announcing our first featured family!
Ami and Derek & their daughters Ava and Laila
You know how they say, “When you want something so bad, just keeping thinking about it and pray, and it will happen?” Yes, well, that doesn’t work in every situation.
When it comes to having a baby, you actually get the opposite advice. “Don’t think about it. Focus on something else. When you don’t think about it, it will happen.” Yeah right. I’d hear that and think, “Are you serious?” It’s ALL I can think about…how can I escape it? Everyone else is having children and for some reason, I can’t. And, even when I don’t try to think about it, it STILL doesn’t happen.
Welcome to what goes on in an infertile mind.
Having a baby becomes the one thing you want so very badly and yet stays out of reach. Every thought goes through your mind…is it me? Is it him? What have I done in my life where I have become undeserving or unworthy of being a mother? Am I too old? The list goes on. For the woman that can easily get pregnant, she cannot understand or empathize with a woman that is constantly told, “It’s a negative,” when she tries so hard to get there. This woman begins to feel alone. Like no one understands her struggles. This woman was me.
I was in my mid 30s. I would constantly get comments from friends, family, even clients, asking, “When are you having kids?” That is probably the most insensitive question anyone can ask a woman in her 30s. Unless she’s actually come out to say she doesn’t want them, you cannot assume she hasn’t tried. The ignorant questions and comments always took me to a sad place where I’d cry the minute I was alone.
My struggles started at the age of 30. We were married when I was 29 and he was 34. When I turned 30, we decided we would try but we were in no hurry. So, we tried. And nothing. And nothing. And nothing. That continued for about 2 1/2 to 3 years. We kept track of ovulation, our diets, exercise, even stress levels. Still nothing. So, we started getting concerned and decided to reach out to a fertility specialist. I was 33. We did 3 IUIs, and although our hopes were high, they were shot down each time. Then, we switched to IVF, which we knew would be a much harder journey. But, we wanted a child so badly. So, we did it. Wow, the number of shots and meds are so overwhelming!!!! Not to mention the hormone changes and emotional breakdowns. What did we sign up for??? Needless to say, after all the ups and downs with that first IVF, we were devastated when we got a call saying, “You’re not pregnant.” We tried again. I got pregnant but I miscarried on my own. We tried again. I got pregnant. But, no heartbeat at 7 weeks. At this point, I was so deflated, weak, and questioned everything. I can honestly say I was depressed. It wasn’t just the negative news I kept getting, but it was the build up of the work involved prior to getting the bad news too. The efforts never paid off.
That’s when I was introduced to Shine by a girlfriend of mine who was friends with the founder, Katie O’Connor. She said it was a support group for infertility, where there would be other women there that would understand what I was going through. I was at an all time low, so I figured I would have nothing to lose.
When I went to my first meeting, I met other women that were at different stages of their journey. But, this was a place where I found myself finding it easy to finally release and cry in front of women I didn’t know about my struggles. And, they understood. And cried with me. It was a venue where I could mourn for my past losses and cry for my helplessness of going forward. I wanted to give up, but leaving these meetings, I knew I couldn’t. The meetings are casual, and also Shine brings in fabulous speakers and educators too. In fact, I met my fertility doctor who I found success with through Shine. She was a frequent speaker.
Katie became a personal friend. She genuinely cares about the members individually. Being that she had gone through struggles herself, she is empathetic towards each woman in the group. She would always reach out to help. And, that’s what I needed. Someone who knew the RIGHT thing to say and someone who knew exactly what I was going through. Katie knew I had 2 more IVFs that went very wrong. But, the 6th time was a charm. And, she and I got together and cried happy tears over it. 6 years of struggles got us to a pregnancy with twin girls, which we just introduced into the world on 10/6/14.
Thank goodness for people like Katie and for organizations like Shine. Infertility is certainly prevalent in today’s world, but it’s not always talked about. I felt less of a woman by not being able to conceive. And, I didn’t know who to talk to about it, because other women didn’t truly understand. Shine gives women an environment where they don’t have to be embarrassed or feel less of themselves when the topic can be so openly discussed and resources can be provided to get these women refocused and back on track.
I am thankful I was introduced to Shine. It made me realize I wasn’t alone.
Gabrielle and Chris & their daughter Annie
Before our journey to conceive began, I had imagined things would be so easy. At the age of 33 I had finally found and married Chris, the man I knew was my life partner. I had no doubts we would joyfully and effortlessly bring life into the world. Despite the monthly reminders that things were not happening as easily as we anticipated, I believed that the next month would indeed be the month. I trusted my ob/gyn when she said it was not necessary to do any testing and instead I should simply pursue acupuncture and yoga to boost my fertility.
Positive—if not magical—thinking was fairly easy for the first year. I followed the doctor’s orders and went to weekly acupuncture and yoga sessions. I took Chinese herbs. I eased up on exercise. I watched my diet. I prayed. I monitored my cycles. I even got fertility coaching. I refused to admit there was a problem, and I greatly resented it when I was told my only problem was that I needed to relax.
After about a year, I hit a wall, and I realized what would become the most difficult part of our fertility journey—there was just no certainty. I felt like I had tried everything natural under the sun and yet my otherwise strong and healthy body—a body that had taken me to the pinnacle of sport as a two-time Olympian—had not responded. In the past when it came to school, work, or most athletics, my mind, will and body had always allowed me to be a contender, and yet with this thing, I felt forced to sit on the sidelines while it appeared everyone else could so easily jump into the parenthood game, regardless of how much they really wanted it or worked for it.
The uncertainty felt overwhelming at times, and I also felt so alone. And then in the darkness, there was light. I finally decided I was ready to get medical assistance and emotional support. I worked with an outstanding therapist Alison Moran who helped me feel hopeful and empowered. FCI’s Dr. Kaplan came recommended to us, and he was someone we instantly liked and felt we could trust. Getting all the medical tests done and deciding to proceed with IVF gave me the sense that we still had powerful options left. I ran into an old friend from high school who was very open about going the IVF route with her twin boys, and she became a gracious yet grounded mentor to me. I joined Shine and for the first time met women who could speak to their current ups and downs of their fertility journeys—with great honesty and often a much appreciated sense of humor. Shine helped me feel like I no longer had to hide and that I wasn’t the only one going through all the crazy emotions. Katie, the founder of Shine and leader of our monthly meet-ups, facilitated some great meetings. I valued the positive and sensible insights she was could offer from her own experiences, and because she was able to connect us with local resources I never knew were out there, I once again felt there were options, possibilities and hope.
