Hi mommas! Earlier this year I previewed my interview with my dear friend Kym Van Duren (née Fyfe) and the difficulty she and her husband had starting their family. Many of us face challenges conceiving and when we do we can feel alone and afraid of what the future may or may not hold.
Struggling to conceive is a deeply personal experience and I am so thankful to Kym for sharing her experience. It’s my hope that her story and brave spirit will give comfort and inspiration to those in this difficult season of life.
Check back next week for her secret to managing ‘all the mom things’ with joy and (gasp) zero guilt. I promise you, you’re going to want this in your life!
Thanks for reading.
Kym and I can literally talk forever. Today we sit in the back of a sunny cafe catching up over brunch about work, kids, and life. She talks of her busy career in HR at Boeing where she was recently accepted into a highly competitive and prestigious leadership development program. She and her husband Cory *just* moved into their custom-built dream home: a sprawling ranch-style, rambler complete with Instagram-worthy appointments and the most #swoon worthy yellow door. Oh, and she’s literally glowing over the girls’ trip she took to Vegas to see Britney in concert (in case you’re wondering, she totally kills it).
This is the life she’s always wanted: the busy #momlife, the juggle-it-all-life. It was only a few years ago though that this life felt out of reach.
Kym never imagined she would struggle getting pregnant. “Before all of this, I thought I was invincible” she reflects. “Infertility is much more common than you think, but people don’t talk about it so we all feel like we’re on our own. It’s very lonely.”
Kym first got pregnant in February 2014. Elated, she and her husband, Cory, quickly began sharing the news with their family and friends.
But not long after, while kicking off an important project at work, Kym started cramping. She rushed to the restroom where, alone and scared, she discovered she was bleeding. As the cramping intensified, she feared she was having a miscarriage. She dialed Cory in a panic. “I just started sobbing. I didn’t know what to do.”
She felt obligated to finish the first day of the new project, so, despite her fears, she pulled herself together while Cory desperately tried to get them a doctor’s appointment.
Finally they were able to be seen. But Kym knew in her heart the baby was gone, “I just knew there was no way I was still pregnant…not after what had happened.”
She was right. The ultrasound confirmed her worst fear. The baby was gone.
“It was devastating. ‘Untelling’ people [I was pregnant] was just devastating.” Even now, I can hear the pain in her voice as she trails off. She was heartbroken by the miscarriage and overwhelmed by the task of informing people they were no longer expecting. ”I don’t know if I was clinically depressed, but I was pretty darn sad.”
Kym took her time grieving the loss. When she was ready to try again, she realized, nearly 6 months after the initial miscarriage, her cycle hadn’t returned.
She worried her “hormones had been thrown off by the miscarriage” and first sought the help of a naturopath to get her body back on track. But when she saw little progress, she wasted no time in getting an appointment with a Reproductive Specialist who had helped a friend conceive.
He recommended they start with a series of tests to pinpoint a cause. But each test came back inconclusive and they were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility.’ It was hard to take. Kym was angry and confused. She’d always been healthy. She’d always taken care of herself.
While the doctor was also surprised with the results, he assured them there were options before turning to other options right away, like IVF. The first he suggested was Femara, an oral medication often used to trigger ovulation.
Many couples had seen success in just a short time with the drug and Kym and Cory were optimistic. For the first time since the miscarriage, they had hope.
Like the Type A personality she is, Kym diligently (read: obsessively) monitored ovulation every month and returned to the fertility clinic perfectly on schedule to have her HCG levels checked.
In a normal pregnancy, HCG doubles every 2-3 days until week 12, so Reproductive Specialists use it as an early indicator that an egg has successfully implanted. It’s the first positive sign for most couples. And after each cycle, Kym & Cory waited patiently for their turn at good news.
It didn’t take long for this new reality to become formulaic and sterile. “It wasn’t spontaneous or romantic” says Kym.
“Everything had to be perfectly timed. People say, ‘just have a shot of tequila and have some fun’, but it’s not that easy.”
The Femara did help her ovulate, but it would also usher in a series of ectopic pregnancies accompanied by new highs and lows. With each, Kym’s initial HCG levels were right on target, but as the days passed the numbers failed to increase at the expected rate. Suspecting an ectopic pregnancy, their doctor sent them for a routine ultrasound to verify the location of the egg.
As they went into each ultrasound, their hearts longed so desperately to see a healthy, viable pregnancy; to see their baby. Instead the ultrasounds would confirm the eggs had implanted in the fallopian tube, not the uterus, and would not survive.
A serious risk with ectopic pregnancies, especially in the fallopian tube, is rupture of the tube causing internal bleeding that can be deadly if not treated right away.
To help mitigate this risk, doctors use methotrexate to stop further growth and dissolve the egg before it has a chance to pose a threat. But the use of the drug requires a one month waiting period before trying again to ensure it isn’t present when another egg is fertilized. So for Kym and Cory, each dose of the medicine represented yet another frustrating delay to starting their family.
