Why I'm doing IVF on live TV: One woman's fertility journey

Jessica Menkhausen and Derek Manion, both 33, are engaged to be married. However, the St. Louis couple’s wedding is on hold so they can pay for in vitro fertilization, in the hopes of getting pregnant. Menkhausen has battled fertility issues, including two ectopic pregnancies, for the past nine years. On Tuesday, she had her eggs harvested live on TODAY. Dr. Nancy Snyderman joined the couple and their doctors live from an operating room at St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. "This has been going perfectly this morning," said Dr. Nancy. 

Following that, Manion’s sperm was injected into Menkhausen’s eggs in a Petri dish. If the fertilization works and viable embryos are made, Menkhausen will return to the hospital on Friday for implantation. Here, Menkhausen tells TODAY Moms why she’s allowing a TV audience to follow her story as part of a weeklong series, #BornTODAY.

Jessica Menkhausen and her fiance Derek ManionToday

Some people might think I am crazy for doing an in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment on live TV. Why would I want to be so public about a private medical procedure? Why would I want to share my story, knowing in the back of my mind it could very well end in heartbreak?

If I had to answer in a word, I would call it “enlightenment.” It’s an amazing opportunity to enlighten other women who are having the same challenges. And it’s also a form of self-enlightenment – sharing my story is helping me deal with some of my own fears, by courageously facing them head on.

I was a teen when my fertility issues first started surfacing. I was explaining the excruciating pain of my menstrual cramps to a friend at work when she told me her sister had similar symptoms and had been diagnosed with endometriosis. Endometriosis happens when tissue that normally only grows within the uterus grows outside the uterus, and can adversely affect other organs, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Prior to this, I had always just assumed that what I went through every month was normal. Some women get cramps, some do not, period (no pun intended). Aleve helped with the pain, so I never went to see a doctor about my symptoms.

A few years later, in 2004, I became pregnant. I was only 24 years old at the time and engaged to be married. We were both extremely excited, but also nervous. I made an appointment with an OB-GYN, and never thought about the endometriosis or the fact that it could affect the pregnancy. However, at that first appointment the doctor knew immediately something was awry because he did not hear a baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound. Additional testing found that it was a tubal, or ectopic, pregnancy.

The doctor said they would need to remove the fallopian tube and thus abort the pregnancy immediately; otherwise it could burst and cause serious injury or death. 

There went fallopian tube number one. 

The doctor found endometriosis and scar tissue present and said there was a chance that if I became pregnant again, the same thing could happen. I was so depressed. For months I sobbed around the house, and it was a very heartbreaking experience. The following year I became pregnant again, and although I hoped and prayed for the best, it was another tubal pregnancy. 

There went tube number two. 

Again, I was devastated, and it took me longer to get over it the second time. I felt like only half of a woman, and my relationship suffered and eventually ended from it.

I have known since 2005 that I would have to undergo IVF if I ever planned on having my own children. However, for a long time, it seemed like an unobtainable goal because of the high cost. So over the next eight years I focused on my career, completing my bachelor’s and master’s degree. While friends and family around me had children, I kept my sorrows at bay by sharing in their joys, their births, their birthday parties. Working 60-plus hours per week helped distract me as well. I also became guardian to my then 7-year-old brother Liam, which brought an immense amount of joy to my life and helped me to forget about my shortcomings. I had all but given up on the prospect of having my own children until I met my fiancé Derek.

Derek was the catalyst behind my first consultation with Dr. Sherman J. Silber, a world-renowned IVF specialist and director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis. Even though I had almost given up hope, Derek had enough for the both of us. Even after the positive encouragement from the doctor, I was still extremely apprehensive. 

I had done some of my own research on IVF, but after that first consultation we learned exactly what the procedure entails -- from the four or five different drugs that have to be injected (I am terrified of needles, by the way), to the follicle aspiration procedure, and finally the egg transfer. Many worries and thoughts circled my mind. How are we going to pay for this? What if it doesn’t take the first time? Am I just setting myself up for disappointment again? How will our relationship be able to withstand the possible disappointment of the procedure not working?

It took us a few weeks, but we decided to schedule the procedure. Even though we would have to take out a loan to pay for the procedure, the additional financial burden is small compared to the joy a baby would bring to our lives. I began the first round of medicine to get my body prepared in mid-August. An individual should not live in fear right? Not that this decision is a monumental as World War II, but the quote from President Franklin Roosevelt kept replaying in my head, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

When approached about telling our story on TODAY, I was a little concerned at first. After all, I am an accountant; we generally like to stay out of the spotlight and I am a very private person. Plus, we had not even shared our decision to do the IVF treatment with our entire family or our coworkers.

However, when I gave it more thought I realized there are probably many other women out there with the same issues as me. I likened my initial apprehension to the student in class afraid to raise a hand, even though many others may have the same question. I hope in telling my story that other women with similar fertility obstacles will be able to overcome their fears as well. 

So, despite the hormone roller coaster, bruising from injections, and the constant "what-if" analysis going on in my head, I know that the first time I hear our baby cry, it will be well worth what we have gone through.