An Unexpected Fertility Journey Finally Gave This LGBTQ Couple Their Dream Baby

Two mothers share their imperfect path to their perfect baby.

In 2019, my wife, Ariana, and I were married in a small ceremony on a beautiful, slightly chilly October day. Two of our best friends officiated our wedding, and every bit of it was wonderful. 

Fast forward to January of 2020, and we had our first fertility consultation. I was 34, we knew we wanted to start a family and weren’t sure how long it was going to take to get started, so we didn’t want to waste any time. We both wanted to eventually carry a pregnancy, and because I am five years older than Ariana, it made sense for me to go first.

Admittedly, we thought we were going to get pregnant quickly. Every test we did came back normal or better than normal. I was still considered young, I was healthy, and we had done all the research on how to maximize our chances. 

We settled on doing our first IUI in April. I was on a medication that I needed to wean off of, and it gave us some time to enjoy married life before embarking on this next adventure. 

We also wanted time to find a sperm donor we really felt good about. The process of choosing a donor was a wild experience – we chose to use a prominent cryobank with excellent reviews. The sperm donor industry is not well regulated, so we wanted a reputable cryobank with strong ethical practices in place. Cryobank sites are truly like online dating in some ways. There are profiles with photos, tons of information, and you can filter by certain attributes. It’s a strange experience for sure, but also an exciting one.

After a lot of research and conversation, we settled on a donor and purchased three vials, which would get us through three IUIs, should we need them.

We didn’t know it yet, but COVID was about to have a huge impact on donor sperm, adding another hurdle to our path to parenthood. Because of the shutdowns, there was a major sperm shortage from 2020 to 2022. Each time we decided on a donor, they quickly ran out of vials. In case you didn’t know, donor sperm cost around $900/vial in 2020. Today, it can be upwards of $1,200 or more. We couldn’t buy a bunch at once like we would have preferred, so we ended up trying with three different donors throughout our journey. 

We had been dreaming of becoming parents since early in our relationship, so we were excited and as ready as we could be. It felt like everything was going according to plan.

And, then the whole world shut down. And so did fertility treatments.

The first tries

Our clinic resumed treatments in July 2020. We were antsy to get started and had our first unmedicated IUI in early August. 

It didn’t work.

We tried another unmedicated IUI the next month.

Another failure.

Then we introduced a low dose of Clomid, and estrogen modulator that can help with timing of ovulation and increase chances of conceiving. We tried three more times, tweaking my Clomid dosage each time. 

Each time failed—and there was not really an explanation. 

By our sixth failed IUI, we met with our doctors for a “WTF” appointment. During that appointment, I received what at this point was an unsurprising, but still devastating diagnosis of unexplained infertility. 

These words stung. It was a pain I had never known before—a helpless feeling of failure. Like I was somehow letting down myself, my wife, and our future family.  It also meant it was time to  move to IVF, an invasive process  I had never wanted to do. 

Through tears, I made the appointments to begin IVF, feeling both terrified and cautiously optimistic.

It’s worth noting that, because of COVID, my wife wasn’t allowed to be in the room for most of our fertility treatments until we started IVF. It’s a really strange experience to be trying to conceive a child with your partner sitting in the car or joining via FaceTime.

Fertility treatments can be lonely enough, but it’s a whole new level of isolating when you’re going to countless appointments by yourself, with everyone masked and distancing as much as possible.

IVF

By the time we started IVF, we were emotionally, financially and physically exhausted. We were lucky to have great insurance coverage for fertility care, but between the outrageous cost of donor sperm and other costs not covered by insurance, we had already spent over $12,000 out of pocket. It was scary to be starting IVF already having spent more than we had anticipated, knowing we would be spending a whole lot more. 

But we did it.

My body knocked it out of the park with our egg retrieval. I had 48 follicles and we retrieved 29 eggs, which resulted in eight embryos that had all made it to five days of development, the ideal timeframe for viability. We opted to do preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) to make sure they were genetically normal, and we felt encouraged knowing that out of eight, we had six healthy, normal embryos. We knew we wanted to carry two pregnancies, so we were hopeful we had made our babies during this retrieval—and wouldn’t have to go through this process again.

More heartache

We had our first transfer in August of 2021. It was an unexpectedly emotional experience. We both cried happy tears, watching that perfect little embryo on the ultrasound screen. It is a moment I will never forget.

I became obsessed with testing—taking multiple pregnancy tests a day, heartbroken as they continued to come back negative. 

We were at a loss. This felt like such a blow, even knowing it didn’t mean our journey was over. We started having conversations about my partner, trying to carry our first pregnancy instead of me, which was a devastating consideration. Carrying a pregnancy was something I had always dreamed of, and the idea of letting go of it felt impossible, and like I was being failed by my body. Why was something so natural so difficult for me? I was 35 by this time, and felt extra aware of my ticking clock. This was, by far, the lowest point of our journey, putting me in a pretty dark mental place for a few weeks.

We met with our doctor again, who reassured us that the chances of repeated transfer failure was very low. She told us that she had great confidence that our next try would be a success.

I was not remotely convinced. By this point, we had eight failed fertility treatments. All of them in an office, all of them costing us a ton of money. It was so hard not to feel like my body was failing us. Like I was just not meant to carry a pregnancy. But something inside of me just knew it wasn’t true and that my dreams of pregnancy would be realized. I’m so glad I listened to that little voice.

