The Pregnancy Test Wait – The Longest 14 Days Ever

I took it easy for the first couple of days after our insemination.  I really wasn’t sure how to feel.  Part of me wanted to be so sure that it had worked and that positive thinking could only increase my chances of pregnancy.  Another part of me wanted to assume that it had not worked and start getting ready for my next cycle to try again, to avoid a massive disappointment.  To the world, I was calm and cautious.  I was constantly telling my wife that it probably didn’t work, but really, truly, deep down I knew I was fooling myself and that every fibre of my being wanted to believe that it had worked.  It was a confusing time, to say the least.

Every time I was hungry or tired, I would think that it was an early sign of pregnancy and get a boost of excitement and joy.  And then I would immediately get a wave of sadness because I knew I was just trying to convince myself desperately that it had worked.  And then the next minute, I was telling myself that it HAD to have worked, I was so healthy and everything was so perfectly timed.  One of those 40 million sperm just had to have found their way around my uterus.  They just had to.  I wanted to try and get off the fertility emotional roller coaster as much as possible, but unfortunately it was pretty unavoidable.

Distraction became an excellent tool for me during these two weeks, and I focussed on the things that I could control: taking my pre-natal vitamins, eating healthily, going to yoga and trying to decrease the harmful chemicals in my environment in preparation for a potential pregnancy.

I had been taking my pre-natal vitamin (along with vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium and evening primrose)  pretty religiously since Christmas, as I have read that it’s a lot more effective if you start before you’re actually pregnant.  A baby develops it’s neural tube during the first four weeks of pregnancy!  It is so amazing to me that something so critical is being formed so early in life..  This little ball of cells that is the size of a poppy seed is just laying the foundation for a human brain and spinal cord.  No big deal.

In addition to my pre-natal vitamin, I also decided to adopt a plant-based diet for my pregnancy.  I have been vegetarian for a long time now, but I have been noticing sensitivities to dairy products and I have been hearing that dairy isn’t all that great for us in large quantities anyway.  Of course, diet is something that is very personal, so I’m not advocating one way or the other, but for me switching to a plant-based diet just made sense.  It’s made me add in even more fruit and veggie options and I feel really great.  We’ll see how everything works out with potential pregnancy cravings and such, but pickles are vegan and I’ve found some really amazing vegan ice cream substitutions already, so I think I’m set.

Yoga has been an amazing addition to my life.  I have practiced on and off for many years now and getting back into it recently, has been awesome.  I feel more calm and grounded, not to mention I have killer triceps (well, I think so anyway) from all of those downward facing dogs I have to do.  I am aiming to stay as active as possible throughout my pregnancy, not only for myself, but for the baby as well.  There’s lots of great evidence that exercising while pregnant is not only good for moms, but it’s good for babies as well!

The number of crazy chemicals in our environment is a bit scary.  I hate to use that general term (and I am also aware of the naturalistic fallacy when it comes to “natural”and “organic” products), because there are a lot of chemicals that are completely safe and very useful.  But one need look no further than the BPA madness from a few years ago to see that there are not a lot of safety regulations in place for many home and personal products.  Without being too obsessive (which is definitely easy to do when you start reading product labels) I started to cut down on the obviously harmful cleaning and personal products in my life.  We started purchasing unscented products and made more use of our Norwex cleaning cloths that just use water to clean.  I ditched my deodorant and found an amazing homemade recipe (I told you I’m a huge hippy!) that actually works very well (full disclosure: I sweat a lot, so I can tell you that with a high degree of confidence).  I also have only been purchasing shampoos, lotions and make-up products that are paraben and phthalate free.  In general, as I run out of a product, I just don’t replace it with anything.  I have cut down all of my personal products quite significantly (my wife can gladly attest to this) and just try to use less of everything!  I know that I can’t get rid of every harmful chemical in my environment, but I figure it’s my due diligence to make sure everything is a safe as possible.

