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Part 1: The Struggles of Infertility

Hi, my name is Barbara Chan, I’m currently 34 years old. Jane has given me the lovely opportunity to share my THREE PART (yes you read it) experience on her blog! My journey is my journey. Not a single person’s journey is going to be the same as anyone else’s nor are their feelings, emotions, mental capacity going to be the same. I want to really emphasize that. As well, some events may impact and hold meaning differently to one person versus another. So, let’s all be mindful of that. I will try not to get ridiculously lengthy when typing out these blog posts and try to get straight to the point! Thank you for taking the time to read this!

A little information about me, I married the love of my life, Steve, in the summer of 2016. We had been together for 4 years prior to that. We decided we wanted a bit of time alone together, to be able to travel and do some cool stuff. At the end of 2017, we decided I would go off birth control and actively start to “try” to get pregnant, knowing it might take a little while. Immediately coming off birth control, I thought I was pregnant already because my first cycle lasted for 50 days. I was testing often, but kept getting negatives.

After my period came, I attributed it to being on birth control for 10+ years and my body was just doing its thing to return back to normal. Fast forward to August 2018, and inconsistent menstrual cycles monthly, I finally went to see my family doctor to see what was going on. He looked at my face, which was full of deep cystic acne, and with the crazy menstrual cycles I’ve been having, and he sent me for an ultrasound.

At the ultrasound, they checked my pelvis/uterus externally, but then also asked if it would be okay to do an internal assessment as well. I agreed to it and lone behold, my family doctor called me a few days later to advise me that the ultrasound confirmed that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Unfamiliar, my mind was obviously racing. But my doctor assured me that there were interventions we were able to do to help regulate my cycles but to also have a baby.

Without too much detail, I’ve always been a pretty active person. If you know me, I wouldn’t say I’m the typical “Asian skinny”, I have a more muscular build. But shortly after being off birth control, the weight started to pack on. All the activity, and clean eating I was doing didn’t do a darn thing anymore. It almost seemed like, the more I did, the more weight I was gaining. It was my understanding that this was caused by the hormone imbalance I was experiencing. Weight gain, extreme mood swings (my husband could argue that they weren't new, haha), and the deep, painful, cystic acne I was experiencing!

The doctor prescribed a medication called Letrozole in which I would take Day 3-8 of my menstrual cycle, here it would help force an ovulation and hopefully get pregnant this way. We tried this for a few months and still did not get pregnant. He wasn’t able to send us to the Fertility clinic right away, until we waited one year of trying. Needless to say, things seemed to get a bit worse with symptoms, and on top of all that, my mental health was going downhill rather quickly. Month after month, seeing NEGATIVE test results was all too frustrating for me, but also for my husband. At the very least, we knew what our issue was. But trying to get on top of it was proving to be a challenge. A challenge that I was not able to conquer.

Between all the physical changes I was undergoing, the lack of ability to get pregnant, you can only imagine how much of a toll this was all taking on my mental health. I would like to say I’m a pretty positive and optimistic person, but I can fully admit that this journey took me to some dark places. I know the people around me would have never known. I do a pretty good job hiding my deep emotions, and I like to put on a brave face. Also, I thought by telling myself I was fine, and telling others I was fine, that I would somehow be “fine”. I have never felt so alone in this process. Yes, I absolutely had an amazing husband who has been supportive since day 1, but I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about the shame and guilt you feel for not being able to conceive a child.

Fast forward to Spring 2019, we were finally referred to the Fertility Clinic. They ran tests to see what was wrong, and between my husband and I, it was just my PCOS getting between our dreams of having a baby. And I say “just” because I’ve heard the different hardships others have had to endure. I hate “downplaying” my situation and my journey, but I am fully aware that things could always be worse. Anyway, we continued with months of the Letrozole and now, Clomed, another medication that would try to force an ovulation. But still no luck. In the meanwhile, I was still over here trying to get a grasp on my weight, working out twice as hard, trying to eat health, but nada. Not much changes to my body. Sure, I felt stronger and I felt pretty accomplished, but in terms of changes to my body, nothing. Which, in turn likely didn’t change the hormone effects from my PCOS.

End of 2019 was a spiral. And when I say spiral, I mean, it was probably the lowest point in my life. I completely lost myself, lost touch of reality, had suicidal thoughts (no plan). But I really questioned my existence at this point. Yes, now that I am typing it all out, it does sound rather dramatic, but when you’re there, and you’re in it, it’s hard to pull yourself out of these thoughts. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my whole world seemed to be crashing down. With the help of my husband, a marriage counsellor, and my closest girlfriends, I seemed to have pulled through it.

2020 came and my husband and I decided to take a little “break” from trying. We decided 2020 was going to be our year together and since the other interventions haven’t worked thus far, we were going to jump into IVF at the end of 2020, this would also give us the opportunity to save more money for the procedure. In Canada, it costs nearly $10, 000 to try to do all of this.

