By. Amanda Ellis, BSN, RN
The path to parenthood is different for everyone and infertility can impact anyone, even an infertility nurse. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, we asked one of our wonderful nurses, Amanda Ellis to share her story. We hope it encourages you to share your own infertility story.
I am a fertility nurse. Since 2005 I have helped thousands of people create their families. When I am feeling most proud of my work, I tell people, “I help people navigate the path to parenthood”.
Two years into my career, my husband and I decided to have our first child. I planned very carefully as any fertility nurse would. I charted my cycles, took my prenatal vitamins and had even convinced myself that at the age of 31 I would have a difficult time getting pregnant; it’s all I’d ever known.
To my delight we conceived my first cycle of trying.
In the beginning, it was a wonderful pregnancy. Hardly any nausea, little weight gain and all my ultrasounds were perfect. Perfect until 18 weeks when I had my fetal survey.
I walked into the doctor’s office bubbling with anticipation to find out the baby’s gender and I left with a knife stabbed through my heart. Terms such as “two vessel cord, possible heart defect, unable to clearly visualize her stomach, hands and feet” crowded my brain. I actually don’t remember the details of the appointment but I felt like my world had blown up and I was severely wounded.
The rest of my pregnancy was pure turmoil. Though the amniocentesis genetic test was normal the ultrasound still showed potential anatomical problems. What made it worse is that one specialist would tell me the ultrasounds looked fine and when I would go back to the perinatalogist for confirmation, he would say, “yes, but…” always a sense of uneasiness in his voice.
Friends and family reassured me that doctors could be wrong but I am a nurse; I know medicine. Yet I still wanted to remain hopeful. Perhaps my fears were worse than the reality.
My perfect daughter Marley was born in February 2008, full term by induction for intrauterine growth restriction. She was 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Marley’s birth revealed to us a number of congenital birth defects such as disfigured fingers, toes, a tethered cord and sacral dimple. Over the next 2 years we were assaulted by additional problems- developmental delays, seizure disorder, heart defect, retinal coloboma, hearing loss and skeletal dysplasia. Autism. She is also completely non-verbal. Only through extensive genetic testing that was not available until a couple of years ago did we learn that she has a very small mutation on her 22nd chromosome. A mutation passed on to her by me and my husband. An autosomal recessive mutation.
Her birth was one of the saddest days of my life and for the first two years I struggled with shock and the deepest grief I have ever felt. This was not how I envisioned motherhood. Before genetic confirmation was available, our geneticist revealed that we most likely had a 25% chance of having another affected child. My dream of having another biological child was crushed. 25% was too big a chance to risk breaking my heart all over again.
Not only did I grieve the loss of my “perfect” child but I grieved the loss of creating anymore children with my husband or even being pregnant again. I remember lamenting with a coworker from the fertility clinic who recently had a daughter from IVF using an anonymous sperm donor. She offered to me the best gift a friend could ever share with another friend- her remaining embryos. She and her wife did not want any more children but were not ready to discard the embryos. My husband asked me what I wanted for my 35th birthday. I responded, “a healthy baby”.
In the summer of 2010, I began my first Natural Frozen Embryo Transfer cycle. After I ovulated, I traveled to San Francisco to transfer one perfect, frozen embryo into my ready uterus.
I found myself in a situation that I never imagined myself being in as a fertility nurse- the patient.
As I waited the agonizing 9 days until my pregnancy test, I became acutely aware of the the stress my patients must feel when they throw all of their hopes and dreams into this one cycle. This one small embryo.
Just before my 35th birthday I had my first HCG test and it was positive! Two days later the level doubled as expected. The rest of the pregnancy was blissfully boring and unremarkable. Which is exactly what I wanted!
My daughter, Lila was born in April 2011. She is a beautiful, healthy, feisty 5 year old who has helped to heal my heart and normalize our crazy life. Lila is Marley’s best friend, therapist and biggest advocate. We continue our relationship with the couple who gave us the embryos. Their daughter is a few years older than Lila and as full biological siblings, they absolutely adore each other even though they don’t live together. Perhaps that is why they get along so well! Lila is fully aware of her life story and how special she is to us.
To pay this life-changing gift forward, I then donated the remaining embryos to a single mother who desired a second child. She did a frozen embryo transfer in July 2015 and now has an adorable one-year-old daughter. This summer, all three sisters and families will get together for our first official “family reunion.”
There are many ways to become a mom or to build a family. Parenthood is achievable if you keep your options open and trust fate. Your perfect child is waiting for you. In the meantime, keep hope, keep love and stay on your path to parenthood.