The birth of a healthy baby happened not once, but three times: Eli born in 2001 and twins Samuel and Jonah born in 2003. "It couldn't have happened without the help of MeritCare Reproductive Medicine," says Tammy. "Not only did we benefit from the advanced technology, but we also really appreciated a doctor and team that's caring, gentle, always available and never made you feel like you were any trouble, even when you were calling with questions at two in the morning. That's how Dr. Christensen and his staff were."
And now reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Steffen Christensen and team offer their highly specialized reproductive medicine services in a new, freestanding clinic at 1111 Harwood Dr. S., in Fargo. From its beginning in 1994 to today's specially designed, dedicated facility, reproductive medicine has grown considerably over the years, now drawing couples from throughout the tri-state area. The clinic offers comprehensive care ranging from thorough evaluations to education classes to advanced treatments, adding another piece to MeritCare's overall commitment to women's and children's services. To help celebrate the grand opening of reproductive medicine's new home, the Sorums and other special guests shared their stories of long-awaited children - and their impressions of the new clinic.
"Just for us"
Tammy reacted immediately: "It's absolutely beautiful. You walk in here and it feels like success. There's a peaceful quality, the colors are subdued, and one of the best things is it's just for us - just for couples struggling with fertility," she says. "When I was a patient at reproductive medicine (then located next to OB/GYN), I remember how difficult it was to see pregnant women waiting for their check-ups. On the flip side, when I finally became pregnant, I felt bad for the women in reproductive medicine. I knew what they were going through. I just wanted to hug them all and say, "Keep trying, you're going to get there."
For Matt and Tammy, three years of medical intervention preceded Eli. They began the process in 1998, when they met with Dr. Christensen and underwent thorough testing. Tammy was well aware of a key problem. At age 13, she suffered a ruptured appendix that left extensive scar tissue. Doctors at the time predicted she would never be able to have children, but over the years technology advanced. Dr. Christensen brought that technology closer. When initial treatments of fertility medication and intrauterine insemination failed, they proceeded to in vitro fertilization - the most advanced of the treatments available at reproductive medicine. Available at MeritCare since 1994, IVF involves putting a couple's sperm and egg together in a petri dish for fertilization, then implanting the most promising fertilized eggs (embryos) into the uterus. All three sons came from one highly successful IVF, with embryos implanted at two different times.
"I really liked Dr. Christensen's cautious, careful approach. He didn't jump to the most advanced option first, but tried less-invasive measures," says Tammy. "All along the way, he made sure we were well-informed, our questions were answered and we made decisions together. At every step, he wanted us to be comfortable with what was happening. The whole staff was just very caring, positive and kind. They became like family to us."
Growing to meet the need
The only clinic of its kind in North Dakota, MeritCare Reproductive Medicine offers the state-of-the-art technological and laboratory support needed for results. And the results are excellent, with an overall pregnancy success rate of 47 percent compared to the national rate of 30 percent. In addition, the new clinic allows for easier access to specialists, improved privacy, increased convenience and additional amenities such as extended hours, educational classes, a support group, massage therapy and acupuncture.
This summer, a second reproductive endocrinologist will join Dr. Christensen and nurse practitioner Jennifer Kringlie. Born and raised in North Dakota, Dr. Stephanie Dahl received her medical degree from University of North Dakota School of Medicine and completed her OB/GYN residency in Ann Arbor, Mich. In June, she will be completing a three-year fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at the University of Cincinnati. "I got to know Dr. Christensen when I was in medical school, during OB/GYN training at MeritCare. A wonderful teacher and a superb doctor, he has been a mentor and role model ever since," she says. "In fact, he's the one who first spoke with me about going into reproductive endocrinology, and I fell in love with the field. It's just a joy being able to help couples bring a new baby into their family - to be able to help families grow. I think it helps, too, that I'm a mother of two little boys. I understand the waiting for a baby can be very difficult and for patients dealing with fertility issues, even heart-wrenching."
Like Dr. Christensen, Dr. Dahl emphasizes a partnership with patients, listening to their concerns, addressing questions and arriving at treatment plans together. She also keeps an eye out for new treatments proven to work. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, for example, have benefited from Glucophage, a medication typically used to treat diabetes. "It's proven to be a safe medication that helps them ovulate on their own and decreases the likelihood of miscarriage," says Dr. Dahl.
Time to seek help?
If you're trying to get pregnant, but have had no success, you may wonder when to pursue specialized help. Dr. Dahl recommends:
- Women 35 and younger seek help after one year
- Women over the age of 35 seek help after six months
- Women who don't have regular menstrual cycles each month or have a history of other reproductive problems
For more information about MeritCare Reproductive Medicine, visit meritcare.com (keyword: fertility). To make an appointment, call (701) 234-2700 or (800) 437-4010.