Trigger warning: mention of loss. Five years ago, we were struggling with grief after our daughter was stillborn at 18 weeks. We were also desperately praying and hoping that we would have a healthy, earthside baby. In September of 2018, we found out we were pregnant with Jimmie. More about waiting for Jimmie here
These four years with Jimmie have been miraculous. The more we’ve learned about fertility and secondary infertility, Jimmie’s life becomes even more of a gift. The statistics that are widely shared related to fertility and women over 40 are quite discouraging. In spite of that, we delivered our baby Jimmie when I was 41 years and 10 months old.
Today, we celebrated this precious gift of life with a party at a park in our neighborhood.
We reserved a bounce house from Extreme Climbing and worked with the city to get a permit to have the bounce house in the park.
Jimmie had family and friends join from his preschool class and his BLL teeball team.
Jimmie loves iced donuts with sprinkles. He has called them “Happy Birthday Donuts” for a couple of years. We have this great specialty donut shop in Houston, River Oaks Donuts . I asked friends where to get donut letters so we could have donuts instead of cake. Everyone suggested River Oaks Donuts. I ordered HAPPY (small letters) 4 (large) JIMMIE (medium) and the decor was Astros, baseball and Spider-Man! They did a great job and Jimmie loved it!
We are so thankful for all of our children and especially thankful that God has given us these five earth-side. I hope they always know how loved and honored they are. Life is a gift. And, today we celebrate four years of JIMMIE! Cheers to many more!
Trigger warning: infertility, miscarriage and loss
A couple of weeks ago, I finally began openly sharing the IVF part of our story and fertility journey. Today, I want to share our IVF story and experience. I am presently 45 years old. This is my IVF story.
No matter where you are in your fertility journey, I hope you can find peace in the waiting and hoping and planning. And, I hope, by sharing my story, you are encouraged and know you are not alone.
Rebekah Maddux El-Hakam, ElMomma.com
In 2017, we were praying and hoping for one more El-Hakam baby. We had taken a substantial break of over 6 years after having our four older children in a 5 year time span. We had three boys and one girl at the time and were praying for one more little girl. In May of 2017, I fell pregnant with our fifth baby. In July we found out that our baby was a little girl. We were all over the moon for her and so excited for this little one to complete our family. In mid August, at nearly 18 weeks gestation we found out that our daughter had died in utero. She had no heartbeat at a routine visit with the midwives. We later found out that she had died because of a fetal maternal hemorrhage- anemia due to an unknown cause.
This time in our lives, changed us. It definitely transformed me, in particular. I felt this new fire ignite in me. I knew I wanted to have another baby. That was never in question. But, I also knew I wanted to have a couple more babies. It may sound crazy. But, losing my daughter at 18 weeks gestation and then waiting an entire year and 9 months to have our baby boy solidified for me that I wanted two little ones to be close in age.
We were blessed with a healthy baby boy, Jimmie, in May of 2019. He was exclusively breastfed. I believe because of this (and possibly my age) that my cycle did not return until he was a year and a half old. It was another year and a half of trying before we fell pregnant naturally in July of 2022. To say we were blown away to fall pregnant is an understatement. We were shocked and I was only a few days short of turning 45. It felt like a real life miracle.
Sadly, the miracle pregnancy didn’t last and we miscarried at home at 9 weeks gestation on August 29, 2022. Because we believed that God had answered our prayers and provided us with our miracle final El baby, this was a particularly devastating time for us. As the momma of all of my children, I felt like it was one more loss that we all endured and it was just too much.
Moving back in time a bit to July of 2022, to just before finding out we were pregnant when I started a new job. This job is an incredible opportunity for me. I learned of this position in June when I was contacted by a recruiter and sent the job description. It was full time, at an amazing Episcopal Church, and with a job description that fits so many of my job skills. It was perfect! One funny part of the interview was when I was asked if I was okay not singing and leading worship with the band, as that was not part of the job description. I answered simply that The Lord always provides a place for me to use my gifts. In the very next part of the interview I was asked if I would be okay singing, as that was definitely going to be something they would want me to do when possible. I smiled and said, “of course!”
