03/01/2018 13:57 EST | Updated 03/01/2018 13:57 EST

Infertility Strained Her Marriage, But This Mom’s Still Trying For 2nd Baby

New Brunswick mom Carolynn Dubé is determined to grow her family.

Carolynn Dube

Name and partner's name: Carolynn & Bryan Dubé

Occupation: Executive director at Fertility Matters Canada

Age: 36

City: Moncton, N.B.

Years trying to have a baby: Two

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When the "mom gene" kicked in: I don't think there is one defining moment in my life where I knew I wanted to be a parent. For me, it was just always part of who I was going to be. I come from an incredibly tight-knit Cape Breton family. Family is family. Friends are family. I am sure I must have hundreds of cousins because where I am from, cousins go on for generations and we celebrate that!

It was never a question of "if" I was going to be a parent; it was just a matter of "when" I would be adding my own children to the brood.

The infertility diagnosis: I remember vividly the day my husband was diagnosed. We were in his physician's office to receive the results from his semen analysis. The doctor pulled up his file, looked at the lab results and said, "You will never get pregnant. You need an army and you have a soldier." He then looked at me immediately and said, "I am going to examine your husband now, so you can leave."

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The reaction: I was furious. [The doctor] blew it off like it was no big deal. There was no discussion. No planning. No advice on next steps. I felt like we had been blown out of the office and had nowhere to turn.

When the initial shock wore off, several hours later, all I could do was cry. It was the most hopeless (and helpless) I had ever felt in my life. So many questions, so many unknowns.

We were never advised that reproductive health isn't guaranteed.​​​​

As a newly married couple in our early 30s, we had no idea that struggling to start our family would even be an issue. It had never crossed our minds. We were young, fit and healthy, and had no history of reproductive health issues.

This isn't something we are taught in school. From an early age, we are taught to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. We were never advised — in school or from our health care professionals — that reproductive health isn't guaranteed and that it is something that affects one in six Canadians who are trying to conceive.

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The plan B: Our male factor infertility diagnosis meant our only option for conceiving was through in vitro fertilization (IVF) coupled with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). We moved directly from our diagnosis into the process of IVF/ICSI.

After our first IVF cycle, we transferred one fresh blastocyst back to my uterus. The result from this procedure was a negative pregnancy test (yet again!). Several months later, we moved on to a frozen embryo transfer (FET), transferring two frozen five-day blastocysts to my uterus. [From] that cycle, we conceived our son, Bren, who is now four years old.

Carolynn Dube
Carolynn and her son, Bren.

Reaction to finally conceiving her son: Disbelief. I took an at-home pregnancy test the night before I was scheduled to have my beta blood work to determine if my frozen embryo transfer had worked. Having had a previous negative test with my initial IVF cycle, I needed to know, one way or the other, if it had been successful.

To be honest, I was sure it hadn't worked since I didn't "feel" pregnant. I remember the hesitation to flip the stick over to read the screen because once I read that result, there was no going back.

It read: "PREGNANT. 1-2 weeks." I was in complete shock. I handed the test to my husband, who of course thought that my tears meant it hadn't worked. There was such a huge sense of relief with that one word: PREGNANT. Hallelujah!

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Meeting their son for the first time: It was pure and utter bliss. I remember Bren being placed on my chest and he immediately locked eyes with me. In that moment, I felt so connected with him. He held my gaze for the longest time. I'll never forget it. I didn't cry. It was magic.

The hardships: The biggest challenge we have faced as a couple is the stress associated with our diagnosis. Infertility is very complex. There are the obvious reasons: the sense of loss, the grief, the huge financial burden (the average cost of a fertility treatment with meds is $15,000 paid upfront for the "hope" of a baby — there are no guarantees!).

Then there are the more subtle challenges: time off work for appointments and, sometimes, because you just need a mental health day [to take a break from] pregnancy announcements on Facebook, having to answer why you haven't had kids yet, dealing with the massive hormone shifts from injecting yourself multiple times a day. Sometimes the pot boils over.

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The bright side: The high point of this journey, without a doubt, is knowing how much our child was loved and wanted even before he was conceived. It was such a journey to get him here that we know that he is exactly what we wanted and that he is loved beyond measure by so many people. We had such a huge cheering section along our path to parenthood. It reminded us just how lucky we are.

How their relationship changed: There were many times in the past five years that infertility nearly tore us apart. There is no other way to describe it. There were days (or weeks) that one of us was in a deep, dark hole.

For so many years, life wasn't fun. It was all stress and worry and appointments — I literally forgot how fun I was!

My husband often reminds me that I need to lighten up a bit, to have more fun. I think infertility did that to me. For so many years, life wasn't fun. It was all stress and worry and appointments — I literally forgot how fun I was! It is a work in progress for me, even today.

I can say that our journey has taught us to appreciate each other more, in many ways. I have learned to lean on my husband more. He will tell you how strong I am for giving myself multiple daily injections in the hopes of being successful and never complaining about it. We've walked a difficult road, and although the journey isn't over (we hope!), we walked it together and we are stronger individually and together for it.

Carolynn Dube

Moving forward: It doesn't mean we don't still struggle [now that we have Bren]. I have since had another [frozen embryo transfer], which was unsuccessful. This past fall I underwent a second round of IVF/ICSI. We froze five embryos from that cycle and are awaiting the time to start another FET.

Trying for baby No. 2 has come with its own set of challenges. It's just different the second time around because now we have a four-year-old asking when we are having a baby!

Carolynn Dube

How they cope: Some days are hard. I won't sugar coat [it]. Even though we have had a successful outcome from our treatments, we still feel that our family isn't finished. We have talked a lot. We have postponed treatment cycles. We have debated the pros and cons of having another child.

Our biggest coping mechanism is talking about it — with each other and with others. We have become vocal advocates for public awareness and education, as well as provincially funded fertility treatments across Canada. We know we have a choice to stay silent and to deal with this on our own with close family and friends, but we are incredibly aware of those who don't have the courage or the opportunity to speak about their own struggles. Advocating for others has been very therapeutic for us both.

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Talking about infertility: If I had a dollar for every "It will happen, just relax!" I have heard, my fertility treatments would have paid for themselves! In all seriousness, people don't mean to offend, they all mean well. They just don't know better. I believe it is our responsibility to educate people so that they know the things we want to hear and the things that can hurt us.

A simple "I am here for you" can mean the world. Suggestions like: "Just relax and don't think about it," "When you stop trying it will happen," "It's God's will," or (my favourite) "Just adopt!" are simply frustrating and hurtful to individuals in the throes of a battle with infertility.

Carolynn Dube

What she wants other couples to know: Our biggest piece of advice is to seek a support network outside of your spouse or partner. Infertility is a nasty beast. So many emotions, so much pain and heartache comes month after month. Both partners grieve, but the stages of grief can come at different times. And, although it is critical to keep open lines of communication in your relationship, it is also important to have others you can lean on when you are feeling frustrated, sad, or defeated.

It is also extremely helpful to find a network of people who are experiencing fertility challenges, too. Talking to others who understand how you are feeling because they have been there too is incredibly freeing. It makes you feel understood, less afraid, more empowered. Take advantage of the many online and in-person support groups that exist. We are all stronger together.

Take advantage of the many online and in-person support groups that exist. We are all stronger together.

Final thoughts: You are not in this alone. One in six people in Canada are struggling to build their families, too. Fertility Matters Canada has an incredible website, social media feeds that are full of resources, stories, information, and tools, and both in-person and online support groups for you to access for free.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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