To tell this story fully, I have to go back to when I was 15, sitting in a specialist office listening to a doctor tell me I will never have kids of my own. I looked over to see tears running down my dad’s face, because he understood. You see, I was a miracle baby. My parents tried for many many years before and after me to have children. I was a sudden, one time, miracle. My parents knew the weight of infertility, the waiting, the heartache, the desperation, the loneliness. I however, at 15 years old, could not have cared less that I was going through menopause. I didn’t want or care about kids - who does at 15?!
Let me back up. Yes, I said menopause. I have a rare condition known as premature ovarian failure. The word failure should have tipped me off, but, I didn't think much about it in high school (or college). Rather, I just sat in science class and had hot flashes. Fun!
Fast forward to a Perkins Diner in 2010. While Aaron (boyfriend of 3 months) devoured a giant stack of pancakes and smoked sausage (the only real reason we ended up at Perkins), my heart started to thump thump thump because I had to tell him something really important. “I will never have children of my own, because I have no ovary function and no eggs.” I don’t remember his exact words, and I don’t think he remembers much of this conversation, but I think he pretty much said, “Uh, ok… well whatever, we will figure it out.” And that was that. He still married me, and never defined me by this "condition." He didn't see this is as my challenge. It was our challenge, and one we'd worry about later.
(He is a good one - I will get to that more later.)
2010: we were just babies...
I knew all along that carrying a child was something I wanted and felt called to, even after thinking about these things later on in college and when dating. Once married, Aaron and I never felt that it was simply a selfish hope and desire for me to carry a child, it felt like an assurance from our Lord and Savior that was backed up so many times for both of us through scripture and in other ways. Adoption was talked about, over and over. The Lord never pushed us that direction, or to not having children at all. Adoption is beautiful in endless ways, and we certainly never felt that there is ANYTHING WRONG with adoption (and who knows maybe that is a future story for us) but it was clear that God wasn’t calling us to that yet. VERY clear. Every vision Aaron and I had of our future involved me carrying a child.
So, early into our marriage, my incredibly smart, planner, husband, said we should start a “baby” account because we felt called to try IVF with donor eggs. IVF in general is commonly known to be expensive, but throw a donor into it and it just gets absurd. Like, pay cash up front for college absurd. Actually, let's just be specific. To even pick a donor and begin the process we had to pay $28,000 up front. Indiana is a “no mandate” state, meaning companies are not required to provide infertility coverage, so why would they? Did you see the price tag above?? The burden and pressure involved with the monetary side of infertility is almost incomprehensible. Who at the age of 30 has that kind of money sitting around? Like I said before, we had a bit saved, maybe half of that specifically for IVF, but WOWZA…(more on this later)
Let's pause for a second here and talk about picking a donor (you read that correct: donor eggs). It is kind of exactly like you would envision it.... an E-harmony profile full of information, and a few pictures. Since Aaron and I were both super familiar with that, and it had worked for us, hey! Perfect right??
4 years into marriage, around January of 2016, we picked a donor and prepared for our first transfer. Both of us (and the incredible doctors and staff at Midwest Fertility) felt confident that we knew what my issue was and that I had upwards of an 80% chance of a successful transfer using a donor egg. So we transferred our first little embryo babe on May 3, 2016. They were right, and we were ecstatic to get a positive test 8 days after our transfer. Everything was perfect, just as we planned. We had 2 frozen embryos for future siblings and the bill was already paid. Perfect..
At our 7 week ultrasound, Aaron and I were so excited to hear a heartbeat. (Side note: I think it is absolutely amazing that a heartbeat can be heard around 6 weeks which would have been just 3 weeks after an embryo transfer). BUT, as soon as I saw the doctors face, while he stared at the screen "searching", I knew it had all come apart and our baby was not alive anymore. This will prove to still be one of the most traumatic days of my life. I sobbed the entire way home, feeling the weight of sadness and loss. As many many women know, the physical and emotional pain of miscarriage is almost unbearable. You are not only emotionally hurting the physical pain involved makes you feel like the world is ending. Unfortunately, things weren't about to get much better. We had no idea what awaited us.
