Wednesday, May 14, 2008

After 5 heart-wrenching miscarriages, Alicia Reale Cooney has her little boy

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Alicia Reale Cooney cuddles her son, Liam, 9 months old. After five miscarriages, he is her reason to celebrate her first Mother's Day as a mom. Alicia hopes her story will help others who are trying to become parentsAlicia Reale Cooney wondered if she was meant to give birth. It was August 2005, and she had miscarried for the fourth heartbreaking time.

You get married, and you have a child. For everyone but her, it seemed so easy.

"It was so hard to see our friends have baby after baby, and we had none." It may sound selfish, she says, but that's the way she felt. "My babies were dying."

Hope and love kept Alicia and her husband, Chris, from giving up on parenthood. If their story encourages others, they are happy to tell it, because, nearly two years after that fourth pregnancy loss, a journey that included yet another miscarriage and two in vitro fertilization attempts, their dream came true.

Alicia is celebrating her first Mother's Day as a mom.

She got pregnant the first time right after they started trying, a year after they married in 2002. They had just moved into a new house, one with an eat-in kitchen and a family room in University Heights "for the family we thought we were having," says Alicia.

Two months later, at her first obstetrics appointment, her doctor searched for a heartbeat, couldn't find one and referred Alicia for a more comprehensive ultrasound. The next day, still no heartbeat.

Alicia was devastated, but everyone told her it was an "isolated incident."

They tried again, but months passed with no success.

Alicia, 33, went to see Dr. James Liu, a reproductive endocrinologist and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals' MacDonald Women's Hospital. Alicia wasn't ovulating, and he prescribed Clomid to jump-start her ovaries.

Within several months, Alicia was pregnant again. But at seven weeks, her obstetrician couldn't find a heartbeat.

"You think all your life that you're going to grow up and have a family," she says. "Something like this just throws a wrench in your plan."

After miscarrying twice, she had a hard time going to family functions that involved children and avoided baby showers. She sent her mother to buy a gift for a friend because she couldn't walk into a Baby Gap.

The couple had to distance themselves from the stress. Whenever they went out to dinner, they had a rule. "We said, OK, no fertility talk," Alicia says.

All those years of trying to have a baby didn't hurt their marriage, it strengthened it, she says. "It was a partnership."

Trying everything she could think of Alicia had laparoscopic surgery to make sure there was no endometriosis, a thickening of the uterine lining that might make carrying a baby difficult. She saw an acupuncturist who put needles in her ear, said to be a link to the reproductive system.

"I tried everything I could think of," she says.

Liu stepped up the hormones.

In June 2005, she got pregnant for the third time, only to miscarry about six weeks later. In late August, she had her fourth miscarriage, again at about six weeks.

Liu suggested consulting a miscarriage expert in Chicago. The Cooneys flew there twice, but all testing came back normal.

"It was so frustrating," Alicia says. "You want to be well, but you also want an explanation."

About this time, a sensitive girlfriend didn't know how to tell Alicia that she was pregnant, so she told her in a letter. It was a gesture that Alicia regards as very sweet when others said hurtful things about her miscarriages, such as "it was meant to be."

Her work as a media coordinator at University Hospitals Case Medical Center was a distraction. "But when I went home at night, I'd cry," Alicia says.

She leaned on Chris, asking him if he thought they would ever be parents. "We have to be strong," he told her.

A surrogate pregnancy was out, they'd decided, opting instead for in vitro fertilization, a process that costs about $11,000 in Cleveland. Alicia would undergo a course of high-powered fertility injections. Eggs would be retrieved and fertilized with Chris' sperm.

One of the three embryos doctors inserted into her uterus implanted itself. But again, about six weeks later, Alicia miscarried.

"It felt like the end of the world," she says.

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