help."
Did you know? According to some studies, between 17-24% of couples who undergo fertility treatment like IVF end up becoming pregnant on their own!
After processing the initial shock of a surprise, spontaneous pregnancy, the couple was elated. Their third child, a baby girl, is due any day now, and Mayra says they never thought they'd be in this position.
As for what she's learned throughout her PCOS and fertility journey, Mayra says it has given her a new perspective. "All I can say is have faith, practice patience and self-love," she offers. "I have never felt so complete, and that's all thanks to my team at Illume Fertility."
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.