When Tia was 28–years-old, she and her husband Mark started trying for a baby. After a couple of years of trying to conceive without any signs of pregnancy, they saw a reproductive specialist and eventually pursued genetic testing. Through this, Mark and Tia learned that they were both carriers of a condition that ran the risk of being passed on to a baby. For years after their first consult, the couple experienced a roller-coaster of emotions and fertility treatments that left them feeling determined and depleted.
In Tia’s words, “After four egg retrievals, three transfers and two miscarriages, we sadly closed the chapter to grow our family with a biological child. It is not in our hearts to pursue alternative options, such as adoption or donors.”
At pregnantish, we believe in real talk about fertility; and Tia’s blog Forever, Orchard captures this well.
In our interview, she shares the infertility journey that ended in a decision for her and her partner to pursue their lives without a child(ren), and feeling more hopeful than they have in years.
When did your fertility/infertility story begin and what happened next?
My most beloved grandfather was rushed to the hospital with terminal cancer in June 2012, and passed away three days later. What we learned that weekend was that he essentially ignored his illness as long as possible, hoping to lead a normal life without hospitals and without worrying about his family members. Watching him pass on in that hospital room, surrounded by his closest family members, is what sparked my desire to become a mother. Death has always weirdly fascinated me, and I longed to have a little one (or two) at my side when the day came for me to move on.
I came home and discussed this new life path with my husband, Mark. Having children was never really part of the plan, although we had briefly touched on the subject before we were married. It was always one of those “wild cards” that could be played should one of us have a change of heart. Well, that someone was me.
I started my blog, foreverorchard.com, shortly thereafter, as a creative outlet while we waited for our miracle. Days turned into weeks that eventually turned into months. And as we approached the dreaded one-year mark without even a hint at a positive pregnancy test, I started to panic. I couldn’t imagine not becoming a mom, but it was clearly not working the old-fashioned way. I knew invasive testing was in our near future. At the time I was dead set on not pursuing IVF. I was terrified of needles and it absolutely seemed insane to need that type of intervention for something that came so naturally to millions of women.
I was convinced I wasn’t broken… maybe we just weren’t, ahem, doing it right?
After many tear-filled talks with my gyno, three failed medicated Clomid rounds, and a slew of preliminary testing, nothing came back glaringly wrong. We were labeled with “Unexplained Infertility” and given a recommendation to a Reproduction Endocrinologist (RE).
Did you get more information on your ‘Unexplained Infertility’ when you saw the RE?
Towards the end of 2014, we resigned to our first consult with Dr. Jacobs at FCI. My husband and I were terrified but hopeful. We were walked through what an IUI (intrauterine insemination) was, and although the odds of success were lower than we expected, it seemed like a sure shot.
At the same time, we were given another nugget to chew on: Dr. Jacobs suggested both of us complete genetic testing. We have always been advocates of knowledge and technology, so we immediately agreed. The results would show us if we were carriers for any genetic diseases that could potentially be fatal to our future child.
That’s the thing with infertility. It doesn’t show you it’s whole deck of cards right away. It starts out small, with a blood draw here and a small procedure here and there, and the next thing you know, you’re up against the wall, facing the exact thing you said you’d never do.The results were shocking and crushing. Both of us came back as carriers of an autosomal recessive genetic disease called MCAD. We don’t have MCAD, but we carry it in our DNA. What this would mean is a 1 in 4 chance of birthing a baby with MCAD. The odds were too high for us to ignore. We didn’t want to spend the rest of our days in and out of hospitals, or worse, with a baby that doesn’t live more than a few weeks. Armed with that information, our IUI was promptly cancelled, leaving us with our only option – IVF with PGD genetic testing.
That’s the thing with infertility. It doesn’t show you it’s whole deck of cards right away. It starts out small, with a blood draw here and a small procedure here and there. The next thing you know, you’re up against the wall, facing the exact thing you said you’d never do.
While processing all this new information, we took 2015 off from further treatments, to re-group and come up with a game plan for IVF.
You initially said you wouldn’t do IVF. What happened when you moved on to this treatment?
2016 and 2017 were spent completely consumed with fertility treatments. I felt as though we kept getting hit with more and more dismal news. On top of our genetic issues, I learned I had low antral follicle count, high FSH, low progesterone, and relatively old eggs for my age. It took months for our genetic test to be set-up, which involved many blood draws and cheek swabs from us and from our parents. Money was flying out the window at every turn and each month a massive box of pills and injections would arrive at my doorstep. Our fridge and bathroom looked like a medical facility. There were sharps containers in every corner of our house. The smell of the alcohol swabs became oddly comforting to me.
As for the injections that came with IVF, well, I got over my fear of needles really quickly. What used to make me pass out became something I would prod myself with multiple times a day.
Most of 2016 was spent completing retrieval after retrieval. The goal was to bank as many embryos as possible for genetic testing. The uphill battle continued and when everything was said and done, we were left with only two genetically normal embryos to transfer. Our first transfer was a disaster. Not even a faint line on a pregnancy test and at beta time, it was less than one.
Our final embryo transfer in 2016 left much to be desired. We had already mentally prepared for this to be the end of our journey and I prayed every day that this transfer would make me a mom. And it did.
