We’re pregnant! Finally! It took us almost 15 years of wedded bliss before we can finally say it. The road to pregnancy had not been easy. But we are grateful it finally happened. And we trust that this is God’s timing. No regrets. So how did we get here? Definitely not without difficulty.

If I were to sum up our journey, I can say that it’s only through GOD’S GRACE. I can only describe it as a MIRACLE. I turned 40 last September. Ariel turned 47 last January. Today, April 18, 2016, Ariel and I have been married for 15 years. I’ve never been pregnant prior to this. There are many factors that could have contributed to our inability to conceive, none of which are within our control. Early last year, we decided to try In Vitro Fertilization for the first time. This was after five cycles of follicle monitoring and one cycle of Artificial Insemination in the previous years. I won’t go into details of our past efforts, but if anyone’s interested, I’d be happy to share them in private.

The decision to try IVF was not a simple one. I had reservations with the process. For one, I had a moral dilemma. I knew that IVF requires hyper-stimulating the ovaries such that they produce several mature eggs. Then these eggs are all fertilized resulting in multiple embryos. So my dilemma is what to do with those embryos, when all I need would be one or two? There is a debate on when life starts – at conception? When there is a heartbeat? When the fetus is fully developed? I don’t know. I believe it is a matter of personal conviction. But I don’t feel comfortable knowing I have embryos chilling in the freezer. My second issue with IVF is the impact of the process on the body. From my research, I found out that in order to hyper-stimulate the ovaries, and later, prepare the body for pregnancy, the woman is pumped with a huge cocktail of pills and hormones – like maybe at least 10 pills and/or injections at a time. These meds are supposed to be taken at certain times of the day, and one should follow a strict schedule. I can barely keep a vitamin routine. How can I keep up with the demands of the IVF routine? Plus what would the effect of all those meds be on my body?

I shared my apprehensions with my OB, who had been encouraging us to try IVF since our failed Artificial Insemination in the summer of 2013. She told me about Kato Repro Biotech Center – a clinic specializing in Assisted Reproductive Technology. She told me they have an approach called Minimal Stimulation IVF, or Mini-IVF. I checked it out online and liked what I saw. The process is gentler on the body, and they don’t hyper-stimulate the ovaries. In fact, one has an option to wait for the regular ovulation and just collect one egg at a time.

We agreed to try IVF ONE TIME and see where it will lead us. So early in January 2015, on the second day of my period, we walked into Kato buoyed by faith, and the prayers of people who love us. Ariel and I both got tested and everything looked great. We were scheduled for egg retrieval on my next ovulation cycle. I did take a few meds, but nothing like the cocktail of drugs I read about. By February, we had ONE egg ready for fertilization. The head of Kato, Dr. Rudy Mendiola, performed the egg (also called oocyte if you want to be more scientific) retrieval. It was an outpatient procedure – uncomfortable but not painful – and just required a few minutes rest in the recovery room after the procedure. Ariel, likewise went into a room to have his semen collected. It was a much easier process for him and did not require him any down time. Once I was out, we were called into a room to meet with the Embryologist. She explained to Ariel and I that the success rate for fertilization is 50%. Since we only have one egg, it was all or nothing for us. We were asked to come back after 6 days to know the result of the fertilization process.

After six days of waiting in prayer, we received out first miracle. Our single egg has been successfully fertilized and is now at Blastocyst stage. That means it is ready for transfer back into my uterus. The embryologist then asked  if we want to proceed to embryo transfer (that’s the process of putting the embryo back into my body to let it implant in my uterus) or have more eggs collected and fertilized in the next few months. She explained that some couples choose this option so that when the embryo transfer fails to result to pregnancy, they can transfer more embryo on the next cycle instead of starting over again with egg retrieval and fertilization.  We decided to proceed. After all, by God’s grace, we already beat the odds with the fertilization process.

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Blastocyst – Day 6

After the discussion with the Embryologist, I was called into the consultation room with Dr. Mendiola. He explained the embryo transfer process to me. However, he also advised us to wait a bit. My last test showed that my uterine lining is thicker than usual. In order to increase our chance of a successful pregnancy, he wanted to suppress my period for three months to let the uterus go back to the usual thickness. This requires a monthly injection for three months. This will suppress my period from March to May. We will then wait for my period to come naturally, hopefully in June, before we can schedule the embryo transfer. Meanwhile, our embryo is frozen until it’s time to transfer it back to my uterus.

My period did not come in June. I went back to the clinic in July, thinking that they will give me something to induce my period. However, I was told that the medication I took for three months may have a lingering effect for as long as six months. So they asked me to just wait until November and if my period does not come, then they will induce it.

My period came on September 10, 2015, just eight days before my 40th birthday. As usual, I went back to the clinic on my 2nd day and the doctor performed the routine tests – blood test for hormones, plus ultrasound to check on my uterus. Everything looked great, so I was scheduled for the embryo transfer on September 28th. I was given some meds to help prep my body. Again, I was given no more than three tablets to take each day.

