PEOPLE's Voices from the Coronavirus Crisis will share firsthand accounts of the people facing unique challenges during a global pandemic

By People Staff
April 24, 2020 05:00 PM
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Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna and husband Nicholas and their daughter
Courtesy Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna

Long before coronavirus disrupted lives across the globe, Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna’s world had already been turned upside down by infertility. The 44-year-old elementary school teacher from Mount Vernon, New York, and her husband of 12 years Nicholas D’Anna, 45, easily conceived their first child, Sophia, now 10. Unfortunately, the past decade has brought a series of heartbreaks, from multiple miscarriages, surgeries and failed IVF attempts, to a mountain of debt as they continue to try for baby No. 2. The couple was praying for good luck during their ninth and final IVF cycle when disaster struck once more: Due to the pandemic, D’Anna’s embryo transfer was canceled in early March. Then Nicholas was laid off from his job as an air export manager. Now left with two frozen embryos, an expensive order of unused medications and no new transfer date in sight, the D’Annas are coping with uncertainty and disappointment yet again. This is their story, as told to PEOPLE.

After my husband Nicholas and I married in 2008, I got pregnant within 4 months.  It was a high-risk pregnancy. I was constantly vomiting and lost almost 20 lbs. There was low fetal growth and I showed signs of pre-eclampsia. I was in and out of the hospital throughout the pregnancy and gave birth by C-section at 37 weeks. The doctors contributed a lot of my issues to the gastric bypass I had in 2006 (from which I lost 130 lbs). Despite a difficult pregnancy, my daughter Sophia Cecilia was healthy.

Courtesy Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna

In 2010 we started to try again for a sibling. I got pregnant naturally but miscarried at 6 weeks and had a D&C (dilation and curettage). The fetus was tested, and the cause was chromosomal. We tried again and got pregnant in 2011, but I miscarried naturally at 8 weeks. We took a break for a while as I was also dealing with my father’s ALS diagnosis and his death in September 2011. After that, we had no luck for over a year, but got pregnant in June 2013. Unfortunately, I miscarried at 7 weeks that time, but we kept trying naturally. I got pregnant again in February 2014. We heard the heartbeat, but I miscarried once again at 8 weeks and needed another D&C. At this point, I developed blood clots in my legs and was hospitalized. It was discovered that I have a blood clotting disorder called Factor V.  After further testing, I was told that the miscarriages were likely due to these blood clotting issues and that if we tried again, I’d need to be on blood thinners. 

For the next year, we tried - and nothing. At that point, I was diagnosed with secondary infertility due to my age, even though my hormone levels were testing well. We tried 3 IUIs (intrauterine inseminations) with no luck, then moved to IVF. After nine egg retrievals, 12 transfers, four clinics, six surgeries (including having both of my tubes removed due to damage from all the retrievals), an attempt to remove my uterine septum, 60 lbs. of weight gain from the various medications and much more, I was lucky to get pregnant via IVF in October 2017. Once again, I miscarried at 6 weeks. In July 2018, I miscarried again at 5 weeks. Both of these pregnancies were through transfers of my own embryos.

Courtesy Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna

At that time, I tested positive for elevated NK cells, which play a vital role in immune system functioning; some researchers think they may be responsible for recurrent miscarriages. Your body intentionally rejects embryos, not recognizing them as a part of you but as a “foreign object.” The treatments for this are expensive and constant, and very hard on your body. The side effects alone were scary: blurry vision, panic attacks, night sweats, swollen joints, insomnia, hair loss. It was 3 months of pure hell, and I did it two times. It was all very costly and I still miscarried. The doctor was at a loss. I had literally done every course of treatment.

At this point, the doctor suggested my age might be the determining factor. It was a hard thing to cope with, but we decided to try donor eggs. We only had one viable embryo from the batch of eggs we bought (and fertilized with my husband’s sperm). We transferred that one in March 2019, along with one of my own embryos. Both failed to implant. We were beyond devastated. We were in debt for almost $80,000 with private loans, credit card bills, and withdrawals from our retirement accounts. Still, I wasn’t ready to give up. We decided to try IVF one more time. I did a retrieval in April of 2019, and those are the two embryos we have remaining now. They are OK quality, but not genetic-tested. Many doctors believe that it can be disastrous on older eggs to test them and the results are still a crapshoot. Plus, it costs thousands of dollars and we are literally out of money. 

