The Turtle Journey: Our diagnoses and timeline

Welcome to torthúil. I started this blog when we received our first diagnosis of infertility.  I went on to document our tests and treatments, and then, thanks to a very lucky break, our pregnancy in 2014. Then I wrote about parenting, and then back to trying to conceive as we attempted to have a second child. Currently I'm pregnant again, and it seems to be going well (rap wood).  Ongoing themes in my blog are understanding choice, chance and the lack of control in our lives; coming to terms with our limitations, whether physical or knowledge-based; reflections on subfertility; understanding human nature and connection; individuality; mindfulness, anxiety and self-awareness.

My philosophy for blogging is that the blog serves the writer first. But I know from experience that it also helps to read other people's stories, and I'm humbly grateful for everyone who reads and comments. While our stories are always different, I believe that people are not so different and it is only by the sleight of hand of fate that each of us lives one one story and not in another. I hope that sometimes you find something here that is helpful, that you can relate to, or that brightens your day, in among my rambling.

You can email me at torthuil(at)gmail.com

About the word torthúil: it means "fertile" or "fruitful" in Irish Gaelic. From the beginning I hoped this blog would evolve beyond the themes of infertility. In addition, I have always thought of myself as creative, inventive, fruitful and dammit, fertile so I do not like to label myself infertile. It goes against my self-perception to see myself as a barren desert. On some level, I've always rejected the identity of infertile, even while attempting to embrace a physical condition/disability that is mostly outside of my control.

Sometimes people ask me how you pronounce torthúil. I don’t speak Irish, but something “tar-hool”, according to the internet (there are different dialects; that’s the only one I can remotely describe. Or just call me Turtle. Sometimes I also go by the screen name Síochána Arandomhan, which is another Irish phrase. It means "peace to the world." My real name also means Peace, but in a different language.

Please do leave a comment if you want and tell me that you are reading and why! Also, if you blog and I haven't added you to the Archipelago (what I call my blogroll) feel free to ask. I love to follow people's stories, whatever is going on in their lives! Reading and commenting on others is just as important as writing my own story. The housework can (almost) always wait. ;-)

