Let’s start at the very beginning. I mean, we all know it’s a very good place to start. So in this post, I want to share the story from our first appointment with the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) back in Jan. 2020. I know it’s cliché, but that appointment honestly somehow feels like it was both years ago and just yesterday.
I think it’s important to occasionally look back—where you’ve come from, the experiences you’ve had, and the feelings you felt—and to share those stories.
Sharing helps us to remember, but it also it helps us to reflect, to learn, to connect, and maybe even to see God’s grace in places we didn’t before.
Why Should You Care About This Story?
For those of you who are following this because you’re on your own journey with infertility, I pray you’ll find hope, comfort, and even laughter in our shared experiences, even if the details of my journey look really different than yours. For those of you who are following this because you’re pursuing embryo adoption yourself—especially if you’re working with the NEDC—I hope you find helpful information here, but more than that I hope it gets you excited. (And also, I hope you’ll find me on Instagram @jennalbieber or Facebook and be my friend 😊).
And for those of you who are just reading because you care about Brian and me, thank you. I hope you’re sipping a good coffee (or a good wine—plz have a glass for me 😉), maybe learning something new about infertility and embryo adoption, and simply enjoying my stories as if I were able to share them with you over a good meal or around an evening campfire.
Back in Part 3 of our infertility story, I shared that we applied to the NEDC on Brian’s 30th birthday. Submitting that application felt so.good. It felt like we were doing something. For a year and a half, we felt completely helpless. Directionless. We slogged through a seemingly endless valley of testing, charting, medications, blood draws, and appointments, ultimately to arrive at our lowest point: a life-changing diagnosis of male factor infertility (MFI).
And now finally, we had taken the first real, tangible step in a new direction.
We were getting out of the valley.
And I say that not because embryo adoption was guaranteed to lead to a baby and then that would solve all our problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, I say that because God had given us a direction, and He used the valley to remind us that only He can take us to new heights (Hab. 3:19). Only He can take broken pieces and redeem them into something new. And so our hope was renewed in Him and in His plans for our future (Jer. 29:11).
Getting to the Appointment: Application, Paperwork, Blood, and More Paperwork
Submitting that application in Oct. 2019 was super exciting, but everything still felt so far away at the time. It was literally the first step of many.
The online application was fairly straightforward, but it still took us a few days to complete as we wanted to be thorough and intentional in our responses. They asked us about our health, physical characteristics, hobbies, families, careers, and more that I can’t remember. They also requested that we write a letter to our donor family, as they would include this letter when showing donors our profile.
Talk about surreal. We were writing this letter to a family we didn’t know, pouring our hearts out to them and sharing our story, and believing that God would move the right family as they read our words, choosing for us to receive the indescribable gift of their unborn babies.
One “submit” button and $400 later, we had taken our first step in the embryo adoption process.
Packet 1: Where’s Jerry Gergich?!
Shortly after, we received a packet in the mail from the NEDC. It was really exciting getting that packet because it felt like things were truly in progress now! In the packet was our homework for the next week or so: consent forms, information on closed and open adoption agreements, communication preferences for an open adoption, release of information forms, counseling forms, and orders for bloodwork.
At the time, I remember thinking there was a lot to do! And I had to get something notarized?! Where is Jerry Gergich when you need him?! I made a checklist, took notes, and created a plan for Brian and me to go through each form in the coming days.
Looking back at my folders while writing this post, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Honestly, that first packet was a piece of cake—literally a few pieces of paper and some bloodwork. But ya know how it is when something is new and unfamiliar: it can seem like a lot.
And that’s actually part of what makes the NEDC so great. They know this process can feel overwhelming and scary, especially at first. And so they help you to take it all one step at a time, gently guiding you through the process, answering your questions, and giving you more information/tasks as you’re ready for it. And believe me, you may not feel ready, but you’ll be ready for each step as it comes.
We also started our home study approval process during this time. I’ve written all about the home study here, so if you or anyone you know is pursuing fostering or adoption, please check it out! Our home study process was really smooth, and there are five things we did that I think really helped.
When the NEDC received our paperwork (and thank goodness they did because I did NOT put enough stamps on the envelope) and our bloodwork was complete, they scheduled us for our first appointment in Knoxville, TN for 1/10/20. In October, mid-January seemed close but also so far away.
