Like the majority of people in the infertility community, my journey to parenthood didn't exactly go how I had imagined it would. That's actually quite an understatement and one I wouldn't come to understand until about 4 years into our journey to become parents.
We started trying for babies naturally in 2011 right after we got married. I had actually stopped birth control in June of that year and we were married in September. I wanted to be ready to get pregnant in literal minutes after we got married'; however, the joke was on me because it would actually be just shy of 5 years before I would actually get pregnant and stay pregnant.
My husband Joe and I tried the “natural” way for about 2 years. I had no known issues, a very regular period, "normal" blood work and semen analysis results, and clear tubes so there was really no explanation as to why it wasn't happening.
Our patience was running very thin, and we finally decided in September of 2013 to get a referral to a Reproductive Endocrinologist. Within just a few weeks of seeing our first RE, I was having laparoscopic surgery where I was diagnosed with stage I endometriosis. They cleaned up what they could and then we immediately began our first round of fertility treatments through an IUI.
Unfortunately, our first IUI failed, so we decided we would try injectable medications rather than Clomid on our second IUI to be a little more aggressive. At the end of our dreaded two-week wait I found out I was pregnant. My beta was 20—a little on the low side—but the nurse remained optimistic and told me to go back again in two days for another beta. By that time my level had gone up to 50, which was more than double, so again we remained cautiously optimistic.
Unfortunately, over the next few days, my numbers stopped rising and it was deemed a "chemical pregnancy" by our clinic. A chemical pregnancy was not something I was really familiar with. I knew nothing about pregnancy loss, miscarriage, or chemical pregnancy at that time. I had no idea what I had lost.
We attempted 2 more IUIs with injectables, but I kept getting overstimulated with the meds and had to cancel because I had too high a follicle count for an IUI. That’s when we decided to move on to IVF.
In July of 2014 we began stims for our first ever IVF cycle. At my egg retrieval, I had 34 eggs retrieved, 21 of which fertilized, and 7 of which made it to day 5 blastocysts. We were elated with our numbers and thought for sure our baby was going to be one of those seven embryos.
On our first cycle, we transferred one embryo and the transfer failed. We geared up for two subsequent frozen embryo transfers in September and November of that same year and both of those cycles also failed. We were devastated and decided that we needed to take a break and rethink things.
In January of 2015 we decided to get a second opinion, so we switched clinics and doctors. Our new doctor was rated #1 in the state of Illinois so we knew he would be able to get us pregnant. He was much more conservative with his protocol and did some further testing and treatments that my first doctor had not.
At my egg retrieval for our second fresh IVF cycle we had only 10 eggs retrieved, only 5 of them were mature, and unfortunately on day 3 we got a call that we needed to come in for a transfer as the embryos were not progressing well. Another terrible blow to our journey, we transferred two embryos and hoped for the best.
10 days later we found out the cycle had failed. The doctor called me personally to tell me the news and also told me he wanted to see me face to face for a follow-up appointment. It was at this follow up appointment that he told me my egg quality was not good. They could visibly see that I had a harder, thicker, outer shell to my eggs and recommended I consider an egg donor.
I remember being so upset and angry with this doctor. I couldn't believe what he was telling me. We left that clinic and never went back. We had no eggs frozen there and I felt like we were at another crossroads in our journey.
It was at this time we decided that we needed to use the frozen embryos we had left at our first clinic before doing anything else. We had 4 remaining, so we proceeded with another frozen embryo transfer at our first clinic in October of 2015. We decided to transfer 2 embryos thinking maybe it would give us a better shot, but we were wrong. Again, another failed transfer.
My heart was broken, and I was determined yet again to find more answers, this time from a third clinic. In November of 2015, we met with our third doctor. Based on my previous records he told me he would give me a 63% chance of success with 1 PGS tested normal embryo. He reviewed all of the testing we had done and told us that having our embryos tested for chromosomal abnormalities to weed out the ones that were abnormal would help us achieve success.
We started our next cycle right away. I ended up with 16 eggs retrieved, 11 of which fertilized. Our hope that was on day five/six we would have about seven embryos that we would send off for PGS testing. On day five, we got a phone call from the clinic saying that none of our embryos had even progressed to blastocyst stage yet and we needed to come in immediately for a transfer or risk losing all of our embryos. It was a complete shock and disaster, but we dropped everything, headed towards Chicago to our clinic, and transferred the two best embryos. We found out the next day that none of the other embryos had progressed as they should and wouldn’t be sent off for testing.
