INTRODUCING: THE SHERO SERIES

SHERO: a female hero; a heroine.A woman or man who supports women's rights and respects women's issues.

I don’t know about you, but the TTC community on social media is FIERCE, in my opinion. It is made up of women who have fought like heck to expand their families, in the most difficult of circumstances. As @laurenifen said: It’s the CEO’s having embryo transfers between meetings, Doctors saving lives while trying to create one, accountants blowing their budget on yet another round of treatment. It’s artists using their work to channel emotion, teachers planning treatment around their next academic year, and police officers sneaking IVF drugs into the staff fridge. She is ME.

Since joining the instagram world, I have been blown away by the support and compassion perfect strangers have provided to not only me, but to others. It’s a world where Doctors are shattering the Doctor-Patient relationship and sharing about their own fertility journeys. It’s a safe place where women share their stories of joy, defeat, and determination. It is made up of a community of women that empower others, support others, and use their infertility diagnosis as a catalyst for something inspiring. Women I like to call, SHERO’s.


Meet Kellie Stryker:

Kellie is an infertility warrior, licensed clinical social worker, and incredible SHERO determined to provide emotional support to those navigating the path of infertility.

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Hello, name is Kellie and I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in Reproductive Mental Health.

Four years ago, my husband and I began the process of starting our family. 

After trying on our own for a couple months, we got pregnant but the pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage. Following the miscarriage, we tried on our own for a year before we decided it was time to pursue the help of a Reproductive Endocrinologist. I went through multiple IUIs and two rounds of IVF before switching to a different RE who had her own personal experience with infertility. 

Our third round of IVF was successful but unfortunately resulted in a ectopic pregnancy. I was given methotrexate to terminate the pregnancy but had to wait another 6 months before we could move forward with another transfer. After the 6 months, we surprisingly got pregnant on our own but my levels started off low and my doctor was not hopeful. To my doctor’s surprise, my levels doubled appropriately and we were scheduled for our first ultrasound. 


During the ultrasound, my doctor was unable to locate the baby in my uterus. After much discussion and a gut feeling, we requested a D&C. Following the surgery, the doctor explained that the baby had implanted in my right fallopian tube and I was bleeding internally. As a result, the doctor had no choice but to remove my fallopian tube. 

After a 3 month break, we decided to move forward with a test called an Endometrial Receptivity Analysis (ERA) which helped to determine the appropriate window for implantation. The test confirmed that I was pre receptive by 24 hours and required an extra day of progesterone. My doctor explained that the my window for implantation was most likely closed which resulted in my ectopic pregnancies. 


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Following the ERA, we completed one more Frozen Embryo Transfer. To our surprise, the FET worked and our daughter Madelyn Grace was born on April 13th, 2018. 

I’m extremely grateful to be on the “other side” of infertility but the emotional journey I experienced will always be with me. I experienced loss, isolation, fear, sadness and heartache. I never would have imagined that I would go through something so debilitating without the proper support. A part of me was broken but no one, not even my husband, could truly understand the pain I was experiencing. Thankfully, I was able to see a therapist who helped me learn how to cope and manage the emotions I was experiencing. Unfortunately, my therapist was not well versed in Reproductive Mental Health. I craved the ability to share my journey with someone who understood the road I was on. To my surprise, it did not exist and if it did, it was never offered to me. The lack of emotional support during one of the most challenging times in my life baffled me. It was then that I decided I wanted to use my personal experience with infertility and my background as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to help others going through similar circumstances. I didn’t want others to feel alone or unsupported and decided to open my own practice specializing in Reproductive Mental Health. 

When I decided I wanted to open my practice, the name Rain to Rainbow Counseling immediately came to mind. I truly believe that without rain, there would be no rainbows. Your journey with infertility will pave the way to your rainbow, whatever that may be. Whether that be with a child by IVF, adoption, surrogacy or deciding to live your life child free, you will eventually find your rainbow. 

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My journey has taught me to be resilient, to be ok with the unknown and focus on one moment at a time. Not every story ends with a baby but it can end with an ending you are happy with. It will take time and healing but I promise you will get there.

What I want you to take away from this is that it’s ok. It’s ok to be sad, frustrated, angry, resentful, bitter and whatever emotion you may be feeling at this very moment. You are allowed to feel all of the above and more. Sit with it. Don’t force yourself to put on a brave face when you are going through unimaginable pain. However, when you are ready, allow yourself to work through the emotions you are experiencing. Self-care should be your number one priority because without it, you will lose yourself. Infertility is only a small part of your story. Don’t let it define you. 

