Boots and Bears » Blog

From the beginning…


In 2012, Steve and I took our most memorable trip to date. We sailed around Capri, we biked through Lucca, we drank wine in Tuscany, we prayed at the Vatican. It truly was the type of experience dreams are made of. It was also the place that I shared my truest desire with him. We were huddled around a teeny tiny table in Florence, drinking foreign beers and people watching when I burst into tears and blurted it out, I’m ready to start a family. I recall the moment so vividly because I remember thinking, I’ve never been happier. The only thing that could top this moment is if we had a child of our very own. And just like that, the idea of a little Cortez was born.

We talked about having children constantly after that. He’d say he wanted 3, I’d say I wanted 7. He wanted boys and I wanted a tiny best friend of my own. We would giggle in bed thinking of names we loved and who would make great godparents. We discussed the pros and cons of private school and how the hell we were going to pay for them to go to UCLA. It really was all fun and games back then. We never could have predicted the most challenging journey that we would soon be taking.

I have to be honest, when we started “trying”, as they say, it was fun. All of a sudden, I was no longer preventing a pregnancy like my college years. (I mean, I was a virgin when I got married in case my mom is reading.) Anyway, this time, I actually was welcoming pregnancy. It was a new freedom for us and we were like kids in candy stores. When we finally found ourselves pregnant in April of 2013, we were elated. It all felt so right and we couldn’t believe it happened so quickly. I did a couple twirls, peed on a lot of sticks and posted a cryptic photo on Instagram to remember the day. Our joy was short lived though when we found our little seed was an ectopic pregnancy. We were devastated to know that the baby could never survive and if left untreated, it could be detrimental to my health. We spent a couple long nights in the hospital, mostly crying but also praying. I don’t remember ever questioning why this was happening to us. It was just an unfortunate event and we were strong enough to overcome it together. We were still so hopeful that while this was a sad setback, our dream of a family was on the horizon.

We spent a couple more months, impatiently trying on our own but in the back of my mind, I had a feeling something wasn’t right. Plus, at the time I was 31 years old and thought I was SO OLD. I could literally hear that dang biological clock ticking in my head. I figured it couldn’t hurt to see a fertility doctor. I honestly thought he’d take a look at my lady parts, roll his eyes and say, Listen missy, stop freaking out. You’re fine. Give it a bit more time, it’s going to happen, I promise.

You could probably guess it already, but that didn’t happen. Actually, after our initial consultation, our doctor ordered tests to confirm what he suspected – due, in part to the ectopic, I had lost function of both of my fallopian tubes. We could have tried and tried for years on our own and while all the baby making activity could have been fun, I’d never get pregnant that way. Those dang tubes were standing between us and a baby and needed to be dealt with if we ever wanted to move forward.

In November of 2013, I had surgery to close off my tubes. It was such a bittersweet decision for me. I knew it had to be done but even typing it out now, I feel naked. A small part of me feels like less of a woman. It’s like, I no longer possess some of the parts that make me female, parts that are supposed to help me create and carry life. Don’t even get me started on the conversation of feeling like I failed my husband. That’s a whole other topic entirely. But let’s just say I cried to him several times, insisting that he picked the wrong girl to marry. That if he wanted to leave me to find some other woman who can give him a family, I wouldn’t blame him. Thankfully, he stuck around and became a rock for us. Good thing because we could never have predicted the road ahead was about to get bumpier.

Even back then though, we were so hopeful. We had each other, we had our faith and we were healthy. Without tubes, it’s obvious that we wouldn’t be getting pregnant the old fashioned way. Our only option would be In Vitro Fertilization but now we had a fantastic doctor to help our dream come true. We said goodbye to a rough 2013 and celebrated the new year just knowing that it was finally our time. 2014 was going to be our year! In January, we began IVF treatments. HO.LY.SHIT!!! I have to be honest, we were a little nervous, excited and slightly naive. In retrospect, we had no idea what the heck we were doing back then. There were pills, hormone injections three times a day in your stomach, daily ultrasounds, bruising, emotions all over the place, expenses. I remember the first night of our first cycle, the nurse sent me home with our giant bag of meds and Steve and I looked at each other like, why are they trusting us with needles and vials of meds??? We went with the flow and learned a lot along the way. It wasn’t easy being shot up by my husband and it wasn’t easy for him to jam needles into my body either. But, we didn’t fuck anything up thus far so we kept reminding ourselves we’d have a baby by the end of the year. No doubt. How could you not get pregnant when science is involved?