Packet 2: Trial Transfer Protocol
After scheduling the appointment, we received another packet in the mail with a letter from the IVF nurse, information on our initial appointment, and our medication protocol for the trial transfer. I could tell even just through writing that our IVF nurse, Lynda, was a breath of fresh air. She seemed kind, caring, and genuinely excited for our journey, even though I knew it was a stock letter! 😊
Again, looking back at my folder, it’s hilarious how much highlighting and note-taking I did regarding the trial transfer medication protocol. I had never experienced anything like this, and I’d only ever heard words like “protocol” and “lining” and “full bladder” thrown around in the context of IVF, big scary calendars, and needles. (Which is kind of true for the actual transfer, but not for the trial transfer! 😉)
My trial transfer protocol was actually really simple. Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and I am not providing any medical advice or opinions. This was simply my experience as a reference point.
Essentially, I started taking birth control between 6-10 weeks prior to my appointment. Yepp, taking birth control is ironically part of the protocol for getting pregnant via embryo transfer. Then, I stopped taking birth control about 20 days prior to the appointment and started taking estrogen 2x a day when my period started. After 9 days of that, we upped the estrogen to 3x a day, and I did that until our appointment. That’s literally it. All I needed the day of the trial transfer was some ibuprofen and a full bladder.
So I ordered my medications (the first of many trips my husband would make through the Rite Aid drive-thru) and prepped for the big day.
Traveling to the NEDC
Finally, it was time. On 1/9/20, we left our sweet cat-baby in the loving hands of my parents, and we started the 8+ hour drive to Knoxville, TN. We couldn’t believe it was happening. We were actually doing it. After learning about the NEDC and embryo adoption half a year ago and working through three months of paperwork, we were on our way.
The goals of the initial appointment:
- Meet the doctor. We were super excited to finally get to meet Dr. Gordon and to walk through our story with him and learn about our next steps.
- Undergo a trial transfer and receive medical clearance. The NEDC highly values the lives of the embryos and they want to make sure they have the best chance at survival. As such, a trial transfer and medical clearance is necessary to ensure that the woman’s body is physically ready and able to receive the embryos and carry a pregnancy, as much as that can be known.
- Meet the staff (embryologist, patient coordinator, IVF nurse, marketing coordinator, etc.). We were also really excited to meet everyone at the NEDC. We’d seen all their names on paperwork, read about them in the FAQs, saw them in promotional videos, and heard about them in others’ testimonials. We couldn’t wait to finally meet them, know them for real, and learn about our work with them in the embryo adoption process.
- Tour the facility. We were going to able to see the room where the embryo transfers happen, the recovery room, and more!
- Bloodwork. Bloodwork is always an item at basically every appointment. Welcome to infertility.
- Head home with lots of papers! This visit was going to keep the process moving and allow us to start on our next steps!
Our drive down was thankfully uneventful, and the 8 hours miraculously went by quickly. We arrived that evening and checked into our Air B&B, which we absolutely loved. I’d found this little place that was about 15 minutes away from the NEDC—a beautifully renovated basement with a separate entrance that had its own kitchenette, living area, and bedroom. Walking in, it felt like our little home away from home.
Then, we consulted Google for some advice on dinner. We found this amazing lakeside restaurant and had a delightful date night. We rounded out the evening with some Netflix and crème brule and ice cream for dessert, because this was definitely a TREAT YO’SELF situation.
Ya know how it is when everything is just really good and it all seems to fall into place? We were only 12-ish ours into our trip, and that’s how this felt. Everything gave us such a peace and excitement about our appointment the next morning. God showed such kindness to us in both big and small ways throughout the entire trip.
The morning of the appointment, I nervously got ready. Our appointment time was scheduled for 9:30am, but we were instructed to be there around 9:00am for paperwork. Around 8:00am, I began reading my devotions and sipping water in preparation for the full bladder requirement. UGH.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave. We plugged in the directions and made the short drive to the NEDC. Pulling into the parking lot was surreal. We’d seen photos and videos of the facility for months, and here I was, pulling into the parking lot and seeing it with my own eyes.
And in some weird way, I almost felt like we were about to meet celebrities—people I’d known through videos and paperwork and other couples’ stories—and now we were about to meet them ourselves. We were about to truly become an NEDC family.
We walked in as I continued to nervously sip my water from my mason jar. As we checked in, we received our paperwork, which turned out to be one consent form. We read it and filled it out quickly, and then we waited in THEE waiting room–the one I’d seen in promotional materials so many times.
That room filled me with hope. The videos and pictures and testimonials that I’d seen featuring that waiting room were brimming with hope, and so being in that very room filled me with hope as well.
Unfortunately, being in that waiting room also filled me with water. Too much water. As I kept drinking, my awe and wonder was quickly surpassed by my need to pee.
“Let a little bit out”
If you’ve ever been through any kind of fertility treatments, you know. A full bladder is needed for two reasons: 1) it gets everything else out of the way so that the doctors can see the uterus better and 2) having a full bladder actually straightens out the uterus so it’s easier to access—a really helpful thing when a catheter with your embryos is being strung through to your uterus! (Did I just manage to say “uterus” three times in that sentence? Yes I did! Again, welcome to infertility!)
