Austin couple turns four-year infertility struggle into a book

Michelle and Chris Miller met in college at the University of Texas, waited until they were mature, responsible adults to wed, and then a few years later they felt ready for a family.

They took bets with each other about how quickly they would get pregnant. He thought it would take one month; she guessed eight months.

But it didn’t happen.

They went on an almost four-year roller coaster between the time they first threw out the birth control pills to the time their daughter Sydney was born.

“Infertility is hope, hope, hope, hope, despair every 24 days, for me,” Michelle Miller, 40, says of her monthly cycle from possible pregnancy to period. She likens it to an old “Got Milk” commercial in which there are piles and piles of Oreos, only to find the milk pitcher is empty. “It’s sort of like what hell might be,” she says. “You have this hope, which makes the despair so much harder.”

The Millers wrote about their experience in the book “Where Have All the Storks Gone: A His and Hers Guide to Infertility.” The book comes out Sept. 2, and the Millers will read from it and host a panel on infertility on Sept. 3 at BookPeople.

It’s an honest account from both sides of what they went through. It’s filled with humor and heartache, but it also explains medical procedures in easy-to-understand terms.

The couple — she’s a market researcher with her own firm, he has specialized in sales for tech startups including his current gig at Artemis International Solutions — had always wanted to be writers and even worked on an unpublished children’s book together before they got married.

“We had joked about it at about month eight. ‘This is not easy. Maybe it will be something to write a book about,’” she says.

By the time they were working with Thomas Vaughn of Texas Fertility Center, they began to keep notes of their experience. “When we started to go through it, funny things would happen along the way,” Chris Miller, 44, says.

They also realized that there was a lot of information told from a woman’s point of view but not a lot that offered a couple’s or man’s perspective. “It’s such a couple’s thing,” she says.

The Millers went through a lot of testing to find the problem, and in the end, they didn’t get definitive answers. She had a fibroid that surgeons eventually removed, and maybe her shorter menstrual cycles might have played a part, but maybe not. They remain in the unexplained category of infertility.

For a person who is used to being able to solve problems, Chris Miller found the “unexplained” category particularly frustrating. “I’m not good at accepting there’s not an answer,” he says.

Infertility came as a shock to Michelle Miller because she says it never occurred to her that some people couldn’t have children. A lot of friends and family were asking questions about when were they going to have kids, and she would see pregnant women everywhere. “It makes you feel very alone,” she says.

Once the Millers saw Vaughn, they had agreed from the outset that they would do three rounds of intrauterine insemination and then three rounds of in vitro fertilization. IUI didn’t work for them, but they did get pregnant on the first round of IVF. They were elated and sure it would lead to bringing home a baby in nine months. Six weeks in, tests confirmed that she had miscarried.

It was another blow, but Chris Miller says each time there was a loss, they looked toward the next step. “Failure is not the end,” he says. “It’s the beginning of the next part of the journey.”

Five months later, it was time to try again. This time they knew the drill, from fertility drugs to sperm and egg collection to embryo transfer to waiting to see if it took. It did, and this time felt different than before. Each passing week, Michelle Miller’s hormone levels went up, and the baby inside her began to grow. They passed week six, and soon they saw a heartbeat on a sonogram, then a baby, until Sydney was born in 2008.

This time the hope, hope, hope, hope cycle didn’t end in despair. It ended in Sydney, who is now 6 and starting first grade.

The Millers had a plan of trying to conceive again when Sydney turned 1, and then when that didn’t take, they would head back to Vaughn when she turned 2. Seven months in, Sabrina was conceived, naturally.

“I was so used to a negative pregnancy test, I never imagined there was another line to look at,” Michelle Miller says.

Then the biggest shock — when they weren’t even supposed to be trying and Sabrina was only 10 months old, son Luke was conceived.

“We had sex once,” Chris Miller says, “That’s what I expected it to be like in college.”

The Millers estimate they spent about $45,000 in treatments and surgeries before Sydney was born. They just recently paid off the credit card. Now they are hoping that not only will other couples find encouragement and information in their book and website, but also that they will be able to use some of the proceeds to help other couples through the Pay It Forward Fertility Foundation.

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