A ‘Blessing’ After Miscarriage, IVF Helps Mom Conceive Again
In honor of Infertility Awareness Week, a woman speaks about loss and the courage to seek IVF again to conceive her daughter.
In a few weeks, baby Emily will introduce herself to the world.
The new bundle already has several titles: She’s the first daughter of parents Amy and Adam Van Zee, a sister to big brother Luke and, as her parents proudly attest, “the little embryo that could.”
“That’s what we call her,” Amy says, with a laugh. “She was our fighter.”
The family’s newest addition is the culmination of a fertility journey that began nearly five years ago when the Northville, Michigan, couple first started having trouble getting pregnant.
Two years of fertility treatments, followed by in vitro fertilization, led to son Luke, who turns 3 in July.
But until the couple visited the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine, no one had been able to identify a cause for the infertility. Testing at the center found that Amy had polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age that can lead to an infrequent release of eggs.
Still, the couple was hesitant to attempt IVF again. Roughly a year after Luke was born, Amy, now 34, had gotten pregnant without medical intervention. She was in her second trimester, nearly 16 weeks along, when she experienced a miscarriage.
“Miscarriage is a real loss. There is real grief,” Amy says. “My belly was starting to grow. We had told everyone at work and family and friends. We had found out it was a boy. It was just as painful as losing someone else in your life. We needed to memorialize him.”
Pregnancy-loss counseling provides comfort
To help move forward, Amy came to the U-M fertility clinic for counseling.
“Counseling made a huge difference because it validated what I was feeling and normalized the emotions that come with such a loss,” she says. “When I was finally authentic about what we were going through and how awful it was and how much you grieve, I was able to get through the process.
“Once we shared all that was happening, our family and friends were so supportive,” she adds. “They truly helped every step of the way with listening ears, constant support and prayers. Miscarriage and infertility are not things a lot of people are comfortable talking about — but once you do you realize how many other people have gone through it.”
In fact, 1 in nearly 8 couples in the United States struggle to conceive. Couples are encouraged to see a doctor after a year of not being able to get pregnant.
A second attempt at IVF
After four months of meeting with a social worker, Amy, herself a social worker at Michigan Medicine, began IVF treatment at the U-M center.
Based on the couple’s prior success, the second try offered hope.
“It was better in the sense that I could look at my son and know this could work because here he is and he’s the light of our world,” Amy says. “But then you think ‘this was such a blessing the first time, can it happen again?’”
Still, she adds, “It’s also difficult to start the process all over again because you know how hard it is. Physically, you’re going through so much with the injections and medicine and you’re angry and sad and trying to figure out how everything out will work. It’s all-consuming in every aspect of your life and your family’s life — your marriage, spirituality, your finances.”
And some well-meaning comments weren’t always helpful.
“People would say, ‘Oh well, if it doesn’t work, at least you have Luke,’” Amy says. “That stung because he is an amazing blessing, but we didn’t feel like our family was complete.
“The most helpful comment was: ‘I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I’m always here to talk about it.’”
Good news, many emotions
Amy still remembers the day in August 2017 when she got the call from the doctor telling her to come in to the clinic.
She had only one viable embryo — created by combining sperm and egg in a lab — and it needed to be transferred that day. Once implanted, the embryo took.
“You have this crazy range of emotions. One second you’re ecstatic, thinking everything is going be fine and then you’re so anxious that it’s not,” Amy says. “We try to celebrate, but you still have this fear that I think will stick until she’s actually in my arms.
“After a miscarriage, you have this sense that it could still be taken away. You’re always on guard. It changes the pregnancy experience.”
A Mother’s Day blessing
Amy imagines an extra special Mother’s Day this year, which happens to fall just two weeks after her May 1 due date.
She’s most excited to see Luke become a big brother. She describes the toddler as a “wild man with a gentle soul” who sometimes pats her belly and calls it “sissy.”
Meanwhile, going through the IVF process again has offered perspective.
“I think we may be different parents than we probably would have been if not for this experience,” Amy says. “Everything Luke does is so special and exciting because for a while we didn’t know if we’d have the opportunity to be a mom and dad. I imagine it will be that way with Emily, too.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him on the playground with his little sister and having somebody to grow up with. I’m excited to see them grow up together. It’s just surreal that this is happening and that we will have a little boy and little girl. It’s such a blessing.”
The Center for Reproductive Medicine offers a monthly support group for individuals and couples struggling with infertility. Find out more information here.
In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week (April 22 to 28), the Michigan Medicine’s Center for Reproductive Medicine has launched the #MadeWithLoveAtUmich campaign to raise funds for important support resources for patients struggling with ongoing issues such as anxiety, stress, isolation, recurrent loss, etc.