A Fertility Doctor Shares Her Thoughts About Her Own Infertility Journey

By Dr. Nichole Barker, DO

Underneath my white coat, I’m an infertility patient. 

I found my calling in the field of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, feeling drawn to help couples build the family they always dreamed of having. “How amazing is that?,” I thought.

During my fellowship, I learned that I would also become a patient, as my husband and I were told there was less than a 1% chance we would conceive on our own.

Life as I knew it stood still.

I always wanted to be a mom. I wanted to have a baby with the love of my life. I suddenly had to consider that I may never have that.

It’s so interesting to me how perspective changes.

I always loved working with pregnant women as an OBGYN, being a part of the miracle of birth.  Now, I was secretly jealous of every pregnant woman alive!

Why were there so many?

“It seemed that every place I went, someone was flaunting a big round pregnant belly as a cruel joke to those of us who might never have that. “

Why were all my friends having babies, and on the first try? Oh, and don’t get me started on the social media posts from the complaining pregnant ladies out there!

These were the things going on in my head, but I never admitted it to anyone at the time.

Instead, I put on my happy face, congratulated and celebrated a new pregnancy for a patient at work, and then cried myself home from the office.

I made excuses not to go to my friend’s kid’s birthday parties and baby showers.

As I write this, I think… I could have handled that way better, but it was my raw emotion at the time.  It was real.

How ironic that this would happen to someone whose life’s work is helping people complete their families.

(Actually, there are a lot of us out there.)

At the time, I questioned if I could even practice in this field if I wasn’t able to conceive. After a lot of tears and a lot of prayer, we decided to move forward with IVF. Little did I know that my infertility journey would be the best lesson of my training. No book, journal, lecture, or teacher could compare. Being a patient was the best thing for my career.

It was not, however,the best thing for my marriage.

Wouldn’t you know that men and women deal with stress differently (shocking!)?

While I could barely get myself out of bed, my husband was able to throw himself into his work.  I resented that.

As I cried myself to sleep, cried watching TV, cried in my office, cried at the airport on my way to a job interview, he seemed ok.  Did he not care?

Looking back, I realize that he was the rock I needed, my beacon of hope. When you know the statistics are not in your favor and you know the science, it becomes easy to see the glass half empty. That was me. I had convinced myself that it would not work. How could it work?

My husband had more faith than me. I love him so much for that.

The physical process of IVF was not that eventful for me (the first time around).  I tolerated the shots (though I started to feel like a pin cushion 8 days in) recovered seamlessly from the egg retrieval and – wouldn’t you know – they got a decent amount of eggs! Maybe our luck was changing.

The call from the embryologist the next day felt like a drop from the sky…poor fertilization.  Would we even get an embryo to transfer?

We waited, I cried. We waited longer, I cried harder. We did have a transfer. The time from transfer to pregnancy test is a blur. Sometimes I wonder how we as fertility patients actually survive the 2 week wait, but most of us do…somehow.

I recall sitting in the office with one of my nurses and thinking of every patient to whom we quoted low odds and went on to prove us wrong. I tried to tell myself that miracles happen every day.

“Miracles happen every day.”

My miracle happened. I was pregnant.

I was still on an emotional roller coaster waiting for my HCG levels to rise and for that early ultrasound. I started crying before the ultrasonographer even started the exam. All the emotion culminates at this one exam, where you get some validation that you actually have life inside of you. I laugh now, but I was offended when I saw that my OBGYN wrote “anxious patient” on my records. She was right, I was!

I got better, less stressed throughout the pregnancy and had a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

We were beyond blessed. We decided to try again a year later for baby #2, without success. A year after that, I did another IVF cycle, got a surprising case of hyperstimulation, had to freeze my embryos, and cancel the transfer. I was bummed to have to delay, but I realized it was the best thing for my health.

I got pregnant after a frozen embryo transfer and had suboptimal rising HCGs and was convinced it was not a healthy pregnancy. I now have my healthy 8 month old daughter from that suboptimal rising HCG pregnancy!

My second miracle happened.

My experiences as a patient have shaped me, my family, and my practice.

I will forever bear the scars of an infertility patient (not to mention the knot in my butt that never went away from the progesterone in oil injections). My heart aches with each patient’s infertility story, and I’ve realized over the years how much stronger my patients are than I could ever be.

My patients have fueled my hope even more, keep me coming to work every day, and I am forever grateful to each and every one of them for letting me walk with them on their fertility journey.

I share my story to give validation and hope to those suffering. You are not alone and help is out there. For non-infertility patients who may be reading this, my wish is to bring awareness that someone close to you is probably suffering; so have a heart, educate yourself about infertility and how to support your loved ones.

For more information and resources for infertility, please visit Understanding Fertility

Tacoma fertility specialist Dr. Nichole Barker with husband and 2 kids

April 27, 2016

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