I’ve been listening to a great pregnancy and birth podcast (check it out here, if you’re interested) lately that had an expert in pre-natal psychology on for an interview.  Yep, pre-natal psychology.  As in, the psychology of babies still in the womb.  Well, that totally blew my mind.  Of course, I know that babies had brains and some level of consciousness before they emerge into this crazy world, but I never thought that there was an entire field of psychology dedicated to it!  This expert brought up the very interesting point that parenting really starts from the moment you’re pregnant.  He spoke about how important it is to sing to and talk to your baby in the womb, and even mentioned some “games” that you can play with baby when they start really being active.  This really resonated with me and reinforced my efforts to foster a happy, healthy body for my future baby to share.  It was so motivating to think in a small way I was already a mama!  Well, maybe a mama.  I started brainstorming ideas for how to connect with my child before he or she was born and started daydreaming about my wife and I singing our baby to sleep every night.

Aaaand, just like that I was back on the fertility roller coaster.  The two weeks just dragged on and on.  I mentally crossed off each day, counting down until I could go for my blood test and find out if our dream was coming true, or if I should start getting ready for my next cycle.

-K

P.S.-I do not receive any compensation for the above recommendations (let’s face it, I’m not that cool), they are just experiences that I wanted to share from my heart to yours! 🙂

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The Appointment – What it Feels Like to be Inseminated

I woke up the day of our big appointment full of excitement, but also full of disbelief that we were actually going to do this.  Today.  Like, for real.  At the same time, I was hesitant to let myself get too excited, so I brushed off those feelings and tried to just focus on getting ready for our big trip.

I had been pretty calm, cool and collected (maybe my wife’s personality is rubbing off on me) for the past couple of days, and my current excitement was definitely at odds with my desire to be calm and level-headed about the whole thing.  Over the past few days I had received so many well wishes and questions about how I was doing, and I was never really sure how to respond.  I suppose most people would have expected me to be incredibly excited, but I was feeling more reserved and almost apprehensive about the situation because the outcome was so variable.  Believe it or not, IUI only has about a 20% chance of working the first try (which is about the same success rate as the old fashioned way), which to me meant that there was an 80% chance that it wouldn’t work.  I saw this appointment as yet another stepping stone in our journey.  A stepping stone that could easily disappear or just continue to move further and further away, if things didn’t go according to our plan.

I know, I’m a big downer.  But if you prepare for the worst, then nothing can disappoint you, right?

We jumped into the car and got my last coffee from Starbucks (a delicious latte with almond milk!) and made the familiar 2 hour trip to Saskatoon.  My feelings cycled between nervousness and excitement during the whole trip, as I tried to wrap my mind around what was happening.  I could tell my wife was also excited and nervous, because she was acting just a bit sillier than normal.  Upon arrival at the clinic, we paid our $350 clinic fee (cha ching!) and our $100 storage/admin fee (cha ching!) and sat in the waiting room.  The nurse let us know that our sperm was being thawed, which would take about half an hour, and that we would be taken into the office shortly.  Tired from my erratic feelings, I rested my head on my wife’s shoulder and watched some TV while we waited.

As I was just getting into “The View”, the woman sitting next to us in the waiting room started talking to us.  She was very pleasant, about our age, and just casually offered us her brother’s sperm.  Yep, you read that right.

Seriously.  I could not make this stuff up.

We were initially a little taken aback (you know, with her being a complete stranger and all), but to be fair, it’s not the first time that we have received an offer like that.  When some of our male friends found out we were trying, we got offered sperm by the bucketful (usually as a joke, but not all the time).  But we’ve never received an offer from someone we didn’t even know!  She was very friendly (if clearly a little nosey) and also prefaced her offer by saying she could just mind her own business, if we found her request insulting in some way.  We just chuckled, thanked her sincerely for her offer and let her know we had already picked a donor.  We continued a bit of polite conversation and my wife mused on how that conversation with her brother might go.

Some people may have found this offer offensive, but I actually found it rather encouraging.  I’m sure it took a lot of courage for her to even strike up a conversation with us, let alone make the offer that she did.  So to us, a total stranger offering to help us (a clearly gay couple) start a family was a beautiful sign of support and compassion.  It really warmed my ovaries to see such a genuine gesture from a complete stranger.

