IVF Pregnancy at 41
As I shared in my last blog, we decided to take our Chinese medicine doctor’s advice and schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist. By that point I had emotionally hit a wall. At first getting pregnant and losing it felt like a good sign that I could actually get pregnant. But when I didn’t get pregnant the following month I emotionally crashed. I felt like I had done all I could, and now it was time to get some help from the miracles of modern medicine
In the first part of this blog I share our journey through IVF, and in the second I share what made our experience with our fertlity doctor such a positive one.
Our IVF Journey
A soul sister of mine gave me a recommendation for a fertility doctor she had success with, and we met with Dr. Smotrich for the first time on December 21st2017. I was nervous and skeptical going into the meeting. My experience with a previous OBGYN and some western med doctors, while healing my thyroid, weren’t great. During this appointment we were hoping to get a straightforward picture of what our fertility odds and options were.
In the first meeting with Dr. S., it became obvious how incredibly oblivious I was regarding fertility in your forties. The majority of women in their 40s (who don’t already have frozen embryos or eggs) are using egg donors, and the odds of naturally conceiving a healthy baby at 40+ is 5%. On top of that, 40 is the magic age that fertility begins to decline significantly each month. For some women, that happens in your 30s.
At “freshly forty,” as Dr. S. said, we had some quick decisions to make. In that first meeting we agreed to move forward, whether that be IUI, IVF, or other, depending on test results. I cleared my travel schedule for the first quarter of 2018 and made a follow up appointment for our genetic testing and exams
We discovered that while most of my numbers were in range for someone my age (which still wasn’t promising), my follicle count was below average. And if you’re reading this and are completely clueless as to what that means, like I was, it basically means you need the follicle to catch the egg. The greater the number of follicles, the greater the possibility of eggs.
Oh, and don’t worry, my husband’s numbers were hand-shaking, congratulatory “exceptional” so this fell squarely on me. The majority of me was excited about his great numbers, and a small part of me wanted to wipe the big Cheshire cat smile right off his face. 😉
Based on these results, and the statistics of having a healthy baby over the age of 40, we decided to proceed with IVF, including genetic testing for any resulting embryos.
My First Egg Retrieval
In February 2018, I had my first egg retrieval procedure. Prep for that included two weeks of shots and regular appointments (blood work and routine vaginal ultrasounds) to measure all of my levels and follicles. The retrieval procedure resulted in four eggs, three of which fertilized and grew strong enough for genetic testing. One embryo was so chromosomally mangled gender couldn’t be determined. One was too abnormal to survive pregnancy (girl). Thankfully, one was healthy (boy).
One of the more emotional points during the fertility journey for me was the period after the egg retrieval. Waiting to see if they fertilized. Waiting to see if they were healthy. Anticipating each phone call from Dr. S. Keeping the faith when it looked like our worst fears might be realized…no healthy embryos.
I also had to process some grief I felt around the results of the first egg retrieval. While I see it differently now, at the time I was disappointed we only had one healthy embryo. A lot of fears surged through my mind. IVF doesn’t usually work the first time. What would we do if that embryo didn’t result in a pregnancy? Would this mean I could only have one child? And honestly, I was surprised there wasn’t a healthy girl embryo. My intuition strongly felt the presence of a girl.
After the results from the first egg retrieval we had another decision to make. Ultimately, we decided to do another egg retrieval. Our chances of pregnancy were greater if we had two embryos to transfer (we were open to twins). The only other option, aside from doing another egg retrieval, was using an egg donor, which at that point I wasn’t emotionally ready to consider.
My clothes were definitely tighter after the first egg retrieval procedure, thanks to all to all of the hormone injections. They’re no joke, and I definitely didn’t feel like myself when I was on them. Creativity zapped. Mood flat. Tired all the time. But by far the worst part of the first egg retrieval was my first cycle following the procedure. They warn you it’s bad, but in my experience, bad doesn’t begin to cover it. Grueling would be a more accurate description.
Thankfully, a few weeks before my second egg retrieval, I started to feel like myself again.
My Second Egg Retrieval
Our second one was scheduled for April 22nd, leading up to the pink full moon. Between that and spinning the sperm to favor a girl, I was hoping for a healthy girl embryo
This time I did something different on my end, and it paid off. I did not experience the same physical and emotional aftermath this time around, and we got healthier and a greater number of embryos. (Don’t worry, I share all about that in another blog!)
I woke up from the second egg retrieval to a smile from our doctor, who had been able to extract five eggs this time. We were hoping for four, so five was a big victory! AND, all five eggs initially looked healthier than the previous round! Double bonus.
