In spite of a diagnosis of severe endometriosis, this Baton Rouge couple was able to have a baby after surgery and in vitro fertilization
Ever since she started her period as a preteen, Perla has endured heavy, painful cycles and cramping that often left her incapacitated. Even with heavy doses of over-the-counter pain medicine, she often missed school and later work because of the severe pain and bleeding. But since periods and cramps aren’t usually a topic of casual conversation, Perla never really talked about it with anyone. “I always thought this was just a normal part of life,” says Perla. “I just learned to deal with it as best I could.”
Birth control pills helped alleviate some of her symptoms, but for one to two weeks out of the month, Perla found it hard to function in her day-to-day life and work. Plus, losing so much blood every month made her anemic and she was often sick with colds because her immune system was so low. And, missing so many days of work because of the pain and symptoms caused her to be less successful at her jobs.
Endometriosis causes scarring and adhesions within the abdominal cavity
In 2013, after moving to the Baton Rouge area to work as a contractor for ExxonMobil, Perla visited with an OB/Gyn who told her she likely had severe endometriosis, a disease in which the endometrial tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus also grows outside of it. This tissue acts just like endometrial tissue inside the uterus would – thickening, then breaking down and bleeding in conjunction with the menstrual cycle. But because the tissue has no way to leave the body, it becomes trapped causing cysts, scar tissue and adhesions on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other areas inside the abdominal region due to the irritation. In many cases of endometriosis, scarring and adhesions will cause pelvic tissue and organs to stick to each other. All of this causes pain, sometimes severe, especially during peak hormonal times.
To help alleviate her symptoms, Perla’s OB/Gyn prescribed continuous birth control pills so that she would no longer have a period. This protocol helped immensely with the symptoms, allowing her to take less sick days and be more productive at work. Feeling so much better allowed Perla to have more success in her job as a contractor and she was soon hired on directly by ExxonMobil as a mechanical supervisor.
Endometriosis can make it difficult to get pregnant
In 2016, Perla met her future husband Javier in Houston, eventually getting married in 2019 and joining her in Baton Rouge to also work for ExxonMobil as an instrument technician. Perla was now in her mid-30s and understood what getting older meant for a woman’s reproductive potential, so the couple wasted no time in their plans to have a baby. Perla stopped using birth control pills, but her endometriosis symptoms came back so severe that after six months and no pregnancy she started taking them again. At this point, her OB/Gyn referred her to Dr. Neil Chappell at Fertility Answers to help her conceive a child.
Perla and Javier had their first consultation with Dr. Chappell in July 2020 and immediately felt they were on a good pathway to their dreams of a family. But while a child was definitely the final result, Dr. Chappell told the couple he also wanted to be able to change her life. “He was more concerned about fixing my endometriosis and helping me live a more productive life,” says Perla. “That really impressed me. A baby would come later, but knowing Dr. Chappell first wanted to solve the problem of my endometriosis that has made me sick all my life meant so much.”
Infertility is common for women with endometriosis because of the scar tissue that forms around the fallopian tubes from endometriosis can block the normal pathways of the egg and sperm. Since endometriosis cannot be detected through blood, saliva or ultrasound methods, definitively diagnosing it is only possible visually through surgery. With a laparoscopy, Dr. Chappell was able to visualize and remove much of the severe Stage IV endometriosis that Perla had suffered through all her life. Her endometriosis was at an advanced stage with significant scar tissue that had already damaged her fallopian tubes and caused internal organs to adhere to each other.
The couple chose to do IVF given her severe endometriosis and age
Given Perla’s severe disease stage and her age, Dr. Chappell recommended they move immediately to in vitro fertilization, or IVF, to try to conceive. Two months after their first consult with Dr. Chappell, Perla and Javier started their first IVF stimulation with the intent of banking as many embryos as they could given Perla’s age. Their first egg retrieval yielded five eggs, four of which fertilized, but only one embryo matured to be biopsied for chromosomal abnormalities using preimplantation genetic testing, or PGT-A. Their one embryo returned with normal genetics testing, giving them a little hope for a future family, but they decided to do another egg retrieval to see if they could get more.
A second egg retrieval a month later yielded seven eggs, four that fertilized normally, and three embryos to biopsy. Unfortunately, all three embryos came back from testing with abnormal chromosomal profiles. Perla and Javier were now faced with a decision: Go through another egg retrieval to try to get more good embryos, or transfer the one good embryo they had cryopreserved? They chose to move forward with the embryo transfer of their one good embryo with all the hope they had.
With a minor delay due to an ovarian cyst, they were finally able to proceed with an embryo transfer of their one little embryo in June 2021, almost a year after their first appointment. And that one little embryo turned into their miracle baby, Fabian, born in February 2022. “We are absolutely in love with him,” says Perla and Javier. “Spoiled already like a little king!”