‘I got a message from a complete stranger offering to be a surrogate for us. I was in shock. I had no idea where she lived, who she was, nothing. I was nervous to tell my husband.’

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“My husband Joe and I got married on September 24, 2011, our wedding was one of the best days of my life and I couldn’t wait to start this new chapter of our lives together as a married couple. We knew we wanted kids right away so we began trying immediately and had actually stopped preventing pregnancy back in June of that year, just a few months before our wedding.

After the first 6 months of trying I began getting a little discouraged, but I also knew we needed to give it more time. Around that same time, we were in a bad motorcycle accident which left me with 5 broken bones in my leg from my ankle up to my hip. I had a major trauma surgery on my knee and ended up on crutches for 3 months and in physical therapy for 8 months which made trying to conceive a baby a bit of a challenge. During my recovery, I started a blog to document our journey to get pregnant and eventually become parents. I had no idea my blog would soon evolve into the story of our struggle with infertility and become a resource for infertility awareness and advocacy.

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After one year of trying naturally we definitely knew something was wrong and we began the process of testing with my OBGYN. They did a multitude of blood work and testing on both of us that showed everything was completely normal. We were stumped. I was very confused and heartbroken as to why things were not working out. I didn’t know anyone else who was struggling and I felt very alone. I began to feel like I was failing my husband because I wanted more than anything to make him a father. In the beginning it was tough but we continued to press forward with trying naturally because we really didn’t know what else to do.

Another year passed and I finally talked to my doctor again and we ultimately decided it was time to seek additional help. We met our first reproductive endocrinologist in September 2013.After some initial baseline blood work and ultrasounds both showing no issues, we jumped head first into an intrauterine insemination (IUI) with Clomid, which did not work. We did a second IUI cycle immediately following but decided to use injectable medication for that round which was considered more aggressive. After the dreaded two week wait I had my first blood test and I found out I was pregnant! I had to go back 2 more times for blood tests to make sure my levels were doubling. My second test also came back positive, the number had doubled, but a day or so later things seemed to take a turn for the worst and I began bleeding heavily. My third test showed that my levels had dropped and I experienced my first pregnancy loss. It was so heartbreaking, but I felt hopeful that I was at least able to get pregnant.

We made our 3rd attempt at an IUI but because of the medication I was producing too many eggs, so we canceled our cycle and decided to move forward into In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) pretty quickly. I was so scared but I felt like it would definitely work. Although I was still diagnosed with unexplained infertility, I thought IVF would be the key to our success. We did our first fresh IVF cycle in July of 2014. I had to stimulate my ovaries for 10 days with injectable medication that produced eggs which would then be aspirated while I was under anesthesia. It wasn’t an easy process in the beginning but I eventually got the hang of it and with the support of my friends and family I felt amazing about the initial outcome of our first cycle. We ended up with 34 eggs retrieved, 7 of which ultimately made it to the ‘blastocyst’ stage, meaning they grew for 5 days. We transferred 1 embryo on day 5 and crossed our fingers, little doubt in our minds that it wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, 11 days later we found out our cycle had failed and I was not pregnant. We ended up freezing the rest of our embryos, 6 total, so we geared up for a frozen transfer the next month. That cycle also failed. We gave it one more shot in November of 2014 with another frozen transfer and that cycle was again a failure.

Courtesy of Elena Ridley

By this time we had been through the ringer and my husband was very adamant about taking a break and getting back to us. We took a mini-vacation to Wisconsin Dells that December and regrouped in January with a new doctor. We felt like a second opinion was the next best step. We went to the number one ranked clinic in southern Illinois and we both felt a renewed sense of hope that this new doctor would be able to help us. I learned that 1 in 8 couples in the US suffer from infertility and I knew that I needed to continue to share publicly about our struggle because I didn’t want anyone to feel like they were alone, the way I had felt in the beginning. I made some amazing connections with others who were going through similar situations and supported us in all of our decisions. Without these family, friends and complete strangers from the beginning, I know we wouldn’t have had the determination that we did along the way.

