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Hope turns to Faith: Mrs International 2003 and infertility

Jennifer Newton Reents is a Registered Nurse and has a bachelor's degree in journalism. She is the former associate editor various print magazines, including Pregnancy Magazine, and continues to contribute to various national magazines t...

Dealing with infertility

Just looking at her, she seems the type of woman who has it all. Michelle Fryatt is beautiful and intelligent, leads a comfortable lifestyle, and is happily married to a professional athlete. But there's one more thing she has -- something that made much of the joy of her life fade for a time. Michelle, crowned Mrs International 2003, suffers from infertility.

Photo by Clay Spann Mrs International 2003 Michelle Fryatt is just like any other woman who has experienced the emotional and physical suffering associated with infertility and trying to have a baby. The pageant queen is now sharing her story with others to send a message of hope, and is working toward legislation to ensure infertility procedures are covered by insurance in all 50 states.

Fryatt, 39, is the wife of pro golfer Edward Fryatt, 32. The couple married six years ago and immediately started trying to have a baby. After six heartbreaking years and six failed in vitro fertilization procedures, the Fryatts received a miracle in their lives.

"Infertility treatment is a grueling process. It impacts every (part) of your life, from your emotional stability, because you are so medicated on all these hormones, and the huge financial challenge because of the out-of-pocket expense," says Fryatt.

According to Resolve, The National Infertility Association, more than six million American women are infertile, and another two million married couples suffer from infertility or other conditions that impair their ability to have children. According to Resolve, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over age 35) or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth.

Fryatt, an Oklahoma native who has lived in Las Vegas for the last 10 years, was a two-time runner up in the Miss Oklahoma pageant in her 20s. She learned through her experiences in pageants to fight for causes she believed in. She now had another cause -- to help others dealing with infertility and to fight for legislation that will require insurance providers to cover infertility treatments the same way they cover obstetrics. Insurance mandates for infertility treatments currently exist in only 15 states, she says.

So, at the age of 39, the former Bank of America vice president of finance and CPA was selected as the Mrs Nevada International delegate to the Mrs International Pageant, which -- unlike Mrs America and Mrs United States -- is the only Mrs Pageant that requires entrants to have a platform cause, Fryatt says. The heartbreak of infertility turned into passion to help other infertile couples know they aren't alone. "I know how it changes your life to talk to somebody who has walked in your shoes," Fryatt says. "You can subject your self to the depression or you can just fight! I wanted to help other couples find support and possibly really make a difference in the lives of people struggling with this disease."

Resolving to help

She now works as the national spokesperson for Resolve (www.Resolve.org), which helps infertile couples find support, referrals and information, and also provides advocacy for the infertile community. Fryatt found Resolve later into her treatment, but hopes infertile couples can find support through Resolve or a similar organization right away.

"Some people can't even afford to walk into an infertility clinic," she says. "Americans are being denied the most basic dream, which is having a family." Therefore, one of her main goals as Mrs International is to seek insurance options for infertile couples through legislation through the passage of the Family Building Act of 2003, currently a House bill (HR 3014).

She is also encouraging more infertility clinics -- if not all of them -- to have a counselor or therapist on staff to provide emotional support for infertile couples. "One thing infertile couples experience is a 'genetic death,'" Fryatt says. "You go through a grieving process... No one said to me, 'You are not alone in this struggle.' I felt very isolated. I was questioning what I had done to deserve not to be able to become a parent."

Fryatt's struggle was so heartbreaking that at one point she could not be around babies or attend baby showers. Even a commercial featuring a baby would cause her to break down. "It impacts every area of your life," she says. "With every step that I took in my infertility treatment, I knew that the procedure was going to work and each time it didn't, it's compounded how much more of a let down it is."

Hope... and Faith
The Fryatts tried to conceive on their own for about a year. They sought the help of two different doctors in the first two years. Fryatt says while her doctors were excellent scientists, the treatment was clinical.

"It was very unsupportive. Not warm at all," she says, which has encouraged her efforts to ensure all infertility clinics hand out a Resolve brochure so infertile men and women can find the emotional support they need.

"Research has shown that doctors benefit with treatment success when patients have a positive mind-body connection," Fryatt says.

The only support Fyatt found was two years into her infertility treatment from a small support group at her church. As with other couples, she says, it is often the partner pulling the infertile partner through the process, picking them up off the ground and moving forward. But couples often need more than each other.

