Of course, this story would not be written if it were not for my Mother. Again, she tirelessly searched the internet and informed herself about all aspects of IVF. Those of you that know my mom, know she's brilliant. She can do anything and in this regard, she became as knowledgeable as any RE out there. She would tell me things she learned here and there, but I was so hard to talk to at the time. I was fragile and didn't want to listen, but at the same time, I was yearning for my next step. What in the world was I going to do? Billy and I would try to talk about our future without kids or about adoption. We never did get far with either conversation because neither of us ever imagined life without kids or going through the brutal adoption process. I knew I needed a plan, but what was it? I needed guidance.
Of course, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Sometimes it is so hard to see His hand in life, but in the next part of our journey it was SO clear. I needed Him to reveal Himself to me at this point. I was angry and confused and He did reveal Himself in such an obvious way.
One night, Mom was on the internet (as she was every night) and in an IVF chat room. She asked a question about IVF and a woman answered her. Her answer was something like -- "I don't know why I'm even lurking on this IVF site, I've had my children years ago from IVF, I guess I still want to see who else may be going through it." She continued to answer -- "I live in Birmingham, AL and work at a place called UAB. I researched RE's and Labs before I ever started the process and I chose a place called Shady Grove in Rockville, MD. Dr. Michael Levy was my doctor and he's wonderful."
How amazing! Of all the people on the internet around the world, my Mom found a woman from Birmingham. If that's not the hand of God reaching out, I don't know what is. And as if God was saying "Oh, is that not enough you guys?" another woman, completely separate from the first also wrote an answer to Mom's question in the chat room. She too, was from Birmingham and also a physician at UAB. The two women are friends but did NOT know each other was on the web, writing in chat rooms for IVF. The 2nd woman had also gotten pregnant and had children as a result of IVF with Dr. Levy.
Mom ended up getting both of their email addresses and asking them tons of questions about Shady Grove in Maryland. Both of them were hard cases, only producing one or two eggs. They needed a GREAT lab and, in their eyes, Maryland had the best. I was desperate at this point and the tales of these women were intriguing. It was so bizarre that Mom had found them on the internet, with them living right in our backyard! But being as angry and broken as I was, it was still hard for me to listen about or to plan the future.
As mom talked to me more about the possibility of going to Maryland, I freaked out, as I did at every other step of this process. That is one thing I've learned about myself (more on that later). How in the world could I do this, how do we pay for it, how do you even attempt to go through an IVF process in another state?? I thought, there is absolutely NO way, it's impossible. Every time I would say this, Mom would email one of the women from UAB. These women walked us through every detail of what they did and how they did it. I still thought, there is just NO WAY, but my Mother, the cheerleader, said differently.
In the meantime, I knew I had one more frozen embryo in Birmingham. We went through a frozen cycle, which is much less invasive that IVF. I had just gotten out of school for the summer and I was at the beach. I didn't hold much hope for one embryo, but the fact that it had made it through both the freezing and unfreezing process and been transferred was pretty amazing. In the back of my mind, I thought -- this is it! I won't have to go to Maryland. Well, it too came back as a 12. Neither negative, nor positive. The numbers dropped a couple of days later -- another chemical pregnancy. This time, I was OK though. By now, I had learned how to take the negative news pretty well. It was just another part of my life, one Billy and I had learned to just live with. I was also OK because Mom had booked us a flight to Maryland to visit Dr. Levy and just talk to him. There was hope on the horizon it seemed. At least this would be a change of scenery and the women from the internet swore it was a VERY do-able process. One of them even went back a second time with her toddler in tow. It could be done. So, with their advice and a little pushing from Mom, I was going to Maryland.
Before we went to Maryland, I had gotten word from my one infertility friend I had made in a support group. We bonded immediately because she had been with my same Dr.s in Birmingham and she too, had 2 failed IVFs. Since then though, she had moved on with a Dr. in Nashville and she called me to tell me the news - she was pregnant! I was thrilled for her, but at the same time felt so alone now. She was the only person I had known to be going through the very same thing as I was. With her exciting news though, I too wanted to meet with the Dr. in Nashville. My mom and I drove up there on a rainy day and met with him. I just had a bad feeling when I left the office. I didn't like him, he had given me NO direction really. Basically he had said, we would just try another IVF and see what happened. No thanks, I wanted answers, not just another chance. I was a little down at this point. Maryland seemed like a wash. It would probably be the same outcome, just some Dr. wanting to take my money and hope for the best.
