Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Baby Talk :: Embryo Adoption

Happy Tuesday mamas! Thank you all SO much for your sweet words yesterday. Your words of encouragement filled my heart and just further confirm that I made the right choice and am doing the right thing.

Since it's Tuesday, it's time for....

Here's what you do:
1. Write a post about ANYTHING baby {or pregnancy} related.
2. Add my button to your post.
3. Link your post with the link-up tool found at the end of all of my posts.

Today I have Sara from Making Babies the Bennett Way taking over my blog to share her story with Embryo Adoption. I have to admit, before Sara emailed me, I had no idea this even existed! I'd heard of adoption and sperm donation and surrogates, but never embryo adoption. Needless to say, when I read Sara's story my mouth hit the floor. I have so many friends who have struggled or are currently struggling with infertility so to read this incredible story of all this wonderful couple went through to have their baby girl is really heartwarming and encouraging. I hope you all enjoy it!


I always knew I wanted to be a mother.  I wanted to experience pregnancy, feel my baby move in my tummy, see my belly grow a little more each week and then after 40 weeks see my beautiful child.  I always wondered what my son or daughter would look like, would have my dark brown eyes and hair, would they have my nose or would they look more like their father, my husband?  I think these are things we all think about and when you’re pregnant you think about them even more.  You hope and pray for a healthy pregnancy without any complications and a healthy baby with ten fingers and ten toes.  I had dreams of being pregnant and couldn’t wait for it to happen!

Little did I know how much my life was going to change, at the young age of 22.  It was the winter of 2002, my mom, sister and I had taken a girls trip to visit family in Florida.  Towards the end of the trip I was having horrible abdominal pain.  I didn’t think too much about it but when it didn’t go away after a few days I started to wonder if I needed to be seen.  It also didn’t help that during a conversation with my cousin she said I should really go in because it could be my appendix and if I didn’t get it checked out it could burst and could cause even more problems.  So I left work and went to the ER.  After sitting in the waiting room for 12 hours, yes 12 hours, I finally saw a doctor who ran a few tests, did a couple scans and then told me I had a large mass on my ovary.  I was told the pain I was experiencing was stemming from the mass twisting and turning and therefore cutting the blood flow to my ovary off.  He wanted to do emergency surgery.  I said no.  I had just sat in an ER waiting room for 12 hours and now you’re telling me I need to have emergency surgery, I don’t think so.  My family and boyfriend didn’t know I was even at the hospital the only person that did was my cousin.  I refused surgery, said I wanted a second opinion and went home. 

The following day I was able to make an appointment with a specialist who agreed that the mass was large but didn’t feel like emergency surgery was necessary.  He was comfortable monitoring it and trying a couple of things to see if we could get the mass to shrink.  After 3 months with no changes we made the decision to have it removed.  My surgery was scheduled for February 10, 2003.  They removed the mass which was the size of a large grapefruit and I had a short stay in the hospital.  One week later at my post-op appointment my mother and I were given the news that the mass they removed was not a simple mass but a tumor and I had ovarian cancer.  We were told I needed to have a second surgery to remove my left ovary and tube because while the tumor was attached to both ovaries the majority of it was on my left ovary.  Therefore, one month later on March 11, 2003 I had my second surgery to remove my left ovary and tube and do an exploratory surgery to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else.  Following my second surgery I had doctor appointments every couple months to make sure the cancer didn’t return.  Because we were so aggressive with the surgeries I didn’t have to go through any chemo or radiation treatments.  Every appointment thereafter went great.

At this point my boyfriend, Ryan, and I had only been dating for a few months.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to our relationship but I hoped he would stick around and he did.  On April 1, 2004 (yes, April fool’s day) Ryan proposed.  We were married on May 20, 2006.  We always knew we wanted to have kids and we also knew it could be somewhat difficult based on the fact that I only had one ovary.  My doctors had always been very upfront with us about the fact that we could have some issues but nobody could really say what was going to happen.  After we got married I stopped taking my birth control pill.  It wasn’t like we were actively trying to get pregnant but at the same time we weren’t doing anything to stop it from happening.  If it happened, it happened but nothing happened.

In the summer of 2008 my doctor moved to a new clinic which meant I was going to be transferred to a new doctor.  My new doctor reviewed my history, surgical and pathology reports and decided she wanted to start fresh.  She ordered a CT scan, CA125 (blood test) and did an exam.  My CA125 was elevated and there were masses on my right ovary.  My worst fear came true, my cancer had returned.  My doctor recommended I have surgery to remove the masses before we attempted to get pregnant.  This was especially important because we didn’t know how long the masses had been there.  We stressed with her our desire to have children and I asked that she do all she could to save my ovary and tube.  She said her goal was to remove the masses and save my ovary so the decision was made to have laparoscopic surgery.

The masses were removed in June 2008. 

