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.
One of our favorite things about helping families grow is witnessing the diversity - both in what each patient's version of success looks like, and what each family looks like. No two families are exactly the same, and we believe that uniqueness is part of what makes each story so beautiful.
In this blog, former Illume Fertility patient and single mom by choice Alison shares her journey through fertility struggles, an unexpected divorce, and choosing to add another baby to her family as a newly solo parent.
The Road to Pregnancy with PCOS
Alison was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in her early 20's and knew conceiving might be difficult. Just before her OB was about to refer her to Illume Fertility, she got pregnant with her son Liam. He was born in April of 2014.
But the road to giving him a sibling was much harder. "My husband (at the time) and I tried unsuccessfully, for over a year, and got diagnosed with unexplained secondary infertility," Alison says. "Other than my PCOS, there was nothing wrong with either of us...no reason why."
"He was confident we would be successful," says Alison. "We started trying to conceive with medicated IUI cycles, but unfortunately they were all unsuccessful. Before we could try again, life began taking a downward spiral."
In the span of just a few months, they went through multiple failed IUI cycles, Alison lost her job and health insurance, and then came a very unexpected curveball: going through a divorce and becoming a single mom overnight.
A New Life After Divorce
"It was all very devastating," says Alison. It took a long time to rebuild and refocus on herself and her son, and adjusting to life as a family of two was difficult. However, Alison's desire to give Liam a sibling never went away.
"As each month passed and both he (and I) got older, the sibling age gap got bigger and my fertility window felt like it was closing," Alison says. She was a busy full-time single mom, and adding another baby to their new family unit seemed impossible at first.
But then, Alison discovered an online community of women who took their lives into their own hands - women who didn't let age or circumstance destroy their dreams of having children, even if that meant going it alone.
After finding this community of single moms by choice, spending a long time thinking about it, and planning her future, Alison decided to return to Illume Fertility to try to get pregnant - this time, as a single mom.
The Path to Conceiving Baby #2
"I went back to Dr. Hurwitz and he was supportive from the start," Alison says. Still confident she could get pregnant again, she tried medicated IUI cycles. Both IUI cycles were successful, leading to two pregnancies in 2019, but sadly, both pregnancies ended in loss.
Alison was confused and saddened by these losses, especially because they both seemed so healthy. Each pregnancy began similarly to her healthy pregnancy with her son Liam. She had strong beta HCG numbers, and a positive early ultrasound with a heartbeat each time. But by the second ultrasound, during the 8th week of both pregnancies, the heartbeats were gone.
These pregnancies were deemed "missed miscarriages," as there weren't any certain answers to why they didn't progress normally. "The first loss was handled medically, which was pretty painful, both physically and emotionally," Alison says.
The toughest part was going through it all alone. "Up until this point, I had told no one of my plans," she says. "But after the loss, I called my mom. To this day, she is still my biggest supporter."
The Pain of Loss & Secondary Infertility
Even with her mom's support, going through these losses was incredibly difficult. To make things even harder, Alison's second pregnancy loss was much more medically complicated than her first. She needed to have a D&C performed to help keep her safe after the first loss, which was heartbreaking.
Alison then had to have a second D&C due to retained tissue, which can be dangerous if left unresolved. "Dr. Hurwitz told me that they had to be very careful during the procedure, so as to not tear my uterus," Alison remembers. "I am so grateful he was able to save it!"
One of the most challenging parts of this process was that both losses were unexplained, with no certain cause, just like her secondary infertility. Dr. Hurwitz then suggested that Alison move on to IVF with PGT testing.
What IS secondary infertility?
Light at the End of the Tunnel
"I did an egg retrieval that summer, and in the fall, we did my first frozen embryo transfer," Alison says. "It was successful, but like my other pregnancies that year, everything looked fine, but I was skeptical." Her beta HCG numbers were good and strong, and several ultrasounds later, the baby still looked healthy.
As is common with some pregnancies, Alison experienced some bleeding, which continued off and on for weeks. "I would come running to Illume Fertility to be checked out, but each time, there was no explanation for the bleeding...just a healthy baby in there!"
In December of 2019, Alison finally "graduated" from Illume Fertility and went back to her regular OB for continued care. She finally felt safe telling her son Liam he was going to become a big brother, an unforgettable moment for them both. "He asked me for a moment alone, ran to his room, then screamed 'This is awesome!' and came back and hugged me," Alison says. "He waited a long time to be a big brother - at this point, he was 5 1/2 years old."
Welcoming Baby Hannah
In June of 2020, her rainbow baby (and Liam's long-awaited little sister) Hannah was born - right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were elated. "Liam and Hannah are just over six years apart, not nearly what I had planned or hoped for," says Alison. "But they have a very strong bond nonetheless." She considers both Liam and Hannah her miracle babies.
"Being a single mother by choice or by chance (or in my case both) is never easy," Alison admits. Single motherhood isn't usually 'Plan A' for most women. "It wasn't for me - that's for sure!"
And Alison is honest about the challenges of being a single mom by choice: "There will be moments where it feels impossible, where you just don't have enough hands, or time, or energy. Many people will not understand or support your decisions."
But she feels incredibly grateful to those who continue to support her, Liam, and Hannah. Alison also credits the community of other single moms by choice (often referred to as SMBC) and leans on their support - now, she even helps monitor one of the online groups she joined.
"I try to share my experiences, in the hopes that it could help someone else," Alison says. "All in all, the whole experience has taught me that you are much stronger than you think you are, and to never give up on your dreams."
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