On December 26th, 2015 we found out that my HcG beta level was an 8. I retested again 48 hours later and my beta was still at an 8, so we stopped meds and accepted that this cycle was also over. It was during the two-week wait of this cycle that I received a message on Facebook from a girl named Amy who had been following my story through social media and my blog. She made an offer that I will never forget, to be a surrogate or an egg donor for us as she felt a calling to help us.
I remember being so shocked and truly just blown away at her generosity to a complete stranger. I had known another person who received donated eggs in the same fashion and I couldn't believe that I was receiving a similar offer.
Secretly, I had already been researching egg donors in our clinic’s database during the two-week wait so I already knew in the back of my mind that this was a route we would potentially go. I knew that I was not going to take another chance with my own eggs if this last cycle ended up failing. My intuition was guiding me, and it was like the universe placed Amy right into my life at the perfect time.
Amy and I grew to know each other over the next several weeks. In this time frame, we found out our last cycle had failed, so I knew that I wanted to pursue Amy's offer sooner than later, but we were complete strangers. We didn't even live in the same state—she lived in Georgia and we lived in Illinois—so there were lots of logistics to consider.
About three weeks after her initial offer I finally mustered up the courage to tell my husband about it. I felt comfortable and had connected with her over that short period of time, and my husband Joe was also pleasantly shocked and surprised by her offer. He said that he was game for whatever I wanted to do, so I began the process of finding an RE in Georgia.
In March of 2016, Joe and I flew to Augusta, Georgia to meet Amy and her family for the first time in person. She was married with two kids at the time and we bonded with them instantly. We became fast friends and had an amazing time with them over the weekend we were there. We also met with our new clinic and had Joe's sperm sample frozen so that we could move forward with Amy's egg retrieval as soon as possible.
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Finally, at the end of May, Amy began her IVF meds and had her egg retrieval done in early June. She had 10 eggs retrieved, 8 of which fertilized, and 6 of which made it to blastocyst. Her egg quality was far superior to mine, and I knew that this was going to work.
On June 16th, 2016 we transferred 1 perfect 4AA blastocyst and 11 days later I found out I was very pregnant with an HcG level of 967. My beta rose very quickly, and at 6w2d we got to see and hear our baby and its heartbeat for the first time. It was so surreal.
At 14 weeks we had a gender reveal and to our surprise, we learned that we were having a girl! We were both so certain that we were having a boy that we didn't have any girl’s names or even any ideas at the time, but we knew that she was meant to be named Georgia June—Georgia for the state in which she was conceived and where her egg donor was from, and June since it was my grandma’s name, and the month in which she was transferred. It's also mine and her dad's birth month.
We finally got to meet our daughter on February 22, 2017 and she was everything we had hoped and dreamed for. Now she is three years old, and to this day she continues to show me that she wasn't going anywhere from the day she was transferred.
She is full of personality, sass, independence, and love. She is our friendly, free-spirited little peach, and I can't imagine our lives without her. There were nine possible children that came before her, nine other babies we didn't get to meet, but I know that every single outcome before this was meant to be a failure because if they hadn’t been we would not have Georgia's beautiful soul in this world.
We have been trying to expand our family and give Georgia a sibling for a little over a year now. In July of 2018, we went back to Georgia for our first sibling cycle which ended up being another chemical pregnancy. We moved forward with a second transfer in October of 2018 in which our embryo split and we ended up finding out at our first ultrasound at 7w2d that we had a blighted ovum (empty sac) and a baby that had stopped growing around 6 weeks.
This has hands-down been the absolute hardest part of our entire journey of infertility. I had a D&C about 2 weeks later, and we are just now gearing up to begin our next transfer cycle. It has taken over a year of healing and getting my mind into the right space to move past the fear of another loss.
Our journey has been long and full of heartbreak, but the outcome of having our daughter greatly outweighs the struggles that we have endured. We now have three embryos left on ice, and we hope that we can give our girl a sibling someday soon, although we know how lucky and blessed we already are to have her in our lives.
We will never be able to repay our donor for her selfless gift to us. It's the kind of gift that most people will never receive in their lifetime, and we know how important it is to honor that.
Elena Ridley is a wife to Joe & a mama to Georgia. She works full time at a utility company and sells oils on the side. Her hobbies include writing & blogging, binging Netflix, and drinking wine along with spending a lot of time with her friends and family. She has a special place in her heart for pugs and loves a good scary movie!