And, it is not everyday that one is featured in the newspaper.
This morning I woke up to read the story of my life. Island Packet writer Maureen Simpson captured the essence of our struggle and deserves kudos for telling the story just like it is.
For couples who can't conceive on their own,
By MAUREEN SIMPSON
Melissa Schoenstra said some women know, even as children, they want to be mothers. She was one of them. So when she was told she would not be able to get pregnant due to a variety of complications, the news didn't just shatter her dreams. It broke her spirit.
"I had planned my whole life around having kids," Schoenstra, 37, said. "I even got a teaching degree because I wanted to be around kids and have a work schedule that allowed me to be a mom. It was hard."
Though her desire to start a family was difficult to push aside, Schoenstra said she and her husband, Tom, still got married under the assumption they would not be having any children. But after a couple of years, news of hope for couples struggling with infertility started popping up more and more in the media. And while she and her husband both took notice, he was the first to suggest checking out their options.
At the time, the couple was living in Lexington, Ky., and started their journey toward potential parenthood at the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine. They moved to Bluffton three years ago.
"We did everything under the sun," Schoenstra said of the long, emotional and expensive process. Though they began with the medical options covered by their health insurance -- fertility drugs and artificial insemination -- the couple eventually turned to in vitro fertilization.
POWER TO PERSEVERE
The procedure, called IVF, involves surgically removing numerous eggs from the ovary and mixing them with sperm in a petri dish. Some of the eggs that are fertilized and grow into embryos are implanted into the womb. One cycle of IVF can cost $12,000 or more and often is not covered by health plans. To pay, the Schoenstras refinanced their home.
IVF comes with about a 50-50 chance of success that typically declines as the age of the patient increases. Schoenstra, who was 32 when she first tried the procedure, was successful after one cycle. Though she was pregnant with triplets, only two girls survived.
Multiple pregnancies are not uncommon with IVF. According to the S.C.-based Southeastern Fertility Center, twins occur in 20 to 30 percent of cycles, while triplets occur in less than 5 percent.
Beyond the statistics, Schoenstra said her biggest fears and frustrations during the process came from what couldn't be communicated -- to her doctor, her family, her friends or even her spouse. "Nobody has really done anything in depth on how emotional it really is," she said of the complicated quest to get pregnant. "People will say, 'Oh, it's hard,' but we were pretty much at the breaking point when we finally got pregnant that first time. It consumes your life. It's everything you do. You're on the doctor's schedule, so nothing is spontaneous. It sends you over the edge."
When Dr. Grant Patton, founder and director of Southeastern Fertility Center, spoke at a fertility seminar the clinic hosted on Hilton Head Island last month, he told a room of nearly 25 couples inquiring about available fertility treatments that no matter how hard it is, maintaining a positive and game day-like mentality when going through the process is vital.
"It's kind of like detective work," said Patton, who was responsible for South Carolina's first IVF pregnancy in 1984. "We're trying to put together a diagnosis to see which treatment will be most effective and simplest for you. Try to make it a good experience, and remember you are not alone."
When her now 4-year-old twins, Anna and Emma, were about 18 months old, Schoenstra and her husband tried IVF again through the Georgia Center for Reproductive Medicine. She got pregnant after one cycle, and gave birth to Olivia, who now is 18 months old.
STILL A CHALLENGE
According to the Center for Reproductive Medicine, infertility affects one in every six couples of childbearing age. There is a female problem in 35 percent of the cases, a male problem in 35 percent of the cases, and a combined problem in 20 percent of cases. Of the 28 million couples in the United States affected by infertility, 50 percent seek treatment. Of those, approximately
85 percent conceive.
The numbers have not been on Courtney Naughton's side.
Now 34, Naughton has lost both of her fallopian tubes due to complications from ectopic pregnancies, and can only become pregnant through IVF.
During an ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg has been implanted outside the uterus without the mother being aware. As the fetus grows, it eventually bursts the organ that contains it, endangering the expectant mother's life.
The first time this happened to Naughton, she lost the child and nearly lost her life. Doctors told her that her chances of becoming pregnant again were slim.
The pain of the experience created a rift in her marriage, she said, and eventually led to a divorce.
"We just didn't communicate about it at all," she said. "Nobody did. No one knew what to say."
At the time, Naughton was attending Monmouth University in New Jersey for a master's degree in corporate and public communication. To make sense of her own experience, she chose to write her thesis on the communication breakdown between spouses following pregnancy loss. For her research, she turned to an online support group she had joined for women who had
"I asked them to tell me their stories. It was part of my healing process," Naughton said. "When I presented my thesis, it was the first time I really shared my experience and felt like people were finally listening and wanting to talk about it."
In 2001, Naughton remarried, but she lost her second fallopian tube after suffering from another ectopic pregnancy while on vacation in Florida. So far, she and her husband, Joe, have gone through three IVF cycles with no success. Because New Jersey is one of seven states that has laws mandating IVF coverage, the procedures were covered by the couple's health plan. But South Carolina does not have laws requiring IVF coverage, and a move to Bluffton in 2005 has left them in both an emotional and financial quandary.
"It's this constant battle in your head of, 'Do we take everything out of our savings account for something that's not guaranteed to work?' " Naughton said. "I'm probably better prepared to handle it now because I'm older and more mature, but it's like, 'Can I do this one more time?' "
Though she is undecided about whether she and Joe will pursue another cycle of IVF, Naughton said she has made it her mission to push for more conversation regarding infertility. "I'd love to get some legislation going so that 20 years from now, someone in my same position doesn't have to go through all the isolation and hurdles that I did," she said.
"My advice to anyone going through this is to keep the communication lines open. Talk about it to whoever your partner is, because it's going to be an emotional roller coaster."