When the stress and disappointment of the infertility process became overwhelming, writer Kaeleigh MacDonald felt compelled to write about it (with a gentle nudge from her husband). After more than five years of TTC and blogging, she and her husband were able to have two children. Along the way, Kaeleigh learned a lot and was inspired to write a book, Extra!, so she could explain to her young son how some families are created with a little “extra” help — time, persistence, and science.
We spoke to her about how she had her two children, her need to switch fertility specialists in the middle of their process, how her book has been received in the infertility community, and why it’s important to connect with others dealing with infertility.
Q: What’s your infertility story in a nutshell?
When my husband and I started trying we were relatively young. I was 26 and he was 27 years old, so we didn’t expect any problems. We were both healthy, fit, and ate all our vegetables. Teenagers manage to get pregnant accidentally all the time… what could possibly go wrong?
We made the decision to start trying on a trip to Scotland and I vividly remember the feeling of fear and exaltation as I threw out my final pack of birth control. It turned out that our journey wouldn’t be that straight forward. Almost two years later and after several rounds of testing with a fertility specialist, we discovered that I suffer from Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR). This means that even though my biological age was only 28, my eggs were “more mature” than that and exceptionally good at playing hard-to-get.
There were no midnight rendezvous in a car or exceptional bottles of merlot in our conception story. No matter how many times we tried those methods or set out to “just relax,” we were always just met with the same lonely pink line on our pregnancy tests.
This is what happened with me, I released two eggs that month, and we just got very lucky on the timing! So I figure she was as “naturally conceived” as a baby conceived on any other drugs. She was, however, a surprise pregnancy, because we weren’t trying that month at all. That was a really surreal moment, to see two pink lines and be shocked, having no expectation of seeing a positive result. (No one had alerted us that you could potentially super-ovulate on the drug I was taking.) We felt blessed to have been able to avoid having to do an embryo transfer.
Instead, our son’s conception involved three-plus years of trying, a doctor we barely knew, tens of thousands of dollars, and a whole lot of science. Our daughter’s conception involved slightly less science and another year-plus of time spent trying, losing hope, and trying some more.
Now, after a total of almost five years spent building our family, we feel mostly complete. We’re unsure if we’d like another child, we still have some embryos frozen, but the idea of diving back into the infertility waters and the pain and frustration that comes with it means we are putting off that decision to another day. We are incredibly lucky to have the two children we have and are trying to just roll with life for now.
There were no midnight rendezvous in a car or exceptional bottles of merlot in our conception story. No matter how many times we tried those methods or set out to ‘just relax,’ we were always just met with the same lonely pink line on our pregnancy tests.
Q: Why did you decide to document your infertility experience?
I started my blog, Unpregnant Chicken (www.unpregnantchicken.com), as an act of desperation. We had been trying naturally for over a year and were getting ready to have our first consultation with an RE and I was drowning in all of the emotions I was experiencing. I am a sharer by nature, I overshare everything all the time to anyone who will listen, and I am also a writer. So one morning I was sobbing on our couch when my husband suggested that I channel all my angst into a book, he suggested. I laughed at him and snarkily retorted, “Yeah sure, or better yet a BLOG!” I pretty much spat the insult at him. It was 2013 and blogs were still really just rising on the internet; it all seemed so ridiculous.
But, the idea stuck in my head, and my sneering slowly turned into curiosity and I started journaling to the world wide web in 2014. I had no idea, at that point, that I would wind up running the site as it is today. The idea that I would blog for six years and become an outspoken voice for the infertility community had never been my plan; it was all wonderful happenstance. What started out as a way for me to unload my stresses about TTC became a hugely valued part of my life and transformed me into a passionate advocate with drive to create change and understanding in a mostly fertile world.
Having a doctor that I felt I connected with, who didn’t belittle me when I advocated for myself, who knew when to make a joke to ease the tension, made all the difference on my journey.
Q: In your blog, you spoke about switching doctors. How important do you feel it is to get a second opinion and/or find a doctor that’s “right” for you?
Honestly, from the moment I walked into my first RE’s office, she made my skin crawl. She was cold, dismissive, and had the personality of a wet mop. We suffered through two rounds of Clomid and one IUI with her. Then, on the follow up for our first failed IUI, I was accidentally scheduled with the wrong doctor — a clinic mixup. It was a revelation! The “wrong” doctor was funny, warm, and comforting. I made the decision to switch my care to him.
Even knowing I liked the new doctor, I was still incredibly nervous about switching. Our clinic has a rule that you can only switch doctors once, and the next closest clinic is three hours away, so I worried that I might not connect with or feel heard by the new guy? But I knew that I couldn’t spend another moment under our previous doctor and that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing IVF with her as our primary source of contact and solace in such a big treatment decision. So we jumped and I’m incredibly grateful that we did! Having a doctor that I felt I connected with, who didn’t belittle me when I advocated for myself, who knew when to make a joke to ease the tension, made all the difference on my journey. It helped give me a little bit of control back in a process that had otherwise stripped me of any I had over making a baby.
Q: How did it feel finding you had naturally conceived your second child after going through years of treatment for your first child?
I actually don’t consider my daughter’s conception to be totally natural. When I found out I was pregnant with her I was gearing up for our planned FET after trying naturally for a year with no luck. I was waiting for a late period when I tested positive.
The drugs I took at this time make your ovaries shut down so that you don’t ovulate during your FET cycle (so you don’t accidentally get pregnant twice and so that your doctors can control the cycle and perfectly time the transfer) but before they shut your ovaries down the drugs actually cause your body to overproduce hormones which, in some cases, can cause you to super-ovulate.
The infertility community is a vast and incredibly supportive one. Reach out to others. Allow them to help carry the burden with you. Find your people, the ones who truly get it.
Q: What was the experience like of writing your book, Extra!, and what’s been the response to it?
Writing a book is a little like having each of your teeth slowly extracted from your head without the numbing effects of Novocain. It was one of the most arduous things I’ve ever gone through. But, unlike having teeth pulled, it has also been incredibly rewarding! I knew that I had to write this book, no matter how painful the experience was, because it seemed that there was no book out there to explain to my son the myriad of ways families are created. I wanted a book that talked about the many ways that families are made, not just IVF, and how all of those “extra” ways are amazing and right! I got to writing and I created this book that includes adoption, surrogacy, sperm/egg donation, IUI/IVF, and LGBT families for all of the children who took a little “extra.” Children who are fabulously and fearlessly loved and were created with extra time, persistence, and science. To have people know that they are “extra” and that being extra is wonderful is just incredible!
My favorite fan story about the book so far is about a boy, Alex, who came to his family through adoption. He loves the book so much that he reads it multiple times a day and it has sparked many wonderful conversations about how he came to be in his family. He calls the book “magic boy” because Lucas wears a cape and he’s convinced that the book gets up and moves around the room when he’s not looking. He loves it so much that his mind has literally brought it to life! My heart hurts thinking about that story because it makes me so happy. All the teeth pulling was truly worth it.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
Yes! This journey is hard but you are not alone! If blogging has taught me anything, it’s that the infertility community is a vast and incredibly supportive one. Reach out to others. Allow them to help carry the burden with you. Find your people, the ones who truly get it. Read all the blogs you can find, attend support groups, follow hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. If your family took “extra” to happen, I would be thrilled for you to add my book to your kid’s bookshelf! Don’t suffer in silence. It’s too painful and wholly unnecessary to suffer alone in this day and age. I see you. We are here with you. Baby dust and good luck!