Trigger warning: loss, infertility, miscarriage.
Today is the last day of Infertility Awareness week and Tess Annique Souray is here with an incredibly vulnerable post, sharing her journey with infertility.
You may remember meeting Tess from her post all about addiction and recovery. Tess and Lauryn connected on Instagram and Lauryn really wanted her to come on and share her story as addiction and overcoming adversity are major topics on The Skinny Confidential HIM & HER podcast and this blog.
We always want to share different perspectives and other people’s stories so that things aren’t so taboo and we don’t feel so alone. And this post does just that.
In this post Tess is diving deep into the timeline and ups and downs of her IVF journey as well as what she’s learned during the process.
With that, let’s welcome Tess back to the blog.
Infertility and How to Navigate Life and Loss
One in eight couples deal with infertility. One in four women will experience miscarriage. I am one in eight. I am one in four. I never thought this would be my life; I’m just 29 years old. How is this my reality? An obstacle that so many couples face, but a topic they never speak about.
National Infertility Awareness Week takes place from April 23 to April 29 and hopes to shed light on the truth behind infertility. The only way to share my truth is to start from the beginning of my story. So here it goes…
Our first meeting at the fertility clinic was in January of 2020. I had gone off birth control a year prior, and my husband and I were having conversations about expanding our family (he has two daughters from his previous marriage). I was 26 years old when we started having these conversations, and I thought this part of our journey would be so easy. Those were my famous last words.
I didn’t know much about the world of infertility, or even my own body in that regard, but I felt that something was wrong. My husband has children, so his fertility wasn’t in question. I was in my twenties, I’d been off birth control for a year, we were both sober and treated our bodies well — something wasn’t adding up.
For those who don’t know, there’s a lot of testing when you first go to a fertility clinic.
I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, but we knew we wanted to do some tests to make sure everything was ok. There are tons of labs, sonograms, and hysteroscopies involved. Both partners get their fair share of preliminary testing. The whole process takes a couple of months. But then we were hit with a little thing called COVID-19. The world shut down along with fertility clinics nationwide, and we were left with very little we could do.
Over zoom our doctor told us that both of our levels simply weren’t where they needed to be to conceive naturally, and our only chance of expanding our family was through IVF (In-vitro Fertilization). This came as quite a shock to me because even though I looked 26, my body was biologically 10 years older. Not something a woman likes to hear. The only thing we could do at this time was to go on the medication and supplement protocol suggested by our doctor.
Fast-forward one year later, and we were back in business. The world was (kind of) opening again and our test results had improved enough to go ahead with IVF. Fertility treatment is a whole new world; it’s truly like learning a foreign language. All the acronyms and lingo are in league of their own. I had some friends who had gone through IVF before, but I had no idea what we were truly in for.
Retrieval #1 was in February of 2021.
Over the course of two weeks, I took daily injections that swelled me up and made me feel like a bloated chicken. I couldn’t do the injections myself, so my husband had to do them for me. I felt queasy and lightheaded every time I attempted to inject myself, with zero success. Retrieval was scheduled for February 10th and we had planned a trip to Cabo for Valentine’s Day. How cute and incredibly naïve. After my egg retrieval I developed something called OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) which basically made me feel like I was going to explode.
It’s an exaggerated response to ovarian stimulation used in an IVF stim cycle for retrieval. I looked nine months pregnant at four days post retrieval. There was no way I was going anywhere, or doing anything, except laying in bed with my heating pad. Cabo, obviously, was canceled. We decided to do PGT (Preimplantation Genetic Testing) testing to help determine if the embryo had the right number of chromosomes. We got two healthy embryos from this cycle — What a blessing!
Lesson Learned: Make zero plans, clear your schedule as much as possible, and give yourself the grace of the learning curve.
Sometimes it feels like infertility controls your life. All your fertility appointments are scheduled to the timing of your cycle. After a physically difficult first retrieval, I wanted to give my body a break. I couldn’t work during retrieval cycles due to the bloating and bruising from injections, so I was eager to go back to set when my body was ready. I gave myself a lot of time and grace before we did the second retrieval. We took the summers off and enjoyed time by the lake, clearing our minds and enjoying the fresh air. We were building our house, had gotten engaged, and planned a wedding! In the midst of infertility, life was happening too.
Retrieval #2 was scheduled for May 2022.
This one was so much easier than the first one. I knew what to expect. There were no surprises. I felt far less anxious, and the two week injection stim cycle flew by. The fertility clinic adjusted my meds, and my recovery was a breeze. They say to have three embryos for every child you would like to have; sometimes it takes a few tries for a successful IVF transfer. After PGT testing, we found out that we had two more embryos! The blessings kept coming.
Lesson Learned: The more familiar you get with the process, the easier it becomes.
After our fairytale wedding, celebrating our anniversary, and having enough embryos on ice, we felt ready to try our first embryo transfer. We had been together six years at that point and struggled with infertility for four of them. I felt so hopeful that it was our time. Our embryo transfer date was October 4th of 2022. I felt a strange sense of peace; that everything would work out as it should. I don’t know how, but I managed to not test for a week after the transfer. After one week, I felt this overwhelming wave of urgency come over my body that I just had to test. The longest two minutes of my life… it was positive. I had never had a positive pregnancy test before; our time had come.
Lesson Learned: Trust the process.
