My Body Has Always Performed, Why Is This Time Different?
by Kaillie Humphries
Kaillie Humphries for Athlete Voices.
As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted kids. Being a mother was on my list of things I wanted to achieve, alongside being an Olympic gold medalist.
I was 17 years old, when I started the sport of bobsled. I had a whole lifetime ahead of me. The thought of motherhood was a distant future. I am now 37, have had a 20-year career (so far), and my desire to become a mother is strong. I have accomplished everything I set out to do and more in sport but starting a family has yet to be achieved.
I always thought when I was ready to have kids my body would just allow it to happen.
As Olympic athletes we work in 4-year cycles, our lives planned out years, months, weeks, and days in advance. What we want to achieve, our hopes and dreams, wrapped up in a daily grind towards high performance.
I would have never imagined that when the time came, when I was ready to have kids, my body would fail me.
I am a 4x Olympic medalist (3x Gold) and the only 5x World champion in the sport of women's bobsled. I am also the only female in Olympic history to win gold for 2 countries (Canada & USA).
I competed against the men in 4-man at a world championship, a move that helped bring about equal medal opportunity for all women in bobsled at the top level.
My body has always performed when I asked, why is this time different?
Kaillie Humphries poses during a photoshoot on Oct. 10, 2022 in Chula Vista, Calif.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis in March of 2021. A large cyst on my ovary was randomly found through a hip MRI, while we were checking for sports tears or issues. A Laparoscopy shortly after confirmed the stage 4 diagnosis, which sent me down a rabbit hole of google searches as to what it meant.
Endometriosis is a genetic condition where the lining of a uterus grows anywhere inside the body cavity, not just inside the uterus. The problem is that your body is not able to shed that lining (like when you get your period) and it turns it into scar tissue instead. This creates extremely painful periods every month, where I feel like my insides are being ripped and torn apart as that tissue grows or attaches to something it’s not supposed to. It also creates infertility as oftentimes the lining grows inside the Fallopian tubes, blocking them and stopping function.
In my case, stage 4, the endo has grown on and inside organs that I need to live so I will never be fully rid of the excess tissue and surgery is the only way to remove it. This condition also puts me at high risk of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. With my Fallopian tubes being blocked, a fertilized egg getting stuck could grow and rupture, leading to internally bleed and possibly death.
My husband and I tried for years to get pregnant naturally with no luck, now it all makes sense. We were told IVF is the best option for us to conceive our own children, and one of the healthiest ways for me to get pregnant due to my Endometriosis.
Being an Olympic athlete has taught me that nothing is guaranteed on the way to achieving your dreams. Nothing Is impossible. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it can’t.
I have made history many times in sport, while being told it couldn’t happen.
What I have learned through Olympic level sport has prepared me for what I am about to go through. The IVF process and trying to have children will be one of the biggest challenges in my life.
I feel like sport has been the opening act, helping me develop the tools necessary to survive and thrive throughout the IVF process.
As an Olympic athlete we work towards a goal that is 4,8,12+ years away, with no guarantee it will happen. We dedicate every fiber towards our nutrition, recovery, and training with blind hope and faith that it will lead us towards becoming an Olympian or winning gold. Throughout the Olympic process there will always be unforeseen obstacles, setbacks, things that are out of our control. We learn to push through, dig deep, or raise the bar to keep our eye on the prize. Some days it’s easier than others, but the trick is going from one hardship to another without losing motivation or focus. I find daily reminders and a great network of support is the key.
I have learned no is never final. Failure doesn’t mean fatal. We have to try, while putting our best foot forward every day.
While we might not always be able to understand why things happen the way they do, I can only control how I respond and the effort I put in.
My body may not be perfect, but I have learned how to set a goal and never quit until I achieve it. I will use the skills I have developed as an athlete and transfer that into this IVF process, as there are a lot of similarities.
This summer my husband and I began the IVF process. We ideally want 2-3 children, and with my endometriosis, we learned we needed help to make this possible.
Kaillie Humphries during training on Oct. 10, 2022 in Chula Vista, Calif.
