It’s estimated that one in six couples will struggle to conceive. But most of the time when you hear the scary word ‘infertility,’ you associate it with unhealthy men or women. Or, more to the point, older couples who delayed the baby-making process. After all, as more companies encourage females to freeze their eggs at a young age, and warn of birth defects past the age of 35, the conversation around 30-something infertility has become mainstream.
However, as with many health issues that can sometimes be explained, but most of the time cannot, infertility doesn’t happen at a specific age. In fact, plenty of couples in their twenties have experienced extreme difficulty becoming pregnant. Depending on a slew of factors, many 20-something couples who supposedly have time and science on their side will not be able to conceive on their own. That’s why it’s important to discuss infertility, the options available to women and men, and to remove the stigma of the issue—no matter the age. Here, four brave women detail their journeys, hoping to raise awareness and give hope to those in the thick of the process.
“You’re not alone.”
When Arden Cartrette and her husband, Kerry, decided to grow their family, they had a sinking feeling something wasn’t right. Even though both Arden and Kerry were young—24 and 27, respectively—and they didn’t have any indication they might struggle, they felt infertility in their gut. Unfortunately, they were right. After seven months of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, they scheduled an appointment to explore what was going wrong. Arden suspected she had luteal phase defect, affecting the time from ovulation through the end of your cycle. They were advised to try a few supplements, as well as progesterone tablets, but to no avail. Once they hit the one year mark of trying to conceive, they started seeing a reproductive endocrinologist to determine what fertility testing and treatment was best for their situation.
Since they started this process with a fertility specialist, Arden got pregnant twice, but sadly lost both pregnancies. As of April, they’re continuing testing and treatments for the next few cycles. Though the process has been undoubtedly difficult, Arden is a huge proponent of speaking up about infertility. In fact, she’s the voice behind the Hello Warrior blog and Instagram, where she outwardly speaks about her journey. “I kept my grief to myself for many, many months and it nearly destroyed my mental health. The best thing that I have ever done in my journey is opened up to my husband, our family, my friends, and even my bosses,” she continued. “People are more understanding and willing to help if they know what is wrong. Also, no one should ever go through this alone because it’s isolating enough as it is.”
“Take time to connect to your partner.”
From the time Jordan* started having a period as a pre-teen, something was off. She struggled with menstrual cycles and hormonal irregularities but didn’t think much of it until she was 22 years old, and trying to conceive with her husband, Jordan. They tried for six months, even taking ovulation tests—none of which tested positive. Frustrated and unsure of which route to take, the couple decided to seek the advice of their OB-GYN, who ultimately diagnosed Jordan with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). At the time, she was told she may never be able to conceive.
Eager to grow their family and welcome a baby into the world, Jordan started taking a medication called Clomid, which was meant to make her body produce the ideal cocktail of hormones to grow healthy eggs. But after months of trying, switching up treatments and plenty of times when Jordan felt increasingly ill, they decided to take a step back and enjoy some time together, just the two of them.
Half a year later, when they were ready to try again, they sought the guidance of a new OB-GYN who specializes in fertility. After testing Brandon’s sperm (which passed with flying colors)—they went through many other medications, trying to figure out how to make Jordan ovulate. Four failing months—and several painful cysts and terrible side effects—later, Jordan was told she ‘had the most stubborn ovaries ever.’
Jordan’s doctor suggested IVF (in-vitro fertilization) treatments, but since Jordan and Brandon couldn’t afford this route, they felt like they hit a dead end. For Jordan, it was an emotional rollercoaster that put her in a dark place.
“I was totally defeated at that point. I felt like a total failure that I couldn’t do the ‘one thing’ a woman is created and made to do. I felt like I failed my husband who wanted children and had no issues of his own. I felt like I failed my parents and in-laws who were so anxiously awaiting grandchildren,” she shared. “I cried at every pregnancy announcement, refused to go to baby showers, and skipped Mother’s Day at church.”
She continued to do everything and anything to carry a healthy baby: supplements, teas, yoga positions to ‘open her womb,’ and the list goes on. Together, they even looked into adoption and foster parenting but Jordan couldn’t shake the desire to have a biological child. Ultimately, they took out a loan to pay for a round of IVF so they could know they truly did all they could to have a child.
She started a new regimen of medications, and were shocked to learn her body was responding, finally. Her first round produced one egg, her second and third rounds both produced three, but none resulted in pregnancy. They tried for their second IUI (intrauterine insemination) after she produced three more eggs, and found out they were pregnant, with a due date of Christmas Day, 2018.
