My husband, Terah, and I were married in 2018. At the time, I was still in school to become a nurse anesthetist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Terah was the owner and operator of a large farming operation in South Dakota. When I graduated, I joined Terah in South Dakota. You can typically find wheat, rye, oats, corn, and soybeans growing in our fields.
Growing up south of Philadelphia, I was a city girl through and through and had a lot to learn about being a farm wife while also pursuing my career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist. With all this going on, we decided to take a little bit of time before trying to grow our family. We also love traveling together and being dog parents to our Shih Tzu, Gracie.
The following summer, we felt settled in and were ready to start trying to conceive. We tried on our own for six months and then knew we needed to seek out the help of a fertility specialist. It was tough seeing negative pregnancy tests after negative pregnancy tests.
I was doing some work in a bigger city (about 4 hours away) and had worked in the operating room with one of the fertility specialists. After chatting him up, in December of 2019, we decided it was time to seek help. I wasn’t getting any younger (34 years old at the time), and I learned through the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) that we could do genetic testing to prevent passing along genetic conditions.
Terah has a genetic condition called Hereditary Spherocytosis (HS). This is where blood cells are shaped like spheres instead of circles. The spleen recognizes these blood cells as “abnormal” and starts killing them off causing severe anemia. My husband had his spleen removed when he was 8 years old and has gone on to live a perfectly healthy life. HS is a dominant-linked trait which means every pregnancy (child) we have has a 50% chance of inheriting this genetic disorder.
We thought in vitro fertilization (IVF) with genetic testing was worth exploring since we weren’t getting pregnant on our own. After we completed the initial testing, we finally had our first egg retrieval in July 2020. Thankfully, the middle of the pandemic wasn’t terrible out in South Dakota at that time and the clinics were still running.
What a roller coaster it was. We yielded 10 eggs, 5 fertilized, and only 1 made it to 5-day blastocyst.
I was crushed. My AMH was 7.42 and I have an antral follicle count of 40-60. My doctor informed us that I likely had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), as well as diminished ovarian reserve with poor egg quality. He suggested doing another retrieval before moving on with testing our 1 embryo on ice.
Our second retrieval yielded 15 eggs — 7 fertilized and 2 made it to 5-day blastocyst stage. We had 3 total embryos. We proceeded to move forward with testing. PGT-A, as well as PGT-M, which looks for the specific disorder my husband has.
Results were in! During this process you get so excited for every step then when you receive results it turns out to be a huge letdown. Out of the 3 embryos we had, 1 resulted inconclusively, the second was abnormal and had spherocytosis, and the third (from our first retrieval) was a normal euploid; however, she had HS.
Even though we were devastated, we decided to move forward with a frozen embryo transfer (FET) despite our only normal embryo having HS. We transferred our euploid female along with the inconclusive embryo. Long story short, this transfer was successful but ended in miscarriage at 6w5d.
We now had 1 embryo left on ice that was abnormal and had HS.
We were exhausted financially and emotionally. We knew we needed to start looking for other options.
This is how we found Shady Grove Fertility (SGF) and the AMAZING Dr. Sasson. I started looking around for clinics with a Shared Risk program. SGF’s Shared Risk 100% Refund Program offers to share the risk with patients, which felt incredible.
We were pleasantly surprised that there was a SGF location about 45 mins from where my parents live! We were thrilled. How nice it would be to have a place to stay while doing fertility treatments. God was opening doors! Now we just had to be accepted into the Shared Risk program.
I quickly filled out the online form and was contacted by a representative from SGF. I wish I remembered her name. We chatted for a bit and I told her our experience at the previous clinic. I remember her saying to me, “You have struggled, you need to see Dr. Sasson.”
At this point we had been through so much heartache and loss. We were nervous. Still, we put our faith and trust in God’s leading to this new clinic with this new doctor.
We had our phone consultation with Dr. Sasson. He was so warm and welcoming. During our call he talked to me about all the things from previous experiences to what we can expect moving forward. He went over my records from my old clinic and said he did not believe I had PCOS or poor egg quality, but he would find out during our time with him. He told us he would accept us into the Shared Risk program with SGF. This was such a relief to hear! I finally felt like we had found the clinic and doctor we were going to be successful with.
When I started monitoring at Chesterbrook, I reconnected with Elyse Whiting, CRNP. At first, because of mask-wearing, we didn’t realize we knew each other. When I wore my Hershey Children’s Hospital jacket, we realized we knew each other from working together in the PICU/PIMCU at Hershey Children’s Hospital. I believe this was another divine appointment and really set my nerves at ease. I was able to contact Elyse and ask questions. She walked right beside me during our journey to become parents. She was truly instrumental during the whole process.