Mom and I went anyway because she just "knew." Don't forget, along with being brilliant, she may be a little psychic and definitely connected to God someway. We flew in and stayed at the same hotel as the women from the chatroom. It was not anything extravagant, it was an extended stay place where I could stay if I did come back for an IVF. The next morning we went to see Dr. Levy. The nurse came to get us and Mom and I walked into his office, sat at his table and handed him my records. I needed my mom in this meeting. She was SO much more knowledgeable than me and frankly, at this point, I needed someone to do it for me.
Dr. Levy is a small man from South Africa. He has this sweet, caring demeanor about him and I just instantly felt some connection with him. He made us feel so comfortable. In addition to his demeanor, his brilliance quickly revealed itself. We sat there silently while he quickly scanned my files. As he was reading, he picked up on every little detail of my issues and started to made his own notes. I answered lots of questions and he continued to make notes. We continued to be quiet, observing him. It was like watching a mad scientist. After he was finished making his own notes, it was as if he was working some algebraic equation on his paper. He would cross through words, write new procedures beside them, all the while explaining to us what he was doing, what he was thinking. It was amazing. Every single question my mother had been begging the Bham Dr.s to answer was answered or at least he was willing to do the test or procedure to get an answer. In a nutshell, both Mom and I fell in love with Dr. Levy.
In my diagnosis, he revealed I had great response to meds and often was pregnant, but only slightly resulting in a chemical pregnancy. In lieu of more testing and waiting on results, his plan was to treat me as if I had a clotting or immune issue, putting me on Lovenox. This is a blood thinner some recurrent miscarriage patients use to help thin the blood so a pregnancy can successfully implant. In addition, the Lab (one of the best in their field) would perform PGD, a controversial procedure where one cell is taken out of each embryo while they are growing in the dish. They are tested for 11 or the 21 chromosomal abnormalities. This would reveal if we in fact had some sort of genetic issue that was preventing a viable pregnancy. The lab would also perform something called "assisted hatching," where a hole is drilled into the shell of the embryo on the day of transfer so it is more likely to implant successfully. I would also be monitored daily and different meds used. He believed I had not been too suppressed, but rather maybe just had not had the right medicine for my body. In addition, Dr. Levy accepted us into their shared risk program, where you pay a flat fee, but there would be a 100% money back guarantee after 6 IVF tries. I would be free and so would the money to pursue adoption or any other IVF protocol somewhere else if he was not successful. And as if he had not done enough already he looked at me at the end of our meeting and said -- "I know you don't think this will ever work, but I really do think it will." He continued to say "it may take a couple of tries, but it WILL work." Precious. He is just a precious man.
We left there almost in tears, not because we were disappointed, but because we were elated. Mom and I both felt as though a ton of bricks had been lifted from our shoulders. Every question Mom had was answered. Every procedure Birmingham had refused to do was standard protocol in Maryland. THIS was our answer, these were the answers we had been screaming for. Mom said she felt as though she could let go now....all her trust was in Dr. Levy.
We continued our quick tour to D.C., hitting a couple of museums. Mom and I were so relaxed, as if all our cares had flown out the window of Dr. Levy's office. We had such a nice time.
The plans were set in motion. Along with the prophetic answers by Dr. Levy, he had also concluded I did NOT need to go through another cycle before starting my IVF with him. This was music to my ears because it meant I would be able to almost complete my 2 week stay in Maryland without missing much school. I ended up going the last 2 weeks of my summer break -- perfect timing! I would end up missing the first couple of days, but that was it. No need to take off 2 weeks from work.
