Episode 156: #NIAW: Building a Family After Loss
Today’s episode is a great example of the magic some people experience on their path to parenthood. When Sarah and her husband Brian started trying at a time that felt right for them, they realized other factors may be at play, in this case, male factor, to be exact. For Sarah, the IVF process ran smoothly and successfully. And part of this was due to the fact that she had access to an employer-sponsored benefit through AT&T, so her financial burden of treatment was relieved by the Progyny benefit.
As smooth as her process may have been, life was throwing hurdles at Sarah simultaneously. She tells us how she navigated building a family while grieving the loss of her mother and how life has a way of presenting beautiful beginnings when they are most needed.
Guests: Sarah Liggett, Progyny Member and Dr. Barrett Cowan, Posterity Health
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:
Navigating Male Factor Infertility
01:19 – 11:10
Sarah Liggett: We were pretty adamant that even though we were getting married a little bit later in life, we were both thirty, that we just really didn’t want to immediately rush into kids. So, we honored that, and I stayed on birth control for the first two years. Five years later, and we were both kind of scratching our heads.
Dan Bulger: Sarah and Brian had been trying for about three years. And while the first few years were pretty casual but Sarah told us that by the end, they were starting to plan things around ovulation and taking things very seriously. But still no success. It took about six months, but Sarah and Brian got themselves an appointment at a clinic in Dallas.
Sarah Liggett: Did all the testing on me, I had good egg viability and good to go everything was functioning. But on Brian’s side that wasn’t necessarily the case. So, he came back with a fairly low sperm count, good swimmers, good heads and tails. The sperm was all good. There just weren’t a lot of them. I’ll never forget our doctor. She goes, you know, “At the end of the day, my job is to try to get you pregnant as soon as possible. And so, I do encourage you to go to the urologist and take these actions, but I am going to make a prediction that you’ll end up back here and we’ll end up on the path to IVF to go ahead and start kind of preparing your brain for that.”
Dan Bulger: Once those tests come back, it is a good idea to go get a workup with reproductive urologist where indicated. So that’s what Sarah and Brian did. They did the eval, put Brian on some medication and started trying again. But unfortunately, this medication wasn’t moving the needle much in terms of sperm count. So, they ended up back with a reproductive endocrinologist. When it’s male factor infertility, the, let’s say, simpler protocols are usually not effective. Which means that the real answer might be IVF. And that’s because with IVF and embryologist can isolate a single sperm cell and inject it directly into an egg to fertilize it. This makes sperm count kind of irrelevant. It’s called ICSI. And it’s been a real game changer. But of course, any process that requires something as incredible as isolating a single sperm and injecting it directly into an egg doesn’t sound particularly cheap. No, ICSI is part of IVF and IVF is very expensive. So, while Sarah was mentally ready for IVF, there was some hesitation.
When It All Goes Right
11:10 – 21:33
Sarah Liggett: I was a bit cautious and knowing the costs associated, but you know, we were just kind of going through the motions, let’s get through this step, next step and kind of find out where we were. But I would say that actually early on was when I figured out about Progyny. I remember again, distinctly sitting in our fertility doctor’s office, and she told me, well, I see on your paperwork, you work for AT&T and said, yes, ma’am I just recently started working there. And she said, “oh, well, you’re so good, then, they have amazing coverage for IVF.”I got to the fertility clinic and their office was on the ninth floor of this building, and the elevator was out that day. So, I had to walk up nine flights of stairs to get upstairs to get that pregnancy test. And the doctor called me later that afternoon and said, well, “I first want to apologize for the elevator snafu today. And but I can tell you it was worth it going up those nine flights, because we did get a strong positive pregnancy test.” We were blessed in 2020, with a baby boy.
Grief and New Beginnings
23:10 – 28:42
Dan Bulger: The plan for the couple was always to have more than one child. And as you know, they were actually in a very good position to do so with plenty of healthy embryos and storage. So, they planned to do a transfer in January of 2022. But that’s when life stepped in the way.
Sarah Liggett: Unfortunately, in October of 2021, my mother was diagnosed with a very, very, very aggressive cancer. And I knew I just couldn’t start the process, I needed to focus on her. And so that’s what we did, we kind of just put things on pause. She had finally gotten through all chemo around April of 2022. And so, I re-engaged with the fertility clinic and said, “Hey, we want to press forward,” I was hopeful to give her something to be excited about, something to motivate her. Unfortunately, when I got to that appointment 30 days after I had started the process, we had just been informed that my mom’s diagnosis was terminal. That she had developed cancer that had spread into her brain, and that we were likely going to lose her in about two weeks.
Unfortunately, as expected, we lost my mom about two weeks later. And you know, we were actually coming back from, from her funeral. And I was expecting my period. And it didn’t come. And for a brief moment, I thought “Oh, my goodness, mother, what did you do up there?” I thought I might be naturally pregnant. And lo and behold, my cycle did start. And being empowered with that fourteen days plus five knowledge, I went in and did the math. And a transfer was going to fall on my mom’s birthday. So, I called the clinic that day. And said, you know, please sign me up.
Again, we were blessed. Everything was great, my bloodwork looked great. And yeah, went in and put a little baby girl in. It felt like her hand was in the process.
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.
Sarah has 15 years of experience in SAAS technical sales, focused on providing business customers with best in class field process automation and location service technology. She consults with clients to streamline field processes for people, vehicle and assets across a multitude of industries. Sarah’s passion and expertise for wireless mobile resource management has enabled her to achieve numerous sales benchmarks throughout her career. She has consistently ranked as a top performing Channel Manager nationally and is proud to continue to be an influential voice in the evolution of the industry leading mobile resource management platforms.
Dr. Barrett Cowan, MD, is a Reproductive Urologist and has specialized in treating male patients with infertility for more than 20 years. He started using telehealth technology when the pandemic began and was pleasantly surprised to see patients were more relaxed and candid about their questions when speaking from the comfort and privacy of their own home, and with their partners by their side. The technology also made it easier for patients to schedule appointments from anywhere in the country.
Seizing the opportunity to offer a better overall patient experience, Dr. Cowan, in partnership with his wife Pamela Pure, launched Posterity Health to make high-quality male fertility care accessible to all couples trying to conceive.
Dr. Cowan completed his undergraduate education at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and with honors in biology. He obtained his MD with honors from Stanford University School of Medicine, where he additionally completed a special residency in urology and a fellowship in prostate medicine and ultrasound. Dr. Cowan is a board-certified Urologist through the American Board of Urology (ABU).
Music From This Episode:
Track: Dawn II
Track: Family Tree
Artist: Kai Engel