My husband Mike and I met 14 years ago and have been married since 2011. We knew we wanted to start a family together, but children were on the backburner for us at the beginning of our marriage. As a college professor, I’ve always had a soft spot for children, passionate about teaching students how to educate the next generation of pupils — pupils like my own children someday.
When we finally got a bit of traveling and career building out of our systems, Mike and I looked at each other and agreed, “let’s do this, let’s try to have a baby.” We tried for 6 months with no success. My doctor at the time sent me to a fertility practice in Baltimore, but I just wasn’t feeling it. They were nice but made me feel like a number. My name is Jackie, not patient number 34.
Then the summer of 2012 came. Several of my “people”, who had success with Dr. Mottla at Shady Grove Fertility, recommended that we visit him, too. They didn’t need to tell me twice because we had our first meeting scheduled with him in July.
First impressions are everything, and he immediately struck me as a wonderful doctor. You could tell how he really cared about you as a person. I wasn’t just a number — my name wasn’t 34. Instead, it was Jackie and he asked, “how can we help you?”
GETTING PREGNANT NATURALLY
Dr. Mottla wanted to start Mike and I with intrauterine insemination (IUI), but to our surprise, I got pregnant naturally. When I was 5 weeks pregnant with our first daughter, Giuliana, I had what they called a “threatened miscarriage.” We went to the ER for immediate help but wished we could see Dr. Mottla during this scary time. After we were discharged, we immediately called him because it felt like the right thing to do.
Dr. Motta saw me over the weekend, and low and behold, Giuliana’s heartbeat was there. So, while I was fortunate to get pregnant naturally, I continued my monitoring with Dr. Mottla until I was 8 weeks pregnant and “graduated” from the Shady Grove Fertility program. I gave birth to Giuliana on May 25, 2013.
When it came time for baby number two, I took progesterone and was pregnant within 3 months. Our second daughter, Savannah, was born January 4, 2016. Mike and I love our girls, but we didn’t feel complete as a family quite yet.
ONE WITH WINGS
In May 2018, we tried to grow our family once more. We got pregnant right away with a little boy. Then, at almost 20 weeks, we lost him. My world shattered — I was halfway to meeting my baby boy, but the way in which we finally met was one I wasn’t prepared for.
He had a very rare and complex developmental disorder called Smith-Magenis syndrome caused by a very small deletion of the 17th chromosome. At the time, our doctor never heard of the syndrome either. I learned more about DNA and chromosomes than I ever cared to know. On October 24, 2018, we had a dilation and evacuation (D&E), and I was devastated. We had to look at our young daughters and explain that their brother, whom we had named Logan wasn’t coming home.
Ten days after the D&E, I was in the middle of teaching my students when I started to feel very ill. I told them to call 911, and they rolled me out in a chair to the ambulance. I hemorrhaged and needed an emergency dilation and curettage (D&C).
I hate the question, “How many kids do you have?” It’s right up there with, “Are you going to have kids?” You never know what a person’s story is and those questions can be triggering. So when someone asks me those questions, I think back to my hospital nurse during my D&E who shared with such empathy, the empathy I needed, “You still have three children: two with legs and one with wings.”
FINDING PURPOSE AMIDST LOSS
Once my body started healing, I reached out for perinatal therapy with a woman named Heather. She was and still is an incredible support to me. Meanwhile, a friend connected me with another woman who had experienced a similar loss. A total stranger soon became one of my greatest support systems. We shared our stories, cried together, and became so vulnerable through our mutual experiences. Now I feel blessed to call her one of my closest friends.
Mike and I got pregnant again, but this time with a little girl. It broke my heart learning that she had Turner syndrome, a condition caused by a missing or partially missing piece of the X chromosome and wasn’t going to make it. My miscarriage lasted for 4 weeks. It felt never-ending, but the doctors were assuring me that she still had a heartbeat by some miracle. We named her Ava and she passed away toward the end of my first trimester on May 3, 2019.
I lost two babies within seven months. I now had two children with legs and two with angel wings.
As I continued to find healing and hope through weekly therapy sessions with Heather, another door opened for me.
Heather shared that a new perinatal charity was being formed in memory of Bill Sweeney, an incredible doctor in maternal and fetal medicine from Annapolis who suddenly died in May 2018. Heather asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I said yes and today I’m the Vice President of the Bill Sweeney Charity.
