How My Placenta Gave Me Cancer and Prevented Me From Carrying Another Child: Our Path To Surrogacy

My pregnancy and cancer diagnosis

In October 2016, my husband and I decided to start building our family, and I luckily got pregnant right away. Unfortunately, I miscarried during Christmas that year, and I had to have a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure. My husband and I were heartbroken. We tried again and this time everything went perfectly. We welcomed baby Brooks Ellis Hilton in October 2017.

But when the new year came, I continued to bleed from my delivery. It turns out my uterus was at the size of a typical 4-month pregnancy with lots of clotting. My OB thought I was just retaining blood from my delivery, and I had another D&C to clean out my uterus.

Weeks passed and not only was I still bleeding, but my belly also grew bigger, as if I were pregnant, because my uterus was still enlarged. My OB then began trying experimental treatments in an attempt to once again clean out my uterus and stop the bleeding.  Soon after I began the treatments, I started feeling very sick. One day, when my fever spiked, I went to the Emergency Room and the doctor who attended to me conducted a urine test. Imagine my shock when the test showed that I was pregnant, which was impossible because we hadn’t had intercourse since my delivery due to the bleeding.

"I was sent to a different hospital where I underwent a lot of tests and was eventually told I had choriocarcinoma..."

A cancer that occurs in a woman’s uterus and forms when the cells from the placenta become cancerous.  Basically, my body gave a positive pregnancy test because it thought I was pregnant from the tumor that was growing in my uterus. The tumor was high-risk and required intense chemo to remove it. To say that I was devasted would be an understatement, but I immediately began EMACO chemotherapy. In two weeks, I had lost my hair, and after two rounds of chemo, I was so weak that I didn’t even have the energy to care for our then six month old.

About a month later, in May 2018, tests showed that the tumor had died, but the tumor cells had caused a bad infection in my uterus. Antibiotics weren’t bringing down my fevers, and my oncologist and I finally decided that a hysterectomy was necessary to save my life. It worked; the infection was gone, and after three more preventative rounds of chemo, I was cancer-free. As grateful as I was to be alive, I went through a major grieving process over the fact that I’d never carry another pregnancy again.

It was a crazy few months with a roller coaster of emotions, but my family and I moved on with our lives. After Brooks’ first birthday, my husband and I began talking about growing our family. And since I still had my ovaries, we decided to do an egg retrieval and find a gestational carrier.

Cancer Free

My battle with IVF and finding a gestational carrier

In the beginning of 2019, we made an appointment with our first RE. We knew my chemo had likely affected my egg reserve, so we did all of the initial basic testing to see what we were dealing with. My AMH level came back at 0.3, which was heartbreaking because we knew that the chances of getting viable eggs with that level would be very low. However, we decided to move forward with a retrieval anyway and soon learned that our one embryo came back PGS normal.

We were so excited and began taking the steps to find a gestational carrier, opting to sign up with an agency. We knew using an agency to find a gestational carrier would be more expensive, but we hoped it was worth it. You can imagine our frustration when the agency never even passed along a profile for us to view in over five months. So, we signed up with another agency in September 2019 and matched with a carrier who we really liked and lived only an hour away from us.

We chose to do an ERA cycle, and once this was complete, we were ready to prep for transfer.  So, on March 11th, we transferred our 1 and only embryo. We were so hopeful, and our carrier started getting positive home tests 5DP5DT. However, the line never got very dark, and our 1st beta was only 13. Such a rollercoaster of emotions. 3 days later, it only went up to 22, and then after that, it started dropping. We had had a chemical pregnancy.

We were extremely upset, even more so after two more unsuccessful egg retrievals.

Also, we wanted a second RE opinion because our RE wasn’t interested in changing my retrieval protocol. All of this was super expensive since our insurance didn’t cover fertility expenses, so we wanted to maximize our chances of getting viable eggs. In our 1st virtual appointment with our new RE, she spent an hour going through our history and went over everything she would do differently. She immediately suggested a new retrieval protocol that would likely get us more eggs. However, in that same conversation, she did not approve our gestational carrier.

It turns out that our carrier had done previous fertility treatments (with our new RE!) and had endometriosis. We were furious at our agency and would have never selected her had we known this, so we immediately parted ways with our carrier but chose to stay with our agency.  We did like our agency coordinator, and we were already $15,000 in debt with them with the agency fees, so we didn’t want to pay additional fees with a new agency. They also waived some of the fees due to our situation which we were happy about.  And then in a good turn of events, when I did my egg retrieval with our new RE, we ended up with 3 PGS normal embryos!  We were so excited for good news finally.

We received a few new carrier profiles, but I just didn’t feel like they were the right match.

I was already a part of a Texas Surrogacy page on Facebook, so I decided to make a post to find a carrier independently. I knew immediately that the first person who reached out was the one. We had mutual friends, went to the same college, and lived near each other. Plus, she had done a successful surrogacy a few years prior. Because we were still signed up with the agency, we decided she would sign up with them so our coordinator could continue to guide us through the rest of the process.

We were officially matched in February 2021 and had our transfer on June 17th. While our first embryo didn’t survive the thaw, our second embryo thawed beautifully and was successfully transferred. Everything has been great since then, and we heard our baby’s heartbeat at 6 weeks, 4 days.  We recently graduated from our fertility clinic and are so excited to meet our carrier’s OB in a few weeks.

This entire process has been such a long and hard journey, but I’m so excited to meet our new baby. I know it will all be worth it.

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