This is National Infertility Awareness Week. I want to share my own story of infertility today.
Here is a modern day riddle for you. All of the following statements are true:
I have three children: twins and a “singleton”. They are all biological.
I have given birth once.
I additionally have a frozen “baby.”
Scratching your head? Here’s how it all happened.
Seven years ago I was trying to get pregnant, but it wasn’t working. After undergoing a series of tests, doctors found an issue which was making it very difficult for me to get pregnant naturally. They said that if we did In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), however, this issue should be easily bypassed and I should get pregnant from the procedure. We were supposedly the “perfect” IVF candidates.
For those of you who are (blissfully) unaware of what IVF is, here are the basics of what is involved:
- The woman injects herself in the stomach daily for about a month with drugs that control her hormones and stimulate the production of multiple eggs.
- During this time, she goes to 5-10 doctor appointments for bloodwork and ultrasounds to monitor her “progress” (i.e., whether the drugs are having the needed effect).
- When the eggs are “ripe,” she undergoes outpatient surgery where the doctor removes the mature eggs. It’s possible there are no mature eggs and the cycle ends here.
- The doctors in the lab inject each of the eggs with the husband’s sperm to create embryos.
- The embryos either grow “normally” or die. It is possible for all the embryos to die and the cycle to end before a chance of pregnancy.
- After 3 or 5 days of growth in the lab, the doctor takes 1-3 of the living embryos and transfers them back to the woman’s uterus. (Other healthy embryos are frozen for later pregnancy attempts.)
- The woman injects herself with further hormones for two weeks while the embryo(s) have a chance to implant and form a pregnancy. This is the most stressful two weeks imaginable.
- After those two weeks, a pregnancy test is given to determine if it worked. If it worked, it takes another two weeks to determine how many of the embryos transferred successfully implanted (transferring two embryos does not automatically mean twins, for example – one might not have survived).
- It typically costs $10,000-$20,000 dollars for a single pregnancy attempt.
If you haven’t gone through infertility, it’s hard to explain what makes an otherwise sane person go through this. You just have to understand that for many people (not all!), a level of desperation sets in where you will do anything to have the family you always assumed you would have.
We went forward with IVF as recommended by doctors. After completing everything I just described, I anxiously started taking pregnancy tests at home each day.
Nothing. Then the doctor called to confirm it: Nothing.
Thousands of dollars. Boat loads of shots and appointments. More emotional investment than the dollars and shots combined.
All for literally…nothing. I remember the shock of that first IVF result. I remember lying on my bed literally screaming in sadness/anger/frustration/agony/disappointment, rolling back and forth, pulling at my own hair. I share this soul-baring image simply to offer a small glimpse into the deep, dark pain that accompanies a failed IVF cycle.
A single IVF cycle.
I went through IVF four more times.
I never got pregnant.
On paper, “four more IVFs” is a simple sentence, an objective numerical summary of two years of my life. In reality, four more IVFs depleted my soul. I was left with more anger than one could reasonably imagine. I was left with more envious hatred toward people who got pregnant easily than any Christian would ever care to admit.
On the day my fourth IVF cycle was confirmed a failure, I received an email from a friend that changed my life forever. She had no idea we were still doing IVF (we had stopped talking about it with our friends), much less an idea that she was emailing on one of the worst days of my life. She was a friend we had been in a church group with for a couple of years, but not someone we knew extremely well.
In the email she said she had been praying for us for a long time and wanted to be able to do something to help our situation. She said she didn’t know whether it was medically appropriate for us, but she had been researching surrogacy for months and had decided that, if it would be helpful in our situation, she was willing to carry a baby for us.
Since doctors never could figure out why I wasn’t getting pregnant, we really had no idea if having a “gestational surrogate” would help. “Gestational surrogate” means the surrogate is not biologically attached to the baby; we would be transferring our biological embryos to her. If there had been something wrong with our embryos, then transferring them to someone else wouldn’t make a difference; they would die anyway. If our embryos were fine but there was something (unknown) wrong with me, then transferring them to a gestational surrogate with a proven pregnancy history could result in the baby we had wanted so desperately.
After further talks, tests, and prayer, we went forward with a gestational surrogacy cycle four years ago this month. We transferred two of our biological embryos to our friend and surrogate. Two weeks later:
It worked. It actually worked. It was a moment of true “shock and awe.”
Two more weeks later, the ultrasound showed a baby’s heartbeat. Hands down, the best moment of my life.
…And then the ultrasound showed a second heartbeat. Twins. I broke down and sobbed at the blessings pouring over in my life at that moment. It was as if the pain just flooded out of the internal dam I had built. When we got to the car, our (surrogate) friend gave us a gift of two pairs of baby shoes. She had faith that both embryos had made it, and she was right.
Our twins were born in December of that year. Our dear friend and surrogate blessed us in a way that few could understand. Not only did we finally have a baby, we had two. Our family was complete.
Then one year later, I got pregnant naturally, not trying to get pregnant at all.
It felt as abrupt as that last line reads. That was our second moment of true “shock and awe.”
We named our “surprise” baby Alexa Grace. I had never particularly liked the name “Grace” but we really couldn’t have chosen any other name for her. We certainly couldn’t have named her “Faith.” In our years of infertility I demonstrated zero faith or trust in God for our situation. I was just plain mad. If there were a guidebook for how a Christian should NOT act and feel when going through infertility, I followed it step by step.
I in no way, shape or form, deserved to be blessed with our twins or with Alexa based on how I handled it all. I couldn’t believe that God blessed us in spite of me. But isn’t that what grace is? God gives us so much we don’t deserve. I often call Alexa by the name “Grace.” I can’t help but smile when I say it because I feel its meaning so deeply. I have three highly undeserved blessings – three examples of grace – that run around my house each day.
Oh, and the frozen “baby”? We have one frozen embryo that remains from IVF. We will be transferring it to me later this year to give it a chance at life (we otherwise wouldn’t be trying to have more kids!). I have no reason to believe that the cycle will work – IVF has never worked for me before. But I’ve also had a pregnancy now, which may have changed my ability to get pregnant again. So the story continues.
Whatever happens, I will always know that our family exists by the grace of God.