From the beginning, Deanna and Justin knew they wanted to build a family together - but life had other plans. This is their story of heartbreak, hope, and how their perseverance led to their dreams finally coming true.
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Meet Deanna & Justin
During their teenage years, Deanna and Justin attended the same school in upstate New York. They crossed paths periodically, but since they were a few grades apart, they didn't get to know each other well until they both entered college.
In college, they finally connected and began a relationship - dating and eventually getting married in October 2013. They honeymooned in Maui, Hawaii and were able to travel to beautiful destinations like the Bahamas and Mexico before deciding they were ready to try to expand their family.
The Importance of Family
Having both been raised in close knit families that spent lots of time together established the value of family and connection for the couple. "We always knew we wanted to become a mom and dad," Deanna recalls. "After we got married, we were constantly around our close friends or siblings and their children and just couldn't wait to experience [parenthood] for ourselves!"
"We are both from close knit families - we are always with them," Deanna says.
Like most couples, Deanna and Justin first started trying to get pregnant on their own, not anticipating any issues. After almost a year of trying to conceive with no success, they sought guidance from Deanna's OB/GYN, who recommended they take the next step and consult with a fertility doctor.
A Heartbreaking Fertility Journey
They followed the advice of Deanna's OB/GYN, becoming patients at their local fertility clinic.
Unfortunately, their path forward was full of disappointments and losses. After three cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatment, Deanna experienced three devastating chemical pregnancies (miscarriages). Even as they grieved, the couple bravely forged ahead, undergoing five subsequent rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.
Deanna and Justin's embryos consistently stopped developing before reaching Day 5 or 6, meaning they weren't able to freeze any of them for a frozen embryo transfer cycle. They underwent multiple fresh embryo transfers at their clinic in Albany, NY, but nothing seemed to work.
Taking a Leap of Faith
"We finally heard about Illume Fertility through my best friend, and thank God we did," Deanna says. After going through so many unsuccessful cycles at their local clinic, the couple was ready to do anything to make their dream of having a baby come true.
"She listened to our story, we shared our experiences of our going through multiple failed IUI and IVF attempts, and just instantly connected with her," Deanna recalls. "After discussing everything together for over an hour, we walked out of that first appointment feeling hopeful again."
From that point forward, the couple felt a renewed confidence about their family's future. "Dr. Murdock and Illume were going to give us a new chance, the opportunity to try a different IVF protocol than we had before, and ultimately help us become parents," Deanna says. "We couldn't wait to get started!"
Next Steps: Fertility Testing & New IVF Protocol
After undergoing their initial diagnostic testing, Deanna was cleared to proceed with their first egg retrieval at Illume. Thankfully, that retrieval resulted in enough eggs to be the only cycle they needed.
The couple was amazed to discover that they were able to get four frozen embryos from that one IVF cycle. "It was truly a miracle since we'd never gotten to that stage before," Deanna says. They felt hopeful as they went into their first embryo transfer - but soon after, experienced a fourth chemical pregnancy.
Their Long-Awaited Miracle
"From there, we had another embryo transfer, which was also unsuccessful," Deanna says. After so many losses, the couple decided to transfer their final two frozen embryos together on April 1, 2019, and were shocked when they learned that one of those embryos had stuck!
Deanna and Justin were so grateful to finally be pregnant and expecting their first baby. They welcomed their son Luke on December 14, 2019, overjoyed to step into their new roles as parents.
After so many years of working and waiting, becoming a mom felt like a literal dream, Deanna says. "It really didn't even feel real for a long time, to be honest," she admits.
NICU Life & Coming Home
"When Luke was born, he unfortunately was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for the first 10 days of his life," Deanna shares. "After the long journey we went through to have him, this was of course extremely scary and nerve wracking."
The day before Christmas Eve, the couple finally got to bring Luke home and start their life together as a family. "He's our Christmas miracle," Deanna says. After everything they'd been through to get Luke in their arms, the couple felt incredibly grateful to finally have their baby boy safe and sound.
"It was all such a surreal experience and something we will never take for granted," Deanna shares. "When we got to bring Luke home, we almost instantly forgot about that longing for a family that we had felt for so many years - it was a wish that came true, and still is."
The Shock of a Lifetime
When Luke was only 10 months old, Deanna and Justin were amazed to discover that they had conceived again - this time, without any help from fertility treatment. "It still boggles my mind everytime I think about it - talk about a SHOCK," Deanna says.
"We'd heard stories about people getting pregnant on their own after going through IVF, but we never ever thought we would be one of those stories," she continues. "Especially after three-and-a-half years and multiple rounds of IVF to get to Luke."
