Stories of Family, Friends and Fertility
10-15% of couples in the U.S. experience infertility. It affects men and women equally. There are many causes, some of them easy to detect and others that are much more challenging. Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after one year of frequent unprotected sex. For many couples, the wait is much longer. April is National Infertility Awareness Month. As the only health care organization to offer reproductive endocrinology in a two state region, we have had the privilege of working with hundreds of couples to overcome infertility and bring new life into the world. Here are stories of success from our resilient patients.
Olivia & Ella, Cash, and Eli
How common is infertility? Just ask these three families from the tiny Montana town of Philipsburg.
Having grown up together in the small town of Philipsburg, MT, DeAnna and Ryan were best friends for a long time. When they decided to have a baby together, doctors discovered that DeAnna needed surgery for problems associated with infertility. Trying to become a mother nearly ended DeAnna’s life, but she persevered. Throughout the challenges of trying to get pregnant, DeAnna and Ryan fell in love. They got married and soon after they began the process of in vitro fertilization. They had beautiful twin girls, Olivia and Ella.
Crista and Dustin have been friends since high school in Philipsburg. They reconnected several years later when Dustin paid a visit to the school where Crista now works as a kindergarten teacher. After a surprise engagement party, followed by a wedding on a beach in the Bahamas, they were both anxious to start a family. What they didn’t know was just how challenging it would be. The couple remembers week after week of hormone shots. Crista even chased down a FedEx driver from Philipsburg to Drummond when she missed her hormone shipment. What they also didn’t know was that their friends were facing the same struggle. After trying several different treatment options, Crista and Dustin had their baby, Cash, through IVF at Billings Clinic the very next cycle after their friends DeAnna, Ryan, Antoinette (Toni) and Logan. Their babies are 6 months apart in age.
Toni and Logan also met through the school district in Philipsburg. They were both working as teachers and coaches at the high school. They were engaged a year later and, like the other two couples, they also dreamt of growing their family together. In vitro fertilization was their only option. They were successful and welcomed their baby boy, Eli into the world just days apart from DeAnna and Ryan’s twins, Olivia and Ella.
Three couples, all friends, in one small town of 800 people experienced infertility and found joy through in vitro fertilization. Infertility is so much more common than people might think. No couple needs to face it alone. There are services and support available. You might just find that your friend, neighbor, or sister is experiencing the same challenges. With incredible technology and expertise, determination, and strength; many couples can find hope that they too will have a baby that is #MadewithLove.
Shelly and Melissa met five years ago. Melissa works in ultrasound at the Bozeman hospital and Shelly is the Director of the McNair Scholars Program at MSU. They are both outdoor enthusiasts. About a year after they met, the couple started discussing the idea of growing their family. They remember thinking, “We have twice the chance of getting pregnant, after all we have four ovaries instead of just two."
They both tried intrauterine insemination (IUI) a total of eight times. Eight times, they faced disappointment. They needed to better their odds so they decided to try in vitro fertilization (IVF) through Billings Clinic. IVF has about 3x the success rate of IUI. Melissa, already having a 23 year old daughter, wanted Shelly to have the chance to experience pregnancy. But, as they worked up her first IVF cycle, they discovered an ovarian cyst that would affect her ability to get pregnant.
It was a difficult conversation, but they made the decision to have Melissa try IVF instead. On the second try, they welcomed adorable baby Brooks into their lives in October of last year.
Looking back on the process, they remember how hard it was to not get discouraged, especially given the statistics for women in their late 30s and 40s. They did everything they could to eat healthy and increase their chances. Shelly even made Melissa a “fertility smoothie” every morning. They stayed positive, nurtured each other through some disappointments, and surrounded themselves with support and love.
Working in ultrasound, Melissa was inspired to keep trying by the women her age and older having babies. She even found support through her patients. Shelly and Melissa almost gave up, but thankfully stayed the course and ended up with their little miracle.
When Mark Poertner heard the words “you have cancer” at the age of 27, the last thing running through his mind was starting a family. Second only to survival, Mark’s main concern was how this diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma would impact his ability to compete on the U.S. World Cup ski team and his long-held dream of going to the Olympics. But when Mark’s oncologist stressed the importance of banking his swimmers for a future family as a top priority prior to treatment, Mark thought, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with a safety net."
Chemo took a lot out of Mark. He remembers the chemo trying to kill the tumor just slightly faster than it was killing him. The chemo wasn’t successful and he ended up having major surgery to remove the cancer. He faced a dramatic weight loss and his skiing career came to a tragic halt. But Mark survived and eventually continued his ski career as a coach and instructor.
Fast forward several years later, when Mark meets the love of his life, Jacque. After 9 months of dating, Mark proposes in Mexico. They are married one year later.
The sperm that had been frozen for almost two decades would now play the most important role in the Poertner’s life. Chemo therapy rendered Mark sterile, but a simple 10 minute procedure called intrauterine insemination (IUI) performed by reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Stacy Shomento at Bozeman OB/Gyn Billings Clinic gave the couple hope. Every try, Jacque went into the procedure feeling optimistic but realistic, not getting her hopes up too high.
It took a few tries before they would have a successful pregnancy. It was try #4 that brought beautiful Piper, now 3 years old, into the world.
The couple jokes that now they are going from JV to Varsity league, because they are expecting their second child in September…from Mark’s very last specimen.
The couple has strong faith and attributes their success to Mark’s oncologist many years ago, Dr. Shomento, as well as their loved ones lending a helping hand from heaven. Mark and Jacque have learned that his cancer diagnosis was not life ending, but life changing.