And just when I thought I had surely done everything “right” now that I was willing to admit there was a problem and sought treatment, our first IVF cycle didn’t work. I hit another wall. The hope I had worked so hard to build was lost. I faced a new painful awareness that no amount of time, energy or optimal insurance coverage could ever really guarantee that I could get pregnant. I was not ready to do another IVF cycle and opted to stop treatments. During this time, Chris was my greatest support and strength. While his conviction that we could get pregnant every month never seemed to waver, he would always tell me that whatever I was feeling was okay. There was no judgment, no pressure, no blame. He cheered me on as I resumed old interests that I had sacrificed in my pursuit to become a mother. At some point he suggested we try an IUI as I took the time I needed to emotionally prepare for another round of IVF. I agreed to go through the motions well aware of the probabilities of IVF compared to IUIs.
Bookended by our 2nd wedding anniversary and Chris 40th birthday, we got the news that our miracle was on her way. We welcomed Annabelle “Annie” Rose into the world on March 15, 2014. Almost year one later, we celebrate the perfection of all the imperfection and challenges knowing we would not have this little girl we adore so much without having traveled the road we did.
Becca & her son Trey
It was one big roller coaster ride! After much contemplation, and having just broken up from a yearlong relationship, I decided to begin my fertility journey. It was a year of poking, prodding, crying, laughing, doctors, support groups, weight gain, hoping, praying, contemplating, unease, and a lot of disappointment.
Here’s how it went…first, I decided which sperm banks to use…and the weirdness was only just beginning. I mean, how much do these guys get paid anyway? Are they in it for the money? I had all sorts of judgments about the potential biological, um, donor of my child. And the picture that was created in my mind about some random guy who I hoped to never meet…ok, I seriously digress. Who knew that picking out sperm would be a lot like on-line dating…but on steroids. You could sort through “guys” by religion, ethnicity, education (you had to pay extra for the really smart sperm…no joke!), physical characteristics, genetics, family history, etc. You could even choose to see a baby picture, which I did…but that cost extra too, as did a recorded interview with the donor! OK, I got “my guy” AND a backup – everyone needs a backup in case you run out of sperm from donor #1 and there aren’t anymore vials to buy…which, by the way, is devastating after all the work you put into finding the perfect match in the first place.
My procedure of choice would be intra-uterine insemination (IUI), because that is all my insurance would cover (it would not cover In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF). I chose to have this procedure performed first by my OBGYN. He began by prescribing me Clomid, one of the many (I would come to learn), and most basic in the world of fertility drugs. Had I known what I know now, I kind of wish someone would have shaken me to say, “hello, Becca, you are almost 40, so stop with the baby steps and pull out the big guns.” But, like most women, I was SURE I was fertile and yes, we have to tackle this at our own pace (although I wanted a baby yesterday).
After my first IUI, I just knew I had to be pregnant! I mean, I could feel movement already. I realize how crazy this sounds. Everyone knows you don’t feel anything for months. BUT, it was true, after I was “basted,” (as some of my family called it) I felt so bloated and felt the movement of the fluid inside me (too graphic? Or maybe just too crazy because what was I really thinking). This feeling was all new to me, and I was excited!
The two-week wait until I could take a home pregnancy test seemed like forever, but now it was time. I eagerly awoke in the morning (the most anxious I’ve ever felt to wake up so early in the morning) and ran to pee on my stick. I took a quick shower just to make sure I gave it enough time to register. Oh my G-d! It’s positive!! I knew it! Maybe I did feel something! But, the doctor still wanted me to do a blood test to be sure. I had a little pep in my step as I walked in to the OBGYN’s office. They took a blood test…but this time…it read negative. DEFLATION! This was my first major letdown. I didn’t want to believe it, and even though I started moving forward with my second treatment, I still thought I could be pregnant – even after I got my period. I’ve heard of women who bleed even though they are pregnant, so I was convinced that was happening to me. No such luck!
Two more inseminations with my OBGYN and then it was on to the “Big Kahuna”…THE fertility doctor in Chicago. He would for sure get me pregnant (is there something inherently wrong with telling your Dr. you hope he’s the one who gets you pregnant?). He told me that I would have to start giving myself shots of medication. WHAT??? I can’t do that! I can barely get shots when someone else gives them to me. But if this is what it’s going to take to help me get pregnant, I sure as hell can do this! Right? Right! And, I did – for the very first time in a hotel room after a work event with one of my co-workers, then sitting on the toilet in a bar (lots of t.p. down on that seat), then in my car in a parking lot before meeting friends in a restaurant, and even while on a date!! The pounds started piling on yet I have to take it easy at the gym…and my moods were erratic!
On top of this, I HAD to tell my boss what I was up to because of all the work I’d be missing. In any given month, I would be at the fertility clinic at least 5-6 times getting poked, prodded, stuck, and basted. It was like a factory in there. All these women sitting around waiting to be called and not making eye contact with anyone else. And oh, those poor men who showed up. When the men were there, you knew exactly what they were going to be doing (see paragraph two about the picture I created in my mind of the sperm donor). At some point, I just started talking to people. Heck, we were all in the same boat, with the same dream and a body that had failed us.
OK, so here I am single, still trying to date, holding on to this “big secret,” feeling totally bloated, not working out as usual (little did I know that this was preparing me for the barely-existent work-outs when I finally did become a parent), pretty much giving up drinking when I was out (I mean really!), getting acupuncture twice a week, driving two hours for pelvic massages (I mean, I would try anything if I thought it would help me get pregnant) and trying to pretend that life was grand! I did this for THIRTEEN months – LIFE WAS NOT GRAND! I knew if I had any hope, I would have to try IVF, but even if I did come up with the money, the doctors were not giving me a good prognosis. I felt defeated and decided to put things on hold for the time being. I thought, “Who am I and what have I put myself through??”
