Wali and I met in 1988 as kids on the City of Atlanta swim team. Instantly infatuated, we used to talk about our dream of spending a long life together with kids, dogs, and a big house. Raised in supportive two-parent families, we observed at an early age that communication, friendship, and unconditional love will always prevail. We didn’t stay together much longer than high school, however, we did stay in touch. Over 20+ years, our lives took various twists and turns; other relationships, educational commitments, career aspirations, relocation out of state, and sudden loss of close family members (my brother and his father). Each event, obstacle, and milestone pulled us back to the comfort of each other.
Starting as childhood sweethearts, we were naïve about the curveballs that adulting would throw. Wali comes from a large family, a middle child of 9, and me, the youngest of 3. We always knew we wanted children and quite frankly assumed when we were ready, we could just start. We knew we had waited a bit longer than our friends to begin building a family but there were no indicators around us or involving our health to make us question whether having children was possible. We had waited and now we were ready, so we started our family-building journey enthusiastically.
After deciding that we were ready for a family, we started trying to conceive naturally. Confused why month after month, year after year nothing was happening, we assumed that it just wasn’t our time. Creeping up and around 40, we both got a bit worried and agreed to seek out a medical opinion. After soliciting a referral from my OBGYN, we ended up in Dr. Desireé McCarthy-Keith’s office at SGF Atlanta. She was friendly, knowledgeable, and optimistic, clearly stating her support for us coming in to figure out what was going on. Normally when you go to the doctor, you’re seeking answers, so after a lot of questions, some blood work and testing, we assumed we would get an answer and a treatment plan. Instead, we landed on unexplained infertility. At 39 and 41 years of age respectively, the cloud of doubt began to hover. We had all the want and wish possible but for some unexplained reason, our parenthood dreams were being rained on.
We started our treatment plan under the care of Dr. McKarthy-Keith in Atlanta. She realistically advised that we had 2 options: intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Like many others, my insurance only covered treatment for infertility. We quickly learned that our desire to conceive sat right outside of identifying the cause of infertility, so in short, we would be paying out of pocket. Largely due to the financial obligation associated with IVF, we chose to start with IUI, praying that we would be some of the lucky ones who don’t need much reproductive endocrinologist (RE) support. Well, several tests, 1 hysterosalpingography (HSG), 2 IUIs, and 12 months later, we still weren’t pregnant.
We stayed prayerful and optimistic but realized it was time to consider the next step, IVF. While re-evaluating our priorities and finances, I was hit up by a recruiter for a new and exciting role in New York City. Not only would this role function as a springboard for my career, it would also drop me into a state with mandatory infertility health insurance benefits. While discussing the opportunity with my then fiancé, his only hesitation was that me commuting from ATL to NYC would push our goal of being parents to the sidelines. So, several interviews and two trips to NYC later, I accepted the role 90 days before our wedding. We were in love, getting married, taking a long distance/commuting relationship to task, AND committing to our IVF journey.
I searched my new health insurance app for in network RE’s in the Manhattan area and stumbled upon SGF New York’s Dr. Anate Brauer. Lucky for us, the office had opened two months prior, and Dr. Brauer was accepting new patients. The transition from SGF Atlanta to SGF New York was seamless and offered the necessary bi-state support that I needed while commuting back and forth. SGF New York was my primary SGF location, but I was able to go to SGF Atlanta for monitoring.
Now 41 and 43 years old, we were entirely committed to the plan and Dr. Brauer’s guidance and just wanted to move forward quickly. However, COVID 19 was fresh on the scene, and we had to wait until it was safe and medically supported to continue.
Due to my advanced maternal age, Dr. Brauer called me up once the medical community allowed non-emergency services resume. I remember the call, “time is of the essence: let’s begin.” We started our first IVF cycle while businesses were shifting to remote work arrangements, so my husband flew in one night and packed up my west Manhattan apartment. We then drove the 13 hours back to ATL where I returned to the comforts and safety of my family. Remember, SGF has offices in ATL, so our treatment plan continued without a hitch.
During the initial consultation, Dr. Brauer and I immediately connected — her intellectual curiosity and inquisitive nature calmed my fears. She wasn’t distracted by the unexplained infertility diagnosis and its combination with my age — she plainly told me being a mother was possible if I stayed the course. She explained it as searching for a needle in a haystack — but as long as I remained positive and committed, she was confident we would bring a baby home. I knew it was a fit when I walked out that first day, Dr Brauer had amazing bedside manner, the office was new, equipment was sparkling fresh, and the entire care team was eager to bring every patient’s dream to reality.
Due to my work commute, commitment to bringing home a baby, and love for travel, Wali and I found ourselves in 3 SGF clinics for treatment or monitoring. We began our journey and did monitoring at SGF Atlanta, found our IVF home at SGF New York, and while vacationing in Sarasota, we drove 1 hour to the SGF Tampa office for monitoring, enjoying the convenience of the multi-state SGF footprint. The IVF process is heavy on the head and heart, so we decided very early that it was important to continue doing the things that brought us joy.
Egg retrievals were moments of hope. After each cycle started, we would pump ourselves up, this could be the one, this could be our baby and egg retrievals are an extension of that feeling. Dr. Brauer introduced me to cautious optimism during our initial consultation. She explained that bringing a baby home would result from a series of triumphs and that I needed to stay calm, positive, and realistic — remember, we were looking for a needle in a haystack. In fact, we were successful after cycle 2 but after discussing our family goals, Wali and I knew we wanted the best chance to bring a baby home, wouldn’t mind having two babies, and so we decided to batch embryos. My husband’s support and calm demeanor helped us navigate the many highs and lows. I tend to find problems to solve and he, on the other hand, stays dutiful and solid (like a rock) in moments of turmoil. His companionship was a different maker throughout the journey.