I learned during my first week at my new job that fertility coverage was part of the benefits package. When Mary-Linda died and we were trying to conceive, I often thought about IVF and fertility treatments. However, without insurance coverage, the cost was too prohibitive and honestly, impossible. It seemed to be even more of a miracle that I now had fertility coverage and didn’t need it, because I was pregnant naturally at 44 years old!
Obviously, things did not work out with that pregnancy, nor the next one. We did a couple of cycles trying via IUI and monitored cycles with no success. Finally, in March of this year, we began the IVF process. I feel incredibly blessed to be in a position to try to conceive this way at my age. We were not successful during our first attempt, however this is how it went:
For the March cycle, I started on suppression meds as soon as my cycle began. This is to keep my body from having only one or two dominant follicles. Apparently, this also helps the patient be on a schedule with the fertility clinic, so they can start many patients on fertility meds at the same time. *I requested to not be put on birth control again, after this first cycle. When it was time for the suppression check I had a small cyst on my left ovary. My hormone levels were checked and I was given clearance to move forward with IVF stimulation meds.
We did not end up having an embryo at the end of our first IVF cycle. However, here is what happened:
Once we started the Stim meds, I took:
Gonal 225 units in the am for 10 days (injection)
Dexamethasone in the am for 10 days (pill)
Menopur (3 vials) in the pm for 9 days (injection)
Cetrotide to prevent ovulation prior to trigger starting on day 5 through day 10 (injection)
Triggered with Pregnyl the evening of Day 10 (injection)
I responded fairly well. I had a cyst on my left ovary measuring 18.9 at the beginning of the cycle. However, my estrogen was in normal range, so we continued. 5 follicles (including the cyst were seen at the suppression check) On day 5 of stim meds, I had three follicles measuring 9, 10 & 13mm. We started Cetrotide in the evenings on day 5 to prevent early ovulation. On day 7 of stim meds, I had four follicles on my right ovary measuring 10.6-14.4. At this point we moved to daily labs and ultrasounds and by day 10 of stim meds, 7 follicles measured between 10.3-19.8mm (I think the 19.8 was the cyst, but not sure)
We triggered that night with Ovadrel (hcg), had labs the next morning and the egg retrieval the following morning. We had 7 eggs retrieved in total. 5 of them were mature and 5 fertilized with my husband’s sperm. One made it to day 6 and began to disintegrate at that point. We met with our fertility doctor and he was very pleased with how well I did. He said I responded like a young 39 year old! 💫
After a failed IVF cycle, it’s good to regroup with your doc and discuss the plan moving forward. We decided that we would try twice more before my birthday. I will turn 46 and at that point, my fertility clinic will not retrieve any more eggs. I feel good about trying and knowing we did all we could.
Our second IVF cycle followed the same meds and protocols. On day five of stim meds, the ultrasound revealed 7 follicles growing and measuring 9.7 10 15 12.6 14.1 12.3 10.8mm. We all thought this was fantastic and awesome that we weren’t dealing with a cyst on one side this time. By day 7, I had 3 follicles measuring over 16mm, so we added the Cetrotide to prevent early ovulation. This time we triggered on Day 9, when I had 5 follicles measuring over 17mm.
The egg retrieval was a success. We retrieved 11 eggs- 5 mature and 4 fertilized. And one made it to blast! That little embryo is was frozen and a sample of cells was sent to be tested. Unfortunately, the embryo was not compatible with life. we await test results. We found out the test results during our third and final round of IVF.
Our third and final IVF stimulation cycle had the best results of the three. On the day of trigger (day 9 of stim meds) I had 9 follicles measuring 13-18mm. We triggered that evening (Thursday) and went in for blood work the next morning to confirm that the trigger was absorbed in the body. Results were good. We had our egg retrieval early Saturday morning and retrieved 9 eggs. Of those 9, 7 were mature and injected with my husband’s sperm and all seven fertilized. The embryologists watched them for the next 5 days and any that develop to day 6 would be frozen and a sample will be sent off for testing. We are praying for a healthy embryo. We had one embryo make it to testing. May God help our little embryo.
I’ve been pregnant quite a few times over the last 19 years (I can’t believe it’s been that many years!) and have learned that there are some things that my body and baby need from day one. I’ve compiled this list of items I can’t live without from first positive test and throughout my entire pregnancy. Do you have more favorites to add? Leave a comment and let us know what we should add to this list. Be sure to subscribe to our email list to receive new blogposts directly in your inbox.
