My Fertility Journey: Clomid Cycles

image created by me using the Rhonna Designs app

I first want to say that I’m glad you’re here! I only just recently started sharing about my fertility journey, and you can read my first post about it here. I also had some words on how to relax, if that’s something you’d like to read about. Today I want to share details of my Clomid cycles, because stories like these were exactly what I couldn’t find when I went looking for them.

The thought of medicated cycles was scary to me when it was initially recommended by my doctor. First of all, it was something I never thought I would have to do, so there was the shock of realizing I was on a different path than I thought I’d take… but I’m also kind of a “crunchy” or natural person and just don’t have much experience with medications in general. The last time I regularly used a prescribed medication was the birth control pill, and I didn’t respond well to it. That was over eleven years ago.

So I hit Google hard to find out what Clomid is, how it works, and what it’s like to take it. Here are a couple of links that sum it up nicely: WebMd, VeryWell

If you love torturing yourself go ahead and scour the TTC forums for people’s personal experiences… but please try not to get sucked into the black hole. 🙂 Believe me when I say that forums can make you crazy. I’ll have more to say on that below.

Before describing my experience, I feel like I should just “disclaim” that I am NOT a doctor or any kind of medical professional. Every person is different, every doctor uses different protocols… there are a lot of variables involved in this kind of treatment. Please don’t take my word over your doctor’s; I only want to share my experience in the hope of helping others. I also don’t have any referral links… not popular enough for that.

I have done 5 rounds of Clomid. My medicated cycles have “worked” in terms of ovulation, but haven’t “worked” in terms of conception (yet!). My side effects are not on the serious end of the spectrum, but range from “annoying” to “difficult.” I know some women have a terrible time on Clomid, but everything I’ve read says that most will be able to tolerate it. And tolerating it just means that the pros outweigh the cons; it can still be a pretty unpleasant time. While taking the pills, I get more emotional (crying, irritable), which can be managed but makes you feel out of control and not like yourself. I also found that it caused constipation for me, which is never fun. Once I had hot flashes for the first few days. During the first three cycles I also experienced “dryness;” I won’t get into that too much but I will say it made life difficult during the timed intercourse phase of the cycle. It was pretty tough, and negatively affected our chances of success. The first three cycles were at the lowest dose of Clomid, 50mg. After that we tried a Clomid challenge, during which the dose is 100mg, and I felt so much better. I haven’t heard or read about anyone else having that experience; if anything, the symptoms seem to get worse as the dose increases. So I guess I’m abnormal! Anyway, after that I continued at 100mg and had no more dryness (although still constipation and emotional changes, which I was prepared for). Even after the dose change, I found myself thrown off by the surprising things my body was doing, which changed from cycle to cycle. I had no idea what to expect in the first place, and still haven’t quite pinned it down, other than… expect the unexpected! 

Here’s what life has looked like for me during Clomid cycles:

Days 1-4: This is your very brief time to grieve the start of a new cycle if you need to. Then you have to decide if you want to take Clomid, call the doctor’s office, get meds ordered, tests scheduled, etc. My cycles have mostly been unmonitored (I am working with an OB, not a specialist). During my Clomid challenge cycle I had a lab and a sonogram to check for cysts on day 3, an HSG on day 7 (that one doesn’t have to be on a specific day but within a range of days), labs on day 10, a follicle scan on day 12, and a lab on day 21. That was a busy month! Once I know what Day 1 is, I take a good look at my calendar to see what I absolutely have to do for the next 30ish days. I also want to get an idea of when we will be “trying” and when my two-week-wait is. Once I know which weeks are which, I can plan accordingly. I also might start shopping for healthy treats, or at least make a shopping list.

Days 5-9 (or 3-7, depending on dr.’s orders): This is when you actually take the pills. I recommend watching your body very closely and keeping track of symptoms or anything that feels different. I have been using the Free Menstrual Calendar app for years to track cycle length, so I use this to track my BBT, CM, OPK, BD, meds, symptoms, test results, and appointments. I also use its companion app, Fertility Friend, for the actual BBT chart. You can use Fertility Friend for everything, but I started out with FMC and want to keep my data there for consistency’s sake. At this point I stick to my usual life schedule, but start to be mindful of my stress levels. I also try to tidy up at home so there is less clutter around, but I don’t go into a full cleaning frenzy.

