Our Journey through Infertility

Posted by  | Sunday, April 6, 2008  at 7:46 PM  
Hello, all! My name is Mary Straits, and it is a pleasure to be a guest author this week on the topic of fertility issues! If you’d like to check out our life after infertility, my blog is http://www.marystraits.blogspot.com/.

Before I elaborate on the details of our journey through infertility, I need to say one thing: Thank You, Lord!!! Our son Noah is 14 months old now. He was conceived via IVF, in vitro fertilization on May 19, 2006, and placed in our arms on February 4, 2007. While EVERY baby is a miracle, Noah’s life is a miracle we and our families weren’t sure we would ever see. Here is our story of infertility . . .and it’s a LONG story. Hang on . . .

My journey with infertility began long before I knew it was a path I would walk with my husband. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but I went through a phase in my early 20’s where I didn’t have a period for about 8 months. I never had regular periods to begin with, so missing didn’t seem all that abnormal to me. I had just accepted that my body’s pattern was “off.” When my new ob-gyn seemed concerned and alluded to possible fertility issues in my future, I began to pray. As I prayed for healing, the Lord led me to a scripture:

“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body” 2 Samuel 7:12

I cannot explain how I knew that Scripture, a promise to King David, was for me. I underlined it, put a date next to it (12/10/01), and went on my way with peace in my spirit.

Fast forward 6 months later to a conversation with my soon-to-be husband on the beach. We lived in South Florida and spent many evenings walking the beach and talking through our stories. On one of these evenings, Chris told me he was diagnosed with a very rare form of leukemia (essentially a blood cancer) when he was 15. The only thing that would save his life was a bone marrow transplant. Before he could receive the transplant, his body had to be wiped clean of all cells so that the new bone marrow could multiply healthy cells. Four full-body radiation scans, chemo, and endless meds prepared his body for the life-giving transplant. There are so many miracles that occurred throughout his transplant, but the biggest one of all is that he is a SURVIVOR! The story he told was such an uplifting story, and I was amazed at how GOOD God had shown Himself to be through Chris’ experience.

Chris, however, had a heaviness. He said he had to tell me something, and that it was alright if I decided I couldn’t continue with our relationship. We had stopped walking at this point, and I was just trying to imagine what was so bad that I would want to dump a cancer survivor. Chris said, “I can not give you children.” I was actually RELIEVED! I think I was expecting some creepy-weird confession or something. The more we talked, the facts were revealed.

The radiation killed all cells—sperm cells included.
The sperm cells had not regenerated as they do in some people.
He, by the grace of God, as a 15 year-old, thought about his future wife and banked sperm that may or may not be usable.

For some reason, I was not shocked, scared, or worried. Chris kept trying to make me see the reality—there were no guarantees, it was going to be hard on whomever signed up for this, for him. At this point, my own issues didn’t even cross my mind. I just committed myself to him in my heart and felt a peace in my spirit that things would be OK.

Chris and I were married on November 29, 2003. . . Not long after, we began to feel the baby urge pretty intensely. Friends were announcing pregnancies, and I was getting sympathetic hugs and statements like, “Don’t worry; it will happen for you, too.” It was annoying. If you know someone going through infertility, the best thing to do is NOT give sympathy OR advice like, “Just relax; it will happen.”

Anyhow, we consulted with three different doctors in Florida (where we were living at the time) and seemed to get all kinds of conflicting information. We were told that it was likely Chris had sperm cells, only to be crushed to learn later that he had none. Our only chances of conceiving would involve invasive medical intervention. That was the point when reality hit hard. The leading clinic in FL wanted $800 just for an hour of consult. We just didn’t have the money. We were going to try a few rounds of IUI (intra-uterine insemination)—we affectionately termed that procedure the turkey-baster procedure, since they inject sperm directly into the uterus. The doctor our insurance covered was NOT positive about it at all. If I ovulated on Saturday, too bad—he wasn’t coming in to do it, and our precious vials of sperm would be wasted. Thus, we decided that it was obviously NOT the right time. After that, we began to prepare to move to NC.

We tabled all baby discussions until after we were settled in. On our car trip to my parents’ for Christmas in 2005, we decided it was TIME. 2006 was our year. We had heard Duke had a great infertility program and made an initial appointment for mid-January 2006. That initial appointment changed our world and all of our expectations.