There was a big piece of me that felt like my biggest dream had been shattered, and yet there was still a big part of me holding on to hope and embracing other ideas of what a family might look like for me.
You can read the rest of Becca’s journey on her website below!
Becca and Steve & their son Reid
When we got married in June 2008, we loved being our little family of two. But in the back of our minds we knew we wanted to be a family of three, then four and maybe even five!? Who knows but it will happen when its supposed to happen. For sure. Right? So we enjoyed being married and did not do anything to prevent a growing family. We tried to be relaxed, have fun and hoped for our “movie moment” of me puking in public as a sign I was expecting. But it didn’t happen. Not right away. And not after a couple of years. We tried to ‘stay positive’ and to ‘not think about it’ but with no luck we were advised by my OBGYN to seek the help of fertility doctors.
We were diagnosed with male factor infertility and the doctors were confident fertility treatments would help. And so began the next leg of our journey to parenthood. Around that time, we did become a family of three…well, we got a puppy. Our puppy became our distraction and entertainment during the difficult days of testing, treatments and disappointments. He also gave us something else to focus on and talk about. Our own little therapy dog. And our pup watched on as I gave myself that first injectable fertility shot, as I made endless phone calls to the insurance company, as we waited anxiously for the results of our first IUI (intra-uterine insemination), as we cried with each negative pregnancy test. After 5 IUI’s with no positive results, our doctor suggested we move onto IVF. My body responded to the fertility meds well so he was hopeful that this would be THE answer. During this time, my husband and I mostly leaned on each other, our dog (of course!) and a few very close friends. The stress of the fertility treatments, both physically and mentally, was indescribable and trying to go about our regular life with our jobs, and friends and family seemed impossible at times.
After a variety of treatments over the course of almost 3 years it became clear that my body was not able to carry a pregnancy to term. While we had healthy embryos fertilized through the IVF process (my eggs and my husband’s carefully selected sperm) and I was able to became pregnant via embryo transfer, I suffered from recurrent pregnancy loss. The sadness with each loss was coupled with incredible frustration-the road to become pregnant was so long and once pregnant my body was unable to sustain the pregnancy. Experiencing such loss was devastating and unbearable. Somehow, we continued on. We had a tight support network of close family and friends and we, of course, had our puppy (who was now a full grown dog) to snuggle us when we just wanted to be alone. At the time, I had a strict ‘no internet’ rule in regards to fertility information and I did not know about Shine – and I look back at this time, and wish I had known about it. I can see and understand now how beneficial a support group would have been for me.
While preparing for our 7th embryo transfer our doctor suggested we consider using a surrogate should we experience another loss. More precisely, he suggested we use a Gestational Carrier – a surrogate mother whom we would transfer our genetic embryo into and she would hopefully carry our baby to term, something I was unable to do. After that last transfer, and our fifth miscarriage, Steve and I decided it was time to move forward. Although there was no clear explanation, my body was unable to sustain a healthy pregnancy and our physician felt surrogacy was the next step and would give us the best chance of having a baby. The process of finding a surrogate was very overwhelming, emotional and exciting all at once. Based on our physician’s recommendation, we met with several surrogacy agencies in Chicagoland area. We ultimately chose CEO (the Center for Egg Options) to assist us as Intended Parents get matched with a Gestational Carrier (GC). The agency role is also to assist during the entire pregnancy and to act as a liaison between intended parents and the surrogate. We eventually were matched with V. I was beyond nervous when we were driving to the first meeting. And emotional and scared, excited and hopeful all at once. As soon V, her husband and youngest daughter walked in my fears were eliminated. We stood up to say hello and she immediately hugged me and said, “I know I can help you have your family.” I teared up and felt we were on the right path. We discussed our life, our fertility journey, our hopes. We got to know V’s family, her experiences pregnant with her daughters and as a surrogate once prior. We discussed why she decided to become a surrogate. We connected on important issues and Steve and I knew that our baby would be in a wonderful, loving home during the pregnancy. At the end of the meeting we all knew that this was going to be a good fit, that together we would grow our family.
And so began the next leg of our journey to becoming parents. I passed the baton so to speak to V, she took over and started her meds and we were on the road to transfer #8, but this time, our genetic embryo would be safely transferred to her. Letting go of that control was strange, and exciting, and overwhelming. And then all Steve and I had to do was wait. Which seems easy enough, right? But each minute seemed like an eternity!
We found out we were pregnant early June 2013, around the time of our 5 year anniversary, and it seemed unbelievable. After each doctors appointment we knew the baby was getting stronger and growing but we still didn’t really believe it or feel comfortable telling anyone. One more week. One more appointment. Just wait. It was like we were worried once everyone knew something would go wrong with the pregnancy. And so we continued to wait. Very. Patiently. It seemed so unbelievable we were having a baby we wanted to hurry up and meet them already! I also had extra time on my hands now that I was no longer going to the doctor everyday for fertility treatments. We did a lot to distract ourselves to make the time go faster. We went to movies. We walked the dog for miles. We went to brunch. Dinner. Explored the city. Went on getaways. We watched a lot of Netflix. We tried to appreciate walking out our door without a stroller or a car seat. But we just ended up talking about how we couldn’t wait to walk out our door, juggling a baby, carseat and a diaper bag. I also continued my “no google/internet” rule when it came to pregnancy facts, which merged into a strict “No Pregnancy Books” rule as well. Looking things up and reading about everything made both of us fear the worst, and spin into unneeded stress and anxiety. So we stuck to facts from our OB and updates from V. And we waited. And prayed for V and our baby.
This was also around the time I discovered Shine for the first time. I reluctantly began to work out again, trying take control of the body that had been failing me so miserably. I noticed Katie’s card one afternoon after a class and broke my internet rule to look up Shine. Shortly after, I saw her at the studio and told her we were expecting a baby via surrogate and I knew, from then on, Shine would be a place of hope and light for me during this leg of the journey and beyond.
