But that didn’t stop this intrepid couple – or twin babies Suraj & Serena (named after our Dr. Dovey) – as this mother writes in her story of rebounding from defeat to shocked amazement.
After three years of being unable to conceive, I found Advanced Reproductive Medicine (ARM) while researching alternative methods to get pregnant. Getting pregnant naturally would be a challenge for me due to a narrow cervix. For cervical stenosis (doctor speak), the next best course to get pregnant is an IUI (intrauterine insemination).
I had three IUI’s attempted in my hometown of 20,000 people, but these were all unsuccessful. Knowing that I might need the in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure, I researched ARM, where I met the dream team of Dr. Alex Polotsky, the chief of reproductive medicine at University of Colorado, and Dr. Serena Dovey. During my first appointment, I had bloodwork taken to check both my hormone levels (progesterone) and my lifetime ovarian egg reserve (AMH test). Those labs would check how fertile I am and how many eggs I have left.
Sheral & her husband knew getting pregnant was a long shot, but they took a chance on CU ARM – and it paid off with Suraj and Serena above.
Most people remember where they were when JFK was assassinated or during 9/11. I will never forget where I was when I received the call about my AMH of 0.7 (most fertile women have an AMH above 1.0) – I was on the 20th floor of a Detroit high-rise building. Because my egg reserve was so low, even with the IVF procedure, I had less than 3 percent chance of getting pregnant.
My heart sank at the prospect of egg donation as the only solution
Dr. Polotsky recommended that I seriously consider using an egg donor to have children at all. I was quite devastated – I went weak at the knees, my heart sank and I felt my spirit fall 20 stories down to the ground.
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When I was a little girl, I imagined I had a little daughter who looked like me, just a miniature doll version of myself. I pictured a little baby with almond-shaped dark eyes, ebony hair like Snow White, and fair East Indian skin. It was more than just physical features that I had hoped to pass on.
I finished medical school with an MD degree, so I hoped I would be able to pass my intelligence to my future son or daughter. With an egg donor, my own genetic material would not pass, but my husband’s genetic information would carry on. Though the news was difficult to process, I had strong faith in Dr. Polotsky – he gave me his honest assessment on my odds of getting pregnant, and I trusted him completely.
My husband’s profound and romantic words of support
After some days had passed, I asked my husband about his thoughts on our situation. He simply said that he didn’t marry me for my ovaries or my eggs, he married me for my mind and my heart, and that is what I would pass on to my progeny. My jaw dropped – my once reserved husband just uttered the most profound and romantic words I had heard in all my life!
He encouraged me to consider IVF just once, with the hope that it would work. When I phoned Dr. Polotsky about my thoughts, he pointed out my obstacles in undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment: I lived three hours away from the CU ARM IVF center, costs would likely exceed $15,000, and the chances of success were less than 3 percent. In his experience, IVF would be a waste of time, energy and money with my own eggs, and would not be worth the risk.
The group of fertility doctors green light my in vitro fertilization
However, he said that if ARM’s group of fertility doctors reviewed my case and gave its blessing, I could proceed with in vitro fertilization. Every Wednesday, the fertility doctors convene to ascertain which patients would be acceptable for undergoing IVF. Essentially, my future children’s lives were placed in the group’s hands. Those days could not go quickly enough, but fortunately, the group gave me a green light to proceed with IVF treatment.
Prepping for in vitro fertilization success
Now, the fun really began! I knew that success was a long shot so I gave myself every chance and opportunity to succeed. I portion controlled my food and calorie intake, switched to organic fruits and veggies, and ultimately lost 10 pounds. I also taught yoga and deep breathing classes three times a week for six months before attempting IVF. I concentrated on exercises that increased blood flow to the pelvic region, massaged my belly with warm oils, and allowed myself full body relaxation. I didn’t know if any of these techniques would work, but I gave it my 100 percent without overthinking it.
I was given a schedule of daily injections, along with medicine vials, gauze and syringes. Even though I was in the medical field, I did not particularly enjoy injecting myself multiple times a day. Many times, I prepared the syringe and just held it in the air, floating above my belly, too scared to stick myself. Thank goodness, my husband volunteered to inject me. He would say, “It’ll be over before you know it.”
During the weeklong course of injections, I would get a pelvic ultrasound to assess if my ovaries were developing follicles in reaction to the stimulation. The ultrasound technologist would count the number of follicles in each ovary and record their measurements. Once the follicles reached maturity, they could suspend the body’s physiology so that I wouldn’t ovulate and expel the egg. With the follicle in suspended animation, they could extract mature eggs, which they would then fertilize with sperm to create a zygote.
After the weeklong course of injectables, my final count of mature follicles came to a grand total of four eggs. This was very discouraging as I needed five viable mature eggs to proceed with IVF.
Only 4 mature eggs and a leap of faith to IUI
I felt defeated in that moment. Dr. Polotsky was correct when he predicted I wouldn’t produce enough mature eggs to enter in vitro fertilization treatment. This was the frustrating aspect of IVF and the part that pays to have an excellent group of fertility doctors. We can stimulate the ovaries with a cocktail of drugs, and monitor my progress with ultrasounds, but the body will only make and secrete the eggs it has in storage.
Dr. Polotsky reassured me that we would work with the four mature eggs I created. Instead of IVF, we would be performing an IUI. Dr. Polotsky reassured me that artificial insemination had equal chances of success as doing the in vitro fertilization procedure since I did have many eggs that could be fertilized. This is the part where we made a leap of faith in the process, trust the doctors’ advice, and we agreed to proceed with the IUI.
It was a Sunday morning, I vividly remember it was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky. It was the day before the solar eclipse in August 2018. The day of my IUI, I made sure to drink many bottles of water to straighten out my meandering and narrow cervix. Dr. Serena Dovey prepped me for the IUI and set up the ultrasound monitor to visually confirm she was in the exact position she needed for the artificial insemination. I had three previous IUI procedures in my hometown that took five minutes a piece, whereas Dr. Dovey took one hour.
She showed me that she was specialized to handle my difficult female anatomy and did not rush the insemination. After it was over, I joked with her saying I would name my baby Serena after her if I got pregnant with a girl!
From speechless shock to a relaxing babymoon in Hawaii
Now the waiting game began. Two weeks later, I could take my first at home pregnancy test. That day fell on a Sunday so I got up early in the morning to take the test. To my amazement, two dark blue lines showed up right away! I was speechless and in shock.
This was the moment I had been dreaming about for years. How do I tell my husband? I needed to talk to my parents right away. Heart pounding excitement ensued. My husband just now waking up asked what I was up to that early pacing around the room. Not able to stay quiet any longer, I blurted out, “We’re pregnant!” while jumping up and down!
We thought it was a good time to take a little babymoon vacation to Hawaii. Most of Hawaii is outdoors including the restaurants. I remember ordering many iced mocktails to keep me cool. This was my first pregnancy, but the idea of having multiple babies crossed my mind due to me being so uncomfortably hot the entire trip!
We left Hawaii and flew into Denver, which was perfect to see Dr. Polotsky for my first ultrasound. I told Dr. Polotsky my suspicions of having multiples, but as a physician he told me it was best to confirm with ultrasound. There they were clear as day, two sacs looking back at us like owl eyes – it was confirmed I was having twins! I ended up having a boy and a girl and true to my word, I named my daughter Serena after Dr. Dovey and my son is Suraj meaning Sunrise. They are truly a gift!
From now on, if anyone asks me for fertility advice, I simply say go to University of Colorado – ARM!
– Sheral Chheda