Around 9:38am (yes, I remember the time very specifically because each minute felt like an hour), Dr. Gordon came to get us in the waiting room. He took us back to his office and started to make small talk with us, which I normally would have enjoyed, but I was so focused on not peeing that I barely heard anything he was saying. I’m sure sensing my panic, he let me know that if I needed to, I could just stop him and go let a little bit out. (Yes—you are reading that correctly—a little bit. Obviously, I still needed a full bladder for the actual procedure, so you basically get to pee just enough to temporarily take the edge off. That may sound awful, but as I quickly learned, it’s 10,000x better than doing nothing!)
The rest of our conversation was lovely, even though I did have to stop him to use the restroom again like two more times. In a short 10-minute conversation, he made us feel valued, seen, and excited about what was next. He was knowledgeable, he answered our questions, and he worked to make us feel comfortable as he talked us through each part of the process. He also knew a little about our home area and shared about his visits to Deep Creek Lake, an area about 2 hours from where we live. Making those personal connections made us feel even more peaceful!
The Trial Transfer
Then, it was finally time for the actual trial transfer. We went into an exam room and he checked my bladder. (Guess what? Too full. Had to let more out again. It was super fun waddling out of the room to the nearest bathroom with paper gowns wrapped around my bottom half.)
Frankly, the trial transfer was a blur. He prepped everything and inserted the catheter, and we watched it all happen on the screen. Everything was good, and he determined there shouldn’t be any issues for a real transfer! After the trial transfer part was complete, I was allowed to pee for real (more fun waddling in paper gowns), and then he did a quick exam of the uterus and ovaries.
Overall, the trial transfer and exam was actually quick and painless (apart from the bladder thing). It was great to have Brian with me the whole time (a first for him—he’d never really been to any of my fertility appointments up to this point) and it was even better to receive the medical clearance from the doctor.
After the exam, he walked us to a room where we met with around five different people over the course of the next 2-3 hours. One person would come in, tell us who they were and how we would be working with them, hand us a bunch of papers, leave, and then send the next person in.
Meeting the NEDC Team
For us, this part was the most overwhelming. It was like drinking from a fire hose—a lot of information in a (relatively) short time period. However, everyone was so very kind and compassionate, and they recognized that we were probably only retaining some of what they were saying and that we would likely have many questions later. Each person gave us their business card, papers to help remember/review the information, and the assurance that they would help us get through each piece, one step at a time.
If you watched the video above, you can jump down to the end, because I’m about to recap what I shared in the vlog!
We met with the patient coordinator who would be working with us on the matching process. She helped us coordinate with the NEDC’s partner social worker who reviewed/approved our home study once it was finalized. And then, after our home study was reviewed/approved, the patient coordinator sent us donor profiles to review and communicated with our chosen donor family to see if we had a match! (My summary is greatly simplifying the matching process. It actually took us about 2 months from start to finish to match with our donor family, and I’ll soon write about the matching process and that whole experience in a different post!)
We met with the embryologist, Carol, who shared with us a few frozen embryo basics. There was a lot of science, but she did an amazing job at breaking the concepts down into bite-sized pieces. It was still overwhelming, but it was absolutely incredible to learn more about the different stages in which embryos are frozen (generally three different stages that vary depending on number of cells at the time of the freeze), the thawing process and thaw success rates (different stages of freezing have different rates of surviving the thaw), the quality and assisted hatching (determining quality is a whole thing I won’t pretend to know anything about, but assisted hatching is for thawed embryos who had been frozen at an earlier stage), and the considerations when determining the number of embryos to thaw and then ultimately to transfer (spoiler alert: there are a lot of factors to consider!).
Fun embryo fact for you: the stage in which an embryo is frozen does not really change the success rate for pregnancy and live birth. There are different thaw survival rates, but ultimately if an embryo survives the thaw, it doesn’t really matter what stage it had been frozen in in terms of pregnancy and live birth!
I’m sorry…did you say butt shots?
We also met with our IVF nurse, Lynda, who walked us through the medications and a sample transfer protocol. Honestly, this was the part that threw me the most. If you remember, I barely had to take any medication to prepare for the trial transfer. I wasn’t naïve; I knew there’d be more involved for the real frozen embryo transfer (FET)… I just didn’t know how much more! (Looking back, the real transfer protocol honestly wasn’t that bad either. Way better than an IVF protocol, one of the many reasons we chose embryo adoption in the first place!)
