When the Art of Assisted Reproductive Technology Trumps the Science

Even though Erin’s lab results showed a not-so-great chance of success with in vitro fertilization, she and her husband embraced it as their best chance

Erin, a 33-year-old physical therapist, was torn. She and her husband had been trying for over a year to get pregnant, but it wasn’t working. Her anti-Müllerian hormone levels indicated a low production and reserve of eggs.

“It’s a lonely place to be in, especially in my age group with so many friends who are constantly sharing their news about expecting or about having their second child,” says Erin. “It makes you think, Why me? There are other ways to become parent, such as adoption. But my husband and I had always imagined that we would have a child who looked like us, who had our characteristics, our eyes our hair.”

After Erin’s tests showed that she would most likely need the help of assisted reproductive technology (ART) to have her own child, her gynecologist suggested that Erin go to University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine. Erin called for an appointment and they asked her if she had a preference for a male or female physician. Her preference was to see whomever had the soonest availability.

“The last thing you want to do is wait longer to figure out what is happening. Dr. Polotsky had availability, so I went for it,” says Erin. “And it worked out perfectly—I absolutely love the guy. He is such a positive person, and he always found a way to make me smile amidst all those challenges.”

Dr. Polotsky knew that even though her lab numbers indicated that in vitro fertilization (IVF) might not be a success, Erin had her youth going for her, as well as the fact that nothing else was coming up as a reason for her infertility.

“There’s the science of reproductive medicine and then there’s the art of reproductive medicine,” says Dr. Polotsky. “Even with poor lab results, sometimes patients have to make the decision to go with aggressive treatments or not. The cost is definitely something to consider with IVF. My take on that is that I cannot presume to know the financial circumstances of the couple. I always let the couple decide.”

The odds and the hope

Dr. Polotsky gave Erin and her husband all the information, including the fact that there were no guarantees that IVF would work and that the odds were that it wouldn’t. And while he gave them the facts, he also always gave them hope that it could work.

“It’s a hugely expensive proposition. Our insurance doesn’t help with the IVF costs at all,” says Erin. “For young people like us who have student loans and are trying to get your feet on the ground and save up to have a family, it’s a huge undertaking. But at the same time, you get to that point that you’re willing to do what you have to in order to have a child. It’s scary, kind of a gamble I guess.”

Deciding to undertake IVF was difficult for Erin. But through the discussions, the agonizing and the tears, her husband helped make it an easier choice by being locked in to positive.

“I tend to be the worrier about everything, my husband is on the other end of the spectrum,” says Erin. “I was very worried about the financial aspect and he was the one to say, ‘You know what, it doesn’t matter, we’ll figure out a way.’ We said this is our option, we have to take it. And time was a factor, especially with my situation where the levels continue to go down. I have to say that in making that decision my husband was so supportive and encouraging.”

Using her eggs and her husband’s sperm, Erin had one cycle of IVF. Then came the wait. The emotional part was difficult, the worry that it wouldn’t work—the worry that worrying would make it not work.

“If you are constantly worried, scared or sad, how’s that going to affect your outcome? So I started doing yoga and meditation,” says Erin. “I turned on soft music and closed my eyes and tried to clear my head. It’s a mind game, where your head gets in to it too much, and you need to clear your head. Hearing my husband’s positive words and his positive outlook was really helpful.”

First time’s the charm

Erin and Jack 2

A week after the IVF cycle, she went in for blood work. The staff had discouraged Erin from using a pregnancy tester on her own, as they are often inaccurate in IVF situations. When she went in for her results, they told her she was pregnant.

“Oh my gosh, it was beyond exciting. You get to the point where you don’t think you will ever have that moment when you will find out that you are pregnant, so it was amazing and also a huge relief after all the waiting. Not that you’re totally in the clear,” says Erin. “You have a long road ahead, because you’re still pregnant.”

For Erin and her husband, their foray into ART brought them Jack, born October 16, 2013. He’s a wonderful son, who rides napping in his stroller while his mom walks. And ever since mom became pregnant with Jack, she was thinking about a brother or sister for him. She and her husband both have siblings and wanted the same for Jack. And since her situation still makes time of the essence, she’s already met with Dr. Polotsky and started some testing.

“It would be nice to conceive on my own naturally,” says Erin. “But the reality is that I have the same recommendation. We’re at that borderline place now. The odds are good, because it already worked once. But your head starts going through that expense thing again. Going through that process is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Jack will be a big focus for her which she says will help her deal with the unknowns, the question marks of what the outcome will be. She wishes their first IVF had resulted in other viable embryos they could have frozen, but it didn’t. That made things scarier because they knew if that first cycle didn’t work, they didn’t have a plan B. So they’re back to that challenge this time around, starting from scratch essentially. But Erin and her husband are good with that.

“The medical technology part blows me away,” she says. “The whole process is absolutely fascinating. Reproductive medicine, there must be such an art to it because I have this little kid right in front of me, and it amazes me.”