LIFESTAGES: Conquering Infertility with IVF

Continuing with our series on infertility, we spoke with Jessica Hodgkins, a Lehigh Valley resident who turned to in-vitro fertilization, commonly referred to as IVF, as a solution to her fertility issues. Here Jessica recounts her experiences through the process:


We had three miscarriages and after the third miscarriage my OB/GYN decided that it was time for me to see a specialist to get some more testing done. That’s when I started seeing Reproductive Medicine Associates of Pennsylvania at Lehigh Valley (RMA) and from there they did a lot of different testing and found out that I had, it’s like a clotting disorder, called Antiphospholipid Syndrome. It’s easily treated with blood thinners and you can go on to have healthy pregnancies. So we decided with RMA’s suggestion to proceed and try naturally again.


From there we did get pregnant again, but unfortunately we lost that baby as well, And from that, they found out that that baby had a chromosome issue that was Turner syndrome. So after meeting with RMA during that process, the suggestion was that we proceed with IVF because it was the only way we could be sure at that point that the baby would be healthy and do the PGD [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] testing.


The IVF process was definitely difficult. Looking back I feel really fortunate that I had RMA. I met a lot of couples throughout everything we went through, who also went through IVF and I don’t think they had that same relationship with their fertility practice that we were able to build with RMA. My nurse BJ was like my godsend, she got me through a lot of those hard days. It is a difficult process. It felt like our whole life revolved around becoming pregnant for three years.


There’s different parts of IVF, there’s the retrieval and the transfer. And the retrieval is the egg retrieval so leading up to that you’re on a lot of different medications to basically stimulate and trigger your body to make a lot of follicles. So during that process you’re taking different medications, some are oral, some are injections. And so many things have to be perfectly timed. At one point I was going to RMA every single morning because they would have to check with the ultrasound, what my body was doing.

“Handpicked on Earth by Siblings in Heaven.” Hodgkins suffered three pregnancy losses before turning to in-vitro therapy.

In the beginning my body didn’t respond and it actually ovulated, which is not what you want to actually happen, it’s the opposite. So we had to cancel our cycle at that point. And then restart it. Once they determine the follicles are the right size, they give you the date to do the egg retrieval. You have to do an hCG trigger and it has to be at exactly a certain time. For the egg retrieval you go to the other office they have, RMA of New Jersey in Basking Ridge. That was one of my difficult days —  you just don’t know what you are going to get. They give you an estimate on what they see from the ultrasound, how many follicles, but you don’t know if they are healthy or unhealthy, and you’re put under full anaesthesia so although the actual retrieval is fairly quick, there’s a lot leading up to that.


So after that, they put the egg and sperm together to create an embryo. Because we had the chromosome issue with our baby that was lost, we proceeded with PGD testing, where they can test the embryos and see if there’s any chromosome issues. They let the embryos go to day five and that’s when they’re able to test them to see if there’s any issues. At that point we had another set back because our embryos were taking a little longer to go, so we had to cancel the transfer and proceed with a frozen transfer.


We were able to get three embryos that were healthy and that was in November of 2015 and then in January of 2016 we were able to do the transfer and we transferred one healthy embryo. Leading up to that again it’s just a lot of shots, my least favorite, the progesterone which has to go into your butt check. It’s hard, I know a lot of people just think about what the woman goes through, but my husband was there every step of the way. It’s a lot on both.


For us I feel fortunate that it brought us together and we were both really able to lean on each other during that process. It would be nice to be able to say, “We’re going to do IVF, it’s a guarantee, it’s going to work.” But it’s just not, there’s so many different parts of it, it’s so complicated, all the different processes within it. I don’t think we even realized all of the things that could go wrong until we were having these setbacks.


In November when they said we can’t do the transfer that was one of my worst moments. I think at that point I thought, “I don’t think we’re supposed to have kids then, this must be some kind of message.” But I think that’s where my husband and I were able to work together and he was able to really just be there for me. I remember having a conversation with my nurse, BJ who was saying, “This isn’t the worst thing. We’re not saying you have no embryos, we’re just saying it’s a two month setback. And I don’t think that’s the only time where I said, “I give up, I can’t do this anymore.”  And even for us, because we were able to get pregnant, but we just kept losing the babies, when we did the transfer, it was kind of like we were holding our breath the whole time.


We got pregnant. After ten days, they can test you and it came back that we were pregnant and unfortunately I started bleeding, and I thought, “Okay, we’re back again.” We thought we lost the baby but it was a subchorionic hematoma. It was lot of this “we’re good” and then “we’re not again,” this back and forth and I don’t think I truly caught my breath until I held my son in my arms.


From what friends who have had natural normal pregnancies, mine wasn’t, I didn’t know what normal was supposed to be, because if I felt a cramp, I was calling RMA, “I need to be seen, something’s wrong!” I was almost always waiting for something bad to happen. I was very closely monitored. I had a maternal and fetal medicine doctor and my regular OB once I was released from RMA, who closely watched me through the whole pregnancy. Overall there were really no complications, but it was just that emotional part that made it so difficult.

It’s so hard, like I said, it just completed took over our lives. When I reflect back on those three years that we were trying to start a family, all I can think of is us trying to have a family. I don’t remember laughing, I don’t remember living, and that part makes me sad. So if anything, as hard as it can be, as much as it completely takes over every aspect of life and every moment in your thought process, I think if there’s an option to go out and go on vacation, or to do something for yourself, or to eat something you like to eat, to do it and not allow yourself to stop living.


And I think the other part is the guilt and I blamed myself and thought it was my body failing us and I think I’ve realized since then it wasn’t, there really wasn’t anything I could do, it was just the cards we were dealt and I look at my son now and I’m just in awe of him. There’s this picture we have of the day of our transfer and they give you a picture of the embryo. We took a picture of us holding that picture and we thought, we hope that will be our first family photo. It’s things like that, I look at him and he’s such a miracle and I know there were times when I didn’t think we’d ever be here, and I never thought I’d be a mom and so I think to just hold on to that hope, because it does happen, even through the setbacks, to not let go of that dream.

Jessica Hodgkins spent three years trying to start a family before finally giving birth to a baby boy.

He is 16 months old, he is a wild child. I kept all of my needles I used through IVF. I’m waiting for the moment I can start showing him, saying, “This is what I did for you, you have to be safe,” because likes to run and jump on everything. But he’s just the sweetest, kindest little boy, he really makes us so happy.  

Finally a family. Hodgkins says there were many moments where she wondered if she’d ever have the chance to be a mother. Photo credits: Jessica Hodgkins.