My Story: Holly & Ryan W.
I was the chosen one – the one in eight.
Research shows that one in eight couples experience infertility. While I struggled for six long years to have a baby, my friends could sit in a room with their husbands and get pregnant. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration but when you are going through infertility, it sure feels that way. My husband Ryan and I are now the proud (and exhausted!) parents of three healthy boys – but as Maria sang in The Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start….
Ryan and I met in college in 1995. He was a freshman and I was a junior. Yes, I am two years older and no, he doesn’t let me forget it. We quickly became best friends and were constantly dodging rumors about our status. I graduated in 1997 and moved on to the “real world.” We kept in touch and remained friends for a few years but then life got in the way and we lost contact.
After my dad passed away in June of 2000, I took a job in New York City. Ryan had by then heard about my loss and tracked down my email address. We quickly jumped right back in to being best friends. He was living in Atlanta and I was in New York, but we managed to see each other a few times that fall. We mostly just emailed but eventually started spending hours on the phone. It was December 3, 2000, when we decided to “cross the line.” We both knew that there was no turning back. A month later, I was packing a moving truck and heading to Atlanta.
We were married in May 2003. I truly did marry my best friend. This friendship would be something we would lean on a lot through our journey. Right after we got married, we moved to the West coast for Ryan’s career. We did the one thing that newlyweds should NOT do and bought a house that we renovated ourselves. A year later, Ryan’s career brought us back to the Southeast. We were now close to family and friends, had a year and a half of marriage under our belt and I was turning 30.
In October 2004, on my 30th birthday, I stopped taking the pill. Over the next year, I would take twelve pregnancy tests and see “Not Pregnant” twelve times. I would hear about friends getting pregnant on “the first try” and see teenagers at the mall pushing strollers. I would even host a few baby showers. I wouldn’t lose hope.
We made an appointment with my OB and did some basic tests. He didn’t see any obvious issues. We spent the next six months on Clomid, charting temperatures and tracking my ovulation. Ryan even got a few calls at work to “Come home now, I’m ovulating!”
In eight years of marriage, we have had one major fight. That fight came on the heels of our diagnosis of infertility. We both knew that this could be a long, lonely, exhausting, demanding, painful, scary and expensive road (which it was!) but what we weren’t sure of was if we wanted to take it. I didn’t want Ryan to be 100 percent sure that he wanted to do this, I wanted him to be 110 percent sure. It’s a lot to ask of someone to be 110 percent sure about an unknown. I will leave out the gory details, but we kissed, made-up, held hands and jumped in. And so the journey began.
In November 2005, we found ourselves at a fertility clinic in Atlanta. We immediately didn’t like the place. The doctor we met with basically said (and I am not even paraphrasing here) “you give me $20,000 and I’ll get you pregnant.” I was thinking, “This won’t be so bad after all!” He did a couple of tests and concluded that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS means that my ovaries create an abundance of follicles each month without producing an egg. Because of this, the doctor concluded that we should do intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Meanwhile, my husband had accepted a job in Augusta, Georgia, so we were in the process of moving when we started the drug protocol for our first round of IUI. Our doctor in Atlanta suggested that we have Dr. Servy monitor me in Augusta so I didn’t have to go all the way up to Atlanta. I met with Dr. Servy and his staff and was immediately impressed. I wasn’t really their patient, but they still took the time to get to know me and my situation. Long story short, we “fired” the doctor in Atlanta.
Over the next few months we did IUI three times. Still unsuccessful, Dr. Servy scheduled me to have a laparoscopy and hysteroscopy in October 2006. He was determined to find out why I wasn’t conceiving. We learned that one of my ovaries was attached to my uterus and I had some scar tissue from a gall bladder surgery. It was our AHA! moment.
We took the holidays off then scheduled another IUI for January 2007. Unsuccessful yet again, Dr. Servy decided that we should do in vitro fertilization (IVF). In February 2007, I started the IVF protocol. We were so nervous but so excited. We believed that this was our answer. We were finally going to get pregnant!
Then Dr. Servy canceled the cycle because I didn’t have enough viable follicles. Our first attempt failed… but we still had high hopes, and so did Dr. Servy. We started the whole process again in April 2007. This time I had some good follicles! Everything was progressing beautifully. The first step in IVF is the egg retrieval… we didn’t get past the first step. When Dr. Servy went into my ovaries for retrieval, there were no eggs.
We learned that I had Empty Follicle Syndrome. My husband and I often joked that I was a “medical mystery,” and this confirmed it. According to an article called “Empty follicle syndrome – Still an enigma,” empty follicle syndrome (EFS) “although rare with an incidence of 0.2 – 7%, is a frustrating condition where no oocytes are retrieved in in vitro fertilization (IVF), even though ultrasound and estradiol measurements show the presence of many potential follicles. It is a complex phenomenon…” We were all discouraged. Dr. Servy felt like we should take the summer off. He wanted to do some research and talk to some colleagues. We were heartbroken but decided to enjoy our summer and start fresh in the fall.
In August, we met with Dr. Servy and mutually decided that our path forward would have to be either egg donation or adoption. The back story is that I was adopted so this was always an option that we considered. But the truth was, I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted to carry our baby. We had to at least give it a shot (no pun intended!).
For several reasons, we chose to go with an anonymous donor. We contacted an agency and started the search. The whole process was so bizarre! We literally shopped on their website for “the one.” The initial step was to read through a short survey that the donors had completed and choose our top five candidates. There were two donors that we were particularly drawn to. Of those, we learned that one of them wasn’t available. We received the packet on the other donor; we’ll call her Angel because that is what she is to us. We had liked Angel all along. She seemed to have the same dry humor as my husband. Her likes and dislikes were similar to ours and her medical history was great. We opened the packet and her picture was right there – Angel looked just like me! We truly thought it was meant to be. Our only hang-up was that Angel had never donated before. With no history, we didn’t know if she would respond to the medication or if she would be able to make enough eggs. Our gut told us to move forward, so we did.