Little did we know, we were jumping right into a pandemic. But prior to all that, I had a vision board. I had plans for myself, my marriage. Tons of things to check off the list for 2020. For instance, I was about to get a motorcycle again! I wanted to ride with my husband like we did when we first started dating. Not to mention, I was going to conquer my fear of running haha. Running was a big challenge for me and I was going to embark on it. I even had a running coach to help me. I was doing so well!!!!!!! With the running also came some weight loss. I guess changing things up really helped me. Prior to running, I was at F45, going hard AF with my workouts. I would burn so many calories per class, but no weight loss! I loved going nonetheless but I think my body also needed the change. Running is what it was going to be. After a bit of weight loss, (about 10lbs) I was able to get my menstrual cycle down to normal (approximately 30 days). I was able to achieve this in February and March. But disappointedly, I was back to being late again at the end of April. I was a week late, and super frustrated because I thought I had done so well maintaining a healthy lifestyle and finally accomplishing some normalcy in my cycle. I honestly don’t even know why, but I tried a pregnancy test one morning. And would you look at that! I FINALLY SAW A POSITIVE RESULT!!!! I screamed and started crying! Steve came to the bathroom and couldn’t believe it either. It was unreal. I needed to take 3 tests just to make sure!

You guys, I cannot begin to even explain the emotions that run through you when you find out you are pregnant after trying for quite some time. Of course, you’re happy but inevitably, you feel some doubt. Doubt that it’s actually happening, and that the pregnancy is viable. Obviously, you try to stay positive, but I was guarded you know. I didn’t want to feel any more disappointment, it’s as if I was almost bracing myself. Spoiler alert, but the pregnancy goes well!!!

Now that I have a better opportunity to reflect on my journey, I wanted to point on that a lot of the stress and pressure I felt, was mainly from…ME! Don’t get me wrong, I did often get the question: When are you and Steve going to have kids? How many kids are you going to have? And to be honest, I think it’s just the next question that comes up after getting married. You know how it is, when you’ve dated someone for so long, people ask, when are you guys getting engaged? When are you guys getting married? When do you guys plan to have kids? When are you going to try for a second. The questions and curiosity never stops. It’s just human nature. I think it’s a way people try to converse. While some genuinely care to know, some people are just small talking. Only until I was living it did I realize that “when are you guys going to have kids” became a fully loaded question. My response quite often was “ohhh, we just want to have some time to ourselves", or "soon…” As time passed and fertility was proving to be a challenge, it became tougher and tougher to answer that question without tears coming to my eyes. When my PCOS started to show its symptoms, like the weight gain and cystic acne, you better believe people would make comments about it and boy that was frustrating. A few people actually had the audacity to insist and TELL ME that I was pregnant. But I had to break the news to them that it was my hormones, and that NO, I WAS JUST GETTING FAT. So many times I wanted to tell people “Actually, we have been trying for almost two years.” I think I did say that to someone once and it shut them right up. No one is ever has ill intentions or is being malicious when they ask, but spiralling into that dark place I previously spoke about, you begin to see things differently.

I feel like I am rambling about this, but I just wanted to point out that STRESS LIKE THIS, DOES NOT DO ANYTHING POSITIVE WHEN TRYING TO CONCEIVE. I often get asked, “so what did you do differently? Do you have any tips?” And to be perfectly and brutally honest, what worked for us, is that we had to take the baby making completely off the table. To the point that I wasn’t thinking about it, nor trying to get pregnant. I was so excited to experience everything I had planned that when we found out I was pregnant, I was like 0.000001% disappointed I couldn’t check things off my to do list for the year. Yes I said it. But that’s how far I needed to put fertility in the back of my head. I thought the stress didn’t exist and that I could trick my body to believe that I didn’t care about trying to get pregnant all those times. Like I said, I figured if I said it out loud, I actually wasn’t stressed. But your body knows otherwise. Trying to conceive, timing it all, scheduling sexy time with my husband, thinking about the optimal position, waiting to take a pregnancy test. ALL OF THAT takes a huge toll on your mentality and nonetheless comes out as stress. Anyway, I just wanted to emphasize that whatever it takes, you need to make sure you limit the amount of stress in your life. Whether that be to work out, yoga, walks, self care, whatever it is. It needs to be done. Ultimately, there are going to be stressors that are beyond your control, but it will be the things YOU can do to limit the amount of stress you have in your life. Give yourself and your body the fighting chance it needs. I am such a huge advocate for this. I’ve lived it and truly believe it can make all the difference.

So, I guess this comes to the end of my first blog entry with Jane @ Counting Sheep. I want to thank her for giving me this opportunity to share my journey! And thank you to you guys for taking the time to read through my everlasting journey of motherhood. It has only begun for sure. I hope you guys are intrigued enough to keep reading through the rest of my journey, where I will take you through my pregnancy and early into my postpartum experience!

-Barbara Chan

*Stay tuned for Part 2: Journey to Motherhood, where Barb will share her personal experience about her pregnancy. A HUGE thank you to Barb for being so brave and sharing her story of infertility. Sending love to everyone who has had to go through such a difficult and painful experience. You are not alone.

As always, I am here for each and every one of you.

-Jane Anderson, Counting Sheep

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