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Amber Penrod's IVF Infertility Journey

As a young girl whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up-my answer was always, “I want to be a Mom”. On my first date with my husband I told him I wanted to be a Mom. He didn’t laugh or question but later told me he loved my answer. There was never any question in my mind, I would be a mom. Mike and I were married in 2009 and started trying after a year. My cycles have always been very regular and I naively expected to be pregnant within a month or two. It felt like everyone around me was getting pregnant and I struggled with my feelings while putting on a happy face for them. Doing pregnancy tests got harder and harder, I just quit doing them after about 6 months.


Finally, after one-year of trying we started seeking help through an OBGYN. As far as we could tell everything looked normal for me. After a few different tests, Mike’s semen analysis came back on the low end of normal. We were encouraged to see a urologist. The urologist recommended a varicocele surgery to boost his sperm count and motility. Mike had the varicocele surgery in February 2012. As I took him home after the surgery I felt so much love for him that he would do something so painful and embarrassing so that we could have a better chance of getting pregnant on our own. We told only our parents about the surgery. The urologist said it would take up to 6 months to know if it helped.


We looked into fertility specialists and made an appointment to see one but the wait was 4 months to get in. Mike was also finishing his MBA and we knew we’d likely be moving about the same time. A month later we found out we’d be moving from Utah to Boston for Mike’s first job after MBA school. We were thrilled that a large portion of infertility was covered by insurance in Massachusetts-it was such a blessing.


We moved across the country in June and had our first appointment with a fertility specialist in August of 2012. After all the testing we received a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. We talked with our doctor about Mike’s surgery, he said the numbers were slightly higher, but even with the numbers before the surgery, he actually wouldn't have recommend doing the surgery. We were still paying off the $6,000 bill and were sick that we had done the procedure if it wasn’t even necessary. 

We decided to move forward with an IUI. I had just started a new job in a new state and was overwhelmed. I was constantly sick from the stressful environment I worked in. I have always wanted to be a stay at home Mom, and a stressful job was stopping me from doing what I wanted to do most. It was difficult to go to work every day when I had to act like I wanted this career and play the part I never felt. It felt so extreme at the time, but I quit my job after 3 months and started working part time in a lower stress job. I was no longer using my degree and felt silly telling people that I couldn’t handle the stress but I knew it was best for my body. We were finally able to do the IUI in Feb 2013 but it was unsuccessful. That led to 2 more failed IUI’s. Each time was devastating but confirmed to me just how real our infertility was.


In June of 2013 we decided to move to IVF, it was exciting and terrifying. We didn’t tell many people, just a close group of family and friends. Only 1 of our embryos made it to a blastocyst for a fresh transfer, but it worked, I was finally pregnant! 

 

We were thrilled to find out at 20 weeks, it was a baby girl! At 29 weeks I went into pre-term labor while visiting family in Utah for Christmas. I was life flighted to another hospital and spent 5 days-including Christmas-in the hospital. We were able to stop my labor and fly back home to Massachusetts a few days later. This little girl who wasn’t even born was proving to be quite the miracle.


After 5 years of trying I finally landed my dream job-MOTHERHOOD. That single embryo is now a vibrant 7-year-old. We are so grateful for IVF and the technology that exists today. We weren’t sure what to expect when we wanted another child. We were surprised when we were later able to get pregnant again with a little boy, without fertility help. I am so incredibly grateful to have the 2 beautiful children that I do have. They are both miracles and blessings.

 

We were excited at the hope of not having to go through fertility treatments ever again but unfortunately, we’ve been back on the infertility roller coaster for 3 years now. 

 

Infertility is something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone...yet through it all I have been humbled, strengthened, and developed a better relationship with my Savior and amazing husband. This experience has helped me realize that most people are struggling with something. I know there are others who have been through so much more, whether It’s with infertility, or other difficulties. We never really know what each person’s daily struggles are. “Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”.

 

Living back in Utah again we began looking for a new fertility specialist. Around the same time Mike changed jobs and we were so grateful to have some infertility insurance coverage again. But this new job and insurance we needed didn’t come without sacrifice. Mike spent the first 4 months of the job working and living in an apartment in Seattle while I took care of 2 busy kids at home. He came home on the weekends; our time together was precious. It was a dream job-with the insurance coverage we needed for fertility treatments. We all made sacrifices but once those long 4 months were over Mike was able to work remotely and be at home more so we began the process for another egg retrieval. 


