Episode 151: When the Right Decision is a Difficult One
In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting a story that we know all too well – the fight with fibroids. This condition impacts about 80% of Black women and while it’s common, many will never know they have it or require medical intervention.
In today’s episode, we speak to Shannon Walker about the barriers to expanding her family. She’s challenged with secondary infertility, fibroids, the COVID-19 pandemic, financial barriers, and physicians who didn’t understand her needs. Shannon was starting to lose hope till one day her husband joined Microsoft. She quickly learned about the Progyny benefit offered through Microsoft and realized this journey wasn’t over.
Guest: Shannon Walker, Progyny Member
Host: Dan Bulger, Progyny
For more information, visit Progyny’s Podcast page and Progyny’s Education page for more resources. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, @ThisisInfertilityPodcast and use the #ThisisInfertility. Have a question, comment, or want to share your story? Email us at email@example.com.
Here are some highlights from this episode:
Starting a Family Later in Life
00:52 – 04:20
Dan Bulger: As a Black family, Shannon Walker and her husband Duan are enduring fertility treatment, while also enduring a global pandemic, and the emotional distress associated with the murder of George Floyd. Today, Shannon is going to share her experiences with us. I’m Dan Bulger, and This is infertility.
Let’s start by getting to know a little about Shannon.
Shannon Walker: I’m a wife, and a mom of an exceptionally awesome six-year-old little boy named Wyatt. I also have had an amazing career, doing fundraising in the nonprofit sector for many different types of nonprofits. And just a person who really is a person of faith who believes in community and believes in family and friends.
Dan Bulger: Shannon mentioned her six-year-old Wyatt that might lead you to believe that her experiences with infertility must date back seven years or so. But the couple conceived Wyatt shortly after their wedding, without the aid of any fertility treatment. So, this is a story in part about secondary infertility, which is when a person or couple have success, and then need help for the second or third child. Anyway, Shannon and her husband Duan were high school sweethearts, they met at a youth group at their church.
Shannon Walker: When we reconnected because we both moved back to the area. It was just like all the butterflies kicking back and he was still cute. We just decided to kind of see what it would look like today as adults. And that’s what we did. So, we dated for about a year or two. Yeah, two years or so. And then in 2015 on Valentine’s Day, we got married.
Dan Bulger: When they got married, they were in their mid-30s. Shannon was about 35 years old, and they knew they wanted to start trying to have a baby right away.
Shannon Walker: Probably maybe six months or so after we’d been married is when we learned that we were you know, just naturally pregnant with my son, Wyatt.
The Race to a Second Child
04:23 – 09:13
Dan Bulger: They were loving their time with Wyatt, and they knew they wanted a bigger family. So, they started trying again, but this time they weren’t finding success. We all know about hindsight. And it’s not really all that helpful. I can’t go back in time and tell Shannon and Duan that they should seek out help ASAP. But I can tell you, if you’re aware, as Shannon was when trying, watching the weeks turn into months without seeing a positive pregnancy test. Today might be the day. If you’re under 35, and have been trying for a year, you should probably go get tested. If you’re 35 or older and have been trying for six months, it’s probably time to make an appointment. That’s the rule of thumb. So, Shannon and Duan started trying when Wyatt was about two years old.
Shannon Walker: I was going in thinking IUI. And after they completely evaluated me and talked about you know, the age, my eggs and my race, my age, my weight, all these things. It was a Debbie Downer type of situation. And it was like, yeah, we probably should go ahead and do IVF. But I was just like, “So we aren’t even going to try?” I just thought that there was hope, I was a person of hope and faith and optimism. And I just didn’t feel like they were with me on that. So that’s when we decided to just try another clinic. Like we didn’t even go through IUI with them. We just went to the second-choice clinic and they kind of helped me like they were on the same path. With me, they were very direct about, you know, what our chances were but they just gave me a little more hope. They were willing to at least try the IUI, were willing to help me come up with you know, plans to be as healthy as I possibly could and, and we really appreciate that. And that’s kind of what made us stay with that second clinic. It’s of the utmost importance that you feel comfortable with your doctor and with your clinic.
Dan Bulger: We talk about choice all the time on this podcast, it was the theme for our year and recap for season five. People need choice, choice in the doctor’s choice in treatment, choice in specific protocol. Choice is good. So, Shannon and Duan chose another clinic. And as you heard, they were pleased with that decision. Pleased with the new clinic but still facing something of an uphill battle.
Shannon Walker: Knowing what my situation was physically with my fibroids that already existed, I just still wanted to try the least invasive way and see if we could get it to work. So, we only tried IUI once and unfortunately that was unsuccessful.
Transitioning to IVF with Progyny
09:47 – 15:32
Shannon Walker: And so, we just had that one cycle of IUI and we kind of moved right on to the IVF journey.
Dan Bulger: Uterine fibroids are remarkably common, and they’re even more common in African American women. Fibroids don’t mean that you can’t get pregnant, and they don’t mean that you can’t carry a pregnancy. With fibroids. It’s all about size and location. Most people with fibroids won’t know they have them and they won’t impact anything. But those with large fibroids and fibroids that are taking up the spaces that an embryo needs to implant, and the fetus needs to grow need some intervention. And unfortunately, that intervention is usually surgical, but we’ll get back to fibroids in a bit.