We shakily moved forward. We spent some time healing from our first embryo loss and planned our next transfer for October 22, 2021. I was not optimistic.

A Halloween miracle

Ariana and I have always loved Halloween. It’s been one of our “things” since we first started dating. For our second transfer, we decided to keep ourselves busy before our looming beta blood draw, which happened to fall on Halloween. We planned a huge Halloween party for October 30 with friends, one of our first major social gatherings since the beginning of the pandemic. We poured everything into it. We went over the top, but it was the best distraction possible. 

Much to Ariana’s dismay, I refused to take a single pregnancy test during this two week wait. I wanted to live in hope for as long as possible. With our first transfer, I was consumed with testing and obsessing over whether I was seeing lines or not. It was miserable, and made the failed transfer feel even worse.

A few days before our party, I was sitting at home and it suddenly felt like a heat lamp was coming out of my body. I was HOT. I convinced myself this was from the progesterone shots I was taking. I brushed it off. I had some spotting that same day, but again, convinced myself it was all from the hormones.

A voice in the back of my head said…maybe this is pregnancy? But I quieted it. 

The day of our party, I was cooking and prepping all day. I had zero interest in food that day, but told myself it was all nerves and excitement. I tried to focus on our party, knowing the next day we would be finding out if our transfer had worked or not. 

We had a great time filling our home with our best friends. There was laughter, dancing, and great conversation. It was loud and fun and exactly what we needed. It made it feel like we could handle whatever was coming the next day.

On Halloween morning, we needed to be at our clinic by 9 a.m. We woke up around 7 and I decided to take a test. Ariana was in the bathroom while I was getting dressed, and the timer went off. I told her to look at it. I wasn’t interested. I had a pit of dread in my stomach. She told me to come in, and asked if I wanted to know. I nodded, and she excitedly screamed that there were two lines. 

For the first time in our entire journey, there were two lines!

We both collapsed in the happiest tears right there on the bathroom floor. We couldn’t believe it. We drove an hour to our clinic, absolutely ecstatic. We happily told the nurses that we had a positive test. They asked us if it was dark, and I said no, but I didn’t care.

At that moment, I was pregnant. 

They told us that we needed a minimum beta level of 50. Mine came back at 48. I think if I knew what I know now, I would have been a lot more anxious. But we were coming back in two days and would find out for sure we were pregnant. 

At the next blood draw, my numbers had barely doubled. They wanted us to come in for a third blood draw. At this point, my anxiety and dread was in full force. What if our happiness was short lived? What did this mean?

After the most excruciating 48 hours of my life, we awaited our third beta results. When they came through our portal, I couldn’t even believe it. They had tripled! We were officially pregnant and could breathe a little.

A couple of days before our first ultrasound, I started spotting. It turned from brown to pink, and my anxiety reached a new level. The day of our ultrasound, I was so sure that we were going to get bad news. 

But there she was. Heartbeat flickering, growth perfectly on track. Our daughter

In this moment, the hardship of our journey melted away. She was all that mattered now, and every part of our story seemed to make sense. It brought us to this tiny little life flickering on the screen in front of us. 

Over the first trimester, she kept us on our toes. I continued having cramping and bleeding from six to thirteen weeks. It was unbelievably stressful. But each time we checked on her, she was growing and thriving. Today she is a bright, energetic, precocious little miracle. She is the greatest joy of our lives and I would go through every heart-wrenching part of our journey again if it meant it would bring her to us.

What’s next

Soon, we will begin our journey to our second baby. This time, Ariana will (hopefully) be carrying, using the four embryos we still have waiting for us. We are nervous to start again, knowing so much more now than we did the first time. But we are also excited to potentially grow our family once again.

Our path to parenthood has been fraught with heartache, unexpected challenges, and unanswered questions. It has become part of us, and is something we will forever share with our children. We hope that they see how very wanted they are, how loved they have been since before they even existed, and how truly special they are. The road here has been hard, but it has always been rooted in enormous love and hope for our future family.

The fertility experience—no matter who you are—can feel isolating, with countless hurdles, and more.

We feel incredibly fortunate to have built a beautiful, supportive community through our Instagram page that we started when we first began our fertility journey. We’ve connected with Dandi Fertility, which has given us even more community in fellow women navigating fertility journeys. This community has made us better mothers in every way, and has meant the world to us. They are a big part of our “village” and our family.

The connections we’ve made on both our Instagram and in the Dandi community have been life-changing for us. We have found so many other families who are just like us. While we have plenty of queer friends and family, many of whom have also had children, there’s been something inexplicably special about the connections we’ve made online. We will cherish these relationships for our entire lives.

In many ways, we feel way more prepared to start trying for our second baby than we did when we were trying to conceive Mila. But we are also pretty traumatized from the first rounds and are keeping our hearts guarded as we step into the fertility world once again. Our online community has helped immensely in healing these traumas, while also helping us find the strength and courage to try again.

One thing we know without a doubt is that it will be worth it. And that we have many people cheering us on and here to catch us if things don’t go as planned. 

Author

  • Chelsea Fristoe

    Chelsea Fristoe is aformer roller derby girl who lives in Michigan with her brilliant wife and their precocious (almost) two-year-old daughter. She is a professional writer and an amateur influencer with a passion for community, social equity, animals, and really good snacks. Diagnosed with unexplained infertility in 2021, she has spent the past three years advocating for LGBTQIA+ families and the infertility community.

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