Ellie McNevin and her husband Nick are not quite high school sweethearts. They met in high school, when he came from Australia to do an exchange at Ellie’s school in Washington DC, but they didn’t date until reconnecting years later.
Ellie is a former editor with Conde Nast and Hearst in New York, and worked for publications like Elle Décor and Architectural Digest. When she and Nick decided to start trying for a baby, they had no idea what a journey they’d be in for. Not only did it involve IUI and IVF, but also a global pandemic, that saw Ellie give birth wearing a mask. But despite the challenges, Ellie says they’d do it all again. In fact, they’re about to…and here’s why Ellie counts IVF as the best thing she ever did.
Ellie and Nick now live in Richmond, Virginia to be closer to her parents as they raise their son. She has recently opened her own PR firm, Birdie Public Relations.
Photography by Sarah Der.
I’ve always loved being around children, always loved babysitting. At every family reunion, I was always trying to get my hands on whatever cousin had the baby that year. So yes, I always, always have wanted children. The interesting thing about dealing with infertility as we have is, in the beginning, you don’t really give it a lot of thought. But when you start to go down this fertility path and getting doctors involved, you really have to keep choosing the crazy choice over and over. You know how much it’s going to change your life. We’ve had to keep saying, ‘yep, we’re sure this is what we want’.
Fertility issues were a total surprise for us and I think that’s where some of the challenge was. It was years of trying and thinking, ‘what is going on here?’ My aunt and uncle have three beautiful adopted children, so I think it’s nice to know that in our family, it wasn’t a new thing completely for people to be able to deal with, for people to be able to talk about, it wasn’t like we were the first ones.
We had been trying on and off for about two years. I found a doctor here, an OB-GYN, that I really had heard great things about. She started me on Clomid. It’s usually the first thing that a lot of people try. I think we did two or three rounds of that and it wasn’t really taking, there was no real difference. And so she recommended that we go to a fertility doctor, and start an assessment. We went to one who we just did not connect with.
And I will say that it’s my number one tip. We did one IUI with that doctor, intrauterine insemination, which is the turkey baster situation, but with drugs involved. And I wasn’t on board with his plan, it just didn’t feel right for us. I didn’t think he was listening to us, and I didn’t think he was thinking about a comprehensive plan for us as individuals. I think he was just being very prescriptive, ‘this is what we do.’ I got very frustrated with him and at that point I talked to a friend, who I knew had had some struggles with fertility. She recommended an amazing doctor that led to her getting pregnant with her daughter. So that’s my number one tip, just find someone that really listens to you. This is an emotional journey and you just want someone to be there, to hold your hand through it all.
When we talked to this new doctor, he listened to us, and he talked to us about IVF and he told us that was a great next option for us. I cannot tell you the relief that I felt at that point, because I felt we had someone on our side who had a plan for us, that he really had looked at everything and felt this was the right path forward. And I actually felt like we had next steps. I think that’s the hard thing when you’re trying to conceive, and you just don’t know how to move forward. And you see so many people around you, every Instagram post, that someone’s pregnant again. I left that appointment so elated, just feeling like we had a teammate, and someone who was going to make this happen for us. And we had a plan of what we were going to do and what next steps were. So honestly getting to the point of IVF for me, felt like such a relief because we knew what we needed to do, and we had someone who was going to help us do that. Finally.
One thing that worried me a little was another friend of mine had seven embryo transfers and none of them worked. So hearing her story, I was a little bit worried to go down this path. I just didn’t know if I was up for it. But that leads me to another thing that was part of our journey – genetic screening. Basically, once the embryos get to day five of growing after they’re fertilized, they will biopsy them and they send the biopsy off to the lab to check the chromosomes in the embryo and that helps you know whether the embryo is likely to be viable.
After hearing my friend’s story, I wanted to do everything to know that by the time we got to the point of doing a transfer, I’ve done everything to try to make it as successful as possible. I’d rather do that on the front end.
“ 'None of them are viable. If you transfer, there's a really small chance that they're going to make it.’ And we were back to the beginning. ”
Luckily, we did all of this before COVID began. We ended up doing two egg retrievals, and the first egg retrieval we got zero viable embryos. We were devastated, because I think we had about eight embryos that had made it to day five fertilized, so we thought we were doing well. And then we got these results back and it was, ‘none of them are viable. If you transfer, there’s a really small chance that they’re going to make it.’ And we were back to the beginning.
