In 2009, I married my best friend. Joe was loving, fun, a protector and my perfect match. He loved going out, being social and living in the moment. He was okay to never commit or have children. But that all changed when he met me.
One warm April day I got in a car accident. Joe was the responding officer, and he wrote me a ticket! But Officer Joe saw me in distress and panic, and offered to drive me home. Talking about where I was headed, we quickly learned that we had mutual friends at the restaurant where I worked. Let’s just say these friends made this relationship happen.
Over the next few months of dating, I learned Joe had testicular cancer years ago and was already in advanced stages when he found out. He quickly had surgery and started chemotherapy a few weeks later. His family encouraged him to bank his sperm, but his doctor assured him the type of chemo he was using would not affect his fertility. Since Joe always planned to be single and never have children, there was no need to bank. But when he met me in 2005, I told him on our first date that it was my dream to have children. Needless to say, he changed his mind and wanted a child just as much as me.
Fast forward to September 2009: beautiful wedding, perfect life. We decided to start trying for a child in 2010. First month, nothing. Next month, nothing. 12 months later, nothing. We decided to get help. I scheduled an appointment with my ob/gyn and had tests conducted in November 2011 that determined I was not ovulating on time. He also wanted me to have a scan.
Concurrently, Joe’s doctor wanted him to complete a sperm analysis. The office called and left a message saying that “everything looked good.” During my scan, they determined I had what is called a septate uterus. Which means my uterus had tissue that divided it and that makes it difficult for an embryo to implant. My ob/gyn wanted to schedule surgery to cut the excess tissue out. Joe and I decided we needed a second opinion so we called a fertility specialist.
When we were meeting with the doctor, he turned to Joe and asked for the results of his sperm analysis. Five minutes later, a nurse retrieved our results and our world was rocked. Joe’s analysis stated he had ZERO sperm. He wasn’t okay. Our minds were blown to say the least. Then he asked us if we were open to adoption because we could never have children. We stood up crying in disbelief and left the office.
After doing some research and talking with my cousin who was an ob/gyn doing her fellowship in fertility, she recommended we visit a urologist and see if there was a way to “go in and get them”. After seeing three different urologists over the course of four months, Joe had to start taking injections to prep for the TESE surgery in which sperm is surgically removed. Wouldn’t you know in this six month span, our fertility specialist retired? Now we had to find a new one.
We were referred to Dr. Miller at the Advanced IVF Institute by many friends. They talked about everyone from the receptionists, nurses, and doctors. “They work miracles there,” they said. Our first appointment with Dr. Miller was in late March of 2012. He looked over our file and said, “We are going to get you pregnant.” He prepped us on the schedule of everything, including surgery to remove the septum and coordinating with the Urologist to prep Joe for surgery. Joe and I left the office that day smiling over our infertility struggle for the first time in two years.
In July of 2012, I had my surgery to remove the septum from my uterus. Everything went as planned and we were ready to proceed with ICSI, a type of in-vitro fertilization where a single sperm is injected into an egg. Over the next few months we had countless appointments with both Dr. Miller and the Urologist out of Northwestern. We had to wait for Joe to be at a certain level of testosterone in order to do surgery.
Fast forward a few months, and the doctor stated we were at the highest level he would ever be. It was time to start prepping me for my egg retrieval AND choose an anonymous donor sperm just in case Joe’s surgery wasn’t successful. Because we knew the TESE surgery was only a 50/50 shot, we had to have donor vials waiting after the retrieval. This was a huge obstacle as Joe was not sure how he felt about using donor sperm.
Over the next few weeks, I mulled through the cryobank checking for common traits and examining the donors’ health records. Finally, I found the perfect one! In April of 2013, my eggs were retrieved in Dr. Miller’s office, while Joe was in the next room having TESE surgery.