At 20 weeks we found out we were having a healthy baby boy. Wow. Knowing the gender helped us to fantasize about our little boy and to connect and bond with him from a far. We finally let ourselves externally prepare with decorating the nursery, washing clothes, folding blankets and getting in ‘boy’ mode We started to purchase all those items we had dreamed about for so long-car seat, crib, glider, stroller…this nesting also helped the time move forward. We were having a baby! We finally felt ready to let everyone know that we were going to be parents. There was an outpouring of joy and excitement for us and numerous, numerous questions, of course, which we were all too happy to answer.
During the whole pregnancy we were involved in each step. V filled me in in on everything, answered all of my questions (which were a lot!) and I am still so appreciative. While we were expecting a baby and I was over the moon, I was still dealing with the fact that I was not the one carrying the baby. She let me experience it through her. She was open with us and and for that I am forever grateful.
Steve and I were also with V and her husband during the entire birth process. We had hospital rooms right next to each other and we were in her room the entire labor. I think about the day he was born and still don’t really believe it happened. He was born after 14 hours with the cord wrapped around his neck. Very dramatic entrance. And once he was free and Steve cut the cord, the doctor immediately put him in my arms, we all sobbed. Steve was next to hold him, normally nervous around babies, he held onto Reid like he had known him forever and in many ways we had. The nurses had to pry him away to clean him off, weigh and measure him. They also reminded me I was allowed to take photos. What? Really? Oh yes, this is my baby! And we haven’t stopped documenting each incredible moment since. After we held him, V had the chance to hold the little bundle she had been carrying all these months. Over the next two days we spent most of the time with Reid in V’s room. Her daughter met him, brushed his hair, everyone snuggled him and we all soaked in the joy that came with Reid in our lives. That first night, after all the action and snuggles, Steve went right to sleep, exhausted from the whole experience. I stayed up holding Reid, rocking him and saying “I’m your mommy, I’m your mommy, I love you so much” over and over. The nurse came in to check on us at some point in the middle of the night. She encouraged me to put him in the bassinet and to get some sleep. “But we only just met” I replied. And she understood that I needed to just hold him all night long.
For those you struggling with infertility, no matter what part of the process, there is not much else to say but hang in there. Stay hopeful and strong during your journey. I know. WAY easier said than done but it is so vital to keep hope alive, it will keep you going through all the appointments, tests, paperwork, injections and waiting. So much waiting. Shine is an amazing resource to help navigate through the medical and mental processes of infertility, whichever path you are on and however that path changes. Having a network of women to be there for you is invaluable. Use it! Now that we are that family of three I haven’t forgotten each step. I still struggle with not being able to be pregnant. It still makes me sad and frustrated that my body does not work the way I want it to. Shine has helped me continue to process and cope with my infertility after my son was born. It is a safe, welcoming space for me to read other’s stories, make me feel less alone and to help give back in small ways (like this post!). I am forever grateful to Katie and others that lifted me up and gave me light when I felt like it was lost and I hope-though this, though Shine- at least one person sees a little light as well.
And while we haven’t forgotten, Steve and I look back now and can see that each step on our journey to parenthood, no matter how painful, led us right here. Led us to Reid. To our smiling, laughing, growing boy. In middle of the night I still check on him. He is 14 months now and has slept all night for almost a year but nonetheless I check. Is he still here? Was this all just a dream? No, he’s here, sleeping away. Incredible. And I go back into my room and count down the minutes until I get to see his giggling face in the morning. We are now a family of three (well, four including our dog who is Reid’s best pal) and we are so so blessed.
Katie and Greg & their twins Erin and Jack
When we got married in July of 2009, we knew that we might face some challenges when it came to building our family. Four years earlier, after dealing with months of extremely heavy and painful menstrual cycles, I was diagnosed with Uterine Fibroids. These non-cancerous growths of the uterus can prevent implantation and growth of an embryo. After my diagnosis, I was referred to Dr. Angie Beltsos, a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois, who performed two surgeries to remove the fibroids. I then had regularly scheduled visits to monitor the fibroid growth until I was ready to start a family.
After our wedding, I had another surgery to remove the fibroids and we started trying for a baby right away. We were hopeful that enough fibroids had been removed to make room for an embryo to implant. After several months of trying on our own with the help of Basal Body Temperature and ovulation strips, we were unsuccessful. Since we knew it was a race against my fast-growing fibroids, we decided to meet with Dr. Beltsos and begin fertility treatments. After an unsuccessful cycle with Clomid, we planned for an IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) cycle with injectable medications. My body responded so well to the medications that this cycle actually turned into our first IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) cycle instead. We were so optimistic and everything went so smoothly until the day when we received the dreaded phone call that I was not pregnant. We took a month off and planned for a second IVF cycle when I was out of school for the summer. After I had been so optimistic during our first IVF cycle and then had my hopes so quickly shattered, it was really hard for me to stay positive. I thought that if I didn’t get my hopes up, another “no” might not hurt so badly. Unfortunately the second failed IVF cycle hurt just as badly, if not more, than the first.
At this point, after two failed IVF cycles and knowing that my uterus was impacted by fibroids, Dr. Beltsos referred us to another surgeon for further evaluation and removal of the fibroids. It was during this time of waiting to schedule appointments and surgeries with the new doctor that I discovered Pulling Down the Moon and learned about some holistic treatments that can be used in conjunction with fertility treatments. I took a yoga class and started acupuncture. I also joined a book club that they were offering which focused on some of these holistic treatments and connected me with other women who were also trying to conceive. It was so nice to finally meet and talk with other women who had gone through or were currently going through Infertility treatments. I really wish that Katie’s organization, Shine, had also been around at this time. The support that it offers women experiencing Infertility is exactly what I needed.