Everyone’s different, but I think I felt like ‘I have to do these shots, it’s not a big deal.’ And then you get to it, and you’re holding the needle, and it’s, ‘oh my God, do I really have to do this?’ I remember I did the first one on my own and I was, so proud of myself. But, it’s only a short period of time you have to do them. And then when you do the transfer, which is what we’re about to do again next month, some people do progesterone suppositories, but we do the injections. The exhaustion, it just wipes you out, and also, I remember feeling very bloated. I think I held it together pretty well, but my husband will probably disagree with me!
The other thing that was really hard is you have to be going in for constant appointments, because they’re constantly checking how the eggs are growing and all those things. It was hard to manage with my job, and luckily my boss was very understanding.
Here, on the day of the egg retrieval we go under anesthesia, and it’s 15 minutes maybe. And it’s a very light anesthesia, but I took the day off, I remember feeling very tired and out of it after that day.
I think it was about 10 days wait, and I was on a work trip actually. I had to travel on the plane with all these injections and I didn’t even know if that was allowed. I had to look it up and see if I could take them all with me.
I called the clinic and said ‘do not call me on Thursday, because I’m traveling and if it’s bad results, I just can’t deal with it while I’m away.’ And so I heard from them right when I got home, but as soon as I landed on the plane, I was calling them like ‘okay, I’m home now, I really want to know!’
I hadn’t done any home pregnancy tests. I couldn’t, I was dying to know, but if it was negative, I thought I’m going to lose my mind. It was really hard after the first time being told no, because we didn’t have any other viable embryos. Especially because we had so many eggs, so to have zero viable, it was just devastating.
So anyway, I was in the driveway, I had just pulled in from the airport, and as soon as they called me, I was sobbing. I had this whole thing planned in my mind of ‘this is how I’m going to tell my husband.’ But no, I couldn’t wait, I was crying, I was sobbing. I called Nick and I think he thought someone had died. It was just so crazy.
He thought we got a no, because I was just sobbing like crazy because I was so excited. I was in disbelief. The nurse was actually laughing, saying ‘this is the best phone call I’ve had in a long time!’ I was asking ‘are you serious? Are you sure?’ I just couldn’t believe it. I think I wouldn’t let myself believe, honestly, I didn’t truly believe it until he was three minutes from being born. When we were in the delivery room, and then all the nurses were there, and doctors were coming in because he was about to literally be born in the next few minutes. I didn’t let myself go there mentally and emotionally, because it’s just been such a roller coaster.
“ I had a lot of peace and certainty that I don't think I would have had, had we conceived naturally, because I knew this little embryo had had to go through a lot to get to this stage. He had been through all of this and he made it that far, I felt he had a good chance. ”
Throughout the pregnancy, I had tried not to think about it. I think there were some things that were positive to come out of doing IVF. For example, we had done genetic testing, so I knew that this baby was as healthy as they could possibly be. I had the advantage of knowing that. I had a lot of peace and certainty that I don’t think I would have had, had we conceived naturally, because I knew this little embryo had had to go through a lot to get to this stage. He had been through all of this and he made it that far, I felt he had a good chance.
One time, we were at a wedding and I had just found out another friend was pregnant. It was hard, and we hadn’t even started IVF yet. We were just trying, and it was frustrating, and I had shared with her that it was taking us longer than expected for us to fall pregnant. Later in the week, she told me ‘Ellie, you’re going to be a great mom’. And it just stuck with me. Throughout all of this, I think I knew I was going to be a mom. I didn’t really know how. And if it wasn’t IVF, I knew we would find another way. So, there was always peace for me in knowing I was going to find a way to be a mom.
We ended up with seven embryos, and the first one that we transferred worked, and we have our son. So we have six frozen embryos now, and we’re going to go get out another one and see how that goes.
