After the long two years of emotional upheaval, stress and physical examinations we were ready to quit! We had to walk away - no more doctors, no more pills, no more talking about getting pregnant. At this point Matt and I could really feel the strain this struggle was putting on our marriage. We had to stop focusing on this baby and start focusing on us. I'm almost positive that if the Lord had allowed us to become pregnant during any of that time, our marriage would have cracked under the pressure of the pregnancy and becoming parents. We were so fragile at this time - as I look back I am truly thankful to the Lord for not giving into our ways but making us wait for His! Sometime in June or July of 2008 we contacted some friends of ours from church who had recently gone through a similar 2 or 3 year journey of their own. We needed to reach out for support from a couple who truly understood our pain. The wife suggested I call her fertility specialist doctor and make an appointment. I thought, "what the heck, why not?!". I googled the doctor's office for ART (Alabama Reproductive Technology) found the phone number and gave them a call on July 23, 2008. I just knew it would months before I could get an appointment so I thought I would have plenty of time to process the thoughts about going to see a specialist. Much to my amazement they scheduled me to see Dr. Honea for August 6, 2008!!! Dr. Honea and ART turned out to be the best decision we had made thus far outside of choosing to stand in Faith that the Lord would one day bless us with children. Our initial visit was at the main office in Birmingham, AL.
Here is a journal entry from July 23rd
"We made the appointment to see the RE. We go on Aug 6th in Birmingham. It's very exciting and scary at the same time. The exciting part is finding answers and solutions. The scary part is how it is going to cost how it is going to be paid for. "
August 6th we jumped in the car and took a little day trip to Birmingham, I'm not quite sure what our conversation on the way up there was like. If I had to guess correctly we were probably pretty silent on the way there. We knew in advance that we had an issue with male factor infertility, and were not sure if we were also dealing with a female factor infertility. Dr. Honea was so amazing. She was this laid-back, easy-going, fun-loving, Christian woman who explained to us in our appointment that she herself had battled fertility struggles in her younger years. We learned later that many of the nurses and doctors from ART were reproductive technology patients themselves. What a comfort to know that the people who are trying to help you can totally understand every fear, stress, anxiety and concern that you are having!
The initial meeting at ART was long and informative! By the time we left we were on information overload! The way they talked to us made us believe we were going to be starting a round of IVF tomorrow! This was definitely not the case, but they try to prepare you for every scenario, costs, and possible drug uses before you leave that initial appointment. I also did a battery of blood test that day to get a full work up on all my levels!
The following appointments were less stressful and at home. The great thing about ART is the local offices they have scattered across the state. You can do almost any lab and procedure at your local office Monday - Friday. Thankfully there is an office here in Montgomery which made our doctor/patient relationship even better. Through the power of technology the rest of our consultations with Dr. Honea were done via video conference and the local nurse practitioner, Sarah, took care of us the rest of the time.
After our initial visit with ART we called our friends that referred us and went to lunch one Sunday after church. They really encouraged us in the process and explained how it worked for them. They even showed us some financial techniques to help with possible procedure costs.
Part of our new patient testing included yet another semen analysis for Matt, and procedure called HSG for me. The HSG is a quick outpatient procedure that runs a dye through your fallopian tubes to make sure there is no blockage of any type that would prevent your eggs from being released. I had read in books and blogs that the HSG was one of the most painful procedures a woman could have. Because it is a quick outpatient procedure there are no pain pills or medicines involved. I was a nervous wreck for this procedure. We drove up to Birmingham on August 20th and I sat in a massive waiting room for what seemed like hours! I was called back with one other lady and we were given the strangest orders to undress and then wrap a white sheet around ourselves to cover our bodies - we were not in a private room, or even a room together, we were basically left in this strange situation sitting in an open hallway at Brookwood hospital. They initially would not let Matt come back with me, and I was so scared and nervous to be essentially naked in a hallway with a stranger! Thankfully the stranger was a kind nervous fertility patient as well and we seemed to comfort one another during our waiting period. Much to my surprise I was called back first, which was great because I didn't want to sit alone with this white sheet wrapped around me in the strange hallway! When I walked in the room Matt was patiently waiting on me which was a great relief to my nerves. Dr. Honea began to do the procedure which I could watch on an ultrasound monitor. Before I knew it, the procedure was over - it never hurt, in fact I never felt a thing. I learned later that it was due to Dr. Honea's "full bladder" requirement/technique. It was at that point I knew she was an amazing doctor and she really did know what she was doing! The procedure went great, there were no blockages to be concerned about so we were now ready for the next step!