We had our egg retrieval with Dr. Sasson in March 2021. This retrieval yielded 33 eggs, 16 fertilized, and 9 embryos made it to 5-day blastocysts!! We were ecstatic! This was one of the highs of our journey! Out of those 9 embryos we had 5 euploid embryos. Out of those 5 euploid embryos we had 2 that did not have HS.
We were in total shock. We had never gotten any normal or unaffected embryos ever and now we had 2.
Prepping for our FET we had another meeting with Dr. Sasson, where he assured me that I did not have poor egg quality or PCOS. He said my body responded exactly how he thought it should for someone my age (at that time I was 35).
Our first transfer was in June of 2021. I drove out east with our dog Gracie and got all ready for a medicated cycle with our normal/unaffected highest-grade embryo.
By the end of July, we hit another low point, though. Our embryo did not stick. We were devastated, but Dr. Sasson remained positive. He simply said he believed it was something wrong with the embryo and not that my body was rejecting embryos — which was how I felt. Internally, I didn’t believe him. During those lows in the IVF process, it was hard not to blame my body. I couldn’t help but think something was wrong despite hearing reassurances from the doctor.
I asked Dr. Sasson to do more testing. He said I didn’t need it but put me at ease and did a recurrent loss panel. Everything came back normal.
For the next transfer, Dr. Sasson suggested doing a natural transfer. We were unfamiliar with this, but we were willing to try anything and everything.
I packed up my bags again and drove out to Pennsylvania planning the natural transfer with the start of my next cycle in August of 2021. I wasn’t very hopeful. I was in a dark place after the second failed transfer. I felt so hopeless. There was nothing I could really do to help make things work out. I really learned how to let go of things I couldn’t control and really learned how to trust God.
During the natural cycle, there is more monitoring — a lot more monitoring.
Coming from the failed transfer, I got my cycle shortly after stopping the medications. However, in August, my cycle never came when it was supposed to. I was on cycle day 42 when Dr. Sasson said come into the clinic for an evaluation. After my evaluation he said I needed to induce a bleed and put me on Provera.
I was not hopeful this third transfer would work at all. After the 10 days of Provera. I contacted the clinic with cycle day 1 and started all of the monitoring. By cycle day 12 my lead follicle had stalled.
Thinking to myself again, “Something else not going as planned.” Dr. Sasson assured me all was okay.
He put me on FSH (Gonal F) to get my follicle to grow. This ended up taking a little longer than the 4-week medicated transfer. I was alone again in Pennsylvania while my husband was at the height of the farming season back in South Dakota. Each monitoring appointment got a little better. My follicle started growing. By the time it was trigger day — I had 2 follicles that were mature.
I triggered on September 17, 2021, and they put our last and final normal/unaffected embryo in on September 24. I remember there being an on-call doctor. She came to look at my ID band to introduce herself as being the one to do my FET. Once she saw that Dr. Sasson was my doctor she quickly said, “I probably won’t be doing your transfer since you are a patient of Dr. Sasson’s.” This just solidified what I already know about Dr. Sasson. He is the most genuine, caring doctor, and truly is always there for his patients.
We transferred a beautiful euploid/unaffected embryo. My cousin, Sarah, was going to be a gestational carrier for a couple from the Twin Cities and it just so happened that her FET was scheduled for the same day as ours. All of these were beautiful signs that God is in the business of working miracles. On day 5 post-transfer and day 7 post-transfer, Sarah and I both had positive home pregnancy tests! We both went on to have normal deliveries of two beautiful babies.
Our son, Theo Isaac Heinrich was born on June 2, 2022. His name Theo means “God’s gift” or “Divine Gift” and Isaac means, “He will rejoice.” We chose this after Dr. Isaac Sasson because we truly believe without his help (and God’s help), Theo would not be here with us today. We will never be able to thank Dr. Sasson, Elyse, Nikki, and Veronica enough for being there for us during our journey to become parents.
Theo is an amazing answer to prayer. He is happy, healthy, and loves his big sister Gracie. They have become fast friends in his few months of life. Theo made his first vacation trip to Glacier National Park in Montana when he was 7 weeks old.
I learned that I am stronger than I ever thought possible. The endurance I have somehow lacked in other areas of my life has shown through during fertility treatments. Some people were meant to climb mountains to show others it can be done. I hope our journey can inspire someone else that finds themselves facing fertility treatments. I know that I have been encouraged by those who have gone before me, and I am truly grateful that they were willing to share their story.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Keep living your life. It is so easy to lose yourself/your life doing infertility treatments. Plan the vacation, eat the cake, do what you can to keep your stress levels down. The doctors that walk with us on our journey are here to support us. Dr. Sasson was always so good at telling me what to expect and never gave me false hope. If your doctor believes they can help you — they will certainly help you cross that finish line. If they don’t think they can help they will give you realistic goals for yourself and your situation. Still try to find joy in who you were before infertility and infertility treatment.