Although we were dead smack in the middle of NYC, no one working in the office was too busy, rushed, or disconnected. I knew everyone’s name, and everyone knew mine, as well as my husband’s. Additionally, I appreciated that Dr. Brauer or Dr. Singer (and later Dr. Setton) personally cared for me throughout 7 IVF cycles, meaning every ultrasound, hysterosalpingography (HSG), endometrial receptivity analysis (ERA), and egg retrieval. Each knew my treatment plan, my story, and my hope to be a mom. Even the anesthesiologist, Dr. Yao knew me, my husband, and our goals.
Thankfully my IVF journey was covered under a generous health insurance plan with a nominal co-pay attached. I stayed hopeful and optimistic because, despite all of the heartbreak, we never uncovered a reason why bringing home a baby couldn’t happen — it just wasn’t happening yet. The first few cycles were an emotional rollercoaster but honestly after the normal embryo on cycle 2 and the heartache of cycle 4, I detached emotionally. My mind shifted to the science. I had a loving and supportive husband, my body was responding to the meds, my egg count was higher than normal for a 42-year-old, my eggs were simply old. Wali and I would constantly remind ourselves that we were looking for a needle in a haystack. At the advice of my husband and based on my tendency to find problems to solve, I refrained from the countless blogs and late-night internet searches and instead followed the science and stayed relaxed. We chose to celebrate each new milestone — first cycle, first 5 day embryo, first normal embryo, uneventful HSG, successful ERA, etc., — each and every moment we could, we excitedly celebrated how far we’ve come.
Instead of going in for a FET after our first win- a normal 5-day embryo in cycle 2- we went back to the drawing board to get a few more embryos. Cycles 3, 4, 5 all resulted in multiple 5 day embryos but each time PGT testing turned around abnormal results. So immediately afterward, Dr. Brauer would tweak the plan, order some new form of testing or advise me to stick to the script. Cycle 6 brought us our second normal 5-day embryo and we were all ecstatic. We had never tried a FET, so we worried about miscarrying. Heading back for cycle 7, I recall telling Dr. Brauer this was it. This was the last cycle that our hearts could handle. Wali and I had decided that it was time to flip the page and begin the next chapter — the FET process.We had loosely talked about trying IVF for 1 year and cycle 7 was it for us. With 2 normal embryos we mounted up for a FET.
I remember the FET day like it was yesterday. Since we were living in ATL, we came up a few days before the FET and planned to stay a few days afterwards. We loved NYC and the city gave us energy, so we lived it up on both sides of the FET — a little shopping, a lot of food, and some much needed rest.
We left the FET and immediately went out for some good food over in Hell’s Kitchen. I felt different. That night I could tell something was going on inside. While flying back home to ATL we decided to do what we know best, we booked a trip and packed our bags. A few days later while on a flight to Mexico, Dr. Brauer called and left a message, my beta blood work was positive — I was pregnant. After checking the voicemail, we logged off and enjoyed the ease and calm of Playa Del Carmen. I stayed out of the sun, avoided margaritas, and thought to myself, wow — this could be the one!
I was blessed with a fairly easy pregnancy. Now, don’t get me wrong, everything that could happen almost or mildly did happen- blood clot seen in early ultrasounds, increased blood pressure, failed initial glucose screen, low lying placenta, suspected preeclampsia, water breaking at 33 weeks, delivery at 34.5 weeks. BUT I didn’t have any morning sickness or weird cravings. No crazy midday exhaustion or trouble sleeping (until the seventh month when I simply rolled side to side until I got comfortable). No crying fits or wildly fluctuating emotions. Just a pleasant baby who enjoyed the night hours and wants to see the world for herself sooner rather than later.
Even before holding our baby, it was the excitement of actually being pregnant and carrying what would be our special blessing. I enjoyed pregnancy. I enjoyed watching my body change and adjust. I gave birth 5.5 weeks early to a small but mighty little girl. I cried when she came out on the third push after 48 hours of induced labor. She was just perfect with a head full of hair and her arms reaching out. She was it, our needle in the haystack.
Hali is the little engine that could, defying all odds — early birth, NICU stint, parents who struggled with infertility. She is every ounce of hope and resilience that we demonstrated to conceive her. She is curious with knowing eyes — a lover of old school R&B and spring sunshine. She loves early evening walks and her 2 overly protective dogs. She is exactly what we prayed for — our NYC miracle.
Having a baby at 43 and 45 has completely rocked our world. We are students again and learning every day. There is no amount of reading or training that can prepare you for your first child. I honestly thought the “every 2-3 hour feeding schedule” was an exaggeration — it is not! Together we have learned how much can be accomplished with 3-4 hours of sleep and a heart full of love. I personally didn’t know how much patience and self-love is required to breastfeed, whew, it was almost as stressful as IVF. Who knew Depends were a post-partum best friend. And always remember that every parenting experience is different so try your best not to compare your situations to others.
I want to encourage others to keep hope alive. If you’re not one of the people who experience immediate success, continue to pull yourself up and try again. It’s a beautiful journey with high highs and low lows. You are not alone when you are questioning yourself. So many women are battling similar mountains and acknowledging how you feel is necessary. BUT I can promise you, when you are successful and hold your little person in your arms for the first time and look in their eyes, all the lows will disappear. All of the time spent stressing and worrying will wash away and you will admit aloud that every second was worth it. What seemed like a forever wait is now just a single page in our parenthood journey. Looking at her blow bubbles while I stare at her reminds me that she was waiting for us just like we waited for her- perfect timing all-around!