This month, take some time to prioritize you. September is PCOS Awareness Month, a national event to support the millions of women in the United States who...
After Erin Bulcao got married in 2009, she and her husband didn’t wait long before trying to conceive. Erin stopped taking her birth control, which she had been on since she was 15. To her surprise, she never got her period. Every month she’d take pregnancy tests, and every month they were negative. “I started thinking the tests were wrong, and I developed a really bad relationship with the tests. I would go through boxes before believing that they were wrong,” Erin said. She and her husband went to the doctor, who told Erin that she wasn’t ovulating on her own and that she’d need help with her fertility. Erin was only 26 at the time, and her husband was 30. “It was disheartening,” Erin said, “We went to the fertility center with our heads layed low, feeling a little embarrassed. I had no idea that people under age 40 or 45 needed fertility treatments.”
Erin had an ultrasound which revealed she had a lot of follicles on her own, but she needed help to grow these follicles into mature eggs. Her husband’s sperm was tested, and had great numbers. They moved forward with a medicated IUI, and it worked. Erin and her husband were overjoyed about the pregnancy. However, soon after, she felt like something was wrong. “I ended up bleeding like crazy, so I went to the doctor. It turned out that I had multiples. I had dropped three eggs, and I was carrying triplets,” Erin said. All of the babies were healthy, but the doctor suggested a reduction because Erin is a small person. He said that there was no way she would be able to carry triplets- it wouldn’t be safe for her or the babies. “It was kind of scary because we were going through these fertility treatments to get pregnant. And now, I had the doctor asking me to reduce down to twins,” Erin said. It was a difficult decision, because she felt like she and her husband had already been through a lot to get pregnant. In the end, they decided to listen to their doctor and get the reduction. “We knew we were making the right decision but it was still really hard,” she said. Erin and her husband were still really young, and this was all a lot to handle. This process was difficult, but Erin delivered her twins, full term, and they were perfectly healthy. “Looking back, I do think we made the right decision about the reduction because the twins were healthy. I think if there was a third in there, there’s no way they would have all been healthy,” Erin said. Her twins are now nine years old.
When Erin’s twins were six years old, she and her husband decided to start trying for another baby. “We both kind of knew in the back of our heads that we’d probably need fertility treatments,” she explained. Erin hadn’t been on any kind of birth control- so they hadn’t been trying for a baby, but at the same time they hadn’t not been trying. They decided to move forward with IVF, partially because they wanted to avoid multiples. “We went in very blindly,” Erin said, reflecting on how she began IVF without knowing much about the process or what to expect. She assumed that because IVF was more controlled, it would almost definitely work. They did one round of injections and only ended up with one normal embryo after genetic testing. They decided to transfer that embryo, and it failed. “We were devastated. I just didn’t think that it could fail,” Erin said. It was especially surprising because they had had a successful IUI on their first try.
Erin jumped into another retrieval and got similar numbers. Her transfer failed again. They tried another IUI, thinking that this treatment may be better for her body. This failed as well. This was hard on both Erin and her husband, who took a break from trying that summer. In September of 2018, they went back to trying, and Erin decided to switch clinics. “I had started to feel like my clinic was like a well-oiled machine,” she said. “I had only seen my doctor three times that entire year.” She felt that switching doctors would be best for her. The new doctor ran many new tests which she had never had done before, including a hysteroscopy. Soon after, they began a new IVF cycle, where they ended up with three embryos, which they didn’t test. They transferred one embryo, in December of 2018, and it worked.
Erin and her husband were devastated when she miscarried about eight weeks into the pregnancy. “We had heard the heartbeat, and everything seemed to be fine. So when we lost the baby, that was really hard. We had thought, now we’re pregnant, that’s it.” Erin felt like she had worked so hard, and been through so much to get pregnant, so the loss was hard on her. The doctors ended up asking her to take two misoprostol pills, which was traumatic for Erin because it all happened at home. The doctors wanted her to catch her own tissue, and take it into the office. She then had a D & C three months later. This was all really difficult for Erin. The loss of a baby on top of all the fertility treatments and disappointment she had gone through was overwhelming, and traumatic.
