By: Mariel Setton
Growing up I always wanted a big family. Coming from a family of four kids, I thought four was the perfect number. After getting married, my husband and I waited two years to start trying to have children, never imagining what we had in store for us. After about nine months with no success, we decided to visit my gynecologist. The doctor called us into her office, pulled up my chart, and told us to try for two more months before she would send us to a Reproductive Endocrinologist. She ended by saying, “But you’re both young…you’ll be just fine.”
Two months later, as young and healthy as I was, I found myself sitting in the office of my first Reproductive Endocrinologist. We discussed what could possibly be going on, and were reassured when the doctor said it would hopefully be a quick and easy fix. As part of the visit, I had to get an ultrasound. As the doctor did the ultrasound and looked at my ovaries, I could tell from his face that there was a much bigger problem at hand. He showed us the ultrasound and said, “You see these small dots over here? You should have a bunch of them resting. You only have a few. You have Diminished Ovarian Reserve.”
A million questions entered my head. What does this mean? Would I ever be able to have children of my own? Should I be freezing the eggs that I have? What followed over the next few days were various tests to check my anatomy and hormone levels. Once we had all the test results, we met with the doctor again. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you need IVF. You will need the most aggressive protocol so we can get as many eggs as possible. You also have about a 5% chance of conceiving with your own eggs. We’re going to do everything in our power to make this happen, but there is no guarantee.” So many emotions came over me. I went home and cried from the uncertainty of it all. I didn’t even fully understand what IVF entailed.
The next morning, I woke up ready to face this challenge head on. Over the next few weeks I had to start monitoring my ovulation. I had to stimulate more eggs to grow by introducing hormones into my daily routine. I started wearing estrogen patches and had three to four hormone injections a day. I had daily blood draws and ultrasounds to monitor my ovulation. After about two weeks of this routine, I went in for my first egg retrieval to remove the eggs which were being stimulated to grow. When they woke me up from the procedure, they told me that I did great, they retrieved eight eggs and would call me in the morning with the updated fertilization results.
After the retrieval I was on a high. I felt like I did it, this was it! The next morning while I waited for the bus to get to work, the doctor called. “Hi Mariel, we got 8 eggs, 4 mature and 4 immature. I’m sorry I have to tell you this but none of the eggs fertilized.” I was crushed. My high from the retrieval came crashing down. I pulled my sunglasses over my face and continued on with my commute. The next day I picked myself up, eager to start the process over again.
Two weeks later, we began treatment to stimulate my eggs again. This time, I elected for a procedure called ICSI, which is when they inject a single sperm into the egg in order to maximize fertilization results. Out of three mature eggs this round, one fertilized! We did it! We made that embryo! We transferred it into my uterus and I was told to begin taking progesterone injections in preparation for a pregnancy. A day after starting the shots I was extremely sore, could barely walk and I was vomiting. I couldn’t figure out what was happening to me. I called the doctor and found out that I am allergic to the oil the progesterone is in. I switched to a different progesterone and hoped for the best. The two weeks after that were filled with hope and dreaming of what could be. The morning of my pregnancy test I woke up bleeding. Dreams and hopes now shattered. It was time to start this process all over again.
The next cycle got a bit more complicated logistically, as my husband started his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology. After a few weeks of hormone injections and monitoring, I had my retrieval. We got six eggs, three of which were mature. Again, I was filled with hope, anxiously awaiting the phone call from the doctor with my fertilization results. The next morning when the doctor rang, I could tell it was bad news. “Hi Mariel. We got six eggs, but we were not able to fertilize any of them, please discontinue the progesterone. I think we should talk about donor eggs.” Earth shattered.
With three failed cycles behind us, we decided to switch doctors. I met with my new doctor and he restored my hope. We wasted no time in starting. But my first cycle at the new center was canceled halfway through because I didn’t respond to the medications. We ended up doing an IUI instead, which also failed. The details of the next two cycles became a blur. It became a routine for me. Patch, period, shots, blood draws, ultrasounds, trigger, retrieval, and transfer. On day 28 of my fifth IVF cycle, I went in for my pregnancy test and continued on anxiously about my day. Finally, after waiting for what felt like forever, my phone rang. I froze. I couldn’t bring myself to answer. I found a private area in work, pulled out my phone, called my voicemail and burst out crying. “Hi Mariel! Congratulations! Your blood test was positive.” I quickly called my husband. We were over the moon. It was finally our turn. Nine months later, after an uneventful pregnancy, we welcomed our first miracle, Jack.
