My IVF Journey Before Social Media & Support Groups
by Randi Grunstein
I’m not sure how I stumbled across Leyla Bilali’s “Fertility Together” Instagram feed. I’m not even sure why I decided to follow it. I’m not currently undergoing fertility treatment. I’m actually the mom of twin 15-year-olds conceived through IVF many years ago. My infertility journey seems so different from today’s stories. I didn’t have the support of other women just like me – or rather I didn’t have access to it. Women to share with and vent to, resources for researching what to expect – like Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, personal and business blogs and podcasts. Now the internet is abundant with information but back when I was undergoing fertility treatment it was still in its beginning stages, women’s health still had many taboos.
When my husband, Rick, and I decided it was time to see a specialist at the suggestion of my long time gynecologist neither of us had any idea what to expect. We were going in blind. I was 34 when we got married and six months into our marriage with a year of trying under our belts we went to our first appointment at RMA of NY. We had a full medical work-up, family history, etc. Side note – I did NOT expect to develop a crush on my very cute reproductive endocrinologist, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway – blood, sperm, internal exams, your run of the mill complete dissection of body parts and fluids revealed absolutely nothing. We were healthy mid 30-year-olds who should absolutely be able to make a baby. But we weren’t. Our first round of treatment was a timed insemination, or IUI, not medicated. I had two follicles and in my head this had to be a good sign, right? Nope. Nothing. The second round was much of the same. No luck. The third round we tried with medication – Clomid – and still nothing. Now it was time to pull out the big guns. And here is where our IVF story starts.
Earlier in our journey my brother in law had given Rick a New Yorker Magazine article about a couple’s journey through IVF. “Countdown to a Baby” was published in the July 1, 2002 issue of the highly acclaimed magazine. The author recounted the process through a tirade of humiliating, horrifying and all around terrifying experiences. Rick gave me the article to read and I didn’t speak to him for two days. How on earth did this man I married think giving me an article like this was a good thing? It made me question our relationship. One part of the article that stood out to me the most was the author’s recounting of the semen sample production process. As the only girl in a family of three I know first hand about guys producing “specimens.” I had to wait for the bathroom on more than one occasion. But what hit me in the face like a brick wall and still makes me gag is that the guy had such a hard time doing “that” in the collection room because the female-targeted magazines made it “nearly impossible” – insert eye roll! We have to do all of that and that’s what’s stopping you???
In another part of article there was a passage about the awful side effects of Lupron – I can tell you first hand that they do indeed suck. Once I had such a bad hot flash at dinner with a friend I nearly stripped off my sweater in a NYC restaurant. And I was NOT wearing a nice bra, so it would have been all the more embarrassing. The shots, the sweats, the headaches. And we CHOSE to do this – it was all elective. No one held a gun to our heads. So I felt like I had to suck it up and do what we needed, and chose, to do.
Luckily my team in NYC was very professional and fast. They made me comfortable and always reminded me what a great job I was doing. They never chanted at me “get pregnant ___” like the clinic the author in the article was treated at. I did have to make the difficult choice of selectively “reducing” two of our four fetuses once I did get pregnant. Yes it was unbearable but I had to do what was best for the safety of the other babies, my now twin girls.
Initially I had no interest in going through what I considered IVF to be, especially after reading that article – barbaric treatment. We discussed adoption. We weighed not having children. But we came to the conclusion that we were going to do this. But first we were going to burn that article.
I did find a supportive group of women on babycenter.com – a very early mommy website that was among the first of its kind. We bonded over our trials, we cried, we laughed, we cheered and NEVER jeered. We became a family. Their support got me through the very dark times and I hope I did the same for them.
Today as a mom I look back on it all and I’m still not 100% sure which is more difficult – going through IVF or breakfast before school on a day with cheer practice. And forget the mornings when the girls’ hair isn’t pin straight or…well you probably get the point. But bottom line I wouldn’t trade any of it, though the content of that article still sits with me and I wonder if it struck anyone else the way it did me. I pray it didn’t stop someone from trying because that would be tragic. IVF is not fun but it is amazing in the end and it’s the reason I’m a mom. I will talk to, cry with or laugh with anyone out there who needs the boost. “You got this” is my mantra. And if you’re reading this and doubting yourself, I’m telling you, YOU GOT THIS!