“For some reason, as long as I can remember, I have felt a fear of being infertile. As a child I was fascinated by the movie Dumbo and according to my mom it was not only for that brave little elephant with big ears, but I especially felt connected to Dumbo’s mom. This beautiful Disney classic opens with all animals in the circus receiving their babies delivered by the storks, except for Dumbo’s mom. She and only she stays childless and had to watch all her fellow elephants cuddle their little ones. How ironic that this same thing would happen to me later in life. But the movie doesn’t end there. Dumbo’s mom receives her wonderful baby through a special delivery a little later on in the story and thank God the same thing would also happen to me later on in life.
My husband Maas and I met in college in The Netherlands where we are born and raised. We were 24 when we met and were ready to conquer the world by putting all our energy in our careers after college. For years we were perfectly happy being a childless, hardworking and married couple while living in Amsterdam. When I turned 31 my dad fell ill. By that time my husband and I had moved to the United States as expats for my husband’s job in the airline industry and I had started a successful company in Atlanta. I felt the need to go back home and take care of my sick father who was told he only had 6 more months to live. My husband logically couldn’t leave his job behind so I packed my suitcase and brought our dog back to Amsterdam with me and stayed with my parents till a couple of months later when sadly my sweet father passed away.
This was a turning point in our married life. We wanted to build a family of our own since our original family was shocked to it’s core by the passing of my father. I stopped birth control after the funeral and we ‘actively’ started trying. I had been on birth control for a long time since I was already diagnosed with endometriosis when I was younger and the doctor told me the only way to prevent the endometriosis from getting worse was to either get pregnant or start birth control. After 9 months of unsuccessful trying and experiencing extreme pains from the endometriosis we decided to pay a visit to the fertility doctor in Atlanta. After multiple examinations, where he couldn’t find anything wrong apart from the already suspected endometriosis, he told us we should start using hormones and start IUI to conceive. I couldn’t believe it. My lifetime fear that I would struggle to conceive just became reality.
After doing three IUI’s and more importantly after having three monthly emotional breakdowns in the bathroom with blood stained toilet paper in my hands, we decided together with the doctor it was enough! We were going to start IVF.
Yes, I was going to be that woman like all those other women I secretly followed on Instagram that were battling infertility by doing IVF. I always felt for them because it looked like such a heavy road to follow and now I became one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I was strong and ready to kick infertility’s ass but the realization that IVF was my last chance of having a baby was incredibly scary!
As everyone here in the USA knows, IVF is not something you just do. Apart from the emotional and physical challenges you have to face, the financial aspect is a sincere prblem. Therefore we decided to go back home again to my mom and do IVF there since the costs are significantly lower. I was naïve at the time and thought I could handle multiple challenges along with doing IVF but IVF is already difficult enough.You should never schedule big life events like cleaning out your big old family home and helping your mom move to a small apartment while doing IVF.
I worked hard, supported by my mom and after three weeks of check ups in the hospital and shooting hormones my husband flew in from Atlanta to prepare for the egg retrieval and hopefully fertilization of our embryos. The egg retrieval in The Netherlands is a procedure done without anesthesia. I had grown 20 follicles and they all needed to be collected while I was awake and experiencing pains and feelings. Some woman don’t feel anything, well I felt everything! My husband told me tears were rolling down my eyes while trying to lay still. Thank God we were blessed with 6 embryos in the end and transferred one back. The two week wait began. This is the worst part of IVF, the waiting and not being able to do anything. For me they could have named it the one week wait because I already started bleeding after 8 days. It didn’t work. Again I was looking at red colored toilet paper through the tears in my eyes. We decided to give up and go back home to the USA.
6 months later we started our second IVF round and decided to stay home in Atlanta. This time it was going to be different, we could just feel it! I received less of the hormones at a great clinic in Atlanta and doing this IVF while being home with my husband and dogs close to me was giving me such a better feeling. And for the best, because we got 5 embryos this time and transferred 2! Two weeks later without any bleeding I went to the clinic to test for my Beta results. The phone rang 4 hours later: ‘girl, you are pregnant!’
