Parents Talk Back

Parents Talk Back: Celebrating the baby that Facebook made

February 24, 2014 

Jen Popps changed into her depression clothes and sunk into the couch.

She prepared herself for the call from the nurse. It was never what they wanted to hear, and she had already started spotting.

She and her husband, Chris, had been trying to get pregnant for six years. They had done nine rounds of fertility drugs, nine rounds of intrauterine insemination – a less-invasive treatment that uses a catheter to put sperm directly into the uterus when a woman is ovulating – and one round of IVF.

The Popps had only been able to afford that costly treatment because of an inheritance Jen’s grandfather had recently left for her.

“You try to be hopeful, but you also don’t want to get your hopes up only to have them dashed every time,” she said. “The more times we did it, the less optimistic we were each time.”

Jen, 33, works as social worker for a rehab and therapy program in St. Louis, and Chris had worked in IT before he lost his job. They had spent about $13,000 on that IVF chance, and then Jen had started spotting.

No baby.

Again.

Their official diagnosis was “unexplained infertility.”

“We didn’t have any resources to try again,” Chris said. It was a difficult time. They were heartbroken and started drifting apart.

“Sex stops becoming an intimate thing, and it becomes like a medical procedure,” he said.

They decided to take a break and focus on their relationship. About six months later, a friend of Jen’s emailed her a link to the Las Vegas-based Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine (SIRM), which was running a national contest to give away free IVF cycles. The institute has eight locations, including one in St. Louis.

Jen forwarded the link to her husband and added a note: Let me know what you think. No pressure.

“I didn’t know if I could handle it,” Chris said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to go down this road again.” He thought about it and called her at work.

“I think we should do it.”

Each couple had to submit a video about their story, which would be posted on Facebook. The 10 highest vote-getters would be considered by a panel of judges, and the winners picked from among them. The Popps worked together on their video, highlighting their deep friendship and how much they adored their nieces.

Once it was posted, it was on.

Jen went into full campaign mode. She posted the video and a plea for votes a couple of times a day on her page. She sent email blasts to her friends and families who were not on Facebook. Their video touched a nerve.

Her co-workers printed fliers and posted them all over the office, reminding people to vote frequently. One friend drove to every nearby McDonald’s and Starbucks to vote from as many different IP addresses as possible. The Popps went on a local radio station to talk about their struggles with infertility and ask for votes. They would switch their phones in and out of airplane mode to pick up a new IP address and vote for two-hour stretches.

“We had this army of people to help us,” Jen said.

They made the top 10. The day SIRM posted the winners, she and her co-worker kept refreshing the page on her computer. One name popped up. It wasn’t them.

She kept refreshing.

And then their video showed up. The institute, which has given away more than 100 free cycles in the past, decided to pick three winners in this round.

“We went wild,” Jen said.

Early last year, they had their consultation with Dr. Geoffrey Sher, executive medical director at SIRM, and decided to begin their free IVF cycle in April. Their doctor implanted two embryos on May 7. Ten days later, they would get back the blood-work results.

That morning, Jen started spotting at work. They had been down this road before. She emailed her mother: I don’t think it’s going to be good news. She came home from work. She and Chris laid on the couch together and cried for a couple of hours.

Finally the nurse called.

“Congratulations. You’re pregnant.”

“Are you **** kidding me? Oh my gosh, I’m sorry I just cursed at you. I don’t know what happened.”

They posted the news on Facebook right away. So many people had been hoping and praying for them.

They stayed optimistically cautious for months. When they saw the ultrasound showing that they were expecting a boy, it began to feel more real. Around six months, they began to work on the nursery.

Late last month, Jen was induced on a Monday. On Wednesday, Leo Christopher Popp finally arrived.

His parents were very quiet. There were so many emotions.

This day had been so long in the making.

“I can’t believe he’s here, and I can’t believe we get to take him home,” Jen said. “This is real.”

Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. On Twitter: @AishaS.

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