Stephanie’s ordeal included IVF, ICSI, surgery on her blocked fallopian tubes and more disappointment than anyone should experience
Stephanie and her husband met in 1999, 20 years ago. He already had two children of his own from a previous relationship. They were 2 and 4 at the time. Having more kids then was definitely not on the couple’s radar.
A couple years later, Stephanie got really sick and was in a lot of pain. They went to the ER and after several tests and ultrasounds, the doctor found she had an ovarian cyst that needed to be removed immediately. So into surgery she went.
When Stephanie came out, the surgeon informed her that she also had an infection in her fallopian tubes, which caused them to collapse. The doctor assured Stephanie that she had scraped all the infection out of the tubes and that Stephanie wouldn’t have to worry about it again.
“Little did I know that it most certainly would come back to haunt me. But at that time, I didn’t even give any of it a second thought,” she says. “I was just happy to not be sick and in pain anymore.”
First, NOT not trying to get pregnant, then IVF
More years had passed, and when the couple started talking about expanding their family, they decided they would just not NOT try. Five years later in 2004 they got married. Once married they decided they were going to really try to get pregnant. Disappointment month after month went on for a couple years, and they finally discussed this further with their doctor. They began the insemination process and she thinks they did three rounds of that with no luck.
They were then referred to Dr. Galan at RSC in San Ramon [Dr. Galan is no longer with RSC]. After several tests, it was determined that Stephanie’s fallopian tubes were full of scar tissue from the infection she had years ago.
In 2007 Stephanie and her husband had their first in vitro fertilization (IVF) harvest and fresh transfer. The team had harvested 19 eggs, and 17 were fertilized right away. Of those they transferred two to Stephanie’s womb, froze five on day 5 and three on day 6.
Everything had gone as “perfect” as could have been expected. Unfortunately, the cycle was unsuccessful. “It was probably the most heartbreaking negative pregnancy test of any of the others throughout the years,” recalls Stephanie.
The joy of a positive pregnancy test
It took about another year for her to prepare her mind and finances to try for a frozen cycle. “This time, there was a study going on for vaginal progesterone, so to help out with medication costs, we joined,” says Stephanie. “We also did a procedure called endometrial scratching the month prior to transfer.”
The day of the transfer the two were so excited and nervous. Everything was again “going perfect.” They got to the room for transfer and were informed that there was a problem with the embryos. They said they thawed two from day 5 and they didn’t survive, so they thawed two more that also didn’t survive. So instead of thawing the last one from day 1, they thawed two from day 6, which both survived and were beautiful still. Those two embryos were transferred.
“IT WORKED! Positive pregnancy test,” says Stephanie. “We went on to have an amazing pregnancy, and delivered a healthy 10 lb, 8 oz. boy via C-section in August 2009.”
Roller derby mom’s surprise pregnancy & fallopian tube removal
In 2010 Stephanie joined a roller derby league and played for a few years. By 2012 she was captain of the team and traveling for games. Having more kids, while in the back of their minds, was not really a topic of discussion. They always knew they would, but just never had the plan laid out as to when.
“I remember not feeling too well, and shortly after returning from a training clinic, I found myself sick and in lots of pain. I took myself to the ER with the assumption that I had another ovarian cyst as this is exactly how I had felt several years ago,” says Stephanie. “After spending the day in the ER the doctor came in to tell me that my pregnancy test came back positive! WHAT?!? That’s not how this happens. I have never in my life been pregnant without help, and at that it was only once. How was this even possible?”
She wanted to be excited, a little part of her was. But she and her husband knew something was not right. Turns out, it was an ectopic pregnancy – in those darn tubes full of scar tissue. With the help of methotrexate, the pregnancy was ended. She continued to have pain in her tubes. After several consults, the decision was to remove the tube.
“BUT I had to decide on removing the other tube or not. Now I was as confused as ever,” she recalls. “Do I take them both out? They never worked. I had been told they never would … BUT … one DID just work. What if the other one would ‘wake up’ and work? So we decided to take just the one.”
Now, feeling baby fever all over again the couple decided it was time to start planning when the best time was for another frozen transfer, while hoping that maybe they would spontaneously get pregnant again. The only catch: with only one day 5 and one day 6 embryo left, was there hope?
Heartbreaking negative pregnancy test – then the comments
They went back to RSC and were transferred to Dr. Louis Weckstien as Dr. Galan was no longer treating.