In July of 2015 we finally started our cycle with our new doctor. It was a very long 6 months from the time we saw him in January to when we finally started our cycle that July, but we went through some testing and treated some minor issues he believed I had such as mild endometriosis. He drastically changed me to a more conservative protocol and we ended up with only 10 eggs retrieved. Our thought process was quality over quantity, so we were really thrilled with this number. Unfortunately, these embryos did not thrive well and we only ended up with two usable embryos which we transferred on day 3 instead of on day 5. The outlook for this cycle was grim from that day forward and unfortunately also ended up as a failed cycle. It was this doctor who first mentioned my egg quality to me at our follow up appointment but I refused to believe that was the issue. He told me that although there isn’t a single test that can be used to accurately diagnose egg quality, the appearance of my eggs seemed to indicate to him and the embryology team that my quality was poor. I was absolutely crushed. I had NEVER in my wildest dreams considered that my eggs were poor quality. With no eggs left from that cycle we took another break and decided to head back to our first clinic to do another frozen transfer since we still had embryos stored there.

Courtesy of Elena Ridley

In October of 2015 we transferred 2 frozen embryos and again remained hopeful, but certainly more guarded than anything. We knew the drill and the odds were not in our favor. There was not a shred of hope left over after so many failed attempts, and it was impossible to remain positive after all we had been through. We again found out our cycle had failed and we decided a 3rd opinion would be best. In November of 2015 we decided to try one final cycle with a new doctor. He gave us a 65% chance of success with one transferred blastocyst – I couldn’t believe those odds and I felt so much excitement for this next round. This time around we had 16 eggs retrieved, a number I thought was perfect! I waited for the call on day 5 about how many had made it to blasts but was instantly crushed when I found out that none of them had progressed as far as they should’ve. We transferred the top 2 and hoped for the best since once again, we had none to freeze. On December 26, 2015, I found out that my pregnancy level was at an 8, meaning I was hardly pregnant and that signs were not looking good. My next 2 subsequent tests revealed I was again experiencing another chemical pregnancy. I knew then it was time to close the door on my eggs and that our second doctor was right when he said that my egg quality was probably our issue.

In the midst of this final cycle, my blog, Instagram, and Facebook were places where I made friends and established relationships with others who were going through their own infertility journey. One day I got a Facebook message from a girl who was offering to be a surrogate for us after following our story for some time. She felt a calling to help us. I graciously explained to her that I was so grateful to her for her offer being that she was a complete stranger, but that our next step was more than likely egg donation so I could attempt to carry the pregnancy. Without hesitation she immediately offered to be our egg donor. I was in shock. Here is a woman that I had never met, I had no idea where she lived, who she was, nothing about her, and she was offering to gift her eggs to us to help us build our family!

I remember being SO unbelievably excited for this new opportunity, but was nervous to tell my husband so I kept quiet about the offer at the time. Over the next few weeks Amy and I quickly got to know each other and I learned she was from Augusta, Georgia. She was a nurse in the maternity ward at an Augusta hospital, she was married with 2 kids of her own, and she was 26 years old at the time. I felt such a strong connection with her even though we were only communicating through messages.Secretly, during our last attempt, I knew in my heart we would eventually go down this path. I knew exactly what my instinct was telling me, it was like our previous doctor planted a seed and eventually it broke through the soil and became a beautiful option for us. When I read that first message from our donor, it was like that seed sprouted and I was able to get to know her and felt like it could really work out, no matter the logistics. At that point I went to my husband with all of this and although I think he was somewhat hesitant, he was also impressed with the fact that a total stranger wanted to help us.