That summer and fall, I had two more surgeries to remove my fibroids. Immediately following the second surgery, we planned for the frozen transfer of one embryo that we had remaining from our second IVF cycle. We were hopeful that enough fibroids had been removed to make it possible for me to become pregnant. Unfortunately this cycle ended with another negative pregnancy test. We were heartbroken and devastated. I had undergone two more surgeries, transferred a beautiful embryo and we still had no baby. At our post-transfer consult with Dr. Beltsos, we decided to plan for a third IVF cycle right away. She also wanted to have some additional testing done in case there was any other issue that could have been preventing implantation. Finally, she encouraged us to start thinking about a “plan b”, specifically gestational surrogacy. If this third cycle was unsuccessful, it would make sense to use a gestational surrogate with our fourth and final cycle that would be covered under our medical insurance.
While we were preparing for our third IVF, we decided to start exploring “plan b”. Upon Dr. Beltsos’ recommendation, we met with a Fertility Consultant. While we were very impressed with her knowledge and experience, we also felt very overwhelmed by the entire surrogacy process. Neither of us had any idea of the price tag that came with our “plan b”. I remember crying the entire ride home because I felt like we would be doomed if this next cycle didn’t work. I really didn’t think we would ever be able to afford a Gestational Surrogate. Never the less, I put all of my fears and worries behind me and tried to remain as positive as possible during this cycle. I received regular acupuncture treatments and responded really well to all of the medications again. We transferred 3 embryos this time and two weeks later had yet another negative pregnancy test.
At this point, we knew that Gestational Surrogacy was going to be our next step. After multiple surgeries to improve my uterus and still no pregnancy, it was evident that my uterus was the cause of the problem. We interviewed a few other surrogacy agencies, but ended up sticking with the Fertility Consultant because of her knowledge, experience, range of resources and high recommendation from Dr. Beltsos.
Once we decided to pursue Gestational Surrogacy, things started to finally fall into place. We were matched with an amazing surrogate within a few days. We also began planning for a golf outing/silent auction fundraiser with family and friends to help us fund our journey. We were so busy planning our event that time flew by as we were awaiting final medical clearance and our legal contract. We had such a successful event and were amazed by the generosity of our family and friends. Finally, that fall, we were ready for our fourth IVF cycle and our first with our surrogate. My body responded well to the medications again. We transferred two embryos, but unfortunately had another negative pregnancy test. While this news was so devastating, Dr. Beltsos reminded us that it was really only our first “no” with our gestational surrogate and we began planning for a second cycle. We used a new protocol and my body once again responded really well. We transferred two embryos and were set to find out the results on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Finally on that day, we got the news that we had been waiting to hear for the past two and a half years…we were pregnant!!! Two weeks later, at our first ultrasound, we found out that our surrogate was carrying twins! At 20 weeks, we found out that our babies were a boy and a girl. After all of our heartbreak, once we chose the path of surrogacy, everything finally was going our way. Even though it was difficult to not be able to carry our baby, our surrogate went above and beyond to help us feel a part of the pregnancy. We were able to go to many of her appointments. She also sent us weekly belly pictures and videos of our babies growing strong inside of her. It was so comforting to know that we had such a wonderful woman taking care of our babies. Overall, it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy and on July 3, 2012, we welcomed John (Jack) Cornelius and Erin Rose into our family. Holding them on that first night made everything finally feel “real”. Our life as a family of four was beginning. Every day with them has been a blessing and I couldn’t have asked for a happier ending.
To those of you that are currently dealing with infertility, my advice to you is to never give up. Your baby will come to you. It may not be the way that you had envisioned it, but once it happens you will not be able to imagine it having happened any other way. Staying hopeful and having a strong support group are the two most important things that helped me to get through our struggles. Shine is an incredible resource to help you navigate the medical and emotional sides of infertility. It is a place to connect with others who truly understand what you are going through. Some of the friends I made during our journey are still some of my closest friends today. I am thankful to have met Katie and become involved with Shine. Since I know firsthand what an emotionally and physically draining experience this can be, I have always enjoyed being able to connect with others. It is my hope that in sharing our story, others can find strength and hope when they are in the trenches of fertility treatments.
Though my husband and I have been blessed with two miracle children, our story is not over. We have two frozen embryos that we hope to be able to give a chance to join our family. I still struggle with the fact that I am unable to carry them. I am thankful to have a resource like Shine to help me navigate this next part of our journey.
Jenna and Josh & their son Jaxon
The birth of my sister when I was 14 years old was an affirmation of two things:
1. I definitely wanted to have children.
2. I definitely wanted to wait until I was much older to have them.
It was the most effective birth control on the market and though my goals wouldn’t be realized until 20 years later, I knew that motherhood was in my future. Regardless, I believed that I had ample time to start a family and wanted to feel established in my life to be able to offer a child a wonderful place to grow up.
After our wedding, my husband and I discussed, in a very organized way, our plan to enjoy our time as newlyweds for one year before starting a family. We spoke regularly about what life might be like with a “mini-me” running around the house and were excited. We knew we were going to start trying in March and for sure would be pregnant by June at the latest. I looked at various horoscopes of potential due dates and started to drop hints to trusted friends that we were going to get pregnant. As I write this, I chuckle at the “epic face palm” naivety of our optimism.
Flash forward to about a year later when I was sitting in my OBGYN’s office. I said sheepishly “Soooooo how long does it actually take someone to get pregnant?” This statement bought our ticket on to the roller coaster that is Assisted Reproductive Therapy. The truth is, I didn’t believe there was a real problem and humored the doctor through a number of invasive tests. When we reached the point where the OB could no longer work with our numbers, we chose to work with Dr. Sipe at Fertility Centers of Illinois. Though I was hell-bent on proving the labs wrong, I secretly started to picture him in a flowing superman cape, one that would be appropriate for a miracle worker. Soon after our initial consultation, I was given the diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Failure and told that not only could I not get pregnant naturally, but that I would go into early menopause….
How could I be running low on eggs? I hadn’t even used any yet??!! I went through all of the cliches: “You spend your whole life trying not to get pregnant and when you want to get pregnant you can’t” etc… My husband and I laugh out loud remembering a few times in the beginning of our relationship when we were so scared that we would become pregnant. It’s clear now that it wasn’t even a risk… Oh the times we could’ve had!