So here I am, often finding myself thinking about my two beautiful angels. People try to empathize in response with “everything happens for a reason.” But I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason – I do think it happens with a purpose. My friends, students, and others will come to me, bearing their hearts about the infertility struggles they’re faced with and I want to help them. I hate that this is their reality, but I’ll be there to help because I knew how much I needed empathy during some of my life’s darkest times.
WE’RE GOING FOR IT
In June 2019, I was nearing the age of 40, but Mike and I still didn’t feel that our family was complete. So, I picked up the phone, called Dr. Mottla and said, “I’m back!” I was so happy to see Dr. Mottla, even though we both wished it was under better circumstances.
Since I lost two babies who were both chromosomally abnormal, we opted for in vitro fertilization (IVF) with preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidies (PGT-A), where they would screen my embryos for chromosomal abnormalities. Because my doctors and nurses were helping me grow my family, they quickly felt like part of my family, too. They made what felt like an impossible process feel hopeful and possible, with a little mantra I held close: “It just takes one.”
To prepare me for the shots that come with IVF, my Shady Grove Fertility team set up a training for administering the Gonal-F and Menopur shots. I had to work at the time, so Mike went in my place and received glowing reviews from the nursing team. I felt confident about starting the process knowing at least one of us knew what we were doing.
Don’t you know that when he got home that night and it came time to walk me through the process that earned him such glowing reviews, my sweet, overwhelmed hubby forgot everything – just totally wiped out! So, we watched the instructional videos together. They were so helpful for both of us!
I had to take my first shot a few days later, yet Mike was working that night. I couldn’t do it alone! So, I called my neighbor who had her children through IVF for moral support. Around 8 p.m. after all our kids were asleep, she stood by my side as I shot that sucker in. After all the buildup and beads of sweat, it really wasn’t more than a mere pinch for me.
Then reality hit. I didn’t have any good follicles and we never made it to egg retrieval. Dr. Mottla worked with us to modify my treatment and we went for round two of IVF. Everything was looking great. I had 9 follicles. Then it went to 5 follicles. And then down to one. Dr. Mottla called me into his office and shared that they weren’t going to put me through to egg retrieval with one follicle. We were all confused as to why the treatment wasn’t working, but if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I’m not a quitter.
THE PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED IT ALL
We wanted to go through one more round of IVF.
By round 3, I was a professional at taking the shots. This time around, I had 6 follicles and was given the go-ahead to do the trigger shot. I felt calm about the situation, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up like I had the last two times. We headed to Shady Grove Fertility’s Rockville location for the egg retrieval and I felt like we connected with the Rockville staff as easily as my Annapolis crew. I was getting prepped with my anesthesiologist and my husband is bonding with him over being Italian! Typical.
When I woke up, my doctor exclaimed that they got all 6! In my head, I kept replaying, “it just takes one, it just takes one.” And man were they right. Only 2 embryos went to testing and freeze, and I prayed with everything I had that at least one would be normal.
Dr. Mottla called one week later at 8:13 p.m., which was weird to us because we thought that the testing would take two weeks. I got nervous excited – Dr. Mottla wouldn’t be calling this later at night with bad news, right?
“Hello?” I said.
“Jackie, it’s Dr. Mottla here!” Dr. Mottla exclaimed.
“Hey, doc, how are you!”
“I am really good, because…We got two normal embryos!”
Almost instantly, I began to bawl. Between sobs, I yelled out to Mike, “HONEY, WE HAVE TWO NORMAL EMBRYOS!”
And we started crying, crying, crying. Dr. Mottla heard all the tears, gasps, snotty nose sniffles, you name it. Once we were able to pull it somewhat together, I put the receiver back to my ear.
“What do we do now?” I asked Dr. Mottla.
“You go enjoy the holidays and we’ll do the transfer in January,” he shared as we approached the Christmas holiday feeling like this was the work of a true miracle.