It’s been interesting going through IVF with two kids vs. last time when we didn’t have any. It’s difficult to coordinate and recover from the blood draws, ultrasounds, shots, and surgeries between school drop off, kids’ activities, daily needs, and Mike’s work travel (pre-covid). Some days it’s difficult to find motivation to do what I need to, but having two kids relying on me has made me get up and just go. Just because we have kids doesn’t mean my mom heart is complete. I no longer just notice pregnant women-but I find myself counting how many kids a family has-because I long to add more to our family. There have been times I felt I was supposed to just be happy and move on, but I know there’s another one waiting to join our family, and that’s a feeling I can’t let go of.


“We have every reason to hope for blessings even greater than those we have already received.” -Jeffrey R Holland This great quote has given me reason to feel hopeful about the future. I know we have been blessed, we’ve been so blessed! But we are going to keep hoping for blessings even greater than those we’ve already received.

 

Leading up to the egg retrieval our kids became more curious why Mom had so many appointments, didn’t feel well, or why we locked them out of the room each day to do a quick shot. After discussing how this would affect them we decided to share what we were doing. They’d told us they wanted a baby too. In the simplest kid terms, we shared that we want to have another baby but we need the doctor to help us. We told them mom and dad will have more doctor visits and mom has to do shots and a surgery. We’ve had many sweet moments with them asking questions, praying for a baby to join our family, and showing me extra love. They were so incredibly supportive, coming out of their beds every night to see if we already did the shots and give me an extra hug. We even let them watch a couple of the shots. They’ve come to blood draws. They’ve seen me cry after tough phone calls from the doctor. They have been sad with me. They’re excited to help open the giant packages of medications and then tell me just how big the needles are! They’ve made me sweet crafts and notes to boost me up. My 5-year-old announced to his soccer team that I had eggs in my tummy.


I’ve told them throughout the process, that this IS hard, but I’m going to do it. I will be brave. I can do hard things. I hope they are learning from this that even Mom and Dad have to do hard things, and they can too. If we are blessed with another child the age gap will be at least 5+ years, much longer than we would have hoped, but the positive side is that I’m sure my children will be great helpers and babysitters.


In October 2019 I had a hysteroscopy-a surgery to remove polyps and scar tissue in my uterus. The same day I also had an egg retrieval. 13 eggs were retrieved and 4 made it to blastocysts and could be frozen! They were genetically tested as normal and we were completely shocked as they told us the genders of each of our embryos-two male, two females. From the moment we knew the genders of our embryos we felt an overwhelming love and connection to each of them. I began to worry about trying to use them all-to give them all a chance at life. I think about them often. I drive past the building they are stored in and pray about which one to use. Knowing their genders makes choosing which one to use that much more difficult. It’s something we have not taken lightly and have felt a weight of making this decision. We have felt their spirits and they are a part of our family forever. 


We scheduled our first embryo transfer for December 2019 but came across one issue after another; fluid in my endometrial lining requiring a biopsy, a cyst on my ovaries, and my endometrial lining could not get thick enough to support an embryo. We had 4 different transfers dates that were cancelled-some of them just days before a transfer would have taken place. We were feeling pretty deflated, then COVID-19 showed up and our fertility offices closed for a few weeks. It was a confusing time in the world. Our fertility treatments were put on hold with no idea how long, while our embryos sat in a freezer 10 miles away. I gave myself permission to be sad and disappointed while I also felt blessed at the same time.


In May 2020 we were able to transfer our “best quality” embryo. It was a special day-we waited to find out the gender of the embryo they transferred until just after the transfer. Knowing the gender brought an immediate love I can’t describe. We were hopeful that this little embryo baby would turn into a pregnancy but it did not. I couldn’t even finish the phone call with our results, Mike had to finish the conversation because all I could do was keep from sobbing. It hurt so incredibly bad, I felt like my heart really was breaking for weeks. I felt so attached to this little embryo that didn’t make it. We wanted this pregnancy so much and had been through years to get to that point.


After our failed embryo transfer a friend told me- we will now have extra heavenly help in our home because that sweet spirit that was just too perfect to live on the earth. When I think about our remaining embryos-I’m encouraged to keep going for them. I have felt that heavenly help in our home. “Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” -Jeffrey R Holland.


Just over a year ago I started sharing my thoughts and experiences about infertility on social media. Just like this blog on The Slice of Sun, I want to bring awareness and advocate for others going through the same experience. I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have thanked me for sharing-and asked if they could share it with someone they know who’s going through something similar. It has been very therapeutic and I’ve felt an outpouring of love and support as I’ve shared some of my most vulnerable feelings during this process.