Courtesy Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna

I was scheduled to start a transfer cycle with these two embryos in March 2020. I began my new cycle on my birthday, March 6, but was told not to start any medications just yet due to the uncertainty of the virus trajectory. The following morning, I was informed by my clinic that no new cycles were to start until further notice. I was shocked. Never in a million years did I think COVID-19 would impact my transfer. Unfortunately I had already ordered my medication, and it can't be returned: $500 for the cycle, and I have no insurance coverage for meds after this. 

I was very upset because after waiting 8 months, I’d finally had surgery, laparoscopy and hysteroscopy, in February 2020. The surgery is often recommended for repeat embryo transfer failures. The purpose was to check my uterus for endometriosis, polyps, scar tissue, remove a uterine septum and have an endometrial scratch, which also helps ready the uterus for embryo implantation. After the surgery, it is recommended to transfer embryos within 3 months for optimal success. 

I really don’t want to wait another year to transfer. I’d be 45 and give birth at 46. I’m hoping to transfer the minute I have the go-ahead. My clinic says they are hoping to start cycles soon. I’m hoping maybe by June I can transfer, but it’s at the clinic’s discretion. If I don’t transfer by June, I'll have to do another endometrial scratch. That is done without anesthesia; it’s very uncomfortable and I’ll have to pay for it again. While I am worried about getting pregnant during [the pandemic], it’s a chance I need to take. In the past, I miscarried when there wasn’t a pandemic. For me, no time is optimal. It will be a success, or not, regardless. There is no research yet to show if COVID-19 has any effect on an embryo.

Courtesy Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna

If our last two embryos fail, we’ve decided as a couple not to do any more retrievals or procedures. I have a higher chance of miscarriage due to age, and I also have issues related to my blood clotting disorder. Unfortunately, we are unable to pay a surrogate to carry for us due to the debt we’ve already accrued. Whenever we get a chance to transfer these embryos, that will be the end of our fertility journey. We are financially constrained, and I physically and emotionally can’t do this anymore. I’ll have to accept it and move on with our lives, focus on what we already have ― a wonderful marriage and a beautiful daughter.

I’ve done everything in my power to have another child: gone into extreme debt, missed out on buying a house, missed dream vacations, lost relationships, became hardened, compromised my relationship with my husband and my numerous medical appointments have taken away precious time with my child. I just desperately wanted, and still want, to expand my family. My daughter used to be excited about wanting a sibling. But over the course of the last year or so, she has seen all the suffering I’ve been through. She says, “Mommy, I don’t want to see you cry anymore” or “Please don’t have another surgery, I see all the pain you are in.” It breaks my heart that I have exposed her to so much, but I see the empathy that has grown within her.

Courtesy Adrianna Keizer-D’Anna

My marriage has been affected, too. We have good and bad days. My husband is supportive and thinks I’m a warrior; he tells me all the time that it’s OK to stop. I know he struggles in silence. He has cried giving me injections. I am grateful for him, but I also feel I’m not a good wife at times. My friends and family are supportive to an extent, but many think that I’m nuts for all I’ve been through. Some say: “You should be happy with your daughter” or  “Why do you abuse your body?” or “Why not adopt?” or “Just relax, it will happen.” I’m not mad, but they don’t understand. If you haven’t struggled yourself, how can you? I do, however, have a small support group of friends who understand my decisions.

Right now, I feel numb through all of this. When you have suffered so many losses and had so many disappointments, it almost becomes the norm for you. It becomes your life. At this point, I know how to handle disappointment when the pregnancy test is negative or when I get bad news from the doctor. I can’t tell you how many times I was at work, got the horrible phone call that I was not (or was no longer) pregnant and continued on with my day. I have lost six children so far, and I remember each one on the day they would’ve been born. Sometimes I feel empty, like a failure. Looking back at my journey, I wish I’d spoken up and questioned my doctors more, found a person who went through this too. I think the taboo of miscarriage should be addressed; people suffering through it need comforting and to have their emotions acknowledged. Secondary infertility is real as well, and often unaddressed. I'm sharing my story to educate and encourage women.

Usually after a failure, I have a good cry and thank the heavens that I do have my daughter. As a way to make ourselves feel better and cope, we try to do something as a family: movies, dinner at our favorite spot, a weekend away in a fun place. During this time, we’ve decided to stay positive, talk about our feelings and pray. Spending so much time together during this pandemic, my husband and I have been more open and honest about our journey. We accept that we have tried everything and whatever the future holds we will be OK, even if it’s not the miracle we hope for. 

  • As told to Saryn Chorney