My infertility story started much earlier than most. At 16, I was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, meaning I was born without a uterus. After not starting my period at a typical age, my mom took me to a pediatric gynecologist to see what could be wrong. As I learned more about my diagnosis and what this meant for my future family-building options, I felt ashamed for not being normal and scared at what this would do to impact future relationships. At such a young age, I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to handle an infertility diagnosis, so I mostly just ignored it.
At age 25, I met my husband, Barry. I knew on our first date that we would spend our lives together. After a few months of dating, I told Barry about my MRKH diagnosis. It was an incredibly difficult conversation to have but I will never forget when he told me that none of that mattered to him, and we would make a plan for whatever our future dreams might be.
I work in marketing communications, love everything about books, and enjoy a great craft project. Barry is a research scientist who loves cooking meals for friends, being outside, and tackling projects around the house.
In 2017, Barry and I were married in an adorable independent bookstore in Annapolis. From that day forward, we began hatching a plan to grow our family. We started saving money, having conversations about what was going to work best for us to bring home a baby, and figuring out when we would be ready to find a fertility clinic.
We spent our first couple years of marriage spending time with our families and friends, enjoying great food together, and being outside hiking or kayaking. In 2019, we made our first appointment with Shady Grove Fertility (SGF).
Although I don’t have a uterus, I do have fully functional ovaries, so our plan was to do an egg retrieval, create embryos together, freeze the embryos, and then start looking for a gestational carrier.
At our first appointment at SGF’s office in Annapolis with Dr. Jeffrey McKeeby, he was able to lay out a plan for our family-building goals. He clearly outlined the steps we would take and assured us that the SGF care team would be there to support us along the way. We spent the rest of that year saving money, navigating insurance, and preparing for egg retrieval.
In January 2020, I started medications for egg retrieval. I remember my nurse, Kim, telling me that the medications might feel like having a bad period — but I had no idea what that might feel like. Thankfully, Kim and the rest of my SGF care team were by my side, checking in regularly, and guiding me through the process. Throughout the egg retrieval process, Barry and I focused on being a team and he did everything possible to support me — including prepping all my meds, keeping track of my schedule, and doing all my injections.
I was a nervous wreck before egg retrieval — knowing that my body had failed me my entire life and just hoping it would not fail me now — but everything went as well as could be expected. We ended up with 3 perfect embryos.
After egg retrieval, we started focusing on moving forward with a gestational carrier — but it was March 2020 — and the entire world changed because of the COVID19 pandemic. We put our search on hold not knowing if we would ever be able to find someone to carry one of our precious embryos in such a scary and uncertain time.
In June 2020, we decided we were ready to chart a path forward in our journey. We connected with a gestational carrier, Ashley, who was caring, organized, smart, and ready to join our team. Ashley was everything we were looking for — except she lived across the country in Washington state. We knew Ashley was the right person to work with to grow our family, though, so we decided to view the cross-country distance as an adventure rather than a concern.
Moving forward with a gestational carrier requires many steps that need to be followed to ensure the well-being of the carrier, the intended parents, and the baby. We worked with excellent reproductive lawyers, mental-health specialists, insurance liaisons, and of course, our SGF care team. The process takes time, but this time also allowed us to make a strong connection with Ashley and her family.
Finally, in December 2020, we were ready to move forward with an embryo transfer. We met Ashley in person for the first time when we picked her up from the airport the day before the transfer. Barry cooked a great meal that night and we all felt ready and hopeful about the day ahead. I helped Ashley with her injections while she was here, which helped made me feel part of the process and was an excellent exercise in trusting each other!
We took photos together when we arrived at the parking lot for the embryo transfer. Ashley went into the appointment as Barry and I waited in the car due to COVID19 protocols in place. It was weird waiting in the car during what could become a pivotal moment in your life, but we were so thankful to be moving forward that it really did not matter in the long run. We had an incredible weekend spending time with Ashley and braced ourselves for the two-week wait.
At the end of two weeks, we received the news I had never prepared for — our transfer failed.
Everything felt perfect before then, and we were all devastated. Ashley called us and told us she would be ready to try again whenever we were, too. She sent flowers with a beautiful note — ”May our tears water the seeds we will grow in the new year.”
After talking with Dr. McKeeby and Ashley, we decided to move forward with a second transfer with Ashley’s next cycle.
In February 2021, we picked Ashley up from the airport again and did our best to have another great weekend together. Transfer day felt remarkably like the first time around and we all still had so much hope.
Ashley kept us updated throughout the two-week wait. It was incredible to go through all of this together. We formed such a strong bond and knew that we were there to support each other no matter what happened.
On March 2, 2021, we received our positive beta. We Facetimed our closest family members and friends as a huge surprise to share our exciting news — I still did not have a uterus but we were having a baby!
It was one of the best evenings of my life. Knowing that Ashley was carrying mine and Barry’s baby was one of the best feelings possible.
Throughout the pregnancy, Ashley was great at involving us as much as possible. We attended every OB/GYN appointment via Facetime, we shared a pregnancy app, and she always let us know how she was feeling. Every Sunday, the app would tell us what size fruit the baby was, and Ashley would send a picture of her belly and that fruit. It was adorable and so thoughtful.