Once I recovered from surgery my oncologist gave us a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE).  Since I had not been on birth control since 2006 she was concerned there might be something else going on therefore she wanted us to meet with the specialist.  We went through a battery of tests and were put on our first fertility medication – clomid.  Clomid was the start of our journey and ultimately our “gateway drug.”  I say “gateway drug” because once you start on this type of journey you seem to advance to other treatments options fairly quickly and since you are so focused on having a baby you will do anything. 
Unfortunately clomid didn’t help us and since my cancer had returned our journey to parenthood was suddenly accelerated.  Instead of trying any other concoction of fertility drugs or other procedures we moved onto in vitro fertilization (IVF).  We went through 2 rounds of IVF, both of which included transferring 1 or 2 embryos 3-5 days after the retrieval and subsequent frozen embryo transfer (FET).  Therefore, we had attempted to become pregnant 3 times with our own embryos.  All of this was done in about 16 month’s time.  It’s safe to say my tummy was beginning to look like a pin cushion from all the injections I had to do during this time.  I had bruises from some of the injections and others caused a small red circle around the injection site and some just itched – all of which is completely normal. 

During the fertility treatments I continued to see my oncologist on a regular basis to keep an eye on my remaining ovary and to make sure the cancer didn’t return again but unfortunately it did.  In November 2009 we were faced with a difficult decision we had two options.  One, we could move forward with another IVF cycle but instead of doing a transfer 3-5 days after the egg retrieval we would freeze everything for future frozen embryos transfer or have yet another surgery.  Since the cancer had returned yet again I had more tumors on my remaining ovary.  The risk in doing another round of IVF was all about the retrieval process.  If the doctors hit or punctured any of the tumors while they were retrieving the eggs the fluid in the tumors would then be in my abdomen which meant the cancer could very quickly and easily spread to other areas.  We made the decision to have another surgery and remove my remaining ovary and tube, meaning I didn’t have any ovaries or tubes left.  All I had was a healthy uterus.  It was a difficult decision but in the end it came down to the fact that yes, I wanted to experience pregnancy but even more than that I wanted to be a mother and be around to watch my child grow up.  When you think of it that way the decision was pretty easy.  I wanted to be a mother and be healthy so on December 22, 2009 I had yet another surgery.
After surgery we decided to take some time off for my body to completely heal.  Heal from surgery, heal from 2 cycles of IVF and four failed pregnancy attempts and reflect on everything we had been through in the last two years.  We still had some frozen embryos left and we knew at some point once I was healed we would do another frozen embryo transfer with our remaining embryos.  My doctor wanted us to wait at least 6 months after surgery but we wanted a little longer because one of my best friends was getting married in England so we thought a little vacation to take a break from all the fertility treatments would be good for both of us. 

Therefore, we did another transfer with our remaining embryos in October of 2010.  Unfortunately it was unsuccessful and to make matters worse we had used all our remaining embryos.  I think this was by far the hardest failed cycle to deal with because it meant I was not going to have a child with my genes.  I couldn’t get any more eggs because I didn’t have ovaries.  I had to come to terms with the fact that my future child was not going to be genetically related to me.  I felt like a failure, my body failed me and at that moment I was trying to deal with the fact that I was never going to be able to experience pregnancy.  I needed time to process everything and figure out how to move forward. 

After our failed cycle we started talking about adoption.  We met with a few different adoption agencies in the Twin Cities but we were not too thrilled with the information we received.  It didn’t feel like it was a good option for us or the right option for us.  Then one Sunday morning while I was on the computer I thought I’d Google “embryo adoption” because I figured hey if you can adopt a child why wouldn’t you be able to adopt embryos.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to get for results but was beyond happy with what appeared.  Embryos adoption was a new option for us and even though in the medical field it was concerned to be a very new option it was an option none the less.  The rest of that Sunday I was glued to the computer.  I was looking at every website, reading anything and everything I could about embryo adoption and my hope for possibly being able to carry a child and experience pregnancy was quickly coming back to me.

Before we moved forward with the process of actually adopting the embryos we brought some information to our fertility specialist to get his take on the process.  We had gotten to know our specialist fairly well because of our story and how much we went through under his care.  We trusted him and we knew he would give us his honest opinion about whether or not this was a good and realistic option for us.  We printed off a few documents from the two companies we were looking at so we could give him everything at our next appointment.  To say we were excited when he thought it was a very realistic option for us would be an understatement, we were overjoyed. 

Shortly thereafter we started the process of adopting embryos through the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, TN.  In addition to starting the process with NEDC we were also put on a waitlist to adopt embryos with a local company, ReproTech, Ltd.  You may be asking why we would start the process with NEDC in Knoxville, TN when we were on a waitlist for embryos in MN.  There’s a perfectly good reason for this.  When we were put on the waitlist at ReproTech we were told we were number 49 on the list and we expect to wait at least 3 years before hearing from them.  We figured if we had a successful pregnancy with embryos adopted from NEDC we could always decline the embryos from ReproTech but at least we would have two options versus one. 