Navigating through the web of insurance considerations and appointment bookings proved to be a challenge and put a delay on the start of treatments. In the meantime, my OB prescribed clomid to give my ovaries a “little push.” I found clomid to be the asshole of fertility meds. It’s cheap, easy and gets your hopes up before you know what you are actually dealing with, only to fail again and again. (I do know that many have had success with clomid, but this was not my story). Even with months of no pregnancy, I did not believe that I had a problem but rather that I must be doing something wrong. So, like any Type A gal would do, I started to do EVERYTHING right.
Acupuncture? Check. Fertility Yoga? Check. Meditation? Manifesting my baby? Exercise, but not too much exercise? Vitamins? Reiki? Sooth Sayer? Shaman? Kale? CHECKCHECKCHECKCHECKCHECKCHECKCHECKCHECKCHECK!! Still no pregnancy.
It was around this time that I found Shine. My nutritionist recommended that I reach out to Katie and reluctantly, I did, offering my studio as a location for our first meeting. I was worried that I would be “found out” if I attended a meeting in public and had yet to accept my actual diagnosis. Upon attending a meeting and speaking with another woman in struggle, I immediately felt a sense of connection and support. Our meetings became a safe place to admit what you were dealing with and how you felt about it. These hours proved to be invaluable in my process.
After a number of failed IUI’s and one devastating failed IVF cycle, I sat angrily in a meeting drinking a glass of wine and expressing my grief to those in attendance. (Snacks and wine if you are not stimming proved to be a fantastic bonus to a support group meeting!). In short, I was pissed. I felt “gipped” because I was doing all of the “right” things. Other women that I had started group with were leaving because they were pregnant and though I knew I should be happy for them, I couldn’t help but feel resentful. This is truly the crux of infertility – at times it becomes impossible to find empathy because of your own grief.
We had one cycle left. It was truthfully a “hail mary.” I remember being protective of myself and not expressing any sort of hope, positivity or optimism. Instead, I began to focus on the recovery after what was sure to be another failure. Katie was a gem and came to walk with me during my recovery and the next cycle to keep me moving. The IVF cycle before this was a game changer for me. In truth, it broke me. I realized that all of the doctors were speaking the truth and no amount of control could change that. When I learned our cycle hadn’t worked it was a Chicago thunderstorm night. I sat on our deck, dared the universe to “hit me one more time!” and decided that I would pursue donor eggs in the morning. Having Katie accessible was a major factor in my recovery from this loss.
Our last cycle was “lack-luster.” We retrieved 3 eggs with only one fertilized. The phrase “it only takes one” began to be a major trigger for me… I had given up and decided to put a deposit on a donor who was both Scottish and Italian (!) I had reconciled that even if I didn’t have a baby with my own eggs, I could carry a baby. When I called the agency, I found out that my donor had been reserved… it was another major blow. We were moving that weekend and I had a beta appointment on Monday. I remember moving a television and thinking “it really doesn’t matter if I lift something heavy because I’m just waiting for bad news.”
Monday came and I held my phone close. I simply didn’t want to hear the bad news on a voicemail again. I took to organizing our new home AND MISSED THE CALL!! Listening to that voicemail epitomized anxiety. My nurse called and left a message that I had a positive beta but we would need to check in again in a few days. It was the first time after three years that I had actually been pregnant and all I could do was worry. In fact, for 10 months I worried. I was afraid that allowing any hope would lead to a major tragedy. While some people find that pregnancy is the answer they’ve been waiting for, pregnancy was simply another step in my IF journey.
It was not until I heard the first “squawk” out of my baby boy that I believed that our cycle had worked. After 19 hrs of un-medicated, stalled labor ending in an emergency c-section, I was convinced that I was forcing a miracle. That high-pitched affirmation of life was all my husband and I needed to relax and finally embrace our dream of parenthood.
Today, we are a household of 4. Mum and Dad, Horatio the dog and Jaxon, our amazingly energetic, curious, loving, funny little one year old. Though I believe we would appreciate the chance to have a larger family, our foursome feels very complete. Sometimes I become jealous towards those who were able to freeze embryos but when that “green” feeling comes on, I have to remember the words of my friend: “I don’t have just one, I have THE one!”
Weirdly, I believe that this journey is what made me a better mother. It affirmed my desire to become a mother, affirmed the love that my husband and I have for each other and showed me the strength that I possess to be an advocate for myself and my family. In addition, it affirmed the adage “It takes a village!” I am so grateful to have Katie and Shine as part of my village :).
Katharine and Cory & their son Charlie
My husband and I decided a year and a half into marriage that we were ready to start a family. We weren’t in a rush and we certainly didn’t want to be “that couple” that was timing everything, stressing about each month that passed so instead we decided to stop trying to not get pregnant and just see what happened. (Little did we know!) As I was 28 at the time and my female relatives all got pregnant very easily I thought that within a few months we would be pregnant. I began thinking through what the holidays would be like that year with a little one with us and if we’d be able to make some already planned family vacations. I grew somewhat concerned after a few months when I still had not gotten my period (and was secretly hopeful that I had gotten pregnant each time), but the doctor said to just try and relax, eat well, exercise and that it would just take time. After another few months I just felt like something was not right and went to see a fertility doctor in NYC where we were living at the time. After a batch of testing I was diagnosed with PCOS, but the doctor felt confident that a few rounds of Clomid would do the trick. I was disappointed that it was not as easy as I had expected, but a few pills and some ultrasounds did not seem like the end of the world.
During those rounds we relocated to Chicago from NYC for my husband’s job. Between the hormonal surges from the unsuccessful rounds of Clomid (aka “Clomonster”) and missing my family and friends in NYC terribly I knew I needed a support network. I was feeling alone, defeated and just plain sad. One day at work I got a call that another round of Clomid had failed. On the verge of tears I decided I needed to find someone, anyone to talk to about what I was going through. I started searching for fertility support groups in Chicago and found Shine. Katie’s first response gave me hope that someway, someday I would have the family I was hoping for. Her compassion, energy and kindness were immediately apparent. She invited me to an upcoming Shine meeting and I counted down the days. I loved the women I met there and was so relieved to have met a group of people who understood what I was going through. I left each Shine meeting I attended feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I know I could share everything I was thinking and feeling without any concern of judgment.
