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Online Community Helps Patient Embrace In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

Jessica was only 22 years old when she married Zak, who was 26. As young as they were, they were sure they wanted to be parents, and the sooner the better. In the two years since their wedding, their ideas about how they would conceive have changed a lot, and they’ve had experiences they never imagined.

Through it all, they have grown more resilient and more patient. They’ve met other couples in the same situation and learned the value of a supportive community. Though they had hoped pregnancy would happen sooner and with less effort, they’ve grown in ways that will serve them well when they become parents for the first time.

A Difficult Start

Jessica & Zak ThompsonJessica and Zak got married in May of 2009 and by November of that year, they were pregnant. This was exciting news for the young couple who had started planning for pregnancy three months before their wedding.

Sadly, on Christmas Eve, Jessica had a miscarriage. She says, “I kept thinking, couldn’t my body have waited a couple more days? It was really terrible timing.” Jessica and Zak spent New Year’s Eve at a friend’s party, but Jessica says she was staring into space, “feeling numb.” Slowly, they recovered and started to try again.

By November of the following year, Jessica began to feel that something was wrong. “It was so easy to get pregnant the first time and it happened so fast, I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t happening again,” she says.

Searching for Answers

Jessica did some research about fertility issues online and then went to see her ob/gyn to ask for infertility testing. “Because I was so young, my doctor was reluctant to test me or put me on any medications. She thought I was rushing things. Finally,” Jessica says, “I convinced her to, at least, order a semen analysis.” The semen analysis showed a low sperm count, so the doctor suggested that Jessica and Zak see a fertility specialist.

Jessica had a friend who was a patient at Shady Grove Fertility and highly recommended it. So, Jessica and Zak made an appointment with Dr. Naveed Khan in the Leesburg, VA office. During their consultation, they agreed they would start treatment with Intrauterine Insemination or IUI once their diagnostic testing was complete.

Getting to the Starting Line

Dr. Khan started by doing a thorough evaluation of both Jessica and Zak. During their work-up, Zak’s sperm count came back higher than it had in his first test, but they experienced a few other unexpected bumps in the road. Jessica remembers, “Every time I came in for my Day 3 bloodwork and ultrasound, there was something not quite right – my estrogen was too high or too low, and then I had a cyst.” Dr. Khan suggested that Jessica have surgery to remove her ovarian cyst before they began treatment.

This was not the beginning that Jessica had imagined. Jessica says, “I had this idea that once we went into Shady Grove Fertility, we would be pregnant right away and here I was having to go have a surgery before we could even get started. It was hard to accept.” Once Jessica had the surgery, she got the OK from Dr. Khan to start IUI on her next cycle. “I was so anxious to get going. It felt like forever waiting for that cycle to start.”

After the Starting Gun

During their IUI cycle, Jessica didn’t have any trouble with her injections or medications and the sperm sample they provided was good. When she left the office after her insemination, she was 100% sure it would work.

When her beta test came back negative, she was shocked and disappointed. She says, “I remembered that Dr. Khan had originally mentioned the possibility of doing 3-4 cycles of IUI, but I was convinced it would only take one.” They decided to try again.

On their second cycle, they got a positive beta test at first, but then the numbers went down. This phenomenon, called a chemical pregnancy, meant that the pregnancy would not continue. On their third cycle, their sperm count came back very low. “Dr. Khan thought we should finish the cycle anyway, but we had very little hope that it would work.” When it didn’t, they went back to Dr. Khan to talk about their options.

Making Course Corrections

Dr. Khan suggested that Jessica and Zak consider moving to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Jessica says, “He said he would support a decision to do another IUI cycle if that’s what we wanted, but he thought our chances of success would be better with IVF.”

The idea that they might need IVF was a serious blow to Jessica and Zak. Jessica recalls, “It was all I could do not to burst into tears in his office.” Because of their age, they had never considered that they might need to do IVF. She explains, “In our initial consultation with Dr. Khan, we didn’t even ask him to explain IVF because we never thought we would need it.”

Searching for Answers Again

Jessica knew she needed support and was anxious to get more information. Most of her friends her age were not married or not trying to have kids, and she felt they didn’t really understand. So, once again, Jessica took to her computer and started researching: How do you know when to switch to IVF? How is IVF different? Would it be more invasive or difficult? Would it take longer? How much did it cost?

Jessica says she really went “Google crazy.” She jokes, “I do not recommend it!” The problem, she says, is that you read things online from so many sources and there’s no way to know if they are accurate. “You also come across these dramatic accounts of women who had major problems and there’s no way to know if that is the norm. It wasn’t helpful. It really just made me more anxious.”

Finding the Right Kind of Support

Unsettled by her Internet searches, Jessica decided to go back to her most trusted source, Dr. Khan. She says Dr. Khan was excellent at answering her medical questions, “I really trust Dr. Khan. He has always given us great information, and he has never sugar-coated any of it.”

She also credits her nurse, Chris Bishop, and the other staff in the Leesburg office with making her feel cared for and at ease. “Chris is so compassionate and so honest with me. In fact, the entire office is amazing. Every time I walk in, they all know who I am, and they make me feel so comfortable.”

Even though Jessica was satisfied that all her medical and logistical questions were answered, she still wanted more personal, first-hand accounts of what IVF would be like. It was then that she discovered the Shady Grove Fertility Facebook page. She posted a question and couldn’t believe all the responses she got from Shady Grove Fertility staff and patients.

She says, “There are so many amazing women on there and such a great sense of community. I was really able to connect with women who had gone through this, with the same fertility center and similar treatment protocols, so we were all on the same page.”

The Facebook page provided her with the kind of interactions she was hungry for, and she became a regular user.

Moving Forward

Jessica started to feel more accepting of the transition to IVF. She learned that many couples move on to IVF after three cycles of IUI. And best of all, she found out that her insurance would cover her IVF treatments up to $30,000. With this new information, she was able to support Zak through his doubts about the new treatment plan.

Jessica recently started her injections for her first cycle of IVF. She is hopeful that this treatment will work, but she has come a long way in terms of her attitude toward treatment and her expectations. Now, she says, she is prepared for the fact that unexpected issues can come up along the way. She is more patient, and she plans to use the Shady Grove Fertility Facebook page throughout her cycle when she needs support.

Jessica and Zak now have a realistic and hopeful attitude toward treatment. Her advice to other couples starting this journey: “Don’t Google yourself into a frenzy. Relax. Trust your doctors and find the support you need.”

And, ultimately, she says what helps the most in terms of staying positive – “Every time you go through a new treatment or experience, just remember, you are one step closer to your goal – having a baby.”

Read Part Two of Jessica and Zak’s Story and see where they are today.

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