Video producer Liesl Lar shares her fertility journey—and how training for the grueling Fistful of Dirt bike race gave her strength. Here’s her story.

My husband, Townsend, and I are planners. When faced with a decision, we sit down, talk things over, and weigh the pros and cons. We’ve always been like that.

So we knew—even before we got married in April 2019—that we wanted to have two kids. We also knew that we wanted to give ourselves some time as a married couple before trying to get pregnant. Then COVID-19 happened, and we knew we needed to keep waiting. After the scariest moments of the pandemic passed, we went for a drive one day, and we both agreed: “We’re ready.”

We started trying to conceive in the summer of 2020.

I was 30 years old, and we thought we would get pregnant right away.

At first, I used a calendar and fertility app to track my ovulation windows. During the first few months of trying with no success, I just kept thinking, Okay, next month. By the fourth month, I got really excited thinking, I’m sure this month will work. And then I got my period again. It was heartbreaking because we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing.

I started getting a feeling that something was wrong. All my life I’d had very strong periods with a lot of bleeding. Everyone would always tell me, “Oh, you're so dramatic. It's normal.”

I ended up in the emergency room twice in high school after fainting from period pain. And I have a very high pain threshold—I once walked around with appendicitis for a week! After six months of trying, Townsend and I decided to get fertility tested.

When I told my fertility doctor everything—before he even examined me—he said, “I'm pretty sure you have endometriosis.”

I was shocked. I had heard of endometriosis, but I didn’t really understand what it was. I had to Google it when I got back home.

To confirm the doctors’ suspicions, I went through a battery of tests over the next three weeks, including X-rays of my fallopian tubes, during which they injected dye to see what was happening inside of me. That was super painful.

While endometriosis can only officially be diagnosed via surgery, my doctor was confident that I had a moderate case (stage 3) based on what those tests showed.

I also discovered I had a partial vaginal septum—basically a small wall of tissue dividing my vagina in two.

Upon hearing the endometriosis news, my life made so much more sense, like all those moments where I’d end up folding in half in the middle of the living room because I couldn’t deal with the pain. It wasn’t because I was crazy or exaggerating. I actually had something creating that pain.

My doctor concluded that endometriosis was keeping me from getting pregnant.

So he said I needed to have surgery to clear out the unnecessary tissue growing on the outside of my uterus, as well as the partial vaginal septum. I was bummed about having to have surgery, but at the same time, I was relieved knowing that this would make it possible for me to have a baby.

After going through the surgery and recovery, my doctor recommended we try intrauterine insemination (IUI)—in which sperm is placed directly into the uterus to fertilize an egg—right away, for two reasons: 1. You’re most fertile right after the surgery and 2. If we waited too long, the endometriosis could come back.

liesl lar fertility documentary
Liesl did three rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization.
Liesl Lar

So we did three rounds of IUI. The process is hard on the body—you’re going to the doctor every two days to get an ultrasound; you’re having blood drawn to check your levels; you’re getting progesterone injections.

And on top of everything, the hormones make you feel not like yourself. Getting the call from the nurse each time that it was unsuccessful was devastating. We would have kept trying IUIs, but it didn’t make sense with our insurance.

I was initially anxious about doing IVF.

But I finally said, “Let’s do it. It’s going to be great!”

There are two options for in vitro fertilization. After creating an embryo from the retrieved eggs and sperm, you can either have a fresh transfer, which is implantation of the embryo right away. Or you can do a freeze-it-all cycle, which means that all your embryos get frozen and you decide when to do the transfer. We decided on the freeze option since that gives the doctor the opportunity to do genetic testing on the embryos.

Unfortunately, my egg retrieval didn’t quite go to plan.

I ended up with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which resulted in a high number of follicles between my two ovaries. Overstimulation isn’t good because the eggs don't get enough space to grow, and it also causes the belly to fill with liquid to protect you and your ovaries. Plus, there’s a greater risk of getting a blood clot.

Despite the overstimulation, we were able to freeze several embryos. But my recovery was painful. The liquid in my belly pressed on my lungs when I would lie down, making it hard to breathe.

I went to the ER twice—the second time with high blood pressure. I was put on bedrest. After, as the days and weeks wore on, I still felt uncomfortable and not like myself.

We decided to take a break on our fertility journey—and sign up for a bike race.

The following month we spent Christmas in Florida with my mother-in-law, and as we walked on the beach, Townsend and I agreed we needed to take a break from fertility. I knew by pressing pause on the process we would need something to keep our minds off of it and refocus our energies.