But I think I would have been really heartbroken if we had done it a second time and got one embryo or two. I mean, I hate to say that because some people are so grateful to get one, and they work for everything to get one. But it’s such a huge process. It’s exhausting, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming. And it’s ‘oh, we got 20 eggs’ or whatever it may be, and you’re thinking ‘oh, amazing.’ And then half of those are fertilized, half of those make it to day five, half of those might be okay from the genetic screening. So I understand too, why some people don’t do the genetic screening, because if they find out that they only have one embryo and it’s not viable, it’s like, do they take that risk? These are questions that people going through this process have to think about, that you don’t have to always think about if you get pregnant naturally. But I think on the other hand there are some positives. I knew that this embryo was the healthiest it could possibly be when we transferred it. So it’s all a mixed bag.
The most heartbreaking thing (about having a baby during COVID) is that my mother-in-law, my husband’s mother, has not been able to come over from Australia yet and meet our son. It just makes me want to cry, that’s the part that I’ll actually cry over, not the IVF process as hard as that was, but the fact that we can’t let him meet his grandmother right now.
She was going to come when he was six weeks old, she had her flights booked. But the thing is, that was still early days of COVID, and that was June. And so there wasn’t a plan, everyone was just locked down and staying home.
In the hospital there could be no visitors. So my husband could come, which actually at one point we didn’t know if he was going to be able to, because there were hospitals in New York that were not allowing women to have anyone with them. And then all these petitions started going around and so they stopped that pretty quickly. But I had called a birthing center, I was wondering if we were doing a home birth? We just didn’t know. And so it was terrifying, because this is my first child, and we had done so much to try to get him here, and then to try to figure out how to deliver him safely. It was really a hard, hard decision and not only to deliver him safely – because I’m thinking here’s this tiny child, with no immune system, I’m walking into a hospital with COVID cases. And this is also my husband’s child, and I want to make sure he can be there, and you can’t get these experiences back. So we talked to them and I was on the list for this birthing center, but we ultimately felt the baby would be safest if we were to be in the hospital. And we knew that the ICU ward was very separate from the mother and child wards.
We did have him in the hospital. I ended up being induced, which was actually nice because it was one thing we could control and plan around, with everything being so uncertain. So I wasn’t racing to the hospital in the middle of a pandemic. It was nice to walk in, find our room. But, I had to wear a mask the whole labor and delivery. That was fun. I don’t know any other way, so I did it. But also, I was fully drugged and very happy with that. So I was okay to have a mask.
My parents couldn’t come, and they live five minutes from the hospital. For a while, we didn’t even know if they were going to be able to be with us. COVID tests were only originally available here for people who were showing symptoms, and their doctor sent them to go get the test. So right before he was born, I think they had to pay $75 each to get them done, but they were able to, and so then we felt safe going into it.
My grandmother didn’t meet him in person for two weeks, even though she lives in town, because we were concerned because we had been in a hospital environment. We didn’t want to get her sick with COVID. But the biggest heartache is the baby’s grandmother. And so now we’re working on a plan to try to get her over for this next baby, but our son will be two years old by then. I would give birth wearing a mask all day, everyday if I could get her here, it’s keeping families apart.
The other funny thing is that the lactation consultants were coming in and trying to teach me how to breastfeed my son, which was a very big challenge for us. And I’m sitting up with a mask on and can’t see anything that they were telling me. So luckily, I ended up working with a lactation consultant over video, who was amazing, and my health insurance fully covered as many sessions as I wanted. But I got to have virtual calls with her, and so I could be in my own home and just show her, and that was great.
Nick even had to go and get blood work yesterday for this next embryo transfer. And we’re asking ‘why does he have to get blood work, the embryos are in the freezer?’ But they want to make sure there’s no virus in his system, that I could get, that will cause a problem. They’re checking everything in your environment to make sure that this embryo has the best chance of success.
It’s been a crazy journey. Our story, there’s nothing wild about it, but it’s just so important I think that women understand that they’re not the only ones going through this. Some people just do IUI, some people do Clomid. I know so many friends who’ve had some version of something and it’s important to talk about. I think a lot of times people hear, ‘oh my God, IVF’. And honestly for us, it was the best thing. We have a plan and it worked, and we have a beautiful son and we’re going to try again. It’s a great option for a lot of people.
Genea can help you navigate your fertility journey. Visit www.genea.com.au to explore your options.