“If I’ve learned anything in this process, it’s don’t write your ending before it happens”.
~Brett Russo, “The Underwear in my Shoe”
I just finished reading this book- and let me just say, it was a good read! It is a lady’s journey through IVF, and her story through infertility. This line in her book really struck me, likely because it’s so true.
When Steven and I first started trying to conceive, after years of school, establishing our careers, and being married for 4 years, we thought we were choosing how our family would form. Little did we know at the start of the journey just how far from the truth that was! We had spent years of learning how easy it was to get pregnant and how important prevention was (thank you, public school), and thought for sure the only thing that had stopped us from having a baby before that point in time when we wanted to have a baby was that little NuvaRing. God certainly has a sense of humor!
The first month that we tried, we were on a trip to Acadia National Park. It was magical, and I thought what a memorable way to start our family. When my period came, I cried. I also lost a bet with Steven that I would buy him Annabelle’s ice cream if we didn’t get pregnant! The next month was renewed hope…but once again disappointment. I distinctly remember when we were 11 months in to trying, going for a walk with Steven and being so caught up in my emotions that I yelled at him (through tears, of course), “What if we never have a baby?! I can’t do this forever! What if we spend years trying?!”
After about a year of trying to get pregnant was when it happened…God made us the promise of a daughter named Hannah one day. He didn’t give us a timeline, though, or how she would come to be. For the next 4 years we waited and wondered.
We went through 3 cycles of Clomid, 2 cycles of IUI’s, and 1 cycle of IVF before we decided that we couldn’t continue on this route. We were told I had the eggs of a 40 year old (instead of the 28 year old that I was at the time), and that our chances of conceiving were <1% without help. We were told to use an egg donor…but we were also told just how much money that would cost. Then, by fate (or perhaps, just maybe, it was God? 😉 ), we ended up at an Orphan Care meeting at Mountain View Community Church. This is where we learned about Snowflakes Embryo Adoption. I remember going home that night with renewed excitement that there might be another way for us to form our family. Steven wasn’t quite ready yet to take this step.
Fast forward another year of failure, and we took the leap to adopt. I remember my sister telling me that sometimes God needs us to take the first step, and then see whether He opens the doors. This is how adoption worked for us. God didn’t necessarily tell us to adopt, but as soon as we started pursuing it, He cleared the way in ways that were so beautiful.
After an eight month process of paperwork, a home study, more money, and building a family profile, we were ready. We didn’t know how long it would take to get matched with a donor embryo family, but we were hopeful. We were on a trip to Alaska and about to go hiking in Denali National Park when we got the call. We had been matched! We used our iPad to look at the family’s profile, and we were told we could then decide whether we thought they were a good match for us. We read about the family and how they had 7 embryos…how they had used an egg donor and didn’t know much about the mother….and how they had frozen these embryos back in 1997. There were reasons to hesitate, from the age of the embryos to the limited family history due to using an anonymous egg donor.
We went hiking, and as we walked along, Steven and I were silent, caught up in our own thoughts. I was praying for direction. Then we stopped. I looked at Steven and gave him a big hug. With tears in my eyes, I asked him what he thought. He turned the question back to me…and I told him that I could not find a reason to say no. So we took the leap! In our rush to make this next step happen as quick as possible, we found a way to fill out the necessary paperwork while staying at a lodge in remote Alaska, with only an iPad and no printer. We had it all submitted within a day. And then we waited for the donor family to fill out their paperwork.
By the time the donor family had completed their part, it was October 2016 (about a month after being matched). We had one more month to try and coordinate a frozen embryo transfer before the fertility clinic where the embryos were located was closed for the remainder of the year (they do annual lab maintenance and cleaning in December, so no transfers can happen). I was still waiting to hear back from the embryology lab as to whether they could thaw and grow out the embryos (per the doctor’s recommendations) so we knew whether they would be viable as day 5 blastocysts. My period started at the beginning of November, and I knew it was our last chance for the year. When you have been waiting for 5 years to try and start your family, the last thing you want to do is wait two more months! So we called the doctor and asked whether we could begin the labs for a frozen embryo transfer to happen that month. He couldn’t guarantee that we would have an embryo ready, but he gave the go-ahead anyway.
We took a huge leap of faith and started the injections for a frozen embryo cycle, without knowing whether we even had an embryo to transfer! Looking back, it all seems a bit crazy! I booked a flight to CA that would fly in that morning and out that evening for my appointment that had to happen the week before transfer (I joke that I flew my uterus to CA- that’s the only part they needed, the rest of me could have stayed at home!). We also booked a week at a HomeAway condo for the transfer week. I suppose we would have treated it like a vacation if things fell through….a very expensive vacation!