Jack and I were a team. We did everything together while my husband worked crazy hours in his residency. When Jack was around 18 months old we decided to start our journey for number two, hoping we figured it out and it would come easier this time around. Little did we know, easy was not part of the plan.
We started IVF again, doing three back to back cycles and getting nowhere. On the third cycle we were finally able to freeze one embryo and decided to transfer it in the beginning of the summer. On day 28 I went in for a blood test and got that wonderful phone call again. “Hi Mariel, Congratulations! You are pregnant!” I was so relieved and excited. The next night I went out with my friends for our 30th birthdays and I could barely contain my excitement. But that all came crashing down the next morning. I went to a lab in Deal to take a follow-up blood test. I got a call from my doctor in NYC telling me to come in so we can retest. I left Jack in Deal and jumped in the car, ran to the city, took my blood, and ran back to Deal. Later that afternoon I got a phone call, “I’m so sorry Mariel, this pregnancy is not viable.” Happy 30th birthday to me. We watched the pregnancy for a few weeks since the baby was still growing, but it never developed a heartbeat. My doctor rearranged his schedule to fit me in the next morning for a D&C. Game over, yet again.
Once the beta HCG was out of my system, I was able to start up again. In my first cycle after the miscarriage I was not responding to the medicine. I had only one growing follicle. I spoke to my doctor and we decided to go ahead with the cycle anyway, but yet again it didn’t fertilize. This happened for the next two cycles. I was at my wits’ end. I was done. I was no longer responding to any dose of medication or able to get an egg to fertilize. At this point it was all just part of my routine: 6:30 AM trips to the office for blood work and ultrasound, morning and evening shots, and that small sliver of hope. By the time Passover came around, we had just failed our 12th IVF cycle. We were told that we had less than 1% chance of getting pregnant. We decided to take a month off and reboot.
Once the holiday was over, we got back into the swing of things. At this point we were ready to give it one last shot and if nothing happened, we were calling it quits. Finally, I started to respond to the medicine again. We got four mature eggs! As I waited on pins and needles for the call from the doctor with my fertilization results, I was sure I failed again. Once the phone rang, I quickly answered it. “Hi Mariel, we got four mature eggs and all four fertilized.” I was in disbelief. I was back on the right track. The doctor called the morning of the transfer to discuss how the embryos were growing and how many we wanted to transfer back. “We have two beautiful embryos and two that are not going to make it. With your history, I would transfer both.” So that is what we did.
On the 28th day of my cycle, I went in for a blood test. I was sure it was over. When my phone rang, I couldn’t answer it fast enough. “Hi Mariel.” That was it. I was certain this call was to tell me I failed yet again. “Congratulations! Your numbers look amazing!” We did it!
It was my husband’s last day of residency and we went into the hospital to say goodbye to our friends on the labor and delivery floor. I was about five weeks pregnant. He looked at me and asked if I wanted to do an ultrasound. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. We went into a room and the minute the ultrasound hit me I saw two growing sacs clear as day on the screen. Oh. My. G-d. My husband and I looked at each other, speechless. Not only was I pregnant, but I was having twins! I had a pretty easy pregnancy and at a little over 37 weeks we welcomed our beautiful twin boys. We were ecstatic. We had our family and could finally be done with IVF and all the struggles. We were so grateful for the family that we had fought so hard to build.
Our lives got exciting between caring for twin babies and their older brother. We were enjoying our new normal and the craziness that came with it. Watching them all grow together was something amazing. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.
The day before Jack’s fifth birthday, I had a strange feeling. All the symptoms were telling me my period was coming but it still hadn’t arrived. Something in me made me pull out a pregnancy test and take it. As I took the test I laughed, threw the test in the garbage and walked away. I crawled back into bed, but something wasn’t sitting right with me. I walked to the bathroom and pulled the test out of the garbage. I could not believe my eyes. There it was, clear as day, two maroon lines staring me straight in the face. How was this even possible after all we had been through? I ran to my husband’s office and took a blood test. Lo and behold, it was very much positive. We got pregnant on our own even after being told that I had a less than one percent chance of ever conceiving again. We did it! We beat the odds! We will be welcoming our fourth child this summer, G-d willing.
Our IVF journey has taught me a lot of things. Like how strong I could be when faced with a challenge and how much I am willing to fight for my family. There were many times I felt like giving up, especially over those first three years before having my first son. But I had the support of an incredible husband, and the love and care of family and friends. I found the strength and the courage within myself and continued on despite the onslaught of failures. My husband and I came out the other end closer and stronger than ever. I will never underestimate the strength of a desire for a family and never again fear insurmountable odds. If you keep on keeping on, you will find your family.
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