Courtesy of Elena Ridley

In March of 2016 we flew from Illinois to Georgia and met with Amy, her husband and family. We also met with our new clinic and quickly began the new process with our donor. As soon as we met them and spent just a few days with them, that seed that had sprouted eventually blossomed into what became our first donor egg cycle.  My husband and I, and Amy and her husband all felt like we had an amazing connection and were all willing to move forward with the process as quickly as possible. That May, Amy began her medications and had her egg retrieval in early June, she had 10 eggs retrieved, 8 of them fertilized, and 6 of them ended up in the blastocyst stage! Talk about GREAT egg quality, I never had numbers like that. We flew down to Georgia and on June 16, 2016, we transferred 1 donor egg embryo that was fertilized with my husband’s sperm. We flew back to Illinois a few days later and 11 days later, on June 27th I got the call from my clinic that I had always waited for. My test indicated I was VERY pregnant, the HCG level in my blood 967! I went back for 2 more tests at 13 days post transfer and 21 days post transfer and my levels continued to rise as they should.

On July 11th 2016 we confirmed I was pregnant with an ultrasound that showed 1 perfect little baby with a beautiful sounding heartbeat! We finally did it, we beat infertility and I was pregnant! Those days quickly became some of the best days of my life, right up there with the day we got married. My pregnancy was amazing and it went by very quickly. I got to experience all of the things I had only dreamed about like buying baby clothes, having a baby shower, making a registry, hiring a doula, washing all those tiny cute clothes, picking out a crib, having a gender reveal, and picking out a name. These were all things I was never certain I would get to experience, and were all significant to me in their own way. I relished in every second of my pregnancy and was very lucky to have no complications at all. I loved to watch my belly grow. I felt great up until the last few weeks when I began to get very swollen and extra tired, but I knew it was all normal and tried to soak in every second of my pregnancy that I could because I knew soon it would be coming to an end.

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On Tuesday February 21st my water broke at 4:45 a.m. By 11 p.m that evening my contractions were 4 minutes apart and we headed to the hospital. I remember being in total shock and disbelief that we were going to meet OUR baby in just a few hours! My goal was a water birth so I spent the next 12 hours laboring with no pain medication in every position possible. Unfortunately our baby was stuck sideways in the birth canal and my OB decided I needed a non-emergent C-section since my water had broken 36 hours prior. On Wednesday February 22, 2017, we welcomed our baby girl Georgia June to world at 12:38 p.m. weighing 8lbs 2oz, 21″ long! She was pure perfection and I instantly fell more in love with her.

Courtesy of Elena Ridley

I was so physically exhausted from labor. It was the hardest and most painful physical work I have ever done in my life. I remembered being so upset at having to have a C-section and felt that all of that hard work was for nothing, however my doula, husband, mother, and midwife reminded me that I was doing what I needed to do for my baby. Once I had my spinal, I felt a wash of relaxation and relief and just minutes later my daughter was placed on my chest. I remember it so vividly. It was like being in a dream, but this time I was finally able to wake up and have that dream be real! I got to keep this baby, it wasn’t a dream that I had to wake up from only to be left with a broken heart. This was my real-life, 5-year-in-the-making, daughter and it was a feeling I had never felt before in my life.

Being a mom has been the greatest adventure I have ever embarked on.  It was an adventure I wanted to take for years, and one that I quickly learned would be a lot harder for us to experience than most. Motherhood was something I eventually thought I would never get to experience. After all, we had done 6 transfers of 9 embryos made from my own eggs and I never got even a glimpse of pregnancy from those IVF cycles. I relied heavily on the one pregnancy that I did have back in 2014 as reassurance that SOMEDAY it WOULD happen, but with every failed cycle and every embryo that we lost, came bigger waves of doubt that eventually drowned me in negativity. I could never find the sense of hope and excitement that I had during our first IVF cycle, the one I knew was going to work. With every passing cycle that failed, it would feel more and more like we were just going through the motions.  It felt like pure insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we did that six times. Eventually I knew I had to get off that roller coaster, we had to change the path otherwise we would never have the outcome we wanted. The universe aligned me with my donor at just the right moment. It was like she knew that I needed her to come into my life at that very moment. Just days before she reached out to me I was browsing donor profiles at our local clinic, then I get this message with this offer and my life is FOREVER changed. Our donor cycle was the first time in almost 2 years I felt that renewed sense of excitement and hope about having a successful cycle.