The next step was a special sperm analysis called a SPA (Sperm Penetration Assay). This was a strange-sounding procedure that used the sperm in question with a specific breed of hamster egg (the one closest to a human egg) to see how strong the sperm is and its ability to penetrate the egg. Often times this is appropriately named the "Hamster Test". We had a great time laughing about this upcoming test and often teased that Matt was going to make a hamster baby. Matt passed his SPA which led me to reward him with a pet hamster as a surprise gift to let him know he passed!
After passing all our tests with ART we felt like we were rockin' and rollin' and well on our way to some kind of fertility treatment. By October 2008 we were planning our first IUI with ART. While we had done this procedure before with our OBGYN we had never done it with injectable drugs. This time was different. We used a drug called Follistim. It required 6 individual shots in the abdomen followed by an injection of HCG (also known as the pregnancy hormone) on the 7th day. The IUI is typically 24-48hrs after the HCG shot. The shots were terrifying at first. Most women are capable of doing the follistim shot themselves, it is a tiny needle that actually goes in a pen then dials out the correct dosage of meds. I, however, am not one to inflict pain on myself so I made my sweet husband do it. They really didn't hurt, with the exception of the occasional painful one. As long as I didn't know when Matt was going to click the pen I was fine! The scary shot was the HCG:
This was a "massive" needle in my opinion - and I had to trust Matt to properly give me this shot on my backside while I wasn't watching! It was my duty to not flinch and tighten up my muscles so the shot would work correctly. Thankfully Matt is a master shot giver. I almost chickened out and took my needle to a retired nurse, but I needed to trust the process and Matt and let him do this for me. We had our first IUI with ART on October 16th. This IUI offered way less stress than the previous one done at our OBGYN office. Perhaps because the lab was located on site with the doctor's office, meaning less wait time and no travel between locations. Two weeks had to pass before I could take my HCG pregnancy test and just as you can probably guess - it was negative. Very heartbreaking to hear after we had gained so much new hope over the past couple of months preparing for this procedure. After our fall we jumped right back on our horse and tried again. This time we were highly encouraged to find out I was quite the egg maker! Apparently I had no problems producing follicles and eggs to become pregnant. I had so many possible eggs the second time they tried to quickly force an IVF procedure on us. We were not ready for this and there was some minor miscommunication that caused that thinking, so we reorganized and scheduled the next IUI. This time the IUI fell on a Saturday causing us to drive to Birmingham for the procedure. November 1st 2008 was the day - it was a stressful day and we were pretty much set up for failure from the moment we woke up.
As we look back on this day we laugh hysterically but it was mighty stressful from the get go! Matt and I were going to miss a huge rehearsal for our church's grand opening in the new building and we were both major players in that special event. We rushed off to Birmingham that morning to make our appointment time, poor Matt had to embarrassingly "collect" in the car on the way to Dr. Honea's office. There is a limited amount time between collection an insemination before the sperm is no good. Most of this time is spent in the lab getting a spin and wash to make sure they use the best possible sperm for the IUI. Maybe he "collected" too soon, but when we arrived for our appointment the lab was not open yet, and then when they finally did open, our doctor never showed up! We waited what seemed like HOURS before some other doctor or nurse came in and preformed the procedure with what I believe was probably dead sperm. I was so upset with that process I felt defeated before we ever left the office.