We had our first egg retrieval in February 2014 and it turned out, I’m an egg factory. They retrieved 34 eggs and I came out of anesthesia so proud that I was part chicken. For real, I wanted to go out and buy some for our house so that I could tell them I lay a ton of eggs, too! Chickens are real impressed by those numbers I’m sure but Steve didn’t love the idea. Anyway, the embryologist did her thing and fertilized my eggs with Steve’s sperm and we waited. And waited. And waited. FIVE whole damn days we waited to hear if any of them survived. And 8 out of 34 did! I wasn’t completely broken afterall! My body actually did something right. It was a little bit of a celebration. By that point, we learned to celebrate any progress. No matter how teeny tiny!

In March 2014, we transferred our first 2 embryos. I can’t lie, I felt it in my bones that I was pregnant. I could already feel those babies in my arms it felt so real. Part of me didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself but it was too late, I had already become a mother. I psyched myself out with pregnancy symptoms – nausea here, fatigue there. When we finally took a blood test at the doctors office, I was absolutely crushed to hear that I was not pregnant. Not even a little bit. I had imagined those babies. I had imagined those symptoms. I had taken too many steps ahead. It was a blow to my woman intuition. You know, when you have a feeling about something and you’re always right about it? Surprisingly though, I wanted to try again. Quickly.

In May 2014, we transferred 2 more embryos. After you transfer embryos, the doctor tells you to highly limit your activity so we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary with me on bed rest. My mom was staying with us to help out while Steve was at work so there we were, me, Steve and Barbara. Eating dinner on the couch watching netflix. Although it wasn’t the most romantic anniversary, it was absolutely perfect to have the support of my husband and mom as we worked toward a family of our own. Sadly, it was all for nothing. Once again, I wasn’t pregnant. Once again, a serious blow to our hearts.

Somehow, we were so determined and/or stubborn that we decided to try again. The reason I wasn’t getting pregnant basically was unexplained. Talk about frustration. You’re not getting pregnant because well, I don’t really know. After a ton of research, I discovered this happens more than anyone even talks about with IVF. Regardless, the doctor said this happens sometimes, but I was still healthy, young and obviously fertile. I had every reason to keep on going. So we did. In July 2014, we did our second egg retrieval and decided to transfer 4 embryos. FOUR. I know right? While the idea of quadruplets is terrifying, at that point, we wanted to give ourselves the best possible chance of having at least one embryo implant. I had built a wall around my heart, just waiting to be let down again that I almost didn’t even take the scheduled pregnancy blood test. My mom literally dragged me out of bed for it so when I got the phone call that it was positive, I pretty much fell to my knees. Steve and I were shocked and excited beyond belief. Our beta numbers weren’t the highest but it was still a fact, I was finally pregnant!

We spent the next few weeks on cloud nine. We celebrated with donuts, took a road trip with friends, bought a couple baby outfits. My beta numbers kept rising so we were hopeful. At our second ultrasound, we were beyond excited. We knew by that point, a heartbeat could be seen and heard. Of course, we had the camera ready to record that magical moment. That moment never happened though. There was no heartbeat to hear. I think for a minute, I wished my heart would stop beating, too, and that this bad, unfortunate dream would be over. Maybe if my heart stopped beating, that would mean it could also stop breaking.

