The couple got engaged in 2013

By Natalie Stone
September 02, 2016 12:00 PM
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Since audiences last saw her on season 8 of The Real Housewives of Orange County, Gretchen Rossi and her fiancé Slade Smiley have been “full-steam ahead on trying to start a family” of their own.

The Gretchen Christine designer exclusively tells PEOPLE that the road to pregnancy has not been easy for her and Smiley,42, who underwent a vasectomy reversal in December for Rossi’s 37th birthday.

“We have been full-steam ahead on trying to start a family. It’s been a good two to two-and-a-half years of really trying actively to have a baby. That’s been, quite honestly, very difficult on us because he had a vasectomy and so we couldn’t get pregnant naturally super quick,” Rossi exclusively tells PEOPLE. “So we did IVF first and we had such great results at the beginning and then the day before they were supposed to implant all the embryos – we had 14 embryos – basically what happened was they arrested, which means they all died off. That was very disheartening and a very difficult time for us and it was just emotionally, physically and mentally extremely draining.”

After Smiley underwent surgery last winter, the couple has been actively trying to fall pregnant naturally, which Rossi says has been an emotionally and physical taxing process.

“It’s been a long eight months of trying, but as many people know when you reverse a vasectomy, it doesn’t always work out. We’ve been trying and they said to give it at least a good year, so we’re going to continue through the end of this year trying naturally and then if nothing has happened, we’ll probably go back to in vitro again,” Rossi admits.

During her time on the Bravo reality series, Rossi was honest about Smiley’s debt being a deterrent for marriage. Now, Rossi says his debt is no longer a reason to not marry the love of her life.

“It’s no longer a concern of starting a family with him because I think that through self-realization and realizing that life happens, Slade is unfortunately and probably never going to be completely out of debt because a lot of his debt is due to his son being ill,” she tells PEOPLE.

“Slade and I are just so excited about having children together. He’s such a wonderful father, despite what the show tried to portray about him and the women tried to say about him,” Rossi says of her beau, who is father to 16-year-old Grayson. “He’s such a good dad and such a great guy. I’m excited to have children with him and vice versa.”

Though pregnancy has been an ongoing journey for the couple, Rossi is optimistic about having children of her own, telling PEOPLE: “I hope the Lord blesses us with a baby.”