I also continue to make sure I have healthy alternatives ready if I start craving any foods. My biggest cravings are sugar and dairy, which I try hard to avoid as ovulation gets closer. I wish it weren’t the case, but during the beginning of a cycle I’m usually binging on all the things I’m not supposed to eat so they will be gone during the next phase of my cycle. Why I don’t just throw that junk away, I don’t know. The reality is, it’s like Mardi Gras for me. 😉 Sugar-binging aside, I cut my coffee down to 1 cup per day (I would normally have 2 small cups), and no caffeine after 3:00pm so I can sleep at night. I make sure my husband and I are both taking our vitamins. A word on that: I initially wanted to take herbs to help with this process, but after reading up and asking a couple of experts, it seemed that herbs wouldn’t help enough to be worth it, and in the worst case scenario they might interfere with the Clomid. So I’m not messing with fertility herbs right now. I do take a prenatal multivitamin, fish oil, calcium/magnesium/zinc, B6, B12, and vitamin D. My prenatal multivitamin is pretty good, but after years of reading up on natural support for fertility I have decided I wanted a little more of some things. I did research safe dosing (and not only on “natural” sites) to make sure I’m not OD-ing on these supplements. During this phase I add fiber or magnesium as needed based on how my digestion is affected by the Clomid. I also start scheduling appointments for massage and acupuncture. Typically I’ll do 2 or 3 massages in a cycle. It’s nice to have one during each week that you’re trying, and one during the wait. For acupuncture I will do 2 visits a week, maybe 3. From what I’ve read and what my practitioners have said, you can start acupuncture as soon as bleeding from your period has stopped and continue until ovulation has been confirmed. But defer to your practitioners.

Days 10-22: This is when you try, try, and try again– the timed intercourse phase. Sounds so romantic, right? I like to keep the house tidy, laundry done, etc. so we both feel calm at home. We try to BE at home, too, so additional commitments are limited. I plan ahead for the things I might not feel like doing- especially cooking and exercising. Sometimes I do better at this than other times. When I’m doing well, I’ll look through my recipes to choose some comforting, healthy favorites that I enjoy cooking or are quick and easy. I’ll start thinking about exercise and plan to get up a little earlier so I can at least do something a few days out of the week.

This phase is when I start indulging in my healthy treats. Maybe I’ll make a dessert, or buy allergy-friendly cookies, chips, and other treats. I like to have a nice bar of chocolate around, or dairy-free ice cream. I also have special drinks ready (my favorites are kombucha or Perrier) for when I miss my occasional glass of wine that I ALWAYS want when I’m not supposed to have it. I think for me this falls under the umbrella of SUGAR cravings. Ugh. I will also add that, although I talk a big game about my “healthy treats,” sometimes I need to eat a bag of tater tots from Sonic. Just do your best!

This phase is when you’ll use your OPKs (ovulation predictor kit) if you’re using those. I use ClearBlue Digital tests, although I kind of wish I had gone for the old-fashioned test strips and learned how to use them, because they’re cheaper. When we first decided to do Clomid I didn’t have time to get the strips ordered and shipped, and my doctor recommended ClearBlue digital, so I just went to the store and got it. When you hope each cycle using OPKs will be your last for a while, it’s easy to keep spending $30-40 on the test kit each time. I’ve come to terms with the cost and enjoy the ease of use. I actually think the old-fashioned strips would have led to a whole new level of over-analysis for me, so maybe we dodged a bullet there. Follow the instructions for your specific test as far as what day to start and what time of day to use it. I’ve read online that testing midday is best, but ClearBlue says to test after your longest sleep, so that means FMU (first morning urine, lovely) and that’s what I do. When I think ovulation is approaching I will test twice a day. In addition to the tests, I keep track of CM (yep, cervical mucus) according to my Creighton Model method for another indicator of when ovulation will occur. I also track my BBT (basal body temperature), but this can only confirm ovulation after the fact, so it’s good to track all of these signs simultaneously.

This “trying” phase will vary based on when you ovulate, doctor’s instructions, whether you get a trigger shot to induce ovulation, etc. etc. My doctor’s instructions say days 10-22, but based on my own cycle it looks a little different, maybe 12-24.