I worked out all the details with my nurse in Maryland. The appts., my medicine, prescriptions to take meds on the planes, etc. So many details! I was a little nervous about being by myself for 5 days until Billy got there. He had to work and there was no reason for him to be there for the first portion of ultrasounds, etc. Up until this point, Billy had given me all my shots (for those of you that know him, this is a miracle in it's own right!) Since I would be alone I had to learn to give myself the shots -- 3 shots a night (and for anyone that knew my fear of needles, this too is it's own miracle!) My sweet friends packed me a care package full of DVDs, lotions, face masks -- anything to keep me occupied for the 5 days alone. I packed everything in two suitcases and left on Aug 5th. Everything went as planned, the trip was easy, I flew into Reagan, rented a car and drove the 45 minutes to Rockville (with help from the GPS!) I settled in and the next day I had my first appt with Dr. Levy.
I know he does this for a living and sees this everyday, but when I saw him that first day, I felt as though he was just as excited as I was. Maybe it's just his precious demeanor, but I really think he cares that deeply for his patients. I spent the next few days going to appts in the morning and getting calls that afternoon to change some dosage of my medicine. I just can't express to you how detailed they were about every little lab number. I had been through a lot at this point (as you have seen) and I had never experienced this level of detail or expertise. With all this attention, you would think it was a small practice, but in actuality it's enormous. Dr. Levy just makes you feel like you are his sole purpose.
I also visited D.C. and scouted out the tour that I would take Billy on when he arrived. He had never been to D.C. and we were trying to treat it as a vacation. Lord knows, we needed one! Billy got there on Aug 10th. I've never been so happy to see his face than when he walked in that hotel room. I have a picture to document the moment! We spent the next few days touring museums and eating out in D.C. We were also doing all the IVF stuff, but at this point we were old pros at that, so it was just no big deal.
Everything went well. Retrieval day finally came and Dr. Levy retrieved 27 eggs!!!! It was an incredible response. The next day Billy was supposed to leave and I was to stay until transfer (6 or 7 more days). I just couldn't bear the thought of being in that hotel room alone again, so Dr. Levy said it was fine for me to fly home with Billy and fly back for the transfer. So that is what I did. I came home and got to see my new class on the 3rd day of school. In the meantime, we had 20 eggs to fertilize normally and all 20 were continuing to grow and split. This was great news and made my plans to return to Maryland that weekend for the transfer. I flew back up and my transfer was on a Sunday. Dr. Levy was not on call that day so Dr. Brown did the transfer. The first thing she did was show me the results from the PGD. Remember this was the genetics testing. I was halfway expecting them to be all bad eggs (so was my luck it seemed), but to my surprise, I was very normal. About 45% of my eggs had some sort of genetic abnormality. It sounds like a lot, but in reality that is avg to above avg for normality. It's a little known fact that we all produce genetically abnormal embryos. That is the reason for so many miscarriages. Also, many genetically abnormal embryos are miscarried before women even know they are pregnant. Anyway, I was fascinated to see the abnormal results for the embryos. Some of them had extra trisomy 14, some had extra trisomy 15, others had extra sex chromosomes. It was just amazing to look at that and just simply amazing the technology we have that allows us the opportunity to know these embryos would never be viable. After we went over the abnormal embryos, she showed me my two strongest embryos. Number 10 and number 18 to be exact! She transferred both and I was on bedrest in the hotel until the next day. I flew home and the 2ww began.
During the 2ww, you go through a range of emotions, trying to be positive, but also trying to not let yourself get too positive, keeping a realistic attitude about the possibility of a negative outcome. I kept really busy and it helped that school had just started. That'll keep anyone busy!
As the test day approached, I became more anxious and though I sore off the internet, I started to search a little and I found so many women that did home pregnancy tests before the blood test, although every Dr. will advise against this. I had done this before during my IUI days and they were always negative, so I had not tested in a long time. The next day was my beta and I woke up early. Before I got in the shower it dawned on me I had an old home pregnancy test left under the sink that I had used to track on of those chemical pregnancies I had. I thought, well, I would rather be prepared for the negative today, so I went ahead and did the test. I really forgot about it for a minute, turning the shower on, standing there in my robe waiting for the water to get hot. Never thinking about the HPT or the fact that it would ever show anything (after all, it was old and they never had before), I turned and looked at it one last time before I jumped in the shower. There were two pink lines!!!!! I thought I was seeing something and I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Again, there they were. I stood there in utter disbelief and just started to cry and smile at the same time. Could it be? Really? I was pregnant? with the pregnancy test in one hand, I opened the door and went to wake up Billy. "Honey, honey, wake up" I said, shaking him. He immediately jumped up and said "What's wrong?!" I continued to show him and we both just hugged each other and stood there staring at the test. I also took a picture message of it and sent it to my Mother. I called her a few minutes later and with it being 6 am, she was so worried. She thought I had surely started my period and the impending negative result from the IVF was coming. Needless to say, she was stunned when I told her, she was not expecting good news!
