As a child, I remember playing house and pretending that my cabbage patch doll was my baby. I thought that having children depended on the decision on whether or not I chose to have a baby. As I continued to grow I was not entirely convinced having children was the path for me, but again, I believed it to be a choice that I would make. In adolescence and early adulthood, I thought that I would have children because that was the path I would take. I would get married and have my first child at 25. I would continue to have other children, and all of my children would be close in age. That was the plan, and that is what I believed my future to be.
I never once thought of how my health might change my plans. I never fathomed the possibility of a chronic illness that would have an impact on my fertility, and that I may be one day considered to in need of infertility treatment.
I have been living with a rare gastrointestinal illness called DIGITS for 13 years. At my physical worst I was on a permanent feeding tube unable to nourish myself. My body responded poorly to the feeding tube, and life-altering interventions were necessary, and yet, I still had an immense desire to be a mom. I wanted my husband to be a dad. At the time we didn’t know what would help me or if help was even possible. My only option was an experimental surgery that would remove my large intestine and create a permanent ileostomy. The years since surgery continue to be filled with challenges, and I am still learning to how to live with this chronic illness, but most importantly, since having an ileostomy life altering changes have come to fruition.
From the numerous medical interventions I have had, it was foreseen that becoming pregnant was going to be difficult, but with the support of our specialist, we began our path as fertility patients 8 years ago. As a result of my chronic illness, our fertility path has been handled with much caution and care. The imminent question of, “can you be a mother with such an invasive chronic illness?” loomed. We experienced numerous assessments to ensure the health of our future children and myself, and with the support and perseverance of a fertility community, we were ready to begin fertility treatment.
Over the last 8 years, we have experienced fertility medications, IUIs, IVF cycles, transfers, and losses.
My chronic illness has severely impeded my ability to work, and consequently, my husband was our sole provider for many years. I have been able to reintroduce work back into my life, but it continues to be challenging with my chronic illness. Money cannot be equated to the value of life, but the reality is—we have financial limitations. Fertility treatment for us has meant needing loans, increasing credit debts, and downsizing—all in hopes for children. It is also important to recognize that there are physical effects from the medications and procedures. I have been particularly sensitive to fertility treatments because of my pre-existing medical condition. It is challenging to maintain daily activities when in a treatment cycle.
Three and a half years ago my husband and I were blessed with the birth of a daughter. We remain completely in awe of her, that she is here with us, that we are her parents. She lights up our life.
Shortly after having our daughter we knew that we wanted to continue to grow our family. We wanted her to have a brother or sister. When our daughter was 6 months old, we began a plan to try for another child at our fertility clinic. We had embryos frozen from our retrieval and had a frozen embryo transfer shortly after our daughter’s first birthday. We were fortunate to become pregnant but only for a short time and loss followed. We had one additional transfer remaining, and a few months later we tried, but that transfer did not take.
We had accumulated so much debt from continued fertility treatments that we needed to take some time to save for further treatments, and so we planned to have another IVF cycle sometime in 2016. One day in December 2015 we received a phone call that changed our lives! We were eligible for a funded IVF in the New Year of 2016, absolutely incredible! We were ecstatic!
Our IVF retrieval was in February 2016, and we were blessed with 5 blastocysts. We thought we would for sure be pregnant it was just a matter of time. Once again, our fertility journey had other plans for us. We had 2 more losses and one transfer that did not take. We were devastated. How could we go on? How much more could we take? We were so afraid of continued disappointment and more loss. So we took some time to grieve and to figure out how we would proceed. My husband and I decided it was now or never and all we can do is try, even if it meant it did not turn out how we had hoped.
In January 2017 we decided to go forward with another frozen embryo transfer. I had become so used to disappointment that I had convinced myself that we were not pregnant before we knew if we were. When a nurse from our fertility clinic called with the results of our blood test I was completely shocked when she said our test was positive, we are pregnant. With much emotion, I am so grateful to say that I was wrong. Our baby is due in October 2017. Our daughter is going to be a big sister.
Our path has been completely different from anything my husband and I could have envisioned. We have grown so much over the years with the constant highs and lows pursuing parenthood. At times our hearts have been broken, and then there have been times where our hearts are filled with joy and love we did not know possible. We cherish our children and that we are their parents.