We had gone in under the impression that we would be signing up for the “turkey baster” procedure. Minimal drugs, minimal money. When we met with the doctor, she basically told us that because we had a limited number of chances and my body was not regular, we would be wasting time and money on intrauterine insemination. In addition to that, because the sperm had been frozen for nine years, we could not even go with traditional in vitro procedure. She told us about a new procedure called ICSI. ICSI is an acronym for intracytoplasmic sperm injection - which is a long, fancy way of saying "inject sperm into the middle of the egg”. So, basically, here is the short version of the “plan” we were given:

(1) Preliminary testing and ultrasounds for me—get Chris’ sperm from FL to NC (and pray the truck doesn’t crash and the liquid nitrogen tank is in good-working order)
(2) Birth control to regulate my cycle
(3) First round of hormone shots to get my hormone levels super low in order to bring them up really high—two shots in the abdomen a day.
(4) Start mega hormones to make my body produce numerous mature eggs (one shot in the abdomen each day)
(5) Monitoring ultrasounds and blood draws every two days after starting mega hormones. (Sometimes your body produces too many eggs, and you have to cancel and start all over.)
(6) Final shot of different hormone to release eggs.
(7) Retrieve eggs from me and HOPE they are usable.
(8) Thaw Chris’ sperm and HOPE they are quality/usable.
(9) Perform the ICSI procedure.
(10)Wait 24 hours and see if cells continue to divide.
(11)Show up at clinic three days later for embryos to be put back. (Sometimes, embryos unexplainably “die” and then you have to start all over.)
(12)Start progesterone shots (these are 2x daily and intramuscular) to prevent miscarriage.
(13)Wait four weeks for ultrasound to confirm that 1-11 WORKED.

As you can see, it is a PROCESS with all kinds of unknowns along the way. Will you have usable eggs? Will your embryos divide? When you show up for them to put your babies back, what if they tell you the embryos didn’t make it? What if you wait four weeks, and there is no pregnancy? How many cycles can you handle?

In the midst of the million thoughts we had swirling around in our heads about our plan, we were then presented with the cost. Insurance would cover the initial testing, but that was it. The price tag after insurance started at $16,000 and went up to $35,000. There were three different “plans” from which to choose:

(1) One cycle—one transfer of 2-4 live embryos, and one transfer of frozen embryos if fresh cycle didn’t take
(2) Two cycles—two fresh transfers, two frozen transfers
(3) Three cycles—three fresh transfers, three frozen transfers

It was totally up to us to decide how many “chances” we wanted to pay for. If no pregnancy results, you still pay the FULL price. If you pay for three cycles and get a pregnancy from try #1, you still pay the FULL price.

We left the appointment with a lot to absorb and decide. Then we PRAYED for guidance like never before. The only thing I could pray at one point was, “Please.” Please give us peace. Please tell us what to do. Please give us a baby. Just a simple, “Please.”

We went forward with the fertility treatment. We prayed and prayed and finally felt a peace about paying for only one cycle. Looking back, I can’t believe we actually paid for the least amount of chances—that is SO not our personalities! God was definitely leading us! Anyway, we applied for a fertility loan and were approved. It was a five-year loan and costs us (still) about what a car payment would. Then the REAL work started.

I will not lie—it was a difficult journey. All the shots, all the trips to Duke, all the paper gowns . . . the process took its toll. The hormones put me on an emotional rollercoaster, I suffered insomnia due to high estrogen levels, my stomach was bruised from the shots.

There was one major hiccup along the way when we REALLY had to believe God. I had gone through all the testing, the birth control, the initial round of shots, and the mega hormone shots. We had gone for 3 monitoring ultrasounds and found that for some reason, my eggs were not maturing fast enough—the medicine was gone, and I only had ONE egg that was big enough after the full round of mega hormones. The doctor began to talk about cancelling the cycle and starting all over. I about FLIPPED OUT. I couldn’t FATHOM starting all over! The other option was ordering more mega-hormones and waiting another 3 days to see what would happen. We essentially paid $1,500 MORE for three days of drugs (yes, only three days worth) and PRAYED for the best. The next ultrasound had great news—TEN mature eggs!

On Friday, May 19, 2006, ten eggs were taken from my ovaries in a very intense procedure. They called us the next morning to tell us that nine eggs were usable eggs, but only eight continued to divide. The embryologist said those were very positive stats, and that we should feel positive about things. We would need to come in on Monday to have two embryos put back. The remaining six would be frozen for future use.

The first time I saw Noah was on May 22, 2006 on a TV screen—as an 8-cell embryo. They basically wired a flat-screen TV to one of the microscopes in the lab and let patients see their babies before they are put back inside. It was AMAZING to see! I couldn’t believe I was looking at my BABIES! Interestingly enough, you can resume all normal activities that same day. I, of course, took it easy on the couch. I didn’t want to shake things up in there. (Here is the petri dish that Noah grew in. The two orange dots are where he and his brother or sister sat. We still have this and will save it as a tool to explain to Noah how he came to be!)

While I was getting the horrid intramuscular progesterone shots every day, we were again praying for peace and patience while we WAITED four long weeks to find out if the pregnancy “took.” I couldn’t stand it for too long, so we went out and bought some early pregnancy tests two weeks later. The first test I took was negative. The second test I took was an invalid test—one in a million, right? We waited two more days and tested again. It was a very strong POSITIVE. I took another test. And another one. And another one. ALL POSITIVE! We still needed to wait for the ultrasound to confirm that there was a heartbeat. That was the final say.