Their daughter arrived eight weeks early in November, and Jordan calls her the greatest blessing of her life. While they may explore fertility treatments in the future to have more children, they’re enjoying soaking up every moment with their miracle baby.
For couples who are going through a similar journey, Jordan emphasizes the importance of time to just be together—away from infertility discussions and rituals.
“There were days when my husband and I could barely look at each other—and usually it was those days when we had to ‘schedule’ having sex due to medication timelines or ovulation schedules. Our marriage was tested in a lot of ways: I spent a lot of time projecting my feelings of failure on to my husband. He spent a lot of time stumbling through trying to figure out how to support me through the hardest times,” she explained. “At the end of each hard day, we knew we had each other, no matter what the outcome of our fertility battle. We made it a point to come together every night and talk about the things on our hearts and to pray with and for each other. Infertility really strengthened our marriage over time, even if at the time, it was hard to see.”
“Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Lindsay* and her husband David had been on the ‘if it happens, it happens’ train since she was 25 years old but they didn’t ‘officially’ start trying until she turned 27. Six months into their first year of trying, Lindsay knew something was wrong but due to the lack of a prior diagnosis, they were recommended to wait a year before receiving any treatment recommendations or testing. But if Lindsay digs into her gut, she always worried she would struggle to conceive, since she always had issues with her period.
To stay proactive, Lindsay tracked her ovulation, exercised frequently, and ate healthier starting six months into trying to conceive. At the 12-month mark, her doctor ordered fertility testing for Lindsay and David, which came back normal. They were advised to keep trying but six more months passed without any success. Then, Lindsay was given ovulation pills. She completed a few cycles, but didn’t end up pregnant. Finally, at year two, she was referred to fertility specialists, where she experienced more red tape. “They refused to run any additional testing until they re-ran the testing we had done just a year prior. We did not return to the fertility specialist for testing, partially due to the cost of rerunning the tests and partially due to being treated like children by the doctor,” Lindsay shared.
At age 29, feeling defeated and discouraged, the couple decided to take a 6-month break from the emotional stress. It was then that Lindsay talked to her doctor about ‘lady problems’ she always had with her period, and eventually, was diagnosed with Endometrial Polyps and Endometriosis. She had the polyps removed, and is still battling Endometriosis today. Four years into their fertility journey, Lindsay and Brandon have decided not to pursue fertility treatments until they know the extent of damage her condition has caused. On the bright side, though, they plan to adopt in the next few years and start a new chapter for their family.
Lindsay’s best advice is to keep pushing your physicians for solutions—no matter your age. “Do not take no for an answer, hold your doctors accountable for your treatment and make sure you know your options; have a plan and stick to it. I wish we had known what we know now,” she shared. “We should have pushed the doctors to come up with a plan for fertility testing instead of letting them brush off my concerns because my initial tests were normal.”
And of course, lean on one another as much as you can. “This is a time when you may need more than one shoulder to lean on. Share how you feel with each other, friends and family, a support group,” she continued. “They will all remind you that you are not alone.”
“Don’t be afraid. Seek answers instead.”
After Morgan* and her husband Jason celebrated two years of marriage, they were excited to learn they were pregnant. They weren’t trying at the time, but at the age of 25, Morgan expected a healthy, easy experience. Unfortunately, she suffered a miscarriage and started what would become the hardest years of her life. Following the loss of their fetus, they decided to go full-force into conceiving, trying everything from home remedies to ovulation trackers and apps, but a year passed, and they weren’t successful. Morgan’s dad convinced her to see an OB-GYN, who ultimately referred the couple to a fertility specialist.
Unlike some other men or women who are given medical reasons to why they can’t produce a child, Morgan was diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility,’ which offered no answer to the heavy questions on their hearts. They decided to pursue IUI but they weren’t able to get pregnant. They then decided give IVF a shot, and Morgan says they were lucky to conceive their son on round one. They are hoping to try frozen Embryo Transfer to give Jaxon a younger sibling.
For couples who stomach deep anxiety about expanding their families, Morgan says it’s important to face it, head on. “My biggest piece of advice is to not let fear keep you from seeking help and to remember you are not alone. I go to my appointments and see lots of couples that are my age and I see couples that are older than I am,” she shared. “There is no age where infertility happens. Don’t let your fear control you, once you take that first step the fear will go away.”
*Last names omitted for privacy.