CLEVELAND — Anyone can be challenged to start a family. Infertility can plague people of any race, religion or person of economic status. It can be heartbreaking time and time again.
National Infertility Awareness Week was launched by the National Infertility Association as a way to open up conversations about loss and encourage people to share their stories.
Two local couples shared their story with News 5's Meg Shaw.
Ashley Martinez and her husband of three years, Max, said they always knew they wanted to have a family of their own.
"We both come from pretty big families," said Ashley. "As we were passing the milestones, you know, we graduated from school, we get married, we got the jobs, we get the house - we're like okay it's time."
But what the couple didn't know - is that it wasn't time.
The couple tried for six months but wasn't having luck. So they made a trip to Ashley's doctor nearly one year ago. That's when the couple found out Ashley was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS. It's a hormone imbalance which makes it tough to get pregnant.
"I remember sitting across from the doctor and her telling me that news, and I was like devastated. I was tearing up and she's like, 'this is normal, like a lot of women have this issue,'" Ashley recalled. "But for me that meant that my reality of having kids as easily and as quickly as I wanted to have kids was not going to be an option. We were going to have to explore some different avenues, and so the news hit pretty hard."
Ashley got to work, researching PCOS and how to manage it. She said social media played a large role in her diagnosis. It allowed her to connect with others who were experiencing the same issue. She and Max also sought advice from a fertility specialist.
But in July 2020, Max and Ashley received news they had long been waiting for.
"In July we found out that I was pregnant. It was like a miracle. We were just praising Jesus, for you know that blessing. We had never expected that and I was kind of like, 'uh huh I'll show you doctors' like 'I don't need your help my body did it,'" Ashley said.
But just eight weeks later, Ashley miscarried.
"It completely changed my life and it changed the way that I operate today. It changed the way I see things, changed the relationship with my husband, the relationship with a lot of my close friends and my family even," she said. "Not only does it change you, but also others around you sometimes don't know how to meet you in that grief. So, you know, you have to work on that relationship with those people."
The couple decided to open up about their loss on social media a short time later. Ashley said she never thought she'd receive so much support after expressing their feelings online, but she did. Many people shared their story of loss and heartache with her.
Three months later, Ashley and Max began seeking treatment. They began with Intrauterine insemination, also known as IUI . It's a type of artificial insemination, a procedure for treating infertility. After two rounds of IUI's, the couple endured another miscarriage. They attempted one additional treatment but to no avail.
They decided it was time to step away from their pregnancy journey. Ashley changed her eating habits and swapped to a low-carb diet.
Just weeks later - good news.
Ashley and Max became pregnant without the help of fertility treatments. This week Ashley is 11 weeks along. It's still very early in her pregnancy but she wanted to share her story as a sign of hope for others who may be dealing with the same fight.
"I'll share is because whether we were to miscarry again or whether that I carry this baby to term, I'm going to talk about it because it's my baby regardless," she said. "All sorts of different things can contribute infertility, but we're all part of the same community that that share these thoughts and feelings and the struggles together. I would encourage people that are dealing with infertility to know that it is not their fault and it has nothing to do with anything that they have done. Sometimes it's just the cards that were dealt, but I believe that there's nothing dealt to us that we can't handle but it doesn't make it not difficult."
Ashley and Max aren’t alone. Jake and Amber Sims, of Barberton, know the pain all too well themselves.
“I just I had a feeling that we were going to struggle," Amber said.
After nearly a year and a half of struggling to start their own family, the two pursued help at the end of 2018. But like Ashley, Amber was too diagnosed with PCOS. They received some really tough news.
"We found out that we only had like a 1% chance of having a kid on our own," Amber said.
The couple was heartbroken but determined to beat the odds. Like Ashley and Max, Jake and Amber attempted IUI. After three rounds, they were unsuccessful. This not only took a toll on their marriage but it was also expensive.
"It was probably the hardest part of our marriage going through that," Amber said. "I had breakdowns several times."
"For me as a husband, you know, the one thing any man doesn't want to see is like his wife in such pain," said Jake. "And when you know there's nothing you can do to make her feel better, you just feel powerless."
Amber opened up to a co-worker about her struggles. That's when they discovered an IVF clinic in New York that offers cheaper treatment options. They called to gather more information. A woman who spoke to Amber on the phone informed her the couple needed to switch to a ketogenic diet prior to treatment. A ketogenic diet consists of high fats and low carbs. The pair agreed. After months of dieting and working out, collectively they lost more than 100 pounds.
"I was just feeling great. I was working out like all the time, especially when like the pandemic hit. I was still going to the park, I was working on running, even though, like I can't run for anything," Amber said.
It was after the diet changes - the good news arrived. Amber was pregnant. She carried her baby to full term and just three weeks ago the couple welcomed 7 lb. 1 oz. baby Mila Ann into their family.
“It's really rewarding it's truly a blessing that we were able to we were able to have Mila," Jake said.
While their path to parenthood wasn't smooth, Jake said it's important to support your partner and to never give up.
”Talk to each other, have faith, keep grinding, don’t give up. We were told 1% chance we were not going to become parents, 1%," he said.
The reality is what these two couples went through is quite common. According to the RESOLVE: National Infertility Association, infertility is a medical problem. Approximately 30% of infertility is due to a female factor and 30% is due to a male factor. In the balance of the cases, infertility results from problems in both partners or the cause of the infertility cannot be explained.
Dr. Bryan Hecht, the director of endocrinology at MetroHealth, said having a week dedicated to infertility awareness is a great way to open up the conversation.
"Unfortunately, some women don't know how common infertility is or don't know, for example, how common miscarriages are until they ask relatives and then they find out that their experiences are not as unusual as they had thought," Dr. Hecht said.
He also said many couples assume their fertility evaluation and treatment isn't covered by their insurance, and that's not necessarily true. His advice - check with your OBGYN and ask questions.
If you need more resources about infertility or want to read more personal stories, click here.