That was such a dark time for me. For us. Until then, I didn’t realize the impact this whole thing was taking on myself or our marriage. I had set a goal and wasn’t going to stop until I reached it. Never mind that I was crumbling behind the scenes. Truly, every day that passed, I was breaking. At the beginning of this process, we decided to keep this whole process private and it was finally eating me alive. Every time someone would say, You & Steve have so much fun and look like you love life!, I felt like a liar. I was leading a double life. I was happy-go-lucky, care-free, has-her-shit-together Ala in public, but at home, I was completely broken. There were days that I couldn’t even make it out of bed to eat, shower, brush my teeth or go to work. I wasn’t me anymore. I wasn’t a wife anymore. I wasn’t a sister/friend/photographer anymore. I had become a shell of myself and it was then that I decided we needed a break.

We spent the rest of the year trying to find ourselves. We went on dates again. We took random trips again. We took long drives singing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs again. I finally started to laugh again and feel all the hope I used to feel come back again. It was so necessary and I’m grateful that we realized it when we did. Otherwise, I don’t know what kind of lunatic I would have become. Once again, we said goodbye to a rough 2014. It was filled with heartbreak and hope. Lessons and love. Recovery and renewal. We were stronger now. We knew what we were up against. We knew how to protect our hearts and we were ready to try again. We decided to switch doctors and we were confident that the new year was going to bring great new opportunities.

In February 2015, we underwent our third egg retrieval. Another round of being pumped full of hormones but by this time, we were old pros. I knew the pain was worth it and he knew that any hormonal outbursts were to be blamed on the meds, not on me. We’ve always been good together but by now, we are such a solid team if I do say so myself. This time around, we also did PGS (pre-implantation genetic screening), which is an IVF procedure designed to examine your embryos for chromosomal abnormalities. Since a possible reason we weren’t getting pregnant in previous cycles could be due to abnormal embryos, we wanted to be damn positive that the embryos we transfer from here on out are healthy.

We transferred one embryo this past April. It was kind of crazy timing for us, Steve was graduating with his masters up north a couple days after and as I mentioned before, you’re supposed to take it easy after a transfer. While taking a 7 hour road trip wasn’t ideal, my doctor approved the trip and there was no way I was going to miss my husband’s huge accomplishment! Plus, I thought it would be so cool that if I was pregnant, the baby actually was present at daddy’s graduation. What a special story to share with baby one day! Traveling did take my mind off of the whole thing. Instead of laying in bed stressing about the pregnancy, I got to enjoy a trip with our family, experience beautiful Berkeley and celebrate Steve as he walked across the stage.

Upon our return, once again, we found out I was pregnant!! This time though, the numbers were amazing! Our doctor was so thrilled with the results. My beta numbers increased incredibly, too as the days progressed. It was finally our turn! We had done everything right this time. I changed my diet, my activity level, I went to acupuncture religiously, I did yoga for fertility, I didn’t even look in alcohol’s direction. You name it, I wholeheartedly committed and the hard work was finally paying off!! For the first time in the 2.5 years we’d been trying, I felt confident enough to download some pregnancy apps and started browsing children’s clothing online. I let myself think of baby names again and nursery themes. I feel like a broken record at this point but another heartbreak was coming. After a heavy bleed, I was losing this baby as well. Cue sob fest into my husband’s chest on the kitchen floor.

So here we are, two and a half years later. Hearts broken over and over again, taped back together over and over again. I honestly haven’t written down any of our experience thus far on paper until now and reliving it through these words, I still can’t believe it’s my life. I really don’t know why or how we’re still hopeful but we are. I guess you have to be to continue this process. Either that or we’re fucking crazy. Whatever the case, I will say we are so much stronger in our marriage. If nothing else, this trying season has taught us that we can weather any storm together. It has taught us to pray together, to communicate better, to celebrate the little things, to appreciate what we DO have, to be happy with who we are now.

I don’t know when or how we will have a family but I do know we WILL have a family. It might take longer than expected, but if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that I won’t give up. And neither will Steve. Perhaps I will be blessed with the gift of carrying our children or maybe we adopt or maybe we have someone else carry our child. I really do have faith in the Lord that I will become a mother and Steve will become a papa. And all of our blood, sweat, tears and prayers will pay off one day. Some day.

If you made it this far, thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about us. I feel like I’ve shared so much of my life over the years that I needed to get this off my chest once and for all. What a release to come out of the dark and share something so intimate. This journey has consumed and changed me and the people in my life deserve to know who and what they’re getting from me. I feel like infertility is something I don’t want to hide from any longer. So there it is. Our story. From the beginning.

