In 2012, Steve and I took our most memorable trip to date. We sailed around Capri, we biked through Lucca, we drank wine in Tuscany, we prayed at the Vatican. It truly was the type of experience dreams are made of. It was also the place that I shared my truest desire with him. We were huddled around a teeny tiny table in Florence, drinking foreign beers and people watching when I burst into tears and blurted it out, I’m ready to start a family. I recall the moment so vividly because I remember thinking, I’ve never been happier. The only thing that could top this moment is if we had a child of our very own. And just like that, the idea of a little Cortez was born.
We talked about having children constantly after that. He’d say he wanted 3, I’d say I wanted 7. He wanted boys and I wanted a tiny best friend of my own. We would giggle in bed thinking of names we loved and who would make great godparents. We discussed the pros and cons of private school and how the hell we were going to pay for them to go to UCLA. It really was all fun and games back then. We never could have predicted the most challenging journey that we would soon be taking.
I have to be honest, when we started “trying”, as they say, it was fun. All of a sudden, I was no longer preventing a pregnancy like my college years. (I mean, I was a virgin when I got married in case my mom is reading.) Anyway, this time, I actually was welcoming pregnancy. It was a new freedom for us and we were like kids in candy stores. When we finally found ourselves pregnant in April of 2013, we were elated. It all felt so right and we couldn’t believe it happened so quickly. I did a couple twirls, peed on a lot of sticks and posted a cryptic photo on Instagram to remember the day. Our joy was short lived though when we found our little seed was an ectopic pregnancy. We were devastated to know that the baby could never survive and if left untreated, it could be detrimental to my health. We spent a couple long nights in the hospital, mostly crying but also praying. I don’t remember ever questioning why this was happening to us. It was just an unfortunate event and we were strong enough to overcome it together. We were still so hopeful that while this was a sad setback, our dream of a family was on the horizon.
We spent a couple more months, impatiently trying on our own but in the back of my mind, I had a feeling something wasn’t right. Plus, at the time I was 31 years old and thought I was SO OLD. I could literally hear that dang biological clock ticking in my head. I figured it couldn’t hurt to see a fertility doctor. I honestly thought he’d take a look at my lady parts, roll his eyes and say, Listen missy, stop freaking out. You’re fine. Give it a bit more time, it’s going to happen, I promise.
You could probably guess it already, but that didn’t happen. Actually, after our initial consultation, our doctor ordered tests to confirm what he suspected – due, in part to the ectopic, I had lost function of both of my fallopian tubes. We could have tried and tried for years on our own and while all the baby making activity could have been fun, I’d never get pregnant that way. Those dang tubes were standing between us and a baby and needed to be dealt with if we ever wanted to move forward.
In November of 2013, I had surgery to close off my tubes. It was such a bittersweet decision for me. I knew it had to be done but even typing it out now, I feel naked. A small part of me feels like less of a woman. It’s like, I no longer possess some of the parts that make me female, parts that are supposed to help me create and carry life. Don’t even get me started on the conversation of feeling like I failed my husband. That’s a whole other topic entirely. But let’s just say I cried to him several times, insisting that he picked the wrong girl to marry. That if he wanted to leave me to find some other woman who can give him a family, I wouldn’t blame him. Thankfully, he stuck around and became a rock for us. Good thing because we could never have predicted the road ahead was about to get bumpier.
Even back then though, we were so hopeful. We had each other, we had our faith and we were healthy. Without tubes, it’s obvious that we wouldn’t be getting pregnant the old fashioned way. Our only option would be In Vitro Fertilization but now we had a fantastic doctor to help our dream come true. We said goodbye to a rough 2013 and celebrated the new year just knowing that it was finally our time. 2014 was going to be our year! In January, we began IVF treatments. HO.LY.SHIT!!! I have to be honest, we were a little nervous, excited and slightly naive. In retrospect, we had no idea what the heck we were doing back then. There were pills, hormone injections three times a day in your stomach, daily ultrasounds, bruising, emotions all over the place, expenses. I remember the first night of our first cycle, the nurse sent me home with our giant bag of meds and Steve and I looked at each other like, why are they trusting us with needles and vials of meds??? We went with the flow and learned a lot along the way. It wasn’t easy being shot up by my husband and it wasn’t easy for him to jam needles into my body either. But, we didn’t fuck anything up thus far so we kept reminding ourselves we’d have a baby by the end of the year. No doubt. How could you not get pregnant when science is involved?
