Today's guest is Shannon Leach, she's a mom of 5 including a set of twins, a registered nurse, and an online fitness coach. We discussed a lot of different topics in our interview but the main one that drew me to her was her willingness to share and inspire moms through her fertility journey. She had a lot of struggles in it but ultimately IVF was her saving grace and allowed her to have her five children. It's such an amazing story of strength and perseverance and it's really cool just to see how her family has grown over the years. So without further ado, here's my interview with Shannon Leach.
Christa: Just to get started, can you just tell us a little bit about you and then we'll kind of go from there.
Shannon: My name is Shannon Leach, I am from Everett, Washington and I’m actually a mom of 5, my oldest has not yet turned 6, she will be 6 in a couple weeks, and then I have a 4-year-old a 2 ½-year old and our twins just turned 1 last weekend.
Christa: So one of the things I want to talk to you about was IVF because we actually haven't had someone come on and talk about it before and I know you went through IVF too. I kind of want to hear a little bit about your fertility journey and then when you decided to do IVF and kind of what that process was like for you.
Shannon: So actually all 5 of our kids are because of 3 total IVF cycles. So my journey really started, I had got married to my husband and in that next year is when we kind of decided like okay already started family and at the time I was training actually for the Boston marathon, I happened to run it the year of the bombing which still is hard to believe sometimes that that actually happened and that I was there. Thankfully, I was okay, I was safe, my family was safe, but it still is just such a tragedy that I think about a lot but it was that year I had not been having periods actually and my doctor at the time said let's not worry about it until you're done marathon training. We'll let your body reset because a lot of women and sometimes don't have periods because their bodies are just under stress from exercise and I’d seen that a lot. I played college soccer and so that wasn't atypical for me to see that. Mine had actually that had started a few years before that even not just from marathon training but she said let's give it through marathon training and then we'll kind of go from there. I ended my marathon training and nothing really changed as far as my cycles went and so that's when they started doing further testing and so in some regards I was actually lucky in the sense that right away we knew that there was an issue because for so many women I am really well connected in the infertility community now which I’m so grateful for and so I know the experience of a lot of other women where they're trying for years before they actually know that there's an issue or they even start testing to see if there is an issue or not because sometimes it's just unexplained and we never know and that's almost even more frustrating than anything. So for us it was lucky in the sense that they did testing right away they figured out that I didn't ovulate, my actual diagnosis is called hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, which is such a mouthful but really it just means I don't ovulate on my own. So they said, you're going to need fertility treatments, we can start with IUI’s which are intrauterine inseminations. Most people know it as artificial insemination that's kind of the old term for it. So I was referred to Seattle reproductive medicine, a lot of insurance companies don't cover infertility treatments. Mine did not, my husband's did not, even though I’m a nurse practitioner. I worked in healthcare that what was allotted was at $500 for a consultation visit, so that was way to clean in the first visit because as all of us know healthcare and specialists are very expensive. I saw her and we did two IUI’s, both failed and at that point she said I really think IVF is going to be your only option to get pregnant. We started the process of that in the fall of that would have been 2012 or 2013. I started the process because there's a lot of testing, there's blood work, they want to make sure that you don't have any underlying issues causing the infertility diagnosis like thyroid issues or something that's an easy fix that then could you could get pregnant on your own. So did all the testing, make sure that your tubes aren't blocked so that you can actually have success that way. They test your partner or husband to make sure sperm quality and count are all going to find so that or be okay so that everything lines up when you actually go through the cycle. Everything testing wise looked okay and we decided to move forward with it. They also make you pay upfront, at least at our clinic financially it's really incredibly difficult. I have this goal one day that I would love to be able to create a scholarship for supporting one couple a year or something because I feel very fortunate that we were able to do this and do this so many times because I honestly think it's unfair that there are people out there that want to try and would love to go through IVF but can't afford it or aren't able to for some reason. So we did our first IVF cycle and we got a total of 3 embryos and so going through it my first time I was pretty quiet about it and reserved. I didn't share with a lot of people that I was going through it because to be honest I held a lot of I would say shame and guilt of something that I always wanted to be a mom and for so many people they want to become a mother and it seems like it should be so easy and natural and just something that happens and so when it doesn't it feels like what's wrong with me and I now know that and I tell people there's nothing wrong with you but it did feel that way and I honestly at one point was like would my husband have even wanted to marry me? If he knew that I couldn't get pregnant on my own, so it's a huge emotional rollercoaster and so for that first time I was very quiet about it. Through the process, you get a calendar and you get all these medications and it can be totally overwhelming and so it's why after the first time then I totally opened up about it because I was like I need, I want to be that support person to other people going through it because it was so complex and isolating and lonely that first time that I decided it was worth it to be vulnerable in the future cycles to be able to help someone else but sometimes it's pills, sometimes it was patches, most of