Still, you don’t want to miss ovulation day, so it’s best to cover your bases and get as busy as you can! Which is toughhhhhhhhhhhhhh, and exhausting. Seriously. I knew this phase would be difficult for me, because of all the emotions and hormones and everything, but the pressure affected my husband, too. We were not always able to get our timing right, which was disappointing and frustrating. This is why we both started putting more and more effort into preparing ourselves, our home, and our schedules for each cycle. I recommend preparing to show extra grace and gentleness to yourselves and each other during this time. And don’t take yourselves too seriously…

Lol… yep

You will probably have your progesterone level checked near the end of this phase of the cycle. This confirms whether you ovulated or not. I’ve had results ranging from 17 up to 55. All of those times I ovulated but was not pregnant, even when I had that really high result and thought it meant for sure I was. So listen to your nurses when they say it ONLY indicates whether you ovulated, and does NOT indicate pregnancy. DO NOT Google your progesterone level! Just, no.

Days 23-end of cycle: The two-week-wait. This is the time between ovulation and when you find out if you’re pregnant or not. And it suuuuucks. Because of the Clomid, you will probably feel different than you normally would at this time in your cycle. I have had a LOT of different symptoms during this time: twinges, cramps, tender breasts, hunger & cravings, thirst, fatigue, constipation, heartburn/indigestion, low back pain, vivid dreams, and more. I’ve found this is a good time to schedule MORE meetings, coffee with friends, a game night, seeing a movie, volunteering, etc. ANYthing to get my mind off of analyzing my symptoms. I haven’t done the best with scheduling, especially since sometimes ovulation is hard to pin down and I’m not sure when the “trying” will end and the wait begins. So by the time I’m in the wait, it’s too short notice to make plans. Even in those cases, you can try to get out for an ice cream date or a walk. I did make a list of things I could do if I was starting to go crazy: laundry, read a book or magazine, take a walk, learn something new, round up items to donate… I’ll admit that I didn’t do many things on my list, but even just writing it helped. Maybe that’s because it forced me to acknowledge that it is, indeed, not good to spin my wheels over mystery symptoms.

The first few cycles I was on TTC forums WAY too much during my wait, and while it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was overload. Still, I hesitate to say “stay away from forums all the time!” because it was reading forums that taught me a lot about how different everyone’s experience is. One symptom in one person could result in pregnancy, but the same symptom may be followed by a period for someone else. So if you feel like reading forums is okay for you right now, you should just do it. But I would encourage you to limit your time there, take breaks, and be aware of your emotional state as you go. If you’re already feeling down, maybe don’t go online and accidentally read about how someone with the same symptoms as you got their period or had a miscarriage. Also, going online and reading about people with your symptoms who ended up pregnant might get your hopes up too high. In a nutshell, proceed with caution.

Clomid has been a good thing for me, even though we don’t have our BFP (Big Fat Positive) yet. I’ve learned so much about the menstrual cycle, what’s supposed to happen, how different hormones work and how they make you feel, etc. My body wasn’t having normal cycles on its own before, so it was eye-opening to see what it should be like. It was also relatively low-cost, at least for unmonitored cycles. For a monitored cycle, you might want to look into how much it will cost for all the imaging and labs for your specific insurance plan. Some of the labs and imaging can be expensive. We are still paying for mine, although it’s pretty manageable and we don’t regret having the testing done.

I hope this will be helpful to other women who are just starting to take Clomid, or are in the process of deciding whether to try it. I would say “go for it,” but be aware that it can really take you for a ride. Get ready to feel weird. Keep your expectations realistic. Be gentle with yourself and your partner. Bring questions to your doctor or nurse. Do what you need to do to stay calm. If it’s possible, save up for the little extras that will make you feel good about life and yourself. I also recommend having a network of trusted friends who you can share with throughout your cycle. I tend to keep in contact with my friends during the first 3 weeks or so of a cycle, and then it’s understood that I’ll duck under the radar until I have news for them.

Clomid works for many women, although not for all. It hasn’t gotten me pregnant yet, but it has been a great way to wade into the waters of fertility treatments. I hope I don’t have to go too much deeper, but if I do, I think I have developed a set of tools to help deal with all the stress and emotions that come along with this process. And I hope you might benefit from looking into my toolbox!

If you are a Clomid newbie, or fellow veteran, please say hello. I would love to answer any questions you might have, and encourage you and wish you the very best as you walk this path! I’m saying a prayer right now for anyone reading this whose heart is hurting, that you will feel some comfort and know you are not alone. ❤