I'd like to share an essay with you that I wrote back in 2011. I wrote this for an essay contest hosted by a pharmaceutical company whose product I used along our journey to parenthood. Although I didn't win, I do feel that I did a bang up job recounting our odyssey. I'm biased of course! My husband told me he believes that the only reason my essay was not selected was because our story was very similar to the previous year's winner, to include the dual-military aspect of our story. The truth is, our experience alone and sharing it with people who needed to hear it over the years has made it worth it. Today, I want to share our story with you.
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Learning to Dance in the Rain
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” This is a quote that I found on a plaque at a keepsake store. It helped me put things into perspective and encouraged me during our journey toward parenthood.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have been fully content with God’s timing and His entire plan for that difficult time in our lives. Very easy to say after the fact, I know. But let me tell you, EVERYTHING about His timing was and is perfect!
As a dual military couple, my husband and I were assigned to positions that allowed me the flexibility to make frequent trips to our Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) and my husband the flexibility to join me when necessary. More importantly, my boss was extremely sympathetic to our situation and supported my morning absences from the office. I cannot think of any other Army assignment I’ve had where this would have been possible!
Our story began the summer of 2007 when I became pregnant soon after our honeymoon. I was 29 and my husband was 37. We didn’t want to wait too long to start our family, so we were eager to get started! The first miscarriage occurred in August ‘07 when I was roughly five weeks along. What a physically and emotionally painful experience that was. Aside from the pain, the hardest thing was that we were stationed at a post where everywhere you looked there was either a pregnant lady or someone who’d just had a baby.
It took some time for us to become comfortable with trying to conceive again. I didn’t know if I could take another loss. Part of me was scared to try for fear of a similar outcome. In fact, I was having such vivid dreams that I was bleeding again that I would wake up in the middle of the night to check. My husband of course didn’t want to see me in the excruciating physical pain that I was in with the first miscarriage. Time passed, my body healed and anxiously, as we held our breath, we tried again.
April 2008: The second miscarriage. This time I was one week away from completing the first trimester. I remember I was at a baby shower and one of the guests joyfully announced that she was pregnant and moving into her second trimester. I really wanted to spill the beans, but I knew I had to wait one more week; that opportunity did not come. Before the week was over, we made another trip to the ER. The physical pain was more intense this time, probably because I was further along than previously. It didn’t help that the two young Soldiers triaging me were drenched in cologne making me feel even sicker! As they pushed me in a wheelchair to the exam room I told them “someone’s cologne is making me feel sick”. Surprised, they mumbled something and both tried to take credit for the offense.
Sadly, the military hospital wouldn’t send me for further testing because “a couple of miscarriages, before a successful pregnancy is not uncommon.” So basically, we’d have to suffer a third loss before anyone would be overly concerned. On 9 November 2008 we had another positive pregnancy test and by 4 December we were back in the ER. Of course I did what I did the previous two times and racked my brain to figure out what I’d done wrong. I must have messed something up. Was it taking the stairs two at a time at work or the coffee table I helped to lift? I searched for causes blaming myself for each failed outcome. In fact, by the second miscarriage, I had already convinced myself that pregnancy was such a fragile process, that one wrong move would destroy the life inside of me. The ER routine was unfortunately becoming what we expected, but that is what it took for doctors to examine our situation more closely.
After three miscarriages between August 2007 and December 2008, our obstetrician decided to test our blood for something she had not encountered in her 19 years of practice. On December 22, 2008, with a house full of family for the holidays my husband and I exited the house a little anxious and a little excited for our 9:30 AM appointment. What would the doctor tell us? Would we be her first case in 19 years or would the news be less complicated and shocking than that?
Alas, we were her first case in 19 years. While all of my tests came back negative, my husband’s came back positive for a balanced translocation. We learned that he does not have run of the mill DNA. Essentially, he has the standard number of chromosomes (46), however, when he was conceived his number 1 and 13 chromosomes (1p:13Q) switched places. This swapping of genetic material makes it difficult to reproduce - sounds extremely dismal when you are not familiar with how far science has come in this area of study. We later learned that there is such a thing as an unbalanced translocation which is the more complex of the two and makes the conception of a healthy child, or any child, much more difficult.