The emotional rollercoaster began to take its toll. But through it all, Kym remained ever focused at work and excelled despite the constant ups and downs in her personal life.
“The strength of my mom gave me the strength to get through this.” She credits her resolve to her mom, who, when Kym was just a little girl, became a single mom of 4 young kids after Kym’s father was tragically killed in an airplane accident.
“I watched [my mom] go through major trauma in her life and somehow keep the family together…somehow keep herself together. She did what she had to.”
It was the last ectopic pregnancy that would put Kym’s life in danger.
“I knew there would be some pain with the medication,” she explains. She’d been here before; the methotrexate caused cramping and some nausea, but this was far worse than before.
It was what they had come to consider a ‘routine’ week night. Earlier in the week they learned Kym was carrying another ectopic pregnancy and had been given another dose of methotrexate. Kym would carry on with her work week as best she could dealing with the physical and emotional side effects as they came.
But on this night, she became too nauseous to finish cooking dinner. She laid down to rest, but nausea quickly turned to severe abdominal pain and vomiting. Believing these symptoms were just side effects of the medication, she pushed through.
When she didn’t improve as the night worn on, Cory called the fertility clinic desperate for advice. On the other end, the call center urged him to take Kym to the ER immediately and it became clear that something was terribly wrong.
The next few hours were a blurr. At the ER, they were expedited to the front of a long line of patients. And, not long after, in the late hours of the night, another fear was confirmed. Despite the methotrexate, the ectopic pregnancy had caused Kym’s fallopian tube to rupture and she had been bleeding internally all night.
Within minutes she was prepped for emergency surgery. The ER was busy. Machines chirped around them and Kym didn’t have even a moment to grasp what was happening. As she was wheeled away from Cory and into surgery her thoughts centered on whether she had any chance left to conceive naturally. She begged the surgeon to take a picture of her remaining fallopian tube during surgery. “I know it seems weird. I just wanted proof that I still had at least one option left.”
Recovery the next morning was met with physical and emotional pain. Kym was determined to stay positive, which was helped by the fact that she was still pretty loopy from the anesthesia.
As the morning wore on and the medication wore off, the reality of what had really happened the night before began to sink in.
It had been difficult enough to conceive with two fallopian tubes, now she only had one.
Later as she scrolled through social media, it seemed friends, colleagues, even complete strangers were announcing pregnancies or celebrating the birth of another baby.
“Everywhere I looked people were getting pregnant and having babies. Everyone on Facebook was having another baby. I couldn’t even have one. I couldn’t do it. I had to get off [of social media].”
Despite all they’d been through, Kym wasn’t ready to give up. “We just wanted a family more than anything…we were willing to do whatever it took.”
She was eager to start all over again as soon as she was fully healed from surgery, but only once. “I’ll be honest, if this didn’t work, we were ready for IVF,” she says. With their last chance before trying IVF, they readied themselves to endure the process as they had so many times before.
This time though, their specialist decided to try a different drug called Clomid.
Just as before, they returned to the fertility clinic to check HCG levels. And just as they had with the other pregnancies, the levels looked positive. They scheduled another visit a few days later. At the next appointment the numbers were through the roof. Kym’s heart soared. But she quickly temped her excitement. She didn’t want to get her hopes up.
After a few more weeks of positive numbers (and an increasingly excited Kym and Cory), it was time for an ultrasound.
They had waited years for this very moment. They anxiously waited for the ultrasound tech to prep Kym and the machine. Everything around them was in slow motion. But then, as the screen came alive and the technician moved the wand, she paused. She pointed to a little ball on the screen. It was their baby. Kym’s eyes glisten and her voice shakes as she remembers the moment. “For the first time I saw a little heart beat!” The egg had implanted perfectly.
Finally, after so many heart breaking losses, they were pregnant! This time, they waited to share the news. “I lived with so much anxiety” she says of the constant fear she had about the viability of the pregnancy. “I was so afraid I would have to take it back again.”
It wasn’t until she was close to 4 months pregnant and it became difficult to hide her growing bump that she shared the news with friends and colleagues. “I was shaking when we hit ‘post’ on our Facebook announcement. It sounds funny to say now, but I was just so scared.”
The next 6 months of pregnancy were miraculously normal complete with a little one that needed extra coaxing to make her appearance towards the end of a hot summer.
Beautiful Kennady Nicole Van Duren was born in August of 2015. “I tell her her birth story every night. I just want her to know how much we love her.”
Don’t forget to check back next week as Kym shares how she came to grips with Postpartum Depression (PPD) after returning to work and later learned to find balance between #momlife, a busy career, and being a wife & friend (aka the ‘Kym’ before she was also known as ‘mom’).
While you’re waiting, see what Cory has to say about Kym’s pregnancy cravings (hint: 🌮 🌮 🌮), his advice for supporting a busy working momma and what he loves most about Kym.