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  • Megan - You and Steve were such positive marriage role models to me before all of this started and now!? I can only hope that Adam and I are as strong as the two of you when/if we face hard issues in our life. Your hope, courage and strength is so inspiring. Love you guys so much!ReplyCancel

  • Heidi R - I’m so glad you’re getting all of this off your chest. You are incredible and really the strongest woman I know. I can’t wait for the day that you two become parents. It will happen, somehow, some way. It will be the best day. <3ReplyCancel

  • Crystal - Thank you for sharing Ala! I think you’re two are beautiful souls!ReplyCancel

  • Angel Swanson - Oh love, I read every word and am weeping with you. Will be praying fervently for you. I’m always here if you need a patient ear who has walked this road. Thank you for sharing so we can pray!! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Jordana - You two are the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Your hope and your strength under the toughest of circumstances is such an inspiration. I am so proud of you both and I love you so much!ReplyCancel

  • Maria - I hope this is the release you needed to put your body at ease and allow a healthy pregnancy to progress. Prayers for you, Steve, your family and friends.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - It takes bravery to share such intimate thoughts and actions like you did. I love how you still see the light at the end of the tunnel. We never understand God’s plan in the moment, but it is often greater than we could ever imagine. I pray for you to be showered in His graces and more importantly His peace. Even if your light is dim, it still shines bright in the darkness. Be encouraged. :)ReplyCancel

  • Tiffany K - Your story is beautiful and although we don’t always know or understand why things happen the way they do… Everything happens for a reason. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. This happens to more people then I care admit and sharing your journey with them only make everyone stronger. Positive thoughts your way and lots of love.ReplyCancel

  • Rocio Manning (Carrillo) - Alicia I will pray for you and I send you love to help you on your journey!ReplyCancel

  • Emily - I’m so moved by this post. I know it must have taken a lot of guts but also felt so good to write down. My heart breaks for you and although I’m about to have our second we have also experienced loss and it brings you to your knees. Sending the most positive of vibes to you and your husband!! xoReplyCancel

  • Rosie - Wow. What a story and so sad you have to live it. May God bless you and your husbandReplyCancel

  • Lizzi Munz - You & Steve are so brave… Thank you for sharing your story. Lots of love, prayers, and wishes to you both!ReplyCancel

  • Adrianna - Ala,
    Thank you for bravery. I cried, laughed and cheered while reading but more importantly… Will keep you and Steve in my prayers for a little Cortez and, like you said- you WILL become parents. Sending all my love.ReplyCancel

  • jamie - oh ala, thank you for sharing your story so bravely. this sucks. praying for you both.ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa - Tears :( My friend, my heart is breaking with yours and I am also wholeheartedly hopeful with you too! THANK YOU for sharing this!! For the longest time, I would see certain posts on your ig and have wanted to ask how I can pray for you but I didn’t want to intrude. I regret that. Sending hugs your way and without a doubt I will be praying for your heart and your husband, and your future babies!! XXOOReplyCancel

  • christina - ala, love!! i remember our chat over lunch years ago, as we spoke about future babies, and to now know it’s been such a long road for you since then. you are so incredibly strong & brave for sharing your story!! i admire your strength! i know it may seem bleak sometimes, but you know this fight is only growing both of you in your marriage and your faith. you will most definitely become parents, no matter how it happens…and when it does, that baby will be the most loved, anticipated joy ever!! <3 miss you girlie!ReplyCancel

  • Kathrina - I don’t even know where to begin with this. I just wanted to say you are brave for sharing this. You and Steve are amazing people and I know without a doubt you two will be amazing parents. Stay strong, I will be praying for you guys.ReplyCancel

  • Liz - I’m sorry you are going through all of this. I knew something was wrong. I’ve been following you for a few years now and noticed some sadness from your part, but since we don’t know each other, I thought who am I reach out. And although I’m sad you two had been suffering so much, getting it out there in the open will give you peace of mind of what you say is feeling like you are putting up a front in front of everybody. Now you have a support team besides your husband and family. We are all cheering for you and the future baby Cortez!ReplyCancel

