Everything doesn't (always) happen for a reason.
Infertility and pregnancy loss can be devastating, yet both are often private sorrows for the one in six people who cope with the experience. This collection offers personal stories about what it's like to go through the emotional and physical facets of infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss: the pain, sadness, and desperation, the hope, humour, and frustration.
Through, Not Around offers reassurance to those in the midst of their own struggles that they are not alone and that it is possible to find acceptance and strength on the other side of grief. The way forward is by going through the grief, not around it.
Allison McDonald Ace, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais, and Caroline Starr are co-founders of The 16 Percent, a website dedicated to sharing stories of pregnancy loss and infertility. To read or share your story, visit the16percent.ca.
About the authors
Allison McDonald Ace is a writer and communications manager for GoJava.ca, as well as the community board member on the Maternal Mental Health Committee at Sunnybrook Hospital. After experiencing a late-term miscarriage with her second pregnancy, she became an advocate for sharing stories of child loss to help others know they aren’t alone. Allison lives with her son and husband in Toronto.
Caroline Starr is a writer, editor, and community advocate. After being diagnosed at twenty-one with PCOS and later suffering a miscarriage, Caroline became committed to building community surrounding infertility and miscarriage and openly discussing their impact on families. She lives with her husband and sons in Toronto.
Ariel Ng Bourbonnais is a creative non-fiction writer working at the University of Toronto. At thirty-three, Ariel was diagnosed with premature ovarian aging. She found strength and resolve in knowing that sharing her experience could help others. She lives with her husband and two fur babies in Toronto.
Excerpt: Through, Not Around: Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss (edited by Allison McDonald Ace, Caroline Starr & Ariel Ng Bourbonnais)
Chapter 22: Round Two
Ariel Ng Bourbonnais
I’m relieved I don’t miss Dr. Singh’s call. I’ve been dying to know if my über-low egg reserve is now extinct. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve tested my AMH levels and I’ve mentally prepared myself to find out I have zero eggs left, at the tender middle age of 35.
What’s AMH? I had no idea until it was too late for me. AMH stands for anti-Müllerian hormone, and it’s easily measured by taking a blood sample. This test is not currently covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), but I think it should be because it’s important for women to benchmark their fertility health. And this blood test is a simple and quick way to capture a snapshot. High AMH generally indicates a greater egg reserve and better-quality eggs. Low AMH indicates a smaller reserve and sometimes that the quality is degraded, too. I tell myself it’s okay if my eggs are now rotten because I’ve already come to terms with my infertility after one miscarriage a few years back and many more years of struggling to conceive. I recently asked my doctor if I could pay for the AMH blood test again because it’s worth $75 to give me peace of mind, which is why Dr. Singh is calling me today. When I see her name pop up on my phone, I pick up right away. As usual, she doesn’t mince words.
“Ariel, the rest of your blood work is fine but we have your AMH results and you are at 2.9.” She sounds excited for the first time in our entire history of fertility-related conversations.
My coffeeless brain tries to compute what she’s saying. “2.9. How is this even possible?” My AMH was recorded at 0.78 a few years ago. I didn’t think I could improve my egg reserve at all and especially not by that much. It’s truly inconceivable, pun intended.
“I don’t know, but it’s a good thing. I know you said you and your husband were done trying, but I think you should go back to the fertility clinic. This at least warrants another conversation.”
“I guess we could talk about it again. 2.9, are you sure?” I ask.
“That’s what your results say. I’ll send your referral to the fertility clinic today, and if you don’t hear back from them within a few weeks, you call and let them know you’re a former patient of theirs and need to set up a new appointment.”
I’m glad she outlined the exact next steps I need to take, because I’m in a state of total shock. Hell, I think Dr. Singh is in shock, too. “Thank you for making my day,” I simply say.
I hang up and immediately call my husband, Lawrence. He’s not going to believe that I went from the 10th percentile of fertility to the 50th. I thought I had the eggs of a 45-year-old woman, but now I am back in my true age box. I’m skeptical. Something doesn’t add up and I’m trying to figure out what it is. I wonder if this is a miracle because of my recent lifestyle changes. I stopped eating meat and started doing cardio a few months ago. Could a regular trampoline class and no-burger lifestyle get me knocked up, with the help of my husband, of course? I’m confused but happy. Then I start to wonder if the lab made an error and my AMH is really 0.29 instead of 2.9. This would be logical, would make sense, and would align with my previous diagnosis. A score of 2.9 is heavenly, unimaginable, luxurious.
Lawrence picks up. “What’s up? I’m about to leave for work.” “Dr. Singh called and my AMH is 2.9, not 0.78.”
“See, I told you. I knew you were okay.” He sounds so relieved.
“I’m going to book us in to see the specialist, Dr. Adatia, again. Maybe we can do the government-funded IVF this time.”
My husband and I paid for one round of IVF two years ago because we wanted to save the government funding, in case we decided to proceed with an egg donor. The egg donor IVF is more expensive than my round of low-stimulation IVF was. My eggs needed to be more gently drugged because the regular doses of medication would have killed them off. During our IVF cycle, we retrieved four measly eggs and only one acted like it was supposed to with the sperm. One. This hurt even more when my best friend went through the IVF process a few months after I did and was able to retrieve 18 eggs.
We implanted the only egg with potential and it failed. My husband and I thought we were being smart by saving the government funding, but it ended up being a dumb decision because we didn’t go the egg donor route. We gave up all fertility treatments when the IVF didn’t work with my own eggs, and that was the end of that.
Or so I thought.
“Amazing, Love. I’m so happy. I knew it!” He is so happy that it turns my hardened heart as soft as a peony petal. I want to at least try to have his baby again. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work, and we’ve already come to terms with a no-kids lifestyle.
Or have we?
A few days later in a bathroom stall at work, my absolute favourite place to discover pregnancy, I find out that, in fact, I am pregnant. I had all the telltale signs that week. I had tender breasts, I was peeing every two minutes, and I was exhausted. I just didn’t believe it was actually possible for me to get pregnant again, so I read the signs as extra PMS fun.
“We conceived naturally,” I keep whispering to myself over and over again. This week is madness: first my AMH levels are practically in the normal range. Then I’m pregnant for the second time in my life without the intervention of a team of specialists. Somebody stop me.
When I tell Lawrence, he proudly says, “Cool, I knew it.” And he really did. Lawrence always believed there was a chance I could get pregnant again, but I shut him down each and every time. I owe everyone who’s ever told me that miracles happen a formal, written apology. The pessimist in me now has to believe in miracles, because this truly is a miracle. If I thought my AMH returning to normal levels for my age was good news, this is cake on top of cake on top of cake.
…a collection that opens eyes and hearts.
Miscarriage and infertility are such common experiences for women, yet they're also some of the most lonely, as so many grieve in silence. Through, Not Around is breaking the silence and bringing these stories into the mainstream. This collection is heartbreaking, beautiful and important.
— Amanda Laird, author of Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation and host of the Heavy Flow podcast
To say this powerful book of essays is a fascinating read would be an understatement. This invaluable book shows the challenges of fertility. Beautifully written, these essays are full of love and hope. It’s like getting on the phone with the best experts and your best friend at the same time. Highly recommended.
Rebecca Eckler, author Of Blissfully Blended Bullshit and executive editor of SavvyMom.ca