I've known for quite awhile now that I have endometriosis. I just never realized how bad it was. It all started with excruciating menstrual cycles, but my doctor always acted like it was normal. Really? I never saw my friends in that much pain or lying in the bathroom floor during their cycles. I knew something wasn't right. I needed my doctor to take me seriously. Finally, I talked to her about endometriosis (my aunt on my father’s side also has it) and how I wanted to have a laparoscopy. Long story short, it was confirmed that I had endometriosis and my doctor didn't even attempt to remove any of it because she felt uncomfortable doing so (it was too progressed for her). Afterwards, we talked a little about it and now I know exactly why I was always hurting during my cycles (and even in between cycles). But she never actually spoke to me about how my fertility was severely at risk. Maybe because I was only 21 years old at the time? So, I did the Lupron protocol for 6 months. I STILL didn't realize how bad I had it or how serious this diagnosis was.
Fast forward to August of 2009, the month I got married. I always pictured myself being a mother and couldn't wait for that day. I can recall stuffing my shirt with things to make me look like I was pregnant as I played baby dolls with my friends. There was just no question that I wouldn’t have children. That was what made me most excited to grow up. So, I didn't want to waste any time on trying to get pregnant. We tried naturally for one year and then moved on to a few IUIs and one IVF in our hometown of Huntington, WV (after doing an HSG and other testing). It all failed. I couldn't believe it. This couldn't be happening! I thought for sure IVF was going to be our way of getting pregnant quickly. After the crying stopped, I was even more determined than before. I decided to look for a doctor in a larger city, but somewhere still close to home. I found a facility in Cincinnati, OH and knew of other people who had success there. My first visit there was my last. After having my blood drawn, they wouldn't allow me into their shared risk program due to my low ovarian reserve.
After researching more, I found Shady Grove Fertility. It was going to be about a 6 hour drive from home, but I saw that it was one of the top rated fertility centers. All of the reviews of SGF were good ones. Could this be it?! Could this be the place to help me?! I called the following day and set up an appointment. Next thing I knew, I was qualified into the Shared Risk 100% Refund Program and didn't waste any time on starting the process.
We started IVF in 2012. On our first cycle we retrieved 12 eggs and transferred 2 embryos, but none resulted in a pregnancy. Our second cycle was cancelled in the middle due to a large endometrioma on my ovary; therefore, there were no follicles. Everything was getting worse instead of getting better. This was causing me the most horrific pain I could ever imagine. In between the IVFs, I had two surgeries to have it drained (doctors didn't want to remove it for fear that it would do more damage than already had been done by the endometriosis). I was a poor responder to the injections for IVF and we were thinking that if I had the endometrioma drained, that would help. It didn't. We tried different medication protocols, and my body would react the same with each one. It took forever to respond and at least 2 weeks worth of huge dosing. I WAS producing eggs, just not many and they were poor quality. I could get embryos and make it to the transfer stage, only to be told that my pregnancy test was negative every time. My husband was thinking of giving up the fight. My OB/GYN told me to look into adoption. It was a lot of time away from home, a lot of money, a lot of emotions, a lot of everything. But I couldn't give up. I honestly felt it in my heart that I WAS going to be a mother and this WAS going to work. I absolutely wasn't going to take no for an answer.
We decided to keep going and on our third cycle, we retrieved 8 eggs and had 6 embryos. Two were transferred and yet again – no pregnancy. We tried again, and unfortunately our 4th cycle was cancelled due to no follicles growing.
Our Final Cycle
Onto my final IVF. Same old story. My body was taking forever to respond and the outlook wasn't looking too good. We even talked about canceling the cycle but I kept going. Dr. Chang and I even spoke about "hitting" my eggs with everything they could (assisted hatching, injecting the sperm directly into the egg, etc). I just wanted to give it everything we could! We made it to egg retrieval, and as I was waking up from the sedation, was hit with bad news again (this was becoming the story of my life). Dr. Chang found I had fluid in my uterus. This meant that if any of the embryos made it to the stage where we could do a transfer; I wasn’t able to do it. My only option was to freeze the embryos. I needed to go home and figure out where this fluid was coming from. I cried and was asking God if I was ever going to catch a break?!
The following week was full of ups and downs – no sleeping and lots of crying. But what do you know? Three of our embryos made it to the stage where we could freeze them! They were strong embryos! I was beside myself. Not one...but three?! We were elated but were also not trying to get overly excited as that didn't guarantee anything. As weird as it may sound, even if none of the three took, that was still a victory (no matter how small of a victory it was) because at that point I realized that I could get good embryos. There was no way I would give up my fight anytime soon now.
My body had just been failing me from doing what I wanted it to do most – conceive and carry a child. I began to think that maybe the endometriosis had something to do with even my previous embryos not "taking." I then decided to have a surgery to completely remove the endometriosis. Only a handful of these skilled physicians are in the U.S. and the one I wanted to go see was in Atlanta. I thought, just let me get my body completely healthy and my endometriosis out of there before I go back and try our FET. After two surgeries with that particular doctor in Atlanta, one of my tubes was removed, my appendix removed, a golf ball-sized endometrioma removed, 6 inches of my bowel removed, and all the other endometriosis (including on my diaphragm...can you believe that?!). I was ready to give my frozen embryos a try, but I had to wait 5-6 months before proceeding so that my body could heal. That's the exact time I waited. I didn't want to wait any longer!
The day came where it was time. Time to transfer one of the embryos. I already had it in my mind that it wasn't going to work. I didn't have my husband come with me for the transfer. I had my mom go so that I could spare my poor husband the pain of going through that again. Sitting there, watching your embryo be put in and having all of these hopes. I decided that I would do things a little differently this time after the transfer was finished. I did not lie around afterwards and I went on with my daily activities. I started to get menstrual pains about 2 days after the transfer and just knew it didn't work. I went ahead and cried to let it all out before I went home. During the 6 hour drive home my cramps got even worse –pretty bad, actually. I was already preparing for how I was going to tell my husband that pregnancy test was negative....again. But through all that time, I continued to remain hopeful that one of those little guys WOULD work. I kept thinking "okay, well, I will just go back and try again. We have two more tries."
We surrounded ourselves with friends and family during that 2 week wait. My husband and I would normally talk about how I felt, but we didn't talk about it at all this time. I think we were just too afraid to. The day came where it was time to go for my test. I took it and remember feeling so bloated and fat. I told myself it was time to start going to the gym and get back in shape. I went home and just went to sleep so that I didn't have to think about it.
The day I had been dreading quickly became the day I will never, ever forget. That was the longest day of my life and that day changed my life in the greatest way. My nurse, Mickey, said to me, "Heather! Not only is it positive, but it's a strong positive!" I broke down crying. I called my husband at work, he broke down crying. Our family all cried. The day I had been hoping and praying for was here. As I sit here and look at my beautiful baby girl, I am still in shock.
I don't know if either of the other two frozen embryos will work, but I have one 12 month old miracle from Dr. Chang and his team. None of this would have been possible if it weren't for them never giving up on me and pushing to do everything they could. We are blessed beyond words. I owe everything to them.
My Advice to Future Patients
I have already recommended Shady Grove Fertility to a few women that I know personally. From day one, they've really been nothing short of wonderful. If you're looking for a great support system and a team that is not only extremely knowledgeable, but also very personable and there for you every step of the way, Shady Grove Fertility is exactly what are looking for. I will forever be in debt to them.