We were able to fly out to Washington for the 20-week ultrasound and made a great adventure out of it. We spent time with Ashley’s family playing games, going to the beach, and getting to know the Pacific Northwest. Barry and I even took the opportunity to visit Olympic National Park and spent a few days hiking together and planning our lives with a baby we once thought might not be possible.
At the ultrasound, everything was perfect, and our baby sucked his thumb and I cried so hard from the relief and happiness from all we had been through to get to this moment.
Throughout the process, we were so thankful for our family and friends who walked alongside us through this experience. My twin sister, who also underwent IVF around the same time, was there every day to chat and assure me we would bring a baby home. My friends rallied around me and checked in on me. They sent sweet gifts or thoughtful texts when I needed a pick-me-up. Barry’s best friend and his family were always there to support us along the way, too. We even ended up having 3 baby showers because there was just so much celebrating to do! At the showers I wore a sash that said “Not Showing, Still Glowing,” and felt immense gratitude to be celebrating our miracle, science baby.
That summer, I decided I wanted our story to be more than just our individual experience and bringing home our baby — I wanted to make a difference for others facing infertility. I signed up for Advocacy Day with RESOLVE and was able to meet with my legislators and offer my voice to advocate for better access and affordability for those struggling to grow their families. It was so empowering to share my own struggle knowing that it could help remove barriers for others in similar circumstances. Everyone should be able to grow their families in a way that works best for them, and I hope to continue in my advocacy work to make this possible.
Ashley was incredibly supportive of making sure I felt included in every part of the pregnancy, so we made a birth plan together that made sure she felt supported, and we felt included. It was amazing to have such a sense of teamwork and dedication with Ashley — she truly became part of our family and will remain so forever.
As we moved closer to birth, we had to start mapping out the logistics of welcoming a baby into the world across the country. We decided to fly to Washington two weeks before the due date so that we would not miss the birth. We had a scheduled induction date. The weekend before the induction date, Ashley arranged for us to take maternity photos together, which were so fun and thoughtful.
Two days after the photos and two days before our induction date, Ashley let us know that she was feeling some stronger contractions. Ashley wasn’t certain these contractions were signs of labor, but Ashley’s husband told us all that it was not the full experience unless you went to the hospital and were sent home at least once, so we picked Ashley us and went to see what might be going on. The hospital sent us home at 10 p.m. but then at midnight, Ashley called to let us know her water had broken.
Photos by Angela Ostley Photography
I had spent a lot of time with my therapist throughout the pregnancy going through my feelings and setting reasonable expectations for the birth. My mantra the entire process was: “Bringing home a baby is what matters.” Every detour we hit, every disappointment we came across, and every moment along the way, I would remind myself that I could keep pushing forward because I knew I would bring home a baby.
I took that mantra to the hospital with me and put aside all my expectations on how Barry and I would be included in the birth — because, at the end of the day, I was going to bring my baby home.
But the nurses and Ashley made sure that this was going to be much more for us than a means of bringing home a baby. The birth was one of the most empowering, humbling, and incredible experiences of my entire life. Every step along the way, they made sure Barry and I knew what was going on and Ashley was being taken care of.
Ashley was an absolute rockstar throughout labor. She was strong, brave, and ready for anything. She delivered Finn in three pushes right after a doctor had run across the hospital for delivery. As soon as he was born, I had my hand on him. I cut the cord and then was able to skin to skin with my baby. It was amazing. I cried a lot — tears of happiness of meeting Finn and tears of relief that we could stop worrying about how we would become parents.
That worry had taken over my life for so long, but now Finn was here and all that worry washed away.
Watching Barry hold Finn for the first time was better than I ever could have imagined. Barry smiled so much and really hasn’t stopped smiling since. We wrapped Finn up in a blanket from Ashley and were so happy to see her holding him, too.
I never dreamed of becoming a mom — I always felt that dream was taken away from me with my MRKH diagnosis — but being Finn’s mom had been more incredible than my wildest dreams could have imagined. He is absolutely adorable — the perfect combination of me and Barry, which is truly a dream come true thanks to SGF, IVF, and Ashley.
For anyone that is considering working with a gestational carrier to grow their family, I want them to know it is tough. There is so much patience involved and so much is out of your control. It’s emotionally and financially exhausting. It’s likely not ever what you imagined for your family — but there can also be so many beautiful moments.
Look for those moments and live in them. Feel all your feelings.
After my extraordinary experience bringing our baby into the world, I knew I needed to take that experience to help others who are struggling to grow their families. I started thinking about how I could use my story and my expertise in writing and marketing to serve the infertility community. I would regularly search for jobs in fertility spaces and saw an opening on the SGF marketing team. I applied to the position with so much enthusiasm and hope and couldn’t believe it when SGF offered me the position. I now work on the marketing communications team at SGF and every day and every task feels like I am making a difference in the infertility community.
SGF truly made my personal and professional dreams come true. I work with an incredible team — many who are also SGF parents or undergoing treatment and all who share so much heart in their roles for those facing infertility — to share resources and information with patients so that they can build the family of their dreams. I’ve been honored to work alongside patients to share their stories and am thankful to be able to share my own story.