Vitamins and Prenatals
There are a lot of prenatal vitamins to choose from. I moved to a prenatal with folate instead of folic acid when trying to conceive after Jimmie. According to American Pregnancy Association, “Folate and its cousin folic acid are vital for developing a healthy baby because it prevents neural tube defects. Since the neural tube develops within the first 28 days of pregnancy, it is recommended all women of childbearing years consume folate. Folate prevents certain heart abnormalities, cleft palate and cleft lip. It also lowers the risk of developing anemia, miscarriage, preterm delivery and low birth weight.” Folic Acid and Folate are both forms of B9. However, “there is an important difference. Folic acid is the synthesized version that is commonly used in processed foods and supplements.” I took folate separately before we conceived Jimmie and throughout my pregnancy.
In addition to taking Pink Stork prenatal with Folate available here, I also take Liposomal Vitamin D3 and Magnesium. Every time we’ve had my Vitamin D levels checked throughout my adult life, they’ve been low. Increased Vitamin D levels are important when trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy.
Belly, Dry Skin and Joint Help
Body Butter lotion. I tend to get dry skin and this is especially true when I’m pregnant. I love this ultra-rich spa quality lotion formulated with naturally-soothing ingredients including cocoa butter.
Burt’s Bees Mama Belly Butter with Shea Butter and Vitamin E This lotion is my go to ease my stretching skin while baby and belly are growing. I use this every single night while pregnant and keep using it once baby is born. Burts Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter contains no phthalates, parabens, petrolatum, or SLS, and it wont irritate your skin so you can use this balm with peace of mind. Pamper yourself during your nine month stretch, or give as a gift to a new mama!
Liquid BioCell Life is the best collagen out there-by far, in my humble opinion. I love this Liquid Collagen when TTC and throughout pregnancy. It improves joint mobility and lubrication, reduces joint discomfort, increases skin’s collagen content, promotes healthy hair, nails, gums, eyes and so much more! I want to feel like my body is working well when I am trying to nourish a growing baby.
Belly Band I like this Asotony Pregnancy Support Belt sold at WalMart. It’s breathable and something that I will wear once I am about six months pregnant and until delivery. I don’t like to wear it at night, but some women say that it works well while sleeping. I need the extra support when walking and moving around throughout the day.
Leggings Over the belly leggings are my favorite when pregnant. Seriously, I love the additional support and live in leggings for all of my pregnancy. They are especially helpful once the belly gets a little bigger. I also love them postpartum.
Pregnancy under the belly and over the belly underwear. The under the belly underwear are a necessity for those times when your belly is more exposed. I’m not talking about mid drift action. I’m speaking about times when you are wearing something that is tighter on the belly and you don’t want to see the line of your underwear across the top of your belly. I like support like these spanx and these spanx shorts too when I’m dressing up and want the underwear support for my belly.
Pregnancy pillow I only got a pregnancy pillow with my rainbow baby pregnancy in 2019. I never used one with my previous pregnancies. Boy, was I missing out!? I had no idea what a game-changer the pregnancy pillow is. I have always been a tummy sleeper. But, the moment I am pregnant, I stop being able to sleep on my belly. It’s a mental thing for me. However, it’s been my favorite way to sleep for most of my life, so sleeping during pregnancy is a challenge. This pillow allows me to sleep with part of it between my legs and another part supporting my back. It also keeps me on my side, which is my preferred way to sleep when pregnant.
ElMomma’s favorite dresses that grow as your bump grows. Perfect for bump progression pics, here are a few everyday styles that I love wearing when pregnant. I also think it’s really fun to have one dress or outfit that can grow with you and that you can wear your entire pregnancy. I also love these Overalls and think this is a super cute maternity look.
Please let me know if you enjoyed this list by sharing on social media and commenting here. I would also love to hear what other products you recommend while pregnant and postpartum. Please comment here or join in the conversation on Instagramor Facebook. I love to hear from you! Wishing all of you who are TTC or expecting a Happy and Healthy 9 months! Xo
I had no idea how difficult this journey would be when we decided we wanted to try for one more baby…at age 39. In my mind, none of the negative statistics had impacted our fertility journey before, so I just tuned out the noise. In some ways, I’m thankful for my innocence before secondary infertility, second trimester loss and more miscarriages. In other ways, I wish I could have prepared my heart for the unimaginable. But, now that we are here, let’s press on and talk about how it is possible to have a healthy baby and pregnancy at over forty. I’ve done it! Praise the Lord.
