As I sit here typing this I will admit that I am a little nervous. This story is so personal to me, but yet I feel like it needs to be told so that it doesn’t get lost…and also because I am convinced that God has given me a purpose and that this story is something that needs to be told. I was driving into the city last week and listening to Moody Radio and there was a woman on the radio talking about her life and how throughout all the trials in her life she was able to maintain this posture of faith. It had me thinking of the most trying time in my life and that I too could relate.
“And it wasn’t by my own doing or by my own strength. But it was totally by the grace of God that throughout this trial, I was able to keep this posture of faith. Actively living out my beliefs, and fully placing all my trust in God. Sometimes in life, you just don’t have any other choice. God is the one in control”.
If you look at my Facebook and Instagram account, you will see me posting pictures of things that are the most precious to me. Of course, when I was dating my husband, I posted cute couple photos, then we got a dog who then took over all my photos…I love food and desserts so of course I have a ton of foodie pics and as of lately, you will see my 20 month old son, Benji overtaking all my photos and instastories. He is my miracle baby and he’s the most precious thing in the world to us.
In October, we announced we are expecting our 2nd baby in March. From all our pictures and our family holiday cards, we look like the “perfect family”. Dad, mom, son, soon to be daughter, and a cute fluffy dog. It’s the “American Dream”. But what you don’t know is the road that we took to get where we are. And that’s what I am hoping never gets lost. It’s a part of me, as hard as it was…it’s shaped me to be who I am and has shaped my faith in ways I never thought possible. It’s given me a new passion for women and for couples who also struggle with the same issue. It’s something so near and dear to my heart that whenever I hear people talking about it, it makes me want to just get up and give them a big hug and tell them it will be ok. This is my story about our infertility journey.
I have shared this story with family and close friends and even some strangers along the way in hopes that they too may find some strength and hope in it. I know that infertility is somewhat of a taboo topic, and I am not even sure why. Statistics tell us that it affects 1 out of 6 couples but yet no one really talks about it. It makes me sad that we can’t openly talk about this struggle because it is real, it is painful, and it can be very isolating and lonely. I try to mention it whenever talking about babies and some people take it well and others I see shift uncomfortably in their seats. I am ok with that.
“I would love for there to be some normalcy around talking about infertility. It would make those like myself feel less “different”. I think even to this day, I feel less of a person, less of a woman, having to get help to grow our family. It’s a work in progress, and I know that only God can fill that void in my life. “
I will start out by saying that I have always dreamed of being a mom and having a big family. I come from a family of 6. I have two older brothers and one younger brother. Contrary to what most people may think, I loved being the only girl. Sure there were days that I wished I had a sister to share clothes with and do hair and makeup with but most days I remember loving having older, protective brothers and a younger brother who would do practically anything I told him to. In my twenties, I always thought that “30 something” was so old. BOY was I wrong! Now of course 30 seems young to me. In MY plans, I would get married in my mid 20’s, have some years with just my husband and I so we can travel the world, and then we would settle down in our late twenties and start popping out some kids. Easy Peasy. And I always felt like having 4 kids was the perfect number. Partly because an even number always felt right and I thought, if we go to Disney world, we would always each have a partner to ride the rides with! God for sure had some different plans in store for me.
Like I said, I’ve always dreamed of being a mom and I loved babies. It was no surprise that after graduating from nursing school and passing my boards, I became a Mother Baby nurse and never left the specialty. I’ve probably cared for at least a 10,000 babies in my 10 year career! I loved working with moms and babies. It’s such a sweet and special time in a woman’s life and it was so amazing being able to teach moms how to care and feed their little ones. It was the perfect fit for me as a nurse.
Fast forward, I met my husband Jon when I was 28 years old. He was a roommate of a church friend who to set us up on a group date. It was the perfect plan because we got married a few months after I turned 30. We got married on August 31, 2013. It was the perfect day and I still remember as if it was yesterday. Right off the bat, I had told Jon that I wanted to start trying right away to have children. I mean, in my mind I was already 5 years behind in my plan from college and I knew as a nurse that my biological clock was ticking and that after 35, I would be considered “AMA”, advanced maternal age. Luckily, Jon was on board. During the 1st year of our marriage, we mainly just listened to our friends and family’s “tips” on how to start a family. I read a lot of books about temping, and looking at my cervical fluid and being conscious about my diet. I even started going to an acupuncturist weekly and took some Chinese herbs. About 6 months in, I began searching for a dog…Jon was not really on board with getting a dog, but he promised me that if we didn’t get pregnant by our 1 year anniversary, we could get a dog.