With an IVF pregnancy, you have more frequent monitoring and blood draws than with a traditional pregnancy. You go in for a blood draw every two days to make sure your HCG is rising appropriately. You have ultrasound appointments at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, and 10 weeks (at 10 weeks you ‘graduate’ and move on to a traditional OBGYN). We walked into our first six-week ultrasound, and everything was developing perfectly. At the 8-week ultrasound we saw the most beautiful heartbeat of 130 bpm, something I will never forget.
We go in for the 10-week ultrasound, and that’s when everything changed. The room went very quiet and all I heard my doctor say was, “It’s not good news. There’s no heartbeat.” The room went black, and I don’t remember the rest. We were ten weeks pregnant and lost our baby. A 1% chance with a PGT embryo at that time. It was November 22 of 2022. The worst day of my life.
The thing with IVF is that it’s a journey: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
This marathon felt like it was four years long and I was exhausted. I had been preparing and praying for this for so long. I wasn’t just grieving the loss of our child, but the work that it took to get to that point. Four years of working, dreaming, planning; four years gone, just like that. I had a Missed Miscarriage (MMC), which basically means that your body shows no signs of miscarriage. I walked into my ten-week appointment excited and hopeful, and left feeling utterly broken. I trusted my body that it knew what it was doing; or so I thought.
The baby’s healthy size meant that I had to have a D&C. It was Thanksgiving, so I had to wait a week before I could have the procedure. Never in a million years did I think I would be reluctantly getting a D&C for a baby that we so desperately wanted. There was no other choice and no other option. This was our reality.
The next two months where a blur. I didn’t leave bed. At 9 weeks we had started telling our family and close friends that we were pregnant. Everyone was so happy for us, especially our daughters. Now, we had to tell our families that we were, in fact, no longer pregnant. My husband stepped up and really took the reins by calling back all our friends. I couldn’t get myself to leave bed. My phone was on do not disturb for three weeks straight. How could life possibly go on?
The thing about miscarriage is that you are grieving the loss of a future you so confidently imagined.
We knew our baby’s gender; we’d had the name picked out for years. I had already planned the nursery and had the décor picked out; I had designed things on Etsy. We had bought baby clothes. I had my high risk OBGYN whom I loved. Everything was perfectly in place, until it wasn’t.
I packed away all the baby items in storage boxes that now sit in the back of a closet. My maternity clothes got shoved to a back corner of the wardrobe that’s hard to reach. The polaroids we had taken to document the bump journey are in an envelope at the back of a dresser along with our sonogram photos. The only emotion I felt was unbearable pain and grief. The best way to explain grief is love with no place to go.
They say relationships are supposed to be 50-50. Over these two months, it was 99.9% -0.1%. My husband was picking up the pieces of my broken heart and holding it all together with his own two hands. He brought me coffee in bed every morning with little love notes, held me when I cried, and talked me through my panic attacks. He did everything under the sun to put a smile on my face. He suited up and showed up for me in ways I didn’t know he could.
The grief was all-consuming.
I became a shell of the human I once was; defeated, broken, and hopeless. I needed help (again). In recovery, when you are newly sober or go through one of life’s hardest moments, it’s recommended to do 90-in-90 — 90 meetings in 90 days — So that’s what I did. My husband and my recovery picked me up one day at a time.
Over those three months, life went from black and white to color again. Slowly but surely, we put the pieces back together. It took seven weeks for my HCG to go back down to zero. We ended up doing another retrieval, knowing it very well might take us a few tries. This time I did all the shots myself. It ended up being the best one yet. We learn and we grow. There are so many additional tests you must do to try to figure out what happened, to see if your body is ‘ok’ post D&C. I felt like I was starting over at square one, but as my husband so beautifully said to me, “We’re not starting from scratch. We’re starting from experience.”
This story doesn’t have a happy ending yet because there is no ending — It’s a journey.
Much like healing, it’s an evolution that doesn’t really end, but rather evolves to the next phase of life. Two months after my miscarriage, I decided to share my story on Instagram. It allowed me to own my truth. It gave me the opportunity to connect with so many women who had also felt what I had gone through. It helped me find women to connect with who had experienced the same heartbreak. It allowed me to have vulnerable conversations with those I loved most and with complete strangers who I suddenly felt that I had known forever. So many women bear these struggles. We are all rooting for each other.
This experience has brought me a community of some of the most determined, strong, and vulnerable women I’ve ever met. Every woman who goes through this journey deserves to be a mother. Every woman who finds herself in the trenches deserves to share her story. Every woman deserves to have the family she’s always dreamed of.
So what lessons have my miscarriage taught me? Well, in short, everything.
I’ve learned to let go of all expectations.
I’ve learned to surrender control.
I’ve learned to trust God’s timing.
I’ve learned to lean into my faith instead of my fear.
I’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other & trust that small steps will turn into large strides.
I’ve learned to ask for help (again).
I’ve learned to advocate for myself.
I’ve learned to trust the journey.
I’ve learned that it’s ok to grieve, but not to let grief consume you.
I’ve learned that grief will always be there and how to live with it.
I’ve learned to protect my peace.
I’ve learned to celebrate other’s joys.
I’ve learned to not only accept my truth but honor it.
I’ve learned to have patience and know that our time is coming.
I’ve learned to believe in miracles because hope is all we have.
We hope this post resonated with you or with a friend who might be going through this right now. Be sure to follow Tess on Instagram & check out her website where she offers one-on-one health coaching & has a blog where she shares wellness tips & recipes.
Love, The Skinny Confidential team.
+ check out Tess’s first blog post: a grateful alcoholic here.
++ for more on IVF and freezing your eggs, listen here.
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