HOPE, N.D. – Shannon Elbert couldn’t believe the pregnancy test in front of her. Neither could her husband, Chad.
“I’ve never had one be positive before at home,” says Elbert, a mother of two who struggled with infertility.
Elbert wanted to see a doctor, but couldn’t get in to her ob/gyn for three weeks. So she called the fertility clinic where her two young daughters had been conceived.
“I’ve been through so much with them, I knew I could call about anything,” she says.
The next day, Elbert had an ultrasound at Sanford Reproductive Medicine in south Fargo. She was 6½ weeks along.
Her reproductive endocrinologist saw her holding the black-and-white scan and asked her about it.
“Apparently I can do this without you now,” she told him.
“Well, that’s happened a few times around here,” he replied.
The Elberts were featured in a 2012 SheSays series about infertility. At the time, Shannon was pregnant with daughter Harlow, who was conceived through in vitro fertilization, as was older daughter, Hadley. Prior to IVF, the couple went through nine unsuccessful rounds of artificial insemination.
Elbert’s infertility is caused by endometriosis. She was told after her second IVF that she couldn’t go through the procedure again. Her egg supply was too low.
“It just goes to prove no matter what we think, no one’s in charge except the man upstairs,” she says.
When Dr. Jordan Coauette, a Sanford obstetrician/
gynecologist, saw Elbert’s name pop up on her list of new pregnancies, she says she was shocked and excited.
Natural, or “spontaneous,” pregnancy after fertility treatments is fairly common, Coauette says. It’s true with parents who adopt, too, she says.
“Stress lets up, cortisone levels decrease. They’re not worried about it,” Coauette says.
Sex stops being a chore, she adds.
Dr. Randle Corfman, a reproductive endocrinologist with the Midwest Center for Reproductive Health who sees patients at Essentia Health in Fargo, says the idea that the couple relaxing promotes pregnancy is an “old wives’ tale.”
Rather, he attributes it to the couple having “tuned up” their natural fertility. For example, he routinely suggests couples lose weight and stop smoking. Sometimes surgery has been performed to increase odds of conception.
“They’ve created the perfect opportunity for this to work,” Corfman says.
It’s just a matter of the right egg being released at the right time, he adds.
A 2012 Reuters Health article cited a study by researchers in France who collected information from 2,100 couples who had begun fertility treatments there in the early 2000s. About 17 percent of the 1,300 who had successfully had a baby through IVF later had another child without assistance. And 24 percent of those who failed to have a baby with fertility treatment later went on to have a child through spontaneous pregnancy.
Elbert believes for her family, it was a matter of the stress being taken away.
People told her after Hadley was born, she’d become pregnant on her own. But they still wanted more kids. They were still trying, she says.
It was only after they had the two girls that Elbert says she stopped thinking about becoming pregnant.
“This is why we always said we’d never avoid it, just in case,” Elbert says. “Did we think it was really going to happen? No.”
Harlow was 5 months old when Elbert took the home pregnancy test. She was tired but thought it was normal with a baby and active toddler. She was breastfeeding Harlow, and hadn’t started her menstrual cycle. Being pregnant was the furthest thing from her mind.
Then, one day, she felt nauseated, a feeling she’d only had during pregnancy.
Her third child is due Nov. 9. For a few months, she’ll have three children under age 3.
The Elberts still have two frozen embryos, which will be used, Shannon says.
In the article last year, she stressed the importance of optimism and hope for couples going through fertility treatments. It’s the reason she wanted to share her story again: to give people struggling with infertility hope.
Elbert says she prayed she would one day become pregnant spontaneously.
“Be careful what you pray for, because sometimes prayers take years,” she says. “Then you’re flooded with everything you ever hoped for.”
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