Why this Wisconsin mom is grateful for IVF

Chris and Rachel Hahn live in Elk Mound with their three children, Camden, Natalie, and Kennedy. Photo courtesy Painted Iris Photography

By Salina Heller

April 10, 2024

In February, when the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are legally children, a precedent was set—putting at risk every American’s access to the fertility treatments that could help them start a family.

When Rachel Hahn was growing up in Farmington, MN, she had some dreams. “I wanted to work with kids, I wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to be a mom,” Rachel said.

Rachel, now living in Elk Mound, was able to achieve a couple of those things handily, but the third would prove to be surprisingly more challenging.

“I have a condition called PCOSpolycystic ovary syndrome,” Rachel explained. “I did not know I had that until we had been trying to have a baby on our own for two years.”

Time for medical intervention

PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, and it affects between 6% and 12% of women of reproductive age in the US. Rachel, an Elk Mound High and Middle School teacher, and her husband, Chris, the Elk Mound Middle School principal, knew they had to turn to doctors for help if they wanted to fulfill their dream of having a family.

“For a while there, it was really hard not knowing if that would happen,” Rachel said. “You have your life kind of mapped out in some way, shape, or form, and it just doesn’t always go that way.”

For three years, Rachel took a host of pills in order to increase fertility. She became pregnant, under what they learned later were miraculous conditions, and her son Camden was born. “They said it was a one-in-a-million chance of happening,” she said.

When Camden was about one, the Dunn County couple decided it was time to regroup and determine if they could add to their family of three. It was then that doctors introduced the idea of in vitro fertilization (IVF) for better odds of success.

Why this Wisconsin mom is grateful for IVF

Photo courtesy Painted Iris Photography

Understanding IVF and its role

IVF is defined as a procedure in which eggs are removed from a woman’s ovary and combined with sperm in a petri dish to form embryos. The embryos are grown in a lab for several days and then either placed in a woman’s uterus or cryopreserved (frozen) for future use.

The Wisconsin Fertility Institute in Middleton is one of the leading fertility centers in the state. With the staff’s dedication and expertise, families have been able to welcome more than 5,000 babies into the world since the clinic’s opening in 2007.

“We have about 3,000 people come through each year,” Dr. Elizabeth Pritts, the clinic’s co-founder and medical director said. “Not all of them undergo in vitro fertilization, but they have varying levels of treatment.”

“IVF is the most aggressive treatment and it’s pretty invasive, but any one of my patients who have gone through it tell me it’s worth it. Even if they don’t grow their families, they’re happy they get the chance to try.”

Pritts has been in the practice of fertility for 26 years. When she talks about the possibility of helping to make families feel whole, she beams with pride, responsibilty, and empathy.

“For many people, it’s something they’ve longed for for their entire lives, so it’s very emotional,” she said.

In Wisconsin, there are more than 172,000 women struggling with infertility.

Why this Wisconsin mom is grateful for IVF

Dr. Elizabeth Pritts is the medical director and founder of the Wisconsin Fertility Institute, which provides care and services for people with infertility.
Photo courtesy Wisconsin Fertility Institute


Ramifications of the Dobbs decision

Wisconsin US Sen. Tammy Baldwin and her Democratic colleagues have sounded an alarm about the future of IVF. Baldwin traces a February 16 Alabama Supreme Court decision—ruling frozen embryos to be children—directly to the US Supreme Court’s decision less than two years ago in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended the constitutional right to abortion care.

“When Dobbs was decided, millions of women were stripped of their reproductive rights,” Baldwin said. “At that time Republicans said we were being alarmist when we said the ramifications of this decision would go far beyond abortion care.”

“They said we were being dramatic when we raised that birth control might be on the chopping block. They said that we were overreacting when I fought to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to protect same-sex and interracial couples,” Baldwin added. “And they said that we had nothing to worry about when we insisted the right to IVF was in jeopardy.”

That’s why she and others introduced legislation in February that would protect everyone’s right to access IVF. And she called on Republicans to do the same and do more than express verbal support for IVF.

I know where I stand,” Baldwin asserted. “I support women’s and families’ rights to control their destiny without interference from the government or politicians.”

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has said he fully supports IVF, but a spokesperson said Johnson would not support the bill to federally protect the procedure because he believes it’s government overreach and lacks religious exemptions.

The bill remains caught up in the Senate.

The journey to complete a family

The IVF journey of Chris and Rachel Hahn led them through western Wisconsin and into Rochester, MN, to Mayo Clinic’s Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility where they received treatments. The more than two-hour drive from their home in Elk Mound to the clinic left them much time to think.

“Our experience has created a sense of empathy for families struggling,” Rachel said.

“We were lucky to have a good support system. We were lucky to pursue an option like IVF. We would not be able to get pregnant on our own.”

Through IVF, the Hahns were able to receive answers about health conditions that others are left to wonder about—cases that are simply put in the “unexplained” category. Rachel said that’s another reason the opportunity for IVF for those experiencing infertility is essential.

“Through IVF, we were identified as ‘also having a fertilization problem that could ONLY be identified as a result of IVF procedures,’” Rachel said.

“Our doctors would never have been able to explain why the less-invasive methods of treating PCOS infertility, that typically work for many couples, were not working for us.”

After identifying that issue, doctors then revelled at Camden’s birth and told the couple it was remarkable—“one-in-a-million.”

In vitro success

Why this Wisconsin mom is grateful for IVF

Photo courtesy Painted Iris Photography

For the Hahns, the daunting and sometimes grueling process of IVF began in 2015 and continued for six years. While receiving fertility care took an emotional and financial toll, there were victories.

We got pregnant with our secondour daughter, who is four now,” Rachel said. “She was born in 2019. Her embryo was from 2016, so it took three years for us to have success.”

Then they gave themselves a little timea year. And with one embryo left, they tried again.

“We had our last transfer in February, 2021,” Rachel laid out.

Through that time I had three retrievalsit’s a surgical procedure, and I had eight transfers frozen embryo transfers. Out of those eight we had two successful and we also had one that ended in miscarriage.”

Two-year-old Kennedy rounds out the blonde, hazel and blue-eyed trio of beautiful children, joining Natalie and Camden. The Hahn family was complete.

The future for families

Dr. Pritts said it took her years to set up an IVF laboratory—and there aren’t enough clinics in Wisconsin to keep up with demand.

“We will never capture the entire population of people that need fertility treatment,” she said.

And with her phones ringing off the hook with people worried about the future of IVF and fertility treatments, she said it’s scary.

“I’m frightened for fertility care in the United States because of what’s been going on,” Pritts said.If this continues in our country, I’m sure IVF could potentially go away which means the families I’ve spent my life working with that longed to be moms and dads may never get to experience what people in the past got to experience with IVF.”

She said she’s hopeful more people speak out so IVF can continue.

The Hahns, with their three kids, will continue to tell their story.

They are our world and we are so grateful for them and such blessings,” Rachel Hahn said. “Had we not done IVF, we wouldn’t have them.”

Why this Wisconsin mom is grateful for IVF

Photo courtesy Painted Iris Photography

Author

  • Salina Heller

    A former 15-year veteran of reporting local news for western Wisconsin TV and radio stations, Salina Heller also volunteers in community theater, helps organize the Chippewa Valley Air Show, and is kept busy by her daughter’s elementary school PTA meetings. She is a UW-Eau Claire alum.

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