My beta numbers were through the roof! I was pregnant and we were ecstatic! We spent Thanksgiving sharing the news with friends and family as I approached the seven-week-mark. Sure, it was early, but we had worked so hard for this how could we NOT share? Week after week, I went in for ultrasounds that showed our growing baby boy. I graduated from the clinic just shy of 9 weeks and finally got to stop the daily injections to help support my hormones.
And then the bleeding started. Fresh, red blood one morning threw me into a complete panic. An impromptu ultrasound revealed baby was doing great and there was no cause for concern. But brown blood continued each day.
Finally, a few days before Christmas, the bleeding subsided and we thought we were in the clear. Christmas Eve, I noticed I had some continuous lower back cramping. I shook it off as a result from standing too long, so I took it easy. Plus, there was no blood, so I was only slightly worried. These symptoms continued through midnight after Christmas, when the bleeding ramped up again, as did the cramping. I was just over ten weeks along at this point.
Scared out of my mind, I begged my husband to give me another progesterone injection, fearing we stopped too soon. The cramping and bleeding eventually stopped for a bit and I was able to fall asleep.
The next day, December 26th, I miscarried. In a matter of minutes spent pacing between the bedroom and the bathroom, waves of labor-like pain washed over me. I feared I was going to pass out from the pain. I was passing clots that kept getting bigger and bigger until….. we saw the sack that held our baby… our tiny baby boy.
It was over. All this hard work. Our future. Motherhood. Parenthood. Everything was over.
You say it was ‘over.’ Did you ‘move on’ from your dream of parenthood after this sad chapter?
I spent months recovering, both physically and mentally.
I wanted that baby so badly that I dreamed about doing crazy things. I wanted to hop back in the saddle immediately and started setting up another round of IVF in 2017 in between waves of grief. In May, we did what we said we’d never do. We did another retrieval that yielded us one more perfect embryo — our last chance.
I learned that the Type A in me needed to take a back seat. There is a lot of planning in terms of setting up appointments and keeping medication schedules straight, but the inner-workings of becoming a mom are not up to me.Finally, in October, we had our transfer. And believe me, I was convinced I was pregnant. I had all the positive feelings for about a week, and then they sort of… subsided.
My feelings were confirmed when our pregnancy tests came back positive, yet not nearly as strong as the last transfer. Unfortunately, our beta numbers reflected my concerns. It was low at only 17 (it should be around 300 that day). Two days later, my number plummeted to 3 and I eventually miscarried again within a week.
The desire to become a mom is still deep in my soul, but our drive to pursue fertility treatments came to a screeching halt. We no longer want to commit all of our time and money to trying and failing. And, it was never in our hearts to pursue adoption or donors, so we quietly closed this chapter of our lives.
What did you learn about yourself during this experience of infertility?
During this process, I learned so very much about myself. I learned that I loved to write and share my feelings with others. I learned that my hard-headed and stubborn antics work wonders when it comes to negotiating with insurance. I learned that the Type A in me needed to take a back seat. There is a lot of planning in terms of setting up appointments and keeping medication schedules straight, but the inner-workings of becoming a mom are not up to me. It’s up to God or whatever higher being you subscribe to. I learned that grief can really take a toll on marriage but talking and accepting how the other one heals is what keeps us going strong. I learned that I am stronger and more resilient than I could have ever imagined. I learned to guard my heart fiercely and focus on me more than ever.
Where are you today in your fertility journey?
My husband and I are no longer pursuing fertility treatments as a means to grow our family. The reality is, IVF failed us, and after a five-year-long battle trying to make this work, at some point, life needed to move forward – and that time is now. I became so consumed with becoming a mom I nearly lost myself. There were times I looked in the mirror and barely recognized my face. I let a lot of things slide, in my appearance, in my marriage, in my life. I have always been a vibrant, outgoing person; but IVF sucked all the life out of me. That’s no way to live. We are now working our way out of debt and regaining our footing as we navigate life outside of parenthood.
Why do you think it’s important to tell the story of ‘moving on’ to a new chapter after failed fertility treatments?
I keep writing and sharing my story because, although IVF is typically the golden standard on the road to parenthood, it doesn’t always work out that way. And that’s okay. The next logical steps are either adoption, the use of donors, or to stop. We stopped and have no regrets for it. Sure, grief still rears its ugly head from time to time, and I absolutely wish the outcome had been different. But that is not the way life is shaping up for us, and for once, I am allowing myself to be pulled in the direction I’m supposed to go, as opposed to forcing something that is not right for us. We are not lesser humans because we may not ever have children of our own. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am damn sure it’ll be a life worth living.
What do you look forward to in your life now and/or with your partner?
Well, the sky really is the limit. There is a sense of relief that comes with focusing solely on you and your spouse and your little family. We live in a century-old home and as a former designer, I plan to brush up on those skills and continue home renovations like I used to do. We are huge animal advocates and love our pets to death, so surely there will be more in our life. And travel! We hardly ever travel, but there have been talks about buying an RV and venturing out more. Who knows… maybe we’ll have an early retirement.
Overall, I just really look forward to re-connecting with my husband. He is a truly amazing man, my soul-mate, and my best-friend; and I am so happy we have thrived through all the good and bad times together.
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