When my husband and I were diagnosed with infertility we were told that our best chance for conceiving would be with Intra-uterine Insemination (IUI). We decided not to pursue that option but several of my friends in my online infertility support group did. One of them recently agreed to talk with me about her experience.
Brieanne is 27 and her husband Chad is 29. They have been married for eight years and began trying to conceive in September of 2001. In August of 2002, after almost a year of trying to get pregnant, Brieanne had an appointment with a gynecologist to see what was going on. It was then that she received the news that she had PCOS.
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a medical problem which leaves a woman’s hormones out of balance, specifically causing the androgens in a woman’s body to become more than they are normally. This results in periods being irregular, cysts often occurring on the ovaries, and difficulty in conceiving. In Brieanne’s case, it prevented her from ovulating each month.
Brieanne and her husband did not begin the IUI process immediately upon finding this out. It was almost three years later, in fact, that they heard of a fertility clinic in their area and decided to go check it out. Nothing was being planned at that point; it was simply something to check out and process through.
When presented with their options Brieanne and Chad took almost another year to think through things and pray over them. In 2006 they were finally filled with peace and knew that IUI was what they were supposed to pursue in their dream for becoming a family of three.
I asked Brieanne if she and Chad ever struggled with the fact of whether or not they were trying to “play God” when they decided to pursue this. She responded, “At first we did struggle with ’playing God’. However, after praying a little more about it we felt it was the direction God was having us go and we came to see this type of medicine as a blessing to couples like us.”
I was curious about something else and Brieanne was open enough to share. One of the reasons my husband and I did not pursue IUI is that my husband could not get over the mental block of what it would entail from his end of things — namely, giving sperm in an office setting. To him it was “cold and sterile” and “not at all about love.” I saw it differently than he did (for me, it was about love) but knew I had to respect his feelings on the matter since he was an intricate part to the process. I asked Brieanne if Chad struggled with those things as well.
“My husband went through some ups and downs, but mostly focused on getting me through it, since the majority of the processes were to do with me and my body. He was uncomfortable about having to give sperm samples by himself, so I would help him with that. The rest he had no problem with.”
I then asked Brieanne to fully explain the IUI process.
“On Cycle Day 1 my period would start. It usually started because I took a drug to bring it on.
“On Cycle Day 2 or 3 I had to go in for an ultrasound to monitor what was happening inside of me. Then, I’d go back between Cycle Day 10-12 for another ultrasound, then again numerous times until around CD 24. During those ultrasounds the nurses would monitor my ovaries and uterus. They’d check my lining, count my follicles (eggs), and take my blood.
“Between Cycle Days 3 & 5 I would start injecting my lower stomach with gonal-f injections each night. I had to pinch an area of skin together and inject the tiny needle into it. If I pinched enough skin correctly it wouldn’t sting at all. It’s really not that bad, and you get used to it quickly.
“As my follicles grew and were monitored, we would increase or decrease the amount of gonal-f injections. The needle had different levels of fluid, and I would turn the knob to push out a certain amount. When 1-4 follicles got up around 17-20mm, they were considered mature and we would go ahead with the IUI.
“When it was time for the IUI, at 10pm the night before, I would have my husband inject the hCG trigger shot to force my body into ovulation, and then the next morning we would go to the clinic with my husband’s sperm sample in a sterile cup. The nurse would do a sperm wash to separate the sperm from the seminal fluid, and then ask us to come in and prepare. I would strip down below the waist, get up on the table with a sheet over me, and then the on-call clinic doctor (there were 3) would suck the sperm into a catheter that looked like a long spaghetti noodle, and inject it through my cervix and into my uterus. I would lay there for 10-15 minutes, get up, and go on with my day. Two weeks later I would go back to the clinic for a blood pregnancy test, and would be called the next morning with my results.”
When Brie went in for her first IUI, she was full of hope that this was it for her. It was an emotional time for her when she realized it wasn’t. The second time was even harder. Not only were there the normal emotional ups and downs, there was quite a bit of physical pain because of her ovaries being hyper-stimulated. That round ended up being shut down because of the hyper-stimulation.
In the third round of IUI, Brieanne began to hyper-stimulate again and it raised fears in her that the doctor would shut it all down again. He did not, and so another IUI was done. It was unsuccessful yet again. At that point, Chad and Brieanne were advised to move into Invitro Fertilization. I’ll let Brieanne share in her words what happened next.