A little bit more about our fertility story and secondary infertility
We started TTC (trying to conceive) when our oldest four children were 6, 8, 10 and 12 years old. I was 39 and DH was 41. We were blessed to get pregnant right away. I can’t remember exactly how long we were trying. I just know that I was on a girls trip in April talking about TTC and how I had read about ways to sway for a girl or a boy. And we were trying for a girl. By early May, we were pregnant with a baby girl.
We gave very little thought to the idea that we were older or that we may struggle to conceive this time around. When we miscarried due to a fetal maternal hemorrhage at 18 weeks gestation, we were 40 and 42. The months flew by as we learned what had happened to our daughter. No, she didn’t have any chromosomal or genetic abnormalities due to our age. It wasn’t an “egg quality” issue and we knew that because we knew to ask for a KB test when I was in labor.
Any other scenario and surely my age, in particular, would have been blamed for the miscarriage in my second trimester. We were really fortunate to know what happened to her. Although, it’s heartbreaking that she had a condition that went undiagnosed by our midwives and that our midwives missed huge trouble markers on our blood work that should have sent me to a high risk doctor. It’s also comforting to know what happened to her. An unexplained miscarriage can be even more devastating, in my opinion.
Our success after 40
To recap: we have one healthy conception at 39. And, another healthy conception at 41. This one resulted in a live birth. (Baby Jimmie) As far as supplements, I started taking a prenatal with folate and not folic acid. I also took a baby aspirin throughout my cycle and continued until a couple of weeks before expected delivery. I increased my vitamin D, as well as magnesium.
In this article written by Tracy Slater, the focus is on Pregnancy over 45 and how it is very possible and has a higher success rate than many of us think. I, like many women trying to conceive over 45, have done a ton of research. In April, I ordered the book It Starts with the Egg: How the Science of Egg Quality Can Help You Get Pregnant Naturally, Prevent Miscarriage, and Improve Your Odds in IVF by Rebecca Fett. The title pretty much sums it up, but this book helped me realize the things I was doing that were helpful to my fertility and the things that I was doing that could be done better. Rebecca recommends supplements specific to your situation, whether you are trying naturally or trying via IUI Intrauterine Insemination or IVF In Vitro Fertilization. There are also different recommendations for where you are in your cycle. She also recommends starting most of the supplements three months prior to trying to conceive. This is because the dominant follicle that will mature to the egg that you will ovulate, is chosen three months prior.
I do believe that these lifestyle changes impacted my fertility in 2022 at age 45. After Jimmie, we began TTC again, but I did not have my cycle back for nearly a year and a half. We started FAM and after changing supplements recommended by It Starts with the Egg, we were pregnant within 3 months. On July 22, 2022, we found out we were pregnant at 44 (me) and 47 (him) years old! We were over the moon. Jimmie had just turned three two months earlier. We had blood work to confirm that HCG- the pregnancy hormone -was rising appropriately. Everything was good. Unfortunately, we miscarried at home at 8 weeks and 4 days on August 29, 2022. I had a routine ultrasound the week prior that confirmed there was no growth after six weeks and no heartbeat.
This experience was heartbreaking. We believed that our miracle was on his or her way. We believed that God would see us through this pregnancy. Of course, when it all fell apart, we wondered what went wrong? But, since we don’t have any clear answers with that, we decided to focus on what went right:
First, we got pregnant at our more advanced ages. That’s so amazing to me! We were just blown away that God created another El-Hakam baby after we had waited and prayed and tried for so long. Second, conception and implantation happened! We have no idea what happens after we do our part when TTC naturally. This time, we know that the egg made it down the Fallopian tube for conception and back up for implantation.
In October, we fell pregnant again. This time, I tested positive at 14 dpo (days past ovulation) and tested negative at 16 dpo. That’s also when AF (aunt flow aka menstrual cycle) began. This is often referred to as a chemical pregnancy. The embryo implants and HCG begins to rise and then something goes wrong. Likely the embryo had issues making them incompatible with life.
