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Infertility, an Unexpected Trial

A patient success story

The Allen familyAshley and Jordan Allen never imagined that they would have an infertility story. They moved to Chattanooga when they were married in July of 2007, they settled into careers (Ashley is a recreation therapist and Jordan is a mechanical engineer), and expected they would become pregnant soon after stopping birth control in November of 2008.

Considering that they were young (23 and 26 at the time) and several friends had easily become pregnant, the journey into infertility was an unexpected trial.

Ashley describes herself as ‘sentimental in all aspects’ and ‘excited about the idea of announcing we were pregnant’. But every time she hosted a baby shower for one of her friends, the pressure seemed to increase.

At first she blamed herself and struggled in silence. But over time, Jordan found himself in the middle…. friends and family unintentionally applied pressure every time they asked about plans for children and Jordan felt like he had to defend Ashley. However leaving the questions unanswered simply increased the curiosity.

As the loss of control became more and more apparent, discouragement began to take over and the Allens started to consider their options. However, they were hesitant to seek fertility treatment because Ashley had heard horror stories about infertility clinics.

“The whole idea was a big turn off. Two of my friends had been through the process and it sounded cold, hard, and calloused… where they were treated like numbers, herded like sheep and no one cared about what they were going though.

But I finally hit the point where I was tired of asking ‘why me?’ and I decided I had to understand the options, so I visited my OB/GYN.”

In the beginning of 2010 Ashley started Clomid and, later that year, intrauterine insemination (IUI). After several failed cycles, the Allens were willing to do whatever was necessary to get pregnant. A friend of the family who is a doctor practicing in South Carolina was aware of a Chattanooga reproductive clinic that had high success rates.  He suggested a visit to Tennessee Reproductive Medicine (TRM), which started the Allen’s journey with TRM.

The Allen’s first visited TRM in August of 2010 and they were completely surprised. Ashley continues:

“I never imagined that we would meet a Doctor on our first visit. My friends had told me that one of the most disorienting aspects of their fertility clinic experience was the lack of doctor input and information. They had met with nurses who took blood and returned with medications that had been prescribed, but often left with no clear understanding of the problem or the solution.”

It was entirely different with TRM and Dr. Rink Murray completely won us over the first time we met. We talked for over an hour; he drew pictures and provided statistics.

And the most important thing is that he listened…he started with ‘tell me about your journey’.

I was floored by this ‘hands on’ approach. They invested the time to make sure that I was informed, and I was never discouraged from providing my own thoughts, opinions and questions. They made me feel comfortable and made sure that I understood what was going on.”

Jordan was also impressed and provides input from a different perspective:

“I wasn’t sure what we were getting into. As a guy, I didn’t know what to think, but I was worried about money and I was surprised how reassuring the visit was. Nothing seemed forced; there was no pressure.”

The thing that really impressed me was that Dr. Murray made it clear that we were all part of the process. He treated Ashley as a person, not a number. At a time full of emotion, he explained our options completely; we knew exactly the plan ahead of us.

And it was immediately clear to me that it was all about those two kids who are sleeping in the other room right now.”

Ashley also understood the potential for economic pressure but quickly recognized that TRM was different:

“My friends, who went to other clinics, didn’t talk to doctors. They didn’t review options and they were pressured to start treatment with $25,000 IVF (in vitro fertilization) procedures.

But Dr. Murray started with the options. He explained that the ball was in our court and that we could choose the pace we wanted. We reviewed plans that covered 6 and 12 months and agreed that IUI would be a good way to start.

We had time and we could always ramp up to IVF if we needed it.

We felt secure and it was warm and safe. TRM was never overwhelming, lonely, or awkward. They didn’t shove babies in our face or force us to make decisions.”

Prior to starting Ashley’s fertility treatment, Dr. Murray diagnosed a large ovarian cyst and temporarily took Ashley off of medications to let the cyst resolve.

While waiting for the cyst to go away, Ashley began to experience pelvic pain.  She called after hours and reached Dr. Jessica Scotchie.

Dr. Scotchie explained that it was likely that the ovary had twisted (ovarian torsion) due to the cyst, or the cyst had ruptured, or it was actually ovulating. Dr. Scotchie believed that the issue would probably resolve on its own fairly quickly, however, she listened, provided answers, and helped Ashley understand what was most likely happening in her body.

The next day Ashley took a home pregnancy test and learned that she had become pregnant naturally. She met with Dr. Murray the next day and over the next couple of weeks. Blood work and ultrasounds indicated that something wasn’t right.

The uterine lining was thick, and a pregnancy sac developed, but no embryo ever appeared.

As it became more apparent that the pregnancy was not progressing, her immediate reaction was, “There is no way that God would allow us to go through infertility and a miscarriage. This can’t be true.”

“For four weeks, we hoped and prayed for positive developments. Lab results showed that my hormones were increasing, but ultrasounds revealed no progression. I couldn’t continue any longer.

