This blog post is written by Dr. Lucky Sekhon, reproductive endocrinologist, infertility specialist, board certified OBGYN, at RMA of New York. Dr. Sekhon has particular expertise in fertility...
“My infertility journey allowed me to develop the traits of who I am today,” said Marilyn Gomez. “Today I am brave, I am open, and vulnerable. I feel like if pregnancy had come easily to me, I wouldn’t have developed those traits. Now, I use these things that I didn’t have before in order to talk openly about infertility and be a voice for women who suffer quietly.” When Marilyn and her husband got married in 2009, they thought they wanted a big family. Both of them had a lot of siblings and cousins, and pictured family gatherings as big events. After they got married they didn’t wait long before they started trying to conceive. However, Marilyn thought that something was wrong after they’d been having unprotected sex for a while, yet she wasn’t getting pregnant.
She decided to visit her OBGYN. The doctor told Marilyn, who was 27 at the time, that she was young and that there was nothing to worry about. She put Marilyn on Clomid. This was in 2009, and there wasn’t a lot of information available about fertility. “I was in my late 20s, I didn’t think that the term ‘infertility’ pertained to me,” Marilyn said. She did six cycles of Clomid, and nothing happened. Marilyn felt like something was wrong, but had no answers. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I wasn’t even sure what to Google,” she said. She was young, and new to the world of fertility. Whie Marilyn is now passionate about advocating for yourself and asking questions, at the time, she didn’t realize that she could raise any questions of concerns to her doctor. “When you keep getting reassured by a doctor that everything is okay, and you know that you’re supposed to try for a year, I just thought I was doing everything I was supposed to do,” she said.
Marilyn’s colleague at work had been discussing her journey through fertility treatments, and mentioned a doctor that helped her. Marilyn went home, looked up this doctor, and made an appointment. The doctor was a reproductive endocrinologist. At the time, Marilyn didn’t even know what an RE was. She went to her appointment, and the doctor told her, “you’re young, but let’s see if there’s anything going on inside.” They did a laparoscopy and found uterine polyps and mild endometriosis. Marilyn had these removed, and was told that everything should be fine now. Unfortunately, she still wasn’t getting pregnant after the polyps were removed. By now, it was 2011.“It was really hard. I started thinking, maybe I just wasn’t meant to be a mom,” Marilyn said.
In 2012 Marilyn and her husband moved to Utah, where Marilyn went to a new clinic. The doctor there said they should try IUIs. Maryilyn did seven IUIs, and nothing happened. They just weren’t getting positive pregnancy tests. At this point, the doctor said, “you’re young, there shouldn’t be anything wrong.” This didn’t sit right with Marilyn, who had been trying to conceive for years now. “He had no answers for me,” she said. Around this time, Marilyn started to go on Instagram and read what some women were posting about infertility. She found the TTC hashtags, and realized how many women were going through similar experiences. One woman in the community had shared that she had low vitamin D levels, and that taking a vitamin D supplement may have helped her get pregnant. When Marilyn asked her doctor about this, he completely shut her down and didn’t even entertain the conversation. “That’s when I knew this wasn’t the doctor for me. He wasn’t even open to having a dialogue. That’s when I realized I can and should ask questions, and advocate for myself,” Marilyn said.
She found a new RE, who started her on IVF right away. “Looking back and reflecting on that time, she didn’t do any additional testing before the IVF. There was nothing, I was a template again,” Marilyn said. Before starting IVF, Marilyn was hopeful that it would work. “I thought IVF was a guaranteed baby. I thought, it’s so expensive it must lead to a baby. Everyone was congratulating me that I was doing IVF.” After her first IVF cycle, she got a positive beta test, but had a chemical pregnancy. This was the first time she’d ever heard that term. This is when Marilyn’s doctor diagnosed her with unexplained infertility. This was a frustrating diagnosis for Marilyn. “You’re telling me that with all the science and information there is, there’s no reason why I can’t get pregnant?” she said, “It was mind blowing. I felt like I had no plan.” She felt like, because she didn’t know what was wrong, she didn’t know what to do to fix anything. She went right into another round of IVF, and had four eggs that made it to day five. She transferred two the next day. Marilyn did this transfer around the holidays, and on Christmas day, the nurse called her to tell her that her hormone levels weren’t going up, and that she was miscarrying. This was very hard on Marilyn, who up to this point, hadn’t really thought of herself as ‘infertile’. “That’s when it hit me- I am infertile. It took the loss of the second IVF for me to realize, this is infertility,” she said.
After this loss, Marilyn took a break from trying to conceive for four months. During that time, she was posting about her experience on Instagram. In 2015 one woman messaged her on Instagram and said she had a friend who got pregnant after having a really hard time conceiving with the help of a clinic in Colorado. Marilyn was living in Utah, pretty close to the clinic this woman was recommending. She decided to do IVF one more time, but that she needed to start going to therapy first. “I had lost myself,” she said, “I didn’t know who I was anymore. The things that brought me joy no longer did. My life was gray in a world that was colorful.” Her therapist was incredible, and helped Marilyn get to a point where she could invions a life without children. She also did group therapy with four other women who were going through similar things, which helped Marilyn realize she was not alone.
In March of 2015, Marilyn flew to Colorado. She did a phone consultation with the clinic before she went, and decided she was ready to go. “I told my husband, if this doesn’t work, I am ready to live child free. I can no longer do this, but I’m ready to do it one more time,” she said. When she got there, the clinic ran all of these tests and panels that Mailyn had never received before. “That’s when I realized the other clinics I was going to weren’t catering to my body’s needs,” she said. She moved forward with her IVF cycle and got 17 eggs, with four which made it to day five. They genetically tested the embryos, and two were normal. They transferred both, and Marilyn got pregnant with one. She carried the pregnancy to full term and gave birth to her daughter in 2016.
Through her long journey to conceiving, Marilyn has learned the importance of finding support through community. The fertility community helped her realize how vital it is to advocate for yourself and your healthcare. It has taught her to ask questions, and to stand up for herself. “We know our bodies better than our physicians do”, she said. The community also provided her with unprecedented support. She is thankful that she was able to share and connect with others throughout her journey. Marilyn also believes that therapy was a very important step in her journey. It allowed her to heal, and to feel more like herself. She eventually went back to her clinic in Utah, and tried a transfer with her remaining frozen embryos. This cycle failed, and although this was hard on Marilyn, she had done a lot of work mentally to remain strong through this. “I know now that the number of kids I have doesn’t define my value or my worth,” she said. Marilyn has her daughter, and she knows that that’s what is right for her. “I closed the chapter of trying to conceive, so that I can be a better mom, partner, sister and friend. I want to be fully present in this community,” she said. She’s gained so many friends, and so much knowledge from the fertility community. Even though she’s done trying to conceive, Marilyn remains passionate about helping others stay strong through their journeys, and learn how to advocate for themselves.
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