Becca and her wife Sarah always knew they would undergo fertility treatments to start their family together, but never imagined the wildly emotional journey of infertility that they have been on in an effort to become parents.
One reason they started Magic Science Family, was because the current narrative about infertility is largely heteronormative. They knew that they couldn’t be alone as lesbians at the intersection of family-building and infertility.
We interviewed Becca about why she’s dedicated to sharing her and her wife’s family-building journey through the blog.
Can you share more about you and your wife’s journey so far?
It has been wild, unexpected, emotional, and a huge learning experience. For us, it started at our initial consult with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). We were finally both on board with trying to start a family, and things didn’t go as planned. At that consult they couldn’t find one of my ovaries and it turned out to be completely hidden by an endometrioma (a type of cyst formed when endometrial tissue grows in the ovaries).
The doctor told us that I needed to have surgery, which I did three months later. They removed the endometrioma, a uterine septum, and lots of endometriosis (turns out I have Stage IV endometriosis). They also measured and noted a fibroid, but decided to leave it in.
In the middle of all this, we were job-searching and found a job across the country! So, the day after my post-op appointment, where our RE said, “It was really bad in there. You’re going to have to do IVF, and you’re going to have to do it in the next six months,” we moved away.
Moving meant starting over with insurance, primary care, and REs. We wasted several months stubbornly preparing for an IUI before finding out that all of the endometriosis and the endometrioma had grown back and my AMH had dropped from perfectly normal to 0.2, putting me solidly in the Diminished Ovarian Reserve group. It became clear that we would need to do IVF.
After a lot of research to find resources, we picked a clinic in California (Life IVF Center) and purchased a 3-cycle package – 3 retrievals, 3 transfers. At the same time, knowing our odds were low, we met with an adoption agency and decided to join the waiting list to start the home study process. Ironically, we found out we made it to the top of that list and can start the home study process almost exactly the same time as starting our first transfer cycle.
Today was our first (and only?) FET, and we’re sitting in our hotel room surrounded by adoption-related paperwork to complete!
Infertility is similar to queerness. There is socialized and completely unnecessary and harmful shame surrounding infertility. Entire fields like medicine and social services are completely inequitable when it comes to alternative reproduction.Why do you think it’s important to capture the experience for other same-sex couples on this journey through your blog?
We would not be sitting here today, pursuing IVF, if it hadn’t been for resources on the internet, from Facebook groups to clinic websites to personal blogs. The personal blogs really hit home for us and have helped us understand the steps of the process more deeply. However, we were never able to find a blog written by a queer woman who also struggled with infertility.
The infertility world is hugely heteronormative. The LGBTQ fertility world is full of turkey basters and friends donating their sperm and wombs to each other. The reality is, I’m sure we are not the only ones living at the intersection of queerness and infertility. Of course, it’s possible that infertile queer folks have trouble with search engine optimization; but either way, I never found a blog about this, so I started one.
Sarah and I also believe that it is hugely important to normalize this experience. Maybe it’s the fact that being “out” and open about our lesbian identities has always been personally and politically essential – and with decades of experience, we’re really good at coming out. Infertility is similar to queerness. There is socialized and completely unnecessary and harmful shame surrounding infertility. Entire fields like medicine and social services are completely inequitable when it comes to alternative reproduction. And, no matter what group of people we are with, if we ‘come out’ as infertile, at least one other person in the group will share that they experienced fertility troubles, too, or know someone who has. The blog is one way to come out and hopefully normalize the experience.
Finally, we started this blog because we are mad. The lack of information out there is astounding. Doctors never brought it up. My family never brought it up. Friends and family never brought it up. This blog is our small attempt to channel our anger into something productive that might help someone else.
What has surprised you and your partner most about the experience of infertility and/or fertility treatments?
We could spend twelve years answering this question. We were so naïve. Every thing that has happened in this process has come as a complete shock. I guess the first thing would be that at 32 I could have major infertility issues. I had never heard of endometriosis or Diminished Ovarian Reserve. No family history forms ever included this. I’ve since learned that it is genetic and multiple aunts on both sides had it.
