It was a Saturday night not too long ago when Brittney Brinton and her husband, Blake, curled up at home to watch a popular horror flick, “When a Stranger Calls.”
In the movie, children cried — that innocent, high-pitched wail unmistakable.
Brittney couldn’t help but get emotional.
“I just lost it,” she said. “I just started bawling and crying. It’s hard to hear that sound (of an infant crying), and not have my own child.”
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Brittney, 23, and Blake, 22, have wanted children since the day they got married last June — a sunny Saturday at the Idaho Falls Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But the couple struggles with infertility. They’ve tried a range of fertility methods, most recently, undergoing in vitro fertilization — or IVF — in April.
So far, all attempts have been unsuccessful. Now, they’re doing everything possible to undergo the costly IVF procedure again. This time, doctors say it’s their last shot.
“It just tears me apart thinking about not having my own biological child,” Brinton said. “And I know, people always tell you, ‘Why not just adopt? Why not go that direction?’ And I just can’t — not until I’ve tried everything possible.”
Friends years ago, as students a Skyline High School, the Brintons went their separate ways on out-of-state church missions. They reconnected during their junior year at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where both are now seniors.
Blake recalls their first date — Brittney skipped class to get lunch.
Brittney fondly remembers their first Valentine’s Day together — a trip to Big Jud’s restaurant, ice cream and ending with a leisurely walk through Smith Park in Rexburg.
“He brought me hot chocolate and put his arm around me and held my hand for the first time,” Brittney said. “I knew (I wanted to marry him) at that point.”
The two did marry, about six months later. Both from large families themselves, they knew they wanted children.
“I always thought my dad was a good dad, and I just wanted to emulate his example,” Blake said. “I want to play baseball, sports — that kind of thing with my kids. It’s something I’ve always wanted — a family.”
Brittney has dreamed of being a mom ever since she can remember. In college, she even switched degree programs to preschool education because it was more conducive to a mother’s schedule.
“I love kids, and I want to open my own preschool someday and work with kids every day of my life,” she said. “I’m definitely very fond of them. I’ve made my whole life around being a mom.”
Brittney’s known for years, however, that becoming a mom would be difficult. At age 14, she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful medical condition that causes tissue to grow outside the uterus. The condition is common — statistics show it affects at least 5 million women nationwide. The disorder also can make it difficult to get pregnant.
Brittney’s undergone multiple surgeries over the years to manage her endometriosis symptoms, including a procedure to remove one of her ovaries, making pregnancy even more difficult.
Doctors told the couple getting pregnant naturally was unlikely. After several other unsuccessful, less-costly methods, doctors told the Brintons that IVF was their only viable option.
WHAT IS IVF?
The National Institutes of Health defines in vitro fertilization as “the joining of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a laboratory dish.” “In vitro” literally means “outside the body.” Fertilization is the point at which the sperm has attached to the egg.
The procedure, according to the National Institutes, involves five steps.
The first is stimulation, in which a woman is given drugs to boost her egg production. The next is egg retrieval, the process of removing the eggs from her body. That’s followed by insemination and fertilization, and then, an embryo growth period. The final step is embryo transfer — when embryos are placed back into the woman’s uterus.
The success rate varies, depending on age.
For women under the age of 35, the success rate is 41 to 43 percent. Brittney said doctors said her chances that first time were around 70 percent.
The procedure, while more effective than most other fertility options, is costly. Not typically covered by insurance, those seeking it in the region can expect to pay from $10,000 to $15,000.
“It’s very emotional, stressful and hard,” said Deirdre Conway, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Utah Fertility Center. “We have to try to balance being aggressive enough with the stimulation medications, so there are embryos to transfer, and if you have them leftover you don’t have to go through the process again. By far, that (embryo creation) is the hardest on your body and your pocketbook.”
Fertility is big business in Idaho. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show the Gem State has the third highest number of children born per woman, just behind South Dakota at No. 2, and No. 1 Utah.
Nationwide, about 15 percent of couples struggle with infertility, Conway said.
The Utah Fertility Center performed about 500 fresh IVF cycles in 2014, she said, which only represents a fraction of its patients: About 75 percent of couples who visit the fertility center explore options other than IVF.
“Infertility is really, really common,” Conway said. “It’s not necessarily more common in this community (than elsewhere), but because building families is such a big priority here, it’s something that becomes a priority early in people’s relationships and marriages.”
Conway said the center sees a growing number of Idaho Falls patients. Eastern Idaho lacks a full-service IVF center. Conway hopes to change that. She’s in the process of opening an Idaho Falls-based affiliate, “The Idaho Fertility Center,” in an office space near the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. She’ll start seeing patients in mid-July, and hopes to offer full IVF services by the end of the year.
The Brintons will never forget that awful April day, when they learned the first round of IVF, which cost them about $8,000 out-of-pocket, was unsuccessful.
Blake began crying, Brittney said. It was the first time she’d ever seen him cry.
The two had made at least 10 trips to Salt Lake City to complete the IVF process, Brittney estimates. They had used IVF services offered through the University of Utah.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Brittney said. “It made me think, maybe it will never happen — maybe I’ll never be able to have my own biological child … just having someone tell you that you went through this process and paid thousands of dollars to do it, and then to tell you it was unsuccessful, was the worst news I ever heard.”
The Brintons’ doctor wants to try again, with more medications this time, including a growth hormone to improve the quality of the eggs.
In May, Brittney’s longtime best friend, Sheridan Jacobsen, created a GoFundMe online donation page for family and friends to help the couple pay for the next procedure.
“We’ve been friends for a really long time,” Jacobson said. “I’ve seen the pain that it’s caused them for a long time. As long as I’ve known (Brittney), all she’s wanted to be is a mom.”
The Brintons aren’t entirely sure what they will do if IVF is unsuccessful a second time.
Blake said he’s adopted an attitude of “everything happens for a reason.” Brittney said the conflict has drawn them closer together.
“If anything, it’s made me understand Blake on a whole different level,” she said. “Just going through this trial together is something that’s made our marriage a lot stronger and a lot happier.”