Here is the summarized version of our story.
  • We are Turtle and Mr. Turtle, both born around 1980 (I was born in the 70s, but baaaarely). We are in our mid 30s.
  • She: special education teacher; He: counsellor and soon-to-be registered psychologist
  • Together since 2008, Married since 2010. We live in Canada, just a little east of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Started trying for a baby: Fall of 2011. Turtle's then-doctor says: You're in excellent health, try for a year and come back if there's no pregnancy. I start using the Ovacue fertility monitor in December of 2011. It has been the single most useful tool in understanding my cycles. We continue timed intercourse until the summer of 2012, but despite hopeful thinking there is no pregnancy
  • Summer 2012: Turtle switches to Mr. Turtle's doctor, Dr. Gnomish, who diagnoses primary infertility.
  • January 2013: Mr. Turtle's semen analysis shows normal or better numbers and volume, but very low motility and poor morphology. Dr. Gnomish tells us that natural conception ain't gonna happen, gives us a referral to The Fertility Clinic
  • Turtle starts torthúil blog for the purpose of rambling online about all of this.
  • May 9th 2013: first appointment at The Fertility Clinic. Meet "Dr. Cotter." Discuss IVF. Several more tests requisitioned, including HSG, bloodwork, and ultrasound for Turtle, and 2nd semen analysis for Mr. Turtle
  • June 24th: 2nd meeting with Dr. Cotter. 2nd semen analysis confirms low motility/morphology for Mr. Turtle. Turtle has scary FSH/estrogen numbers, and only 4 follicles showing on the ultrasound, all of which points to diminished ovarian reserve/premature ovarian failure. (I continue to be confused as to what is the correct term to use in my case. Dr. Cotter has called it premature ovarian failure in writing, but in hindsight that diagnosis could be questioned.)
  • August 2013: Turtle begins acupuncture with Dr. Q. Goals: lengthen cycles, delay ovulation, improve uterine lining, strengthen kidneys (I pee a lot, ladies)
  • August 9th 2013: Meet again with Dr. Cotter. Mrs. Turtle's thyroid is normal. Not a genetic mosaic. Discuss possibilities for moving forward. Wait (and wait, and wait) on results of Fragile X genetic test.
  • October 3rd, 2013-December 2013: Finally!!! Genetic test results are in. All clear. Begin DHEA and CO Q10. Continue with TCM treatments, limited herbal treatments and "trying naturally"
  • December 2013-January 2014:  IVF #1, Flare Protocol. Cycle cancelled January 15th due to no response. Two tiny follicles on left ovary, uterine lining 2.5mm. Dr. Cotter tells us in follow-up meeting that we are out of options for fresh IVF.
  • Around CD 27, however, I have fertile signs. Although it seems far fetched, I wonder if this means my cycle has restarted after going off of Suprefact.  We try the natural way (using pre-seed).
  • Make the decision to move on to Donor Egg IVF / embryo adoption. But various things lead me to procrastinate actually registering. Including the fact that my period isn't coming. Continue with folic acid and low dose aspirin (no DHEA/COQ10 after stopping fertility drugs)
  • February 17th, 34 days after IVF cancelled, I finally work up the nerve to test for pregnancy. BFP!! Somehow, I had a natural conception in the weeks after our cancelled cycle. Cue disbelief, terror, amazement and hope against hope. Time travel to the 1 year anniversary of this day. Ah, if only I could have done that in reality!
  • February 21: First see bleeding: red blood twice on the weekend, and brown spotting in the following days. Beta tests (4) and two early ultrasounds follow.
  • February 28th: Betas are still rising. Second ultrasound shows growth of the gestational sac, yolk sac and a subchorionic hemorrhage.
  • March 6th: Ultrasound shows 6 week, 6 day embryo with a heartbeat of 139bpm. Love!
  • April 10th: First Trimester Screening Ultrasound shows a normally-developing 12 week, 2 day fetus. "Ember" has legs, arms, elbows, little hands, a stomach, a bladder and a brain. Screening comes back negative (very low risk) for chromosomal conditions. The future looks brighter than it has in a long time.
  • May 26th: Detailed Anatomy Scan (19 weeks). Ember is very active, wiggling all over the place. She is ID'd as a girl. All her external and internal parts are accounted for, and are oh-so-very cute. We are soooo happy.
  • June 2014 - halfway. Breathe, breathe, smile. :-)
  • July 31st: Follow up ultrasound (28 weeks) to check on fibroid that was seen "adjacent to cervix." Fibroid is about 6cm, close to cervix, but according to U/S doctor, is not blocking birth canal. Ember's growth is on schedule; she weighs 2.3 lbs, and gets 8/8 on her "biophysical profile" (whatever that is). 
  • September 9th: Next follow-up ultrasound (34 weeks) also shows that fibroid is not a problem. Ember is 4+ pounds, looks "great," heart rate of 140. She practices breathing. And is utterly adorable. Despite ourselves, we are actually starting to prepare for a baby: painting her room, slowly buying some products.
  • Labour begins October 27th. Experience prodormal labour for 40 hours. Admitted to hospital when water breaks and contractions become more intense. October 29th, 4:32 am, baby AJ Turtle is born vaginally with assistance of forceps. She is here!
  • If you've read our story thus far, you might appreciate my thoughts on being an infertility urban legend ;-)
  • November 2014: AJ turns one month
  • My thoughts on blogging after having a baby
  • January 2015: AJ turns 3 months. We're out of the "fourth trimester!"
  • March 2015: AJ turns 4 months. Read about a typical day in our lives.
  • March 29: AJ turns 5 months. Also, new mom style and sanity savers!