So far, we have done 2 rounds of IVF, retrieving a total of 10 Embryos, 6 boys and 4 girls of various grades.
In our first round I produced 49 eggs. I was super excited about getting out of surgery and hearing how many we got. I thought ‘good job body’ and started to believe it could happen easily. The doctors were super impressed, as most people only get about half of that. Afterwards, I suffered a lot physically. It took about 4 four weeks to get back to normalcy. The following week after retrieval, with each update from the embryologist, we started to lose hope and the realistic thought of having zero embryos by the end was creeping in.
After seven days we had three embryos that were developed enough to head off for genetic testing. We are lucky that all three came back normal and healthy, viable for implantation. The doctors recommended doing another round shortly after. They have seen greater success rates doing a second round immediately after.
The financial cost for our first round was about 15 thousand dollars. This is half of my yearly stipend from being a national team athlete. The thoughts of having to choose financial wellbeing over our family’s hopes and dreams became reality.
We did everything they say not to do, putting it on credit cards, throwing caution to the wind.
My husband and I discussed how many more rounds we could afford and what that meant for our chances of becoming parents. Risking our finances over our dreams created some doubt. At the end of the day, we decided it’s worth it to go another round and bank more, so that in the future we have my eggs from this age and stage of endo. It hasn’t affected my ovaries yet, I’m lucky there, so before it does let's try and get some more. That’s what they make credit cards for, right?
We entered round two wanting to focus on quality not quantity of eggs. We made changes hoping it would yield a better outcome. We found a new doctor close to home in San Diego who specializes in IVF for women with Endometriosis. Using our knowledge from the first round and changing medicines and dosages, we entered the process hoping it would be more successful.
We were able to get 24 eggs the second time, 11 of them grew and survived the first week. We sent all 11 of them for testing and 7 of them came back normal and viable for implantation - five boys and two girls this round.
So, after two rounds of IVF, we now have a total of 10 healthy embryos, six boys and four girls.
Balancing IVF and wanting to continue my sports career is the next challenge. I do not believe I have to give up on one to have the other, but it takes some planning. I only get 1 season off before I lose points and my overall sports ranking.
I need to save that for the 9 months when I am actually pregnant. I am now faced with the challenge of when to implant in order to give myself enough time to come back healthy and still be competitive post giving birth. This is of course the best laid plans, but I also know I do not control the timing or whether implantation works.
I also must balance all the medications and make sure they do not infringe on the anti-doping rules of Olympic level sport.
My husband and I decided after the second round of IVF to delay implanting, so I could get back to normal after months of hormone changes. This would also allow me to compete this coming season, hopefully securing points and mentally preparing for the next phase of IVF.
I have to do 2 months of an anti-inflammatory medication to prepare my body for implantation due to the endometriosis. I want to make sure I am doing everything necessary to have a positive outcome.
Taking this time has helped my mental state as I found myself panicking and becoming competitive, like it was a race to get pregnant ASAP. The farther I get into the IVF process the more I want it to happen immediately. I think this is normal, as humans we are programmed to get more excited as we get closer to our goals. I have learned through sport it’s not over until it’s over, so with that in mind we are playing the long game.
Mentally, I was struggling with seeing other women get pregnant immediately or naturally as well. While I am super happy for them; I am also jealous and frustrated that it’s not my time. I needed to take some control back. Competing this year allows me to reset and prepare for the next phase. I can line things up and keep the competition side of me on the track, where it belongs.
Like every athlete trying to make it to the big show, it’s extremely hard to work towards a life goal with the uncertainty of whether it will happen or not. Focusing on the outcome is not how you get there or succeed, It’s the process that determines the outcome.
There is no guarantee in this IVF process. There was no guarantee I would become an Olympian or win gold either. The uncertainty will not stop me from doing everything I can to make it happen. I will move forward with blind faith, optimism, and my strong work ethic.
I will rely on the skills I have developed as an athlete to get me through each phase. No matter if there is good news or bad. I will take it one step at a time. Above all else I will remain focused that one day I will become a mom.