  • Lily - Ala… you made me cry. You are amazing and sooooo strong. You and Steve truly just have something so amazing about you guys together. It is inspiring, infectious and beautiful. I wish you two all the good life has to offer, because I don’t know a couple who deserves it more. big hugs!ReplyCancel

  • Lucia - Girl… thank you for sharing your story. I know how much courage it took to tell that. I have a little something I want to share with you too… I have been going through the same thing. We’ve been trying so long and it’s been difficult for my husband and I too. Sadly, I feel like my mind is almost at that point of giving up. But your post was like divine intervention for me telling me to keep trying and NOT give up! So Thank you! Thank you from my heart to yours. I wish you here next to me so I can give you a great big hug – but in the meantime I’m going to keep you in my prayers tonight… sending you so much love. xoxo, LuciaReplyCancel

  • Stefanie - Reading this touched my heart. I’m in tears. You have such a beautiful soul cousin. This is going to happen for you. Keep that faith. I love you.ReplyCancel

  • Lindsay Ousterout - Ala- you probably don’t remember me, but we met at Jstars mixer 5 years ago when I was in town from NY. But I thought this was a better time than any to let you know that just that short amount of time that I had the opportunity to spend with you, I was so inspired by your talent (which I had already known about you), and most of all your spirit, beautiful smile and infectious personality! You are truly an amazing gal, and I wish the best for you and your hubby. I am praying for you, but I know you don’t need my prayers… You are a blessing to this world & I know in my heart you will have a well deserved happy life, no matter where it takes you! Know that so many people are out there pulling for you- even in NY! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Heather Kincaid - The bravest post I’ve ever read. So amazing of you to share your journey so that others who have similar challenges know they are not alone. You two are incredible and I love you both. So much love!ReplyCancel

  • Meg - My dear Ala- you are so so strong and brave and beautiful. I have faith that you’ll hold the sweet sweet baby that is meant to be yours however it might unfold. Love you so much! xxxReplyCancel

  • Adrienne Gunde - My dearest Ala! I have so so much respect for you that you wrote this beautiful entry and shared your story. Your strength and perseverance are inspiration to me every single day. I echo Heidi when I say that it will be the best day ever when you become parents and I can’t wait to celebrate with you. I love you and am always here for you :)ReplyCancel

  • carin garcia - Stay strong and positive! Anything is possible! You have amazing courage and a great support system! Love you! Love stinky!ReplyCancel

  • Roomie - I love how loved you and Steven are. You have an army, friend. We all want this so badly for you and I know, with God’s help, you’ll have your babes soon. Love you forever!ReplyCancel

  • em - oh sweet friend. my heart breaks that you guys have had to weather this road together. i love you both so much and you’ve been on my mind so many times these past two years and i’ve prayed again and again not sure what to pray for. thank you for sharing this. you are beautiful beyond words and i know this will help so many couples living through this heartache. xx.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Garcia - You are so brave Alicia! Thank you for sharing your story. Praying for you and Steve always!ReplyCancel

  • Maggie McKaig - Ala,
    This was such an honest and heartwarming post and you are so strong and beautiful to share your experience. I am thinking of you guys and sending love and light your way. You are rock star and I have so much respect for you and everything you do. :)

    Love always,

  • April Bee* - What a honor to know this intimate part of Steve’s and your life. Thank you for sharing. How does the saying go? A burden shared is a burden less carried…? My heart is heavy but hopeful for you both, and you will be added to my prayers. I’ve always admired the two of you and that has just been reaffirmed. Faith, hope, and love- April❤️ReplyCancel

  • Catie Ronquillo Wood - Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know that it wasn’t easy, and I bet that it was therapeutic to get it off your chest. This walk through the unknown of infertility is a beast. A challenge I never saw coming in my life. My hubby and I started trying around the same time as you guys, and we’re on the road to figuring out what to do next. I love your determination to not give up in the midst of this storm. Thank you for sharing your heart. I’ll be keeping y’all in my prayers. Hugs.ReplyCancel