Obviously we didn’t get pregnant, because we have our dog Mr. Panda now! Looking back, Mr. Panda was the perfect distraction for me. I mean, of course we still longed for a child, but he was the next best thing and of course raising him was also preparing us for a baby one day. After that 1st year, I became really discouraged. I felt like I was trying everything I could possibly do, and it still was not “working”. We then decided that we would look into getting medical help at the fertility clinic at my hospital. In the beginning it was a bunch of tests being run on the both of us and waiting for results. Everything they looked into was “good” and our doctor even told us that they didn’t know why we weren’t getting pregnant but that we could start with IUI and go from there.
IUI (Intrauterine insemination) was a hard season for us. It was just full of ups and down and misguided hopes. It was less invasive (medically speaking) but I would say emotionally it was nightmare. Per our insurance we had to do 4 rounds of IUIs before moving onto IVF (Invitro fertilization). It took us almost a year to do the 4 rounds, because we had to find the right medications that worked with my body, we travelled a bunch and my cycles were very irregular. All in all, it felt like it was a waste of time, but we knew that we had to endure it. Miraculously, Jon and I felt very close during this time. We were a team, wanting the same end result and we only had each other to lean on. At the time, we did not know anyone else going through what we were going through. I remember only talking about it with my parents and a few close girlfriends and co-workers. It was becoming harder going to work and seeing happy couple after happy couple with their new babies.
At this time, we were then blessed with a thoughtful friend who asked us if we would want to connect with another couple who were also going through the IUI/IVF process. In fact, this couple was on almost the same exact timeline as us as far as when they began trying and switching over to a fertility clinic which was the same as ours. We immediately said yes as we were eager to talk to another couple who were going through the same process as us and boy was that relationship a godsend! We were able to connect with them about everything! It was so refreshing to talk to another couple who understood everything you were thinking and feeling and could relate 100%. I remember feeling so thankful for them and even though we were both suffering we were able to lean on each other and lift each other up.
The start of the process of IVF, it was like everything switched gears and we were finally in the big leagues now. The first step involved us talking with a counselor at the IVF clinic first, so that we could share just some of our concerns and for us to be informed of the emotional and physical tolls on the body and also our marriage. I remember leaving that appointment feeling hopeful and I really liked what the counselor had to say. She was very supportive and understood that we would lean on family, friends and God. The first step in IVF is getting the body prepared for the egg retrieval process. It involved a lot of blood draws, about a dozen ultrasounds, and of course two different shots every day for about 10 days before the “Big Day”. It’s a non-invasive procedure but I did have to be put under anesthesia. I woke up super groggy to a nurse handing me juice and crackers and telling me to take it slow. That 1st retrieval they were able to collect 28 eggs. I was told the average number was about 10-15. Out of the 28, they would then pick the mature ones and then fertilize them with Jon’s sperm and then grow the embryos for 3-5 days with 5 days being the most optimal. In the end, we had 4, grade A, 5 day embryos. The results were good according to our doctor. The 1st embryo transfer took place in August 2015. We transferred one. Ten days later we got a call that it was successful and that we were pregnant! We were elated and thought our journey was finally coming to an end. That weekend happened to be my parents 40th wedding anniversary so my brothers and I threw a huge party that weekend. The next day, I went back to get another blood draw to make sure my HCG levels were continuing to rise and we got the devastating news that they weren’t. Based on my levels, they were suspecting an ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus). I remember feeling numb, but also wanted to just keep moving on. I was given a shot to dissolve the pregnancy so that my fallopian tube would not burst and then we had to wait a few weeks until my HCG level was back to a non-pregnancy level. It was a rough start, but we still felt hopeful with the other 3 embryos.
