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Unexplained Infertility Explained

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet a very respected and prominent embryologist. I was thrilled to talk to him not just because he is a pioneer in the industry but because he arrived while I was taking a call from a gentleman inquiring about whether any clinic could help get him pregnant. No, he was not a sea horse and yes, I do believe he thought the movie JUNIOR was a documentary. I politely explained that he does not have a womb and that his options consisted of finding a surrogate or adopting. My point is it was a pleasure to go from a man who must have dodged Junior High Health Class to someone intelligent and enlightening.

During my conversation with the embryologist, I mentioned to him my personal experience with IVF. Quickly, these are my brief fertility reports:

IVF 1 – 8 eggs retrieved, 2 embryos
IVF 2 – 10 eggs retrieved, 1 embryo
IVF 3 – 13 eggs retrieved, 1 embryo

When I told him this, he actually said, “Yikes!” Not really the reaction I was going for. He went into this incredibly long analysis on what might have gone wrong. I wish I could tell you what he said but I simply couldn’t follow it let alone to repeat it. There were a lot of big words, sperm was mentioned and I felt as clueless as the guy I spoke with earlier in the day.

My favorite part though of this conversation was after this long dissertation on what possibly went wrong with my cycles, he added at the very end, “Or… it could have been stress.” Stress? Really? So basically one of the top embryologists in the industry and my mother have come to the same conclusion on why I had issues getting pregnant.

My son (the lone embryo from my 3rd IVF) will be turning one in a few days (click here for the post about when we brought him home). And no, I can’t believe it. Every time I think about this, I burst into tears. Part of it is extreme joy and gratitude and another part of it is the overwhelming sense of loss. The baby I never thought I’d have is now officially a toddler… and I will most likely never have another baby again.

Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough – I’m so f*cking humble and beyond grateful that he’s here. My astonishment that he’s mine, that we have this beautiful little boy who is loving, funny and worships both his parents and Elmo (I hope he likes us more but it’s very hard to tell) is never ending. Even when he’s crying, even when he’s not sleeping, even when he poops on… well… pretty much everything… I always think, “I’m so lucky. I’m just so grateful.” Truly.

However, as I said in my last post, I’ve been trying to reconcile that another child is not a very strong possibility. I firmly believe that even though, as we say often in the infertility world, “Hey! You got one! Shut up and be happy!”, I reserve the right to be disappointed that I can’t expand our family… or have a girl that I can put princess dresses on. I can tell you now – my son is not a fan of princess dresses. I’m just saying.

I have always been told that I have “Unexplained Infertility”. Frankly, the more time has gone one and more I’ve learned, the more I think, “Unexplained Infertility” really translates to, “I can’t find anything obviously wrong with you so let’s just dump you in this category so I don’t have to think about it.”

A clinic somewhere (I wish I could remember who) has on their website, “We don’t believe in Unexplained Infertility and neither should you.” I love that.

After speaking with this embryologist and thinking about whether or not my reproductive parts are really all that much of a mystery, I made a decision: I was going to go back to the doctor that I did my last successful cycle with and ask her now that everything is said and done, do we have any insight?

I guess you could say that even though I have my baby, that doesn’t mean I still don’t want some sort of explanation or diagnosis.

The whole experience of returning to the clinic felt surreal. In the waiting room, I was surrounded by women and couples who felt as I did awhile back: Desperate, frustrated, sad and resentful.  I wanted to give everyone there a hug and a baby. I still wish I were Oprah. “You get a baby… and you get a baby!”
Seeing my doctor again was also a little awkward. The last time I saw her, I was hysterically crying hugging her while wearing those oh-so-attractive-blue-paper-gowns. I was dressed much better for this visit… just wanted to mention it.

Overall, this is what I learned: Even though my blood work is fine, IVF in and of itself is diagnostic and by going through the process, it showed that I must have some sort of egg quality issue. She said what was interesting about me though was that my eggs are smart in the sense that if they aren’t going to form a healthy embryo, they just don’t form at all. Of the embryos I have had, they have always been 8-cell grade A fabulous. It’s like my eggs are saying, “This is either going to be perfect or it’s going to be nothing.” I had no idea my eggs had such high standards. If only I had these same standards when I was dating way back when. I could have saved a lot of heartaches!

She told me that my chances of ever getting pregnant on my own were 1% – 3% and if I did want to have another baby, she would recommend going straight to IVF with the understanding that she wouldn’t do it more than once. I am 39 years old, my eggs are choosy and she felt that it would save me heartache if my husband and I said, “One more and that’s it” as opposed to, “Let’s open this whole can of worms all over again.”

