I remember being in eleventh grade English, reading The Great Gatsby, and my favorite English teacher asked us: What is your “green light” — your biggest, deepest dream? One girl hoped to become a famous model in New York City, another classmate aspired to be rich. My answer was much simpler. “I just want to be a mom like my mom,” I answered, “and raise siblings to be best friends, like my family.”
Fast forward 20 years, and I found myself back in the classroom, but this time as a high school teacher. I absolutely love my job. Many call me crazy because I work with teenagers. I say it’s a calling; they make me laugh. As if I don’t already have my hands full as a teacher at school, I also coach CrossFit and work during the summers as I instruct teachers through PACE, an alternative teaching certificate program.
My husband Chauncey is a veteran. He was also a cop for 11 years and spent the past few years working for a company that hires, trains, and manages security offices. I remember asking Chauncey on our first date if he wanted more kids. His response was simple: Yes.
Chauncey and I have a wonderful life together. We spend time reading together on our screened-in porch overlooking a little pond. We listen to the frogs and enjoy each other. Chauncey has a daughter, Emma, who he calls the sun in his world, from his first marriage.
I have a close family. My best friends are my siblings and a few cousins. I couldn’t be more blessed to have been born into my family, and I always wanted to raise a family like I have. After a few years together, we wanted to grow our family and never would have imagined how difficult bringing that dream of parenthood into fruition might be.
In December 2019, we decided to see a fertility specialist after trying to conceive for several months. I told myself we were going because we met our deductible and likely we would learn that there was nothing wrong. I was looking forward to finding relief after some difficult months.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find that relief. My doctor called me while I was at school and informed me that my AMH was shockingly low.
“What’s normal?” I asked.
“3-5,” my doctor said. “You’re at 0.22. You need to see a specialist. I can’t help you.”
I hung up, and I cried…for an hour. Then, wiped my tears, placed a fractured smile on my face, and taught the rest of the day. Within a week, Chauncey and I entered a fertility clinic for the first time.
“Katie, your AMH number portrays patients of chemotherapy, hard drug use, or lifetime smokers,” my doctor told me at our first appointment.
I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never had cancer. I’ve never smoked a cigarette. Never. Not even one. The doctor registered my confusion.
“We don’t know why your number is so low,” he explained, and then he gave the devastating news. “Perhaps you were born with fewer eggs. With your eggs, I’ll give you, at best, a 20% chance of success with IVF.”
My. World. Shattered.
What about my dream? I’m supposed to play Mozart and Bach to my belly, helping our baby grow even inside my womb. I’m supposed to hold our baby for the first time. And for the millionth time. I’m supposed to read to our baby each night … and later, we’ll read chapter books together. I want to be able to take hikes, like my dad and I did, when I was young. I want to help my child appreciate everyday beauty as my mom has taught me.
Then, we received the second blow. Chauncey was on a medicine that brought our chances to 0%
Both diagnoses seemed impossible. We were both healthy, and we both wanted a child together so badly that it seemed unfair to find these barriers in our way.
We tried everything under the sun to try and improve our odds. We prayed. We went to church, had numerous conversations together, and attended a few free counseling sessions to help us work through all of the emotions. I even cut back on my beloved coffee. Chauncey took cold showers each morning. We didn’t know if these last things work, but we’re willing to try it all.
Luckily, we’re happy: as individuals and as a couple. Sorting through the prognosis of infertility is much more difficult than we ever expected. The news was detrimental; there is no other way to describe it. However, we are lucky to both be healthy and that our families are healthy. We tried to focus on what we do have, rather than what we don’t.
Since that devastating doctor appointment, Chauncey stopped his medicine, and his counts grew, which made our odds better.
As we worried about whether we would be able to have a baby, we also began to worry about the financial strain of IVF. We had friends who sold their house to be able to afford IVF, so we knew what we were up against. We live a comfortable, happy life, but we knew that we would have to save for years to come so we could move forward with IVF.
I started to look into grants for IVF and heard about the Dr. Stephen Greenhouse Grant from another teacher at my school who had also experienced infertility.
I didn’t think we had a chance of receiving the grant. I knew there were so many other people struggling, too, and I wanted everyone facing infertility to have the opportunity to grow their family. When we were asked to attend a Zoom conference with the grant committee, we thought we might have received a small grant and were already so excited and thankful. Little did we know we had won the largest grant awarded — the Dr. Stephen Greenhouse Grant of $10,000. This was really going to happen. We were ready to do IVF to grow our family.
Even though the IVF experience was tough after everything we’ve been through, we did our best to make the best of the situation. We had to travel to the SGF Richmond – Stony Point office since there was not an SGF office in our Charleston area, so we decided to turn our trip for the embryo transfer into a relaxing vacation. We spent time hiking up mountains and waterfalls and danced under the stars. After such a stressful year and such stressful diagnoses, we were so thankful to be able to take time together to prepare for our embryo transfer in a relaxing and calming environment.
Following the embryo transfer, I got my bloodwork done locally. I still had to wait for our SGF nurse to call and tell us if we were pregnant. I walked outside of my school during planning, and when she told me I was pregnant, I was happy, relieved, and excited … yet also very apprehensive to allow too much happiness, relief, and excitement. That’s the unfortunate lesson of infertility: be careful. It might not work.
It wasn’t until week 11 that I started allowing myself to feel excited. I scrolled through Pinterest and found cute social media pregnancy announcement photo ideas. Chauncey and I took our pics. Once we went to our 11-week ultrasound OB appt, we would post the photos to announce our exciting news.
Until the appointment …
Our OB saw the ultrasound and immediately got us an appointment with a specialist down the street. She was afraid that something was wrong with our baby’s skull. If so, it would be fatal.
“How often are you wrong?” I asked our OB.
She paused, choosing her words carefully, “I would be surprised if I’m incorrect.”
Numb, we drove to the specialist’s office. Since he was squeezing us in, we waited for 2 hours. It was early December. There were paper Christmas decorations around the entire room. For 2 hours, we thought that we would have to say goodbye to our child. I cried and prayed. Chauncey and I didn’t speak.
The nurse tried to take my blood pressure and vitals. It was through the roof. She tried several more times but gave up. I tried to make myself calmer; I knew that it wasn’t healthy for our baby, but I couldn’t stop shaking.
Then, the specialist took us back. During the ultrasound, I stared at the exit sign because it broke my heart to watch our baby move.
And then, he answered our prayers: your baby is healthy.
We didn’t respond. We were waiting for the other shoe to drop — the dreaded “… but …”
However, that didn’t happen. He looked at us, smiled, and said it again: your baby is healthy. Then, he took us to his office, showed us the ultrasound photos, and explained every healthy detail about our 11-week baby.
We didn’t announce that we were pregnant until month 6. We used the photos that we took in December.
It was the scariest appointment we’ve ever had, and yet, it had the best result.
As the pregnancy progressed, I began to find so much happiness in the little things. I loved every hiccup our baby had and still couldn’t believe my dream was coming true.
In June 2021, we welcomed home our sweet baby girl, Marlea. We feel so blessed to be her parents. Her smile melts my entire soul. My biggest, deepest dream — my green light — is no longer something I am chasing after because she is resting in my arms.
I want others who are struggling to conceive to know that they are not alone. As you scroll through social media, know that every one of us has a story behind our beautiful pictures. The hardest, darkest times in my life ultimately led me to great happiness. There’s no way around it, unfortunately, only through it. But, when I look back, I understand it. I am extremely grateful for the Dr. Stephen Greenhouse Grant, and I encourage anyone thinking of applying to send in an application.