  • April 2015: AJ turns 6 months. So much fun!
  • May 2015: Where does the time go?? Seven months.
  • June 2015: Eight months. Every week, AJ is learning something new! Our lives are very focused on the present and future, but that doesn't mean that I've forgotten how we got here. Finding some old photos on my phone leads to deja vu.
  • July 2015: Month 9. AJ seems more grown up every day. Read about a day in the life.
  • August 2015. AJ is 10 months. Hellooooo double digits. I'm back at work. AJ starts daycare. I'm trying to make sense of it all.
  • September 2015. AJ is 11 months. Life feels more than a little overwhelming, but there is still so much reason for gratitude, thinking of the difference a year makes.
  • October 2015. AJ turns one year. Party time! There is a note of sadness in this celebration, and in all that follow it, because my dad is seriously ill with esophageal cancer.
  • November 2015: A day in the life of a one year old and her working parents.
  • December 2015: AJ is 14 months. She spends Christmas with my in-laws.
  • January 2016: Our family suffers a sad loss when my dad passes away.
  • February 2016: Transitions: Celebrating breastfeeding and marking its end.  Also, we want another child. But just what are we willing to do?
  • March 2016: First family vacation with just the three of us. AJ is seventeen months.
  • May 2016: We've been playing the lottery hoping for a second miracle pregnancy. Like most people, we haven't won the lottery. The next appointment with the fertility clinic is scheduled.  Also, AJ is 19 months and pure joy.
  • June 2016: In her 20th month AJ had her first serious injury (fractured tibia) and a few other tragic things happened, just to remind us we are not raising her in a perfect world. On the other hand our little girl learned to dance. 
  • July 2016: Return to The Fertility Clinic, consult#1. Decide on strategy to maximize chances of unassisted pregnancy for 6 months at least, and return to possibility of DE IVF if unsuccessful. Game on, people, game on. I'm proof that humans have a strong gambling instinct.
  • August 2016. AJ is 22 months old. Do we need to talk about how adorable she is? Of course we do.
  • September 2016. We follow up at The Fertility Clinic. Tests confirm that I have very low ovarian reserve, and my wonky cycles make it hard to know when cycle day 1 is. But we have a plan: low dose Clomid to try to help me ovulate. 
  • October 2016: AJ is two years old
  • December 2016: Christmas is complicated.
  • October 2016-January 2017: Four clomid cycles, three with ovulation, one without. No pregnancy on any of them. 
  • January 2017: Results from Mr. Turtle's fall semen analysis show lower than previous numbers.  Recognizing that numbers fluctuate and Mr. Turtle's overall health complicates matters, two more tests requisitioned before further decisions made.  In the meantime, trying unassisted, celebrating the positive.
  • May 2017. Spring is here! Mr. Turtle's sperm counts and motility are much improved, so IUI is a definite maybe (assuming we continue to see more healthy sperm). This is reason for optimism.
  • May 28th, CD 29 of an unassisted cycle: Positive pregnancy test! Whoa! An early peek shows things progressing well.
  • July 21st: 12 week scan shows everything progressing normally. So I try to behave like a normal human being, too. Still often feel tired and sick, so not really back to normal, but happy.
  • August: Family vacation and enjoying the calm
Other significant information:
We think Mr. Turtle's low motility/poor morphology is caused by a genital lymphedema, which is causing the sperm to not develop properly. The lymphedema in turn could be caused by disruptions to the lymph system as a side effect of Mr. Turtle's Crohn's Disease. Another possibility is that a medication he took for the Crohn's in the past has had some lasting damage. We really don't know. In 2013 Mr. Turtle is tried massage treatments and compression to see if that could reduce the inflammation and possibly increase fertility. (The massaged worked a bit but the compression was too uncomfortable.) Mr. Turtle is not currently pursuing any therapies other than overall healthy lifestyle. 

5 comments:

  1. Hi, feel free to ask me anything about IVF. I've been through the process a couple of times and I hope I can be of some help. Our problem is also (partly) sperm but not quite the same as yours. You can try taking vitamins/supplements - that helped improve the sperm quality.

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  2. Thanks, would be interested to hear what vitamins and supplements you know about or have tried, or have knowledge about. I've heard about those kind of things, but haven't investigated much. I don't have knowledge in the area and am a bit suspicious of what might actually help, and what is just superstition. Email is torthuil@gmail.com .

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  3. I too am interested in anything that can help male fertility (or my own for that matter!). My partners issue stem directly from his medical issues, i can't imagine how they feel when it's entirely something that couldn't be avoided.
    I will look forward to following your journey :)

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  4. I like your comment about not wanting to take on the label of infertile. Every time I use that word I get a sinking feeling. !

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    1. I know. I feel like labels become part of identity and since I check my blog daily and it is a big part of my life, I'm careful what words I use.

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