Riding the Emotional Roller Coaster of Infertility

Many couples start their journey toward parenthood with excitement and expectation. But for 15 percent of the population, the joyful journey toward parenthood is dampened by the diagnosis no one wants to hear – infertility

Dr. Murray with baby Hunter
Dr. Murray with baby Hunter

For Elizabeth and John Ayers, infertility would be a long road through many emotional valleys and mountains.

The couple from Fowler, Colo., were married in 2001 and went off birth control soon after. Their approach to pregnancy was casual — not actively trying to conceive, but not taking preventive measures either.

“We just quit birth control and decided to let nature take its course,” Elizabeth says. “We did that for a really long time.”

But Elizabeth didn’t get pregnant. After a while, the casual approach gave way to actively trying to conceive.

“Eventually we started doing ovulation kits, which we would use for a long time then take breaks,” Elizabeth says. “It’s exhausting and it becomes consuming.”

Elizabeth and John were encountering the first stages of infertility. For some, simply tracking ovulation and knowing the right time to try for a baby is enough, and pregnancy is achieved. For others, though, it isn’t so easy.

As intercourse on a timed schedule and ovulation dates become an everyday chore, rather than a joy, couples often begin to feel disconnected. Intimacy suffers.

After years of impeccable timing and ovulation awareness, Elizabeth still wasn’t getting pregnant. Like many women, she didn’t know that they were considered “infertile” after only one year of trying to conceive without success.

Finally, she went to her OB-GYN, who performed a few rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI) in the hopes that John’s sperm would fertilize one of Elizabeth’s eggs. Each attempt failed.

“Anger is the biggest emotion you feel,” says Elizabeth. “It was frustrating we had to do fertility treatment at all. Then you look around and watch your friends end up pregnant on accident. They were trying not to have kids, and you’re struggling to have kids.”

The situation was difficult for John, too, because it presented him with a problem he couldn’t conquer on his own. This frustration is an emotion many men encounter as their wives undergo fertility treatments.

“He just wanted to make everything better,” Elizabeth says. “But he couldn’t.”

Finally, Elizabeth’s doctor suggested they seek help from a reproductive endocrinologist. The couple would need more complex fertility treatment to achieve pregnancy.

Elizabeth hit the books to research her options. In 2008, she discovered University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine.

“I liked Advanced Reproductive Medicine because they were a university hospital and university hospitals are known for being at the forefront of available treatments,” Elizabeth says.

Knowing they would receive expert treatment and have access to a number of knowledgeable physicians, Elizabeth and John chose ARM to be the clinic that helped them achieve parenthood, visiting the Colorado Springs office.

Dr. Shona Murray was the couple’s doctor. She reviewed their case, suggesting in vitro fertilization (IVF) right away.

“We had already covered all the basic treatments on our own,” Elizabeth says. “Since we had done so many steps already, she suggested we go straight to IVF.”

Ultimately, Elizabeth would go through four IVF cycles before the treatment succeeded. With each attempt and failure, Elizabeth and John felt their hopes lifted then dashed, and would gear up for another round.

“The first time you do an IVF cycle, you don’t realize how bad your heart can be broken when it doesn’t work,” Elizabeth says. “But you still hope it will work, because you try again. Then you get pessimistic and afraid you’ll be disappointed again.”

Like many hopeful couples going through IVF treatment, the Ayers couple pushed themselves through the fear of failure, hoping the next round would work.

And on the fourth cycle, it did! Finally achieving pregnancy, the reality set in. They were half way to reaching their goal of parenthood. Now that a baby was on the way, the stakes were even higher.

“Finding out we were pregnant was absolutely petrifying,” says Elizabeth. “We were worried something would go wrong. Every step we had taken before had felt like the rug was pulled out from under us, and we didn’t want that to happen again.”

As it turns out, Elizabeth’s pregnancy was so smooth she didn’t even have morning sickness. On August 21, 2011, after so many years of waiting, John and Elizabeth Ayers welcomed their new baby, Hunter, into the world.

With their journey through infertility over, Elizabeth and John are now embarking on the new road of parenthood, complete with its own emotions and challenges.

“Having the baby changed our whole life. I’m still trying to figure out how to take a shower,” Elizabeth jokes, quietly though, since Hunter’s nap is giving her a few moments of respite.

She and John still have a heightened instinct to safeguard Hunter, Elizabeth says, though she’s not sure if that’s because it was so hard to have a baby, or if they are just normal first-time parents.

Even so, parenthood seems oddly normal to them now, although the unique circumstances that brought them here will forever cast a special glow on Hunter’s life.

“Now it feels like we’re finally whole,” says Elizabeth. “But I also know this miracle wasn’t just handed to us. I think he is so special, and perfect, and everything else a baby should be.”