Beautiful Babies Can Be Made In a Petri Dish: A Cincinnati Mom's Infertility Story

Photo Credit:  Baby Bliss Studio

Photo Credit: Baby Bliss Studio

Tell me about how you and your husband, Nick, met!

About 7 years ago, Nick was living and working in Cincinnati and was heading to Vancouver BC for a conference.  He knew he would have a lot of down time, so he asked a friend who had knowledge of Vancouver what there was to do.  Instead of sites, this friend connected Nick to various people, one of whom was my boss.

At the time, I was living in Vancouver and working for a small non-profit.  An email was sent to myself and one other coworker asking if one of us could show this ‘friend of a friend’ around the organization.  I audibly groaned as I read the email.  It felt like just another chore on the bottom of an already long list.  Did I really have to walk some random guy around the office?  I decided to scope him out on facebook, to see what I was in for.   Then, worried my coworker would beat me to it, I scrambled to hit ‘respond all’ and announced that I would be happy to make time in my schedule to show him around.

Nick was supposed to arrive at the office on Tuesday morning.  His flight got in at 7pm Saturday evening, and by 9pm he had texted asking if I wanted to grab a pre-emptive drink before we had to officially meet on Tuesday.  By 11pm we were sitting in a pub …by 3am we had shut down the pub and were standing in the rain still chatting.  He called at 11am the next morning to ask if I had eaten breakfast, I groggily replied that I was still in bed, but I’d meet him in 45 mins--

The rest is history.

We spent every waking moment of that trip together and 11 visits later we were married …in that same pub!

Did you always know you wanted to have kids?

No. When we got married we had no intentions of having children.  We even removed any references to children in our wedding ceremony.  

When did you start trying to have kids?

About 2 years into the marriage we became our own contradiction, and both seemed to have a change of heart.  As we settled into marriage we started to feel like parenthood may be a fun adventure.  We set a date to begin our family -- February 2014.  Oh we were so naïve! 

When did you start to realize that conceiving might not be so simple? How did you and Nick feel?

Long before February rolled around we knew things weren’t going to work out as planned.  In July 2013 we went to the Clermont County Fair.  We went on a few carnival rides and had a great time, but by the last ride of the night I knew something was wrong.  I was able to get on the ride just fine, but when the ride ended I could hardly walk.  That night, I laid in bed, with completely debilitating backpain. 

The doctor sent me for and MRI.  Within a week my world had turned upside down.  The MRI showed two very distinct issues, first Foraminal Stenosis, which had been causing the pain -- my vertebrae were growing in on themselves, pinching my nerves. The second, unrelated to the severe pain, but oddly enough more life altering, was a very large cyst on my left ovary.   The cyst was the size of a baseball or small navel orange and the doctor recommended it be removed immediately.  I was scheduled for surgery that October.  

The surgery was supposed to be outpatient, done laparoscopically.  However once they started they realized that I needed a full laparotomy.  I had stage 4 endometriosis, and my bladder, bowel, left ovary and other organs had been fused together.  They removed the cyst, but unfortunately, they couldn’t save my left ovary.  Well, they saved about 40% of it.  They tried to clean up what they could, but affecting such delicate organs there was only so much they could do. After surgery I was put in a stage of medically induced menopause for three months, to try and clear up the rest of the scar tissue.

Much to our surprise, I was off my meds and given the green light to try to start a family in February 2014, right on schedule!  

How did you get connected to the Institute for Reproductive Health in Cincinnati, and what diagnosis did you receive?

My OBGYN told us to try for six months and come back if nothing happened. Well, six months later we were back in her office, and it wasn’t for an ultrasound!

I don’t know what we expected, maybe a bottle of pills or a couple of tips or tricks?  What I hadn’t expected was a diagnosis of infertility, followed by a referral to a fertility clinic. I was caught off guard and I was devastated.  I felt like a complete failure and a disappointment to Nick.  It was my inadequacies that were keeping him from fatherhood. We sat in the car and I sobbed.  I couldn’t believe that “infertility” was muy reality.  I called IRH that afternoon.

Tell me about the process of infertility treatment for you. What did you try, and what was the result?

We read the book that IRH provides to all their clients called The Fast Track to Fertility.  Between reading that, and our consultation with our primary doctor, Dr. Schieber, we decided that we would try three cycles with IUI (Intrauterine insemination). If IUI didn’t work, we would explore our next steps.  Of course, I was sure we wouldn’t need next steps.

Our first month of IUI was filled with nervousness an anticipation.  I waited for two weeks after the procedure and took a pregnancy test.  I took a cheapy pregnancy test and sat it next to a cheapy ovulation test (I had heard that ovulation tests could also give you a positive, so this was a science experiment).  I didn’t notice at the time, but the two test strips touched one another– this is important.

