Even before they were married, Stephanie and her husband began trying for a baby. Stephanie was 35 years old, and she didn’t want to waste any time. She couldn’t wait to start her family, and she was acutely aware of the fact that women become less fertile with age. After almost a year of trying without success, Stephanie was diagnosed with a blocked fallopian tube. But her journey through the diagnosis was rewarding.
Before her diagnosis, Stephanie decided to talk to her OB-GYN. He referred her to Dr. Art Castelbaum at RMA of Philadelphia, with a vote of confidence Stephanie will never forget.
“He said, ‘if I needed a fertility doctor for my wife, this is who I’d go to,’” Stephanie, who lives in Burlington County, New Jersey, remembers.
Just a few weeks after she was married, Stephanie made an appointment at RMA of Philadelphia’s Langhorne office, and was immediately impressed with Dr. Castelbaum.
“Dr. Castelbaum is a straight shooter,” she said. “He tells you how it is, lays it all out, and does so in a compassionate way.”
“I knew I could trust him.”
Blocked Fallopian Tube Diagnosis
Stephanie’s fertility testing revealed an issue. A hysterosalpingogram (HSG) showed she had a blocked fallopian tube. She underwent surgery to remove the blocked fallopian tube, waited for her body to heal, and attempted several rounds of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), which were unsuccessful. Dr. Castelbaum advised that In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) would be a better bet.
“I felt confident in his care,” Stephanie said, “so we started IVF.”
Stephanie began her first IVF cycle in February 2016, and Dr. Castelbaum retrieved a little more than ten eggs. The resulting embryos, however, all came back genetically abnormal after Comprehensive Chromosome Screening (CCS), which tests embryos for a complete set of chromosomes. Normal embryos containing the complete chromosome set have higher rates of implantation than abnormal embryos (which have additional or missing chromosomes) lead to fewer miscarriages and result in more healthy pregnancies and babies.
Determined to try again, Stephanie underwent another egg retrieval, this time under a slightly tweaked protocol, and produced more eggs. After fertilization with her husband’s sperm, three of her embryos made it to day five, which is when an embryo biopsy can be taken for CCS testing. The results were promising: one normal embryo. Following transfer, though, the embryo did not stick.
Stephanie was devastated. Her insurance would only cover two more rounds of IVF, and she could not afford to pay for additional treatment out of pocket. Faced with the possibility she would not be successful in either of her last two rounds, Stephanie and Dr. Castelbaum had ‘the talk.’
“He said that I might want to consider other options if the next rounds did not work,” Stephanie said. “Either donor eggs, donor embryos or adoption.”
“But my husband and I hadn’t planned financially for any of those, especially because we had just gotten married and bought a house – so those last two rounds of IVF were our only option.”
Embryo Transfer Day
In May 2016, Stephanie underwent one more egg retrieval, and, after fertilization and embryo testing, found she again had only one normal embryo to implant. The news was bittersweet – while she was ecstatic she had one more chance at success, she was fearful the embryo wouldn’t stick.
When transfer day arrived in August 2016, Dr. Castelbaum was in good spirits. Seeing her doctor optimistic was uplifting for Stephanie, and she started to have hope, too.
“He said he felt good vibes, and I hung onto that,” Stephanie said.
The next few days following transfer, during which Stephanie waited to see if she was pregnant, stood still. Finally, after about nine days, she got the call from RMA of Philadelphia.
You’re pregnant, the nurse said.
“I just started crying,” Stephanie said. “I was over the moon.”
When she was discharged pregnant, Stephanie didn’t want to leave.
“I wanted to stay with Dr. Castelbaum and those nurses.”
Lukas was born May 3, 2017, and has turned out to be an “amazing, funny, stubborn, hilarious” little boy who Stephanie said is “the light of our lives.”
“I look at him and I cry.”
When she tells her story, Stephanie becomes emotional, especially when she thinks about the clinical team that made her a mother.
“I owe everything to Dr. Castelbaum and the staff,” Stephanie said. “I am beyond grateful.”
“I would like to think I would have stuck it out if it weren’t for the staff, but I just don’t know. They are so special to me and my family and I want them to see Lukas grow up – he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”