Julie and I have been together since 1998—I think it was 2004 when we came out to both of our families. We always knew we wanted children—we bought a house in 2005, and lived with our 2 dogs, practicing for children. We played on multiple softball teams in the area and also coached a local high school varsity team. In 2007, we finally made the decision to start trying. Julie is older, so she was going to try first.
COMING TO SHADY GROVE FERTILITY
We came to Shady Grove Fertility I think on the recommendation of our OB/GYN. Dr. Greenhouse is wonderful—he is smart and knowledgeable and made a great impression on us. Maybe as importantly, he is compassionate and kind—every time we had a bad thing happen, he made himself available to us by phone and by email. He always answered promptly and explained things thoroughly. I suspect we were pretty annoying with our constant contact, but he was always patient and kind.
Julie tried to get pregnant 5 or 6 times through IUI and was unsuccessful—she was 43. This was in 2008, and we were actually planning a wedding in August 2008. Dr. Greenhouse suggested that we try using my eggs, fertilizing them, and putting them in Julie’s body (I was 33 at the time). This sounded reasonable, but expensive and somewhat overwhelming, especially with the wedding coming up, so we took a break. We started the donor egg process (with my eggs and donor sperm) in 2011, after Julie’s mother passed away unexpectedly. At this point, I was suffering from chronic neck pain, having had a disk replaced in 2009, and couldn’t physically carry a baby. In a way, we were lucky—we had my eggs and Julie’s body! We got three embryos—Julie didn’t get pregnant when they transferred the first two, but we were successful on the second try! In 2012, Jaden was born—our perfect little boy!
TRYING FOR BABY NUMBER TWO
In 2013, we decided to try to make a sibling for our amazing little boy, and this time it was my turn to carry. The first cycle, we only got one embryo. Everyone said it only takes one. And sure enough, I got pregnant! We thought we were so lucky. We saw the baby’s heartbeat at 6 weeks. I remember asking one of the nurses what we should do with the extra meds we had—she said “hold onto them, for now.” We went in for our last appointment, the 8-week ultrasound, and Dr. Greenhouse had trouble finding the baby’s heartbeat. He finally found it, but the heart rate was 47, and he said that the baby was probably in congestive heart failure. We had to wait over the weekend to have another ultrasound on Monday and, as he suspected, the baby had died. We had genetic testing done on the tissue after the D&C, and the baby had Turner Syndrome (only one X chromosome).
We wanted to try again right away, but we had to wait for the hCG levels to go down—it seemed to take forever. We finally started again a few months later. We got three embryos— they transferred two and froze one. I didn’t think I was pregnant after the transfer—I felt so different than the first time. When we finally had the pregnancy test, we got the call—the test was positive, but the hCG wasn’t high enough. They suspected I was having an ectopic pregnancy. This was worse than having a negative test! I had to go back every two days to monitor the hCG levels—it kept going up, but never enough. Eventually, they told me I had to have injections of methotrexate to kill the cells, because the pregnancy wasn’t resolving itself. This medicine made me nauseous and susceptible to everything—I got an eye infection and everything else I was exposed to, but finally, my hCG went down to zero.
At this point, we had the one frozen embryo left, but we were reluctant to implant without knowing if it was healthy. It didn’t make sense to just test the one embryo, because the cost was the same for up to eight, so we decided to go through another cycle. Dr. Greenhouse was adjusting my meds again, to try to increase the number of healthy embryos we could possibly get, but this time, we only got two. We decided to send samples of those two, plus the frozen embryo, for genetic testing, so we could make sure to minimize the chances of another miscarriage. The results showed that the two new embryos were both abnormal, but the frozen one was normal! We decided to go ahead and transfer the frozen embryo and I am now 31 weeks pregnant!!
IN HER OWN WORDS: THE UPS AND DOWNS OF TREATMENT
Julie: I knew it was going to be a long shot, but I am the only person in my family who can carry on our genetics—I was 43 when we started trying. I wish I had frozen my eggs when I was younger. Every time we got the call that the pregnancy test was negative, I was devastated. I love our son more than anything in the world, but I do feel sad sometimes that he isn’t my biological son. On the other hand, I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to carry our son—it was a difficult and amazing experience. Most women who can’t have a baby would have to use an unidentified donor egg—while the baby we created wasn’t biologically mine, it was the next best thing—my wife’s genetics! The incredible thing is that we both have such a strong connection to Jaden—he is Deb’s biological son and I got to carry him around for 9 months and breastfeed him. He has two moms in every sense, and it is awesome!! Since the embryo was frozen, I had to get the injections every day for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. I HATE needles!! I somehow got through it, and we got the best reward!!