I finished out a few more rounds of Clomid and then decided to switch fertility doctors to one I felt had a more hands on approach. Our new doctor, Dr. Sherbahn, decided IVF was the best next step. Unfortunately, during some additional testing he discovered I had uterine scarring (he still doesn’t know why) so we delayed IVF for a few months, which felt like a lifetime at the time. I had some dark days where I began to question if I was really meant to be a mother or to carry a child, but with the support of family, friends and Shine I went ahead with the plans.
We transferred two embryos in June of last year and at our first ultrasound we saw two heartbeats. Unfortunately, at our next appointment there was only one. Another heartbreak. After everything I had been through pregnancy was not easy (I had complications throughout) or enjoyable as I had a hard time not thinking of the worst possible outcome at every hiccup along the way. I had immense guilt because this was everything I had wished for, but time could not pass quickly enough. I just wanted our little guy to be here. Because of some growth issues, our baby boy was induced early at 37 weeks and we met Charlie for the first time in January of this year. As cliché as it is, words cannot describe the joy he has brought us. I’ve never done something so difficult, but also never imagined being so happy and content.
Katie was one of the first people I told of our news at each step along the way – the positive pregnancy test, the subsequent HCG tests, the loss of the second baby, the growth issues and finally his arrival – and I knew that each and every time she genuinely cared and was on the emotional roller coaster with me.
We have frozen embryos left and I know when the time comes for us to try for baby number two I’ll be back at Shine meetings – for the support and comfort in the tough times and the celebration and joy when there is good news.
Jennifer and Alan & their daughter Hannah
My husband and I got married in May 2012 and began trying right away to get pregnant. We knew we wanted a family and had spent the previous 5 years or so together really enjoying life and traveling the world so now was the time. My OB/GYN doctor said to try for 6 months and if nothing happens to come in and see her. So we did just that after no success for 6 months. My doctor did some tests which all came back fine so she suggested I go to FCI to meet with a fertility specialist so they could do some more tests to determine why we were having trouble.
In December of 2012 we met with a doctor at FCI and went through the baseline testing. When we went back to get the results, I was feeling optimistic and had no idea that what I was about to hear was going to change that feeling completely and bring us on the next year’s difficult journey. My FSH came back high, my AMH level was very low, and my follicle count was low, which I have now come to know as pre-mature ovarian failure. He pretty much told us there was slim to no chance of me getting pregnant without IVF and wasn’t even very hopeful that would work. Hearing this was very difficult and we were blindsided. We didn’t really know at the time what any of these tests really meant and the doctor went on to tell us all about my results in doctor language without any explanations that we would understand. This doctor really had no bedside manner at all. I felt awful sitting in that room and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I cried all the way home and the rest of that day. We were not ready to hear that we had such a small chance of ever having a baby.
My husband did some research and found Dr. Scoccia at UIC that specialized in my age range and diagnosis so we made an appointment with him. After the first visit with Dr. Scoccia we were so much more comfortable and wanted to start the next cycle right away. At UIC I felt like I was the only one there and there was plenty of personal attention. Dr. Scoccia has the best bedside manner and was very supportive. He was available at all times and would call me personally with results or to discuss next steps. He would tell me not to get discouraged and that there were other things we could do.
We started with a couple of IUI attempts using Clomid just to try something. Our insurance at the time didn’t cover fertility treatments (self-funded by the company and therefore exempt from the Illinois coverage requirement). After the failed IUIs we met with the Dr. again and determined that IVF would be the next step. We knew this was most likely going to happen, but just needed to go through these other steps first to feel more comfortable about going through with IVF.
At this time I was feeling very stressed, depressed and nervous about going through IVF and the entire process involved. We really were not talking to too many people about what was happening. Those that we did confide in were supportive but I felt that no one really understood. We did not know anyone that had gone through this and so no one could relate. My best friend got pregnant right away around the same time as we started trying. I was struggling with that and it just seemed everyone was getting pregnant around us without any problems. At one point I just couldn’t take it anymore and my husband said we or I should really look at talking to someone about what we were going through. So I searched online and found Shine. I’m so grateful I found them because I was losing my mind and really needed to talk to someone that could understand. I went to a couple meetings and felt a lot better after meeting all of the great women that were there. It was a great place to hear about others stories and even learn some about everything I was going through. There were so many questions I had and things I didn’t understand so it was a great resource to get those questions answered. Also it was just good to vent and cry.
So we started an IVF cycle at UIC and had to cancel half way into it because I was not responding to the meds the way they were hoping. This was hard to stop all the drugs and go back on birth control and start over. My hormones were a mess! So we started another cycle and the doctor modified the meds and I responded better. I still was not producing a ton of follicles, but I had a couple that were good size. They were almost not going to do the retrieval because there were not enough, but I argued that we were self-pay and had come this far and I didn’t care if there was only 1, I wanted to do it. They say it only takes one, right?! So Dr. Scoccia agreed and we went ahead with the retrieval and got 3 eggs. One did not fertilize, but the other 2 did. One embryo was a little better than the other so we decided to transfer 2. One of them implanted and we saw the heartbeat just a few weeks later and we now have our beautiful baby girl Hannah Rose.
We truly are blessed to have Hannah in our lives and I could not have gotten through all of this without the help of Shine, Katie and all the other wonderful women I have met through her organization.
Katie and Ray & their daughter Philomena
If you asked me what I was going to study in college, that was easy. I was going to find a husband, get married and have six kids. I never wanted to be a professional working woman. Period. Hmmmm…that plan didn’t quite unfold the way I imagined.
A few years into my career I was working in the fashion industry, traveling around the Midwest and East Coast, living many young girls’ dream job. Many times I looked at my peers, my work mentors, my boss, my boss’s boss and there was something not right. Woman in their fifties and sixties, not married and no children…Thirty something’s married, struggling to have kids. I learned quickly there was a reason the company I worked for paid for six rounds of IVF.
Fast forward a bit, my husband and I were together for four years before we got married. A few months after we got married we went to my OB and told him we wanted to get pregnant. We had been ‘not trying’ for over six months at that point. Doctor said to try for a year and come back. We weren’t willing to wait.