We were called into the office by a nurse, who instructed me to take off my clothes from the waist down and lay on the table.  As I was getting ready, my anxiety and excitement came flooding through my calm and collected barricade and everything started to feel very real .  What if this actually works?!  What if it doesn’t work?

The nurse came back into the room and started up the pleasant type of conversation that medical professionals start when they are about to touch you in a very private area.  She was asking us about our jobs, as she told me to scooch my butt to the edge of the bed and put my legs up into the stirrups (a la Pap test, for those familiar with that lovely procedure).  She continued making small talk as she drew the sperm sample up into a pipette with a long cannula (thin tube) attached to it.  She warmed the speculum under the tap, lubed it up and let me know she was going to insert it.  Seeing my discomfort, my wife came to my side and put her hand on my shoulder.  I heard the familiar clicking of the speculum as she expanded it to access my cervix.  She then inserted the cannula into my uterus, squeezed in the sperm, removed the speculum and we were done.

That’s it?!  We drove 2 hours for that?!  As my sister-in-law so eloquently put it, “What were you expecting?  Streamers!?”

The nurse told me to lay flat for 15 minutes, then I could put my clothes on and we were free to go.  Our fertility doctor popped in a couple of minutes later and let us know that the thaw went well, there were 40 million sperm in the sample and that everything looked great.  It was hard to believe there were 40 million of those little swimmers, just paddling their way through my uterus.  Surely that would be enough.  While we waited, my wife and I debated whether we should have a little nookie.  We had heard anecdotally that orgasm can really help draw the sperm up into the uterus and fallopian tubes, and we wanted to increase our chances of conceiving as much as possible.  It appears that the research is split on whether it actually increases pregnancy rates or not, but it can’t hurt, right?  Anyway, I was far too shy, so unfortunately you guys won’t get to hear the titillating details of a medical office romp.  According to this interesting article, there is a little bit of research to support higher sperm retention and motility towards the ovary following female orgasm.  If there is a next time, we may have to give it a try…for scientific purposes of course.

I was given a requisition for blood work to check my hCG levels two weeks from that day.  The lab would deliver the results that same day to the clinic, and the clinic would then call me with some very good news or some very disappointing news.  If it was good news, then I would go for one more blood test 2-4 days after, just to ensure hCG levels were progressing normally.  And if it was the news I was dreading, I would just call them on day 1 of my cycle and start this whole process all over again.

I put my clothes back on and waddled my way carefully out of the clinic down to the car.  I know it’s silly, but I really felt like the sperm were going to fall right out!  We spent good money on those babies, so I wasn’t about to let them get away!  I spent the next few hours moving cautiously, raising my hips when I could and crossing my legs with much more force than was necessary.  My wife just laughed at me, and rightly so, I’m sure I looked ridiculous.  When we got home, we relaxed in bed (with my hips up on a pillow, of course) and cheered on my left ovary to do it’s thing.

Over the next few days, I was hyper-aware of anything going on “down there”.  Any little flutter in my lower abdomen or tiny cramp convinced me that it was the beginnings of a baby…until I realized it was actually just gas.  I knew that it was too early for anything to really be happening, but my anticipation really got the better of me.  I was torn between wanting this so badly, and knowing that it probably wasn’t going to work the first round.

The next step was just to wait.  We had to wait 14 long, grueling days until we could find out if we had made a baby or not.  We’re pretty good at waiting by now, but it felt like there was a constant battle between my mind and my heart, optimism and negativity, hope and reality.  During the next couple of weeks, I found myself frequently putting my hands on my lower belly and just sending as much love as I could to everything that was going on down there, hoping that it would be enough.

-K

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The First Day 1 – Follicular Tracking and an hCG Injection

After putting in our order for sperm (which ended up being $1667.75 for two vials, by the way!), the next step was just to wait!  Unfortunately, we had a little longer to wait that we would have liked, as we went to Mexico over the Christmas holidays for our honeymoon.  Due to the risk of Zika virus, our doctor recommended we wait until 2 months after our return date to try to get pregnant, just in case.  That was a little bit discouraging, as we had already waited three months for the consult and have been wanting to have a family basically forever.  But, better safe than sorry, I suppose.  So, by my calculations (I had been tracking my cycle for the last 5 months) we could “start trying” the first week in March.