NEW YEAR, NEW ADDITION TO THE FAMILY
I remember feeling hope, elation, enthusiasm, and excitement the night Dr. Mottla called us. We enjoyed the holidays and moved along with the trigger shots in my butt to prepare for transfer, but after receiving such positive news, I didn’t mind them at all. My neighbors, two being nurses, helped by administering the shots in my butt. We laughed saying this baby was going to be a neighborhood baby since all the ladies took part in helping me with the shots. Then my mother shot me in the butt. Heck, my one girlfriend even shot me in the butt at a hockey rink. In a restaurant? Been there, done that, got shot in the butt by the very friend I made after losing Logan. My, how we’ve come full circle.
January 2, 2020, came around and we went back to Rockville for the transfer. I laid alongside the monitor as they injected the embryo, being able to see it enter my uterus. A week and a half later, I returned to Shady Grove Fertility for my pregnancy test.
“Pregnant,” the results showed.
After all this time, I was finally pregnant again and my numbers consistently doubling reaffirmed the baby was developing as it should. With the passing weeks, I grew anxious wanting to learn if I was carrying a boy or a girl. I figured I was carrying a girl since I mostly make girls until my nurse called with other news. The little baby that was growing inside me was a boy – news that brought Mike such joy knowing our baby boy would carry on the family name.
Once we were in the clear, we finally told the girls that we were pregnant with their little brother. This whole time they just thought I was getting fat from eating too many tacos. Gotta love girls, right? But they were so happy to hear a baby brother was on his way.
We progressed through the pregnancy with caution, having had our hearts broken two times before. It’s a scary feeling, and while we did the PGT-A testing, we couldn’t neglect that nagging fear in the back of our minds, especially when the pain from our two miscarriages was still fresh. I’m not going to lie, this pregnancy tested my physical and emotional stamina in many ways, from COVID-19 to unforeseen diagnoses, and wild life-threatening hurdles. But Dr. Mottla kept me calm and was always there for me no matter when I called, reassuring us that my growing son was a strong, little fighter.
BECOMING BIG SISTERS TO A BABY BROTHER
But one of the hardest things to deal with during every pregnancy curveball was the fear on my daughters’ faces. Every time I came back from a doctor’s appointment, Giuliana would ask, “how’s my baby brother?”
My C-section was scheduled for September 14, 2020. Thankfully, my doctors monitored me like a hawk and had me go in for a stress-test appointment the day before.
“He’s doing OK in there, but we saw a dip in his heart rate,” my OB told me. “So, you know what we’re going to do?”
“What?” I returned, knowing full well what she was about to say.
“We’re going to have a baby today.”
After rolling with so many proverbial punches, I agreed to it without any hesitation. I called Mike and told him it’s all happening.
Two hours later on September 13, 2020, our son, Luke Hendrix Ace Gambone, was born. He’s named after a lot of people who made his birth possible. The “L” in Luke is for our angel, Logan. The “A” in Ace is for our other angel, Ava. And “H” in Hendrix for my grandmother Harriette, who made IVF possible for us.
Now, after all is said and done, our family is complete thanks to Shady Grove Fertility.
It makes me emotional when I think about this long journey because I feel like Shady Grove Fertility is part of my family. Luke is so special, and I can’t wait to tell him that because we wanted him so badly, we turned to science to help us. Through this experience, I’ve learned that I’m connected to Shady Grove Fertility in more ways than I could imagine. My pediatrician went to them. My nephew and son are both babies from Dr. Mottla. And because of this experience, I’ve made a best friend and became involved with a non-profit that supports families facing similar struggles. Everything happens with a purpose.
MY ADVICE TO ALL FAMILIES ON THEIR PATH TO PARENTHOOD
If your heart is set on having a baby, hold tight to that feeling – envision it and keep it close. Keep a healthy level of hope, and as my girls and I sing like in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming.” Every story is unique and that’s what makes yours beautiful. Keep trying for your family until you feel it’s complete. Go for it. There were times when I didn’t think treatment would work, especially after the rollercoaster of highs and lows, but even the smallest hint of hope is worth holding on to.
Need-to-Know Fertility Resources and Guidance
- Understand infertility terms and what they mean.
- Get to know SGF’s Dr. Gilbert Mottla.
- Find an SGF office that is close to home, like our Annapolis and Rockville locations.
- Is in vitro fertilization (IVF) right for you? Learn about what the IVF process looks like.
- What is preimplantatioin genetic testing? Explore about how you can screen for chromosomally abnormal embryos (PGT-A) or genetic defects (PGT-M).