The journey my husband Don and I took to get our miracle baby began in 2009 with in vitro fertilization.
As many of you know, the New Year brought me new beginnings: I became a mother. What many of you may not know about is the journey my husband Don and I took to get here, beginning in 2009 with in vitro fertilization (IVF) and ending with little Emmie, who truly is our miracle baby.
Sharing my story is not about offering promises. My hope is to help other struggling couples with their heartaches and hopes. I understand the maternal drive to go on even though your mind says, "I can't go on anymore."
Just call me pin cushion.
Those are the words I typed into my journal back in 2009.
As any woman who undergoes IVF will tell you, there comes a point where you stop counting the number of shots for each IVF cycle: Shots in the morning, shots in the evening and shots in the stomach, shots in the behind. But with each shot, you feel like you are injecting yourself with hope.
Stick, little one, stick.
Our first IVF cycle produced only six eggs. Not great, but the doctors at Ohio Reproductive Medicine in north Columbus told us it was better than some. Only one egg fertilized. Talk about a letdown. But we went into our embryo transfer day thinking "fertile thoughts," as a good friend told me to do. I'll never forget seeing the nurse walk in with what looked like a spatula and proclaiming, "Here it is!"
Apparently, our one little embryo was on that "spatula," ready to make its way into my womb.
"Think of it like lint, sticking to Velcro," our doctor said.
Fifteen minutes went by while I rubbed my belly, thinking fertile thoughts.
The next few weeks felt like years. Each blood test, my HCG level - the test used to determine if you are pregnant - would go up, each time doubling the way a woman should if she was pregnant. At six weeks, we finally heard the sound every new parent dreams of hearing: The thump, thump, thump, thump of a fast, tiny heart.
We called that little thumper "Soybean" because that's what it looked like on the ultrasound. Sadly, two weeks later, the thumping stopped. Soybean went to heaven.
"Oh, Angela… I'm so sorry, but I don't hear the heartbeat," we were told.
I kept telling my husband "I'm sorry" even though he kept telling me it wasn't my fault. I remember him saying, "We can try again if you want to." Those were the words that led us to our second, third and fourth IVF attempts.
Our fourth try took us out west to the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, which is renowned for its genetic-testing lab. We thought doctors might be able to tell us why our previous attempts failed.
I don't know if it was Denver's altitude or beautiful scenery, but something felt right. We came out of the cycle strong: 19 eggs. Twelve fertilized and eight made it to Day 3. The best results we ever had! But in order to do the genetic testing on the embryos, we had to wait until Day 5.
We were back in Columbus when that call came from Denver. Only one embryo had made it to Day 5. My optimism of becoming a mother quickly faded:
I was crushed. My heart broke. And not just in half. Into little pieces that I knew I would never find.
A week later, the Denver clinic called us with our genetic results.
The one renegade embryo had no foreseeable genetic defects to affect implantation. We thought we had just won the lottery. It was November 2011 when I became pregnant again, but my HCG numbers didn't increase the way a healthy pregnancy's should. The doctors delivered the news I could already feel - there was no baby. We never heard a heartbeat.
I want to die. I want to cry. I want to scream and shout and hit something so hard that this pain I'm feeling won't feel as bad.
Yet through my pain, I couldn't shake this drive to become a mother, probably stronger than I realized at the time, as I look back at what I wrote in my journal:
I am believing in miracles. I am believing that there is a greater power that grants good to those who deserve it. I am hoping with everything I believe in and know… that the answers will finally show us the way.
Then, in early 2012, my husband nearly died from a rare lung infection. Thankfully, he is fine today but I'll never forget what he said when I told him the thought of losing him made me want to go for a fifth try.
"Honey, you'd make a great mom," he said. "You deserve to be a mother. I know how much this means to you and to me."
So it came as no surprise to Dr. Grant Schmidt when we showed back up at his office at Ohio Reproductive Medicine. I told him something in me kept telling me this time - this fifth time - was the one where we'd reach the finish line.
"Angela," he said, "I will never tell a woman 'no' when she tells me she has a sense or a feeling that this could be it."
No joke - our fifth IVF cycle started on April Fools' Day 2012.
Repeat the pin cushion. Repeat the blood tests. Repeat the nervousness.
This time we had six eggs that fertilized and we transferred them all.
Yes, all six embryos (my husband was a bit of a nervous wreck, if you can imagine).
And then… thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.
There it was. The sound of life beginning. One embryo made it… soon to become our little girl.
Some people ask if I would have done anything differently. I don't think so.
When you're in that "moment," you have to do what you feel is best for you. Finances and emotions take their toll and there is no cookie-cutter path that makes one decision easier or harder than the next.
I will say this: Ask a lot of questions. Don't assume you'll be given all the answers.
On January 8, 2013, I became a mother to a healthy, beautiful daughter.
She took 24 hours to deliver, but she was years in the making.