If infertility was only a numbers game, no one would have faulted Ashley Howard-Heimbuch for counting herself out and giving up. Within 2½ years she had 97 doctors’ appointments, 14 procedures, six rounds of IVF, and many other harrowing infertility experiences. Her resilience and perseverance helped her beat the odds, though, and now she and her husband, Alex, are parents to twin boys.
When they started their infertility journey, they knew no one else who had undergone IVF. She started her Instagram account to save others from the loneliness, despair, and sense of chaos they felt at the beginning. Soon, followers were encouraging them, sharing their infertility stories, and even asking them for advice.
She still helps others on the “wild ride” of infertility, while now also tackling the adventure of motherhood, always advocating for and giving back to the community that helped her win her biggest battle.
1) What’s your infertility story in a nutshell?
Here is our story in numbers:
January 2018: Diagnosed with infertility after trying to conceive our first child for almost a year. Three reproductive endocrinologists at three different clinics. Six rounds of IVF: Two STIMS cycles, Three FET, one cancelled mid-cycle. Six surgeries. Eight procedures. 97 doctor appointments. One uterine tumor. Two fallopian tubes removed. One ERA cycle. Twelve frozen embryos; PGT-A testing shows nine of these are genetically “perfect.” Thousands of shots, needles and medications. Seven losses from past embryo transfers. One high-risk and traumatic pregnancy causing three additional surgeries.
June 2020: One win, two miracles: Twin boys are born.
2) How has this journey impacted your relationship with Alex?
Let’s be honest, infertility affects every layer of marriage — from finances to intimacy, living in the present to future planning, to having opposing viewpoints and testing what it means to truly compromise. There are days we fight, and have clashing mindsets, and I feel suffocated, but there are many more days where I feel like I literally couldn’t take another step forward if Alex wasn’t there holding me up.
If anything, infertility has strengthened our marriage more than I could have ever imagined. I feel like when you get put in the ring and take punch after punch, a special kind of love reveals itself. He is the glue, I am the dreamer. We became even more present with one another and more aligned on turning every stone to find our miracle.
3) What was the main reason that made you decide to document your infertility on Instagram, and how has that helped you?
For me, I have found that sharing our journey openly and candidly has been incredibly therapeutic. When we learned IVF was our only path for biological children, I knew no one that had been through the process. I felt alone and had to learn the IVF world and lingo with no guidance whatsoever. That’s scary. You already have so many thoughts and emotions just digesting and processing it all, so to add to your feelings of brokenness that no one around you truly gets it, well, it can be daunting.
I created my IG account as a way to document our journey to share one day with our hoped-for children, but on an even deeper level, I truly never wanted anyone else to feel the loneliness I did when I started this wild ride.
I began sharing our story with tiny photo boxes and daily thoughts, and this incredible thing started happening. Strangers started liking, commenting, and following. I began to network and make friends with others going through the same mud I was. People started rooting for us. Folks I have known for years started reaching out and sharing their stories of loss and infertility; having never felt safe or secure in the past to speak openly about their struggles. People started asking us for advice and seeking our guidance. I had no idea feeling so empty and broken could turn into such a beautiful journey.
4)What has been the hardest point of your infertility struggle and reversely, what is something unexpected that has come from your hardship?
The most difficult part of our infertility journey has been balancing the finances. Being blunt, infertility and IVF treatments are expensive; the costs are astronomical and were 100% out of pocket for us.
We have done six back-to-back IVF cycles, leading into an extremely high-risk pregnancy with complications, so we have had nonstop medical bills pouring in for 2½ years straight. Juggling the funds to make those IVF rounds happen was stressful, but we do realize how incredibly fortunate we are to have the ability to move money around to make it work.
You are going to hope, to dream, to pray that this will be the answer that will lead you to your miracle. You are going to compare your journey to the women and couples around you. It’s only natural and completely understandable.
However, having to spend mountains of money to build a family due to an infertility diagnosis, regardless of your financial situation, seems unfair and wrong to us. We wish there was a better way and that insurance companies would step up to the plate. After all, I didn’t choose to be infertile. In today’s world, insurance companies should not look at IVF treatments as optional for women and couples who desperately want to start or complete their families. Treatments should be covered as if we were treating any other disease.
A huge positive from our infertility though is the unexpected beauty I found through the struggle. The IG community we have built and belong to has been a lifeline for us. These strangers have become incredible friends and confidants. The people in our IG family have cheered us on every step of the way — picking us up in some really dark moments, celebrating with us during every milestone no matter how big or small. They have tested us with alternate view points, taught us that we are our own strongest advocates, prayed and sent good vibes our way, and more than anything, have showed up every day no matter how full or empty their plates are. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given these hurdles because it has allowed me to cross paths with so many incredible souls.
On a personal note, I feel I found my own version of grit and grace, and that has meant everything to me. To know I can power through and keep my hope alive has made me proud of myself in ways I never knew I could be.
5) What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their fertility journey?
You can expect high highs and low lows. There will be times where you feel like you are more powerful than the fiercest lion, and times when you feel like this tiny, scared mouse scurrying around with no place to hide. Some days you can conquer the world, other days it’ll be a struggle to get out of bed.
You are going to want to scream, to kick, to cry. My advice is the scream. Scream, kick, AND cry. At some point you are going to get stung, feel heartache, feel like your world is going to end. It’s not. You will wake up and begin again. In fact, you are also going to have feelings of unequivocal excitement, of relentless hope, and of a pure love for an unknown that you never thought was imaginable.
You are going to hope, to dream, to pray that this will be the answer that will lead you to your miracle. You are going to compare your journey to the women and couples around you. It’s only natural and completely understandable. But remember, a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.
Alex and I have a motto we use every day: “Embrace the Ugly.” We started using it early in our IVF journey…By flipping our mindsets to look for the good in the chaos, we have kept our minds clear of negativity and our hearts full of hope.
There will be times you want to give up. When your body or mind are going to tell you that’s it, they can’t take any more. In those moments, you listen to your heart and trust your gut. You’ll know if you can. And if you need to stop or take a break, do so. There is nothing more important along this journey than your mental health.
More than anything, you are going to wear the Badge of Bravery and be in the company of some really kick-ass people who have been in your shoes. IVF is not a cake walk, or easy, and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It’s raw, and it’s real, and it’s going to make you feel things you didn’t know where inside of you, that are really, really deep. But I will tell you, it’s a beautiful ride and I hope you enjoy the journey as much as you can.
6) Is there anything else you want to add about the infertility journey as a whole?
Alex and I have a motto we use every day: “Embrace the Ugly.” We started using it early in our IVF journey and it has made all the difference in the world. We have found that by flipping our mindsets to look for the good in the chaos, we have kept our minds clear of negativity and our hearts full of hope. It’s easier said than done, and in some moments it is nearly impossible to see even an ounce of good, but being in a sound mindset is crucial for anyone going through infertility treatments; so we try really, really hard to embrace the ugly.