The Marion couple is grateful to God for answering their many prayers, and to the medical team at the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Wichita for being the agent of their miracle.
“The birth of a child, it’s not an easy thing for everybody,” Natalie said. “Some people take it for granted.”
The Hoffmans probably were among those people when they were married in August 2000. They knew from the start they both wanted children someday—but not right away.
“Natalie and I are planners,” Nathan said. “We figured after we’ve gotten a few things taken care of financially and were at a certain point in the game, we’d start having kids.”
“My parents had me right out of high school,” Natalie added. “I know they struggled the whole time my brother and I were growing up. I married right out of high school. I didn’t want to have kids right away, so we made sure of that.”
Five years after the wedding, the couple decided the timing was right to enlarge the family.
About eight months later, in 2006, Natalie became pregnant, and it appeared their plan was moving forward.
“But we miscarried a couple of months after I got pregnant, and we weren’t able to get pregnant again,” she said.
On the advice of her obstetrician, Natalie began taking Clomid, a common fertility drug—but without the desired results.
“My OB said just relax and give it time,” Natalie said. “Everybody says that—‘you’re stressed out.’ But I said, I don’t think we’re trying that hard. Something’s not right.”
At that point, her doctor suggested the Center for Reproductive Medicine.
“I was sitting there in the room with him and he said, ‘They can get that door over there pregnant’—and he pointed to the door in the exam room,” she recalled with a laugh.
The couple discussed that option, but were hesitant because of the cost. In the meantime, Natalie continued to try a variety of fertility options, but to no avail.
“We’ve done everything,” she said. “Finally, after just kind of waiting and letting things take their own course, we finally decided to have a consultation.”
Trying the options
Her physician at the center first put Natalie on hormone injections with the intent of trying artificial insemination.
“We tried that four different times and it didn’t work,” she said.
In the meantime, Natalie visited a kinesiologist. For the next three months or so she followed his regimen.
“It’s kind of hard to explain what they do,” Natalie said. “They try to get your body back in line—total body health. They have a supplement that might help the heart, another supplement that might help reproduction. I had the whole gamut.
“We tried that for several months and it didn’t help.”
In 2010, the couple considered foster care or adoption as a way to expand their family. They took the required classes for certification and tested foster care a few times by baby-sitting a pair of foster children from another family in Marion.
“It kind of opened our minds to the idea that maybe we weren’t going to have kids (by natural means), but there are other options,” Natalie said.
When the foster children were adopted by their grandmother, the Hoffmans reconsidered their options one more time.
“I was bound and determined that I was going to do everything possible to have my own child, that we would exhaust every means that way before we would adopt,” Nathan said.
“It kind of made us decide to consider the idea of in vitro,” Natalie added. “It was so expensive—we just had a hard time deciding.”
The couple finally decided to move ahead, even with a price tag of around $16,000.
“The thinking was, it’s only money,” Nathan said. “Say it does work—who cares what it costs? It’ll be worth it.”
The IVF process
The Hoffmans began the IVF process in March 2011 when Natalie underwent a series of tests and screenings. In May, she required a preliminary surgery to remove some polyps in her uterus.
Once recovered, Natalie began taking over-the-counter supplements in June. The next month, she started giving herself hormone injections.
The latter was no small feat.
“Before this fertility stuff happened, I almost passed out every time I’d get shots,” she said with a laugh.
“She definitely got tougher,” Nathan added.
The Hoffmans were told their reproductive problem was that the hormones in Natalie’s system weren’t adequate to produce mature eggs.
“They had to pump me full of drugs to get me to even produce the eggs,” she said.
The preparation process for in vitro was exacting, and Natalie’s medication routine was strictly regulated.
“I had to take the medicine at a certain time, I had to give myself a specific amount of medication,” she said. “If any little thing in this whole process was off, you could botch the whole cycle and you couldn’t try again for three months.”
In the meantime, the couple made trips to the center every few days for a sonogram.
“They do sonograms to see how the eggs are producing,” Natalie said. “Once they got to a certain size where they were mature enough, and you have plenty of them, then they scheduled the date where I went in and they harvested them.”
For the Hoffmans, “harvest” arrived July 19. Seven mature eggs were removed. That same day, sperm from Nathan was injected directly into the eggs in a procedure called ICSI, or intra-cytoplasmatic sperm injection.
“This was the day of conception,” Natalie said. “We had seven embryos and used one for Austin. We have six more frozen, or cryopreserved, waiting for the next time we want to get pregnant.”
For the next five days, doctors monitored the embryos, watching to see how the cells divided. If defects would appear, the embryo could be eliminated.
“There are some parts of the process where it’s like, man, should we really be doing this?” Nathan said. “For me, it’s borderline messing with Mother Nature.”
But the couple concluded that the God who works through natural means of reproduction also is the source of the knowledge doctors acquire to provide human assistance when nature falls short.
On July 24, doctors placed one of the embryos in Natalie’s uterus. Two weeks later, it was confirmed: she was pregnant.
“There’s a lot of tears through this process, I can tell you that,” Natalie said about their reaction.
For the next 10 weeks, Natalie continued hormone injections in an effort to prevent an early miscarriage.
“For the first 12 weeks, we were on pins and needles, hoping it would work out,” she said.
But with time, their confidence grew.
“It’s pretty interesting to be pregnant,” Natalie said. “It’s so wild. Your body is changing and growing, this little thing starts moving inside of you and kicking you. It’s pretty incredible.”
The couple decided not to have doctors tell them the sex of the fetus.
“We didn’t care what we had as long as it was healthy,” Nathan said. “Knowing her and me, we probably would want to know. But going through this whole process, we were just happy we were finally pregnant.”
Austin Jentry arrived April 17, one week overdue—but in grand style at a substantial 9 pounds, 13 ounces.
“All I saw was that he was a boy,” Nathan said of the moment. “But the nurses were like hysterical, ‘Wow, he’s so big.’”
Advice for others
Now happily raising their son, the Hoffmans want to encourage couples who may be struggling with reproduction.
“I would say don’t give up, and check your options,” Natalie said. “Obviously, (in vitro) was expensive, but a lot of couples become pregnant through other means, like artificial insemination.
“One of the things I remember Nathan telling me is what his Grandpa Brookens always said: ‘Don’t ever give up.’”
Another word of advice for struggling couples: Find a support group. For the Hoffmans, their family, church family and close friends made all the difference.
“As soon as we knew we were going in for in vitro, we got on the prayer chain at church and had a bunch of prayer warriors just praying like crazy—and the whole time we were pregnant until (Austin) got here,” Natalie said.
For people who know someone who is struggling with fertility, the Hoffmans offer a word of caution: Be sensitive to the emotional pain the couple may be enduring; unless you have a close relationship with them, don’t ask about it.
“People should be careful because you never know what somebody’s situation is,” Natalie said. “Even though nobody meant it that way, it hurt every time somebody would ask, ‘Well, why don’t you two have any kids by now?’
“I felt bad,” she said about those years. “I wanted kids, knowing I married someone who wanted kids. But I couldn’t have kids.
“I kind of felt like I would have never put (Nathan) in this situation if I would have known. I guess I would have stayed alone or found somebody who didn’t want kids. I just felt really bad.
“But it wasn’t a deal-breaker for him—he loved me.”