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My long experience down the path of unexplained infertility

April 19, 2021

My long experience down the path of unexplained infertility

My Story

My name is Kelly, I am 41 years old, and I have the perfect family: a husband of 21 years and two children who are my absolute life. This could have been a very different story though. It could be focused on a life of longing for children but faced with infertility and no answers, a life of always wondering “what if…”! 

Here’s a disclaimer, I work for Tempdrop. I don’t work there out of the need for a job or an income, I work there because I feel passionate about the company, what they believe in, and what they can do for women all over the world. I saw them advertising for a Customer Support Assistant (a far cry from my training as an employment lawyer) and I instantly knew this was a company I wanted to be a part of. Here’s my story. 

I trained as an employment lawyer (my life’s dream!) in the UK and worked at a corporate law firm for almost 13 years. My husband and I got together when I was 19, were married 6 years later, and decided it was time to start a family when I was 29. I was on hormonal birth control of one form or another since I was 14 years old. In November 2008 I stopped hormonal birth control and was sure I’d be pregnant very soon after because I was married and having unprotected sex and that’s what happens, right? We didn’t plan any holidays or big events for the future as we knew we would be busy raising our family - I wanted four children! I didn’t really have any idea about my cycles because I had spent so long on hormonal birth control. All I knew was my periods were extremely painful and I was told this was normal (it isn’t). 

Each month came and I was “late” because we all know cycles are 28 days, right? (Spoiler alert: they are not.) When a month passed with no sign of bleeding, I would excitedly take a pregnancy test and each month feel the disappointment. With each passing month, disappointment grew, but I just outwardly carried on as normal. We had been married for over five years by then and every time family and friends would ask whether we were planning a family I would just try to smile and say, “Maybe one day,” while thinking they probably thought I was too interested in my career to be worried about children. Privately, my husband and I eventually stopped talking about it and I tried to convince myself I was ok with it and what was meant to be would be. 

Two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels - sometimes we turn to pets when we struggle with infertility

In 2007 we got our first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Maisie was a sweet little girl who somehow, despite being a dog, made us a family when we couldn’t do that with a human baby. We absolutely spoilt and loved her, and two years later her “brother” Darwin joined us. 

In 2012 we went through a really difficult time in our marriage, unable to have children and both throwing ourselves into work. I was a lawyer, traveling the UK doing trials and working long hours. My husband was an engineer working on supply chain issues, spending around 50% of his time in China. We were lost, and to say the least it was a tough year for our marriage. 

I'd always been reluctant to get medical intervention for something I felt should be a perfectly natural event. I convinced myself that I could live with the thought that it was meant to be, but not with hope that wasn't fulfilled each month. I knew the failure rates for IVF and the emotional toll it can take. In 2013 my husband and I agreed we were not willing to undergo anything as invasive as IVF but we should both get checked in case there was a very minor issue we could resolve.

It was easy for my husband: a sperm check to see if all was well there and his part was done. Not quite so simple for me.  

What is wrong with me? 

In the UK you have to be referred to a specialist, so I saw a general practitioner first. She tried to establish ovulation with blood tests three separate times, but I ended up getting the answer I was "probably" ovulating but she couldn’t actually confirm it. In any event, she referred me to a fertility specialist. At the hospital we had a long interview together about our lifestyle and medical history. We were sent away with a whole list of actions: drink less, lose weight, have sex often, and come back for (me to have) a whole list of tests, swabs, examinations, and procedures.  

I underwent internal examinations, ultrasounds, had dye injected into my fallopian tubes to check they were clear, blood tests of extraordinary proportions and then back we went to hear the verdict: “There is no known medical reason why you cannot conceive a child.” She offered other options, but I thanked her and told her I did not require any further assistance. I left feeling a little satisfied at least that, despite my fears, it was nobody’s “fault.” I was satisfied we had done what we could and having children just wasn’t meant to be. 

At no point, however, did anybody say the magic words to me which could have changed my life: go and buy yourself a basal body thermometer and chart your temperature

A new chapter 

Since we couldn’t have children, we decided a life of adventure was for us and we wanted to travel. My husband got an opportunity to move to Nigeria, and we decided to take it in 2014. Three years later, we found it was time to move on again - this time to Houston, Texas in the United States of America

We had been in Houston for about 4 weeks when I started to feel like something was wrong. I had a constant feeling of an impending period, but it never came. I was tired all the time and couldn’t explain it. I told my husband I thought I needed to see a doctor, but in my experience the first question a doctor always asks is, “Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” The answer of, “Yes but it has never happened” doesn’t persuade them! So I bought a test, peed on the stick, and left it in my bathroom.  