Shannon Walker: My husband had switched to a new job, and they had way better coverage. And that’s through his new job, how we got connected with Progyny and all the resources that Progyny offers. And because of that, plus, you know, his new job and increase in salary and things, we just were kind of in a better situation.
Dan Bulger: Hats off to Microsoft, for sure. So, the couple had Progyny and Microsoft on their side, the financial barrier had been lifted. And together, they set off to the world of IVF.
Shannon Walker: My husband and I agree that, hey, we’re going to tackle this together, we’re going to tag team this thing because we really want to grow our family. And we really believe this is going to be our best chance. So, we went through the whole process of, again, harvesting the eggs and all of that, hopeful that we would be able to use our eggs but even then, again, our doctors were very upfront about just our health and our status. So, I knew that my eggs aged, and you know, were a little bit older at this point. But again, I still just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least attempt to create this new life. And so, the first IVF cycle we did, we were only able to retrieve about four viable eggs, if you will. Unfortunately, with my eggs. I just feel like that was the main factor in the end, it just wasn’t successful that first round of IVF. So again, we were grateful that we still had more benefit that could cover another round and, again, we already had been thinking, hey, it might be possible that we have to use a donor egg.
Dan Bulger: That’s the power of choice we spoke about earlier, when people are making cost-based decisions, they sometimes need to balance a tightrope.
When the Right Decision is a Difficult One
18:22 – 23:38
Dan Bulger: Shannon underwent surgery to remove her fibroids. This is a serious surgery with a serious recovery. I do not want to sweep that under the rug.
Shannon Walker: I would totally say that it is major surgery. And I think I had like three or four removed and with one being, you know, so sizable. I had to really recover. Other women in my family had had them. And as you kind of alluded to, they’re so common, especially among Black women. So, I don’t think that I was scared. I knew I had them probably in my late 20s, early 30s. But they didn’t start giving me problems until you know, the more recent years.
Dan Bulger: When they were ready to return to trying for a baby, they knew they wanted to go forward with a donor egg. They had a lot of time to consider everything. And they knew that this was the right decision for them.
Shannon Walker: So, I went back to my fertility clinic here locally, and was like, “Do you have any donors that fit this profile?” And they finally had one. So, you know, my donor was 20, she was African American, kind of the same values, the same faith that I am. And I didn’t even realize the fact that I was learning all this information about her was kind of an anomaly you know, I even got a picture, some people get, you know, just very minimal information about the donor. So, I was grateful for that, I realized she had only seven eggs. And I was like, I want all of them.
Dan Bulger: Egg donation on both sides of it, really being a donor and receiving donated eggs can be a process, as Shannon described. A process that is even more difficult for Black families as there is a serious shortage of Black donors out there.
Shannon Walker: I get the honor and the privilege of carrying this child because our second IVF cycle with the donor egg was successful. So even today, I’m sitting here 18 weeks pregnant. We are so grateful that it worked out.
Dan has been in the healthcare industry for the past ten plus years as a multimedia content producer. Better known as ‘Video Dan’ he has interviewed numerous doctors, patients and other experts in the world of fertility. He’s also the producer for this podcast, This is Infertility and the producer behind the Progyny YouTube Channel which features interviews with dozens of the nation’s leading fertility specialists. On a personal note Dan’s parents started fostering kids when he was four years old, and he considers himself a proud older brother to over 100 foster children.
Shannon, Advancement Manager at Carolina Raptor Center, has dedicated her life and career to public service having worked at several local and national nonprofits in addition to Big Brothers Big Sisters, she’s served at the American Red Cross in Washington DC, United Way Worldwide and Southeastern PA, Arts & Science Council Charlotte, NC, and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Art & Culture, also in Charlotte, however her greatest fulfillment comes from mentoring.
Shannon’s passion for mentoring allows her to meaningfully impact the lives of women and youth in the community by sharing her lived experiences and professional knowledge in engaging one on one interactions. Shannon has formally mentored young people in programs such as Achieving Independence Center, a Philadelphia based mentoring program helping young people aging out of foster care, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Right Moves for Youth. Most recently she was selected as a mentor for the ANSWER Scholarship program that assists working mothers with completing a 4-year college degree. The organization has awarded hundreds of scholarships to some amazing women in the Charlotte region.
Shannon hopes to continue her passion for mentoring by sharing her family growth story with others. Throughout her infertility experience she yearned for a mentor, a real person to vent to, swap stories with and ask questions. Shannon literally didn’t know what she didn’t know and is now determined to help others navigate their journey in a healthy safe way with access to resources and accurate information. She is particularly committed to ensure people of color know their options to parenthood and are empowered to pursue them with dignity, grace, wisdom, and support.
Shannon’s professional strengths are in the fields of fundraising and communications, however her calling is to share compelling stories and provide inroads for everyday people to impact the issues that matter most to them. Today Shannon has 18 years of fundraising and relationship building experience and is continuing to seek knowledge and understanding to better serve humankind.
Shannon holds a BA degree in Public Relations/Communications from Clark Atlanta University and a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Eastern University.
Shannon is the wife of Duan Walker, proud mom to their 6-year-old son Wyatt and soon to be mom of a new baby girl! They reside in Shannon’s beloved hometown, Charlotte, NC.
Music From This Episode:
Artist: Philip Weigl
Track: Western Shores
Artist: Doctor Turtle
Track: I Snost I Lost
Artist: Lee Rosevere
Artist: Kai Engel
Track: Holiday Gift