Hear Me Roar
May 2021 Issue
Photos provided by Nikki Shepperd
Husband: Charlie Shepperd
Hometown: Beaufort, SC
Current residence: Virginia Beach, VA
This month, our theme is #MamaBear. You are currently on a tough journey trying to become a mama bear, as you wrap up your first In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment. Why have you decided to share your IVF journey?
Infertility affects so many people. One in eight couples experience infertility, which means someone in your life has struggled, and you may or may not be aware. By speaking out, I hope I can make a difference with infertility awareness, somehow, some way. Whether the difference is in helping someone not feel alone during their own infertility struggles, or just putting information out that can help people understand infertility a bit more. Either way, in my heart it feels right, and I actually feel lighter in speaking my truth and sharing this very personal experience.
How did this all begin?
As a naïve, newly-ish married couple, who had rarely heard of reproductive issues, we assumed starting a family would be as easy as one, two, three… out pops a baby. About a year and a half into trying to conceive, we learned what others make look so easy, may not be the case for us. The world started to stand still for us, as it kept turning for others. We watched couples start their families and have their last child, all during our time of trying to just have one. In late 2019, we decided to talk to my gynecologist about testing for infertility. After she concluded we may have unexplained infertility, she referred us to the Jones Institute for Infertility at the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk. I’ll never forget walking through those doors and realizing the “fun” of trying to start a family will never be, and that it was time to buckle down and commit to whatever the doctors deem necessary just for us to have a fighting chance.
This adventure has been three years in the making. What are some important things you’ve learned on this journey?
I’ve learned how much of a miracle it is to get pregnant—with or without infertility issues. Women in their 20s have approximately a one in four chance of getting pregnant each month, and women in their 30s have approximately a one in ten chance. Those odds put into perspective how difficult this journey can be, but there is still a chance for us. Another big realization came regarding denial. I had no idea I was in denial about our struggles in starting a family. I, as the woman, had the responsibility to know my body, track my ovulation, understand my basal body temperature, etc. To say I was overwhelmed, unprepared and completely shocked as to what all went into this “trying to conceive” ordeal was the understatement of the year! All of that, combined with months quickly passing us by, I went into complete denial and shock that this was our life—our new reality. Because of that, I lost valuable time; anyone going through infertility struggles knows time is precious, and there is hardly any time to take a pause.
What are your thoughts on the big stigma surrounding women’s infertility issues?
For three years I felt like I harbored a dirty little secret—a burdening secret. A secret that caused a lot of shame, loneliness and tears. This secret made me feel like less of a woman. This secret made me feel I was letting my husband down. Questions would echo in my mind: What’s wrong with ME? Why does it seem like everyone else can have children, BUT ME? What did I do to deserve this?
The stigma can be crippling, practically causing a ripple effect to be counterproductive to reproduction. It adds stress, fear, embarrassment, and it may be because no one really wants to speak about it. Only the “perfect” stuff is posted on social media, which immediately creates more feelings of inadequacy because when you’re struggling to conceive, you don’t feel anywhere near perfect; you feel flawed. No one wants to see some sad, infertile woman professing her woes online. But is that such a bad thing? Is it bad to raise awareness of infertility or miscarriages? Can opening up to others start to clear this stigma surrounding infertility?
When I came clean regarding our struggles, the most amazing men and women reached out. I realized I wasn’t alone. Sure, some of these people aren’t ready to share their own stories, but they’re everywhere. It’s the man trying to rush home after work to give his wife a shot. It’s the woman walking in the park who stares a little too long at your baby because her sixth Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) was unsuccessful, and she wonders what’s next. It’s the couple embracing each other on the sidewalk with tears in their eyes because they had a miscarriage. This is everywhere, and it’s time to start understanding it. Infertility is an arduous struggle. I grieved the woman I once was. I grieve the innocence of a marriage that didn’t have to think about what life would be like without children. This isn’t a life chosen. This is a longer road to parenthood, and though it’s tough, it’s not impossible.
In 2020, you had many unsuccessful rounds of infertility treatments.
How do you keep up your hopes?
My husband and I underwent 10 back-to-back medicated infertility treatments in 2020, four of which were IUI. Our procedures and treatments began on January 2, and wrapped up on December 31. It consumed almost every day of every month of the year. Looking back on those unsuccessful treatments, the determination to make my husband a father and myself a mother kept me going. However, when you’re knee-deep in treatments, and month after month there is no faint line of success, it consumes who you are and makes you question everything. Pair it with weight gain, hair loss and tons of hormones, and you practically have the perfect storm overtaking you. But somewhere within your heart and soul, determination kicks in, and you push through after that obligatory glass or two of wine when “Aunt Flow” arrives, and you start preparing for the next round of treatment… because this too shall pass, right?
Your hubby sounds like your perfect soul mate.
How did you meet your happily-ever-after?