Fryatt began her infertility treatment with Clomid, a hormone used to stimulate ovulation. When it didn't work, she had a procedure called a hysterosalpinogram, an x-ray exam used to determine if the fallopian tubes are blocked and to check if the shape of the inside of the uterus is normal. That revealed several benign (non cancerous) polyps in her uterus that had to be surgically removed. Doctors thought it would have corrected the problem.

The Fryatts next headed down the winding road of IUI -- intrauterine insemination, also known as artificial insemination. According to Resolve, IUI is often done in conjunction with ovulation-stimulating drugs. IUI can be performed using the husband's sperm or donor sperm. Insemination is performed at the time of ovulation, usually within 24 to 36 hours after the LH surge -- luteinizing hormone -- the hormone that peaks at ovulation, is detected. IUI procedures typically cost between $1,200 and $2,000 each, Fryatt says.

After four failed IUI procedures, the Fryatts decided to try in vitro fertilization (IVF) where eggs are removed after stimulated ovulation and the sperm and egg are joined together outside the body. Average cost for this procedure is much higher � typically $10,000 to $15,000 for each procedure, Fryatt says. During this time, Fryatt went through daily painful shots to trigger her ovulation.

After three IVF cycles, Fryatt was ready to give up. But her husband wasn't, and so the procedures -- some involving up to five hormone shots a day - continued. And they continued to fail.

"I was ready to adopt," Fryatt says. "I was so, so, so done. My husband was not. He really felt the need to exhaust the medical option."

Her doctor then recommended she be tested for what's called the "natural killer cell." According to Reproductive Immunology Associates in Van Nuys, California, natural killer cells essentially destroy fetuses, thinking they are instead cancer. To their surprise, Fryatt tested positive for the natural killer cell. To suppress its activity, she underwent a procedure called intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, which consisted of receiving an IV of the immunoglobulin for about eight hours.

After receiving the immunoglobulin, her doctor treated her more aggressively , but it was also the most painful for Michelle physically. She endured five various hormone shots a day -- three in the belly, one in the hip and one in the thigh every night for 21 days straight. She did this for three cycles.

"It was an extremely painful experience and it only seemed to get worse," she says remembering the bruising and knots from the shots. "One thing about infertility is when a couple decides to have a baby, they are already emotionally committed to the baby they are trying to conceive so the thought process is 'I will go through whatever it takes to have a child.' The desperation couples feel you can't put it in to words."

After six failed IVF procedures, Ed was tired of seeing his wife in agony. The couple decided to go with an egg donor � costs average about $20,000 for this procedure, which includes a donor stipend. They chose a donor who was 23 years old and looked very much like Michelle. But during the retrieval process of the donor's eggs, there was only one egg. Typically there are numerous eggs.

"You feel like your dream of having a child is completely shattered from no fault of your own," she says.

A little miracle

It was on that same day when Fryatt learned that the retrieval was not successful that she also received her miracle. Fryatt's hope for a baby turned to what later would become her Faith. "I truly feel a miracle happened in my life that day," she says "(Infertile couples) need to keep in mind that the miracle you pray for may not be the miracle you receive."

She received a call from a friend who knew a pregnant teen who was due in about four weeks and was still looking for adoptive parents. "I said 'I want this child' when I met her," Fryatt said. "I knew she was carrying our baby." Ed, on the other hand, still wasn't quite ready for adoption -- to give up the dream of having a biological child. But when he met the teen, he changed his mind.

The couple attended the birth of their baby girl, who they named Faith (now age 2), and Ed cut the cord. The couple has chosen a closed adoption, and the birth mother does not have any contact with the Fryatts. "From the minute she was born, even if he was resistant to adoption initially, it never crosses his mind that she is not ours biologically," Fryatt says.

These days, the Fryatts do discuss adoption with their young daughter in subtle ways, by reading to her special children's books that discuss it. "I put myself in Faith's shoes and I think she has a right to know," says Fryatt, who is looking to adopt another baby soon. "My message to Faith is not that she was not wanted, is she was wanted. She was chosen for us."

And for other hopeful parents, "There's a baby out there for you," Michelle says. "Just like you are desiring a child, there's a child out there with your name on it."

Resources

Baby Dust preconception message boards

Resolve: The National Infertility Association �- www.Resolve.org

The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc -- www.inciid.org

American Infertility Association -- www.americaninfertility.org

The Infertility Network (Canada) -- www.infertilitynetwork.org

The National Infertility Support Network (UK) -- www.child.org.uk

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