Op-Ed: My Journey from Fertility Treatments to Natural Pregnancies

Written By: Sherina Maye Edwards

After two years of trying and two failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles — including a miscarriage — we got pregnant naturally with our second child. I’m starting my story there because I want you to understand that parenthood is complex. Parenthood is love in a way that you can’t even imagine. But, if being a parent is something you want, you do everything to make it happen.

 

My husband, Michael, and I have been married for seven years. Four years ago, we had our first child, our daughter McKenzie. We got pregnant naturally after actively trying for about six months. Six months was honestly longer than we expected and I underwent Clomid treatment during that time to help; I will circle back to exactly what this treatment is later.

 

When we got the news that we were pregnant, we were really excited! While I was pregnant, I had a very large fibroid that caused a lot of pain, particularly the last trimester. That was rough, but otherwise, it was a joyful time.

 

Currently, I am just over six months pregnant with our second child. And, while joy is an emotion I feel. There are many emotions that I’m experiencing that are unique to this second leg of my motherhood journey. Fear. Anxiety. Stress. Hopefulness. Optimism. Prayerfulness. Jubilation.

 

I’m sharing the story of my second pregnancy in an effort to help women who may have had rose-colored glasses put on them during their pregnancy journey. It’s a myth that just because you are going to see a fertility specialist, you will get pregnant. I don’t know if people say this just to be optimistic or hopeful for you, but it’s not the truth. I know firsthand. When I learned of my fertility concerns, it never dawned on me that I might have to do more than one round of IVF. It never dawned on me that I could not have more children.

 

I do not aim to scare anyone or take away anyone’s hope. But, I do pray that my words, and the words of my husband, help those who feel like they need more answers when it comes to understanding parenthood.

 

When we tried to get pregnant…

 

How did you all approach getting pregnant with your second child?

Sherina: In 2020, we started trying to get pregnant naturally. I was over the age of 35 by this time, and had heard about research that said women my age should consult a doctor after trying and not getting pregnant for more than six months. When we hit that mark, I called my doctor and asked to do a Clomid treatment again. Clomid treatments, also known as Clomiphene therapy, have been around since the 1960s and are used in infertility treatment to help women ovulate. You are prescribed tablets that you take 1-3 times per day for about a week. The treatment essentially creates “superovulation,” allowing you to ovulate multiple eggs. Typically, a woman only ovulates a single egg during her period.

 

My doctor agreed to give Clomid a try again. But, she also suggested that after doing that twice I would need to see a fertility specialist. I remember freaking out a little bit when she said that. That was like the worst thing that could ever happen. I didn’t want to go to a fertility specialist because that would mean I was broken.

 

After three months of trying the Clomid treatments, my doctor gave me two fertility specialist referrals. One had a waitlist of eight months and the other had a waitlist of six weeks. I ended up going to the latter one, and doing two rounds of IVF with them. The first round was in November of 2021 and the second was in January of 2022. Both were unsuccessful. It was devastating.

 

Michael: As Sherina’s husband, this journey to being parents for a second time has been about empathy, patience and grace for me. Empathy to understand that this is a challenge that a lot of women put, internally, on themselves. Even if the male has a low sperm count or something of that nature. Men have to understand that women may not visually, verbally or outwardly portray that a clock is ticking in their mind. I’ve had to empathize that there are moments where she’s probably internalizing things and be understanding to that. It has taken patience to understand those feelings and that this is a journey. And, it has taken grace to know that the journey is totally out of my control.

 

Everybody kind of has this vision that you wake up to a surprise, like, “Oh, wow. We’re pregnant!” But, when you’re starting to get into those more formalized processes, there are a lot more questions. There’s a lot more science. There’s not really intimacy. I’ve tried to be on the journey with Sherina. I go to the appointments, even if it’s just standard appointments. I ask how she wants me to support her. I’ve learned it’s better when you can be a participant, and not stepping in the background waiting for information. I’ve done my best to take out all the guilt and help us focus on the fact that expanding our family is something we want. We’ve had to remember why we’re doing it. You can’t ask, “How did we get here?” You have to say, “We are here. We know why we are here and what we want to get out of being here.”

 

When we couldn’t get pregnant…

 

What were the failed IVF experiences like for you all?

Sherina: IVF, in and of itself, is just so intense. It’s something that’s very private. So, you’re not telling people. Your hormones are all over the place. So, people are thinking you’re crazy, and you’re not sharing with them why. Then, there’s the amount of medication and injections that you’re giving yourself on a daily basis. After those two rounds failed, we decided we were going to take a little bit of a break. I needed it physically, emotionally and mentally.

 

Michael: There was a moment of grief.  Guys have emotions about this, too. I did not know how to feel, but I definitely was sad. I was sad for my wife. I was sad for the excitement we had. That’s why I was saying for men to be engaged with the journey. Don’t just be engaged about the result. And, continue to make sure your partner is O.K. They do internalize it so much more; that something might be wrong with them or that something went wrong. Be there to comfort and ease those pains and be the shoulder to cry on.