Again, I felt hopeful because we fell pregnant two cycles in a row. This was after two years of TTC with no success. Our lifestyle changes worked. I recently found this article written by a momma who just had her second child at 46! I was happily surprised to read about so many successful pregnancies and births by women in their forties. I do believe that our fertility outlook and chance of having a baby in our forties is not as bleak as the general medical community tells us.
Things I did to help improve my fertility over 40
1. Cutting out anything that is known for causing inflammation. There’s an exhausting list of things. And, we can’t cut every single one of them from our diets. However, even doing better, is helpful, in my experience. I am gluten free, so I already do not consume any gluten or wheat products. I’ve also cut out caffeine, drinking only the best decaf coffee from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Reduced processed sugar, and increased fruit. These changes have also helped me feel a lot better.
2. Doing my best to remove items that are known to be unhealthy and can harm fertility. For me this means cutting out plastics, not drinking from plastic water bottles, not eating microwaved food, drinking filtered water and being mindful of the products we use in our home. I changed cleaning products, detergents, shampoos, soaps, and more to do my best to remove products that have known toxins.
3. Drinking drinks warm or at room temperature and avoiding ice cold beverages and cold treats. Apparently, these can be quite shocking to the uterus. We want to keep the womb warm and inviting, so avoiding ice cold drinks is critical.
4. Diet and supplements. I love the Mediterranean diet. I eat eggs in the morning and enjoy salad (not super cold) with lots of berries and leafy greens. I eat lots of nuts, hummus, lebne, fruit, fish, lamb and beef once a week. I also cut out soda. I’ve never been a huge soda drinker and already refuse to drink diet drinks (aspartame is terrible for our bodies and fertility). However, I would allow myself a maximum of one Coke a day- usually on ice. I love the bubbles in Coke. However, it’s probably not the best for fertility, so I gave up Coke. It was difficult for about three days, and then I was fine. There’s a lot of information out there about which supplements to take and when to take them. I take a prenatal with folate, vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin C. There are other recommendations depending on if you are doing IVF, IUI or a natural cycle. I have another post that will go into specifics and brands I use. Bird & Be goes into more detail here.
5. FAM: Fertility Activation Method. This has truly changed my fertility life. I did not get pregnant for two years and then conceived at 44 and 45 years old. I continue to focus on the acupressure massages at least two times a day. If you are interested, please follow the links above or click here.
To conclude, I’ve found great comfort and peace in being able to make life changes that can positively impact my fertility. I know it’s not as hopeless as some say, because my experience tells me otherwise. If you really want to carry a child, don’t give up. Pray. Ask God for guidance. I do believe that we can trust the Lord AND be proactive in our healthcare and fertility journeys. In fact, I think for many of us struggling with infertility, it’s essential that we take an active role in knowing our bodies and fertility challenges.
Wishing those of you who are in this journey all the baby dust. Please reach out, share our story and comment. We would love to support you in your fertility.
When looking for simple and delicious recipes to make around the holidays, I found lots of recipes for Monkey Bread.
I’ve never actually made Monkey Bread before and I don’t know why!? It is so good. I’ve been gluten free for over 9 years. This reminds me of how I remember cinnamon rolls before cutting out gluten. I like to try to find ways to substitute and make recipes gluten free when possible. I decided to use premade pizza dough in place of canned biscuit dough. And it worked out perfectly. This recipe is so popular and now it’s gluten free! This is a family favorite that’s perfect for New Years Day Breakfast, or really any Breakfast or Brunch.
2 14 oz bags of Wholly Gluten Free Pizza Dough or make your own GF dough
At ELMOMMA.com, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on this past year. First, we would like to thank you for being here. You being here means a lot to us and helps us support our growing family. Since founding ELMOMMA.com in 2008, we have all grown and changed so much. We had 27,000 views on the blog this month, with this post topping them all. We shared a video of Jimmie watching Momma dance that topped 100k views on Instagram. We published beautiful gift guides focused on our brand and viewers.
Personally, we have experienced a lot of change this year. In July, Rebekah went back to work full-time after not working full-time outside of the home for nearly 4 years. In July, we also learned that we were expecting what we believed to be our last Baby El. All of the Els were over the moon excited about the baby. Sadly, we miscarried at home at 8 weeks and 4 days on August 29 after finding the baby had no heartbeat the week prior.