At this point in my life, I knew too many women who could not get pregnant on their own. A good friend of mine recommended Dr. Mary Wood-Molo at Rush. My husband and I went and met with her. I remember walking out of her office thinking WTF. She talked to us about IUI and IVF, donor eggs and donor sperm, adoption, and that Texas was easiest state to adopt from, especially blondes…our heads were spinning when we left. Since I wasn’t in love with my OB that had told me to wait a year, she also recommended a new OB, Dr. Patricia Boatwright.
We started off with a couple of IUI’s, a little Clomid. A few tries in we got a call from one of the nurses from the IVF office. At the time, my husband and I worked from home and I ran from my office in the basement up to his office because the nurse’s voice seemed alarming. She said ‘Did you know that you have Fragile X.” To which my response was “I don’t even know what this is…how do you spell that.” Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability, behavioral and learning challenges. It is not life threatening, but can be anything from nothing to full blown mental retardation. While it is more predominant in men, as a woman, I have a fifty percent chance of passing it on to every child. One of the effects that Fragile X has on women is Premature Ovarian Failure. Lovely.
Rush University happens to be a teaching school, with a doctor that studies Fragile X. Had I been at Northwestern or elsewhere, chances are I would not have known that I have Fragile X because it is not a normal test that is run. For this we are thankful.
During this time, I also met with the Dr. Boatwright (OB). She is old school, by that I mean not into technology and just does things the old fashion way…mostly with her hands. We talked about where we were in the infertility process, medical history, etc. About three minutes into the physical exam, the doctor tells me she is 98% sure that I have endometriosis. She can feel it. “It’s like black, sticky tar wrapped around your organs”, she tells me. This is probably why you can’t get pregnant. What was interesting to me was that they say endometriosis is very painful, especially with the amount I had…and I never felt it.
While I was so grateful to learn we have another understanding of why I might not be getting pregnant, I was not interested in her old school treatment plan of nine months of menopause at the age of thirty-two. We were very rushed with the plan, but decided to allow Dr. Boatwright to do a laparoscopy to diagnose the endometriosis, even though she refused to take out what she found. Even further disappointed that the infertility specialist agreed with Boatwright’s plan of menopause. So on we went to find new doctors.
Around this time, I had decided to find a job that kept me closer to home. Being on the road 70% of the time was probably not good for this whole obstacle. Living in Bridgeport and driving to Rosemont was going to be much easier than getting on a plane all the time…
Ray and I hadn’t kept our fertility struggles a secret. We were open with family and friends for a few reasons. My mom is in the medical field and has a lot of connections, so many of my friends had already been through this, and because I think we are blessed with people who just want the best for us and we knew would support us. So, we started asking…who do you recommend? Who is the best? Five people from different parts of our lives led us to Dr. Charles E. Miller and The Advanced Gynecologic Institute in Naperville.
After meeting with Dr. Miller, with great confidence, we had a plan. One month later from the diagnostic laparoscopy, Dr. Miller went in and removed the Stage 3 Endometriosis. Shortly thereafter, we were back on for a few more tries of IUI, since cleaning up inside should make the IUI a great inexpensive option. Did I mention our insurance didn’t cover any infertility treatment?
It was around this time my mom introduced me to Katie and Shine. A work friend of my mom is related to Katie and so I thought, why not. Even though I have many friends who have experienced what I was going through, it was nice to have people outside my circle to turn to. Shine for me has mostly been about more education, and learning about different experiences. Getting together with a bunch of women to sit around, in a relaxed environment, with some wine and cheese and just talk, and listen. Katie especially has been extremely helpful. If I just need a question answered, complex or simple, she makes herself available.
April 2013, after a super relaxing week in Mexico, we got home and fell down a flight of stairs and broke my ankle…just another bump in the crazy road. By Fall I was ready to start back up again with my infertility journey.
We started our first round of IVF stimulation in September 2013. My body wasn’t really responding to the meds so, they upped my dosage. We had five eggs during this cycle and so we decided to leave those alone and start new meds in October. Now, on the highest doses of Follistim, Menopur, Lupron, Bravelle, and HCG we had twelve eggs in the month of October. Once the eggs were retrieved its’ like the Law of Diminishing Return….12 retrieved, 5 fertilized overnight, by day 5 we had 3 and only 2 made it to biopsy. We decided that since we are going through the IVF process we wanted to test the embryos to be sure that we were not passing the Fragile X on. One embryo had Fragile X and one did not. On December 5th 2013, we implanted the golden egg, our one shot at having a baby.
I think there is something to be said about women who have a difficult time getting pregnant; my pregnancy was very smooth. Aside from being tired, I always felt really good.
August 24th, 2014 our daughter Philomena was born. We are enjoying every minute.
As I have come to the realization that six babies are not realistic for my husband and me, we are looking forward to one more little one. And so we begin the process all over again. This time with insurance! Unfortunately, Dr. Miller is not on our insurance plan. We did meet with him and he recommended either Dr. Kaplan in the city or Dr. Rinehart at Reproductive Medical Institute in Oakbrook. I have a few friends that had great success with Dr. Kaplan, but the thought of driving to the city for appointments multiple times a week stressed me out. We met with Dr. Rinehart and feel really good about working with him. We have moved out to the far west suburbs, so it hasn’t been easy to attend SHINE meetings lately. My hope is to get down to a couple in the months ahead as we make this next journey.
Through this experience, I have never had the mind frame of “why me?” When friends and family around me have children I am genuinely happy for each and every one of them. The shots don’t bother me one bit…it’s what I have to do. It has been so important to stay positive and stay focused on what you can control. If you need a little humor through the process just grab a pen and play connect the dots on your belly! Best of luck to each of you.
This story, and so many like it, is Shine’s dream, it’s what keeps us going, it’s what pushes us harder to get infertility talked about, educate women on their fertility, and be an overall advocate for those affected by fertility challenges.
Our goal is have hundreds more of these success stories, and welcome a thousand more babies to parents who have dreamed them for what feels like a lifetime!