This gave me quite a bit of time (or at least it felt that way) to get everything ready.  And by everything, I mean my body.  I began a pretty rigorous schedule of yoga, weight training and healthy eating, to try and give us the best chances of conceiving.  I figured, if I’m healthy and my hormones are normal and my cycle is consistent, how could IUI not work the first time, right?  I wanted to use this time to really get in the mind frame of having a baby, and also try to set myself up for the best pregnancy possible.  Have I mentioned that I’m a planner?  At the same time, I was trying to live in the present and not get ahead of myself with the endless questions that lurked in the corners of my mind.  What if it doesn’t work the first time?  Or the second time? What if it never works?  What if my body isn’t good enough?

Not wanting to go down that road (because stress definitely does not help increase fertility), I buried myself in reading pregnancy books and working out.  I tried to look at this extra waiting time as a gift instead of a drawback.

The next step in the IUI process was to call the fertility clinic on day 1 of my cycle (the first day of my period), upon which they would give me an ultrasound appointment for follicle tracking.  As a woman who normally dreads her period, I was so excited when Aunt Flo came to visit!  I nervously called the nurses at the fertility clinic and they gave me my first ultrasound appointment scheduled for day 10 of my cycle.  Yay!  The purpose of these ultrasounds is to see if you have a follicle (which is the part of the ovary that holds an egg) that is developing appropriately.  This allows the IUI procedure to be scheduled naturally and very accurately.  No point in tossing a bunch of sperm in my uterus, if there is no egg to be seen, amirite?

On day 10 of my cycle, I showed up at the ultrasound clinic very early and very excited to start what felt like the first real step towards IUI!  Once again, it was my favourite transvaginal ultrasound.  The tech was very nice and had me insert the ultrasound wand myself and was very discrete about everything, but it was not the most wonderful start to a day.

Later that day, I received a call from the clinic which I anxiously answered and heard the rivetting news that I would need yet another ultrasound.  To be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised because I do have a longer than normal cycle, about 30-33 days.  The first ultrasound had not shown enough follicular development, so I was scheduled to come back in on Monday after the weekend.

Apparently, my left ovary had gotten it’s crap together over the weekend because after my ultrasound on Monday I had a date for my IUI appointment!  March 2, 2017.  My left ovary had a follicle that was developing nicely.  I was so nervous when I got the call from the clinic and I just repeated what the nurse said to me a million times to make sure I heard it correctly.  I probably sounded like a rambling idiot, but I just couldn’t believe we actually had a date!  I might be pregnant in a couple of weeks!!!  Tears welled up in my eyes and I called my wife right away to tell her the news.  If a phone call for an appointment can make me cry, can you imagine the effect pregnancy hormones will have on me?  I’m sure lucky my wife thinks I’m cute.

The final step before the IUI appointment was not something I was particularly excited about: an injection of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).  This injection induces ovulation within 24-36 hours, so the idea is that you take it 36 hours before the insemination so that the sperm is waiting in the fallopian tubes for the egg to arrive.  An egg can survive for about 24-48 hours, whereas sperm can live up to 5 days!  So gross, right?  I like to think of hCG as a little kick for the egg to jump out of it’s follicular home and find a sperm friend!

I can’t even count the number of injections I’ve given to patients over the years, but I have never injected myself with anything and it was kind of freaking me out.  I went to the pharmacy on my way home from work and picked up the medication.  The brand name was Ovidrel and it was $96 for one dose (cha ching!).  For that price, this stuff had better work.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it in a pre-filled syringe pen, which meant I didn’t have to use my cool nursing skills drawing it out of a multi-dose vial.  The injection was to be done at 10:30pm on Tuesday, as our IUI appointment was for 10:30 am on Thursday.  The Ovidrel is supposed to induce ovulation within 24-36 hours, which is why the IUI procedure is scheduled for 36 hours after the injection.  My wife and I are basically grandmas already, because 10:30 pm is waaay past our bedtime, but of course we made an exception for something so important.

