Danielle Hall on Dark Moments Having Bright Outcomes
What was happening in your life when you decided to start your family?
When my husband and I decided to start our family, we were newly married. I was in my thirties and felt a lot of pressure to get pregnant quickly. I had relocated from New England to Ohio the previous year and was still adjusting to a new place away from the majority of my support network. Simultaneously, my job had allowed me to go from working in an office to being a remote employee, the only condition being I travelled multiple times a month to offices all over the US. My life was split into moments at home, which were quiet and solitary, and times away, which were busy and filled with people.
Tell us about your journey to motherhood.
We got pregnant naturally a few months after we started trying, only to miscarry when I was eight weeks along. That year I went on to have two more miscarriages—and more heartache than I knew what to do with. We were given a balanced translocation diagnosis, which gave us a 70% chance of miscarriage. Our RE told us IVF was our best path to having children. Unfortunately I did not respond well to treatment. We went through two different fertility clinics and protocols, neither producing viable embryos for a transfer. Our wallets and my crumpling mental state drove us to stop further rounds. I hugged my stepdaughter and focused on the happiness she brought me. My husband and I started working on a business idea I had during treatment, which eventually turned into my company, MyVitro. There was sadness and shame, but also some relief—infertility is exhausting. And then I got pregnant, the old-fashioned way. Due to our history of recurrent loss, there were more blood tests. More transvaginal ultrasounds. More anxiety. When we hit 20 weeks without a miscarriage, and our OB had answered every question that I could google on the internet, we felt hope. And at 37 weeks, we had our Leo. My path to motherhood had a lot of twist and turns, but I realized that our fertility is complex, and I was definitely not alone in having a complicated journey.
Tell us how you found out you were pregnant. We'd love details!
Because of our long journey, I took pregnancy tests for a long time, and ALL the time. I would test in the bathroom at 5am, at CVS after I bought more tests, and in hotel rooms when I travelled for work. When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was in the bathroom at my stepdaughter’s gymnastics gym. I can remember standing near the small window, straining to see the two lines, and hoping no one would come into the bathroom and catch me. We had such a history of miscarriage, so when I told my husband that afternoon, it was with cautious hope and a lot of fear.
I can remember standing near the small window, straining to see the two lines, and hoping no one would come into the bathroom and catch me.
How long did it take you to get pregnant? What did you do to increase your chances of pregnancy?
It took us two years and a few months for us to finally get and stay pregnant with my son, Leo. We were unbelievably grateful. When I first started getting pregnant and miscarrying, I switched to low impact exercise—from running to walking, from hot yoga to gentle vinyasa. I tried acupuncture and some recommended chinese herbs. Our official infertility diagnosis is a genetic balanced translocation, but my egg quality was also an issue, so when we continued to miscarry and moved on to IVF, I started taking DHA.
How did you care for your body while pregnant?
Daily walks were a must, partially for the low impact exercise and partially to balance the amount of sitting I did in a day. I continued doing yoga throughout my pregnancy, and I credit this with not only feeling strong going into labor, but feeling mentally prepared. I took daily prenatals and probiotics, and I ate a lot of red meat and iron-rich foods because I was borderline anemic.
What was your favorite part of pregnancy? Least favorite part?
I loved being pregnant. After struggling with miscarriages and infertility, it felt like my body was finally doing something RIGHT. A lot of us who struggle with recurrent pregnancy loss and infertility end up feeling angry with our bodies, and it felt good to feel so positive towards it after a long road. Towards the end of my third trimester, my blood pressure started to increase at every check-up. My OBGYN told me to slow down, sit more, work less. I resented it and felt frustrated. Pregnancy causes profound changes in your body, and while I loved it, I don’t think I totally grasped the accommodations I needed to make in my lifestyle to stay healthy.
How did your experience with IVF inspire you to found MyVitro?