What a day it was when we saw that heart beat—161 beats strong! While we were hoping to see two heart beats since two embryos were put back, there was only one. The other embryo was just re-absorbed into my body. So my other baby is still a part of me. . .

About four months into my pregnancy, I stumbled upon my old Bible from 2001. I was excited because I had bought this Bible to carry with me but had lost it in the move. As I thumbed through the pages, I came back to this verse, underlined and dated:

“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body” 2 Samuel 7:12

I started crying in amazement, joy, and gratitude. God had kept His promise to me, a promise made before I even knew my husband and the path we would have to walk. I learned that I needed to keep track of Scriptures that God puts on my heart—I wish that I had had that Scripture to cling to on the rough days!

Thankfully, the rest of my pregnancy, labor, and delivery was flawless, and we cried tears of joy on February 4, 2007, when we saw Noah’s precious face. The sound of his first cry is a sound I will never forget. We are crazy about our little man and know that God has big plans for him! All the same, we are not losing sight of the fact that Noah is a sinner and needs discipline and love to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. (I was afraid of becoming “jaded” since it was a TON of work to have him and because he is such a miracle.)

Essentially, we have two more tries at biological children, as we plan to give ALL of our children a chance at life. They will de-thaw three embryos for implantation each time since the odds are 33%. All the same, we are leaving “odds” up to God; we just may end up with six more children and are committed to that! I know that some may question the ethics of us having six children out there frozen in a lab, but each one of our children will have a chance at life. We are not going to dispose of ANY of them.

So that's it! If you made it to the end of my LONG story, THANK YOU for listening! I hope that our story offers some encouragment if you are struggling with fertility issues at the moment. God is forever faithful, and we have been blessed beyond measure.

I plan to do another post later in the week on my words of wisdom for coping with infertility and for supporting people you know who are struggling with infertility. Stay tuned!

9 comments:

Rachael Davis said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I have not personally struggled with infertility, but often struggle with how to minister to precious women who do. It was incredibly insightful to read your story, and I look forward to your counsel on how reach out to others who are struggling through this journey.

markandmeg said...

All I can say is "wow!" What an amazing story! What a miracle!
Meagan

Leah said...

What an awesome story, Mary! I seriously didn't even realize it was that long because I was GLUED to the computer screen. Praise the Lord for the amazing way he is working in your life. And praise Him for such an adorable little boy! I also respect you and Chris for your decision to give each of your children a chance at life. What a witness to all of us and to your doctors as well.

Christina said...

Thank you Mary! Even though I have heard the story before - I too was glued to the screen and loved hearing all the little details and seeing how God worked in those. Praise the Lord! Can't wait to hear how the rest of your story unfolds in future years!

Ruth Palmer said...

Thanks for sharing! What an amazing story! I had to take progesterone shots during this pregnancy & I HATED them! I can't even imagine all you went through with all the other shots & dr's visits and procedures! Sure put into perspective for me the struggles with trying to get pregnant naturally! That doesn't even compare with all you went through!

God bless & I hope you guys are blessed with many more children!
Ruth

Dor619 said...

Absolutely love the your story.One day, Noah will love the story. It is amazing how God places two people together knowing the road wasn't going to be easy but possible. God is awesome and has blessed you both with a beautiful gift-Noah!! I am a huge fan of what's in store for the future siblings God has already written about for Noah. God has given you both and so many others the beauty of life!! Amazing...absolutely amazing. Also, I'm so blessed Cooper has Noah!

Dor619 said...

Absolutely love the your story.One day, Noah will love the story. It is amazing how God places two people together knowing the road wasn't going to be easy but possible. God is awesome and has blessed you both with a beautiful gift-Noah!! I am a huge fan of what's in store for the future siblings God has already written about for Noah. God has given you both and so many others the beauty of life!! Amazing...absolutely amazing. Also, I'm so blessed Cooper has Noah!

Melissa said...

Such an incredible story! Thank you for sharing :) I often visit this blog (I love it!) since I learned of it and I am truly inspired by reading the posts on this topic!

melanie swan said...

This was such an uplifting story...thank your for sharing. I have been wanting to hear more of the "personal" side of those who go through in vitro.

My husband has also gone through chemotherapy and radiation. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma (also a blood cancer) five months to the day after we were married. It was crushing news for many reasons, one of them being the fact that treatments could very well make him infertile. After praying about it we decided to bank sperm, and I'm so glad we did. He finished all of his treatments early this summer and we got the "okay" to try to get pregnant. We have not been successful thus far (but it has only been about four months), and so we decided that he should do some fertility testing so we know where we stand. We should get the results tomorrow. We are told by his doctors that he may or may not be infertile. Apparently, the treatments he received make some men infertile, and others not.

Our prayer is that we won't have to go the in vitro route, but if God's plan is different, then we are ready. It is so encouraging to read of your faithfulness and little blessing!!!

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