My mission is to help others get through their journey. I hope to take my knowledge, experience and expertise to walk them through every single step. I can't guarantee the outcome, but I can guarantee to be with them along the way.


Meet Desiree

*today’s post was written by our amazing gestational carrier, Desiree.

MEET MY FAMILY
The entire crew!

The entire crew!

Hi! I’m Desiree and I have been married to the love of my life, Terry, for almost 9 years. We are a blended family with four kids. Gabe is 18, Yesenia is 13, Serena is 7, and Jeremiah is 6. The second each of my children was handed to me I fell completely in love with them and couldn’t imagine wanting the be a mother so deeply, but being told that wasn’t going to be possible. This is where my surrogacy story starts- thirteen years ago, after seeing my first baby for the very first time. Becoming a gestational carrier is definitely not for everyone- and if you lack patience (hellllllo!!!) this is absolutely something that will give you several opportunities to learn it! 

THE ROAD TO SURROGACY
Yesenia-The one that inspired me to go down this road.

Yesenia-The one that inspired me to go down this road.

I knew this was something I’d be willing to do for someone after I had Yesenia. I had no idea if it would be in the cards for me, but I did know that if someone approached me I would not walk away from the opportunity to help. Fast forward seven years, and I began to loosely look into what it took to start the process. Jeremiah (my youngest) was a few months old, we were still adjusting to becoming a family of four, and I mentioned surrogacy to my husband. He didn’t say yes…and he didn’t say no. But, I think the hormones of pregnancy and post-natal life were still so fresh in his mind that he could not even think about his wife being pregnant again after almost two years of that being our normal, haha! So we left it at a brief, “I’d like to do this one day” conversation that got put on the back burner. 

The one, the only, handsome Jeremiah Joseph.

The one, the only, handsome Jeremiah Joseph.

When Jeremiah turned five I brought it up again. I had looked into agencies already and had a little more info readily available for any questions Terry may have. He has whole-heartedly supported me and this idea of mine ever since! Faith is a huge part of who we are and what our family foundation is- and I feel like God told me,

you can do this for someone else, so this is what I want you to do. I will carry you and give you the strength for it, just trust me.”

MY FIRST SURROGACY JOURNEY AND THE HEARTBREAK

In 2017, I worked with an agency and quickly got matched with a couple from China. Things were going relatively seamless, and we got pregnant on our first transfer with untested embryos. I was ecstatic that things happened very quickly, and was optimistic that it would be smooth sailing from there to the end. Weekly ultrasounds showed that the baby was growing as expected. After our 8-week appointment we were told that we did not need to do another ultrasound until 12 weeks. I delighted at the idea of making that milestone.

The 12 week ultrasound came quickly, and I walked into my appointment with stars in my eyes. I couldn’t wait to record their baby’s heartbeat and send it to them! (They were never able to travel for those early appointments since they lived so far away). As soon as the ultrasound tech started our appointment, I just knew something wasn’t right. At all my previous appointments they would let me see the baby for a few minutes before taking measurements- but this time she lingered on baby for about ten seconds before quickly moving and measuring my ovaries.

Having family support for this process means everything.

Having family support for this process means everything.

In those few seconds, I knew baby was gone. The tech turned the lights on, asked me to sit up and apologized and told me there wasn’t a heart beat. I should have been 12 weeks along, but the baby was measuring 8weeks 3days. That means that I lost the baby just 3 days after my last ultrasound. I held it together pretty well after hearing the news, and called the coordinator from my agency from the ultrasound room. As soon as she answered… I totally lost it. I explained what had happened and she did her best comforting me over the phone.

I was moved to an exam room and I called my husband to tell him what had happened. (I know I scared him with the way I was crying and he couldn’t understand what I was saying.) I finally caught my breath enough to tell him the baby was gone, and I am so thankful he was able to rush over to the office in 5 minutes. The doctor came in to talk to us, and explained the different choices I had. I chose to take medication to start the miscarriage process, instead of going to the hospital for a D&C.

As we left, I decided to tell my IPs on my own. I felt like it was something I needed to do- and since there is such a time difference in China, they were still asleep since (it was the middle of the night). I was upset that they were going to wake up to a “WeChat message” from me saying that the baby’s heart stopped beating. I knew they would be devastated.