I thought this is it! We are finally there. After two years of monthly heartbreak we are finally pregnant! After my third Beta Check the phone rang again 4 hours later: ‘We are so sorry, but your numbers are not rising anymore, we are suspecting a chemical pregnancy.’
Let me tell you. It doesn’t matter if you are 1 week pregnant and lose the baby or 10 weeks pregnant and lose the baby, I have been there for both. That one particular pregnant week before the chemical pregnancy, I fantasized day and night, hour after hour, minute after minute about our baby and now I lost it. My stupid body failed me again.
This happened a week before Christmas and we were heartbroken. When you have had such difficulties getting pregnant, you never expect to miscarry as well. You just think you can’t be that unlucky. Well, we were in for more.
After two months of getting back on our feet I tried to get faith back in body by doing tons of yoga , meditation and eating healthy. We decided to try for a FET this time since we still had embryos in the freezer. During this time in my life I was going back to school to eventually after 1 and a half years graduate as a health coach specialized in fertility. I wanted nothing more than to restore faith back in my body by learning everything I could about nutrition and stress relief and helping other women going through the same journey. I put together a free IVF prep program with recipies, yoga and mindfulness tips for anyone who was and still is fighting infertility with me.
The FET went smoothly and the hormones were less intense. I was becoming more experienced in IVF and learned to deal better with the hormones. We again decided to transfer two embryos and after the hell of two weeks waiting we heard the news: you are pregnant! I was more cautious this time around. First let’s see the heartbeat. At the 6 week scan we found one heartbeat. It was beating just like it should and it sounded like the best pop song I had ever heard. Still cautious after graduating from the clinic to a regular OB/GYN we heard the heartbeat again at 8 weeks. The doctor told us that in 92% of the cases nothing went wrong from this moment on. We felt safe.
At 10 weeks into the pregnancy I started bleeding and panicked. I needed an ultrasound, NOW! The doctor understood our worries and we could come in immediately. The ultrasound specialist was too quiet for things to be well. I looked at her and I knew what was wrong. ‘I am so sorry dear, the baby passed away two days ago’ My husband and I ran out of the docs office and cried the entire afternoon in each other’s arms.
The doctor told me I needed a D&C immediately the next day and I was ok with that. I wanted the baby out of me! I couldn’t handle the fact that my baby was dead inside of me, that I failed the baby. My body failed the baby and I felt dirty.
Two weeks later, after I had the D&C, we were recovering again. We had the miscarried baby tested and they found out it had triple the amount of chromosomes and had no chance of life. Something about that news made me feel better, I think the fact that my body didn’t fail the baby was a relief for me. That same night after we heard the cause of the miscarriage I bled, way too heavy to be normal. I went to the doctor’s office the next morning to the same ultrasound technician and again she was too quiet to give me good news. ‘Something wrong with the machine?’ I asked after 20 minutes of silently looking at the ultrasounds. ‘No dear, I think there is something very wrong with you.’ An hour later I was in a specialists office in another hospital because they suspected I had auterine arteriovenous malformation (AVM) This rare cause of uterine bleeding. The reason was unknown. The doctor told me to call my husband and come back for a MRI, they just wanted to be sure. When I got off the examination table I started bleeding like you fully open the tab of a bathtub. I screamed and cried and the doctor yelled: ‘Nurse get her into the ER, STAT!’ I lost more than a liter of blood while being rushed in a wheelchair into the ER. The fact I was already in a hospital saved my life. In the hallway we ran into my husband who looked like he had seen a ghost. ‘What in God’s name is going on here?’ I screamed I thought I was dying and the nurse told him to run with us to the ER and that I needed treatment right away.
In the ER they shot me up with medicine and they decided to treat me with medicine first instead of performing a hysterectomy right away. ‘She doesn’t have kids yet.’ I heard my doctor say to the other doctor in the hallway. For some reason I already knew this was the end of the road for me. This was all too much to handle, I was going to give up.
People who know me know I am a fighter and I will always keep fighting. When the doctor after a day told me I would never be able to get pregnant and deliver safely, all I could do was think: ‘Ok. . .but what will we do next?’