We completed the preliminary application via NEDC’s website and were approved to move forward with submitting our formal application shortly thereafter.  NEDC’s formal application process is very formal.  Not only did we need to meet their minimum criteria, which are:
  • Couples must be married for a minimum of 3 years.
  • Wife must be 45 years old or younger.
  • The combined age of applicant couple must not exceed 100 years.
  • The wife must not smoke during the application process, embryo transfer preparation and procedure process, or during pregnancy.
  • Preference will be given to couples with no biological children.
  • At least one partner of the adopting couple must be a legal citizen of the United States.
  • Couples must undergo and pass a home study.
We had to attend virtual “Live Chats” that were all about embryo adoption and the process, have background checks and a home study done among other things.  We had to submit our last 3 years of tax returns so they could determine whether or not we were financially stable.  We also had to have personal references submitted and only one could be a relative.  We had a big decision to make and we didn’t take it lightly.  Once we completed the above mentioned steps and we’re formally accepted by NEDC we moved onto our next set of requirements. 

After we were formally accepted by NEDC we needed Bethany Christian Services to accept our request and application for adoption and a home study.  Once again we had to fill out a bunch of forms and then wait for approval.  The approval process took longer than we anticipated because they requested all of my medical records because of the cancer.  We were also told the initial process took longer because this was when they were really going to be “approving” us.  The second part of the process which involved interviews with a social worker, both jointly and separately, as well as a home visit would be the “easy” part.  Thankfully they were right, after the initial process was done the interviews, questionnaires and home visit all went very fast.

The last thing we had to do before we knew whether or not we were accepted by NEDC was travel to Knoxville, TN for our first consultation.  Our trip was scheduled for mid-July 2011.  During the trip we met with the doctor and staff, toured the facility and I had a physical and a mock transfer.  The consultation went great and we were approved to move forward with picking embryos.  We decided we wanted the adoption to be anonymous and within 48 hours of making this decision we had our embryos.  Now all we had to do was get our meds and make another trip to Knoxville for our first frozen embryo transfer with our adopted embryos.  This took place in September 2011 and words can’t even begin to explain how happy we were when we finally got our first BFP.  For those unfamiliar with infertility acronyms BFP stands for Big Fat Positive meaning I was pregnant. 
September 2011 - Great Smoky Mountains, TN

However, that excitement was shortly lived because during a routine ultrasound in October we found out I had had a miscarriage.  To say we were devastated would be an understatement and to make matters worse we learned this information within days of my 30th birthday.  As I’m sure you can imagine I was in absolutely no mood to celebrate my birthday.  Because to top it off I had to wait a few days between finding out I had miscarried and my D&C.  With each failed cycle I have myself a day or two to get over it but this time it wasn’t that easy, I needed more time. 

We got through the holiday seasons and decided in January 2012 to have another go so to speak.  I was ready to try again and had heard that your chances of getting pregnant after a D&C were higher because your uterus was “cleaned out” and fresh.  So mid-January we once again packed our bags and headed back to Knoxville for another transfer with our adopted embryos.  Unfortunately, this cycle was unsuccessful.  Once again I felt defeated and we thought now would be a good time to take a break.  We had been focused on having a baby for so many years we needed to get back to us. 

However, God seemed to have other plans for us.  Shortly after we found out the transfer was unsuccessful we were contact by ReproTech.  As a reminder, we were put on their waitlist in February 2011 and told we shouldn’t expect to hear from them for about three years.  Now here we were about one year later and we were being contacted by them, it was our turn.  This process moved very quickly because ReproTech didn’t have any requirements, we didn’t have to have a home study done we didn’t need to interview with them.  We were told if we passed up this opportunity we would be put on a second waitlist that included people who had been contacted once before but were not interested in embryos at that time.  We were also told if we were put on this list we shouldn’t expect to hear anything from them for 7 years! 

We quickly said yes we were interested in adopting embryos through them and once again just like that we were moving on.  Within a week or two we received a package that contained 5 packets of information about the embryos available for us to choose from.  However we couldn’t sit back and take our time with this decision because the exact same packet was sent to another couple.  We had 10 days to choose which embryos we wanted and whoever returned the form first got their first choice.  We felt like it was a race against time.  We wanted to make sure we got the embryos we wanted.  We picked our first and second choice within 24 hours of receiving the packet and sent our form back.  Then we waited and we were so happy when we found out we got our first choice! 

