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Helping Hands

Life as a mother of seven kids between the ages of 17 and 8 certainly gets hectic, to say the least, but Susanna Gedaro isn’t one to complain. Considering what she went through on the road to parenthood, she makes it a point to appreciate all of the highs and lows that come with the role.

Gedaro suffered through multiple miscarriages—the first of which came very late in her pregnancy during the second trimester—and years of failed fertility treatments. Naturally, there were multiple points when she wondered if becoming a mom was even in her future.

“When you’re in your 20s or early 30s as a woman, it seems like everyone you know is pregnant and you get invited to so many baby showers,” she says. “If you’ve had a bunch of miscarriages or even if you just can’t get pregnant, it is extremely difficult and extremely painful when it feels like the rest of the world can get pregnant and stay pregnant except for you. … You feel like a failure as a woman, you feel like a failure as a wife sometimes. It’s just heartbreaking.”

Although infertility is a very common problem, affecting one in eight couples in the United States, it is also a misunderstood one, which is why it is so important to Gedaro to help others experiencing the same issues. She is the peer group leader for the Central Florida chapter of Resolve: The National Infertility Association, a 501(c)3 that provides access to reproductive endocrinologists, advocates for insurance coverage of family-building options and looks to raise awareness and education.

Gedaro first became involved with Resolve while attending a support group meeting in the area. After her own journey had a happy ending—she gave birth to her oldest child and had six more children through gestational surrogacy—she remained close to the nonprofit and eventually rose to a leadership position. For more than a decade she has been organizing meetings, first in person and then virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic, to guide people experiencing infertility through the emotional impact while also providing practical tips like how to get the best deals on medication, since reproductive endocrinology is so expensive. 

She also aims to raise awareness of infertility being a medical issue and not a character flaw that can be cured with a vacation. “If you told someone you had diabetes, no one would ever say in a million years, ‘Just go on vacation, you don’t need a doctor, it will just cure itself,’” she says. “But with infertility, people say that kind of stuff all the time and it’s just dead wrong.”

Baby feet in mother hands. Mom and her Child. Happy Family concept. Beautiful conceptual image of Maternity

Resolve meetings are free to attend and are open to those experiencing infertility along with partners as well as parents, siblings or friends. All orientations and religions are welcome, and for those seeking to begin or continue treatment, the organization has strong ties to reproductive endocrinologists throughout the region. Those who choose to live childfree are equally supported.

Gedaro, who also owns a surrogacy agency, Special Deliveries LLC, with one of her former gestational carriers, explains that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to infertility.

“Surrogacy is not for everyone, IVF (in vitro fertilization) is not for everyone and adoption is not for everyone,” she says. “For me personally, surrogacy is what worked. I didn’t set out to have seven children but now that I’m here, I couldn’t imagine life any different and I wouldn’t want any fewer children.

“I gave birth to my oldest and the rest I did not give birth to, and I’ve been asked before if I feel any differently about them. The answer is absolutely not. What makes a parent is not a pregnancy and it’s not biology. Parents are the people who teach them how to ride a bike, who make their favorite cookie, who clean up vomit off the sheets at 3 a.m. So the one thing I tell people is, if and when you choose to be a parent, whether it happens the way you expected it to happen or it doesn’t, you will not be any less of a parent and you will not feel any differently.”

The good news for anyone experiencing infertility is that there are more options today than ever before and extensive research has led to major advancements in the field, including IVF with single-embryo transfer to reduce multiple births and the complications that come along with them. The future is sure to hold even more exciting developments.

“Artificial intelligence is being applied in the laboratory to provide knowledge as to which is the best embryo to transfer. That is the holy grail of our field,” says Dr. Mark Trolice of The IVF Center in Winter Park. “We need three things to be successful: a good lining of the uterus, which is the endometrium, a good embryo transfer and of course, a good embryo.”

Dr. George Patounakis of Reproductive Medicine Associates Florida in Lake Mary has seen public perception start to change in terms of thinking that infertility is always a female issue, when in fact it is a male issue around 50% of the time.

“If there’s anything that drives me crazy, it’s when the woman comes in and does all the testing but you can’t get her partner in here to do his part,” he says. “Much of the time there is a male component, so without having that we don’t have a complete picture, and if we don’t have a complete picture then we can’t really help people as well. So it’s ever so important to get the male side as well.”

The impact of COVID-19 on fertility has also been a hot-button issue. Dr. Julio Pabon, president of the Florida Society of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (FSREI), points to a study out of Scotland by Dr. Sarah Stock and her team that tracked 144,546 pregnancies in 130,875 women. “They report an increased risk of developing severe disease in unvaccinated women and they were more likely to have a stillbirth and/or early baby deaths if they were not vaccinated and contracted COVID during pregnancy,” he says.

For that reason, he adds, the FSREI, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American College of OB/GYN, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control all recommend vaccination for anyone who is planning to get pregnant or is already pregnant. Trolice and Patounakis are both in agreement.

“There is no reason not to get vaccinated,” Patounakis concludes. “As far as we can tell—and we have plenty of information on it, given how many people have been vaccinated—we don’t see any adverse effects. It’s good to be vaccinated during pregnancy because we do know that during pregnancy, a woman who gets COVID is going to be at a much higher risk for complications. I can tell you personally, both of my daughters, who are young, got vaccinated, so that’s how much I completely support getting the vaccine. I have no doubt that the benefits outweigh any potential risks people think it might have.”