I went to my old Dr's office in Birmingham to have my blood drawn. I found myself again, in school, waiting on that phone call. I was so nervous really not knowing which way to lean -- do I believe the HPT or was it old and a false positive? Even though Maryland had been a great experience, I knew there was a great possibility the IVF had not worked again. But I did have the reassurance of 5 more tries with Dr. Levy and I loved him so much, I didn't mind having to go back up there for another round. I walked into lunch with my class, cell phone in hand. Of course, my 2 precious teacher friends knew what today was and when my phone started to vibrate, I looked down and it was Maryland calling. I yelled to Kelli --"Can you watch my kids? of course, knowing the importance, she jumped up to help. I ran outside and answered.
My nurse on the other end continued like so many times before, "Well, we received your bloodwork results from Birmingham." There was a pause and I thought my chest was going to explode. She said "you're pregnant! and not only are you pregnant, you beta number is 940." I just can't really describe that moment standing there outside our school lunchroom. I felt like I was flying. Not only was I pregnant -- I was REALLY pregnant! My number was so high and especially for me, it was, by far the highest number I had ever gotten on my initial beta test.
The next few days were filled with anxiety as we waited to see my numbers double and triple. They did exactly what they needed to do and 2 weeks later we went in for my ultrasound. There were two sacs, 2 embryos and 2 strong heartbeats!!! We were having twins. Wow. Not only did the Lord bless us, he blessed us with two babies.
The past few months have been filled with and continue to be filled with more anxiety as we wait on the milestones of pregnancy. So far everything is going great, but I know it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. Although the journey was the most difficult time of my life thus far, God has blessed us exponentially.
I can't end this post without recognizing the 2nd most important player in this whole equation. My mother is the unsung hero of it all. I can't thank her enough for her patience, love and understanding through everything. She was my cheerleader, my support group, my pseudo RE, and research guru. I couldn't have done any of this without her. I could write for days and never thank her enough. Thank you Mom! I also can't thank my Mom without recognizing my husband in all this as well. Billy dealt with the craziness that comes from IVF drugs, my fits, my depression. He was always there to listen or to plan with me. He too was my cheerleader. He knew I could do this and as hard as it was on him, he said the hardest part was watching me endure it all. He hated giving me shots, he hated watching me cry when the negative results came. They say infertility either drives you apart or pulls you together and I'm happy to say we are stronger because of our journey. Thank you Billy for being you.
Looking back, I see God's hand through it all and I continue to see His plan for me. I needed to grow in Him, I needed to see pain from the other side so that I might be more sympathetic to people and the problems we all face as human beings. I learned I need more patience. I learned to accept the forks in the road. I know I'll face so many more challenges in my life and I feel like I'm more equipped to handle those challenges. I feel closer to our God. Even though at times I was SO mad at Him I couldn't talk to Him. I went for months not talking to Him. I know now, even though we're mad and don't understand, He is there.
I never understood the "peace that passes all understanding" until now. He provided that peace for me so many times throughout this process, especially after the 1st IVF. I needed Him and He was there. Above all, I feel connected to a God that loves me despite all my flaws and has plans for me, so that I may have a fulfulling life in Him. Thanks be to God for all our blessings.
I'm sorry this got to be so winded, but I'm glad I remembered so many details. It will be a great story to show the twins some day. They have already changed our lives! I'm sure there are many more chapters to come.
Much love to all and Merry Christmas --
I'll keep you posted on our progress. Please keep up in your prayers for happy, healthy babies in the spring.