Balanced or unbalanced, at that point it was all the same to me – we weren’t going to be able to have children – at least not our own biological ones. Hearing the news I felt hopeless and wanted to cry. I even felt like I was going to pass out right there in the doctor’s office. Since I am big on taking notes I forced myself to stay focused and captured everything the doctor shared to ensure we knew exactly what the way ahead looked like. At the same time, I was thinking of my husband who must have been really hurt to hear the news. For forty years of his life he had no idea that he had a genetic condition that could affect his ability to reproduce. We left the doctor’s office a bit hurt, a bit angry, but mostly just in shock.
When we got home, all I wanted to do was quarter myself in my room and cry, which is pretty much what I did. My husband on the other hand, is a problem solver. He immediately began researching scholarly journals on-line to see how to overcome this balanced translocation. As we suffered for the next several days, I could not help but feel badly for my younger sister who was roughly three months pregnant. She must have felt horrible knowing that she was having a successful pregnancy while we had just been handed some pretty devastating news.
We were referred to a geneticist and by the time we had our first appointment on 1/13/09 (interesting that the date matched the balanced translocation nomenclature), thanks to my husband’s research, we already knew most everything he shared with us. Our next step was to get a referral to a RE and our first appointment was on 2/13/09. Funny how all of our appointments kept landing on the 13th!
Our IVF journey was not a hole in one experience. While our RE and his team were phenomenal, it was a lengthy process. It took us so long to achieve success that one of the nurses said that we were the longest running patients the clinic ever had. Due to the balanced translocation we had to send all of our embryos for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to ensure that they did not have genetic problems that could lead to additional miscarriages.
Our first IVF cycle produced 13 embryos (there’s that number again!), but only one embryo passed genetic testing. That embryo was transferred but did not take. The second cycle of stimulation produced plenty of eggs, but threw my hormone levels out of whack. My doctor advised against a transfer because he could tell from the lab work that an embryo would not survive. He suggested that an Endometrium Functions Test (EFT) be performed to determine the state of my uterine lining. The EFT established that my lining had too much protein making it officially dysfunctional.
Rather than try to conduct a transfer directly after a cycle of stimulation, my doctor advised that we wait a bit and do another round of simulation. The plan was to collect as many embryos as possible and send them for PGD all at once. After two rounds of simulation we accumulated and froze 20 embryos. Of those 20, four survived the thaw and PGD. The next step was to get my uterine lining ready to tolerate a transfer. For several weeks my husband gave me intramuscular (in my rear end) progesterone injections every night. At the same time, I was also taking three Endometrin vaginal progesterone inserts daily.
On February 17th 2011 two of the four hardy embryos were born. After three years of setbacks, our little girls Brynn Liana and Piper Romae entered the world! They are more amazing than we could have ever dreamed! Brynn’s middle name means “because we asked God for you”. She is very animated and daring and has big brown eyes and a playful grin. Piper is an observer with an infectious giggle who does things at her own pace and whose two massive dimples melt hearts. They are constant reminders that life is truly a miracle.
In the end, I could see that God’s timing was perfect; He set everything up from the start! Even before we knew what lay ahead, He was working to put us right where we needed to be. From the acceptance to our assignments in New York to the referral to Dr. Michael Blotner and his exceptional team at Westchester Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology, looking back, everything was right on time. Financially and professionally God’s timing was great too! Military insurance does not cover the cost for IVF because it’s viewed as experimental, but we were able to afford the cost because of our dual-military income. Also, had we had a child when we wanted to, we wouldn’t have been able to devote as much time to our jobs as we did.
For anyone seeking to build their own family here are a couple of suggestions you might find useful. Keep a journal. Journaling can be very therapeutic. One of my journal entries chronicles the first night my husband and I struggled to prepare the medicine. I wrote: “Wow! It just took us 2 hours to prepare and inject my dosage of Menopur and Gonal!! We started at 1800 and it is now a little after 2000 hrs. We watched the DVD for a refresher but couldn’t figure out how much diluent to reconstitute the Menopur vials with…”. Preparing the Menopur and Bravelle eventually became second nature. I used Menopur to induce the development of multiple eggs and Bravelle to stimulate ovulation and increase follicular development. Ultimately they worked for us!
It is very easy to get discouraged by failed attempts and setbacks, so take everything in stride. Playing the “what if” game, like “What if this doesn’t work?” isn’t helpful. For us it was either do IVF and PGD for however long it took achieve success or suffer more painful miscarriages. Considering our options, IVF gave us the most hope. I found that once I got my heart in the right place and pushed my anger and bitterness aside my personal journey became much easier.
Having Brynn and Piper in our lives is worth all of the heartache and pain we experienced along the way. Remember, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.” For more reading about our story and my auto-immune disorder, order a copy On Her Plate.