So much of infertility is waiting. I had been anxious from waiting from when we picked the donor to the first transfer, then after a miscarriage you have to wait some more.. the anxiety was building. We planned our second transfer for August 10, 2016. Keep in mind I am in the midst of wedding season and quickly approaching fall which is the busiest time of year for me. We had initially started this process so that I would have a baby out of wedding season.. it is so funny to think of that now.. trying to time this? HA!
Anyway.. Transfer number 2 (+$4600) was a failure, even with 80% odds of success. We are devastated, and confused. We are $32,600 plus the cost of meds into this with no baby, and now have one embryo left and no chance for "biological" siblings. For me, the pressure with 1 embryo left was debilitating. Not only did we want a baby, if this next transfer (+$2000 - doctor gave us a discount) wasn't successful we were about to completely lose $35,000.
And so we did.....
We lost every single cent, all of our embryos, and most of my hope.
Admittedly, I was broken, anxious, and angry at the Lord for allowing this. Why? Why was He telling us to do this, if it wasn't working? What was wrong with me? Google was making things worse! This was my confused and extremely anxious stage. But, in my darkest moments, God's presence was there. He was pursuing me, still. I was starting to understand that God was doing something. He was testing us, and as you can see from the adult coloring I did as therapy, I was really starting to believe that "We will stand amazed to see the topside of the tapestry and how God beautifully embroidered each circumstance into a pattern for our good and His glory" -Joni Eareckson Tada
The tapestry was being created, and amid the hopelessness, I found something amazing. I found several girl friends who were all going through infertility. I can't even begin to tell you how these women began to put me back together, piece by piece. Giving advice, listening with me, crying with me, and me crying with them. We were walking this journey and waiting through this journey together. We texted constantly, we got together, and I started learning. Not only about myself, and these women, but about this process. I could tell if someone was struggling through Facebook posts, or from across a room, because I started to recognize the same pain in others. The Lord gives us those gifts, and the bold person that I am, I would ask them about it and we would meet up for coffee or lunch and cry together, talk through it together, and learn together.
The Lord was creating something beautiful out of the ashes of my heart.
Alas, we took a few months off because we didn’t know what to do. I talked through it with the girls and with Aaron. I researched programs at other clinics. I didn’t want to do this all over with the risk of losing all of that money again. I knew other clinics offered "guarantee" programs and thus asked Midwest to create a program for me. (I am probably not allowed to talk about it much, but the staff at Midwest Fertility and my doctor are such incredible people. My doctor was gracious, caring, and genuinely on my side and willing to help in any way possible.) After agreeing to do some testing, we were offered a 100% money back guarantee if we went through 3 more donor rounds and didn’t have a baby. I felt like the Lord had opened a door and further proved that we were doing what He wanted us to do. BUT, it wasn't free. Or close. Unless $46,000 is close to free...? That's a big number, especially coming off the heels of a little bit smaller but still a large number. We now faced the whole "hey do banks still have cash in their vaults because that's what it's going to take to pay for this" question/dilemma.
To help think and process possible next steps, we went on a mini vacation. I was turning 30, it was our 5th anniversary, so Aaron surprised me with a trip to Universal Orlando, and we talked and talked and talked about how to do this (and which banks to rob). We also ate, and drank Harry Potter World butterbeer, and rode a million rides until I about threw up. We were able to find joy in the process. Living while waiting, hurting, and being in a state of despair is SO important. Keep on living. I would love to say I did this well, and at times I did, and at times I didn't. That is ok. It is ok to hurt. It is ok to shy away from a baby shower, or to say no to that friend with the newborn. Sometimes it was JUST SO HARD. BUT living was what I continually tried to do.