We had our first egg retrieval in February 2014 and it turned out, I’m an egg factory. They retrieved 34 eggs and I came out of anesthesia so proud that I was part chicken. For real, I wanted to go out and buy some for our house so that I could tell them I lay a ton of eggs, too! Chickens are real impressed by those numbers I’m sure but Steve didn’t love the idea. Anyway, the embryologist did her thing and fertilized my eggs with Steve’s sperm and we waited. And waited. And waited. FIVE whole damn days we waited to hear if any of them survived. And 8 out of 34 did! I wasn’t completely broken afterall! My body actually did something right. It was a little bit of a celebration. By that point, we learned to celebrate any progress. No matter how teeny tiny!
In March 2014, we transferred our first 2 embryos. I can’t lie, I felt it in my bones that I was pregnant. I could already feel those babies in my arms it felt so real. Part of me didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself but it was too late, I had already become a mother. I psyched myself out with pregnancy symptoms – nausea here, fatigue there. When we finally took a blood test at the doctors office, I was absolutely crushed to hear that I was not pregnant. Not even a little bit. I had imagined those babies. I had imagined those symptoms. I had taken too many steps ahead. It was a blow to my woman intuition. You know, when you have a feeling about something and you’re always right about it? Surprisingly though, I wanted to try again. Quickly.
In May 2014, we transferred 2 more embryos. After you transfer embryos, the doctor tells you to highly limit your activity so we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary with me on bed rest. My mom was staying with us to help out while Steve was at work so there we were, me, Steve and Barbara. Eating dinner on the couch watching netflix. Although it wasn’t the most romantic anniversary, it was absolutely perfect to have the support of my husband and mom as we worked toward a family of our own. Sadly, it was all for nothing. Once again, I wasn’t pregnant. Once again, a serious blow to our hearts.
Somehow, we were so determined and/or stubborn that we decided to try again. The reason I wasn’t getting pregnant basically was unexplained. Talk about frustration. You’re not getting pregnant because well, I don’t really know. After a ton of research, I discovered this happens more than anyone even talks about with IVF. Regardless, the doctor said this happens sometimes, but I was still healthy, young and obviously fertile. I had every reason to keep on going. So we did. In July 2014, we did our second egg retrieval and decided to transfer 4 embryos. FOUR. I know right? While the idea of quadruplets is terrifying, at that point, we wanted to give ourselves the best possible chance of having at least one embryo implant. I had built a wall around my heart, just waiting to be let down again that I almost didn’t even take the scheduled pregnancy blood test. My mom literally dragged me out of bed for it so when I got the phone call that it was positive, I pretty much fell to my knees. Steve and I were shocked and excited beyond belief. Our beta numbers weren’t the highest but it was still a fact, I was finally pregnant!
We spent the next few weeks on cloud nine. We celebrated with donuts, took a road trip with friends, bought a couple baby outfits. My beta numbers kept rising so we were hopeful. At our second ultrasound, we were beyond excited. We knew by that point, a heartbeat could be seen and heard. Of course, we had the camera ready to record that magical moment. That moment never happened though. There was no heartbeat to hear. I think for a minute, I wished my heart would stop beating, too, and that this bad, unfortunate dream would be over. Maybe if my heart stopped beating, that would mean it could also stop breaking.
That was such a dark time for me. For us. Until then, I didn’t realize the impact this whole thing was taking on myself or our marriage. I had set a goal and wasn’t going to stop until I reached it. Never mind that I was crumbling behind the scenes. Truly, every day that passed, I was breaking. At the beginning of this process, we decided to keep this whole process private and it was finally eating me alive. Every time someone would say, You & Steve have so much fun and look like you love life!, I felt like a liar. I was leading a double life. I was happy-go-lucky, care-free, has-her-shit-together Ala in public, but at home, I was completely broken. There were days that I couldn’t even make it out of bed to eat, shower, brush my teeth or go to work. I wasn’t me anymore. I wasn’t a wife anymore. I wasn’t a sister/friend/photographer anymore. I had become a shell of myself and it was then that I decided we needed a break.