The road to our second child has been incredibly difficult. I can’t believe we have almost succeeded! We have been dealing with fertility (injections and testing and joy and heartbreak) for nearly 2 years, and it has been so hard on both of us. I can’t stand to see Deb suffer, and she has suffered so much through this journey. Of course it has been hard for me, too, but at least I haven’t had to suffer the physical pain that she has. We wanted a sibling for Jaden and I know Deb really wanted to carry a child to term. Even since she has been pregnant, it has been difficult and hard to “accept.” I’m not sure we will believe it to be true until we are holding the baby in our arms.
Deb: This has been the hardest thing I have ever done. When we were first trying, every time we got the call that Julie wasn’t pregnant was agonizing. Helping her to accept that she wouldn’t be able to have a biological child was so difficult. Being able to “give” her the key ingredient to a successful pregnancy is one of the best things I have ever been able to do. I loved Julie’s pregnancy! I loved feeling the baby move and watching Julie eat everything in sight. She was so brave!! Holding Jaden in my arms for the first time was the happiest moment of my life. We actually got a picture of him smiling on the second day of his life—it was incredible! As hard as the journey was, we know that Jaden was/is SO wanted and so loved. And the journey was so worth it.
For me, the injections in my belly were tolerable. I felt badly that Julie had to give me the injections. In a way, I think that was almost worse for her than getting the shots herself.
But the worst part was the miscarriage, followed by the ectopic pregnancy. When we saw the heartbeat, we relaxed. And when we were in the room and Dr. Greenhouse couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat, it was agonizing. I honestly still haven’t recovered, and maybe never will. I remember thinking that if I could just get pregnant again, I would feel better, but it wasn’t true. I was holding my breath for the first 12 weeks, even though we knew that the embryo was genetically healthy. Even now, at 31 weeks, I still constantly fear that I am going to lose the baby.
I am 40, and pregnancy has been a struggle. I have had tons of nausea and achiness and exhaustion. The second trimester has been better, but I still wouldn’t say that I feel good. I am still afraid, and I think that will continue until the baby is in our arms. The baby recently started moving—one of the best moments for me was when Julie felt it move for the first time. Finally, I have been able to give her a little bit of what she has given me!!
I feel like I have given up my body for 2 years, trying to get pregnant and now, being pregnant. Going on and off of the hormones and having unsuccessful pregnancies and just the worry and stress of the fertility process has been excruciating. I look forward to the day when my body is my own again, and I can play with Jaden and the baby without the constraints of pregnancy. I am so thrilled that we have been successful and that we didn’t give up, but I am READY to move on to the next phase of our life.
One other struggle we have had is with the laws in Virginia against a child having two moms. When Jaden was 6 months old, Deb had to file for joint custody of him because Julie gave birth and is his only legal parent. We didn’t have any trouble getting custody, but it cost us a lot of time and money (and stress). We will have to do the same thing for the new baby, so that Julie has legal rights. We look forward to the day when this struggle is over and same sex parents don’t have to move to MD or D.C. in order to more easily raise a family.
OUR JOURNEY NOW
One of the best parts of this journey has been watching Jaden “bond” with his sibling (we aren’t finding out the sex). He will lie on Deb’s belly and give the baby kisses. He changes his mind about whether it is a boy or girl every day. When we were going through all of this, we kept telling ourselves that in 5 years, we wouldn’t remember the struggle, and we would hopefully have two kids.
DEB AND JULIE’S ADVICE FOR FUTURE PATIENTS
We actually have a friend who is having trouble conceiving and we just tell them not to give up. As hard as it was to make Jaden and his sibling, we succeeded, and are incredibly happy to be where we are. We are so lucky to have had the help of Shady Grove Fertility and Dr. Greenhouse—here we are, two women, both with fertility issues, with a beautiful little boy and a baby on the way—how lucky are we?!