Doctor’s Support Sustained Her Through a Long Infertility Journey
One in an ongoing series
Sharena Robinson’s first pregnancy in 2006 ended in miscarriage – not an uncommon outcome and not a reason to think it was a harbinger of the future. She soon began trying to get pregnant again.
For four years, she kept pursuing her dream of having a baby. Her husband’s son was living with them, and “I raised him as if I had birthed him. But there was still a void,” she says.
What Robinson didn’t yet know was that she had two undiagnosed conditions that were working against her.
In 2010, Robinson began working at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, where she is now the lead medical assistant in the Department of Rheumatology.
Around the same time, an obstetrician-gynecologist named Janet Ko became an attending physician there, and Robinson became Dr. Ko’s patient.
Pivotal Advice: See a Fertility Specialist
“Once I started to see Dr. Ko, she said I needed to see a fertility specialist,” Robinson says. “No one had told me that before.”
The fertility doctor diagnosed Robinson with two conditions that cause infertility: endometriosis, a disorder in which the tissue of the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormone imbalance that causes enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges.
“I was very angry when I found out what it was and what it had done to my body – it destroyed my (fallopian) tubes and created so much scar tissue,” Robinson says. “Had I known earlier, I might have taken measures to prevent the damage.”
What followed were years of struggle and trauma as Robinson continued trying to get pregnant under the guidance and care of Dr. Ko. She had another miscarriage, hospitalizations for bleeding, emergency surgeries, multiple failed in vitro fertilizations, complication upon complication – even a bout with COVID-19.
“She’s been through an incredibly difficult medical course,” Dr. Ko says of Robinson.
The last emergency surgery Dr. Ko performed was in September 2021, when endometriosis tumors impacted Robinson’s bowel.
Encouragement at a Crucial Moment
Deflated and exhausted, Robinson thought perhaps it was time to give up on her dream. After 12 years – 16 since her first miscarriage – it all seemed futile. But Dr. Ko thought otherwise.
“She sat me down and said, ‘Sharena, I’m going to do the surgery. As soon as you heal, go straight into in vitro fertilization. I’m telling you, this is going to be it.’
“I was crying,” Robinson says. “I said, ‘I trust you so much, if you say so, I’ll do it.’”
Three months later, Robinson was pregnant. Two of the 10 harvested eggs had been successfully implanted.
“One of the first people I called when I found out I was pregnant was Dr. Ko,” Robinson says. “She called back and she was crying. I never had a doctor like that.”
Dr. Ko says she feels a particular connection to patients like Robinson who are her colleagues at Einstein and have been with her since the beginning of her career.
“I have a lot of patients who’ve been with me for a very, very long time,” she says, “so that I see patients in one stage of their life and through to the next. I feel like we’ve grown up together.”
As for Robinson, she says: “It’s a long road we’ve gone through.”
“Sharena is a very strong person,” Dr. Ko says. “She doesn’t complain; she’s very matter of fact. I think whatever life throws at her, she handles it with a lot of calmness and poise. She has a very positive outlook and always bounces back.”
Still, Robinson was on edge her entire pregnancy, which was beset with problems.
“I had COVID,” she says. “After I recovered, I bled for two months. I had a blood clot that formed near the placenta – eventually it came out. Every day, I’m checking. I thought it was over.”
Finally, Twin Boys
On June 15, 2022, Robinson had an emergency C-section weeks before her delivery date.
Dr. Ko got out of bed in the middle of the night and rushed to the hospital to deliver the twin boys. “She texted me and said, “Sharena, I’m on my way,’” Robinson says. “I was so grateful she did that for me.”
Dr. Ko also came to visit Robinson every day, traveling from Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in East Norriton, where she is now Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology, to Philadelphia. She kept her hospital privileges at Einstein Philadelphia precisely because of patients like Robinson.
“I always wanted to leave the option open that if I ever needed to perform surgeries on my patients or deliver them, I could do that.”
Robinson is now on maternity leave with the twins, Assad and Ahmad, incredulous that she has the family she’s wanted for so many years. “I feel like I’m still in a dream,” she says.
And she credits Dr. Ko with helping that dream come true.
“I feel like my journey was her journey and she never, ever gave up on me.”