 

What happened after you all took a break?

Sherina: Over the course of about three months, we researched and found the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM). It’s ranked the No. 1 fertility clinic in the nation, and they’re No. 1 for a reason! They have very high fertility statistics. It’s very costly, but we decided to try them. In May of 2022, we flew to Denver and did all of these procedures and tests. We learned the reason that they have such high statistics is because they self-select. So, basically, they will only take women who they believe have high success chances for getting pregnant through treatment. We ended up being selected, and they said I was going to start IVF with them in June of 2022.

 

You have to let them know on the first day of your cycle so you can start the estrogen priming. I got busy traveling for work so the center reached out to remind me. At that moment, I realized my cycle hadn’t come. The center told me to contact my doctor to get what they call a “trigger” for my cycle. My doctor explained that I would have to do a pregnancy test first as a part of protocol. I took the test and I was pregnant! I literally was just so confused. On our last hope with this center, it turns out that we got pregnant naturally during our break from IVF.

 

Michael: Getting pregnant during our break is an example of why husbands, fathers, partners have to stay engaged throughout the process. Yes, a large majority of the process, I’d say 95 percent, is led by the mother. But being engaged throughout makes it so much more impactful when your child gets here. You know all that you all went through to get that little miracle.

 

What we learned about parenthood…

 

What advice do you all have for those considering parenthood?

Sherina: Well, the first thing I would say is don’t wait. I have so many girlfriends who are, like, “Oh, I have too much going on with my career and everything.” Get to a doctor, and just make sure everything’s fine. Find out your egg count. Find out your estrogen level. Also, if you’re single and you’re like, “I really want to have kids. I’m just waiting for this person to come along,” consider freezing your eggs. I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t talk about enough. I’ve seen quite a few people doing it, as of late, and I think it’s the smartest thing ever. When I started getting all this testing because of my infertility, I realized I had a very low egg reserve, and had I just, even two years earlier, had I done an egg freeze I would have been fine.

Secondly, make sure you have the right OB GYN and fertility specialist. I learned too late that the doctors who did my two IVFs were not who I needed to be with. I only learned that from starting conversations with very close friends who I knew had done IVF.

 

And, my final recommendation is to find people who you trust who have gone through IVF. We all have our girlfriends, mothers, and sisters who will ride or die for us. But, if they have not gone through IVF, I promise you they will not understand quite the same way. That goes for husbands and partners too. They need support from husbands and partners who have gone through IVF. Even still, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it was some of my closest friends who had not undergone IVF who truly got me through the darkest of days. So, having a village is a must.

 

Michael: I think marriage itself is a life class on learning. It’s the same when considering parenthood. Get clarity on how you all want to raise kids, what you all want to do as a family unit together, what mother-child and father-child time alone you all look forward to. It’s critical to have that background and understanding. In a marriage, two are becoming one. However, when you introduce a child, you’re both then in this effort of trying to be the best parents you possibly can be. Emotion and care is there, because children are so innocent, especially in infancy. So, you move that and develop that because they’re helpless and they’re unable to communicate.

 

How do you all understand and define parenthood now?

Sherina: Originally, motherhood, from the lens of my mother, I always saw it as kind of like, protector and authority. I saw it more as a structured role. Actually being a mom, I think it means growth. You can’t even possibly imagine someone, like, literally, your whole heart, walking around. You grow in so many ways. My level of empathy, sympathy and compassion has definitely changed since becoming a mother. I’ve seen growth in me as a friend and me as a sister. Just really across all levels. It stretches you in a way that you cannot even imagine. There’s nothing like parenting. It just makes everything else seem so small, the things you go through.

 

Michael: Fatherhood for me, when I take a step back and think about life, is one of the most precious things in this world. It’s the ability to coach, mentor, develop and matriculate a life. Parenthood is one of the most important responsibilities that humans can have in their lives.

 

As I said in my opening, parenthood is complex. But, as my husband said, it is precious. I would go so far as to say it is an honor. So, if you are seeking parenthood you are seeking an honorable thing. If your journey to parenthood has been trying, like ours, I want you to release all feelings of unworthiness. All considerations of failure. All questions of purpose.

 

You are not broken because your journey to pregnancy revealed infertility, and that’s as a mother or father.

 

You are not broken if your journey to a natural pregnancy is not linear.

 

You are not broken if your journey to pregnancy requires medical interventions.

 

You are not broken if your journey to parenthood does not result in pregnancy.

 

If parenthood is in your heart, consider everything to make it happen. Fertility treatments. Surrogacy. Adoption. Foster parenting.

 

You can not be broken if you are unbreakable in your pursuit.

 

Sherina Maye Edwards is the Chief Strategy Officer of MasTec, Inc., and was the first Black, woman president and chief executive officer of one of the U.S.’s largest women-owned utility specialty companies, INTREN.

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