That night, I spoke to my husband and we came to the same conclusion: We would not do treatment. We’d rather spend the money on the son we do have and to be perfectly honest with you, as I said in my last post, neither he nor I can bear the thought of going through all of it over again. We may be pussies but we just can’t do it.

In the end, going back to the doctor was insightful and I did feel a sense of closure.  I’m not quite ready to let go of the hope of having another child but I am getting there.

And that’s why I think this birthday is with mixed emotions. It’s celebrating both what I have and what I’m letting go of.  I just hope I don’t burst into tears all over the Elmo cake we ordered when we sing “Happy Birthday”. I’ve got to hold it together for no other reason than to have nice pictures from the day.

Last year, around this time, as you may know, I was told I had cholestasis and had to deliver early (you can refresh your memory by clicking here). As some of you may remember, when my son was born, he had breathing issues and had to be in the NICU for a bit (click here for that post). When I think about all that we’ve done to get him and keep him and that so many of you were there to support me, encourage me and pray for us – that’s another thing that gets me extremely emotional.

I’m always acutely aware that many of you who read my blog do not yet hold a baby in your arms. If you knew me personally (although I hope you can tell this from my blog too!), I sincerely think of those who are still in the trenches every day. We infertiles have a short hand and a level of understanding of each other that few have. Yes, we have empathetic friends but when you say to another infertile, “I hate baby showers”,  they really know EXACTLY how you feel, what that’s about and most importantly, they know you’re not an asshole. You’re just someone who is trying to cope.

So, I want to say thank you a million times over. With all my heart, more than ever, I want ALL of us to have the best possible outcomes. It may not be exactly how we imagined, but it may surpass what our expectations were in ways we never thought possible. That’s my wish at least.

As always… with hope and humor.

25 thoughts on “Unexplained Infertility Explained”

  1. OMG, what are you teaching people in sex ed?????

    You most certainly hit the nail on the head about unexplained infertility. Mainly because I really think we're still in the dark about a lot of this. After all, what does poor egg quality really mean? We clearly don't understand how this occurs, otherwise we'd have a way to treat it. Lots of unanswered questions that require some investigation.

    Though I'm so excited about your son's approaching birthday, I know how bittersweet this is. And that sucks, so no apologies for your feelings. You went through hell to bring your son home, but it doesn't mean that you should automatically be okay with only having one child.

  2. Congratulations on 1 year for your son 🙂 I know it is so bittersweet, to have your son turn 1 yet to no longer have a "baby" I am going through the same thoughts you are, as I am closing the books on trying IVF for #2. With all the heartache and emotional pain, I do not think I could do another round, esp since it is not 100% that I will have my daughter… I am spoiling (showering is more like it) my son with gifts, love and affection!! and I know you're doing the same!! XOXO sorry that infertility has affected both of us the way it has 🙁

  3. I didn't even think of baby showers while I'm going through this. Ugh. I have four cousins pregnant during both of my miscarriages, but luckily it's not a first for any of them, so no baby showers. I don't think I could handle that. I have my first RE appointment next week. Let's hope the word "unexplained" doesn't come up. =/

  4. We got pregnant with our last frozen embie also and now have a son, but feel the same as you. We wish we had the opportunity to try with more frosties or could get pregnant ourselves, but won't do IVF again. We can't put ourselves and our son in a hard place financially (more than we are) to have a second child. We are going to focus on him and ty to reconcile an only child.
    Thanks for this post. It had a lot of great information and heart.

  5. Thank you for this post. I have been reading your blog for a long time but don't think I have ever commented. I'm thrilled for you that you have your son but you are COMPLETELY entitled to feeling bittersweet about likely not having another child. Hope you enjoy MJ's party without too many tears!

  6. It was brave of you to go back to the office– I have not scared up the courage yet! Just thought of it makes me feel ill. But it sounds like the visit gave you a sense of your journey– how far you are from the couples still there, embedded in treatment–and also the knowledge to make the decisions you guys need to about how to go forward from here.

    I'm so glad that you have little MJ who is about to turn 1!

  7. Hi from ICLW! I can't imagine going through 3 IVFs because I thought my one lone IVF was difficult!!! Thank God I am pregnant from my IVF and have a few fro-yos for any future children.

    You and your husband are way braver than I am!

  8. I often want to make the appointment you had to find out if "unexplained" is what my diagnosis would be today. I just don't know if I want to return to the RE's office (and hopefully-please, please-I won't ever have to). But I also agree with Christy: if my eggs are poor quality at ages 30-35 I want to know WHY. I also think I want your job.