I’m not sure if there’s enough room for all I can say about my husband, Charlie. He and I met playing intramural softball on Parris Island. I played second base; he played shortstop. It wasn’t love at first sight, but my dad, Chuck Lather, predicted we would be together. He reminded us of that during his Father-of-the-Bride speech at our wedding on March 18, 2017. Charlie is a 2011 Naval Academy Graduate and currently serves as the Assistant Public Works Officer on Norfolk Naval Station, the largest Naval base in the world. When he isn’t working, he’s golfing, and he’s pretty great at it, too. Charlie has been an integral part of me getting through myriad shots, the tears and the constant feelings of despair. His supportive role is far from easy. Sure, he gets to play doctor, but he also has more patience than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s a loving and caring man, and I thank God every night for blessing my life with him.
What are some words of advice for those who are going through the same thing or considering IVF?
First off, let’s start with the male perspective… Charlie’s words of wisdom: “Have patience. And know that it’s nothing you did, and it’s not your fault.” (He’s a smart man, Ladies!) Secondly (back to Nikki’s perspective), find your team in addition to your partner—a therapist, an infertility support group, infertility Facebook groups, family, friends, etc. Find people who will support you during this journey. You don’t have to navigate it alone and you SHOULDN’T! Your partner does everything he can to support you, but it’s going to take a team to help you through, especially when you feel like giving up, or when those hormones kick in! Lastly, if you or someone you know is going through IVF, check out the book, Underwear in My Shoe by Brett Russo. You’ll definitely laugh and cry, but wow, it’s a great read!
You technically are already a mama bear!
Tell us about your fur babies:
Ahh, my sweet spot! Dallas Lynn Shepperd is our 11-year-old Tabby we adopted from Petsmart in Beaufort. She’s spunky, super-fast and loves to sleep above my head at night. Roscoe Jenkins Shepperd is a 10-year-old rescue that was abused as a kitten. He came to me covered in fleas and full of fear. He’s the most handsome cat I’ve ever seen—a long haired tuxedo with a white mustache. He likes to be carried over our shoulders when he’s feeling needy. Sullivan B. Shepperd is our 2-year-old retriever mix, a rescue pup from Virginia Beach SPCA. He was rescued initially by PETA from less-than-ideal living conditions and brought in to the shelter with his 13 other “siblings”. When I laid eyes on him, I knew he’d be our pup. Fun fact about Sullivan: He was a contender for the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl. We also have an incredibly special angel pup, Bodie, that passed away two years ago from Canine Lymphoma, and his memory lives on in our hearts.
You began your first InVitro Fertilization (IVF) cycle in 2021. Any news?
This year kicked off going to therapy sessions and infertility support meetings, eating clean, cutting back on caffeine and wine, starting a work out program and going to weekly acupuncture visits all to gear up for the Big-Kahuna-InVitro-Fertilization! I started two weeks of birth control on February 2, to allow the doctor to control the timing of my cycle. Once that was finished, we began the stimulating medication (four different meds in total) for 11 days to stimulate the ovaries to produce follicles, which are tiny sacs that house the eggs. Most of the shots went into my belly, and then two days before the egg retrieval, the trigger is injected into the butt muscle to trigger the ovary to mature and release the eggs for the retrieval. Prior to the retrieval, they counted 23 follicles, and they were able to retrieve 15 eggs. Of those 15 eggs, 11 were mature enough to be fertilized, and thankfully, we had a 100 percent fertilization rate. Over the days of monitoring, our embryos appeared to grow too quickly, and by the end of the week, only two made it to the Blastocyst stage, where they were ready to be frozen, after a biopsy was taken of each and sent for genetic testing. When the genetic tests came back, only one was genetically approved to be transferred. Our transfer was April 5. And we’re awaiting tests to come back if our first round of IVF was a success. Regardless of the results, we know we gave 100 percent to make this work, and this is the closest we’ve ever been to becoming parents, and it feels good!
You grew up in the Lowcountry and life has taken you to Virginia, what are a couple things you miss about Beaufort?
No. 1: I miss my family and friends—my mom, Sheri Lather, is my best friend, and I miss her dearly, along with my dad, my grandma Beverly Garrett and, of course, my adorable, fast-growing nieces and nephews: Marley, Lexi, Ava, Wyatt, Layla, Nico and Shawna. We typically have large, chaotic family gatherings to celebrate holidays and birthdays, and I miss that, too. No. 2: I miss Alvin Ord’s Sandwich Shop—Turkey Club on French. No tomato, mayo, onion… add black olives. With a pink lemonade, YUM!
Outside of your #makingbabyshepperd, what are you currently roaring about?
I love animals! Prior to the pandemic, I worked as the events and sales manager for Virginia Beach SPCA. I’d love to get back into the animal welfare community! I still dabble in the occasional rescue of animals when the opportunity presents itself.
Note: Just a day before press we found out Nikki and Charlie’s IVF was unsuccessful. Please pray for this beautiful couple as they continue their next IVF journey.