Treatments, surrogacy and adoption are some options for couples facing infertility
Four iReporters share their personal pathways through infertility
This story is part of our coverage during Infertility Awareness Week. Share your story with us on iReport or use the hashtag #InfertilityStories on Twitter.
Infertility is the roadblock to starting a family that most do not expect.
It can silence dreams, dash hopes, challenge any faith and drive a wedge between two people who only wanted to bring a new life into the world.
Some try to overcome this complication by pursuing various treatments, adoption or surrogacy. These pathways can be fraught with even more challenges: emptied pockets, medical scares, failure and emotional turmoil.
We asked our readers to share these stories of their journeys during Infertility Awareness Week. They opened up about their successes and failures, their tears and smiles.
Here are four personal pathways through infertility:
Striving for a dream
Caitlin and Jeff Morton, a young and healthy couple, began trying to start a family three years ago. Within two months of buying a house, Caitlin was pregnant, her husband surprised her with a fancy stroller and they were overjoyed at the thought of becoming parents.
The cramping and bleeding began almost immediately, and Caitlin knew something was wrong. She demanded her blood be tested to make sure that everything was OK.
She miscarried soon after.
In pain, and feeling helpless, Caitlin lay in Jeff’s arms on the couch, waiting for her body to pass the baby.
“I remember sitting there holding the tissue with the embryo on it, just crying,” Caitlin wrote in her iReport. “Nothing could have prepared me for that.”
They conceived naturally twice more, and Caitlin miscarried both times. After seeing a specialist and determining that she and her husband were truly healthy, they decided to try intrauterine insemination, a fertility treatment that places sperm inside the uterus to encourage fertilization.
They made three attempts, with no success.
A year later, Caitlin was pregnant again.
This time, the pain was so crippling that Caitlin felt paralyzed from the waist down. The black ultrasound revealed that she was bleeding internally from an ectopic pregnancy, meaning the embryo had formed outside of her uterus and inside a fallopian tube, causing a rupture.
Caitlin had to have emergency surgery. They removed the ruptured fallopian tube and discovered that her other tube was severely damaged. Caitlin realized she would never be able to naturally conceive again.
Now, Caitlin and Jeff will pursue in vitro fertilization.
“This is a very stressful journey: very expensive and trying on your emotion, body and marriage,” Caitlin said. “I have been blessed with an amazing family, friends and husband who allowed me to grieve. I still to this day have pain from my emergency surgery. But what we hold on to is hope that we will someday have a baby.”
Life, loss and a miracle
After trying to conceive naturally for a year without success, Chris and Amy Skaggs decided to try IVF in 2008. They thought the emotional, physical and financial strain would be worth it if they could have a child. But it didn’t work.
Eager to be a family, Amy and Chris spent the next two years preparing to adopt. While waiting to hear back on their dossier for an international adoption, the Skaggs’ learned of a pregnant young woman in their area who would be placing her baby up for adoption. Amy went with her for their regular appointments. But the young woman miscarried.
Amy and Chris decided to pursue an IVF treatment again, this time with a new doctor who wanted to try things differently.
In December 2010, the young couple learned that they were pregnant with twins. But they were concerned because Amy was tiny, perhaps too small to carry twins. The twins, Leighton and Jaxon, were born at 28 weeks in May 2011– barely over 2 pounds each. The “little fighters” were put on additional oxygen for three weeks.
In June, at 21 days old, Leighton came down with a fever and 48 hours later, she passed away. Chris and Amy were devastated.
But Jaxon pulled through and after 74 days in the NICU, they were able to bring him home in August 2011.
“We finally had our family; one baby on earth and one in heaven,” the couple wrote in their iReport.
Chris and Amy created Leighton’s Gift, a 501(c)(3) public charity to honor the daughter they lost. They hope it will help other families with babies in the NICU.
They wanted a sibling for Jaxon and decided to try IVF for a third time, but it didn’t work. They would have to pursue an egg donor.
The donor egg worked for Amy, and she was able to carry the baby for 37 weeks. Olivia was born in November 2013, giving Jaxon the sister they had always wanted for him.
The Skaggs’ also have frozen embryos from their donor, in case they want to grow their family.
“Throughout our infertility story, we learned tremendous lessons in patience, humility, unconditional love, persistence, determination, advocacy, understanding and strength,” the Skaggs’ said.