A week into my cycle, I got a call from the nurse at the embryology lab. I didn’t even know that they had thawed the embryos yet, but she informed me that they had been growing them for the past few days. Two of the seven embryos didn’t survive the thaw, and of the other five only 2 kept growing to day 5 blastocysts. So in the course of just a few days, we went from 7 to 2. The good news was that the two that did make it looked really good- a grade 5AA and grade 3AA. These were re-frozen to today’s standards and available for transfer.
I had a mix of emotions when I found this all out. Even though these little embryos had only been in our possession for a few weeks, I had connected with them. They had already become our children, and we took on all the responsibilities that went with this. The science and logic side of me knew that all seven wouldn’t make it, but I still mourned their loss. On the flip side, I was thrilled that we had two beautiful little embabies to give us a chance at parenthood!
We decided to transfer just one embryo- we wanted to give each one the best chance at success, even if it ended up costing us a bit more money to go this route. So a few weeks later, we transferred that first grade 5AA embryo. The doctor told us this was the oldest embryo he had ever transferred, but also that it looked great and he expected it to work. (Funny enough, the same doctor told us this again when we transferred the second embryo 3 years later…only this time the embryo was three years older).
When we found out we were pregnant, we thought that this was our long-awaited Hannah. When we found out it was a boy, we were both surprised! This meant that either there was another baby coming, or maybe the promise would be fulfilled in a different way, such as a future daughter in law?
Tyler, our first baby, filled our hearts and our arms. We felt so blessed to be his parents! Genetics didn’t matter- he was our perfect and long-awaited son.
About a year later was when I started to wonder what was next. I had hit the jackpot, but did God have more in store? By this time I had learned that He was writing my story, not me….but I had not yet fully surrendered the attempts at control. The night that I finally handed it over to Him was such a turning point for me. It was a moment I will never forget- it meant surrender not just of my infertility journey, but also my life as a whole. I learned that God is truly in control and loves me. This is something I was taught from a young age, but sometimes it takes going through a really difficult trial and allowing God to carry you before you can truly come to terms with this. My journey of infertility was not just about finding my way to motherhood, it was a journey of finding my way to my Father.
Literally the next day after I surrendered was the day I got that positive pregnancy test. Let me say, after years of peeing on a stick and negative results, and then a very much planned frozen embryo transfer being my only positive result, I certainly was not expecting a positive without intervention to ever happen in my life….but I was not the one writing the story!! God opened my womb and my heart for Hannah to enter our lives. There was no question, when we found out it was a girl, that this was our long-awaited promise. And God’s timing was just right (as usual!), to allow us this beautiful baby without stressing about the planning and “trying”.
So here I was with two beautiful children….and one embryo. We had talked about it before we adopted the embryos, what if we ended up with seven children? What if we happened to get pregnant on our own? Steven and I had agreed that each and every one of those embryos would get a chance at life in our family, no matter how that looked. So obviously we had to give this final embryo a chance!
Then 2020 happened. We were concerned about traveling to CA, and all the restrictions associated with the pandemic. The predictions were that COVID would get much worse when winter rolled around, and our original plan was to transfer the embryo in November. I had taken 2 weeks off of work in September, and we had originally planned on a vacation just for fun. We soon realized that this was our chance at the embryo transfer. Once again, as soon as we took the first step, God opened up all the doors to make this happen. We had to drive to CA, as the fertility clinic required a 2 week quarantine if we took a flight. Steven and I left our kids in great hands with my parents, and drove the 16 hours to CA. We stayed for the 9 days, and really soaked up the kid-free time, ironically while “picking up” our embryo baby! It was a beautiful trip, with time spent re-connecting and enjoying the beautiful weather and beaches of southern California.
When we found out it had worked, we were both thrilled and overwhelmed! Here we were, thinking we may never have one baby, and now we would have three under 4 years of age?! On top of that, 2021 will hold a move for our family and a new job for Steven. We both continue to work full time. Our lives (and hearts!) are quite full.
So, the moral of the story…don’t write your ending before it happens! This is still just the beginning for us as a family, but it marks an important endpoint in the “having babies” chapter of our lives. God has blessed us in ways unexpected and unimaginable, and His story is so much more beautiful than any story I could have dreamed up. He knows exactly what our family is to be, and I surrender it all to Him. Thank you, God for these lessons learned.