Erin waited a bit before trying another cycle in order to let her body heal. She and her husband tested the two embryos they had left, transferred one, and it failed. Then, they did one more egg retrieval in the summer of 2019. The doctors added a new hormone to Erin’s protocol to help with egg quality. She had begun to see an acupuncturist every week. She was also taking AGA and all recommended vitamins. They did the retrieval, and got three normal embryos, which was the best result they had ever gotten. They did a transfer but it didn’t take, and the doctors thought she may have still had some inflammation from the miscarriage. They did a pelvic MRI to check, and ended up putting her on letrozole for three months, as well as other antibiotics. They did their sixth transfer in December of 2019, and it failed.
This failed transfer was particularly hard for Erin. She had started taking new medications and had made lifestyle changes to improve her chances, and it wasn’t seeming to make a difference. It was frustrating. “When you’re going through infertility, you feel like you need to fix things. You want to figure out how to cure yourself, and most of the time there’s not really a real answer,” she said. Erin had unexplained infertility, so she was never exactly sure what was stopping her from reaching her goals. She felt, after six transfers, she still didn’t have an answer of why it wasn’t working. She was devastated after this failed transfer, because after taking her medication for three months, she felt like she was fixing something, and it still didn’t work. “It was really hard, I was really depressed, and I’m sure that coming off of all those hormones didn’t help,” she said.
Erin decided to switch doctors within the same clinic. Her new doctor made her feel lighter about everything- he said they were just “missing the right side of the coin,” and encouraged them to keep trying .“I just didn't know many people who did what would now be seven IVF transfers. It felt like a lot,” Erin said. She felt discouraged. The support of her doctor, in tandem with that of the fertility community, inspired Erin to try again. She had been following a couple on Instagram that had gotten pregnant on their seventh IVF cycle, and it gave Erin hope. “The pregnancy announcements from the women who had been struggling gave me so much joy and so much hope, because I felt like it could work. That really kept me going.”
They transferred their last normal embryo. “During the two week wait, I was a bit more myself again,” Erin said, describing how she moved her body every day, and felt less stressed about everything she was eating, drinking, or doing. Finally, Erin found out that the transfer worked. She is now 33 weeks pregnant! Erin is thankful because their transfer was two weeks before COVID hit. She’s grateful that they were able to get the cycle in before everything shut down. The only downside is that because of COVID safety regulations, her husband can’t come to her doctors appointments with her. “That’s been hard because I do have PTSD from infertility and my miscarraige. Thankfully my RE was really awesome at the beginning. I asked to come in a lot in the first trimester.” Her RE let Erin come into the office often to check on everything. Erin really appreciated this after all that she had been through. When reflecting on how it’s been being pregnant during COVID, Erin said, “When you’ve been struggling for so long, there isn’t a bad time to have a baby. For me, it was always a good thing.” After all that Erin and her husband have struggled with, they are so happy and so excited about the new baby they’re finally welcoming into their family.
Being diagnosed with unexplained infertility was frustrating for Erin, who felt like she never had answers. “It was definitely hard for me,” Erin said, “I would wonder, if this doesn’t work, what’s going to change next time? The fact that you don’t know how to fix what’s going on, and on top of that, not knowing what to do differently if something fails, is really frustrating.” Looking back on her journey through infertility, Erin feels like there were not enough resources or support systems. She would only talk to two friends about her infertility, and they were supportive, but they really didn’t understand what she was going through. She started posting her story on her blog and Instagram to connect with women who had experienced similar things. When she opened up online, she realized how many people went through fertility challenges. “It’s been night and day,” Erin said, reflecting on the massive difference the fertility community has made for her. “I started my Instagram, and the response was so positive. The people were so welcoming, and they allowed me to have a voice that I didn’t feel I had before.” The more support Erin received, the more she was willing to share. Women started reaching out to her, letting her know that she made them feel less alone. “I realized that my vulnerability was helping other people,” Erin said. She digs deep on her online platforms, sharing a lot and not filtering out much. Erin wants to help and support the fertility community, who gave her so much hope during her journey.
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