In February 2008, Dr. Servy retrieved several eggs from Angel. Of those, only four were good enough to make the cut. I had been going through acupuncture in correlation with the IVF and was told by the acupuncturist to envision the whole process as it was happening, envisioning the embryos going in, finding a nice cozy home and settling in. As Dr. Servy transferred two of the embryos, I envisioned them entering into a cozy red velvet room with tufted seats around the perimeter and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling
I guess they liked the cozy “home” I had created for them because on March 13, 2008, I found out that I was pregnant! When Beth at Dr. Servy’s office gave me the news, I just started crying. I was grinning from ear to ear but bawling. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. I was pacing around in circles around our house. This moment of course could not have gone off without a hitch. My husband knew that I had taken the test and knew that I would know something around 11 a.m. But when I called to tell him, he wasn’t in his office! I paged him three times and he didn’t call me back. I was dying! I had to tell him before I could tell anyone else, right?! I think it took him almost thirty minutes to finally call me back.
Our families and closest friends had been there every step of the way so we told them right away. We knew however, that until we laid eyes on that precious baby we couldn’t relax. I loved being pregnant. It was everything I had dreamed of. On November 12, 2008, we welcomed (via c-section because he was breech) a charming baby boy. We always tell people the truth… the first three months were hard. No one can prepare you for it. Every strange gurgle was a call to the pediatrician. Every time he spit up we were sure he needed to go to the doctor. Every poopy diaper (and there were tons of them!) turned into a science project. Sleep deprived, I tried to take our new baby out into the world and backed my car into the garage door. He was worth it, though. That sweet baby could smile and just melt your heart. He is almost three now and it still works!
In November 2009 we did IVF with our last two frozen embryos. We weren’t too surprised that it didn’t work. A week after our son was born my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS, and during this round of IVF she lost her battle. We were actually on our way to the visitation when Dr. Servy called to tell us that we were not pregnant. With everything else going on we really didn’t have a chance to think about what that meant. We had no more embryos. We were back at the beginning.
A few weeks later we finally sat down and talked about our next step. We had to decide if we wanted to just move on with life, look into adoption or use a donor again. In my heart I felt like if we didn’t give it another go we would regret it for the rest of our lives. We had to at least try, but we agreed that we would only move forward if we had the same donor. Angel was in “retirement” but agreed to help us since we already had one successful pregnancy with her eggs. In the spring of 2010, Angel started the IVF protocol but we had to cancel the cycle because she was over stimulated. Due to scheduling, we took the summer off and then started the process again in September. Dr. Servy transferred two “really good” embryos and froze four.
I was scheduled to take a blood test on October 4th. I felt confident so I did an over-the-counter test at home before heading to Dr. Servy’s office. For the first time with an at-home test, I got “Pregnant.” Two weeks later we went in for our first sonogram. After hundreds of them, we knew exactly what to look for. The screen came up and neither Ryan nor I saw anything. As we looked sadly at each other, Dr. Servy said, “Oh, twins!” Huh!? We went from sadness to elation in about three seconds. When we called our families to tell them, everyone’s reaction was the same: “Oh my gosh!”
We started planning right away. This was going to require help. Two babies and a two year old who is now going through the “terrible twos” …oh no! At eighteen weeks we learned that both twins were boys. Ironically, I had always said I wanted three boys. This pregnancy definitely wasn’t as fun as the first. I was really sick the first trimester and ended up having to take some nausea medicine. At about 24 weeks my OB grew concerned about the amniotic fluid level in baby A’s sac. We ended up at a specialist who monitored both babies throughout the rest of my pregnancy. We delivered two healthy baby boys on May 26, 2011. Our goal all along was for the boys to be healthy and we reached that goal: baby A was 6 pounds, 10 ounces and baby B was 7 pounds, 11 ounces!
Life with twins is pretty crazy, but I think we prepared for the worst so it hasn’t really been too bad. At times, it’s more difficult to deal with the two year old than the babies! We do have help during the week so I am able to get out and enjoy some mommy time. We are definitely sleep deprived and often running on caffeine but we wouldn’t change it for the world. Being a parent is the most rewarding yet challenging job. You never stop worrying and never stop planning. Things that were important to us no longer are. We get to the yard work and housekeeping when we can. The laundry piles up. Dinner is more often take-out than home cooked. Our television is stationed to the Disney Channel (unless football is on!). Nipples, poop and spit-up are often discussed at dinner. Date night is often cancelled. When they smile though, none of that matters.
This quote sums it all up pretty well: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
It’s still hard to believe that we have three kids. At times I still don’t think it has hit me. It’s definitely hard now but we keep thinking ahead to how much fun it is going to be watching them grow and become friends. As for a sister… I don’t think so. We are 99.9 percent sure that we are done. At 2 a.m. any given morning, we can assure you that we are done. I think we are ready to move on. This journey has consumed almost seven years of our life.
As for Dr. Servy and Angel… there are no words.
I have often heard that once you overcome it and have a baby, you forget all about your struggles, pain and suffering through infertility. That is not true. I remember every negative test, every failed attempt, every heartbreaking decision but I now know that it was worth it. These three boys truly are a miracle and without Dr. Servy they wouldn’t be in my life. There really is no way to thank someone for making your dreams come true. All we can do is raise our boys to appreciate everything they have and everyday that we have together.