I mentioned that I would talk about Aaron again, because through all of this I have realized that my husband is my rock. Yes we might not occasionally see eye to eye and at times we drive each other nuts (he loves sports and listening to podcasts and audiobooks at 2.0x speed - I don't like either of those things!) but he is incredibly steady, and always has a way of bringing me back down to earth. He was constantly praying for me and us, he would get me out of my routine and our house by taking me on trips to distract me, and most importantly, he listened. A lot... let me cry on his shoulder, and let me eat as much ice cream as I needed. AND.. not to mention, married a VERY expensive, infertile woman and didn't complain about it once. NOT ONCE did he make me feel like this was my fault he was emptying a retirement account or we were spending all of our savings because of me. NEVER. If that isn't a testament to the type of man he is, I don't know what is. When emotions are high, we often say things we don't mean or do mean just would never actually say them, and I really don't believe he ever resented me for this. (this is Aaron here - no resentment coming from me!)
sigh... I just love him.
Well, we found the money, I still really don’t know how or where it all came from. Well, actually, I do. The Lord. He provided it. It's His money anyway. I firmly believe it is because Aaron from day 1 of our marriage has made it our number one priority to give at least 10% of what we earn back to God. Discipline is one of God's gifts to Aaron - even the month we paid $46,000 to Midwest Fertility, we gave our 10%. I don’t say this to pat ourselves on the back, I say this because God is faithful, when we are faithful (and even when we aren't faithful!). It may not always look like we want it to, but oh He is good.
So.. we move on to Donor #2 (3 embryos again)
Transfer 4,5,6 were all failures in some way. By now I am 6 IVF transfers in and all of us are at a complete loss. At one of our doctor meetings my doctor (who is also a Christian and an absolute saint, we would not have made it through this without him) told me that I am the patient who wakes him up in the middle of the night because he just cannot figure me out and he worries. I am a complete mystery. With 80% success rates each transfer, all of my tests coming back completely fine... for us to come up empty 6 times in a row is unconscionable. Our doctor said 1% of people in the world would throw a coin and hit tails 10x in a row. "That person is you. You are my toughest case right now.”
OK… God do we keep going? Do I keep putting myself through this? Shot after shot, medication after medication, loss after loss. I am SO tired. I don't think I want to keep going.. then the Lord hits me with this verse..
I nearly fell to the floor when he showed me this verse, again... I mean, I have read it 100 times, but this time was different. All I heard were the words Steadfast to completion. I even made someone on Etsy put it on a necklace for me. I will remain steadfast, not only in this process but in my faith. God, we don't deserve a baby. We don't deserve salvation. Yet you provided your son Jesus willingly, and when I stepped back and took a long look at my life, what else did I need other than salvation? Aaron and I both love the Lord, and have done our best to follow him in good and bad times.
At this point in the process I'm thinking WOW this is so incredibly hard, but I have an amazing family, an amazing husband, two wonderful puppies, an amazing home, and Salvation. I resolve to remain steadfast in my relationship with the Lord, because He is good. He has given me the only hope I will ever need. Not a baby, but Jesus.
And so, we continue because the Lord told us to. Loudly.
Donor #3. More bad news (only 2 embryos, and 1 of them wasn't doing well) At this point, the bad news was honestly just an expectation and just as devastating. Every. single. time. more crying, more confusion, more waiting.
Lucky Transfer Number 7: November 16, 2017 (18 months after our first transfer and 2 years after officially beginning this IVF process). We had decided that we had to up our odds somehow during this transfer, and only having 2 embryos just made sense for us to put them both in. The day of transfer started great. I love transfer days (because I get a Valium). The doctor came in and everything was fine until he told me that 1 of the embryos wasn't looking good and had most likely died. I think in that moment it was the the last piece of bad news my body, mind, soul and spirit could handle. After almost two years, I just couldn't hold it in anymore. I just cried. Actually, I sobbed. I sobbed through the entire procedure, I remember trying not to shake... I cried on the way home, and ate fast food, and a chocolate shake.. because who cares. This wasn't going to work... why would it work the 7th time, or even the 10th or 20th.