They started the cycle and again, everything looked perfect. This time, they decided to do the transfer under anesthesia because the last transfer was hard on all parties because, “My cervix wouldn’t cooperate,” says Stephanie. “They don’t thaw the embryos until right before the transfer while I am being prepped. I wouldn’t even let the nurse put an IV in because I was sure he was going to come back and tell me they didn’t survive. I was half right! One didn’t make it (I assume the day 5 embryo) and the other one was barely hanging on.”
After discussing statistics with the doctor and hearing his cautious optimism, they decided to go for it. He transferred the one remaining embryo. Two weeks later, negative pregnancy test.
“Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe what we felt. That was it. Right?! Or was it? How could I continue on in life knowing that all I wanted was to have more children?” Stephanie asked herself.
Then the comments from others started …
“You’re so lucky to have your son.”
“Isn’t he enough?”
“You really want to put yourself through all of this again?”
“How can you afford to continue to do this?”
“Just stop worrying about it.”
“It will happen when you least expect it.”
“Don’t stress about it or it won’t happen.”
“Just don’t think about it.”
Those things got into Stephanie’s head – big time!
“Most of them I could shrug off,” she says, “but the one nagging one was, How CAN we afford to keep going? But, how can I afford to live life not feeling like we have completed our family? Will I forever have a small hole in my heart, my soul, for more children? Will it last forever, have I exhausted ever single option I possibly could to either make this work or be forced to give up?”
Shocking the doc: Let’s try IVF again, with ICSI
A few weeks later, Dr. Weckstein called right before the couple was scheduled for what would have been their 6 week ultrasound consult after a negative test. He was very empathetic and wanted to let them know that because they had no more embryos left, they didn’t have to keep the appointment with him. He understood they had been through so much in the last several years, and with nothing left to transfer they really didn’t need to be seen, as there was nothing further to discuss as far as going forward with the next cycle.
“I think I shocked him a little and told him, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but I was ready to start from square one.’ So off we went. Back to harvest. At this point we had a little more against us than just my infertility. My husband’s semen weren’t the lookers and swimmers they used to be. So we needed a bit more help. We decided that ICSI [intracytoplasmic sperm injection] would be the route to go this time around.”
As Stephanie and her husband headed into transfer time, they discussed the possibility of skipping the fresh transfer, as it took such a toll on her body the first go-round and ended in a unsuccessful cycle. However, with the thought of their first embryo not surviving the freezing and thawing process before, it really wasn’t an option unless they only had a few embryos. Well, again, perfect cycle – ended up with upward of 15 eggs. They transferred two.
“To our surprise, I did end up pregnant with this transfer. For two days I was really excited. Then the doctor called and said the numbers hadn’t doubled,” she recalls. “I repeated the blood work every other day for at least a week. The numbers were going up but not like they should. Then I started bleeding really bad with a lot of pain. Later that day I ended up in surgery for D&C (dilation & curettage) and removal of my other fallopian tube, which was very inflamed but no sign of fetus.”
After recovering, they went in for a frozen cycle. Stephanie got pregnant again. They went in for the 6 week ultrasound and saw two sacks but no sign of fetus or heartbeats. They went in a week later.
“We saw a little flicker of a heartbeat, but it was hard to find and not what it should have been. The next week, nothing. The next week I had another D&C and hysteroscopy to see if there was anything concerning why the recurrent miscarriages.”
Pregnant, cautious then feeling complete
In November 2016 they went in for another frozen transfer of two embryos. Two weeks later, positive pregnancy test. Everything was going great, but Stephanie had a really hard time attaching to this pregnancy.
“I would tell myself, I’ll get excited at the next appointment when I get to see them. But I kept telling myself that at every appointment. The next one, the next one.” After about 20 weeks and two episodes of ER visits due to bleeding, she got more comfortable with it. Stephanie had a smooth pregnancy after 20 weeks and delivered her twin girls in July 2016.
“Shortly after the girls were born, I had a sudden overwhelming feeling of completeness. Which was strange for me because for the last 10 years, I had struggled with feeling that I was going to live forever never feeling complete or still wanting more kids.”
A few months later they contacted RSC to sign their embryos over to the embryology team. The couple took this step so RSC could teach new embryologists their thawing techniques in hopes that another couple would benefit from that and not have embryos succumb to the thawing process like Stephanie and her husband’s did.
“Even though it’s been over three years since we have been to RSC, I have a huge attachment to them. I practically lived there for the better part of a decade,” Stephanie says.
“Things that people don’t realize when going through treatment is that you are there every other day (if not every day) for a good portion of your cycles. I remember sitting in traffic for sometimes more than an hour, day in and day out just to make my appointments. And then one day (good or bad outcome) it’s just over. And that’s really hard, too.”
– Stephanie Weatherby