Victoria and her husband never gave up, and her own research on why her embryos were not implanting helped them become Mom and Dad.
“Claire is happy, healthy, and energetic. She is absolutely everything we were hoping we could have,” says Victoria of her daughter. “There are always the hard parts about being a new mom and new dad, functioning on no sleep and all that. But we wanted this so much.”
Indeed they did. Victoria and her husband started trying to conceive when she was 26, the same year she was finishing her first year of residency as an emergency medicine physician.
“Right when we got married, we were ready,” Victoria recalls. “Throw away the birth control and toss out the condoms! But after about four or five months of that, nothing was happening.”
She started using ovulation trackers, but ten months later and still not pregnant, Victoria went to see her gynecologist for a routine visit.
“I’m not of ‘advanced age’ or anything, so I just want to know what’s going on,” she told her doctor.
While Victoria’s test results came back normal, tests on her husband’s sperm showed low motility (movement). The couple was referred to a fertility specialist at Loma Linda University (LLU) who recommended that they go straight to in vitro fertilization (IVF). When their first cycle didn’t work, Victoria and her husband were very disappointed.
“We had super high expectations because IVF success is highly based on maternal age,” says Victoria. “I fell apart. How could this not happen?”
The couple was somewhat reassured with the knowledge that for 50 percent of people, IVF doesn’t work the first time. They’d just have to try again. Their second cycle resulted in pregnancy, but it didn’t last. Although her urine pregnancy tests were positive, blood tests later showed that Victoria’s human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels had dropped, and she was not pregnant. Still, the initial positive results gave them hope to continue trying.
“We eventually did eight cycles. Four fresh and four frozen embryo transfers,” says Victoria. “Every three or four months we’d be doing a new cycle. I’d get into the clinic at seven in the morning for ultrasounds. That was difficult. Nothing was working.”
Learning more & trying a different approach
The team at LLU Center for Fertility shared Victoria and her husband’s determination to get pregnant. Victoria responded well to the hormone therapy, producing up to 35 eggs at a time. But when multiple cycles didn’t result in pregnancy, her doctors prescribed different types of progesterone and they tried different methods for retrieving the eggs. Later on, instead of transferring one or two embryos, they transferred three or four embryos at a time.
Program and Lab Director Johannah Corselli, Ph.D., also performed biopsies on the embryos to rule out the possibility of genetic abnormalities. All of the couple’s embryos were normal. Victoria began doing research on her own.
“I read every article about why implantation doesn’t work,” says Victoria, thinking back on their many attempts. “I ended up talking to reproductive immunologists, people who specialize in the immune reaction that a woman’s body has to being pregnant. I then had a slew of additional blood tests.”
On their eighth cycle, with the help of a reproductive immunologist, Victoria and the LLU team incorporated immunosuppressant drugs into her treatment plan. Again Victoria adjusted her work schedule for yet another transfer.
“As many cycles as we’d been through, we said this is our last,” recalls Victoria. “We said we’d throw everything at it and see what happens,” says Victoria.
Typically following a transfer, Victoria would start taking pregnancy tests after one or two days. This time she and her husband went away for a few days and held off on taking any pregnancy tests.
When they returned home six days later, she took a test right away. She left it in the bathroom, and minutes later her husband came out with a big smile – and tears.
“It’s positive!” he said.
Still, because of the three previous pregnancies that didn’t progress, they were nervous.
“It wasn’t until I was seven weeks pregnant that we went in to do the first ultrasound. I was just so beside myself anxious, fearing it could be nothing,” Victoria says. “The ultrasound lady let us listen, and then we heard the heartbeat for the first time! I honestly never thought I’d experience that myself.”
“We also found out at that time that Claire’s twin didn’t have a heartbeat. But from that point on, we just had normal, beautiful ultrasounds,” says Victoria. “And I had my stethoscope at home so I could listen. If an hour or so went by and I didn’t feel her, I’d say to my husband, ‘Let’s listen to make sure her heart’s still beating.’”
The pregnancy, it turned out, was the easiest part. She had some morning sickness but after 12 weeks, Victoria felt fine, and she continued working until 38 weeks without any problems.
Her husband is a stay-at-home dad now, and they’ve even started talking about trying again. If they do, they’ll return to LLU and follow the same plan as they did on their eighth, successful cycle.
Victoria recommends that other couples contemplating IVF check that they have the financial resources for what could be many cycles, and to make sure that they have enough emotional support before starting their journey.
“There are no guarantees. But it’s possible. Even after seven failed cycles you can have a normal, healthy pregnancy,” says Victoria. “Also, don’t wait for the perfect time. Once you know that you can support kids, go for it!”
Are you struggling to get pregnant? Loma Linda Center for Fertility & IVF has a wide range of solutions for every age & diagnosis, including holistic therapies and advanced treatments, such as IVF.
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