“We were actually planning on going to that next step (IVF) but I had a dream shortly after the failed 3rd round that I would get pregnant if we tried one more time. It’s amazing how everything lined up perfectly that month for us. We were told about a couple that weren’t going forward with any more treatments and were selling their unused gonal-f drugs for cheap. So we bought their drugs for less than 1/2 price!
“Even though my ovaries were packed full of follicles and I had the risk of conceiving 8+ babies, my doctor allowed us to continue with the IUI. During that last round we had a major family emergency. My dad suffered an aortic aneurysm, and was hospitalized for 2.5 months. It just happened that I conceived after 5.5 years at that specific time. God knew my dad needed the encouragement to get better, and the news of my pregnancy strengthened him incredibly. It gave my mom the joy she needed to get through that intense emotional time as well.
That last round of IUI served as a double purpose, that’s for sure! We experienced 2 miracles! The conception of our beautiful baby girl, and my dad’s life sustained!”
Their beautiful daughter Johanna was born 9 months later.
Brieanne shared that while she and Chad were going through the IUI process most people were supportive, although there were a few, here and there, that felt they were playing God and had no right to be doing what they were doing. The people who were supporting, however, stood by them, some even getting involved in the process by giving Brieanne her injections, as a way to be connected to the entire process.
Brieanne is one of the happiest, most upbeat persons I have ever met. This woman hardly ever allows herself a bad day, and if she has one she’ll do everything she can to overcome it. Still, despite a normally optimistic way of life, the IUI process took its toll on her.
“My emotions were all over the place. Before we went to IUI I was on these little pills called Clomid. They were supposed to help my follicles grow the way the gonal-f injections did, but didn’t. I wasted 6 months on those, and felt like such a failure because my body didn’t respond to them at all.
“When the IUI’s started it was a huge roller coaster of emotions. Fear of having to shut down due to hyper-stimulated ovaries, the pain because of the hyper-stimulation, lack of sleep because we had to be at the clinic for 7am, intense hormonal challenges from the drugs being injected into my body… it was a mix of things.
“My husband was more upset for me than he was for himself. His goal throughout our entire time (1 year) working with the fertility clinic was to get me through it the best he could. He was a rock for me. The worst for him was to see me devastated after another failed round. And he didn’t like seeing me in pain from my hyper-stimulated ovaries.
“Looking back at all that we went through, we would do it all again. We look at our beautiful daughter, who is now over a year old, and say it was all worth it. And it was God’s perfect timing.”
Having seen other marriages hit rocky times because of infertility I wanted to know how Brieanne and Chad kept the romance alive during all of this. I also wondered about the impact on their sexual life. As always, she was transparent with me.
“We actually had no problem in this area. Never once in our marriage, and more specifically in our 5.5 years of trying for a baby, did we have problems.
“We always kept sex pure and beautiful between us, and it was never ‘baby dancing’ to us. It was always for our pleasure and to keep us close as husband & wife. We’ve been told that this is very rare, and that many couples fall apart under the pressure of failed fertility treatments. We’ve always prided ourselves on a healthy and happy sex life, even during infertility.”
As the interview wrapped up, I asked Brieanne if she had any words for those that have been diagnosed with infertility and have been told that IUI is the only way they will become pregnant. She responded with, “I hope you have faith in God, because God was the reason we got through it all.
“Also, talk to your spouse openly about the entire thing. If you bottle up your emotions and stop being there for each other, it’s going to tear your marriage apart. Be open and honest at all times.
“Ask questions! If you don’t understand the clinic lingo, ask about it. Make sure you grasp the entire concept before going forward with it. Ask about your ultrasounds and blood work results. Be fully aware of your body, and what the nurses and doctors are doing to it. It’s your right.
“Go into it with hope, be ready for an emotional roller coaster, and know your limits. If it becomes too much, take a break, or stop and consider alternative ways to bring a baby into your home (surrogacy or adoption).”
As I wrap up this article, I reflect on something that Brieanne wrote shortly after Johanna was born. She shared with those of us on the infertility blog ring that as soon as Johanna was in her arms, the years of waiting and pain were a distant memory and all she felt was joy and love for her baby. It is evident that Brieanne remembers it all clearly when you speak with her about her infertility, but it is even more apparent that her joy at being a mother is bigger than the (painful) memories of what it took to become one.