Have you ever stood around the Thanksgiving table and gone around stating what you’re thankful for this year? Well, I’m thankful for what Thanksgiving means to my journey of becoming a mom.
For many years, Thanksgiving was a secondary holiday in my book. When I moved away from home, lived overseas, and joined the military, it became impracticable to try to come home for Thanksgiving and then come home again a few weeks later for Christmas. The odd thing is that growing up, Thanksgiving was a big deal…my grandma would host HUGE Thanksgiving gatherings of friends and family, from multiple states. People would come and go all day – fifty to a hundred at least. But as my grandparents aged and the kids got older, the tradition dwindled.
By the time I finally met my husband and decided I wanted to be a mom after all, it turned out I had trouble trying to conceive. At the age of 32, coupled with an attempted vasectomy reversal, we did not waste too much time seeking help. In the world of reproductive endocrinology, there are no holidays, even when “assisting” the miracle of life. Timing and hormone responses are dictated by how a woman responds to treatment. On Thanksgiving Day in 2016, we received our first blow…when we went in for our IUI (intrauterine insemination), there was no sperm present. Over the course of the next few months, we also learned that I had the ovarian reserve a 45-year-old woman going into menopause and had premature ovarian failure.
We quickly changed course and clinics - opting to travel cross-country. As timing would have it, just one year later on Thanksgiving Day in 2017 we successfully transferred one fresh embryo following a month-long IVF retrieval cycle and we froze two more embryos that day. Our doctor, who was the medical director and one of the founding members of the clinic had left his own family (who had gathered from all over the country) that Thanksgiving morning to come take care of our embryo transfer. My husband had to go back home to work, so my mom was present with me. We returned to the hotel room to rest before flying back home and celebrated Thanksgiving and the embryo transfer with “Thanksgiving Sandwiches” that my mom made in the hotel room after a quick stop at the nearby grocery store. Little did we know, it would be the first celebration of a new family tradition. On July 25, 2018 our daughter was born – our little “Christmas in July.”
One year later on Thanksgiving Day 2018, my husband and I became the new hosts of Thanksgiving – it was a small table, but it was a full table – overflowing with blessings. I protested as my husband and parents snuck bites of a super-rich and sugary sweet potato souffle to our four-month-old. And just like that, this holiday again represented family, blessings from our Heavenly Father, prayers answered and thankful hearts.
It was two years before my body recovered enough and we were ready to try again. This incidentally put the timing of our frozen embryo transfer (FET) in late November of 2020. Arrangements had been made and tickets purchased, but in October I caught pneumonia and we had to delay a month. Then, the weekend following Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away. We ultimately decided to go ahead with the transfer in December instead of delaying another month. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had to travel by myself for the transfer because of the restrictions, just days before Christmas. Amidst the grief and exhaustion of traveling at the holidays, I woke up Christmas morning certain I was pregnant again – and I was! Our son was born in August 2021. Our Thanksgiving tradition and table was growing.
After our successful FET, we still had one embryo frozen remaining. My second pregnancy was smoother and I recovered more quickly. But now as I was pushing 40, it felt like we needed to make a decision. After a lot of intentional prayer, we were supposed to go ahead with one more frozen embryo transfer. Once the decision was made, the timeline rolled quickly and in January of 2022, at the age of 39, we transferred our final embryo. Even our doctor was cautiously optimistic. “It’s happened before,” he told me, but I could tell he didn’t want me getting my hopes up too much. About a week later, we had another positive pregnancy test in our hands! And just 3 days before my 40th Birthday, our second son was born in September 2023.
So here we are celebrating on this Thanksgiving Day, seven years after that initial disappointment and six years after that initial success. With lots of love, loss, blessings, struggles and new life in-between, we rode the infertility rollercoaster. This year I am thankful for Thanksgiving – a holiday that represents my very personal journey to motherhood.