My husband, Matt, and I have spent the last five years navigating several corners of infertility. After two IVF egg retrievals, seven transfers, five miscarriages, and help from a surrogate, we finally made it.
After two years of trying on our own and doing multiple rounds of clomid, we decided to see a fertility specialist. I already knew I had PCOS and ovulation issues, and would likely need more aggressive fertility treatment. After considering all factors, we decided to move forward with IVF. I was convinced it would take me one, or at most two, rounds and I would be back to my normal routine. I was determined to not let these treatments phase me.
My first IVF round was more difficult than I anticipated. Only two embryos survived the retrieval. I was devastated when I miscarried and the thought of doing another was excruciating. But, I brushed it off, got back up and determined to do one more round with our last embryo. I was fairly confident it would work because it seemed uncommon for women needing to do more than two transfers to get pregnant.
After our second IVF transfer, Matt and I were sitting in our 7-week ultrasound appointment, anxiously anticipating the heartbeat of our baby. The nurse practitioner searched and searched for minutes. Her face appeared resigned. She finally rolled her chair back and announced, “I can’t find a heartbeat.” I cried on the table, trying and failing to conceal my tears. If we wanted to continue, we would have to do another round of IVF.
Based on our doctor's recommendation, we did genetic testing on the miscarried material following my D and C. My doctor read the testing results with us showing a deletion and duplication in two of my chromosomes, consistent with a diagnosis called Balanced Translocation. This is a genetic mutation that causes the majority of pregnancies to end in miscarriage due to missing or excess genetic material. The odds of any embryos being viable in these conditions is considerably low.
As I further studied, I found myself descending into a dark place I had never been before. I didn’t know I could feel that low. I decided to take a break for a few months as we did not have any embryos remaining and my energy was depleted.
I finally worked up the drive to give it another shot. We did a second egg retrieval which amazingly resulted in seven viable embryos free from chromosomal abnormalities.
Statistically, this felt incredibly lucky and miraculous. Now that we removed my genetic issue as a factor for our infertility, our next IVF round should be a breeze.
I continued to do three more IVF transfers, all of which ended in miscarriages. We ended up finding that I also have Hashimoto’s disease, which contributed to the failed pregnancies. I remember after each failure thinking, “I thought I had already hit rock bottom, but this is my new rock bottom.” I was weak, broken, and didn’t have energy to be strong. My depression was constant.
There comes a point where you have to reset your expectations on what you think might be the best option for yourself and be pliable enough to consider a different path. Our doctor suggested adoption or surrogacy as our next step. She speculated that it was a one in a million chance I could get pregnant naturally, and if I did, it would be a one in a million chance I would be able to successfully carry.
After considerable thought, Matt and I decided to pursue surrogacy. We wanted to find someone independently rather than use an agency. Our clinic mentioned that finding a match usually takes the most time since there are more parents looking for help than women looking to be surrogate mothers. We posted our story to Facebook and said that we were looking for a gestational carrier. We thought we would be lucky to find one person who might be interested, and may find no one. To our surprise we received many kind responses from people who wanted to help.
A few days later, a girl named Makelle sent us a heartfelt message expressing interest in carrying our baby. She had the cutest little family and her email stood out to me as particularly sincere, sympathetic, and altruistic. I remember wondering in awe how someone who I had never met would give a crap about me or my family, let alone raise their hand to give up nine months of her life. I was completely blown away. Matt and I met Makelle and her husband, Jake, first over Facetime and then over multiple dinners. I fell in love with them and Makelle and I became instant friends.
The next four months were spent in medical screenings, psychiatric evaluations, and meeting with lawyers. After a lot of anticipation, we did an embryo transfer with Makelle, and as we hoped, the pregnancy test came back positive! We were so excited! We had done so much at this point and were so happy to finally have found a solution to all the obstacles we had dealt with.
At our seven week ultrasound we were definitely anxious, but optimistic. All four of us came to the appointment. Matt and I were so eager to hear our baby’s heartbeat. However, our prior agonizing experiences during ultrasounds heightened my sensitivity to things being amiss. As we began the ultrasound, I quickly perceived it was not looking good. As the four of us casually talked, I could see the NP was especially quiet and locked on to the screen.