At 10:25, I began preparing the syringe, which just required a little flicking and clicking of the dial to ensure the correct dosage.  It was a subcutaneous injection (which means it goes below the skin, in some fatty tissue) and I didn’t have any trouble finding a pudgy bit on my tummy.  I cleansed the area with an alcohol swab, took a deep breath and plunged the needle in.  Seeing how freaked out I was, my sweet wife offered to give me the injection for me, but I figured it might hurt less if I did it myself.  I slowly injected the Ovidrel and held the needle in place for a full 10 seconds after finishing, just to make sure the entire dose was delivered.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, thank goodness, but it wasn’t high up on my list of things to do on a Tuesday night.

On top of all of this, I had to rearrange my work schedule around all of these various appointments, which again isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but also increases the stress of the process.  I’m lucky that I have a decently flexible job with vacation days and a supportive manager and staff, otherwise I’m not sure how we would have been able to do it.  Our big appointment on March 2, meant we both had to take an entire day off of work, as the clinic is 2 hours away.  But we really didn’t care too much about that, as it meant we were one more little step closer to starting a family.

-K

P.S. – If you’re enjoying reading our journey so far, you should follow me  because it’s gonna get juicy soon!  If you scroll up, you should see a box show up in the bottom right hand corner where you can enter your email address.  Thanks for the support!   ♥

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The Pick – Finding Our Dream Sperm Donor

Now that we knew the direction we were headed, it was time for the fun part: sperm shopping!  To be honest, we weren’t really sure what to expect from the whole experience.  Was it just like a big Sears catalog or something?

Actually, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what it’s like.

There were three sperm banks that were recommended to us by our fertility doctor: Repromed, Fairfax and Outreach Health Services.  Our doctor had said that all the sperm banks have fairly comparable prices (higher prices were for extended genetic testing and “open” donors who were willing to be contacted in the future) and the quality and testing of the sperm is all federally regulated. So, we just started browsing through the different catalogs to see what exactly this process was about.  Everyone I talk to about this always wants to know: what do you get to know about the donors?  Are there pictures?!

You get to know pretty much everything you could know about a person, without actually meeting them.  And yes, we get to see some pictures too!

The Repromed sperm bank, for example, shows the race, maternal and paternal ethnic ancestry, blood type, hair colour, eye colour, skin tone, height, weight, bone size, education, occupation, interests, CMV status, if the donor is open to future contact (or not) and donor portfolio (which includes more details on family history, personality and some pictures of the donor’s eyes/ears/hair/lips/body type and a blurred out photo of the donor, to protect privacy).  And then, if that’s not enough, there is the option to upgrade (for an extra fee, of course) to see extended donor profiles that include a temperament report, donor essay explaining why they wanted to donate, audio recording of an interview, donor likeness photographs and staff impressions.  The other sperm banks had a similar set-up with the bulk of the donor information available on their website (sometimes you needed to create a login to view the profiles) and then additional information available at an extra cost.  The American sperm banks even let us see pictures of the donor from childhood into adulthood!  It was just like Facebook!

We began this whole process knowing very generally what we were looking for in a donor: some post-secondary education (both my wife and I have a couple of degrees and we value education very highly), overall good health, good family history, creative and somewhat talented in the arts (both of us love music!), intelligent and active.  So, basically the perfect man.  Should be easy enough to find, right?

I sometimes get overwhelmed picking a movie on Netflix (that’s now my wife’s job, thank goodness), so to preserve my sanity we started with some criteria that were easy to narrow down.  After coming up with a “short list” of donors, we could then move on to the other aspects of the donor.  As we quickly discovered, it didn’t take much time to get bogged down in the various personality traits and specifics of each donor.  To us, the easiest criteria to narrow down was the Rh factor and CMV status (more on this below!), since they were a simple “positive” or “negative”.  Making a baby never sounded so romantic, right?  Rh and CMV aren’t often considered when a straight couple decides to start trying to have a baby.  In fact, I know lots of people that don’t even know their own blood type, let alone the blood type of their partner that they are trying to get pregnant with!  At around $800 (or more) a pop, we figured we would go for perfection and pick our dream donor.