the time it includes injecting yourself into your stomach, and or your butt, and sometimes multiple times a day. My body took a little bit longer to respond so at one point I was doing the shots in my belly for a couple weeks in a row and then you're going in for frequent blood draws to make sure your levels are rising, they're doing ultrasounds to make sure that the eggs are growing appropriately, and your ovaries everything looks okay, everything has to line up so perfectly in order for it all to work. At one point, I wasn't responding well to the hormones and they had thought they were going to have to cancel the cycle which is devastating because you've already paid for it, if they cancel it, it's just like, well sorry you're done but thankfully we were able to proceed. They do an egg retrieval and so you're under some anesthesia they get out the eggs and they fertilize them with sperm, whether that's donor sperm, your husband's sperm, partner sperm, whoever and then the next day you'll get a report of how many actually fertilize. The goal is typically that they become what's called a blastocyst and a day 5-blastocyst meaning that it'll have the best chance to implant and become a successful pregnancy. We ended up with 3 blastocysts and we decided to transfer 2 which is always a discussion to be had with your doctor because often they, depending on your history, and your age, and so many different factors. A lot of times they'll recommend just 1 and they did recommend 1 but we felt strongly about 2. We did transfer 2 fresh embryos that first time and then there's this 9 to 14-day waiting period depends on your clinic or you just wait to see if it worked. That is, it's called the 2-week wait and it's honestly the longest time of your entire life. You want to find anybody else that's gone through it because it's like, I mean it feels like an eternity. I busied myself and I would like watch all the shows and just have events planned which now obviously couldn't happen during quarantine and then some people choose to do an at-home pregnancy test maybe 5 days later or 7 days later but it's important to not do it too early because the shots that you get sometimes to release the eggs actually has HCG in it so it's so complicated. So the first time I actually did not do an at-home test and so the day that the doctor was supposed to call I was just waiting and waiting and waiting it was a day off work and she called and she said Shannon I’m so sorry it didn't work. I remember that day so clearly because in my mind I thought I’m never going to become a mom and we had gone through this whole thing with so much hope and it had failed and everything was perfect. Like my body had responded well finally, the embryos looked perfect they said basically, and it still didn't work. That was a really hard time but thankfully I am a mom of 5, so it ended up working out well. You have to wait a certain amount of time for your body to kind of reset. We then transferred our frozen embryo which is now my daughter who will be 6 in December. Then a couple years later, we went through the same process and so we've gone through 3 total IVF cycles, the second round we also got 3 embryos, we transferred 2 the first time and that one stuck that's my older son Jamison, and then we had a frozen embryo left of that batch and that is Madden our 2 1/2-year-old and he was a frozen embryo transfer. We had always said we wanted 3 or 4 kids I was more leaning towards 4, my husband was more towards 3, mostly because I am from a family with 4 kids and he's from a family of 3 kids. We decided to go for a fourth which meant we had to do the third IVF round IVF cycle and we actually only ended up with 2 embryos. We transferred both and we have twins.
Christa: Wow! How cool! It's like such a cool like journey story to kind of show like how kind of you made your family of 7. In those kind of hard times especially when it like didn't stick, how did you keep yourself positive and just kind of focusing on the goal at hand and what you really wanted because I’m sure some of those days weren't easy.
Shannon: That's why I try to be support system to people going through it because there are times you lose embryos or you get no eggs or even people get pregnant and then they lose the pregnancy and the baby which is just absolutely horrible. There's so many losses through this and difficult times. It just so important that I held on to the hope and I would take success stories and just think if it can happen for them, it can happen for me, and that's what I hope to share with other people is to share it in a way that helps them be hopeful. Many people have so kindly said like thank you so much for sharing your story, it gave me that hope when things seem really hard and really dark. One thing that really helped me through every different cycle I would wear a piece of jewelry that had some sort of like saying or phrase and that really helped and so the first time was there is always hope and I wore it and I looked at it every single day and it was kind of my mantra. Then the second cycle was a necklace that said faith in the first written language in Ireland because I’m Irish. Then the last time just said breathe because it was it so important in times of stress so just take that deep breath. I think that it's just so important to remember that at some point if you want to become a mom, there are so many ways to become a mom and I have no doubt that if that is the end goal it'll happen and it for me was not in any way the path that I thought it would be. The journey to get there made me appreciate motherhood so much more and has allowed me to connect with so many people that I never would have. We have this thing in the infertility world to set a lot like the club you never want to be a part of but it's also like the world's most amazing club and I have connected with some of the most incredible people as a result and just kind of had that bond but I think just also finding whether it's your spouse, your partner, a best friend, one person that is going to be that beacon of light for you. That when your hope is kind of dwindling because of course there was times where I thought it's never going to work, I’m never going to become a mom, and my husband was my rock then, and he was the one who didn't falter, or my mom, and my sister, and so I think having somebody that is going to have unwavering belief and unwavering hope, that it's going to work out so that they can pour that into you too.
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