Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘Doctors told me I had a 0 to 1 percent chance of ever conceiving a child without the assistance of some kind of medicine.’

Ashley Antonacci-Martini, Ridge

“It’s been about a decade of ups and downs with my fertility. I have a very complicated story. I’ve had countless procedures, including eight intrauterine inseminations, one invitro fertilization egg retrieval, three dilation and curettages, three C-sections, and two polyp-removal surgeries. Throughout my life, I’ve lost 10 angels – five in my body and five in an IVF lab. Doctors told me I had a 0 to 1 percent chance of ever conceiving a child without the assistance of some kind of medicine. It took over a year to get pregnant with my first, Gianna, and I had two IUIs before achieving the pregnancy.

“After about a year and a half, my husband and I wanted to have another child. We tried six IUIs, got pregnant twice and, unfortunately, lost them both. My doctor said that my numbers reflected I was going into early menopause. I was in my early 30s.

“I took an anti-Müllerian hormone test, and it showed a low ovarian reserve, which is a low egg supply. Basically, my body was reflecting an older age. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought this can’t be. This is when we turned to IVF rounds, but they weren’t successful. It pretty much shattered my heart.

“The injections were very painful. These needles were enormous, and my husband would have to inject them into me. You have to also go on birth control before you start the IVF cycle so it alters your natural period. Your hormones are all over the place, and then you have to go through a surgery. They put you under anesthesia and take a needle through your abdomen to extract the egg. We ended up losing all the embryos, so they were never transferred to my uterus.

“I was thankful they weren’t lost in my body this time. Miscarriages are heartbreaking to go through, but I did still lose my baby. At this point, I felt defeated and decided to give everything over to God.”

My body couldn’t take all of the miscarriages, surgeries and injections.

“My husband and I turned to God to help us through the turmoil. I prayed and prayed. I changed my diet and started seeing an acupuncturist. I got baptized as an adult, and a few days later, I found out I was pregnant naturally. I couldn’t believe it! We had a miracle. We were going to the doctor, and the baby was growing well, but then suddenly, the baby’s heartbeat stopped. The doctors blamed my eggs. It felt like my fault. Through the pain, I found another specialist. He took 40 tubes of blood, but we found out I had a blood clotting disorder called thrombophilia. I was also positive for the heterozygous MTHFR [methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase] trait. This mutation can sometimes affect women’s ability to clot blood during pregnancy.

“I have my degree in biology and education, and I used to be a public-school teacher working in the home-school science department. I knew I had to stop working. My body couldn’t take all of the miscarriages, surgeries and injections. I had family telling me it was too much on my body. God kept telling me to keep going and there was another baby out there for me. I was put on blood-thinning medication so my body wouldn’t reject the fetus, and my blood would actually clot during my cycle.

“Fast-forward six months, and the doctors wanted to take my levels again to see how fertile I was. I was so nervous. I kept avoiding it. The doctor got the results and called me. He said he never usually calls himself, but he wanted to be the one to tell me that I had the fertility of a woman my age! He said this rarely happens and that somebody must be looking out for me. I knew he was right.

“I was pregnant with my second daughter, Madelyn Grace. I did have some complications about 16 to 18 weeks in. The doctor noticed microscopic blood clots, even while on the blood thinners. My placenta started deteriorating during that pregnancy because of the clotting. Then we found out she had a two-vessel umbilical cord when she was supposed to have three. We didn’t know if she was going to have any deformities or any other issues. I kept praying and, thankfully, she was totally healthy. A beautiful girl made by God’s grace. She’s a very vivacious 5-year-old girl now.”

We thought it was impossible to get pregnant naturally. It was a pure miracle.

“My third child – oh boy, was he a storm. I was able to get pregnant, but the issue was keeping the pregnancies. I got pregnant again and noticed some bleeding a few weeks in. I was still on blood thinners, and I kept passing enormous clots. The pain got so severe. Something was wrong. I’ve had miscarriages before, but this didn’t feel like the others. Having a miscarriage is so emotional, and this was the saddest moment of my life. It’s so ingrained in my mind because I thought it was a normal blood clot since I was passing so many the size of large rocks, but it wasn’t. It left a mental scarring.

“I got to the doctor, and they said my sack was empty. I was rushed to the emergency room, and my uterus was seriously infected. They told my husband that the infection is so bad that I might not come home to my family. I had an emergency dilation and curettage to remove infected tissue and, by a miracle, I was able to go home.

“My heart was still shattered. I was so broken, but I felt like there was another baby out there for us. I just couldn’t explain it. I didn’t want to do anything medical at that point. I put it in God’s hands.

“Fast-forward a bit, and I started to get horrible stomach pains during Christmas dinner. It felt like somebody was stabbing me. I was an EMT for many years before all of this, so I never liked to call for an ambulance, but I told my husband to call one. I couldn’t walk. My gallbladder was full of stones. I was septic. Again. That was twice in a year that I became septic.

“They were checking my blood and they were like, ‘By the way, you’re pregnant.’ I was crying and fumbling to get my phone to call my husband. We thought it was impossible to get pregnant naturally. It was a pure miracle. I had to have surgery, and the next day I was allowed to leave. I was rushed in on Christmas night, and by the next afternoon, I was at my daughter’s birthday party.

“During that pregnancy, I refused all testing. I told them the pregnancy was totally faith-based. Even if we found out there was something genetically wrong with the baby, it wouldn’t have mattered to us. My son, Antonio, came into the world by storm. He’s a little over a year now.”

We have to remember that there’s always a rainbow after every storm.

“I met a wonderful pastor and started to do ministry work. I wanted to do something meaningful after going through all those trials and tribulations. I started doing a newsletter for the pastor that I was working with. I gave a testimony to share with others. I did all the training and became a minister. I want to share my story with other women and try to bless other people’s lives. We have to remember that there’s always a rainbow after every storm.

“I never gave up. There was always hope. With God, anything is possible. He looks for those zero- to one-percenters to guide. Science is also important. Nobody should be ashamed to have to use IVF or any medication to have a child. I wish doctors didn’t throw around so many blanket statements because it really takes a toll on the woman and places blame on her.

“Everyone’s so quick to blame the egg and the woman with accusations like, ‘You need to lose weight,’ or ‘You’re too thin,’ etc. Men have a role in this as well, and there isn’t enough research on sperm. The blame is put on the woman, and that can create rifts in marriages. There is so much emotional pain and disappointment in a relationship when a couple is struggling with infertility. It’s important to remain a joint unit and lean on each other.

“My husband is my best friend. He has always been my rock. We’ve been together for 20 years and married for 12. We were high school sweethearts. I met him at 16 years old, and now I’m 36. If we can get through this, we can get through anything. My husband is the love of my life. He is an unbelievably amazing man.

“Of course, I also had my family around, and they were there for emotional support. I have a big family that loves watching my children. My sisters and relatives are always there and would step in immediately when there was an emergency and with no questions asked. Struggling with infertility is really a journey that others can’t help you with. You’re so stuck in your mind over all the trauma and all the pain that no matter what anybody says, it’s just not going to take root in your mind. God had been watching out for my husband and me and provided us with beautiful children.”

Interviewed by Melanie Gulbas