By September 28th, Ariel and I walked into the clinic, nervous but hopeful. The procedure was quick – maybe 5 minutes inside the OR. It was uncomfortable, but there was no pain at all. I watched the process through a monitor. I saw the embryologist retrieve the embryo, and then I saw Dr. Mendiola insert it into my body through a catheter with the aid of ultrasound. It was amazing. After the procedure, I was ushered into the recovery room where I was asked to lie down for an hour or two. After that, we had another consultation where the doctor explained what we have to do in the next couple of days. He also explained the statistics – perhaps to manage expectations – but told us to be positive about the whole thing. For my age range (40-44 yo), the success rate is 29%. I also knew that the lower the embryo grade, the lower the probability of a successful pregnancy. Ours is Grade C which is not great, though still ok. Then I went home and rested for two weeks. The rest was actually not necessary, but again, I don’t want to have any regrets that I didn’t do whatever I can do to help the process. So I decided to stay home.

I came back every five days for the next 6 weeks. Some days, I’d come by myself while Ariel would join me other days. I’d have blood tests and ultrasound done every visit to monitor the hormones and growth of the embryo.

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The embryo at 5 weeks

By week six, we have a heartbeat. By this time, we found out we are having twins, though we only confirmed it by week seven when both embryos already have a heartbeat. Read all about it HERE.

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The twins at week 7

Hallelujah! I went for check ups at Kato for another 2 weeks, and then it was graduation day. By my 8th week, I was given a medical certificate and an endorsement letter to my OB. It was time to turnover my care to a regular OB. My OB is Dra. Regina Manahan of Makati Medical Center. She has been my OB since I was I was still single. Her dad, Dr. Antonio Manahan was my mom’s OB, who delivered both me and my brother. Her brother, Dr. Martin Manahan is my cousins’ OB, one of which delivered twin boys.

It was a bittersweet moment for me. On one hand, I was very grateful that our procedure had a happy ending, when many other couples would walk out of that clinic feeling disappointed. On the other hand, I will miss going to the clinic, experiencing their efficient system, and seeing the friendly staff. In any case, I feel blessed. Every visit to that clinic allowed me to see God’s plan unfold in our lives. Every visit was an opportunity to witness God’s miracle. Yes, this pregnancy is a miracle. Some would say it’s science and God has nothing to do with it. Well, only God can breathe life into a human being. Only He can make that heart beat. If it were entirely up to science, then the stats would have been better. Why is it then that despite the scientists’ best efforts, the success rate for IVF remains low? In our case, we have no doubt that it was a miracle that we had a successful fertilization, that our single egg beat the 50% success rate. It was a miracle that our Grade C single embryo resulted to a successful pregnancy. It IS a miracle that I am now 40 years old, enjoying pregnancy for the first time in my life, now on my 8th month already and I never had morning sickness, bleeding, or any other sign of a high risk pregnancy when my demographics automatically classifies me as high risk. My official due date is June 17, 2016, though twins are not expected to reach the 40th week. Our target is to deliver no earlier than the 37th week. I believe that just as God made this twin pregnancy happen, He can keep these babies safe in my womb until full term. It is pretty amazing! I was preparing myself for the worst, but I am having the best time. Only by God’s grace.

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IVF is not for everyone. It’s a big decision. I know some Christians are against it, thinking that it is interfering with God’s will. Obviously, we don’t share this view. We have the full support of our family, and our Christian circle. Some think that this decision reflects lack of faith. On the contrary, it was a leap of faith for us, and only faith sustained us through the difficult process. It wasn’t easy, even if Kato’s approach is easier on the body. It was a roller coaster of emotions for us. Many times, I’d find myself doubting. I’d have horrible dreams and I’d wake up, asking God to help me trust Him.  I’d text my mom, our pastor and our Couple’s care group for prayer on the many times I felt afraid. Even after confirming the pregnancy, we still had fears of losing the baby, specially during the first trimester. Ariel and I keep reminding each other that this is God’s gift to us. He will see us through this pregnancy.

My advice to couples considering IVF:

  • Pray about it as a couple.
  • Learn as much about the process as you can.
  • Find a clinic you are comfortable with. There are several options locally, though most of them has the traditional IVF approach (St. Luke’s has nice facility). As far as I know, only Kato Repro offers minimal-stimulation IVF.
  • Find a doctor you are comfortable with. In our case, we always requested for Dr. Mendiola as he is the most senior in the clinic. However, later, when he went on leave, the two other female doctors (Dra. Ong-Jao and Dra. Perillo) took care of us. I realized I am just as comfortable with them as I am with Dr. Mendiola.
  • Once the process is under way, stay away from the internet. DO NOT Google every “symptom”. It will only make you worry (I got nightmares!). If you have questions, ask your doctor. Trust me, Google is bad. Read the Bible and pray instead.
  • Keep yourself busy while waiting. Do arts and crafts. Read. Work on a personal project. Don’t just sit there doing nothing or you might end up thinking, worrying, feeling afraid.
  • Talk to your spouse. Share your fears and apprehensions. Pray together.

We’ve shared our journey with some friends and since then, some people (mostly friends of friends) have contacted us to ask about our experience. We’re happy to answer any questions and share more details of our experience. God bless!

Written by Alby Laran

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