After a few moments of searching, she repeated the awfully familiar phrase that she was not seeing a heartbeat. I tried to be strong, but I couldn’t. I had been here so many times; putting in immense time, energy, and money only to learn of another let down. I was shocked, confused and frustrated thinking about how we could have such bad luck so many times in a row. But it also felt so familiar. What she saw on the ultrasound was a blighted ovum, which is where the embryonic sac formed but the fetus inside did not.
I spent a lot of time digging deep into how I was going to find fulfillment and happiness in ways other than children. It felt like we were trying to force something that was just not going to happen. What went wrong? We spent the next four months doing excessive genetic testing to see if we could figure it out. We sent samples to different labs for more extensive genetic testing. I spent a lot of time researching medical journals and genetic databases. I spent hours on the phone with doctors and reproductive genetic experts all over the country. Every hypothesis we spun up seemed to fall flat. Based on the data, we had accounted for everything we knew was wrong.
I had three embryos left and Matt and I decided to attempt our final round. My journal entry from this day said “I have 5% confidence in this round because we are not doing anything different. Why are we even doing it if I have such low confidence? Perhaps to squash the 5% hope I have now so I don’t have to live with that looming over me anymore? This is the final effort we make before we are done for good. Then I can say I really gave every ounce of myself.”
The transfer went smoothly and we received another positive pregnancy test, which didn’t feel like much. The morning of our first ultrasound, I was sick to my stomach. This day would determine the rest of my life; my whole future was being determined within a matter of hours. I felt like the whole world was holding their breath with me.
We began the ultrasound and the results were immediate and for the first time ever, we saw a heartbeat. I was filled with so many emotions at that moment. It felt surreal. I was so grateful for Makelle, and happy she had stuck with us to get to this point. My optimism shot up, but I still had reservations that something would go wrong.
We eventually graduated from our fertility specialist to an OBGYN and week after week I gained more confidence. It was so fun to watch Makelle progress. She sent me weekly pictures of her growing belly and they became the highlight of my week.
I looked forward to our doctor's appointment where I could see the ultrasounds and catch up with Makelle. I didn’t buy or prepare a thing for the baby until we were seven months along, in fear that we wouldn’t make it to the end. The week before our induction date, time felt like it was crawling. Having a new baby was all I thought about. It consumed my every thought and I was unable to think about anything else. My worries of our pregnancy making it to the end had now faded and I was ecstatic. I had replayed this moment of delivery countless times.
I woke up on March 7th, 2021 to the sound of a text message from Makelle telling me she was on her way to the hospital. I can’t say I was actually asleep.
I am not sure that I ever fully fell asleep that night. Matt and I joined Makelle and Jake at the hospital later that afternoon when she had progressed further.
It was so good to see both of them. I walked in and gave them both a big hug. We all chatted for a while as Matt and I filled out paperwork.
It was not long before she had progressed to a 10. It all happened so fast. I was standing next to Makelle’s bedside; Matt was on a chair in the corner of the room. It only took a few pushes before the sound of my baby’s scream filled the room. It felt like time had stopped. There were eight people in the room but at the time I only remember two, me and my baby. I had built this moment up in my head for years, and it was more than I imagined. I took a step back from the table in an attempt to catch my breath. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, fascination, and relief. My eyes struggled to gain focus through my tear filled eyes. This was one of the greatest moments of my life.
After Ro was cleaned off and nurses checked his health, Matt and I were ushered to our own room next door where we soaked in the existence of our newest family member.
I wanted Makelle to have the opportunity to hold him before we separated for the rest of our hospital stay due to covid restrictions. We walked him back to the delivery room where Makelle held him for the first time. It was a special moment for me to see them together.
I often get asked what it was like having someone else carry my child. The truth is, I don’t know anything different. I had plenty of moments where it was hard for me knowing Makelle was experiencing things that I never would. But those thoughts were short lived and I always knew that I had the rest of my life to spend with Ro.
It is difficult to articulate the gratitude I have for Makelle. She taught me a new dimension of love I had never experienced. My greatest hope is that Ro will one day look at his surrogate mother and understand the magnitude of her selflessness that brought him life.
Infertility doesn’t always have a happy ending. This journey changed me. It ripped me to shreds to a degree I am not sure I will fully recover. It challenged me to question why I fought so hard to be a mother. Motherhood is my way of making a positive contribution. It means having the ability to impact one’s life directly. It means showing that becoming a mom doesn't always fit one specific mold. It is my way of caring for a cause bigger than myself. It was worth fighting for.