It was a journey Kelsey and James Gibbons never thought they’d be taking.
Back in March of 2021, the Fargo, North Dakota, couple was ready to start a family.
“I had gone in for an annual appointment with my primary care physician and shared with her that we were ready,” Kelsey Gibbons told Sanford Health News.
After a few months, then-34-year-old Kelsey decided to move forward with hormone testing which revealed a benign pituitary tumor.
“That tumor was secreting high levels of prolactin, which is a hormone that will be higher when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and I was neither of those things at the time,” she said.
They proceeded to continue trying. But it still wasn’t working.
A few months later in June, Kelsey’s primary care provider connected them with specialists. Allison Harrison, APRN, CNP, an OB/GYN at the Sanford Southpointe Clinic in Fargo, referred the Gibbons family to the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic for continued care and testing for their fertility challenges.
Moving forward with IVF, egg retrieval
In March 2022, after some time to weigh their options and carefully consider, Kelsey and James proceeded with in vitro fertilization, one of many techniques available as assisted reproductive technology.
“It’s still emotional to talk about,” Kelsey explained. “It takes a toll on a lot of people, and it can be a lonely journey.”
Even through loving support from her husband, immediate family, and close friends, she felt isolated.
“I held onto hope that this was all going to work out because it’s dark, scary and you want it to work. The only thing I want is to be a mom and have a family,” she said. “We’re so grateful for Sanford and Reproductive Medicine who were always there to support us month after month with different solutions to try.”
“There were a lot of ultrasounds, checking everything, which made for an aggressive two to three weeks before an egg retrieval,” she said.
Kelsey continued with injections, pills and rigorous monitoring several times a week to ensure her body was responding properly.
Egg retrieval day was April 20, 2022, which is a surgical procedure with Sanford Health reproductive medicine specialist Sheena Rippentrop, M.D., to extract as many mature eggs from Kelsey as she can.
Through the intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) method, the team injected sperm directly into the egg in hopes for higher chances of fertilization.
As Kelsey recalls, Dr. Rippentrop retrieved seven eggs that day, three of which were considered mature and two of those had successfully fertilized.
Once she shared the positive news, Dr. Rippentrop recommended a “day 3 transfer” which implants both fertilized eggs into Kelsey’s uterus.
“I was scared it was all happening so fast but trusted the professionals who said, ‘There is no better place for those embryos than in your environment,’” she said.
Three days later for implantation day, Dr. Rippentrop again was there for the procedure.
“The whole day was so beautiful,” Kelsey recalled. “There was music playing in the background, they had the lights dimmed and just made it feel really special and hopeful.
“We told ourselves we were pregnant until someone told us we weren’t.”
Kelsey and James had to wait 11 days to complete some lab work and find out if they were pregnant, avoiding their own testing at home.
Learning the process worked
“I’ll never forget that phone call from the nurse who, with an upbeat voice, said ‘congratulations’ and I just hit the floor,” she said. “It had worked, and it was the best day ever.”
That was May 4, 2022.
Fast forward: eight months later, Graham Eldon Gibbons was born on Jan. 5, 2023, and for Kelsey, it still doesn’t feel real.
“Every pregnancy, every baby, is a miracle but the journey we went on hit differently for us because we wanted it so bad,” she said. “Every moment and milestone, we have this extreme appreciation and perspective for him, the good, the bad, the great and the ugly.”
Looking back at the almost two-year journey, the Gibbons family is grateful for their Sanford care team who, she said, feels like family.
“They’re really special people who get to celebrate good news but also have a really hard part of their job, too. But the way they bring their best every day to give people a positive experience is amazing.”
“We were very fortunate that our IVF process worked on our first cycle, and we were able to get pregnant after our first transfer but realize that doesn’t always happen,” she added. “We are forever grateful and indebted to them.”
Kelsey hopes by sharing this story with more people, they can find more hope and strength through their own journey.
“Don’t ever feel ashamed, and embrace the journey,” she said. “Every single injection and medication got us one step closer and while we were always hopeful, we never knew if it were going to happen for us.”
She said the simple awareness around infertility is so important because everyone’s journey is different.
“Science and doctors are doing incredible things but oftentimes that unknown can paralyze you from finding joy in the process that could get you closer and closer to growing your family.”
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