The doctor advised us adoption or surrogacy, we just thought let’s see. We will look into this together and will come to the best solution. We are not religious but are believers in faith. We believe in : ‘Let it be and stay strong.’
The recovery was long. The doctor made clear to me I needed to take this very seriously. Apart from becoming infertile, I almost died. I needed time to recover. I was in the hospital for a week and wasn’t able to get out of bed for another 3 weeks. Two weeks after that I was still ‘wheeling’ around the house and also trying to stay myself. I dressed up every day, put a smile on my face and did as much as I could to accept the fact I was never going to be pregnant and give birth in my life. I needed to accept what life gave me and make the best of it or again as my life motto is to ‘Let it be.’ We decided to move ahead, look forward together and dive into the world of surrogacy.
We visited a wonderful surrogacy agency in Atlanta, Georgia and immediately we felt right at home. We explained our story, that it would be life threatening for me in case I would ever become pregnant again and therefore needed a surrogate mother for us to have a biological child. There was not a real urgent need for us to have biological children, but being Dutch and living abroad, adoption would be a very complicated and long road for us. We decided our road had been difficult and long enough. We were very grateful to have the financial comfort to start with a surrogacy journey and we finally felt good after a long time about our future.
I did my third IVF after we found our amazing surrogate. The click with her was amazing and we met up with her a couple of times. We decided to have the embryos tested on chromosomes this time. We just wanted to cover all grounds after all we have been through. We had 4 healthy tested embryos and transferred one back with our courageous surrogate. She did amazingly well and 3 weeks later we were blessed to see our daughter on the ultrasound with a healthy heartbeat!
We wanted to be over the moon and excited but just couldn’t hide our fears of something going wrong after all we have been through. We have been anxious the entire pregnancy with our surrogate. When our surrogate was two months pregnant, we went back to The Netherlands for Christmas. I felt a little funny. I was just not myself and feeling extremely tired and had been bleeding for 14 days straight since my last period. We were sexually active again, but very cautious. I wasn’t on the pill just yet because I wanted to wear off the hormones first after the IVF that I had just done. I went to the doctor after our Christmas break and it turned out I was pregnant. This was already dangerous for me, but wait for the best part of this horrendous journey, I had an ectopic pregnancy.
So there I was again, in the hospital. I felt extremely stupid for being there for this reason after being so careful. The doctor said it was logical because after three IVF’s your hormones are through the roof and regularity is difficult to find. Well, I felt pretty dumb. I needed surgery right away. When I woke up after my surgery the doctor told me they found that my ovary had burst and my ectopic pregnancy messed up my entire tube and they removed that one. They also had removed a lot of endometriosis that made my bowels stick to my stomach wall. Anyway it was a mess and I couldn’t believe it. After everything already, I now had one tube less and 8 more small scars on my stomach. Again, I needed to stay a week in the hospital and recover for two more weeks after that.
This time I think was the worst part for me. That my stomach had scars on it for the rest of my life while I haven’t even carried my own child. I have accepted them now but this took a while for me to recover from.
After my surgery we picked up life again and enjoyed the rest of the pregnancy of our daughter with our surrogate. I went to a little chapel every day of the pregnancy, rain or sunshine, to light a candle for my daughter and our amazing surrogate. This made me feel connected besides we had weekly contact with our surrogate over the phone.
On August 7 2018 our precious most desired wish came true. Our daughter Nova Ann was born. We were there all the way in the delivery room and I had the honor of the first skin to skin moment with my daughter. Our surrogate was brave, amazing and such a fighter during the perfect delivery. An hour after Nova Ann was born we visited our surrogate and her family to show Nova and of course for them to hold her, we thought this was really important. They will always stay a wonderful and special family in our lives. After 4 very challenging and hard years I am writing my story while my baby girl is laying next to me cooing away. This story is meant for all women who are starting, are right in the middle or think they are at the end of their journey. I just want to say to everyone, never give up on believing in yourself. Believe in yourself and the love for your partner, that is the most important thing. You two need to stay a team and when you two believe in each other’s strength and love, you can conquer the world, even the world of infertility.”
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