I remember being at a garden club plant sale the following Saturday and getting a call from Dr. S. to report that all five eggs had fertilized and were strong enough to be genetically tested. I was THRILLED. I thought this meant that we would have enough embryos for multiple transfers in case the first one didn’t take. (Most people have a bank of multiple embryos to get through several IVF rounds.)
A few days later I got another phone called from the doctor letting me know that four of the five embryos failed, and they were doing additional testing on the remaining one. I didn’t feel super confident in the results of that last embryo based on his tone. I felt devastated.
I couldn’t have mentally, emotionally or physically withstood a third egg retrieval, so we began the process of accepting all possibilities. One kid. No kid. Explore other options.
I felt my way through the grief and dug deeper into my faith. I chose to believe that somehow, someway I would get pregnant with a healthy baby that was genetically ours. We were taking the actions that we believed best led to that, but maybe IVF wasn’t the answer. Maybe the “how” was going to be different.
The morning after I dug deep into my faith, and released the “how,” I was in the backyard with my pets, and my phone rang. Dr. S called, and I knew it was good news by the tone of his voice. (Anytime it was bad news he said he’s doing “well” and anytime it was good news he said he’s doing “terrific” when I asked.) The little girl embryo was healthy!!! I literally cry now as I type that – it was one of the most intense and joyful moments of my life. My husband had just boarded a cross-country flight, but I remember celebrating excitedly over the phone with my dad, my friend, and my sister. This great blessing helped balance the fact that my pants no longer fit!!!
Our First Embryo Transfer
Our embryo transfer was scheduled for Friday, July 20th. I began more rounds of shots, this time different ones, and my body blew up. Nothing fit except dresses.
My work with Ling (Chinese medicine) paid off and I finally got some A+ remarks from the doctor. My lining was as good as it gets, the plush layers were like “Angelina Jolie lips,” they said (or Mick Jagger, depending on your generation ;-)).
The closer it got, the more paralyzed I became with fear. As I mentioned, IVF doesn’t always work the first time around. We were transferring our only two embryos. If it didn’t work, we’d have none left and be back at the starting line. (I’ll share links below to blogs about how I processed the fear and aligned with a successful IVF transfer.)
I justified that my odds of success were greater than average because of: the work I did with Ling, Dr. S’s expertise, and we were transferring two genetically viable. I allowed that to become my deeply rooted belief.
The transfer appeared to go well, and by Tuesday July 24th, after several days of mandatory bedrest, I knew I was pregnant. The symptoms I was experiencing then were the exact same symptoms I experienced when I got pregnant the year before.
Today I am 20 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby girl. YIPPIEEE!
While we transferred two embryos and only one stuck around, we both immediately felt very peaceful with the result and incredibly grateful that we are having a baby. We felt that if both were meant to have come down, they would have. We can’t wait to meet and enjoy our little girl!
Obviously, our work with Dr. Smotrich was a huge success. We couldn’t have been happier with the result or the experience of working with him and his staff. After speaking to more women, I’ve come to realize that not everyone has the same experience or outcome as we did with La Jolla IVF.
The reasons I loved working with Dr. Smotrich
Here are some reasons why working with La Jolla IVF was such a great experience. I hope this helps you as you begin looking for your own fertility specialist.
- Not all doctors and clinics are equal
Dr. Smotrich is a leading expert and pioneer in the fertility field. The first time we arrived at his office (15 min away from our home), the receptionist asked where we flew in from because the majority of clients travel from about the world to work with him. (I was often the only English-speaking patient in the waiting room.)
Working with Dr. S calmed my nerves because he is a complete perfectionist, and he and his staff are on top of every single detail, guiding you each step of the way. He religiously monitored numbers and levels prior to any procedure, adjusting anything as needed. When you have brain fog from hormone injections, knowing you’re receiving that level of care and detailed attention is priceless.
They offer to send a nurse to your house if you need help with shots, or you can stop by the office if you need help. They were available for questions around the clock. And, La Jolla IVF’s embryo and egg freezing process is top notch. Individual alarms for tanks, daily testing on tank levels, and a thorough notification system. (In case any of you are weary after the Cleveland fertility clinic failure this year.)
Some clinics take insurance, some don’t. Some insurance plans cover IVF, some don’t, some partially do. Make sure you do your research and select the best doctor for your budget. I’d also recommend talking to someone who has worked with a clinic you’re considering. Listen to their experience. Also, check out success rates, which each clinic will have, but be mindful that the number doesn’t always tell the whole picture. Some fertility doctors will reject clients whose cases seem too difficult because they want to preserve their success statistics. Dr. S’s track record is excellent, AND he does not reject clients based on difficulty.
