Approximately one in eight couples are affected by infertility in the United States. That’s about 6.7 million people each year who have trouble conceiving. Kristen Ritchie and her husband, Todd, of Southington, were one of these couples.
Blessed with their first son, Nolan, in 2016 their journey for a second child began six months after his birth. Time was limited after Kristen was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), a condition in which the ovary loses its normal reproductive potential, compromising fertility.
Kristen lost two pregnancies prior to Nolan’s birth and began to work with Dr. Claudio Benadiva, Medical Director at the Center of Advanced Reproductive Services at UConn Health. Nolan’s pregnancy had been conceived through the use of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
The Ritchies spent most of the next four years devoted to having another child, as Nolan wanted a sibling, and they wanted to give him that gift. Regardless of egg retrievals and chromosomal testing successes in 2016, they endured two pregnancy losses with those embryos in 2018, stumping doctors. They moved on to surgery with a world-renowned surgeon in NYC in conjunction with extensive immune testing performed by a reproductive immunologist.
There were days Kristen was taking more than 20 medications and supplements and several injections throughout the day. At the height of her treatments, she also spent 16 hours a week at an infusion center. During all this, she continued with life as if she wasn’t enduring losses and vicious side effects, hiding her sorrow, pain, and frustration. Regardless of this intense immunotherapy protocol to achieve and maintain pregnancy, there were no guarantees, as was evident when her next embryo transfer resulted in a biochemical pregnancy. Kristen felt unrecoverable; the embryos they worked so hard to make were being ripped from them one by one.
“Our path to success had become more like a mountain with cliffs from which I plummeted,” says Kristen. “This journey made our path for Nolan look like a piece of cake, even though we endured two losses and three IVF cycles for him.”
They moved forward with the last resort and somewhat risky three-month-long treatment with an internationally recognized doctor most specifically for DOR and recurrent pregnancy loss, Dr. Jeff Wang of American Fertility Services in Greenwich CT. The treatment was physically awful, but it was a simple decision to pursue since giving up was never an option. This treatment combined with immunotherapies with their very last embryo resulted in a pregnancy.
At this time, her OB/GYN had retired and she reached out to Dr. Benadiva for a referral at UConn Health. Dr. David Park, Obstetrics and Gynecology at UConn Health’s Women’s Center started treating Kristen when she was eight weeks pregnant.
“Dr. Park stands out amongst doctors I have encountered of all disciplines since he is personable and compassionate and has a great ability to provide encouragement to patients while conveying knowledge and summarizing expectations. Not only did I feel secure and cared for by Dr. Park, which I especially needed after a long early pregnancy loss history, but I also felt more confident in my understanding of expectations at each stage of pregnancy as he did such a great job of explaining why certain tests are done and when, what the next milestones were, what some issues to look out for were. I always knew that if I had a question arise, an answer was just a phone call or portal message away. Dr. Park seemed personally vested in my case and that helped me with confidence for the duration of pregnancy,” says Kristen.
Kristen had waves of happiness and excitement, throughout pregnancy, but mostly she was frozen with fear. All the things that typical moms-to-be are excited about, she struggled with and sometimes couldn’t do: like design a nursery, buy and set up baby gear, tell people they were expecting, etc. She and Todd waited until she was 30 weeks pregnant to broadly share the news.
“I worried I wouldn’t get to keep this baby like the others, and I worried about a potential devastation for Nolan,” says Kristen. “I had a great team of the best specialists who monitored me closely and often, for which I am so thankful, but the fear remained.”
Having Dr. Park as a consistent, encouraging doctor throughout her pregnancy was instrumental in keeping faith that they would finally have a child after battling infertility for so long.
He seemed to understand her insecurity after enduring losses and often let her know that she was doing great and the baby looked great. Even just these positive words were so helpful to her.
After what Nolan describes as 10,070 weeks to become pregnant and then excitedly watching mommy’s belly grow, his little brother, Easton was delivered by Park via C-section on October 28, 2020.
“All the staff at UConn Health were polite and more than willing to go out of their way to help. I have had many surgeries at different hospitals over the years, and no other hospital has come close to providing the level of care and compassion that UConn Health provides,” says Kristen
From the labor and delivery nurse, Danielle Kinney, NICU PA, Brian Landry, postpartum nurses, Joanna Kuszaj, Laura Jaggon and Amanda Szabo, lactation consultant, Marisa Merlo, Anesthesia and the postpartum medical assistants, Kristen has stories to tell about each that exemplifies and is an amazing testament to the excellent care and kindness the whole team delivers consistently.
Easton is a happy healthy baby and Nolan is over the moon about his little brother. Kristen’s biggest lesson learned in life is from this six-year journey: determination, commitment, self-advocacy, persistence, and great sacrifice can lead us to our goals.
“I told myself years ago I wanted no regrets, and I am happy to say I have none; I didn’t give up because of difficulties and complexities, and I am finally giving myself credit and praise for standing through this all,” says Kristen. “After six years of IVF and miscarriages, I’m excited to live life with my family, cherishing all of the moments- the everyday moments as well as the special milestones.”
Kristen and Todd’s journey was long and complicated and spanned many doctors, disciplines, and treatments, with a happy ending at UConn Health.