Now that we had our embryos selected we needed to take possession of them which meant there were forms to be signed and notarized and we needed to find a new fertility doctor in the Twin Cities.  But that wasn’t going to be as easy as you’d think because not all doctors will perform transfers with adopted embryos.  Thankfully, we did this research when we were first put on their waitlist in 2011 to be sure we wouldn’t have any trouble finding a doctor that would agree to do the transfer.  By March of 2012 we paid the fee and took “possession” of the 5 embryos we adopted.  In April the doctor appointments started up again, as did the shots.  One of which my husband had to administer for me because it went right into my hip.  At one point we had to do this twice a day and let me tell you after a couple days your hips start to feel the shots and it can at times be very uncomfortable. 

At the end of May 2012 the transfer was performed.
We had two embryos transferred and then we began the dreaded TWW (two week wait).  Once our 2 weeks were up I had one blood test that said I was pregnant and a second blood test 48 hours later to confirm I was in fact pregnant and that my HCG level was rising appropriately.  Over the next couple of months my doctors continued to monitor me and adjusted my meds as necessary.  Then towards the end of June we had our confirmation of pregnancy ultrasound.  We were so nervous going into this appointment.  We were trying to stay as positive and optimistic as we could but there were always those thoughts in the back of my mind.  You always hear people say hope for the best but prepare for the worst and that’s exactly what I was doing going into this appointment.  But it didn’t take long for the ultrasound tech and doctor to show us baby Bennett’s heart beat for the first time.  We were elated, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing and we kept starring at the little flickering heart beat on the screen.  Our hearts melted and we were in love.
We told our families on Father’s day and then waited until I was through our first trimester before we shared our exciting news with our extended family and friends.  The pregnancy went very well and I loved every minute of it!  Especially once we announced it to our family and friends all of which who were so unbelievably supportive during our journey.  They were just as excited, if not more, as we were.  They were there to support us from the minute we started to share our struggles, they were with us when I suffered my miscarriage and they celebrated the pregnancy and baby Bennett with us from the moment they learned I was expecting until the moment she made her entrance! 
Madelyn Marie - Day of Transfer & 1 Year Later!

If you or anyone you know is going through fertility treatments and would like to talk to someone who has been through it, my husband and I are more than willing to talk to you.  If you want more information about embryo adoption or donation I’d highly recommend starting with NEDC or ReproTech we had good experience with both.  We’re more than willing to talk about our experience with both companies in further detail too if you’re interested.  And, if you’re still reading this novel of a blog post I’d like to say thank you.  Thank you for taking the time to read my story, I hope you were able to learn a little bit more about infertility and embryo adoption.  Finally, if you’re interested in knowing how baby Bennett, aka Madelyn, is doing hop on over to my blog – www.thebennettway.blogspot.com.


To submit a guest post, please email me at mamaandmou@gmail.com


Jess Beer said...

Such an incredible story. I love that there are now so many options for couples to become parents!

Sara Bennett said...

Kristin - thanks again for allowing me to share our story with your followers! I hope we've given anyone struggling with infertility another option to think about and for those that didn't have to venture down this path my hope is they share our story with someone who might benefit from it. After all it seems like we (women going through infertility) don't talk about it or open up about it until someone else mentions it first. We need to break the silence, talk about our struggles for our own mental and physical health, and be there to support one another. Happy Tuesday and thanks again!!

Bridget said...

Wow...this is so incredible and beautiful!!! This just makes my heart smile!!!

eliz said...

Wow amazing story!!! Inspiring! Ahhh in the end it was all worth it for that beautiful little girl! <3

WinterBenson said...

What an incredible story. It makes my heart happy that you finally got your little one in your arms! <3

Ashley said...

Oh wow, what a strong family. I'm so glad Sara and her husband found a way to have a baby, she's beautiful!!
I had no idea about Embryo Adoption, thanks for sharing.

Kate said...

Wow such a journey, what an incredible story. Thanks so much for sharing Sara!

Jill @ Bluegrass Belle said...

This is such an incredible story and an interesting read for me (I've been undergoing fertility treatments for the last 9 months). I am so happy this family ultimately got their baby :) and so happy Sara is now cancer free.

Kara Frank said...

Sara, as always, you are AMAZING. You two have been through so much and you always have a smile on your face. XO Kara

Becky Borgman said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey! I have tears in my eyes just knowing what a joy it must have been for you to hold your child after such a hard road. My husband and I experienced infertility as well and have a baby girl from IVF. Infertility is so common and so not talked about. So thank you for spreading awareness!

K said...

Such a great story with such a wonderful ending! I've heard of embryo adoption before, but not first hand from someone who had been through it. Thanks for sharing!

Carolyn said...

OMG! I have goosebumps! I never knew that this was even an option - so awesome!!! Madelyn is ADORABLE BTW! :)

Sarah @ Life, Love & Dinner said...

What an amazing story and lucky little girl!

Sarah @ Life, Love & Dinner said...

What an amazing story and lucky little girl!

Kendra Cyrus said...

It's a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing this.