We spent the rest of the year trying to find ourselves. We went on dates again. We took random trips again. We took long drives singing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs again. I finally started to laugh again and feel all the hope I used to feel come back again. It was so necessary and I’m grateful that we realized it when we did. Otherwise, I don’t know what kind of lunatic I would have become. Once again, we said goodbye to a rough 2014. It was filled with heartbreak and hope. Lessons and love. Recovery and renewal. We were stronger now. We knew what we were up against. We knew how to protect our hearts and we were ready to try again. We decided to switch doctors and we were confident that the new year was going to bring great new opportunities.
In February 2015, we underwent our third egg retrieval. Another round of being pumped full of hormones but by this time, we were old pros. I knew the pain was worth it and he knew that any hormonal outbursts were to be blamed on the meds, not on me. We’ve always been good together but by now, we are such a solid team if I do say so myself. This time around, we also did PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening), which is an IVF procedure designed to examine your embryos for chromosomal abnormalities. Since a possible reason we weren’t getting pregnant in previous cycles could be due to abnormal embryos, we wanted to be damn positive that the embryos we transfer from here on out are healthy.
We transferred one embryo this past April. It was kind of crazy timing for us, Steve was graduating with his masters up north a couple days after and as I mentioned before, you’re supposed to take it easy after a transfer. While taking a 7 hour road trip wasn’t ideal, my doctor approved the trip and there was no way I was going to miss my husband’s huge accomplishment! Plus, I thought it would be so cool that if I was pregnant, the baby actually was present at daddy’s graduation. What a special story to share with baby one day! Traveling did take my mind off of the whole thing. Instead of laying in bed stressing about the pregnancy, I got to enjoy a trip with our family, experience beautiful Berkeley and celebrate Steve as he walked across the stage.
Upon our return, once again, we found out I was pregnant!! This time though, the numbers were amazing! Our doctor was so thrilled with the results. My beta numbers increased incredibly, too as the days progressed. It was finally our turn! We had done everything right this time. I changed my diet, my activity level, I went to acupuncture religiously, I did yoga for fertility, I didn’t even look in alcohol’s direction. You name it, I wholeheartedly committed and the hard work was finally paying off!! For the first time in the 2.5 years we’d been trying, I felt confident enough to download some pregnancy apps and started browsing children’s clothing online. I let myself think of baby names again and nursery themes. I feel like a broken record at this point but another heartbreak was coming. After a heavy bleed, I was losing this baby as well. Cue sob fest into my husband’s chest on the kitchen floor.
So here we are, two and a half years later. Hearts broken over and over again, taped back together over and over again. I honestly haven’t written down any of our experience thus far on paper until now and reliving it through these words, I still can’t believe it’s my life. I really don’t know why or how we’re still hopeful but we are. I guess you have to be to continue this process. Either that or we’re fucking crazy. Whatever the case, I will say we are so much stronger in our marriage. If nothing else, this trying season has taught us that we can weather any storm together. It has taught us to pray together, to communicate better, to celebrate the little things, to appreciate what we DO have, to be happy with who we are now.
I don’t know when or how we will have a family but I do know we WILL have a family. It might take longer than expected, but if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that I won’t give up. And neither will Steve. Perhaps I will be blessed with the gift of carrying our children or maybe we adopt or maybe we have someone else carry our child. I really do have faith in the Lord that I will become a mother and Steve will become a papa. And all of our blood, sweat, tears and prayers will pay off one day. Some day.
If you made it this far, thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about us. I feel like I’ve shared so much of my life over the years that I needed to get this off my chest once and for all. What a release to come out of the dark and share something so intimate. This journey has consumed and changed me and the people in my life deserve to know who and what they’re getting from me. I feel like infertility is something I don’t want to hide from any longer. So there it is. Our story. From the beginning.