As I learned for the first time that my husband would have to give me a butt shot twice daily with a 1.5-inch needle for potentially 10-12 weeks (Yepp! Progesterone in oil (PIO) shots keep going through around 10-12 weeks pregnant! And now after doing 123 PIO shots—which weren’t all that bad—we now have lots of tips and tricks I’ve shared here!), she sweetly made clear that she would be available to help us and to answer any questions about our medications, costs, refills, insurance, injection techniques, and more.
I want to mention here that I was most anxious about the potential cost of medications. My estrogen pills had been relatively cheap, but the leuprolide (stomach injections) and the PIO (booty injections) were going to be a different story. They estimated that medications could cost $1,000 or more per transfer cycle. With all the money we had spent up to this point and all that we were already planning to spend for the actual FET, this was a somewhat unexpected additional significant cost, especially because I knew my insurance probably wasn’t going to cover anything.
I’ll save this story for another day, but ask questions and push your insurance company. I was able to get my PIO covered simply by requesting coverage, and I would have been able to get my leuprolide covered if I’d known to have my doctor do a prior authorization request (the only reason it wasn’t covered is because my daily dosage exceeded my daily max limit). God ultimately came through in a big way and He completely provided, despite my fears when I first heard about these meds!
Closing out the Appointment…and Scheduling the Real Transfer!
We also met with the marketing and development director, Mark, and chatted about sharing our story and helping to raise awareness and to educate about embryo adoption. (We hope we’re doing him proud!)
Oh, and I also had more blood taken, but that really goes without saying at this point.
We also learned at this appointment that we were targeting a May 2020 transfer cycle. So soon! Yes, it was January, but with all we had to do in between and with all the deadlines we had to meet for different steps, May actually felt really close! (Spoiler alert: it all worked out for May! And that’s a really cool story by itself, because even before we were scheduled for May, our dear friend prayed for us and our journey and received the word “May” from the Lord! Read more of that story here.)
Ready to Take the Next Steps
By the end of the appointment, we were exhausted but excited. We snapped a quick picture on our way out (the one above where we’re outside the NEDC!), and headed back to our Air B&B where we decompressed, called family and friends to share our experience, and watched The Great British Bake Off with a [much needed] glass of wine.
We got on the road bright and early the next morning to make the drive back home to PA, and I started taking prometrium and decreasing my estrogen to start my cycle again.
And that was it. Our initial appointment and medical clearance with the NEDC was in the books. Reflecting on this trip, we realized once again that God had been so kind and so faithful in many ways. To name a few:
- Our 8+ hour drives down and back again were EASY. I usually hate being in the car for more than like 3 hours. And somehow, these drives were relatively quick and comfortable.
- Because we were driving, weather was a concern. After all, we booked this appointment three months earlier. We had no way of knowing what we might be up against in terms of travel. And yet, we didn’t have any bad weather, in the middle of January, across 4 states, 500 miles, and 8+ hours. We had no snow, ice, or rain, and it was even warm!
- We had friends and family who were texting, calling, and praying for us the whole trip. We felt so loved and so supported and they truly encouraged our hearts.
- I was nervous and frankly very overwhelmed both before and after the appointment, and God spoke straight to my heart through very specific devotions over those few days. He was in this with us. Period.
- As I mentioned above, one of my dearest friends had been praying for us prior to the initial appointment and she received the word “May” when praying. Only at our initial appointment did we learn we were being scheduled for the May transfer cycle!
- Also as I mentioned above, Dr. Gordon had some personal connections to our area. And, as I shared in this blog post about why we adopted our embryos the whole way in TN, the president/medical director Dr. Keenan actually grew up in the Pittsburgh area! These special connections gave us so much peace and felt like a little wink from God!
- We actually made a lot of fun memories on this trip. Our beautiful lakeside dinner the night before the appointment, laughing and watching the Great British Bake Off together, listening to hours of The Office Ladies podcast… there were many things about this trip that just made us smile.
- Our Air B&B was incredible. I’ve never been to Knoxville, TN and I’ve stayed in Air B&Bs only a handful of times, but we hit the jackpot. It was a little home-away-from-home, and we felt so comfortable and peaceful there.
Much like everything else in this infertility and embryo adoption journey, God’s hand was all over our initial appointment. His faithfulness never ceases to amaze me. I’ve actually loved looking back on this appointment and blowing the dust off of some of these incredible details—how good is God?!
Now, if you’ve read this far, you either are considering/already pursuing embryo adoption with the NEDC yourself, or you love us and support us A LOT. 😉 Either way, thanks for being on this wild ride with us, and I can’t wait to keep sharing more of this amazing story that God is writing in our lives. There is so much more goodness to share and more stories to tell. So, stay tuned, friends!