My desire to be a mother was always strong and present, but I had been prepared since I was young that it may not be in the cards for me. However, as with most things in my life with cystic fibrosis, I was bound and determined to beat the odds.
My husband, Jake, and I had been together for six years when we decided to embark upon our journey down the road of fertility treatment. We decided early in our relationship that we wanted children. We also knew that conceiving, carrying, delivering, and raising a child would pose extra challenges due to my CF. This did not dissuade us in any way, but we had to do things a little bit differently than others.
Once we knew we were going to be together forever, we stopped using birth control. We were both aware that getting pregnant might be harder for us than a couple without CF, and we both agreed that — due to the progressive nature of CF — the earlier I could get pregnant, the better. Also, it could take a while for me to become pregnant. We were quite aware that my health could decline as I aged. After years of actively trying to conceive using traditional methods without success, we decided that we would pursue help from a fertility specialist. Thus, our journey began.
The first thing that we decided to do was get Jake genetically tested for CF. I would highly recommend this to any couple with a history of CF in the family. For us, it would not have changed our decision to have a child, but there are so many unknowns with pregnancy and children that we wanted to be as informed and prepared as possible.
Genetic testing can easily be ordered by your doctor and completed with a simple blood draw. Knowledge is power after all.
Jake tested negative. Our child would carry the CF gene, but I alone could not pass the disease itself on to our child. For us, this was good news.
When my husband’s tests came back negative for CF genes, we felt really good about proceeding with our fertility treatments. This can be an intimidating concept and process, but we didn’t let it make us fearful. With a great doctor, some faith, hope, and a good attitude, the process doesn’t have to be a scary one. Finding the right doctor is incredibly important! We didn’t rush ourselves into making any decisions until we were comfortable and confident in the health care professional we had chosen.
In my case, my doctor was honest about having never worked with a CF patient before. He explained to me that even though he had no experience with treating a woman with CF, he was, in fact, educated in the area and quite confident that he could help us conceive. He was enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with us and assured me that if we were willing to give him a chance, we could embark upon the journey together and he wouldn’t give up on helping us realize our dream of having a family. I figured, I had never done this either, so he and I were both in the same position, and we should go for it!
Before any treatments, I went through a series of tests to make sure that everything in my reproductive system was healthy and properly operational. The tests proved that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get pregnant. My doctor believed that because the mucus in CF patients is so thick and sticky, there was a good possibility that the mucus around my cervix was equally thick and sticky and had created its own “natural diaphragm.” Since there was nothing to indicate otherwise, we decided to act on this theory and I was began taking a fertility medication.
We chose a process referred to as IUI (intrauterine insemination). When the timing is right, the sample is prepared in the lab, and then a catheter is placed past the cervix and the sample is injected with the intention of letting nature take its course. We closely monitored my menstrual cycle and began daily bloodwork when ovulation was likely. When my bloodwork indicated that I was at peak ovulation, my doctor instructed us to properly collect my husband’s sample the next morning and come to his office for insemination. Then the waiting began.
For those going through this process, I would say that patience was my best friend. When trying to conceive, there is a lot of waiting, which can be trying. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety are not conducive to getting pregnant!
I did my best to do whatever I could to relax throughout my journey. I realized that stressing would not help me and might even steal some of my joy.
After a couple weeks, I began pregnancy testing at home. This part of the process was exciting and maddening at the same time. It was very difficult to stay calm when we were waiting for big news. When my period started a few days later, naturally, I was heartbroken. My doctor had prepared me for the possibility that this might take some time, but I hoped that it would work right away. When it did not take immediately, I felt like a failure, like it was my fault, I had done something wrong, or there was something wrong with my body. These feelings are normal, but not accurate! It can take many months, or even years to get pregnant when doing fertility treatment, and it was no one’s fault that it didn’t happen right away. I was gentle with myself and did my best to stay positive.
For round two, my doctor refused to accept defeat and doubled my medication. It was back to the waiting, the watching, the blood draws, the monitoring. We were back in the office on our first wedding anniversary, me in stirrups, my wonderful husband by my side telling me that watching the doctor do this particular procedure to me was NOT the way he had pictured our anniversary going.
While waiting to see if we were pregnant, I went through myriad emotions. Fertility treatments are not easy to go through. There is joy, anticipation, fear, and impatience. I tried not to stress as much as was possible. Stress would be bad for me physically and my might lower my chances of getting pregnant, and it was hell emotionally. To top it off, it did absolutely nothing to change anything. I focused on practicing a great deal of self-care during that time.
Finally, we got the news we had been waiting for. I was pregnant!!! Now, the real anticipation began. We were completely overjoyed and totally overwhelmed at the same time.
Despite the fact that all CF women will be considered “high risk” pregnancies, it doesn’t mean that your pregnancy will not be amazing. It just means that you have to keep a close eye on yourself, be very aware of your body and your health, and take extra great care of yourself and your baby.
My pregnancy was absolutely WONDERFUL, and long story short, we had a beautiful baby boy. My little miracle baby is now getting ready to turn 16, and parenthood has been just as incredible as I had ever hoped for.
After having our son, my husband and I decided that we were so very fortunate to have gotten a healthy, happy child, and that our family was complete. The journey of fertility treatment and conception when you have CF has its own special challenges, but whatever your decision turns out to be, and whatever path you decide to take, go forward with confidence, patience, hope, positivity, trust, humor, and lots and lots of LOVE. Good luck on your journey and Breathe Easy, Friends.
Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.