A Mother’s Journey Through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss
Kayti Sullivan’s roller coaster analogy is likely relatable for most women who have experienced fertility struggles. “It starts when your period comes and you’re crazy disappointed. After a few days of wallowing, you get yourself together mentally and you say to yourself, ‘OK. This is going to be the cycle, we’re going to get pregnant this go round.’ That’s when you start clicking up the anticipatory uphill of the roller coasting, waiting for ovulation. Ovulation happens, and the downhill, or, the two week wait, starts. Will I get a positive test? Will my period be late? You go through the twists and turns all the way until the unwanted appearance of that period blood…and the whole thing starts over again.”
Kayti is no stranger to this roller coaster. After nearly two years of infertility, including a rare form of pregnancy loss, nearly losing her life in a foreign country, and a natural pregnancy while undergoing IVF, her path to motherhood was anything but smooth.
Kayti’s journey to motherhood, however, didn’t begin with the fertility roller coaster. In fact, she got pregnant just three weeks after she and her husband Morgen decided to “sort of try, but not really try” at the beginning of 2015. They were living in Hamburg, Germany when Kayti saw a “super faint line” on her pregnancy test. “As I later learned, that’s as good as a dark positive line. After eating rare burgers and soft cheeses for about two days of disbelief in that faint line, Morgen was like, ‘you need to stop denying the fact you’re pregnant.’ So I made an OB appointment.”
At her first German OB-GYN appointment at eight weeks pregnant she took her doctor’s funny statement, “congratulations, you are pregnant and you are pregnant in your uterus,” more as fodder for language barrier jokes than foreshadowing a turn of events a few weeks later. “I thought, that’s a strange thing to say, but chalked it up to living in a foreign country and carried on being shocked and surprised we got pregnant so easily.”
Kayti was around nine weeks pregnant when she and Morgen went skiing in Austria with friends. While skiing, she noticed she was having trouble turning her torso, but figured it was a UTI, which she’d heard could be painful for pregnant women. When she could no longer hold her body upright at dinner, they found a doctor in the tiny Austrian town.
“In Germany, they give you a Mutterpass, which is a little book like a passport where your appointments, blood type, and any updates or medications are all tracked,” Kayti explained. “So the doctor was looking from my Mutterpass to my distended stomach before telling me I needed to go to the ER. We got to the ER and the doctor’s English was horrible. But he turned the ultrasound to me and was like, ‘can you see this? Your entire uterus is filled with blood.’”
Following surgery the following morning, Kayti learned she had lost over a liter of blood. The doctor told her he removed the pregnancy, which he said had been on her fallopian tube— this puzzled both of them as Kayti’s Mutterpass clearly stated the pregnancy was in her uterus. He chalked it up to the pregnancy detaching from the uterine wall, and continued to perform a post-operative ultrasound.
“At this point, he was literally scratching his head,” Kayti recalled. Then he told her she was still pregnant—in her uterus. “I’d had a heterotopic pregnancy, which is incredibly rare, occurring in 0.00003% of natural pregnancies. I ovulated two eggs, both fertilized, one in the uterus and one in the fallopian tube. So the intrauterine pregnancy was still there. I was an immediate spectacle. I think he called every OB in the neighboring 12 counties.”
Very confused and cautiously optimistic that the intrauterine pregnancy was still viable, Kayti and Morgen returned to Hamburg, where they arranged an appointment with her OB-GYN, who did an ultrasound and told Kayti the pregnancy not only wasn’t viable, but was also a major risk for infection. She took the first appointment slot for a DNC on a Thursday, got food poisoning that Sunday, thus effectively ending the worst week of her life.
Only one solution
In the few months it took Kayti to wrap her head around this experience, she came to the conclusion that the only thing that would truly heal the many emotions wrapped up in losing her first pregnancy was having a baby.
“At that point, we started actively trying,” she said. “And then 6–8 months went by and I was like, man, we’ve been trying for a while and still aren’t pregnant. So then I became a crazy person about it. Like, we need to have sex now, which, of course was the most uninspiring sex in the universe. I was tracking every single fertility signal, charting my cycles, using a few aps—I was in full fledged obsession.”
Also during this time, Kayti really began to experience the highs and lows of the fertility roller coaster, which also lent interesting insight into her relationship. “I’ve talked with many women about similar experiences and it’s always interesting to ask, where are you with your partner on this whole thing? Morgen is an exceptional and supportive partner and yet he was very much like, ‘don’t worry, babe! We’ll get pregnant next time!’ And I was like, I want to be pregnant right now and I don’t think you understand how much I’m going through on a monthly basis. It felt like he was kind of waving at me on the sidelines as I took the ride alone.”