I knew how sad I felt, so I could not even imagine how they were feeling. Unfortunately, after delivering the bad news, they disappeared. They only communicated with me through the agency, which was so hard for me, because prior to the bad news we were speaking two or three times a week. They avoided me and wouldn’t answer my messages. I know they were grieving, and I cannot tell anyone how they can and can’t grieve, but I was truly heartbroken.

PICKING UP THE PIECES AFTER LOSS

I was heartbroken over the loss of their baby, and heartbroken over the loss of their friendship. A few weeks later, the agency coordinator reached out and asked me if I would wait for the couple to make more embryos and then try (another embryo transfer) again. I was confused after they’d completely ignored me, but I agreed. And although something really didn’t feel right.. I still agreed. I kept praying about our current situation, and I felt like God kept telling me this wasn’t for me. Surrogacy was- but not with this couple. Although it was incredibly difficult, I finally listened, and let the agency know I did not want to move forward with that couple. Thankfully, our contract was for only one transfer, which made the transition out much easier. It was really important to me to be with a couple, where both sides wanted to be in that match, and wanted to work as a team to get to a happy ending. That night as I was putting my kiddos to bed, Serena prayed that I would find another couple that wanted a baby that I could help. It was the sweetest prayer from a six year old innocent heart. And guess who I met the VERY NEXT DAY...

My little love, Serena.

My little love, Serena.


THE PATH TO A NEW COUPLE

When Lauren and I met and messaged back and forth the first night I knew she was, “the one!” When I finally told my husband, Terry, he looked at me like I was crazy. BUT I just knew! Shortly after beginning the matching process, Lauren and Todd made plans to come to Denver, and I couldn’t wait to meet them! We had only known each other for a few weeks, but it felt like we had been friends forever. During that wait period, we worked with an agency, Choices Donations, to square away all the logistics needed to make our match official. (more on the agency later)

Meeting for lunch that Sunday afternoon was exactly as I thought! There really weren’t any nerves going into it…just excitement! After a couple of hours at the restaurant, I knew Terry felt the same way I did. We both strongly felt that these were going to be the people I would get the chance to help build their family. 

Greatest movie of all time, the Sandlot.

Greatest movie of all time, the Sandlot.

I am so honored, humbled and blessed that they have chosen me to take this journey with them. And, that they trust me with the most precious gift, ever. We now like to joke that they’re stuck with my crazy family and me FOR-EV-ERRRR (cue Sandlot voice hahaha!) Thanks for jumping on this wild ride with us and following our amazing story! This is just the beginning and I can’t wait to see what unfolds!

All about that BASE

All about that base, ‘bout that base, our baseline. (tell me you didn’t sing it as you’re reading?)

Baseline…what a milestone. Not to totally minimize how many cycles it took to get here, but sometimes getting to baseline can feel like an eternity. And when you do finally get there, there is the all too familiar, “I’ve been here before,” pit in your stomach. Let’s add in another layer of complicated: I am no longer the patient physically going through the motions of baseline monitoring. I am the intended mom over 1,000 miles away in Chicago, trusting my teammate and gestational carrier to be an extension of me from here on forward. WOAH, talk about a mixed bag of emotion.

Thank you to Health Images at Cherry Hills, Colorado. You have had the lovely honor and pleasure of dealing with a crazy intended mom, the fertility clinic she works with, and her gestational carrier on a weekly basis. And THAT is a wholeeeee lotta hormones!

Thank you to Health Images at Cherry Hills, Colorado. You have had the lovely honor and pleasure of dealing with a crazy intended mom, the fertility clinic she works with, and her gestational carrier on a weekly basis. And THAT is a wholeeeee lotta hormones!

I get asked a lot of questions on the logistics of a gestational carrier relationship, especially when they are not local to the intended parents. So, here are the basics to keep you all at the edge of your seats. To become a gestational carrier, carriers must travel to the fertility clinic the intended parents are working with, and be medically screened and cleared. This process happened long before baseline of this frozen embryo transfer cycle, and it is mandatory for all women looking to become carriers. Here’s a very common misconception: some believe if they ask a familiar person to carry their child for them (like a sister, friend, cousin etc.), that they are able to side-step parts of the process to save on money and time. While I can see how one may think that, your fertility specialist is still there to look out for all parties best interest, and that includes having all potential carriers jump through the same screening process as everyone else (whether you know them prior to the process or not). To protect the safety of everyone involved in the surrogacy process, gestational carriers and intended parents are also required to pass a psych evaluation and background checks. Medical clearance, psych clearance, background checks, escrow set-up, and health insurance policy audits are just a few of the required pieces needed to draft the surrogacy contract, commonly referred to as the direct agreement.

