Battles and Blessings: One Woman’s Path to Motherhood
My infertility journey began with unexplained excruciating pain at the age of thirteen and ended with the perfect little family twenty eight years later. Twenty eight years of battles and blessings. And, finally, it's done.
I was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night for emergency surgery following an undiagnosed case of PCOS. A grapefruit-sized cyst on my right ovary was wrapped around my appendix, which was about to burst. "Don't worry," my doctor assured me, "Your other ovary will do double duty. You should still be able to have children one day." As a teenager, I really hadn't given much thought to having babies. But once those words "don't worry" were uttered, I knew I probably had cause for concern.
I went through countless doctors: one who passed away in his eighties, one who had no bedside manner, one who never believed me when I described my pain level, and one who was kind but unconcerned.
I had numerous surgeries: an appendectomy, an ovary removal, laparoscopy, uterus suspension, another laparoscopy, an endometriosis scrape out (that's a technical term, right?), hysteroscopies, and more.
All with no relief from the pain and no hope in sight that I would ever have children. Which was fine. By my twenties, I was positive that my cumulative female problems would ensure that I was barren. I became a teacher and told myself that my students were a good enough substitute. But then, in my thirties, I got married. All of the sudden, I wanted my own family!
One of my doctors referred me to Houston Fertility Specialists, after four years of marriage with no spontaneous pregnancies. Dr. Dunn was perfectly professional and personable. After our initial consultation, I felt like I had finally found the doctor I had been searching for all of these years! He ran a variety of tests and eventually concluded that I would have a 12% success rate of getting pregnant with IVF. I was given a 1% chance of conceiving naturally. 12% sounded better than 1% so we went for it. I planned my numerous doctor appointments around my lunch and recess duty and had other teachers watch my class when I inevitably got stuck in traffic. I took shot after shot after shot. Some of the medications had to be refrigerated, so I once travelled out of town to my grandfather's funeral with an ice chest in the trunk of my car and took a shot in the funeral home parking lot. All of that work and I only produced two eggs. One matured. None fertilized. All of that work and pain and hope for nothing.
I was told about egg donors and how my success rate would skyrocket to the 80th percentile or something like that (I think I stopped listening or caring at that point because I was NOT going to use an egg donor anyway). I did not even consider that an option. My husband thought it was just plain weird. I thought it was completely unfair! HE would get to have a kid but I wouldn't! That's how I looked at it, anyway. Even if I did get pregnant, the baby would not have any part of MY genes or MY personality. I would never get to have a little girl with MY green eyes that turn blue when the light hits just so. I would never have a little kid who shares my Type A personality, or my love for organization, or my somewhat bossy leadership skills. Not fair! Not happening. No egg donor. IVF didn't work, so we were done trying.
But, by the grace of God, my story didn't end there. Because, as it turns out, the egg donor nurse at Houston Fertility Specialists just so happened to be the mother of one of my students that year. Cynthia reached out to me personally and completely changed my life. She gave me information: not in a persuasive "you should really try this" kind of way, but in a friendly "you might be surprised to know this" manner. She gave me hope: she told me about success stories of people who went before me. She gave me a password: did you know there is an entire website full of amazing women who are willing to donate their eggs so that you can have a family? In her sweet, gentle way, Cynthia gave me my daughters.
After my husband and I spent countless hours looking at donor pictures and reading their biographies, we found a girl we loved! She looked a lot like me. Her personality seemed similar to mine. She was the ONLY girl we liked, and she was perfect! Until she wasn't. She had apparently applied to the program years ago and had never been chosen. Now she was recently engaged and egg donation was no longer something she wanted to pursue. Once again, I was done.
I hated the idea of using an egg donor anyway. And when I finally agreed to it, the egg donor rejected me! Surely this was a sign that it wasn't meant to be. But then I was handed a new password to a new website. An agency that has more donors than you could ever dream of! For an additional fee, of course.
This new list of donors was overwhelming and exciting. You could sort by race, ethnicity, hair color, eye color, height, build, almost any physical trait you could think of. Each donor profile included photos from childhood through the present. The full gamut of genetic testing was already performed, and the information was plentiful: from her grandmother's country of origin to her brother's athletic interests. She had bright blue eyes that looked green in a certain light and she wrote about her desire for everything to always be neat and organized! I hated her at first. She was a beautiful, fertile 21 year old and I was a barren 37 year old. She had dark brown hair and pouty lips and a nose ring, and she looked nothing like me at all! But, she was a leader. She was smart. She was an over-achieving, super organized, Type-A personality. She was exactly like me, actually. And, as it turns out, she was perfect!
Our doctor's visits were carefully coordinated for timing and anonymity. She had 26 eggs removed, 21 of those matured, and 18 fertilized. On the morning of my 5th wedding anniversary, Dr. Dunn transferred the two "prettiest" embryos from the batch. Within days, both girls implanted into my womb! One beautiful girl with her daddy's brown eyes and kind heart. Her feisty twin sister with blue eyes that turn green when the light hits just so, and a strong-willed temperament that fulfilled my mother's threat that "one day you will have a child JUST LIKE YOU and then you will understand." They are mine. All mine. And I can't imagine one heartbeat without them.
But, still, we wanted more! After all, many of those fertilized embryos were viable enough to be frozen for future use. We pay for them and pray for them annually. Since my body did so well the first time, we expected it to be easy. Dr. Dunn chose the next prettiest embryo (just one this time--we're not crazy) and we went home from the transfer excited! But there was no implantation bleeding. No nausea, no headaches, no outward symptoms that I immediately experienced with the girls. And then we got the call...no pregnancy. It just didn't take. So, we gathered up the courage and the money to try again.
The girls and I were at the zoo when I got the call. We were pregnant! I immediately took a picture of the twins and texted my husband that we were adding another monkey to our zoo. He didn't get the joke, but I thought it was quite clever. I bought the girls matching "big sister" shirts and bows and we surprised our family members with the exciting news! Then, without warning, after three ultrasounds and "normal" blood work, I miscarried. I lost my baby girl at 11 weeks and 5 days.
Once again, I was done. So done. All of the shots, all of the money, all of the pain and the sadness. It was just too much. It was far worse to have a baby and lose her than to never have had a baby at all. Following the D&C and genetic testing on the baby, we found out that I have a blood-clotting disorder that manifests during pregnancy. It was a miracle that I had carried the twins without issue. If I got pregnant again, I would have to take additional shots and precautions throughout the pregnancy to decrease the potential for miscarriage.
My husband eventually persisted and I agreed to try just one more time. I spent the entire pregnancy praying to keep her. Worrying I might lose her. Trusting that she would be happy and healthy, safe and sound. And she is. She is perfect!
So, the journey is now complete. Our family of five is complete! Twenty eight years of battles and blessings, each one worth it. And finally, it's done.
Note from HFS: Thank you to our patient for sharing her infertility story.