Capture by Lauren

Although our story did not go the way I ever pictured it would, although it is long and full of heartache, every second of it was worth it because it brought us our miracle. Both the physical and emotional toll that infertility takes on a person is devastating. There was physical pain with every injection that I took for each cycle, with the egg retrievals, the surgery, the transfers, and the vaginal ultrasounds. On top of that is the emotional pain. You watch from the sidelines as the people around you get pregnant without issue. You force yourself to go to baby showers, you participate in holidays but secretly you feel as though you’re dying inside as you had hoped you’d be announcing your pregnancy at Christmas time, you stare at multiple failed pregnancy tests retrieving them out of the garbage can hours later thinking maybe just maybe there would actually be a line there, but there isn’t.  It’s pain and heartache that is unique, but it is also shared by 1 in 8 couples. It can have devastating effects on marriages, friendships, and finances and can easily break relationships with friends.

Despite all the heartbreak and pain, my husband and I were lucky to come out of infertility stronger because of our struggle. He was nothing but supportive our entire journey basically went along with everything that I wanted to try. He was on board for it all as long as it was what I wanted and that made things a lot easier for me. Now I get to see him as a dad to our beautiful daughter and it is truly special to see every day. I love that it took my body to grow my baby created by two of my all-time favorite human beings. Even though I don’t share DNA with my daughter and I’m not genetically her mother, I am 100% her mother. She would never exist without the desire to carry her along with the physical act of my body creating her life inside of me. It was my blood and my body that sustained her life as she grew inside my womb and I will always cherish my ability to be able to carry her. I never imagined that I would say it took us THREE people to conceive our child, but I absolutely love to say that and believe that it makes our story that much more special.

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Our donor and her family will always hold an extra special place in our hearts. Recently in our attempts at baby number 2, Amy and her family opened up their home to us twice now. We’ve cooked meals together, we’ve watched each other’s kids, and we have shared many special moments together as friends AND family and we will always be indebted to them for their generosity and Amy’s gift of life to our family. We are so thankful for the special relationship we have with them and it means a lot that Georgia will get to know where her genetic roots come from. She now has 3 biological siblings that I hope she can continue to spend time with throughout her life and get to know better as she gets older. Our plan is to share Georgia’s roots with her early on so it becomes second nature to her. We never want her to feel ashamed of where she came from and want her to understand from a very young age how much she was wanted and how much of a gift she is to us.

Kasey Wilson Photography

Overall, it took us 2 IUIs, 3 fresh IVF cycles, 3 frozen IVF cycles, a total of 9 embryos of my own eggs transferred, and 1 egg donor embryo before finally becoming pregnant. Our donor egg transfer was our lucky number 7th transfer of embryo #10. Now we are actively trying for baby number 2 and unfortunately, we have experienced two failed cycles. In July of 2018 we transferred 1 embryo that resulted in a chemical pregnancy. We did a second transfer in October and I ended up pregnant with 3 consecutive high HCG level tests. We went in at 7 weeks for our first ultrasound and found that our embryo had split. We had 1 sac that was empty (called a blighted ovum) and a second that had a baby in it with no heartbeat who had stopped growing about a week before at 6 weeks. I had my D&C to remove the baby on November 16th.  It’s been the absolute hardest part of our journey thus far. The emotions of this loss have wrecked me and I am heartbroken and in total shock that we have lost 3 more pregnancies in just a few months. We know we still have 3 shots left with our frozen embryos currently awaiting us in Georgia, however there is a lot of healing that needs to happen both physically and emotionally before we move forward. We want more than anything to see Georgia become a big sister and we are very hopeful for a successful cycle in the future!”

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elena Ridley of Tonica, Illinois. You can follow her journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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