I waited the three minutes and looked at the test.  IT WAS POSITIVE.  Hyperventilating with excitement, I ran downstairs to tell Nick.  WE ARE PREGNANT!!! IUI WORKED!  See, I am not really THAT infertile afterall!  

I took another test that evening before bed, it was negative.  I took one the next morning, it was negative.  I called IRH and we went in for a blood draw.  It was negative.  The test had a false positive read, due to the fact it touched the ovulation test.

I was gutted.  I was truly that infertile.  

In that moment we weighed the option of doing IUI again.  The chances of success were so minimal, and my heart –our hearts—just couldn’t take it.  We decided to go straight to IVF.

Tell me about your emotions during this time. What was it like to experience infertility, and then treatment?

For me, infertility was shameful and embarrassing and brought a lot of insecurity.  I remember dropping off our initial paperwork, and being so embarrassed that someone might see me walk in to the office. Thankfully each visit got a little bit easier.

IRH hosts a support group for women who are going through treatment.  What a waste of time, I thought, to go once, get pregnant and make all the other ‘infertiles’ feel bad.  I decided to go regardless.  

At my first meeting we went around the circle and introduced ourselves and our diagnosis. By the time it got to me, I had a lump in my throat “Hi, I’m Coral and I’ve been diagnosed with…” I couldn’t finish.  I just couldn’t say the word “infertility”. It was the first time I had ever articulated the fact that my body was broken.  I felt like a total failure.

The support group was a reality check for me.  As I listened to each of the women share their stories – 2,3,4 failed IVF cycles …3,4,5 years of trying to conceive, I wondered if this would be my reality.  Was this just the beginning of years of heartache?

I know it is cliché to say our IVF cycle was a rollercoaster, but it really was.  Things change on a daily basis and while you may have great news one day, it could turn to the worst news the next day.  Combine this with a lot of needles, hormones going in every direction, and cautious optimism with the threat of disappointment and heartache looming – it’s a perfect storm of emotions.

Regardless, we proceeded with cautious optimism, and the women in that support group were there for me/us every step of the way.

You successfully conceived Annise last year through IVF, and delivered her in August! Tell me about your pregnancy with her, what was that like emotionally and physically too?

Finding out that I was pregnant was surreal and so exciting.  After the false positive, Nick was reluctant to celebrate until the blood test confirmed, but there was no stifling my excitement. It’s funny how quickly the anticipation of beginning IVF turns to fear it won’t work …turns to fear it will work…turns to regret that it worked and has turned your life and stomach upside down! But I loved it and I was so excited. Three of my close friends from the support group also got pregnant within 6 weeks of me, so we got to share the experience together.

Pregnancy was hard.  I was high risk and diagnosed with polyhydramnios which was both emotionally and physically taxing.  In addition to this, I had severe morning sickness late into the pregnancy, came down with shingles at 30 weeks, and had multiple teeth crack.  Isn’t pregnancy beautiful?

What was your delivery like with Annise?

I thoroughly enjoyed my labor and delivery experience.  My goal was to labor at home as long as possible, which we did.  We live close to the hospital, so the doctor said we could stay home until there was no recovery time between contractions.  Thirteen hours later, about 7am, we made our way to the hospital. By 3:45pm our precious baby had made her debut and she was perfect!!!!!!

I looked at Nick and told him I would do it 100 times over, I loved the entire experience.

What are some positive things that you experienced personally through your experience and journey with infertility?

Friendship.  There is a unique bond between women who are navigating similar journeys.  You don’t have to explain it, there is just a shared sense of knowing.  The beauty in our struggle with infertility is the friendships that we have made.

Nick and I learned that we make a good team, as if we didn’t already know!  Coming to grips with the fact that it was my body that was “broken” was hard.  I blamed myself for keeping Nick from fatherhood, and I was worried about the reaction of family if they found out it was my fault we couldn’t have kids.

This journey taught us about partnership, and it taught me about trust.  Infertility wasn’t just my struggle, it was our struggle.  I learned to trust Nick and his love for me despite what I considered my inadequacies, andfor every moment of self-loathing and insecurity that I experienced, Nick was at the ready with affirmation and support.   

We learned that infertility isn’t synonymous with failure and doesn’t have to be surrounded by shame.

We learned that beautiful babies can be made in petri dishes!

What is something you would like to tell other moms facing infertility?

Being in the trenches can be so hard and demoralizing, especially if you've had multiple failed attempts, but the other side of the heartache is incredible. When you don’t feel like you have any hope left—and believe me, you will have those moments—allow friends and family to hold vigil for you and lend their strength and hope to your journey.

What is something you wish other people knew about infertility, and how to support those who have in the past or are currently facing it?

Infertility forces the strongest people to confront their greatest vulnerabilities.  It is a battle that encompasses every facet of ones being: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is also financially burdensome for so many couples.  If you are invited to participate in someone’s journey through infertility never underestimate the depth of their pain, or the power of your encouragement.