During this time, our IVF couple friends also went through an egg retrieval and transfer. They got pregnant with twins on their first try! I know you’re thinking wow, that must’ve been tough. In a way it was but it another way it was so amazing and we were so happy for them and it gave us so much hope that IVF could work for of us too. We were sad to not have them as our IVF buddies anymore but we still remained close to them and they were very sweet and sensitive to us. I still remember at their baby shower they approached us and thanked us personally for coming and that it meant a lot to them because they knew how hard it was to attend baby showers. It was such a special reminder how important it was to have cross paths with this couple and how thankful I was for their friendship during such an emotional chapter.
Our 2nd transfer occurred a few mos. later and it worked! This time, my numbers did double as they were suppose to and we finally got to see our baby at our 6 week ultrasound. It was such a happy and beautiful moment for us. We both looked at this tiny white blob on the screen and thought this baby was all worth it. We went back for a 7 week ultrasound, and the doctor wanted to see a little more than just a white blob. Unfortunately, that was all we saw. It was huge disappointment. I remember feeling so frustrated and so sad at the same time. To make sure, the doctor asked us to come back in a week for another look. The following week she confirmed that baby was not viable and there was no heartbeat. We both left that appointment feeling so worn and tired. Just tired of praying, waiting, trying and getting disappointed. The nurse practitioner was amazing though and she spent about 45 minutes with us. We decided to schedule a D&C the following week (a procedure where they clean the uterus of the miscarried baby). The night before was traumatic for me, my body began miscarrying on its own and I started to bleed heavily. I arrived at my appointment the next day feeling very faint and sweaty and I asked the nurse to give me more IV fluids because I was bleeding so much.
After I woke up from my D&C, I felt better physically (I was having bad nausea and it was totally gone now). It still felt surreal and even now feels like a bad dream. All this occurred a few days before Christmas that year and it was just a hard holiday to celebrate. I remember crying during the Christmas Candlelight service thinking about sweet baby Jesus and feeling so unbelievably sad about the baby that was no longer alive in me. We waited another few months before our next transfer. This time, we asked if we could transfer the last two to increase our chances. She obliged and because of our history did not object. After my blood test, it was puzzling because it was elevated but not elevated enough so they wanted me to return for another draw in a couple of days. This time waiting became like a sport…we were pros at waiting. But in the end my numbers did not rise and we again were back at square one.
At this point, our hearts were so heavy and full of discouraging thoughts. Up to this point, all of our IVF efforts were covered by my amazing health insurance. It was a total blessing and I know that God’s hand was involved in it. The financial advisor at the fertility clinic called me to let me know that we maxed out on all of our IVF attempts. She informed us that our insurance covered only 4 rounds of IVF. I then asked her if they counted the egg retrieval as an attempt, because we had only done 3 transfers. She then paused and thought about it and asked me, “would you like me to ask them if they would then cover another round?”. I said “sure”, not really thinking much of it. By this time, after our last unsuccessful transfer, Jon and I had just filled out an application for America World Adoption Agency. We met with a client friend of Jon and his family who adopted a girl from China 12 years ago. After meeting them, we decided to go ahead and start the adoption paper work knowing it could take years to adopt a child. In my mind, I had already thought that adoption was the way we were going to grow our family and I felt peace about it. The financial advisor calls me back after 20 minutes and says “ok, so they said they will cover another egg retrieval and another embryo transfer”. It was such a surprise and I just remember saying “oh wow! That is great news! Thank you for asking them!”. I just could not believe that they were willing to cover more. I called Jon and let him know and he was also in disbelief. We went home and prayed about our decision. We both felt that this was God giving us another chance at IVF and decided to take it. We would hold off on the adoption paperwork for now. In my mind, I did not want to pursue both IVF and adoption.
We met with our fertility doctor a couple of weeks later to discuss the next steps. This time she recommended doing PGS (preimplantation genetic screening) on all our embryos. She said although they looked good under the microscope, this additional testing will actually tell them if they are genetically “normal”. After our miscarriage they did do an autopsy and found the fetus to have trisomy 16 (which is the most common cause of miscarriages and it is not genetic but rather random). We were unsure about this extra test in which they would actually biopsy each embryo and test the chromosomes. It all seemed a bit overboard at the time. We got a 2nd opinion at another IVF clinic, and the doctor did not think it was a far stretch but rather a typical next step approach given that I was able to get pregnant but not stay pregnant. We went back to our doctor and we then signed consent forms for another egg retrieval and also the PGS testing to be done after. The PGS was not covered by insurance but thankfully it was not too costly.