Normally, I would have had to schedule and wait to have a D&C, (dilation and curettage) but I believe that Dr. Murray saw the emotional roller coaster I was on; I had to move forward. It touched my heart when he said, ‘I’m here to do whatever you need me to do. We can wait for another ultrasound. Or we can move forward with medication or a D&C.’

As he promised in our initial meeting, Dr. Murray allowed me to control the pace with fertility treatments and now a loss. He let me make the decisions, he gave me the time I needed to come to terms with the reality, and he performed the procedure the next morning.

Rink was so good; he was compassionate, tender, and kind. He was comforting and helped me understand what my body was going through. We reviewed what had happened and looked toward the future.

But of course, I was heartbroken. I cried, and it felt like my spirit would break.”

But Ashley’s spirit was strong enough to find a way to refocus the pain and disappointment in a positive way. She wrote a ‘raw’ and ‘painful’ article for Stepping Stones online magazine right after the D&C and found that it captured the entire ordeal and even the challenges of friendly advice:

There were those who said, “Remember, you are so young!” I wanted to reply, “Please leave my age out of this. Yes, I’m 25, but that doesn’t discount the loss I have experienced or the brokenness I feel.” I’ve also had comments like, “I just don’t understand–I could have gotten pregnant any month I wanted. Another comment that I resented is “Have you ever thought about adoption?” Not that I’m against adoption–I have several family members who have chosen adoption. I just wasn’t ready to hear such advice. Allen, Ashley (August 2011) Past Tense/Present Tense. Stepping Stones, Bethany Christian Services.

Moving forward, Dr. Murray believed that Clomid was probably the greatest contributor to the cyst and they switched to Letrozole. Ashley’s next IUI occurred in November of 2010, however, the initial ultrasound only showed a single egg.

On a Saturday in early December, she was getting ready for a Christmas party when she started spotting. She called Dr. Murray at home.

“Dr. Murray explained that it sounded like my body was trying to start a period. He wanted us to think about going off medications, and I just started to cry. We were losing another potential pregnancy and I was broken. But Dr. Murray stayed on the line and listened and reassured me that we had lots of options.

I called the office the following Monday to tell them I was ready to get aggressive…I was ready to try shots.”

Ashley started Bravelle (in addition to the Letrozole) on Christmas Eve 2010.

“This was all taking place during the Christmas season. Jordan and I were traveling back and forth from Nashville and the TRM team worked with us to schedule around our traveling.

I met with Dr. Murray three or four times over the holiday week and we did our second TRM IUI on New Year’s Eve.  No one ever complained about the timing. It was driven by ovulation, we were moving forward, and the holiday wasn’t stopping us.”

Ovulation medication followed by IUI was a game changer for Ashley & Jordan. Could it be for you?

Six weeks and three days later they had the first ultrasound and discovered two heartbeats. They were overjoyed, and even a month long hospitalization wasn’t discouraging.

“I loved being pregnant! Even with strict bed rest for 6 weeks, preterm labor, and a 23 day hospital stay, I can’t complain.”

Ashley went into preterm labor at 28 weeks and was hospitalized. Dr. Murray visited her for two hours and Ashley felt like TRM had become so integral to the family that she wanted him to consider delivering the babies.

While honored by the request, Dr. Murray no longer delivers babies, having instead focused his practice entirely on reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

They stayed in touch by phone and email all the way up to August 19th when McKinney (Mac) Graham Allen and Paisley Grace Allen were born.

“Mac and Paisley are perfect! They are miniature versions of the two of us. He is large and sweet and she is spunky and adventurous. They are so close. Watching them interact with each other is such a treat- they are best friends.

I keep thinking ‘You are ours’ and ‘God gave you to us’, and although three years of infertility is awful, I can understand why it happened. It increased our faith and if this is the hardest thing that ever happens to us, we are very lucky.”

Jordan agrees that this was a bigger experience than just the four of them.

“We learned so much about infertility and we’ve had so many opportunities to help other infertile couples. At work, a guy found out that we were pregnant and he asked me about the whole process.

It turned out that they had been trying to get pregnant for three years with other fertility clinics… but the biggest surprise was how little they understood about the process.

TRM had taught us more in a day than they had learned in years and there is no doubt that the more you know about infertility, the more effective the treatment.

I met another guy with a similar story and I sent both of them to TRM.”

Ashley sums the entire experience rather succinctly:

“Infertility is a really personal thing and TRM makes it work. They look at everything as a team. We stay in touch; I have taken them treats, we have all their pictures with the babies, we go to the TRM events. We are forever linked with our family at TRM.

And this is what makes TRM different. It requires personable, caring people to get into the details of your journey and really know you. TRM is always with us.

A friend recently asked me how motherhood was, and I told her I am living my dream. I need a pinch just to remind me that this isn’t all a dream. I was on the receiving end of a Mother’s Day card this year.”