A direct agreement is incredibly important for both the intended parents and the gestational carrier, as it outlines each party’s rights and responsibilities during the entire process. We felt like we wanted this layer of protection for both our family and Desiree’s, because we did not want anyone to feel taken advantage of. Not to mention, once an attorney drafts the agreement, and it is reviewed/signed by all parties, it eliminates any potential temper-tantrum I could have if I was having a bad day. What that really means is, I could not throw a fit and try to add in some ridiculous proposition once contracts were signed. Just because I was forced into a gluten-free, dairy-free, fun-free lifestyle, does not mean I should ask Desiree to eat that way in a fit of rage! Without sounding horribly preachy, I can’t express this enough: having separate attorneys navigate the contract phase of this process is incredibly invaluable.

This was my #mood on the day we had to review 60 pages of our direct agreement with our attorney.

This was my #mood on the day we had to review 60 pages of our direct agreement with our attorney.

And to be totally honest, as much as I am not wild about Kim Kardashian, I am incredibly grateful that she portrayed the art of non-traditional family making in a respectful way. Surrogacy is such an incredibly well-thought out, planned, and executed process. For some reason, I find it incredibly important to tell people about how methodical it all is, especially the process of contracts. I would be lying to you if I said there were never times the big picture felt overwhelming, but with the guidance of our team and attorneys, we were able to digest the elephant one bite at a time.


so, how does this all work when your fertility clinic is in chicago and your gestational carrier lives in denver?

The process of monitoring patients out-of- state is not quite as complicated as one may think. As most TTC veterans know, there is a little more flexibility granted with a frozen embryo transfer cycle than an IVF cycle. Desiree was set up to do her bloodwork and ultrasound at a local LabCorp and fertility clinic, and those results were forwarded to our clinic. The only time Desiree has to fly to Chicago is for the actual frozen embryo transfer (in just a few short weeks!) If all goes well, she will be delivering the future babe in Denver, and we will be traveling to her.

This is our favorite LabCorp phlebotomist, ever. She made sure the order was run as STAT, helped Desiree cut a long waiting room line, and is definitely the biggest cheerleader in the outside monitoring game.

This is our favorite LabCorp phlebotomist, ever. She made sure the order was run as STAT, helped Desiree cut a long waiting room line, and is definitely the biggest cheerleader in the outside monitoring game.

Still, though. It is so hard to get this far into the process and have a hiccup arise during baseline. It is theee only time you actually will your period to get here, so that you can get the show on the road. After my first failed IVF cycle, I was still incredibly optimistic to get right back onto the horse and try again…only to be clotheslined at baseline. Although my grand plan was to keep on trucking along into a second cycle, I had developed some cysts and I was put on the sideline, yet again. The sideline seems to be familiar place for me these days, but it has also been the place where I was able to gain insight from a very different perspective. Unplanned breaks in the IVF merry-go-round always ended up working out for the better, once I got over the initial shock that our timeline was going to change…again.

In my brain, however, I struggled to digest what would happen if baseline did not grant us the green light to move forward. If things were not quite perfect, then there was nothing I could do to change the circumstances. Letting go of control seems to be the reoccurring theme of our story, especially since I am no longer the patient physically going in for monitoring. Desiree is the patient from here forward.

If you squint REAL hard you can see a tiny Estrace pill in Des’s hand. Estrace is responsible for making uterine lining thick enough to be hospitable for an embryo. We lovingly refer to this pill as the “smurf pill,” but I will spare the details for the whole two gentleman that are reading this.

If you squint REAL hard you can see a tiny Estrace pill in Des’s hand. Estrace is responsible for making uterine lining thick enough to be hospitable for an embryo. We lovingly refer to this pill as the “smurf pill,” but I will spare the details for the whole two gentleman that are reading this.

Well, the cat is out of the bag based on that photo. We were given the good news to start transfer medications, after waiting (what felt like an eternity) for bloodwork and ultrasound results from Denver. Desiree was to begin her first medication called Estrace. Estrace is responsible for thickening your endometrial lining, to prepare your uterus for pregnancy. As of right now, it is safe to say we officially have overcome our first major hurdle. But as many of you know, every single day in this world is a rollercoaster ride. Good news has a history of shifting to bad news in a moments notice, and vice versa. Instead of fixating on all the things that we knew could go wrong, we chose to celebrate the victory of being one step closer to a family. The final countdown to embryo transfer is on!