  9. Funny you should post today. I was just ruminating over my own unexplained diagnosis… I had two IVF cycles, when I was 34 yrs old. I guess I just had old eggs. 15 total eggs, 9 embryos (all "poor quality"), and no baby. We had a similar meeting with the RE and were also told I had less than 3% chance of getting pregnant naturally. We also decided we were done investing in fertility treatments after that conversation, preferring instead to save our money for the college funds of the children we would eventually adopt. I am happy with the way things turned out but I do know the nagging feeling of wanting answers even still. It just seems unfair that we should have to live with that "unexplained" diagnosis. I am sorry for your pain over the possibility of not having a second child. I hope that you get a second miracle somehow. Happy birthday to MJ!

  10. Thanks for this post! We must be on the same wavelength right now! Not sure if you ever read my blog when it was up and running but I too have 1 living child as the result of a lone embryo. We can the same odds as you when we went back this past year and inquired about 1 more cycle. We decided to try it so there would be no "what if's". Long story short we just wrapped up that cycle, had 2 great looking embryos, we'll get official results tomorrow, but I started my period yesterday. And surprisingly, I'm really ok. I gave everything I had to this cycle. I mean EVERYTHING. Daily acupuncture, the best meds, gave up everything unhealthy, took lots of supplements to prepare… I can't look back and say "I didn't try this" or "I didn't try that". We were actually given up to a 10% chance of getting pregnant again. When you look at numbers like that with some perspective you realize a 90% chance of it not working out, and it then doesn't work out……..go figure. I just want to say I am impressed with your decision not to try again. I did and now we're down ten grand with nothing to show for it. Given the way it turned out, I wish I had the strength you have to be able to say I'm not going to waste my time. I have a little girl, so I'm on the opposite end that you are, wondering what a little boy would be like. Feeling that I'm missing out on how special that must be. But I am truly done with ART. I can now officially say I have nothing left in me to ever do it again. Ever. I hope you find peace with your decision and are able to just live finally. Hugs.

  11. Damn, you are so fricken right about the unexplained infertility. We have that crappy diagnosis, too, and it means nothing to me. Like, did my RE give up because my situation was too complicated to truly diagnosis? Frustrating as hell.

    And, also, I totally understand mourning not being able to have another. I liken it to the mourning process couples have to do when they move onto adoption–they have to grieve the loss of the baby they won't physically carry in their wombs.

    All of that being said, I hope to hear on this blog one day that you are pregnant again and it happened naturally. I know, I know, I'm a sucker for the romantic storybook ending, but for you, I really hope this is the case. xoxo

  12. Good grief, how does someone reach sexual maturity without firmly grasping the concept that only one sex handles the pregnancy part? Craziness.

    I'm glad you found some closure. I would want to know too.

    Visiting from ICLW.

  13. ok so you might not want to hear this after making your decision but today I read a post over at Stupid Stork and they had the same fertilisation rate and with testing on her partner and not her it turns out he was missing a protein. I thought of you straight away as everyone was quick to point fingers at you and anyway. I just thought it was interesting (trust me I really am not a stalking freak!!) congratulations on the big one year! Have loved reading about your journey!

  14. First off, I love (not sure if that is the right word) that image you posted. I almost cried at how the curve of teh question mark generated the baby belly.

    2nd, that 1st birthday is really hard. It's happy and sad. So much life ahead of them, but no longer your tiny little infant. Try and enjoy the celebration.

    And lastly, some answers are great. I think "unexplained" is just that they don't know where to look as it is nothing overtly obvious. Hey, maybe your body reset after pregnancy like it does for some?

  15. Jay,
    I just discovered your blog and it has helped me so much. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I KNOW I am one of those lucky ones with one precious baby. I didn't have to try hard the first time. The 2nd time is a much different story. I am grateful to you for making me laugh in the midst of the realization that I too may never have another baby or a little girl to put princess dresses on. (my son isn't much for the dresses wither 😉

  16. Yup it's not great when an embryologist says "yikes" when you tell them your story but what he didn't say is "you beat incredible odds and your son is a miracle". He is so is mine and its OK to grieve the sibling you may never give him. Glad you got some closure with your RE.

  17. I'm a fan of your blog and am back for ICLW. We recently decided not to have another baby and we donated our extra embryos in the hopes that another family will be able to benefit. We feel lucky to have our miracle baby after infertility and a premature birth. Just know that you are not alone…

  18. Just discovered your blog today & am enjoying catching up on your previous posts. I also have unexplained infertility, although egg quality seems to be an issue. I'm in the process of an FET now (accumulation of 2 retrievals), with a transfer on April 3 if some can survive thawing. Thank you for your blog & for thinking of us infertiles!

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