When they announced the big news about Baby #2 to friends and family, they couldn't believe it either. "Everyone was so surprised, but in the best way possible," Deanna recalls. Their second baby boy, Brooks, was born in 2021.
Natural Pregnancy After IVF
While surprising, scientists at University College London say that women should be aware that natural (or spontaneous, non-assisted) pregnancies after IVF are not as unusual as people may think.
The experts said a study of more than 5,000 women showed that 20% of those who sought assisted conception for their first child were able to become pregnant naturally within three years.
Read a surprise pregnancy story from another Illume mom, Mayra, right here!
Life as a Family of Four
"Brooks is now 2, and Luke will turn 4 this December," Deanna says. "Being parents to these little guys is insanely hectic, but the most amazing and best thing that has ever happened to us. Their personalities are so unique and fun - we have LOVED watching them grow."
While parenting two boys close in age has been a lot of work, Deanna and Justin report that the brothers are joined at the hip. "They are together all of the time and it is adorable to see them become best friends - they are such a dream come true!"
The best part? Seeing Luke and Brooks play and laugh together, says their mom. "Of course there are fights as well, but it's truly amazing," she adds.
The Roller Coaster of Infertility
When it comes to IVF, I wish we knew that it was not a one-and-done, guaranteed thing," Deanna admits. "We went in so hopeful and just figured that it would 'automatically' work for us the first time, then we found out about everything that goes into having a baby - cycles, hormones, etc. We really learned about the IVF process and how success is never promised."
The hardest part of their nearly four years of infertility? The repeated letdowns and feelings of defeat, Deanna says. "I felt like it was all on me, and that my body was not capable of carrying a baby," she admits. "I would see every other woman around me pregnant or playing with their little ones, and it was really really tough."
Equally difficult for the couple was that fact that after each unsuccessful treatment cycle, they had to pick themselves back up and find the strength and energy to start over.
On Teamwork & Perseverance
"Our close family and friends were so supportive during our journey," Deanna shares. "They may not have fully understood the feelings we had (no one went through IVF in our immediate family), but they were there every step of the way."
The most supportive person of all was Justin, Deanna says. "He took it all so seriously and wanted it to 'work' as badly as I did. He would give me every injection and make sure we were all organized for every cycle. He was at every doctor's appointment, ultrasound, and test. I couldn't have gone through it without his unwavering hopefulness and encouragement to never give up."
Even still, Deanna worried that she was letting her husband down each time they had a failed cycle - a common struggle for those navigating infertility with a partner.
Advice for Fellow Fertility Warriors
After such a long battle with infertility, Deanna shares what she's learned, and what kept her going when things got tough along the way. Here are her top tips:
- Have a support system in place
- Research your doctor's office and their labs
- Find a provider who will FIGHT for you to have your family
- Try to reduce stressors as much as possible
Although it can be difficult to stay positive in the face of repeated disappointments, Deanna says it helped her keep going: "After every embryo transfer, write daily affirmations that you are pregnant and staying pregnant, post a photo of an ultrasound on your bathroom mirror so you are staring at what your future is going to be," she offers. "Keep saying to yourself 'This will be me, this will happen!'"
A New Adventure: Big Little Wish
For years, Deanna dreamt of opening her own small shop. In 2023, that dream finally came true, when she launched Big Little Wish. Their children's mini belt bags, fanny packs, and other kid-friendly accessories are both adorable and functional. They will soon be expanding to offer children's clothing too.
"It has been a great outlet for me, to take a leap on something that I love," Deanna says. After launching the brand in June 2023, they have already wholesaled their bags to 20+ states across the U.S. and Canada and garnered a fan club on social media.
"As a mom of boys, I know how much they love to carry their favorite toys, cars, trucks, and whatnots around - but let's be real, they do it with their tiny little hands, which isn't always practical," Deanna says. "That's why I created Big Little Wish - functional and stylish accessories, just like us moms like it!"
Giving Back to the IVF Community
Deanna's desire to support others struggling with infertility led her to establish a partnership with local non-profit Nest Egg Foundation, which provides financial grants to families seeking IVF treatment. As a result, Big Little Wish now donates 1% of every sale to Nest Egg Foundation to help others achieve the dream of expanding their own family.
"As a couple that understands how hard it can be for many to grow their families, this is something that is dear and near to our hearts," Deanna says.
What's next for their family?
With Luke (4) and Brooks (2) still being young, Deanna and Justin say they are keeping quite busy! "We're really enjoying them and our family time together," Deanna says. "We love making memories with the boys, and we may someday give Luke and Brooks one more sibling, but that would be God willing!"
After all of the loss and heartbreak the couple endured on their path to parenthood, they are embracing every day as Mom and Dad - the titles they yearned for for so many years.
Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.