A family for Kassidy
After marrying in 2007, Tiffany and Todd Ray wanted to start a family. But Tiffany had a unicornuate uterus, half the size of a normal uterus with only one fallopian tube, so they started fertility treatments.
They paid out of pocket for three cycles of intrauterine insemination, two cycles of IVF and two frozen embryo transfers, all of which resulted in four first trimester miscarriages.
The couple was looking into adoption when Tiffany learned that she had become pregnant naturally, which seemed miraculous given their past struggles.
But an ultrasound revealed that the baby had a neural tube defect, resulting in an absence of the brain and portion of the skull. The Rays had to make the heartbreaking decision to terminate the pregnancy in light of the fatal diagnosis.
After it was over, Tiffany sat in recovery with other women.
“I cried for my baby, I cried for the women around me, and I cried because I wanted what so many of them ended,” Tiffany wrote in her iReport.
Picking up the adoption thread again, the Rays learned through an agency in Indiana that there was a young, pregnant woman who wanted to place her baby with them.
Even after the expensive fertility treatments and termination, the Rays put thousands of dollars toward helping the birth mother through her pregnancy. They formed a close relationship with her as well and traveled from their home in Pennsylvania to Indiana multiple times.
Two days before the baby was due, the birth mother texted the Rays that she wanted to be a parent. Their financial and emotional investments had been for nothing. The Rays were devastated.
But their hopes were fulfilled when a friend called to tell them about a baby girl who had been brought into foster care and placed with her great-grandmother. The elderly woman had heard about the Rays and wanted the child to be placed with them. They immediately became foster parents for little Kassidy.
“And nine months later, we finalized her adoption, and Kassidy became a Ray,” Tiffany said.
Hoping for a baby, inheriting a family
Nikki and Matt Cobleigh were married for 10 years before they made the decision to have a child together.
At age 34 in 2009, Nikki began fertility treatments. In between each failed intrauterine insemination, the couple would take a consolation trip to incredible destinations, such as Costa Rica or India or Buenos Aires.
But in truth, Nikki was emotionally drained by each failed IUI. She joined a support group through RESOLVE, the national infertility association, for motivation to keep trying.
After three IUIs, a sonohysterogram revealed that her uterus was filled with polyps. She had to have surgery to remove them and wait before trying any other treatments.
After a time, Nikki tried IVF. They ended up with eight viable embryos to freeze and then began the process of an egg transfer. Because of the progesterone Nikki was taking, she felt like it had worked – the treatments simulate all of the symptoms of pregnancy.
But the transfers didn’t work. They lost five embryos. Nikki says it was like losing five children.
They had only three left when Nikki realized that her body’s tendency to create surplus scar tissue had resulted in her uterus growing shut after the surgery to remove the polyps. They had lost five embryos for nothing.
“It was one of the hardest days of my life, realizing that,” Nikki said.
Nikki and Matt reached out to a surrogacy agency when she realized conceiving on her own wouldn’t be possible.
She endured one more IVF treatment to create more embryos for freezing.
The couple discussed what they wanted in a surrogate – someone with a clean life that excluded drinking or drugs, came from a good family structure and living in Utah. They worked into the night on their wish list.
That same night, in Park City, Utah, Angela Haymond submitted her application to become a surrogate. The single mother of two boys, 9 and 11, had always known she wanted to be a surrogate and help another couple bring a child into the world.
The Cobleighs were matched with Angela through the surrogacy program. Using Nikki’s frozen embryos, Angela would carry twins for the Cobleighs.
It was a match made in heaven, Nikki said. Angela became like one of the family to the Cobleighs. They talked on the phone every day, went to appointments together and flew back and forth for visits. More than a contractual relationship, the two families bonded.
Slowly, Nikki’s mourning for the fact that she couldn’t carry the twins herself was replaced with the excitement of becoming a mother.
Nine months later in March 2014, when Nikki was finally able to hold the twins, Lily and Kai, all of the protective barriers she had built around herself fell away.
“It was like my heart melted in that moment,” Nikki said. “I let my heart welcome being a mom.”
The Haymonds and the Cobbleighs have become even closer over time. They spend Christmas and other holidays together. By helping Nikki and Matt’s family expand, Angela’s own family has grown.
“Our pathways were meant to cross,” Angela said. “It has been such a joy to see them become a family.”