  • Barbara - I wish you both the best my prayers are with you!ReplyCancel

  • Jeremy M. - I am lost for words. God has a plan for both of you. Steve ever since 5th grade I knew you were destined for greatness! Everything you’ve accomplished this far in life is no surprise. Keep being the wonderful person you are and most of all the greatest husband anyone can ask for.
    Ala i tip my cap to you. Your a strong positive woman. With Steve in your corner anything is possible.
    Both of you keep having faith and trust in God. If he gets you to it he will get you through it. You both are a prime example of a husband and wife. I just hope my marriage can be as great as you two are.ReplyCancel

  • Veronica Tietjen - Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for being so real! I cried the entire time! Your a strong courageous women with the ability to overcome anything in life. You are made in Gods image. He knows your needs. What a journey of growing with your husband instead of life dragging u down! God bless you both and I’ll be praying for the God to bless u with children. Amen.ReplyCancel

  • Nina - Ala, reading this touched my heart. If I could reach through the screen and give you a big hug I would. You are such a beautiful soul and so inspiring. I’ll be keeping you and Steve in my thoughts and prayers! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Mary L Landin - You two get it! Not many do.
    You get what love is, you get marriage, you will get everything in life because of that. OxoxoxReplyCancel

  • Yvonne - Thank you so much for opening up and letting us into your lives. You both are so amazing and I’m blessed to call you my family… made me laugh and cry and I felt your pain as I read this, but you now have a tremendous amount of love, support and prayer behind you! I love you both and I will continue to pray for you both….I have a lot of faith in God!! I love you!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Dez - You have me in tears! I’m adding you, Steven and Baby Cortez to my prayers! Love you!ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca Ruiz-Penuela - My prayers are with you Ala. What is meant to be will be. God bless. Xoxo.ReplyCancel

  • Jen - I had no idea – thank you so much for sharing, Ala. I’m so heartbroken for you guys that you’ve been through so much, but so inspired by you and in awe of your strength and your relationship. I know that God has a plan for you and you’ll be parents someday – I don’t know exactly what that will look like or if you’ll adopt or what it will be – but it will be exactly what was always meant for you and you’ll both be happier than you ever imagined. Thank you for blogging and inviting us all on this journey with you. *hugs*ReplyCancel

  • Angie - Dearest Ala, thank you for sharing your story. I understand what you’re going through and my heart goes out to both of you.
    we are also facing the same struggle, have tried for over 2 years and we began our ivf journey 2 months ago. your words are encouraging, will keep you in our prayers sweet girl.ReplyCancel

  • Reina - I’ve been following your photography blog for quite some time and have always thought how adorable and sweet you two are. Relatable, like a girlfriend of mine would be.

    I’ve sobbed reading your blog today. hit real close to home. REAL. CLOSE.

    Your positivity is what’s going to make you an awesome mom. Praying for ya!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Rae - Ala and Steve – I had no idea you were going through all of this. I’m so sorry that starting your family has been such a struggle but I know that when it finally happens you both will be the most amazing parents to the luckiest child(ren). Much love to you both on your journey to parenthood.ReplyCancel

  • Jill Young - This post is so honest and personal. Thank you for sharing your struggles and being so open. You and your husband will be amazing parents someday.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - I truly admire you & your husband for being so strong and optimistic. Your love and dedication is a true inspiration. Thank you for sharing this difficult journey with us.ReplyCancel

  • Marie - You are truely a very strong woman. I’m in tears because I couldn’t see past myself and notice you and steve were going through so much. I am so sorry for not knowing but I want you to know that i talk to God all the time and pray that the two of you will soon become 3ReplyCancel

  • Stacy - I had a rough morning & decided to check out your blog. Thank you for being so raw. You’re pregnant now (!!) but knowing the journey to getting there, makes it so much sweeter. Side-note: my husband said the same thing when they sent us home with a bag of meds & needles…they’re just trusting us with this shit?!? I’m going to continue to read (backwards), but I’m so happy for you!! – Stacy (Megan’s cousin)ReplyCancel

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