Melissa Ford’s book, Navigating the Land of IF: Understanding Infertility and Exploring Your Options, was long-anticipated by nearly 1,500 people who were already familiar with her life’s intimate details.
“Our personal infertility experience wasn’t as varied as they come, so I put it out there on my blog, asking for input, and everyone kind of threw something in the pot,” she says.
Ford’s book, though, is neither a litany of sad infertility stories nor a dry clinical textbook. Rather, it’s a guidebook to living the life of someone who is struggling to conceive, flavored with bits of the author’s own experience, in her friendly ‘everywoman’ voice. Topics range from the use of certain medications to talking with donor offspring about their beginnings to child-free living, and everything in between.
From a Child of Treatment to Treatment for a Child
Even though she, herself, was conceived with the assistance of Dr. Frank Chang (prior to joining Shady Grove Fertility), Mel Ford says it didn’t immediately occur to her that she may need similar help to get pregnant and have a baby.
“We got married just after 9/11, so it was a really emotional time that actually kick-started our decision to work on having a baby pretty immediately,” Ford remembers. “I wanted to live life as if every day could be my last.”
So she was surprised and disappointed to find out that getting pregnant doesn’t always ‘just happen’ for everyone. “Our first year of marriage wasn’t all that enjoyable after the first giddy months. I remember wondering ‘who takes longer than three months to get pregnant?’ After six months, we put away the baby books and starting looking for infertility books.”
Once she got the message that, due to her constantly disrupted ovulatory cycle, fertility treatment would be her likeliest route to parenthood, the young former middle school teacher and her writer husband sought out their fertility doctor. The fact that Melissa’s mother saw Dr. Chang long ago played a role in the couple’s considerations, but it was the convenience and recommendations from others that led them to seek treatment at SGFC.
“It turns out that Dr. Chang joined Shady Grove Fertility after we were successfully pregnant,” Mel recalls. “We were attracted to SGFC because of how the clinic was open and available 24/7 year-round, and RESOLVE had great things to say about them.”
Being able to use both the Rockville and Georgetown locations made it possible for her to work fertility treatment into her busy teaching schedule. “Plus I really liked how they had a special snowplow to make sure the place really was always accessible,” Mel added with her trademark humor.
While her primary specialist was Dr. Robert Stillman, Mel says her experience as a Shady Grove Fertility patient was a collaboration between experts who provided her with well-reasoned options. In addition to Dr. Stillman, Dr. Michael Levy and Dr. Lorna Timmreck helped Mel along in her journey.
Mel said that Shady Grove Fertility’s advantage as one of the largest fertility centers in the country lies in a community of specialists and extensive facilities that benefit the patient. She remembers when her mother advised her on choosing between the University of Wisconsin and a smaller college. “She said you can always make a big school small, but you can’t make a small school big.”
She also refers to two instances in her journey where she felt the personalized care that the physicians at Shady Grove Fertility are praised for.
“Dr. Stillman was so empathetic,” she remembers, “I saved one of the messages he left on our answering machine, wishing us luck before the final procedure when we conceived the twins. It was only thirty seconds out of his day, but it meant the world to us.”
She added, “Earlier, when one of our attempts didn’t work, he expressly said to me ‘it’s okay to be disappointed, but there are still things we can try.’ It was so important that he let me know he could see the bigger picture while I was only seeing a small piece of the puzzle.”
Becoming the Infertility Town Crier
Mel, which is just one of several names she goes by in the blogosphere (another is Lollipop Goldstein,) says something was missing back when her TTC-infertility journey started in early 2002. She was active on a patient organization’s bulletin board, but found she always wanted to know more about the individuals’ personal experiences. The only blogs she knew of were written by professional writers.
In 2006, she started Stirrup Queens, a combination education and support blogging community that quickly attracted one of the biggest online audiences ever. “I think it grew so fast because it filled a need for so many people, including myself. I had never found a space online that brought together the whole thing — community interaction, friends, ability to get an answer…”
It’s that sharing community’s participation in her book that Ford really appreciates. “The book presents so many different angles, because it’s made up of everyone’s stories.”
Now that her twins are school-age, the Ford’s are weighing plans to head back to add to their family. A physician they met when their twins were in NICU recommended the couple be tested for a clotting disorder, based on their history.
“We didn’t get much support for that idea from any professionals except for the Shady Grove Fertility doctors. In fact, we did learn that I have a couple of different clotting disorders, so I take a baby aspirin and extra folic acid for now and will start Lovenox once we conceive again.”
The 35-year-old is taking a bit of time away from trying to conceive for the moment so she can focus on her new book. “It was a really hard decision, and I cried for about a month when thinking about stepping back from treatment. I went online and asked my community ‘what do I do?’ and I did some soul searching with my husband. We concluded that for now, we still have some time.”
That said, Mel Ford is a believer in not waiting to seek fertility treatment, which really makes sense when you consider she’s a result of reproductive medicine. She tells her readers that getting a sense of where you are, fertility-wise, is crucial if you’re approaching 35.
Just as Mel Ford guides her community, the expertise and resources of Shady Grove Fertility guide the patients as they navigate the unfamiliar terrain of the infertility landscape.