Rebekah’s new job has been a wonderful blessing. She is now employed at the largest Episcopal Church in North America, where she plans the contemporary worship services each week. She even gets to lead worship and sing with one of her favorite CCM artists from growing up-Wayne Watson. If you know, you know this is pretty awesome.
Bakri is 17 and applying to attend Universities majoring in Music Composition. The pandemic opened up a creative side of Bakri. He is an incredibly talented composer. We still can’t believe that college is right around the corner. He is planning to minor in piano performance.
Maddux will turn 16 this week. He has his drivers permit and will be ready for his official license in two months. We are very excited for this development. Bakri attends school downtown and hasn’t shown interest in learning to drive just yet. We are looking forward to Maddux driving the other Els around safely!
Trinity is also busy applying for schools-HIGH SCHOOLS! We don’t know how this is going to work out, so we are casting the net nice and wide and looking for the right fit. She hopes to study theatre in high school and all of the schools we are considering have top theatre programs.
Leeland is in 7th grade and seems to be really coming into his own. He has participated in football and cross country this year. He plans to tryout for the middle school baseball team after the winter break. He’s also joining a new select baseball team.
Jimmie went to preschool for the first time this November. Check out our post about the first week here. He is loving school. We are very proud of how well he has transitioned. He’s singing songs he is learning at school and he’s already made so many friends.
Moustapha and me are doing well. It’s definitely a stressful time with all of the changes. I will have some time off at the end of this year and the beginning of the new year, so I’m starting to dream and plan that. Would love your suggestions on where we should travel to. We will most likely drive, because there are 7 of us and plane trips are expensive and we need a vehicle most places we would travel to. We like the idea of taking the Els to the mountains, but neither of us have been skiing with kids, so we don’t really know what to expect or how to manage that.
As we close this update post, let me remind you of a few important philosophies we hold tight to. Take the vacation. Dream the dream. Follow your heart. Be in the photo. Life is too short to stop now. Just keep going.
Here’s the link to The Ultimate 2022 Christmas Elf Kit! Save this. And read on for more info. I found Jaime, the founder of Crafty Holiday Helper, on Instagram prior to last Christmas season. Jaime creates holiday kits to help those of us who want the cute but don’t have the time. I ordered the 2021 Christmas Elf Kit and I was hooked!
Be advised that the Elf is not included in the kit. Our elf arrived around 10 years ago and our oldest named him Alvin. I think we started with Elvin, but he’s now just Alvin. Admittedly, I was never very good at this. I would forget to move him and never had much time to come up with cute scenarios to put him in. Eventually our big Els outgrew this practice and I was honestly relieved.
Now that we have a 3 year old, I wanted to give it another go, but this time with help! The 2022 Christmas Elf Kit is very organized. There is an introduction letter for a returning elf and one for a new elf. It also includes a goodbye letter to be used just before Christmas.
Every week has a card with all of the scenes for the week pictured on it. And everything you need each week is in its own bag!
Just a note: The Elf Door is sold separately. You can add it on once you’ve put the Elf Kit in your cart. I think it’s a really cute idea to have the door so your elf can have a way to travel back and forth between your house and the North Pole each night. 😍
There are a million reasons why our fifth living child wasn’t in school already. He’s three years old. When the pandemic hit, he was attending a program where I was working at the time. He was in the baby class and doing quite well. At 9 months old, we all went home and Jimmie stayed home from that point on.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2022. All the Els are busy and out of school for the summer. Jimmie is enjoying the stay-at-home life with his siblings coming and going. Suddenly, and without much warning, Momma starts working full time outside of the home.
Jimmie did well during the remaining days of summer. He loved having his siblings take care of him and enjoyed all of the attention. By the end of the summer, we still didn’t have a school solidified for him.
When they say the years fly by, they aren’t kidding. Hard to believe this young man is now in 7th grade. We are extremely proud of you, Leeland. We are proud of the way you try new things. We are proud of how you keep going, even when experiencing adversity. We love you and have enjoyed watching you grow as a baseball player and as a person. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for your life.
Congratulations on completing 8 years of Little League play!