A friend of ours was planning to ride in the Fistful of Dirt gravel bike race—a 105-mile event in Cody, Wyoming—and I told my husband I thought that would be fun. I had never even been on a road bike, but I've always been a true believer that putting my name down for a challenge clears away doubt and inspires me to push forward toward a goal.

liesl lar fertility documentary
Liesl and Townsend trained together for six months to prepare for the Fistful of Dirt bike race.
Liesl Lar

Thankfully, Townsend had done a few bike races in the past, and we trained together for six months. It took four months for me to just get comfortable on the bike. I fell many times—I’m terrible with the pedal clips! And I added simple things to my daily routine, like GoHydrate electrolytes into my water before workouts.

At first, we went out once a week for a 10-mile ride along the Hudson River. Then we upped it to twice a week. Eventually, we worked our way up to 50 miles and then, finally, 80 miles, where we topped out. It’s similar to training for a marathon: If you can get through 80 percent of the race while training, the other 20 will come to you on race day.

The training was transformational.

After all those months of being pumped full of hormones and then on bedrest, I felt so much better just by moving and doing something—I am not okay just sitting on my couch! So I immediately felt a change in myself.

Additionally, my husband and I really got to bond over the training. It was such a cool thing, waking up on Saturday mornings together, making breakfast, getting ready, and then connecting over something completely different.

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Because the bulk of our training had been on paved roads and not gravel, we arrived in Cody a few days before the race and rode a few different sections of the course.

You need a lot of technical knowledge to ride on gravel. After our first trial run, I discovered I needed gravel shoes, so we went straight to the bike shop and bought them. The next day, we rode the first part of the course, and I was flying! It was the fastest I had ever been. At that point, I felt like a queen. I was on top of the world. I felt so strong.

When I finished the race, I felt like I could do anything.

We started the 105-mile journey at 7 a.m. and faced many unexpected obstacles along the way. We did not end up crossing the finish line until 7 p.m. (an hour after the race’s 6 p.m. cut-off time).

liesl lar fertility documentary
After crossing the finish line, Liesl realized: "I’m back."
Liesl Lar

Despite it all, I was so happy when I finished. I felt like I could do anything. The race ended up being much more of a mental game than a physical game. Having that goal and pushing through was key. And I learned the importance of not only having a support system but allowing them to help.

Just like no one else can pedal my bike for me, my fertility journey is my own, but I have so many people—my husband, my doctor, friends, and family—on the sidelines offering support and encouragement. After crossing the finish line I realized: I’m back. We made an appointment a week later at the fertility clinic.

I was mentally and emotionally ready to re-start the fertility process.

Over the ensuing months, my endometriosis had returned and the doctor also found a fibroid, so I had another surgery to remove both.

Once I was cleared for IVF, our doctor had us do a mock cycle (which wasn’t covered by insurance) to make sure everything was working as it should. Basically, you take all of the hormones and medicines you normally would, but instead of transferring an embryo, they take three swabs of the uterus lining and send it to a lab for testing.

We learned that I had a low white blood cell count. I was prescribed three medicines ($400 per week; also not covered by insurance) to get my levels to where they needed to be. If we hadn’t done that mock cycle, we wouldn’t have known.

I also ended up having a third surgery to remove another fibroid that had appeared at the entrance of my uterus. With the third surgery, it was all feeling like too much—especially since the earlier surgery had only been a month before. But I thought if this is the only thing standing between doing a transfer and trying for a baby, I had to do it.

Despite the extra surgery, time and cost, I’m so glad we decided to go through that mock cycle, because the first transfer we did right after was successful—I’m 30 weeks pregnant!

liesl lar fertility documentary
As of July 14, Liesl is 30 weeks pregnant.
Liesl Lar

From other IVF stories I’ve heard, we have been lucky. Tons of women lose pregnancies—my heart and love is with them. It's not easy to be poked every day. It’s a lot to ask a person to go through. But we do it for the love and the hope of having a little one in our arms. I respect any person who goes through this in their life. They’re heroes and will be phenomenal parents.

The biggest thing that I learned through this was patience. I’m not as patient as I thought! The process is so much wait and see—from the first set of bloodwork and hormone injections to all those surgeries and finally the transfer. But it’s all going to be so worth it when I hold my baby in my arms.

Terms to know

Endometriosis: A condition in which tissue like the one found inside the uterus grows outside of the uterus. Symptoms include painful menstrual cramps, heavy period flow, and pain during intercourse. It’s estimated 2 to 10 percent of U.S. women have endometriosis, according to Johns Hopkins.

Intrauterine insemination (IUI): A type of artificial insemination in which collected sperm are placed directly into the uterus to fertilize eggs being released by the ovaries.

In vitro fertilization (IVF): More involved than IUI, IVF occurs when a retrieved egg is fertilized with sperm in a lab. The resulting embryo(s) are then transferred to the uterus, where they will hopefully implant and continue developing into a fetus.