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Journey Through Infertility

Two year old Ever Lee McLaughlin has more friends than most people her age. Her mother, Rhonda, is amused. “People are always saying hello to her by name in the grocery store, then they explain how they know her story.”

The story of how a little girl named Ever Lee came to be was shared by her doting dad, Salyer McLaughlin, with the family’s faith community during the winter holidays of 2004. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the filmmaker and father presented his video point of view about his month-old miracle child. In spite of the fact that even her “big naked pregnant belly” was displayed on screen, Rhonda McLaughlin is proud to talk openly about the struggle that finally resulted in the baby who is loved by many.

A Silent Problem Revealed

As a busy interior designer and construction company owner in the 90’s, Rhonda was becoming accustomed to hearing that her inability to conceive was likely stress related. She had no health conditions in her history that warranted concern, had regular periods without pain, and made consciously healthy lifestyle choices. Finally, after two years of trying to get pregnant without success, her OB/Gyn referred her to a specialist in Indiana, where Rhonda’s family lives.

Salyer & Rhonda McLaughlinA disquieting hysterosalpingogram (HSG) revealed that her fallopian tubes were blocked, preventing any union of her eggs with sperm cells. She recalls being able to see the monitor screen as the test was being performed, and bursting into tears upon realizing that no fluid could be seen coming through her tubes. At the age of 32, surgery was performed to remove any blockage, and she waited the required three-month recuperation period before trying to conceive again. After still no pregnancy, the specialist found that her tubes were newly blocked.

IVF was the next prescribed course of action. In order to guard against possible ectopic pregnancy, Rhonda’s fallopian tubes were surgically removed. It was then she learned the reason for her years of infertility. “Apparently, I’d had a case of painless endometriosis that had wreaked havoc on my tubes.” It’s not that she wasn’t familiar with the common female reproductive disease. Friends of hers had dealt with the condition for years, but there was always cyclical pain involved. “I never had any clue,” Rhonda reflects.

After one failed IVF cycle, Rhonda began researching possible treatment alternatives and providers through the Internet and with RESOLVE. She was drawn to Shady Grove Fertility’s very successful reputation. In 2003, she and Salyer met with Medical Director Dr. Robert Stillman, after having seen his name on local and national Best Doctors lists continuously since 1986. The couple soon began their treatment at the Rockville office.

A Winding Path

The McLaughlin’s are self-employed and, like most Americans, have health insurance that does not cover the treatment of infertility. After thoughtful discussion, the couple opted to make use of Shady Grove Fertility’s Shared Risk payment plan, which gave them the reassurance of a full refund if several IVF cycles did not result in a baby. They were also able to write off some of their medication costs as tax deductions.

When Shady Grove Fertility’s office opened in Frederick, Maryland, Rhonda began seeing Dr. Melissa Esposito there. The move provided both additional convenience and continuity of care for Rhonda because the assigned nurse coordinator, Allison Catalani RN, was still able to follow her treatment.

Neither their first nor second IVF cycles resulted in pregnancy. “I’m not really sure why, but we were just convinced that the second one was going to work,” recalls Rhonda. “When it didn’t, we were both just devastated.”

At the time, Rhonda had no friends who had gone through IVF, though she and Salyer were close to their church community. “We had people sending us positive energy throughout our experience. It was incredibly helpful.”

By the time the third treatment cycle came around on the calendar, the couple had started to rein their hopes in a bit. “We just psyched ourselves out that the third one probably wouldn’t work,” she remembers, and they even took a class in adoption offered at Shady Grove. “We were preparing ourselves. I knew that I could love any child…”

Rhonda says it really became apparent just how much the staff at Shady Grove loves their job when she got that phone call.

“Salyer and I had decided not to do anything special on the day of my pregnancy test, just to work and try to stay distracted,” Rhonda tells the story. “We were just convinced it hadn’t worked, even though I remember how confident Dr. [Stephen] Greenhouse was during the embryo transfer. So when Allison Catalani called on my cell, I just knew, I just knew… so I took the phone outside.”

Allison says that such moments are the best part of her job. “You get to know the patients and their struggles,” says the nurse, who’s worked with Shady Grove Fertility for ten years. “When we have the privilege of telling patients that they’re finally pregnant, there’s an undeniable joy through the whole office.”

That day, Rhonda first felt her heart sink when Allison asked if she was sitting. Soon enough, though, the ecstatic mother-to-be “was jumping up and down on Market Street! I could hear the docs and other staff in the background all shouting congratulations to me through the phone. They were so happy for me!”

As it turned out, the child that she would love is Ever Lee.

Grateful For Ever

The birth of a child has a way of making the world’s woes fall by the wayside.

Rhonda feels awed when she considers how close she felt to giving up sometimes, the tearful announcement to her husband that she would not go through a fourth IVF cycle if the third hadn’t worked. “The physical part of treatment is tough, but the emotional aspects… that’s the hardest.” Today, she encourages others who are going through fertility treatment to take advantage of thecounseling that’s available to Shady Grove Fertility’s patients.

“We can laugh about it now,” the busy mom says in hindsight, “because it’s really a very weird thing to put yourself through to have a baby!” True to their creative natures, the couple documented their journey with video footage of experiences that only fertility patients can know.

Rhonda recounts one taped segment, shot by her as they prepared for their third (and final) egg retrieval. “Salyer wanted privacy for what he had to do, you know, and we had to get his sample to the clinic within the right time – in morning traffic. So here I was, no makeup since I’m about to undergo egg retrieval surgery, bags under my eyes because I could never sleep the night before retrievals… I’m talking into the video camera, almost in tears, saying ‘I don’t know why he’s taking so long, I can’t do this anymore’ when suddenly you hear Salyer in the background say loudly ‘Let’s go!’” Looking back, Rhonda laughs out loud, “It’s a very unromantic way to do this!”

Salyer, Rhonda & EverIt’s a slice-of-life vignette that the McLaughlin’s can recall with sweet amusement now.

The couple and their medical team decided on transferring two to three embryos in each cycle. They now have one frozen embryo with which they may try a pregnancy later this year. Rhonda will be 40 this year and Salyer, 49, so she feels the clock ticking. For the moment, their lives are busy and full, and the films they shoot at home contain far more laughter.

Rhonda and Salyer McLaughlin are just grateful that the little girl with all the friends found a way to be here.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie

    October 22, 2016 - 7:59 am

    I had twice HSG’s and I have bilateral fallopian tubes blockage. I wanted to take the safest and best treatment possible and consulted with three different doctors. I knew the surgery can cause more scarring and leads to a higher incidence of ectopic pregnancy. so I decided to try the natural herbal medicine Fuyan pills, and I’m now 12 weeks pregnant, Good luck to all ladies, it’s tough but so worth it!

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