I was sitting in my office cubicle, but it was impossible to concentrate on work as the minutes ticked by. I was waiting to hear from the embryologist about the PGS genetic test results from my second egg retrieval. Ten minutes before the clinic closed, I got the call. The embryologist said that the one embryo that made it to Day 5, the one that I had held so much hope for, had come back “abnormal”.
To add to the crushing blow, he added: “I do not recommend your trying IVF with your eggs or your husband’s sperm again. You will fail each time with the genetic and motility issues present.”
I sank to the floor, completely crushed. I was 32. Up to that point all my panels had been normal, and I had easily passed every medical test. Our first retrieval failed but the nurse had told me: Sometimes you just have to try again.”
Now I felt the dream of motherhood slipping from my fingers, and I could not come to terms with the idea of our being a family with no children.
My nurse had become a bit of a guardian angel for me, and I called her when I got home. She let me sob and unload all of my sadness, unleash my anger around all the loss I’d had between my father’s passing and my infertility.
Then she said to me: “What have I always told you? What is your goal here?”
I repeated what she had often told me: Focus on “happy, healthy baby.”
“Well, donor [help] could lead to a happy, healthy baby. Just arriving in a different way than you originally expected, right?” It all clicked.
Donor route, here I come.
My husband and I had decided that it was time to start trying for children when I was 29. We had been trying for just under a year with no success when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I knew I needed to take things to the next level, because it was so important for me to have him meet his first grandchild.
When you’re serious with someone, the conversation about having children usually ends once you find out if you are on the same page about wanting them or not. Couples don’t usually take it to the next level and ask, ‘What would you do if we have trouble getting pregnant?’
Unfortunately, before we were able to get into the fertility clinic he passed away. I still remember him holding my hand in the hospital telling me how hard he was praying for me to become a mother.
When we finally got into the clinic, my husband’s testing came back with some motility issues, so we decided to start with an IUI. That did not work, so we moved directly onto IVF with my eggs. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it would work. I knew so many people with IVF kids, and just figured we would be yet another family that had to go that route. Until I got that life-changing call from the embryologist.
My mother had brought up the idea of using donor sperm after my first failed IVF and I remember recoiling at the thought of it. It just seemed completely ridiculous to do. Yet here I was contemplating not only using donor sperm, but a donor egg as well.
I kept trying to wrap my head around how to suggest the idea to my husband. Discussing infertility is such scary and uncharted territory in a relationship. When you’re serious with someone, the conversation about having children usually ends once you find out if you are on the same page about wanting them or not.
Couples don’t usually take it to the next level and ask, “What would you do if we have trouble getting pregnant?” That is just as important a question, and if you have differences in opinion, or aren’t able to meet somewhat in the middle, it can really wreak havoc on what otherwise is a very happy relationship. Layer on the insanely high treatment costs and sprinkle on all of the crazy causing hormones— it’s a recipe for a rough ride.
My husband and I had really struggled, and I feel so blessed that he said that he was open to the donor option because I was. He was fine not having kids, but also knew that I would not feel fulfilled if I was not a mother. His jumping on board with the idea of a donor was a decision made purely out of love.
Our clinic required that we have a session with a therapist specializing in donor couples. I was stressed and worried that we wouldn’t “be approved.” I got my hair cut and colored and got a new outfit to make a good impression. We had a basic interview and then the therapist brought up recommendations on how to share with our child how they he or she was conceived. It was very helpful and I’m so grateful that our clinic made us do that. It was a great eye opener on how we really needed to plan from the beginning about how open we were going to be about our journey. She shared a lot of statistics around the benefits of being honest with our future child.
At the end of the donor counseling session she asked us if we had any questions. I asked if anyone she had worked with had ever had regrets. I will never forget her response: “Yes. They regret that they didn’t do it sooner.”
We decided to go with anonymous egg and sperm donors through our clinic. Picking donors brought me to a new state of stress. When you’re pregnant with your own DNA, you just get what you are already have. Picking DNA? That means that if there is something wrong with the child, there’s a possibility that it was something you could have prevented.
What if the eggs don’t work? What if the child isn’t what I imagined? What if they are hideous and mean? I felt like a horrible, judgmental person.
Having control over something that is unnatural to have control over can be overwhelming.
You grew that baby. You kiss those ‘owies.’ You are the one she calls mama. Your child is truly wanted.
My husband felt very uncomfortable looking through the donors, which I could respect, so it became completely my choice. I finally went with my gut and picked the donors that just “felt right.”
One of the best parts of using a donor is that you don’t have to do the egg retrieval process again! No belly shots or pills. My stomach didn’t look like a bruised war zone as it had for my previous two retrievals. Your donor gets to do all of that work, and you just go in on transfer day.
A few days before the retrieval, my husband asked if it was OK to try one last time with his sperm. I knew this was our absolute last shot at this and we could not afford to go through everything again. However, I also knew how much he had sacrificed of his own thoughts and feelings to get us here. We decided to allot 30% of the eggs to pair with his sperm. Am I glad I did! Three embryos made it to Day 5, one with his sperm. It was a lot fewer than we were expecting, but how exciting that we had one of his that worked!
As the new PGS-testing results day approached, I started to panic. This was the point in the journey at which we had always failed previously. In order to keep my mind occupied I decided to join some friends on a girls’ trip to wine country. The only awkward thing was that I was carpooling with someone I barely knew, and the likelihood that I’d be getting the call during our four-hour ride together was pretty high.
I finally had to say: “Hey, this may sound weird and a bit crazy, but I’m going through fertility treatment and I’ll be getting a call today to tell me if my embryos are genetically normal, so there’s a possibility I may have a complete breakdown in your car if the news isn’t good. But I will need some wine, no matter what once we get there—either to celebrate or drown my sorrows!”
The call came and two of the embryos came back normal. One of them with my husband’s sperm, and the other with a donor’s. The wine I drank that weekend was in pure celebration!
We implanted the embryo with my husband’s sperm, and after the longest two week wait of my life I got the call I had always been dreaming of: “You’re pregnant!”
For those whom are trying to wrap their head around using a donor, there is a lot out there to think about. Epigenetics, known vs. closed donor, going abroad, different laws based on what country you are in, using a national donor database or staying within your clinic. While having options is amazing, the process can also become overwhelming.
Know that no one way is the right way. Also know that while some of your genetic makeup will enter the child you are carrying, it doesn’t mean that the baby is going to pop out looking exactly like you. That is OK.
You grew that baby. You kiss those “owies.” You are the one she calls mama. Your child is truly wanted.
Our daughter is three now, and my life is forever changed. I cannot wait to share the story of how hard we worked to have her be part of our family and to make our dream of parenthood complete with her.
I’m savoring every single moment, and I feel like my rough road to motherhood has helped me be a more patient and more grateful parent. I find joy in everything she does and in living the dream moments like having dance parties and painting our nails together.
She’s a spitfire with a huge vocabulary and a whole lot of attitude, and people are always saying how similar we are. Even though we aren’t genetically related I would agree with them. Thanks to science and a whole lot of tenacity I finally have my happy, healthy (not so little anymore) baby.
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