After our first round of IVF failed, and in the middle of my second round, I got mad that I had spent thousands of dollars on expensive fertility medications, yet I couldn’t buy a single product dedicated to help me organize them. Through some extensive searching, I found some industrious women putting together DIY setups to organize their meds, but I found that challenging when already physically and emotionally exhausted. A lot of people keep their fertility treatment a secret due to the shame and stigma tied to infertility. Subsequently, this created a huge gap in the tools and support needed for those going through IVF. I knew I needed to do something about it, so I left my software career in Silicon Valley and took the leap to start my own company, MyVitro, helping others take control of their fertility injections and medications—something I wish I had access to during the IVF process.
What stigma(s) in women’s health do you wish to lift the veil on?
There is a sense of shame and social stigma still attached to infertility and fertility treatment. People keep their struggles to grow their family a secret, and I hope that our business is doing a tiny part in changing that. There is something fundamentally gratifying about searching for a speciality product—like organizers for IVF medications—and not only finding them, but finding a community of other people happily using them and sharing their best practices. It normalizes the experience and helps you feel less alone.
How do you think about doing your best work while being a parent? Has that understanding shifted over time?
The act of having a child inspired me to start my own business, and the raising of him has further cemented my commitment to working on something I truly am passionate about.
Is there a larger vision that keeps you going even when your motivation is down?
At MyVitro, we get comments and reviews from customers who are thanking us for giving them a sense of control at a time when they don’t have any.
IVF is not only a medical procedure, but an emotional rollercoaster, and knowing our products help people feel a little bit better during that time gets me out of bed every day.
We believe fed is best, but if you did breastfeed, tell us about your experience breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is wonderful, hard work. I breastfed my son for a year, and I credit my ability to do it to my unique home and work situation. Many women stop breastfeeding when they return to work because it is logistically complicated—like making sure your employer provides you with proper breaks, a private space to pump, and the ability to refrigerate milk. My husband stayed home with my son, and at the time, I worked from home, so “going back to work” meant spending time down the hall in my office instead of in the living room. I could pump whenever I needed to, in perfect privacy at my desk, on a conference call, or while eating lunch. Some days I was able to nurse my son during the day. I know this is not a common scenario for most working women, and I was very grateful that our situation made it convenient to keep breastfeeding.
I did travel out of state regularly, which was its own unique challenge. We relied on several different solutions. When my son was very young, he (and my husband) joined me on work trips. As he got older, I would pump and bring milk back home, or ship it using a service like Milk Stork. As he got even older and my trips became longer, we supplemented with formula. He weaned himself at a year, far more eager to eat oatmeal or sweet potatoes than he was to nurse.
What is your favorite Natalist product?
Natalist products weren’t available yet during my pregnancy journey, but if they were, I would absolutely have had the bulk pregnancy tests delivered to my door. Whether I was trying to get pregnant, actually pregnant, experiencing a miscarriage, or undergoing fertility treatment, all of those instances warranted pregnancy tests. I carried them around like tampons or chewing gum!
The first year we tried to get pregnant I had three miscarriages and probably went through 100 pregnancy tests. Every month I obsessively tested five days before my period. The times when I got pregnant, I would take daily tests, afraid if the line seemed lighter than before it would mean I was miscarrying again. When we did IVF, I still needed a pregnancy test to confirm I had taken my trigger shot correctly (not that I was pregnant), a key step in the IVF process.
I hated buying pregnancy tests because I was petrified that the cashier might kindly say, “Congratulations,” or give me a knowing smile. I was afraid I would burst into tears. Those were the times I wish I could buy them in bulk. Or have them delivered to my house, to avoid the potentially catastrophic kindness of a friendly sales clerk.
What advice do you have for other aspiring mamas?
Motherhood will change you, but so will the journey to get there.
For some, the journey will be quick, and for others, it will be long (and arduous), but no matter the path, it is almost as transformative as the result of having a child. Some of the darkest moments in our journey had some of the brightest outcomes. At a dark point during IVF, I had the idea for my company, and at a point when I had lost all hope, we ended up getting pregnant with my son. Keep moving forward. Even if it’s hard, even if you aren’t sure of the outcome, keep moving forward. It will get better.