The want-to-have-a-baby blues
Infertility has many levels.
There are a lot of reasons for not obtaining pregnancy. There can be various options for trying to increase the ability to get pregnant. It can get quite expensive, and it can get quite stressful.
But in the end, when successful, each family has the beautiful baby they have hoped and suffered for -- making it all worth it.
"When asked if I'd be willing to share my story, my knee-jerk reaction," said Jodi Seelhammer, "was, 'no way!' After thinking about it, I thought, 'why not?'"
Jodi and Jake Seelhammer got married seven and a half years ago, and they decided to have children right away. But, one year passed, and then another and then four.
"I was more than frustrated. I was devastated," she said. "I wanted more than anything to have a house full of kids."
She talked to her doctor and got a referral to Sanford's infertility clinic.
"My hopes were high," she said.
She went through numerous tests -- blood draws, ultrasounds and a hysterosalpingogram. All of her tests came back normal, as did her husband's.
So she started out taking Clomid.
"I would go into the clinic, after taking my five days of Clomid, for an ultrasound. The ultrasound was to see how many follicles I had. I typically had around five follicles each time. I'd leave the clinic with my hopes high. After all, I had a five-time better chance of conceiving than the average woman."
She also had a higher chance of having multiple babies. But, she said, after three months of "crabbiness, emotional letdown," and hot flashes as a side effect of the Clomid, she still wasn't pregnant.
"During this time, I was more sensitive to how people interacted with their children. Walking through a store, seeing a mother giving her child a hug, or more often, a mother -- at wit's end -- yelling at her child.
"I worked at a local hospital and in the OB department. I was so happy for those babies that were born to families who loved and wanted them. I was saddened by babies born into less fortunate situations."
Not only was she seeing babies born on a regular basis at work, she was also seeing them with other family members, which was difficult at times.
"I had to fight emotions of wanting to be happy for them, but also being very jealous. I think the hardest part of infertility is the emotional rollercoaster," she said.
"I prayed to God, I was angry at God. I didn't know why I was being punished. I wanted more than anything to see my husband holding our baby. I felt like I wasn't holding up my end of the bargain being a wife."
After three months of taking Clomid, she started doing injections -- "the 'Kate plus 8' drugs."
She made frequent trips to Fargo, and month after month, things would "look good," just to find out it was unsuccessful. That went on for four months.
"My insurance at the time would have paid for six months of the injections. I didn't think I could handle another two months of it. I finally got to the point where I accepted that I would not have children of my own."
The next month, she took a pregnancy test, and yes, she was finally pregnant. The Seelhammers added Dawson to their family two and a half years ago.
"I am grateful to God and for the wonderful doctors and nurses that help women like me every day. My husband and I would like for our son to have a sibling(s), we have just started again with the Clomid," she said.
But, she added, since her insurance doesn't pay for fertility treatments anymore, they won't be going through the gamut of treatment she did in the past.
"This time around, I have a completely different mindset as I have a child. Another child would just be icing on the cake."
Though they weren't exactly "trying" to get pregnant, Sarah Longfors and her then-husband weren't trying not to have a child either.
It had been over a year of not being on any birth control and she started to feel "weird." She was having severe pain on her right side and couldn't stand up straight or walk. She made an appointment with a Sanford Health family practice doctor.
"I had a cyst on my right ovary. She rushed me back for a CT scan and said that if I didn't hear anything within a couple of days, I shouldn't worry," she said. "Unfortunately, she called me about an hour later to tell me that I had a growth the size of a golf ball that I would need to have removed."
When she showed up for surgery, fertility was mentioned for the first time.
I hadn't really thought about fertility until that point, I was just scared that the cyst might turn out to be cancerous, because cancer was prevalent in my mom's family."
Cancer wasn't the only possibility. The surgeon told her that it could be Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, which would also cause her to have problems getting and staying pregnant.
The doctor was able to remove the cyst, but it was a solid mass and had grown from golf ball size to softball size in one week. The doctor said at that rate of growth, Longfors had about two years to get pregnant without being considered too high-risk to use fertility medications.