Obviously that IUI was a no go and we did not become pregnant. We video-conferenced with Dr. Honea after that pregnancy test came back negative and she informed us that we probably rolled the dice on the IUI as many times as we could, statistically speaking. We agreed together that IVF was the way to go. ART has an amazing program that allows you to pay upfront for 2 or 3 IVF cycles and if you do not become pregnant with those 3 cycles or any frozen embryos from those cycles they refund you almost half of your money. The cost was going to be around $10,000-$13,000 for us. Our insurance thankfully covered the injectable drugs, which we had already been using, this is a miracle in itself because most couples can't afford the drugs period - it was a $60 copay for us. We decided to figure out our finances and see how we could afford to come up with thousands of dollars or get a loan. Amazingly, Matt received a raise at work that would cover the cost of the IVF over the course of a year. We made our appointment to tell Dr. Honea let's get started and then a bomb was dropped on us. Read the journal entry from February 16, 2009 below:
Obviously my life has become extremely busy. Since last summer we have hit this fertility stuff head on - and yet we're still fighting. We've had tests, surgeries, injections, IUIs and so forth and so on. Just recently we decided we wanted to pursue IVF, which costs around $13,000 to prepay for 2 rounds. We had finally figured out how to make our finances work with a loan for the IVF, but the week we were ready to officially get started, get a loan, etc...we were faced with a huge financial setback - Matt received a 25% pay cut at work because the economy is so bad right now. We were devastated and grateful at the same time. Grateful that Matt still has a job but devastated because "our" plans were not possible anymore. I personally felt like the rug had been ripped right out from under me again. For 3 years it has seemed that every time we'd get close to a solution for our fertility problems something would happen or NOT happen! So this time instead of throwing myself a pity party I took it straight to the Lord and did everything I could to not make this situation about me. I simply wanted to support my husband and love him with all I had. I really think the Lord honored that effort. He really gave me the strength get over myself and poured His love out on me and Matt. We got our upsetting news on a Monday, and on Tuesday the Lord made sure I had 2 prayer warriors and supporters of our journey in my path. On Wednesday were blessed with a $500 check from a couple at church who felt led by the Lord to give to our fertility journey. I have never experience humility like that before! Friday, another sweet friend showed up at work with a card that had gift certificates for dinner and movie out. Saturday my best friend showed up with a box of goodies and Sunday my job was approved for a raise and promotion!
God is so very good. He just poured his love out on us and we didn't even do anything to deserve it. My raise helped make up a big amount of the difference in Matt's pay cut....I'm so proud of how we handled all of this change in our lives. Based on how we've reacted to all of it I can tell how much more we truly trust in the Lord.
After that experience we truly did have to halt every effort via doctors and medicine whether we wanted to or not. Despite our trust in the Lord we were still devastated and could not see the end in sight.
I found myself on my knees a lot after that - mostly learning to give praise to the Lord no matter what my circumstance. I had a handful of worship songs that became my anthem during this time period. I literally pressed repeat on my iPod on a daily basis. We attended a Hillsong United concert in April or May of 2009 and I remember laying my hands on my womb as we sang the words "Savior, he can move that mountains, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save" I was believing that He could move the mountain in our way, he could open my womb and allow me to become pregnant.
Little did I know he had already moved that mountain! On May 31st 20o9 I found out that I was pregnant!! Not because of drugs, not because of doctors, and not because of procedures, but because my Heavenly Father loved us enough to lavish this perfect gift of life on us! We had been faithful in learning the lessons, sometimes we failed but he tested us again and we understood - all our faith had to be in Him. My God was determined to be the only one to receive all the Glory and all the Honor in this miracle pregnancy! My sweet Amy Kate was born on January 21st, 2010. I have never been so blessed as I was on that very day when I finally held my precious daughter in my arms for the first time.
I was born to be a mother and am so thankful for the opportunity to raise Amy Kate. She was well worth the wait, the tears, the pain, and the long journey. I thank the Lord daily for the journey we went on to allow us to have Amy Kate. Without that journey we would not be the parents we are today. Our marriage would not have survived all the trials we faced apart from the fertility struggle. We were not ready to be parents, but God knew that the journey would shape us and mold us into better people!
If you are going through this journey, please trust in the Father to take care of you. You have to decide in your faith journey what is most important - becoming pregnant or being parents. There is not a wrong answer here - but if you don't know what to pray for then you won't know what kind of answer to expect. If becoming pregnant is most important; seek that out - study the Word of God. God blessed many barren women with children of their own. If simply being parents is most important, investigate adoption, don't give up on your hopes to become pregnant, but pursue other options. Seek the Lord - He will guide you.
Please check out the book "Supernatural Childbirth" by Jackie and Terry Mize. This book is filled with scripture and prayers to fight against infertility. It is also filled with testimony of countless couples who have overcome this fight.
As I sit here and write this post to you today, I am excited to say that I am 8 weeks pregnant! In April of 2011 Matt and I decided we would get serious about trying for another baby - little did we know - there would literally be no effort involved in getting pregnant this go 'round! Our newest addition is due to arrive January 10, 2012 - that's right 11 days before Amy Kate's 2nd birthday! Isn't God great? He is so amazing about how He loves us and how He chooses to lavish His love upon us!
I am looking forward to sharing in future posts about resources we used throughout our journey. Whether it was a book, a journal, vitamins, or even herbal teas I have some great suggestions for helping you survive your journey.