In this moment of utter weakness I fell apart and was close to being hopeless. I was done and resigned to thinking I wouldn't carry a child. I knew I was done with this process. I wanted our money back, and to be done. I wanted to go to Hawaii, and Australia, and Europe, and forget this whole mess. (Lots of hormones tend to up the hopelessness also, but I really had reached my limit this time.)
BUT..Something happened after that day that I can barely explain. I remember my first prayer was God, I can't do this again, I can't pray for a baby one more time... You have heard it, and I simply no longer have the words... Holy Spirit, who lives in me, intervene and talk to Jesus seated at the right hand of God with the words that are in my heart, because I. just. can't.
So He did.
The words that came out of my heart and mouth were like nothing I could have made up on my own - the Spirit was driving and I was just listening. Powerful scriptures and lyrics like "The same power that rose Jesus from the grave, lives in me" and can give these embryos life.. were pouring out of me like water. Scriptures I hadn't even know I remembered would come to my head and spill out. I remember 3 specific instances: 1 in the middle of the night where I know the Spirit woke me up and took over my heart and interceded for me and our little embryo.
It was miracle time.
I waited 10 days to test... If you understand this process you know that typically you can see something around day 5-6... nope. I am not testing. I don't even want to know. But, wow am I SOOOO tired. I am so crampy... and hungry...
I only took a few tests... had to be sure of course...
I was pregnant, like for real!! I had lines that lasted days and days... 3 blood tests then confirmed. My doctor saw me at my second blood draw, pulled me around the corner and hugged me and we jumped up and down together laughing. BUT..
I had a major step to go. I had to hear a heartbeat..
Remember when I said that my first ultrasound back in May of 2016 was one of the most traumatizing days of my life. Here is where that comes back to haunt.. Yes, I had been here before, 18 months ago, and it was ultrasound time again.
I was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane... I didn't want a repeat of my last one.. I was terrified, I am pretty sure Aaron was terrified (Aaron here - I wasn't terrified for me, I was terrified for Sarah). My doctor was pacing...literally pacing. He was as nervous as we were. I took a deep breath and within 30 seconds his hands were to the ceiling and he had the biggest smile on his face.
Thank you Lord. Thank you!!
I immediately began sobbing with relief and joy. Little Baby Shields was perfectly on schedule at 6w5d. Heart was beating loud and true. The doctor said "Oh my gosh, I have to go call my wife and tell the entire office," and he ran out of the room... I think he was as excited and relieved as were were. All my nurses came in to hug and congratulate us. It was the most surreal moment.
And so, Miracle Baby Shields is on its way. We have had 4 perfect ultrasounds now and are due August 4.
As I reflect on this journey, I don’t think it is a coincidence that my name is Sarah Elizabeth. I just so happened to be named after the two most famous infertile women in the Bible, who I may add, both got a miracle...
Pain is never wasted. I have already seen the Lord using this to His glory. A friend and I started a monthly support group at my house for women who are still struggling with infertility. We hope to not only educate, and support, but to share how the Lord can give us true hope in the midst of suffering and how to remain steadfast in a consuming time of pain and heartache. As I've learned, if we listen, God whispers you are not alone dear one... remain steadfast unto completion.
In our worthy journey, He has been the source of our hope. He is the hero of our story.
A few fun facts
We are only having 1 baby, not twins, we did lose our 1 embryo. (We already have twins, of sorts: Hoosier and Haley)
We will NOT find out gender. and will not share names until after baby arrives.
This will probably be our only child, but only children are amazing ;)
Because the numbers mentioned previously don't really include everything, in total we spent more than 5 figures in the last 2 years, but we are IVF debt free. God gets all the glory!