Next, finding out that the surgery to remove the endometrioma was basically guaranteed to negatively impact my ovarian reserve was a surprise. Three REs were involved in planning and executing the surgery and none of them mentioned that the surgery involved a huge risk that we could easily have managed by doing an egg- retrieval first.
Sperm selection was another surprising process. Sarah is Indian, so we wanted an Indian donor. We knew that there would be fewer Indian donors than white donors, but what truly threw us for a loop was CMV (Cytomegalo Virus). CMV is a virus most people have never heard of unless they’re undergoing a fertility treatment. Apparently, over 50% of adults are CMV positive. People contract it as kids, and it feels like a cold and it goes away; but is problematic to contract if you are pregnant as it can have severe impacts on the fetus. I tested negative and my clinic wouldn’t allow me to use a positive donor just in case I contracted it from them at the moment of conception. This meant that across four major sperm banks, we had only three donors to choose from.
We’ve been surprised by our experience with a number of doctors. Some have been great; but overall we’ve found the process to be really cold, obviously very scientific, and wildly unpredictable and inconsistent. There seems to be so little research in this area compared to other medical issues, and it results in pretty frequent disagreement between doctors. For example, since the surgeon left my fibroid in, I’ve had three doctors tell me to have a second surgery to remove it and three tell me to keep it in. We had to make a decision on our own, and we’re the ones without a medical degree between us!
The last big surprise during this process is how insensitive people can be about it. As we’ve gotten deeper into it, we’ve started to learn how ignorant most people are about infertility. We were ignorant about it, too, less than two years ago, so we understand but it’s still surprising.
Every thing that has happened in this process has come as a complete shock. I guess the first thing would be that at 32 I could have major infertility issues.Where does humor fit into this process?
It’s necessary. This stuff is so absurd, you have to laugh. The old adage that if you don’t laugh you’ll cry is definitely true. It is similar to something I’ve experienced as a Jew – Jews make a lot of pretty dark jokes about being targeted for systematic extermination time and time again in our history, and if those jokes are made in mixed company we get weird looks. But it’s the same thing here. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. (And you cry plenty, believe me!)
What I find the most humorous is how comfortable we have grown with this new subject – the lingo, the facts, the culture. Outside of fertility Facebook groups and pages, no one else has a clue what you are talking about. If the most significant thing going on in my life right now is that my endometrial lining isn’t thick enough yet, how do I even begin to share my life with a friend or colleague? It makes me LOL to think about the reactions I would get. How do you even start?!
It takes some intention to find things like that funny. We are not always great about seeing the humor in these situations. It comes in waves. But we know that humor is an excellent strategy for getting through this so we try to always have that filter somewhere in the back of our minds.
How do you and your wife communicate through this process? Based on your experience, any advice for others in a similar position?
We talk about this all the time, and we also try not to talk about it all the time. Fertility treatment and adoption both have lots of busy times and waiting times. During the busy times there are logistics to discuss and decisions to make, so it is pretty easy to communicate about it. During the waiting times our brains and hearts don’t want to leave it alone; but there is truly not much to talk about. This can lead to some challenges when one person (usually me) wants to obsess over every little possibility, and the other person (usually Sarah) wants to use the waiting time to chill before everything ramps up again. This can be good or bad. I’m the researcher in the couple, so Sarah depends on me for a lot of the information sharing and I think I do a good job sharing LOTS of information. But at the same time, I need to work on coming up with other topics to talk about! I think the adoption process is going to be really interesting because we will be on equal footing there, as opposed to fertility treatment, which is all about my body, my hormones, my meds. It will be a whole new frontier!
I wouldn’t say that we are role models in this area; but if we had any advice at all it would be to not shut each other out. If one of you needs a little distance from the topic, name that feeling and come up with a strategy for managing it. Maybe you commit to only talking about it on even numbered days, or you commit to not talk about while you are lying in bed before trying to fall asleep.
Anything else you want to add?
We just want to make sure that everyone going through infertility knows that they are not alone. We are part of a huge underground community that is kind, forgiving, resourceful, helpful, and inspiring. We just have to find each other.
Listen to stories, share your own, and get feedback from the community.