Thirty-six-year-old Marni Hotchkiss and her husband endured three years of infertility while trying to conceive their son. At the time, they didn't think much about how long it would take or how it would deplete their finances. They simply wanted to be parents.
Three weeks after their son was born, Marni suffered a postpartum hemorrhage that resulted in an emergency D&C. The surgery caused Asherman's syndrome, or uterine adhesions. Four surgeries later, it was determined that her uterus could not be repaired. She would not be able to carry another child to term.
Knowing that they wanted a sibling for their son, Marni and her husband agreed to try surrogacy. They did two fresh IVF cycles and transferred to a gestational carrier each time. Truth be told, they expected it to work on the first try. "When the first cycle didn't progress, we were devastated. We expected it to work because my eggs were not the issue, my uterus was," explains Marni.
The second IVF cycle and transfer worked, and Marni and her husband began to prepare for another baby. Sadly, their excitement became devastation when they learned that their baby would have to be delivered by C-section when their gestational carrier developed severe preeclampsia at just 25 weeks. Weighing in at 1.7 pounds at birth, their daughter lived in the NICU for 20 days before the extreme prematurity and sepsis took her life.
The sadness was overwhelming.
Surviving the loss
From miscarriage to stillbirth to infant loss, many couples experience loss during the infertility journey. There isn't a timeline for grief, and different people grieve in different ways. When couples struggle to work through the grief of a devastating loss, they can end up feeling stuck.
This was the case for Marni and her husband. "We processed her birth and death at different levels and in different timeframes. That was so challenging at the time. I wanted to move forward and find another surrogate almost immediately since I was still grieving the baby that was to be, where my husband was grieving the baby we lost and couldn't imagine trying again," recalls Marni.
The infertility process is emotionally exhausting, painful and often leads to financial stress. Treatments put a significant amount of strain on the body and the wallet. It's only natural that couples argue at times along the way.
While Marni has always pushed for a second child, she knows that her husband was happy with one following the birth of their son.
Marni and her husband found that it's helpful to put difficult discussions on hold and gain some perspective when the stress becomes too much to bear. "Life is short and beautiful and we are just lucky to have each other on this journey, no matter what happens," says Marni.
Communication is key
Infertility often triggers feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. It affects both individuals and couples. Open communication about how each person is feeling and where they are in the process is essential to marriage preservation.
Although they do argue at times, Marni says that talking openly with her husband and seeking support outside of her marriage helps reduce their stress. Marni launched Bridge to Baby as a way to process her own feelings and help support others along the way.
Develop a plan
There are no guarantees when it comes to infertility. Treatments can drag on for years and cause significant emotional and financial stress on a couple.
Marc Kalan, M.D., a Los Angeles based infertility specialist, recommends discussing a plan at the beginning of treatment. "It is a good idea to establish a plan when you start treatment, and to discuss that plan with your doctor. This ensures that if the initial steps are not successful, any future steps can be considered without the element of surprise."