Once she found that it wasn't cancer, Longfors said she started to read up on PCOS, but it wasn't hopeful. Until she found the website soulcysters.com, which provided the information she was looking for.
"The message boards were exactly what I needed. Once I learned the lingo -- there are lots of abbreviations -- I finally started to know what was ahead of me, but saw that it might not happen the 'traditional' way, but I could have a baby, even with this disorder."
She was eventually referred to Meritcare Reproductive Medicine Clinic (now Sanford) and started on medication called Metformin (or Glucophage), which changes hormone levels by controlling insulin levels. The medicine made her very nauseous, to the point that she couldn't get out of bed some days. She was switched to Clomid.
"At a dosage that would usually cause most women to have several follicles, I was either getting no response or just a single follicle. And I was getting frustrated wasting every month with such limited chance for success."
She even tried one month on a high dose of Clomid, with IntraUterine Insemination. When that didn't work, doctors put her on injected hormones.
"So I went in more often for blood work and ultrasounds to track my cycles, and when everything was exactly right, I would receive a series of shots, followed again by IUI for the best chance at success."
After a few cycles with no results, her doctor suggested in-vetro fertilization.
Almost two years to the date -- March 23, 2006 -- when she had the surgery and was told she only had a two-year window to get pregnant, on March 20, 2008, Longfors was implanted with four embryos. She found out March 31, 2008, that she was pregnant, and doctors were sure it was with multiples because her hormone levels were "off-the-chart." She was pregnant with twins.
"I miscarried the day before my first ultrasound. I was absolutely crushed, sure that I had just lost my last chance at ever having a child, but my doctors insisted I return the next day for my scheduled ultrasound," she said. "I was reminded again of what a miracle this child would be when they instantly heard her heartbeat on the ultrasound machine. I will never forget that sound, as long as I live."
It was a two-year wait, and thousands of dollars to hear that little heartbeat.
"Overall, I would say that those two years worth of treatments were probably close to $35,000 total," she said. "The insurance I was using at the time had a $10,000 lifetime maximum, which I went through quite quickly. So we paid approximately $25,000, and I continue to pay for it, as my medications all had to be charged to my credit card at the time."
At the time, Longfors didn't know anyone who had gone through IVF.
"The main feelings that I was going through were feeling very alone and responsible for putting my family through this horrible stress. There wasn't anyone I could talk to who understood. And regardless of how supportive your family is, there is just no way for someone who hasn't been through this process to truly appreciate how taxing it is."
To help other women with the support she longed for, Longfors said she has been discussing starting a support group at the Sanford Reproductive Clinic for about a year, but budgets haven't been allotted for that yet. But, she added, she is certainly willing to talk to anyone who inquires about it.
"I wouldn't want any woman to go through this process feeling as alone as I did."
While trying to get pregnant, people offered her advice, but most had never had any issues having children themselves. She was also told that she needed to relax more.
She tried acupuncture, and while it didn't help with her ability to get pregnant, it did help her relax, if only for a short period of time.
"He helped me calm myself during the days leading up to fertility treatments and focus on myself in the months between treatments," she said of the acupuncturist. "It is so easy to let the problems and opinions of people around me affect my mindset. Acupuncture was a time where I was in a dark, quiet room, removed from all of the distractions. It forced me to take half an hour every week to just breathe, which was difficult to do sometimes."
She said the other thing she heard many times from people was that I was going against Christian beliefs by "playing God."
"I couldn't disagree more," she said. "I understood where they were coming from, that they believed God should be the only one to create human life, however, there was not one thing that was in my control during this process, so I will always firmly testify that my daughter was nothing short of a miracle, directly from God."
Of all the emotional ups and downs, painful treatments and large expense, Longfors said it's worth it.
"It is worth every penny, every sleepless night and every tear cried. There isn't anything I wouldn't have done to have had a baby. Sophie is worth every single horrible day during those two years."