The path to parenthood is never a straight line
Parenthood. So many dream of welcoming a new bundle of joy after they have met their soulmate and settled down. When we are younger, it seems so easy-boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married and start producing the average 2.5 kids. In reality, infertility is a much more widespread disease than many believe. For people that want to be parents, it can be a crushing process full of false hope, tears and grief, grief that even when they’ve succeeded and have had the baby or adopted or accepted their life as is, lingers. Meet two families that have experienced the joys and sorrows of having children by taking the long way around.
The Foster Family
Love came later in life for Janis and Shannon Foster. Janice, an educator, met Shannon, a firefighter and knew right away that it was love. After getting married, they started trying to have children right away, a prospect that they knew might be more difficult due to their ages.
“I have low ovarian reserve, which is very common among women struggling with infertility. I think they say that it affects a third of women. And they don’t know if it is genetic or age-related. I was sitting next to a 27-year-old with the same problem when I was 34.” says Foster.
Knowing that the odds were stacked against them, the Fosters immediately committed to the full regiment of infertility treatments. They attempted five IUI (artificial insemination), all of which failed. They then tried IVF. Twice. Both attempts failed. After accepting that they would not be able to conceive with their own material, they visited an egg bank to find a suitable donor.
After choosing a donor, they attempted IVF again. This time, two embryos took. After their six week appointment, they discovered that one had failed. With one still viable, they attended their first full appointment and heard for the first time a heartbeat.
“When we went back for the 15-week ultrasound, there was no heartbeat and no explanation. The baby was just . . . gone. That was super traumatic and hard. We had worked a year and a half just to get pregnant. I had been on so many medications, and we had been driving 48 miles round trip for treatments. It was devastating,” says Foster.
The doctors saw it as hopeful though and encouraged them to try again since Janis was able to get pregnant this time. They tried again. Once again Janis was able to get pregnant with a donor egg. At eight weeks, she miscarried again.
“There is so little information for women that miscarry. You go to doctor’s appointments and they are normal physically, but no one tells you how to deal with it emotionally. Unless you know someone that has gone through it, there’s just no support there.” says Foster.
The grieving process for Janis was more than for just her lost babies. It was for the lost hope of one day carrying her own. They decided to try adoption.
“We were in the emergency room and my husband looked in my eyes and told me ‘I’m not letting you do this anymore. We are not putting your through this. There’s a child out there just for us and we will find him or her and it will be okay. That was a pivotal moment for us,” says Foster.
Fortunately, their road to adoption was much smoother than their experience with pregnancy. The Fosters had known people that had adopted before through an agency. In May of the same year, they started preparing for the adoption process including an extensive home study with a sea of paperwork. They prepared themselves to wait.
By August 1st, they were on the books and in line to wait for a child. August 20th was the anniversary of one of their miscarriages. On August 22nd, they received the phone call that would change their lives. They had been chosen for a private adoption by a birth mother.
“She was amazing. She took great care of herself. She already had a child but knew that she could not have another child in her current situation and she knew how important that role was. It was nervewracking because she could have changed her mind at any moment,” says Foster.
Fast forward to December of 2014. Austin Foster was born via C-section and given to his family. He’s now 16 months old, happy and healthy and Janis is the mother that she always knew that she would be. They maintain a relationship with his birth mother and intend to let Austin develop a relationship with her as well.
The Link Family
The story of Brittany and Troy Link is an ongoing one. Brittany, a digital marketer, and Troy, an air traffic controller, are currently expecting their first child but the journey there has been anything but smooth. Through all of their journey, they’ve made the choice to be open and honest, trying to foster an atmosphere where their story may encourage others on the same path.
Brittany has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) a very common condition among women. The syndrome can manifest in a variety of ways including obesity, hormone imbalances or strings of cysts on the ovaries. For Link, the extra cysts meant that when she did ovulate, there were too many folicles to choose from so they didn’t pick anything. She was diagnosed after eight months of trying to conceive. They decided to try infertility treatments when she received her next period. It never came. She was pregnant.
Their joy quickly turned to sadness. Brittany miscarried at eight weeks. The grief was palpable.
“Troy really helped me deal with the grief and let me know it was okay. He pointed out that it wasn’t just the baby that was gone but the opportunity for the memories and experiences that came with it,” says Brittany.
They proceeded with treatments. They tried four rounds of Clomid, a drug that forces ovulation. It was unsuccessful. They moved on to Letrozole paired with IUI. Letrozole is a new drug. On the third round of Letrozole they became pregnant and then miscarried after four and half weeks.
At this point, the Links came into conflict with their doctors. Knowing that Brittany had low progesterone, her doctors refused to prescribe progesterone supplements. They started looking elsewhere and changed clinics.
After finding a new doctor, they continued testing and found that Brittany had a septate uterus, which means there was a division in the center. She had surgery to correct it. After correcting that, they found that Troy had low sperm levels. They were told that it would be nearly impossible to conceive naturally. The doctors recommended IVF.
The Links wanted to give themselves one more chance and cajoled the doctors into prescribing Letrozole again.
“The entire process seemed to be us talking the doctors into taking each step. It was very apparent that the fertility clinics were run as a business, not a practice,” says Troy. “They didn’t seem aware of our situation or concerned with taking every possible step. They just pushed us toward the most extreme option.”
Sometimes, intuition is the best indicator. Instead of jumping into IVF, they tried a few rounds of injectibles and Letrozole, while they checked out a clinic in Arizona. While they checked out the clinic, they found out that they were pregnant. Although there were some rough patches so far, they are now in their second trimester. Brittany listens to her baby’s heartbeat every day on a handheld monitor.
“I’m really grateful that we didn’t have to do IVF. The success rate for each cycle is only 50-60%. Plus there are so many moral decisions that you have to make too with the possibility of multiple embryos.” says Brittany.
The entire experience has really emphasized to the Links that support is essential. Brittany has participated in the Kansas City Infertility Awareness and Hope Ministries, a support group for miscarriage and infant loss. She says that through it all, she wanted to emphasize that infertility isn’t a result of anything except illness, an illness that doesn’t deserve the hushed tones and stigma that it currently carries.
“I think one thing that was really hard for both Troy and I during our struggle was that people around us looked at our struggle like it was an easy fix. ‘You’re just stressed’, ‘You need a trip away’, or ‘It’ll happen in its own time’. What people don’t understand is that infertility is a disease. It doesn’t have to do with stress, needing a trip, or the stars not aligning. It’s a real problem, just like any other disease. And it needs to be treated, either naturally or medically,” says Brittany.
What she says is true. There are no straight lines to parenthood and support is necessary no matter what the path that a family takes to get there. Thank you to the Links and the Fosters for sharing their journeys with us.
For more information about infertility, visit KCinfertility.org