As I prepared my mind and heart for another round… I was overwhelmed with peace. I remember distinctly, driving home from work one day and I was just thanking God for another opportunity and the fact that we didn’t have to pay very much out of pocket. It then lead to this feeling of being covered in this blanket of peace and a sense that I would be ok. I was pouring out to Him my fears of never being able to experience being pregnant, feeling a baby kicking inside me, delivering a baby, breastfeeding…all the things that I saw daily at my job at the hospital, I may never be able to say that I experienced those things too and relate to my patients. All these thoughts just poured out in a flood, and I felt God just laying His hand over me and telling me that it was going to be ok.
“I told Him that if I never experienced being a mother and that was His will, I would be content and I know I would be ok.”
And in that split second I felt whole again. I felt the weight of my fears being lifted from me and it was replaced by hope. Which ironically is what we named our baby that we miscarried weeks before. Hope. Those little 4 letters H-O-P-E carry such enormity, especially during the years of our suffering. Someone once described suffering to me as “not getting something you want, when you want it”. And that is exactly what this season was. It was watching many of our friends and families have babies over and over again as we sat with empty arms. It was us having to prepare ourselves emotionally as we bought and gave thoughtful baby shower gifts. It was us trying our very hardest to be earnestly happy for our loved ones and not letting the sting of our pain get the best of us. It was a lot of praying against jealousy and thanking God for all the new precious babies, even though they were not our own. I know that not everyone can understand these emotions, unless you are in the same boat. If you are, know that you are not alone and that it is totally normal to feel these emotions.
Our story thankfully does not end here. We completed another egg retrieval in July of 2016 and had 32 eggs. They were able to successfully fertilize, grow and genetically test 4, grade A, 5 day embryos. We transferred the 1st of the 4 in August of 2016. That embryo is now known as Benjamin Edward Milonas. The sweetest and most precious gift! He has been a joy to be a parent to and since having him, I have spoken to at least a half a dozen woman who are in the mist of struggling to conceive or who are starting the IVF process.
“I know what it’s like now and I now know the importance and the value of having camaraderie while going through it. Just having someone that understands the process but also knowing every frustrating emotion that is tied to it. “
I have not even scraped the surface of all that I have felt, but that would make for an exceptionally crazy long post. But I get it. My encouragement to you is that if you are starting fertility treatments, reach out to someone who can be there with you and walk with you. Especially if they too are struggling with infertility. It just makes it all the more bearable. In July of 2018, we transferred #2 of the 4 embryos and we will be having another sweet miracle in March of 2019! It’s been a crazy journey, one filled with the highest of highs and lowest of lows, but I am so thankful for it. I know without a doubt that without this journey I would not be the Melissa Milonas I am today.
I am just more thankful, more sensitive, more giving, more loving, more appreciative, more joyful than if I had not persevered and endured the heartaches of infertility. It is a beast in its own right and it can tear apart marriages and wear down the strongest of people. But there is hope, and there is a God who listens and cares. Stay strong and stay hopeful.
Thank you for reading.
Edit to add: Please feel free to reach out to me. Like I said before, I strongly encourage you to reach out to someone for support, especially if they have already gone through the process. I would be happy to talk with you or someone you know struggling to start their family as well. PM me through Facebook.
Mr. Panda joined our family at 7 weeks old! Our first “baby”. This was taken November of 2014.
For my 31st birthday I got a wrist tattoo of birds. It’s a reminder of Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”. It helps me to remember that God is in control and I do not have to worry. Just as God cares for the birds, how much more valuable am I to Him, He will take care of me. It is also symbolic of the 3 years of our IVF journey.
One of my favorite shots from Benji’s hospital photoshoot.
One of our baby #2 announcement photos. Benji is almost 17 months here.
20 week ultrasound photo of our 2nd miracle baby. She is due March 8, 2019.