The F Word
My name is Stephanie Vojas Taylor. I met my husband, Ryan Taylor, when I was 29, and from our first date, I knew Ryan and I would be together forever. Much to the chagrin of our families getting married was not our priority. For the first three years we were together, he lived in Chicago, and I lived in Springfield. When I finally moved to Chicago, we prioritized buying a place together instead of getting married. Neither of us had ever thought of our future without children, and we would often joke about our future children.
When we did get married on January 1, 2018, the natural next step for us was to start a family. I was 34, and I did not anticipate having any problems conceiving because my family did not have a history of infertility. By the time August and my 35th birthday came and we still weren’t pregnant, I started wondering if something was wrong. I started buying every product on the market to help, and as I researched online, I just started to feel as though something was wrong. It was at that moment I knew I needed to finally make an appointment with a doctor. To say I was nervous is an understatement. Honestly, a large part of me expected to go in and have the doctor reassure us everything was fine.
We went in for our appointment, and we didn’t really learn much because both of us had to undergo testing first. After a month our results were in, and we anxiously attended our second meeting with our reproductive endocrinologist at the beginning of December 2019. I had done enough research before we attended the appointment to know the most common types of infertility as well as the most difficult types. I was not at all prepared for what came next.
As the doctor reviewed our test results for us, all of our numbers, except one, were normal. What was not normal was my AMH level. A normal 35-year old female has an AMH level of 5.5 – 37.4. My AMH level was .67, the normal level for a woman in her mid to late 40s. I instantly knew what this meant, and I could instantly feel the tears rushing down my face. I had few eggs left, and the eggs I did have left were not guaranteed to be able to make a baby.
In the days that followed, Ryan and I both learned as much as we could about diminished ovarian reserve and how it lowered our chances of success. While we had a lowered chance of success, we had a renewed sense of determination. We started our first treatment cycle, an IUI, in December 2019, and we were astonished when we found out we were pregnant. For a brief moment it seemed all of the worry had been for nothing. However, we quickly found out getting pregnant is only one piece of the puzzle and does not always end with a baby. After many tests and ultrasounds, we were devastated to find out the pregnancy was not viable. Miscarriages are awful, and for us the only way for us to properly mend our broken hearts was to push forward with treatments.
We subsequently attempted two more IUIs, but neither of those were successful, so we moved on to IVF. One thing I wish more people would educate themselves on is the different types of infertility. Not every couple has the same problem, and every diagnosis affects a couples chance at success. For us, we knew with my low AMH, that we were not going to retrieve all that many eggs from an IVF cycle, so our odds were lower. We just had to remember that it only takes one egg. IVF is a strange process in so many ways, but especially because you get a bunch of medication that has to be injected with little to no instructions on how to administer it. Some of the medications have to be carefully mixed and administered at precisely the right time. Honestly, it is the most stressful experience I have ever been through.
My response to the protocol in our first IVF cycle was not what we had been hoping for, and I knew my body could do better. We made the painful decision to cancel our first cycle and try again. The decision to cancel was so emotional, and it was one of the hardest days in the entire process.
Armed with a new protocol, we started our second IVF cycle in July 2019, and we were lucky that my body did respond better to the new protocol. When we went in for our embryo transfer, I had two embryos that they transferred! One of those embryos implanted, and almost 18 months after we first started trying, we were pregnant again. Because our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, we were very cautious until we knew our baby was going to be healthy (due to my infertility diagnosis, we were counseled to do a fresh transfer cycle, so we were unable to do any testing on our embryos prior to transfer).
Infertility affects every aspect of your life. It affected every moment of my pregnancy, and it affects every moment of motherhood. We had become so accustomed to hearing bad news, I felt like I held my breathe for 9 months waiting for the other shoe to drop. When the pandemic started I was 6 months pregnant, and my only priority was to protect my baby. I stayed as far away from anyone besides my husband that I could which was not how I envisioned the last months of my pregnancy. Once Max was born, we did everything we could to keep Max safe. Going through infertility makes you appreciate the miracle that is life, and after everything that we went through, I was not about to lose my miracle baby to a virus we could keep him safe from. So my husband and I followed every piece of advice our pediatrician gave us, and for the first 8 weeks of Max’s life, the three of us quarantined away from the world to give Max’s immune system time to develop. At 8 months old, I can count on my hands the number of people Max has come into contact with. People may think we are overreacting, but, again, we were not sure we could have a baby, so we are doing everything we can to keep our miracle safe.
Infertility is an emotionally and physically exhausting process. The first time I tried to undergo treatment without talking about it, and I quickly learned it is a long and lonely road. With every cycle we underwent, I started to open up more and more about it, and that really helped me. Infertility is an emotionally and physically exhausting process, and couples need support throughout which is why I am so open about my experience. I want all couples to know they are not alone, and I always offer my support to anyone I know going through the process.
It is extremely hard to accurately put into words just how hard infertility truly is. I remember calling a friend who had undergone IVF six years before I did and apologizing to her. I just could not fathom how incredibly hard and soul-crushing infertility was until I went through it myself. If you have a friend going through it, make sure to check in on them and ask how they are doing.
I truly feel blessed and lucky to have had my happy ending to my infertility story, but it is not completely over yet. Our family plan had always been two children, so we will try again. I know that time is not on our side, so from the time Max was born, we have already been planning our next IVF cycle. I have no idea if it will be any easier now that I am a mom, but I am preparing myself for the worst just in case. In the meantime, I am enjoying every single moment of motherhood, enjoying every single extra pregnancy pound I still carry, and enjoying the little sleep I do get because there were so many moments it felt like none of it was going to happen for me.