After we both woke up, Dr. Miller informed us my retrieval was very successful and they retrieved 19 eggs. However, the Urologist did not have any good news. Joe had ZERO sperm, and they believed he may have been born infertile, so the donor sperm was used. Our worlds were rocked again! Days after the surgery, I ended up hyperstimulating and they had to cancel my transfer because of the swelling. However, the good news was we had 14 embryos fertilized. We were informed about the freezing process and discussed that many embryos would not mature normally to the freezing process at five days. We did and ended up with six viable embryos.
The following month, once again I was prepped for a transfer through hormones and many doctors’ appointment. Five days before my transfer I went in for the final check to start the progesterone shots. What the doctor and nurses told me was startling. My uterus was full of fluid and they had to once again cancel my transfer. Two weeks later, I went back to Dr. Miller and he did a quick procedure to ensure the septum wasn’t growing back. It appeared that it was, so he once again scraped it out.
Unfortunately, this prolonged the next transfer. We had to wait until October to transfer our frozen embryos. We waited anxiously for the date, and began prep. Our transfer finally occurred on November 2, 2014. Two embryos survived the thaw and were implanted. I was over the moon!
Ten days later, I returned to the office for my pregnancy blood draw. I went to work that day like it was any other day. I knew my nurse usually called me around 1:30 pm with my results from the mornings’ tests. At 1:32, my phone rang. It was my nurse and she didn’t sound positive… She told me that I wasn’t pregnant… I quickly gathered my belongings and called my principal to get me a substitute. Then I ran out of my building and got in my car sobbing and shaking. I called my husband and he assured me it was going to be okay. This just wasn’t our time, but that time would come.
The next day, I returned to the clinic for more testing. Again, not pregnant. Joe and I met with Dr. Miller a week later to discuss the failed cycle. Without genetic testing, the most likely reason for implantation failure is a genetically abnormal embryo. We decided that we would try again. Before we did though, he wanted to check my uterus for scar tissue from the surgery. 4 weeks later and another quick procedure, we got the clearance to begin our next cycle. On February 16, 2015, Joe and I entered Dr. Miller’s office. We laughed and talked to our nurses and they comforted us in the situation. And then they transferred 2 more embryos while I was put under.
The next ten days waiting to do my pregnancy bloodwork were the longest days of my life. Joe and I were building a house at the time, so we tried to keep ourselves busy. Then on February 26th, I entered the office for my bloodwork. I continued to work as always, but I asked my nurses not to call me until after school. Every five minutes though, I kept checking my phone. The dismissal bell rings at 3:15pm At 3:14, I saw my phone light up… the bell hadn’t rung and my students were cleaning up and organizing to leave for the day, but I couldn’t miss this call.
I picked up the phone and I heard Patty’s voice. “Danielle.” I quickly asked her to hold on… the bell rang, I said goodbye to my students and picked up the phone. “Danielle… you are pregnant!” I heard all the nurses on speakerphone yelling and praising our pregnancy and actually felt emotions from each and every one of them coming through the phone. I almost think there were as many tears of joy happening in Dr. Miller’s office as I had spewing down my face!
Over the next two weeks, I went in multiple times to assure my hormone levels were rising, and they were. Finally two weeks after we initially found out we were pregnant, we had our first ultrasound to confirm pregnancy and how many embryos took. The ultrasound technician confirmed one embryo implanted, and then we heard the heartbeat for the first time!
Our sweet girl, Elia Meadow, was born in October of 2015, four weeks early. While she had to spend a week in the NICU at the hospital, she was perfectly healthy. We were so in love with our miracle girl.
We are forever grateful for the love and support we received from Dr. Miller and the members of his team. After so many years and tears, his team made our dream a reality. There were so many times we thought we had to give in to our dream of having children, but they kept our hopes alive. Our nurse, Patty, was an absolute dream to us. I truly feel that they are just as excited as Joe and I are to have our sweet little girl. We truly believe that without the help of Dr. Miller and all his staff, we would not have our miracle baby in our arms.
Keep hope in your journey, as Dr. Miller and his team did for us. You too, can share your story one day and give hope to those who are facing infertility struggles. Thank you Dr. Miller, Patty, our nurses, and all of the staff. You have made our dreams come true with our sweet girl!