These breakthrough conversations led to Morgen taking his seat on the roller coaster, and feeling his full support allowed Kayti to relinquish some control over the situation. “Interestingly I think losing our first pregnancy and going through infertility was one of the best lessons in parenting. There’s little you can control.”
Renewed hope and a second miscarriage
A few months later, Kayti learned one of her fallopian tubes was bent as a result of surgery from the heterotopic pregnancy. Two months after having it straightened out, she was pregnant again, after a year and a half since her first pregnancy.
“We were secretly so excited, but at our 10 week appointment the technician told us the heartbeat was too slow and that this pregnancy would miscarry.” There were a lot of tears the day we found out we would be miscarrying our second pregnancy, but picking ourselves up felt a little easier to do the second time around.
Kayti took an induction drug and passed the pregnancy early in the morning several days after the appointment. “It was crazy painful and I rushed to the toilet, where I felt it come out. I went into the kitchen, got a spoon, and started examining it. It looked like a tiny, tiny kidney bean. I didn’t feel an emotional desire to bury it, or name it, or anything like that, but it was interesting. It was just a moment to myself, and I think in a funny way it was probably healthy to be less medicalized and just an experience I had at home. But then I flushed it down the toilet and carried on with my day. Honestly, at that point I felt like, ‘I’ll take a run of the mill miscarriage any day over what I went through in Austria.’”
IUI and IVF
If anyone can make you laugh while relaying a story of loss and frustration, it’s Kayti. “The process of intrauterine inception (IUI) can be really stressful and hard on your relationship, so we found ways to make it lighter. For the entire process, I told Morgen we couldn’t refer to semen as anything other than jizz. So we’d be sitting in the doctor’s office, trying so hard not to laugh, deadpan asking the doctor when Morgen would jizz into a cup.” After one round of IUI, Kayti took a pregnancy test on Christmas morning, which was negative.
“I cried for four hours on Christmas day. After that, I was like give me the hard stuff. I don’t care about the financials and I know this is an emotional decision, but I want IVF.”
For the uninitiated, in vitro fertilization (IVF) starts with daily shots that kill your luteinizing hormones, which make your uterus a safe place for a baby to implant. The purpose of this first step is to level your hormones so the doctors can perfectly dial them up, tuning your body to ideal pregnancy ranges. Kayti had been taking Lupron for just under three weeks when doctors ran additional tests on her blood work. “I got a call at work and they were like, stop taking the drugs now, you’re pregnant. Meanwhile, I’m Googling, ‘taking Lupron while pregnant’…the results weren’t promising.”
After a very cautious 10 weeks, Kayti was still pregnant and the pregnancy looked clear. The doctor graduated Kayti and Morgen from the fertility clinic to an OB-GYN. Still unclear as to why this pregnancy was successful after so many attempts and so much loss, the doctor’s diagnosis was bad luck.
Today, Kayti is mom to seven month old Axel, a healthy, smiley baby that somehow looks just like both Morgen and Kayti, depending on the day. On her easy transition into motherhood, Kayti said, “I’m a big believer that every mother will take her licks somewhere in the process. Whether that comes in the form of getting pregnant, being pregnant, infancy, toddlerhood, somewhere along the way, things aren’t going to be pretty.”
She remains convinced that a baby was the only solution to the sadness she experienced during infertility and through multiple miscarriages, but is a strong believer that the baby’s origin isn’t what matters.
“During infertility, we went fairly far down the adoption road. Occasionally, I’ll notice that [Ax] has my eyes or really looks like me in a picture, but all of that is a really fun novelty and it’s not a necessity to being a mom. As is so commonly the case in life, I’m almost happy for the journey we went on. I feel lucky we learned what we learned, we became stronger, I became stronger, and now my emotional bandwidth is that much bigger.”
Advice Kayti would pass on to any woman struggling with infertility? “Don’t be ashamed if you feel like there’s an external outcome that has to happen to relieve this pain. For me, it was a baby, no matter if the baby were adopted or from an egg or sperm donor or biologically our own. I kept thinking of the quote, ‘everything is going to be OK, and if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.’ Once I was finally pregnant, infertility felt thousands of miles in the rearview mirror. It felt like someone sucked the poison out.”