Is getting pregnant on your own after fertility treatments just an urban legend? Not always, according to one writer who had it happen to her.
After going through a successful pregnancy, I knew the signs, but as I sat in my bathroom, seeing the positive symbol show up immediately on the test, I thought to myself, "This is not how I get pregnant!"
It took us five rounds of in vitro fertilization to conceive my first daughter and here I was, less than a year after her birth, pregnant again, this time 100% on our own, without fertility treatments.
Once I started looking into it, I heard many stories of spontaneous pregnancy after infertility and realized my situation was more common than I thought. Here are just some of the tales I learned, which might just give hope to the many, like me, who thought they couldn't get pregnant on their own.
Story #1: The symptoms gave it away
Christine K. from Baltimore was told she had a 10% chance of getting pregnant naturally with her second child, since she needed IVF for her first due to her husband's low sperm motility and morphology diagnosis.
"At my initial visit, they told me I was pregnant, through ultrasound," she shares. "I thought it wasn't possible. I [was] taking Lupron to start the IVF cycle. I missed my period and my breasts were sore, but I automatically assumed it was side effects from the Lupron."
Story #2: There's nothing like morning sickness
Jaclyn D. from Columbus, Ohio went through the wringer to achieve her first pregnancy. "We tried to conceive for one-plus years by ourselves, then did 13 rounds of double IUIs [intrauterine inseminations]—two inseminations within 48 hours. When those all failed, we did three rounds of IVF."
She was told that there was zero percent chance of getting pregnant without IVF. They, therefore, had no plan to get pregnant following their daughter's birth. When her daughter was around two, "I went to both my family physician and my OBGYN trying to figure out why I was so sick. [I] joked and laughed with both that I couldn't be pregnant." However, one morning, "a smell 'triggered' my morning sickness. At that moment, I knew I was pregnant. There was no doubt in my mind."
Story #3: An ovulation miracle
Cathy Stefano of Philadelphia shared a similar story. Initially diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, she endured three rounds of ovulation drug Clomid, two cycles of injectables with IUIs and finally IVF. However, after producing a batch of bad eggs and then not responding well to a second IVF cycle, she tried another IUI, which resulted in her daughter.
Stefano's first pregnancy was tough. "We didn't discuss a subsequent very often. IVF was totally out of the question. How was I supposed to work and care for [my daughter] on that roller coaster ride?"
However, when Stefano stopped breastfeeding, she noticed she was ovulating, which she never had before because of PCOS. She and her husband decided to take a chance despite just having booked a trip to Las Vegas. "My daughter was only six months old when I conceived naturally. I had no idea if [getting pregnant would work], but it worth a try. [In the end] I was three months pregnant for the trip to Vegas. Food never tasted so yummy!"
Story #4: A post-pregnancy surprise
Jenifer Coscia from Westchester County, N.Y. also got pregnant when her first was under a year. She was initially diagnosed with pockets in her tubes, which prevented the egg from traveling to the uterus. IVF helped bypass the tubes entirely, leading to the birth of her son.
"I was told that it was unlikely I would conceive naturally, that there would be a risk of a tubal pregnancy. However, when my son was 5 months old, I was surprised to find out I was pregnant again, naturally."
The truth behind pregnancy and fertility
These stories seem to crop up a lot so is it true that a first pregnancy can "jump start" fertility? Jennifer L. Nichols, D.O., from Abington Reproductive Medicine in Pennsylvania explains that the data isn't strong enough to prove this one way or the other. At Abington, she says, "we do not routinely follow [former] patients." Without a retrospective study, it's difficult to determine a statistic of spontaneous pregnancies after fertility treatments.
However, Nichols shared a few studies that have looked at this phenomenon. "One study [from 2012] looked at 2,134 couples who began IVF and followed up with a questionnaire seven to nine years later. In patients who were successful through prior treatment 17% conceived spontaneously and gave birth."
A second study from 2000 "looked at 513 replies from 530 questionnaires mailed and found the spontaneous conception rate (20.7%) was higher in younger women (<34), with shorter duration of infertility, diagnosed with either unexplained or endometriosis."
A final study from 2008, which looked at families in Germany who initially conceived with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) reported that "of the couples trying 20% conceived with a live birth rate of 16.4% with maternal age being the only critical factor in the spontaneous conception."
What is clear from this data is that not all formally infertile couples will be lucky enough to conceive naturally.
A diagnosis like endometriosis or unexplained infertility has a better chance of spontaneous pregnancies after fertility treatment. "It is possible that pregnancy may improve the status of endometriosis," Dr. Nichols states. "[Pregnancy] could improve the blood flow to the uterus and could affect anatomy therefore improving embryo implantation."
The hormonal changes from pregnancy could also help women who previously had irregular cycles. "Pregnancy may play a role in regulating these abnormalities and a woman could have a higher chance to conceive naturally," Dr. Nichols adds. She explains, "the factors that likely have a lower chance of success for future natural conception are male factor and tubal factor."