Healthwatch 16: In Vitro Fertilization

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PLAINS TOWNSHIP -- Infertility is fairly common, yet one doctor believes people don't talk about it enough.

A young couple from Wyoming County shared with us the long road they traveled to be able to have a baby with the hopes that other people will start talking about it too.

This beautiful family of three, Samantha and James McDonnell of Falls and their baby girl Mia are picture-perfect. but Sam says there's a whole lot more to their story that she wants to share.

She and James' story began in class at the University of Scranton. They married as soon as they graduated in 2011, and starting a family was a top priority.

"I always knew," Samantha said. "When I was little, I would pretend to be a mom. When I was in high school, I didn't even want to go to college. I was going to get married and have kids and that's all I wanted to do was have a family."

A few months went by, five months, six months. Eventually, it had been a year of trying to conceive and Sam still wasn't pregnant. She describes the feeling as "awful," admits it put a strain on their young marriage.

"You don't even want to leave the house because everything is so difficult. All anyone wants to talk about is when you're going to start your family. It becomes exhausting."

Sam and James sought the help of Dr. Jennifer Gell, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist with Geisinger's women's health department near Wilkes-Barre.

"There are a lot of options for couples," said Dr. Gell.

According to Dr. Gell, one in eight couples will experience infertility. In most cases, there are several tests that can be done to try to pinpoint the problem.

In the McDonnell's' case, Dr. Gell made a discovery: Sam doesn't ovulate.

On their own, the couple had only a one percent chance of conceiving.

Their best option was IVF, in vitro fertilization.

"We do all the monitoring and the pre-cycle and the initial evaluations here. The procedures for retrieval and transfer are done in Danville and I travel with my patients to do the procedure," Dr. Gell explained.

The couple was on board but Sam wants to make it clear IVF can cost tens of thousands of dollars and is not without sacrifice.

"We decided to move in with my parents, we sold my car, I quit my job, and we took all of the savings we had for a house and took out some loans and decided to do IVF."

It didn't work. Heartbroken, they decided to try again. This time, Sam's parents took out loans to pay for another round.

That time it did work.

Sam became pregnant. Worried the entire time, she admits, but she was able to carry a baby safely to term and gave birth to little Amelia, who they call Mia, last November.

"She's just amazing. She's our perfect little baby," said Sam.

"It definitely creates a feeling of helplessness. That's what I learned. I've never felt more helpless in my life," James said. "The pain she went through, I'd rather go through myself."

Despite what they went through, Sam and James count themselves the lucky ones. They know how many couples go through what they did and don't get a baby in the end.

Sam says she'd like to see a little more compassion when it comes to infertility.

"People don't know it. People don't talk about it," she said.

Dr. Gell points out IVF is one option, it happened to be the right one for the McDonnell's but may not be for everyone.

If you think you may be having a problem with infertility, talk to your doctor about the steps to take next.