 

After our failed embryo transfer we did an Endometrial Receptivity Analysis (ERA) test

and Mock Cycle with different medications. The biopsy was on the Sunday of Father’s Day- fertility appointments don’t stop just because it’s a weekend or holiday. Because of COVID restrictions my husband could not be with me during the biopsy-a sweet nurse held my hand during the painful part. This ERA biopsy gave us the exact hour when the next embryo transfer should happen-modern medicine and technology is such a blessing!


The biopsy from our ERA test also found I have Endometriosis. I really struggled with this diagnosis. Was this the final issue or just the next issue? Was this the answer or a new problem? Why has it taken this long to find out? How did we use one of our precious embryos before knowing this? It’s taken some time and lots of conversations with our doctor to feel like we can make sense of it all and answer these questions. My doctor said that my body has done a good job of managing the symptoms of endometriosis but it’s also preventing me from getting pregnant. For me, treating the endometriosis involved taking daily hormones that put my body into medical menopause for 3 months. 


In October 2020 we prepared for another transfer. This time we used different medications to stimulate my body to produce its own estrogen. Once again, we prayed, thought out, and discussed what gender embryo to transfer. We took our kids out of school and switched to online school and activities for the month. Being exposed to or catching COVID during the month of our embryo transfer was just too big a risk as we’d have to cancel the transfer, so we quarantined. Our sweet kids have also sacrificed a lot during this process. We transferred another genetically tested, beautiful embryo. It was the week of my 35th birthday, my hopes were high that this would be the year! Once again, our hearts grew to love this little embryo baby and we prayed it would turn into a pregnancy but it did not. I didn’t think I could handle one more difficult thing, but a week later we all tested positive and were sick with COVID. Life felt so heavy.


Fertility treatments have taken a heavy toll on my body. There’s nothing glamorous about it like they might portray in the media. Occasionally I can find the humor in my situation-last Halloween I dressed up as a red tomato pin cushion (you know the one your mom/Grandma owns) for a family party-because that’s what I often feel like-a human pin cushion. I have canisters full of needles from injections that made me bruised and miserable. It’s mentally exhausting where even the simplest of tasks have overwhelmed me. I’ve experienced anxiety. Infertility takes up an overwhelming amount of headspace. I often feel like my head is spinning trying to manage all the pieces of our fertility treatments and life as mom.


Mike has told me the hardest part for him of this fertility journey is watching how hard it is on me. He is my strength on the days I don’t know how to keep going. He is the best listener and therapist I could ask for. He has given me every injection throughout our years of infertility. He reminds me to take life one day at a time, or one injection at a time when I’m trying to re-plan my life each month.


We transferred another genetically tested beautiful embryo in February 2021, our 3rd IVF transfer in the last year. I did ALL the things I possibly could- no sugar/no gluten/no dairy diet to help with inflammation from the endometriosis, I did acupuncture weekly, 5 days before the transfer I had a Neupogen wash to make my uterus more hospitable for an embryo to stick. I drank the herbal teas, changed up vitamins/supplements, changed hair products to eliminate parabens/sulfates. I did acupuncture hours before and just after the transfer. I carried fertility crystals in my pockets. My lining was finally perfect, we were very hopeful. I rested for 2 days after the transfer, and waited between hope and fear for 10 days. We prayed one of these things would make a difference, but again, the transfer was not successful. 

After each failed transfer we have grieved and felt the loss of that embryo we hoped would be our next child. My children love and talk about the embryos as a part of our family. Our kids were much more aware of what was happening this 3rd time, praying daily for the embryo to grow so we could have another baby in our family. It’s been difficult to explain to them that it did not work. We are trying to be resilient- we are moving forward, looking into treatments and options we never imagined. We know that God is in the details of our lives.


During trials we don’t always see how we are being polished-sometimes all we can do is endure, but when we look back at our lives we see how those things have shaped us and given us better understanding, empathy, and perspective. Looking back at the last 10 years of our infertility journey I can see many blessings and I’ve changed in ways I would not have without these experiences. My story is not complete yet, but I’m trying to find joy and looking for the miracles and blessings along the way. God has continually shown me that he is aware of me, it is usually through others in small simple ways-but I find great comfort in recognizing those moments.

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@amber_penrod thank you for being here and sharing your story with The Slice of Sun Community

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