A short while later I walked into the bathroom to see my husband looking very confused whilst looking at the test and reading the instructions. I asked him what on earth he was doing when he told me the five words that changed my life forever: “I think this test is positive.” I of course told him how it wasn’t possible and proceeded to check it myself. The line was not faint, and there was no mistaking it was a positive test! I have never been so happy and so scared in my life as I was in that very moment. 

A definitely positive pregnancy test

I think I’m pregnant 

Whilst I really didn’t believe it was possible for me to get pregnant, I absolutely didn’t believe it was possible for me to have viable pregnancy, yet for the first time in my life that very real hope of a life with a child in it was there.  

When making the appointment with a doctor, I explained to the receptionist that I think I might be pregnant! We went to the appointment absolutely racked with fear and disbelief; I was waiting for the moment they told me the test was wrong and I had made a huge mistake. The doctor confirmed my fears. "I am sorry but either your pregnancy is not viable or you are not as far along as you think you are." My heart broke in that very moment. As much as I'd anticipated the worst, I had already imagined my life with this little girl in it!

According to my last menstrual period (LMP), I was over 6 weeks pregnant, but the ultrasound told a different story because my cycles have never been the "typical" 28 days. This doctor, a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics, was also under the misguided illusion that 14 days after your period you ovulate, always. Why does the whole world including “specialists” believe in this misguided principle? I now know I do not ovulate 14 days after I begin a cycle; I have a 6 week cycle, so I ovulate around 4 weeks into my cycle.

Ultrasound picture

I spent two agonizing weeks waiting for my next appointment, feeling deflated and heartbroken. When I went to that next appointment, I heard the most beautiful sound in the world: my little baby’s beating heart. I was two weeks earlier than my last period would suggest! Had I been charting at that time, I would have known this! 

I had a perfect pregnancy and I absolutely loved every second of it. That little life growing inside me was the most precious thing ever. I never lost the fear of it going wrong and right at the end everything almost did. BUT my little girl was born, and my life was complete.

But you need a sibling… 

My periods didn't return until after weaning my little girl at 16 months, giving me plenty of time to contemplate how lucky we were to have a child. But there was no medical reason I couldn't get pregnant, so I wanted to know why it had taken so long and if there was any chance of it happening again. I had determined if she was to be my only child, I would still be forever grateful for that and never wish for more, but if I could give her the gift of a sibling then I wanted that. I didn’t have another 8 or 9 years to wait.

I did a lot of research about the subject and some of the things that I knew I needed to do from my research were: 
          1. Read "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" by Toni Weschler
          2. Buy a Tempdrop.
 

I read the book - it looks intimidating, but it's easy reading and informative. I got through it in no time and never in my life have I felt so enlightened, so duped, so happy, and so angry. I learnt more about my body in that one book than I had learnt in my whole life before that, most of which was wrong anyway. None of the “experts” I saw through infertility and pregnancy told me I could learn so much about my body just by learning to identify cervical fluid and charting my temperature? I learnt so much and was so glad I had but I was also so angry it had taken me until nearly 40 years old to figure all of this out. 

I had seen so many recommendations for Tempdrop. I knew that charting with a traditional thermometer would be difficult with a baby who still woke at night. I didn’t know at that time how Tempdrop worked, but I knew that it would give me an accurate Basal Body Temperature (BBT) even with the disturbances. 

Here is what I learnt from one book and Tempdrop: I do ovulate; I have an irregular cycle, but my luteal phase (the time after ovulation until menses) is consistently around 10 days; I absolutely can get pregnant without medical intervention. 

My charting life 

My fertility returned in January 2019. My cycle was 36 days long with a luteal phase of 8 days. It is not unusual to have a short luteal phase immediately after your fertility returns from having a baby. My second cycle I had a 10 day luteal phase, which I knew meant I was more likely to be able to sustain a pregnancy. 

My third cycle after my fertility returned… I was pregnant. I couldn't believe it. It had seemed so fast and easy to get pregnant with just a chart and a Tempdrop. When I went to my appointment for this pregnancy I was able to tell them when I ovulated and get dated accurately. It was so much easier than the first time around when I had no knowledge of what was happening with my own body. Sadly that pregnancy only lasted for just short of 12 weeks and ended with a heartbreaking missed miscarriage. I want to tell this story separately as it isn’t easy for everybody to read, but the information may be useful for somebody. 

The cycle immediately after my miscarriage was likely anovulatory. It was a very confusing cycle, and I was unable to confirm ovulation. But there was no hope or disappointment: I knew from my charts I was not pregnant and I was so grateful and empowered to have that knowledge. 

The following cycle not only did I ovulate but I was pregnant again. In 2020 amidst all of the lockdowns and COVID chaos, my son was born and my family was complete. He also came early and had to spend a little time in the NICU. While I don’t seem to carry to term, I am 41 years old and have two healthy babies. I'm happy to count my blessings everyday and call my family complete.

Two babies who came after a struggle with infertility

My perfect little family

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