Rh factor (short for “Rhesus factor”) is a protein present on the surface of red blood cells.  This protein can be present or absent in people, which is where the “positive” and “negative” comes from when talking about blood type.  I have O negative blood, which means I have O type blood and no Rh factor present on my red blood cells.  According to Canadian Blood Services, only about 15% of Canadians are Rh negative (with similar statistics around the world).  This means that our choices for an Rh negative donor will be quite significantly limited.

So, what’s the big deal?  Why does that matter when picking a sperm donor?

Well, that’s where it gets a bit complicated.  Obviously, an Rh positive and Rh negative couple can still have a baby (otherwise our population would be a whole lot smaller!), but the complications come when the baby is Rh positive and the mother is Rh negative.  This is called an Rh incompatibility.  If the mother is exposed to the fetal blood (normally the placenta prevents mixing of maternal and fetal blood) through trauma, amniocentesis or bleeding during pregnancy, then the mother will create Rh antibodies.  These antibodies are designed to damage Rh proteins and can cause problems in future pregnancies, if future babies are also Rh positive.  The maternal antibodies can damage the baby’s red blood cells and result in severe anemia (very low hemoglobin).  Confused yet?  If you’re nerdy like me, this is a nice FAQ page from the American College of Obstetricians and  Gynecologists about Rh incompatibility.  There is treatment in the form of an injection that mothers can receive to prevent formation of these Rh antibodies that is given in the seventh month of pregnancy and after delivery.  Our fertility doctor told us that it’s not the end of the world if our dream donor happens to be Rh positive, but it would just mean having those injections and slightly higher risk than finding an Rh negative donor.

I promise we’ll stop with the biology lesson soon, but one more thing!  CMV status.  Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a fairly common virus that does not present with symptoms in people with healthy immune systems.  It can be problematic in people with weakened immune systems, as well as babies who are infected before they are born (this is called congenital CMV).  Congenital CMV can cause premature birth, lung/liver/spleen problems, small size at birth, among other symptoms.  There is a very, very low chance of transmitting CMV through a sperm sample, but the risk is not zero.  Therefore, it is worth considering when selecting a donor.

Now that we had our short list of Rh negative and CMV negative donors, we narrowed down based on our other criteria.  We were left with about 5 donors.  All had good education, good family history and positive personality traits like confidence and creativity.  On paper, they were all perfect men with glowing DNA.  So, where do we go from here?

After some discussion, we decided that we wanted to find a donor that was very similar to my wife.  It was important to both of us that she feel connected with the baby, so finding a donor that shared some of her key personality traits and interests seemed like a good place to start.  My wife is delightfully dorky (in a Battlestar Galactica kind of way) and she is very talented with all things math related.  Her intelligence makes me swoon and her nerdy comments make me roll my eyes on a regular basis.  Picking a donor that was similar to her, would be as close as we could get to have a baby that shared both of our DNA.

With this in mind, we narrowed our short list down to our dream donor.  He had a bachelor’s degree and works with computers (nerd factor: check!), blonde hair and blue eyes (just like my wife!), he enjoys theatre and acting (artsy factor: check!) and was open to the child contacting him in the future.  On that note, we had some debate around whether we wanted an open donor or not.  I felt very strongly that we should give our child the oppourtunity to reach out and contact him in the future.  We can’t predict what will be important to our child, and I wouldn’t want to regret having closed that door forever.

At the end of the weekend (we spent two days making our decision) we came to the realization that as much as we try and control the variables, the nature of creating a child is that DNA is all random anyway!  We can’t predict if our kid is going to end up with my brown eyes or our donor’s blue eyes.  But any way our child turns out, he or she will be so, so loved.  And that is what’s really important.

-K

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