- Find the right match
Like my thyroid doctor, I knew immediately Dr. Smotrich was our guy. My husband felt the same way. In our first meeting with Dr. S., he was straightforward and scientific, using cutting-edge fertility techniques, as well as warm, calm, humble and not pushy. You could feel that his heart was as big as his brain. That was exactly what we were looking for in a fertility specialist
During the course of our work together, and the many phone calls he made to me to give me results, I could tell immediately by his voice whether the news was good or bad. Because his joy over good news was palpable. He had a childlike excitement in his energy field when good things happened. 🙂
Dr. S is ultimately a scientist with a very strong faith system, which was the perfect blend for us. I had a dream in which my friend and I were pressuring him to mediate. (I guess I’m pushy even in my dreams???) When I told him that, he said, I don’t do that, but I do pray over your body after each procedure if it is okay with you.Um, YES. How amazing, right?
He also gave me boosts of positivity in moments I needed it, that were genuine and based on what he was seeing on his end from a medical perspective. One day he knew by my face I wasn’t in a great space, which I admitted it when he asked. He shared some words of encouragement, which were exactly what I needed to help me snap out of it.
He also focused on one step at a time. Going through an IVF process can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re focusing on the entire picture at once. Focusing on one step at a time makes it more manageable and less stressful. I routinely was asked by people in my life, what’s next. And I’d honestly say, I have no idea. I’m just focusing on this step.
- Look for the little things; they end up feeling big
If you are trying to get pregnant, or have had struggles with it in the past, the worst feeling is walking into a waiting room and seeing a bunch of pregnant women. It’s like a mirror reflecting all of your most painful feelings, worries, fears and anxieties. If you’re doing IVF through an OBGYN, the chances are good that you’re going to be surrounded by pregnant women in the waiting room.
One of the things that I loved about Dr. S’s office is that it’s a fertility clinic, meaning you only see Dr. S through week 10 of your pregnancy, when no bellies are showing. On top of that, La Jolla IVF schedules ultrasounds at different times of day depending on where you’re at in your fertility process. If you’re pregnant it’s 12 and on. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s morning. As someone who is super sensitive to energy, I loved that.
Most doctors’ offices are boxy (sharp edges and corners), white, small and sterile looking. Spaces with sharp points and corners can be subliminally interpreted as threatening and in response create tension and stress in our bodies. Obviously the more relaxed we are during the IVF process, the greater chance for success. Dr. S optimized his office for comfort, relaxation and health.
The walls are painted soothing and calming colors. The waiting room is filled with curves: rug, desks, ceilings and walls. The exam rooms are spacious. The flow of the office space is cleanly separated by procedure type. And trust me, when you’re going in for your 50thvaginal ultrasound, waiting alone in a room to hear whether your follicles grew longer and stronger, or to see your baby for the first time, you want to receive as much support as possible, even if it’s from the space you’re in.
Another reflection of Dr. S’s heartfelt connection to his work was his staff. Employees who I didn’t know would come out of offices to congratulate me… when I got pregnant, when I “graduated fertility school.” Their excitement was as palpable as the doctor’s, and I was impressed that as a team they seemed to know exactly where each patient was at in their journey.
That support existed prior to successful outcomes too. Each staff member from the Nurse Practitioner to the nurses drawing blood seemed to be able to read exactly where you were at and provide supportive comments or even distract me when that was what I needed. The staff at La Jolla IVF is definitely an extension of Dr. S.’s positive and heartfelt energy and expertise.
To read more about how I processed my fears during the IVF process, click here
To read more about how I energetically aligned with a successful IVF outcome, click here.
To read more about what I did that contributed to healthier egg quality, click here.
Molly Hamill, MA, is a certified life coach, Kundalini yogini and mediation enthusiast. She works with people around the country helping them lose their stress and feel their best. After recovering from her own health journey (Hashimoto's Hypothyroiditis, Adrenal Fatigue, and Leaky Gut), she is especially passionate about helping others establish mindsets and habits that support their health and happiness. For more information about Molly, get her weekly emails (sign up in green bar below), follow her on her Instagram and Facebook page, or chat with her in her private Facebook group, where she posts daily to help keep you connected with truth, dreams and desires. Prior to breaking free of the 9-5 life, she was an award-winning human resources executive for a national healthcare company.