As I put my contacts in, I wonder why I need them. Why do I sometimes look cross-eyed in photos? Why did I have a lisp for five painful years before braces. Braces? Why did I need them?
I didn’t know that I was not created the “normal” way until I was in my mid-twenties. And ever since I have known I am a “science baby” it has been hard not to feel a little resentful about all of my “normal” qualities.
You would think, truly, that if you were cobbled together by some scientific architect, you’d be, well, perfect. But, no.
My weight fluctuates easily. I’m prone to stomach bugs. I struggle with anxiety. I had terrible acne from the ages of 11 to 16. I know, I know, too much information. But, I feel comfortable saying all of this because I’m, frankly, happy to be here. These imperfections are part of the beautiful human experience that I get to bathe in. And oh, have I ever.
My parents are still my parents but in a sense someone else gave me life. Some doctor, in some lab somewhere…another man besides my dad. Because we’re talking about the 1980s here. The doctors were mostly men. (It was OK, though. I’m sure he wore rubber gloves, though this rubber didn’t inhibit the process. Know what I mean?)
It was 1987 to be exact. I was created in a kind of centrifuge and surgically implanted in my mother. I was brought to life by Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT). GIFT is like IVF except that IVF fertilization happens in a Petri dish while GIFT fertilization happens in the fallopian tubes. Only the strong sperm were picked and my mom was given estrogen shots to make more, larger eggs. (Maybe I can blame broad shoulders on this part. Or should I say credit them? Those shoulders almost took me to the Olympics for swimming.)
We were two very real results of the early days of science babies. In fact, according to some research I’ve done, Mary and I were made in the “infancy” of this technology. (Though I imagine that there are many like us out there, I don’t know anyone else who is 30 and a product of IVF.)I was a finite concoction of ingredients and time baked together in a womb. And when I say “I” through all of this, it’s really a collective “we,” because I was born with my twin sister and best friend, Mary. We were two very real results of the early days of science babies. In fact, according to some research I’ve done, Mary and I were made in the “infancy” of this technology. (Though I imagine that there are others like us out there, I don’t know anyone else who is 30 and a product of scientific fertility treatments.)
My mom had been really struggling to have a child. She wanted just one more after my brother was born. The doctors were very certain she would not have one, because apparently there was a sperm problem (though this has not been confirmed by my father). My brother had been called a miracle baby and anything after him had been deemed unfeasible.
My mom began the GIFT preparations and had other medical treatments, but because she had been adopted she decided it was in her cards to continue the chain and filled out paperwork to adopt. However, on the same day that she found out she had been approved to adopt she also found out that she was pregnant. Life is funny, isn’t it?
Let me talk about my twin sister for a minute. For those of you worried that you might end up with a bonus baby instead of just a baby. It will be the world’s best blessing to your children. Yes, it means two of everything at once. The financial and emotional burden can be unimaginably difficult. But, what I can say is that my twin has been this world’s biggest gift to me. On my worst days, she will send me a pun meme that will have me laughing so hard I’m in tears. I don’t know how she knows. We have been through so much together.
When we were in cribs, we made our own language and would stand and look at each other across the room like prisoners in facing jail cells, diapers hanging and all. We would then laugh and scream and talk until someone came through the door to check on us. And when they would come in to check on the noise, we would drop to the bottom of the cribs, belly first and hold our laughter until they left the room again. Then our laughter would spill into the whole house because we were so loud. It got to the point where my parents filmed our “act.” I recall pieces of it, and the video is priceless.
When we were ten and my parents were out of earshot, my brother said things like: “You and Mary were made in a Petri dish!” He definitely meant this as an insult. (Got to love older brothers.) Though we shared the same genes, in the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, mine were different. I never really understood what he meant or looked into it. He was teasing, but there was some truth there. Other than that, growing up, no one else cared or asked how I was made. And although my brother teased us sometimes, he loved us.
It was never really about how we got here, it was about how hard it was to get us here. Though my sister and I had some very difficult days during our childhood, we both knew we were wanted. That was a huge gift.My sister and I had a tough time in middle school and high school. There were times that we “hated” each other. But, overall, I can tell you, twins are lucky to have each other. We push each other and root for each other, unlike in any other relationship I’ve known.
It’s not strange to me that I learned I was born via ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) only when I was in my 20s. It just really never came up. There was no big conversation. My mom would often talk about the struggles of getting pregnant, and we were obviously folded into that story. It was never really about how we got here, it was about how hard it was to get us here. Though my sister and I had some very difficult days during our childhood, we both knew we were wanted. That was a huge gift.
In my everyday life as an adult, there seem to be more reasons to talk about it. People who care about science are intrigued that I have a twin. I say that one could argue that neither of us is really supposed to be here. This life—it feels like we’re getting away with something incredible by not being “naturally” made.
I’ve been on dates at which men ask, “You’re a twin?” And I say, “Yes” and they say, “IVF?” And I say, “Excuse you, none of your f’n business.” No, I’m just kidding. I don’t respond that way. I just say the truth, which is that we were scientifically made, but twins actually do run in my family naturally.” As if it’s some kind of special prize: Hey get me pregnant; there might be two!
As I see my friends having children, and some of them struggling to have kids, I have been more vocal about the way I was made. Also, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many career-oriented moms who had children later in life. They tell me that they did IVF, which allows me to tell them that I was a successful product of a very similar treatment. They seem happy to know that I grew up like everyone else. No third arm here, just an awkward birthmark on my left elbow. If I had to consider doing IVF, I would do it in a heartbeat. Literally.
Although every IVF story is different, the bottom line is that any IVF baby can have a normal life and also be a little special.
It feels nice to have been really wanted on this planet by someone. So much so that she tried and tried until I, or in my case we, arrived. Not to be too philosophical, but being birthed into this existence has overall been miraculous. Even with all of my issues, it feels so truly incredible to be alive.
Sarah Hill is a consultant based in New York City and the founder and former CEO of Bookstr.com. She is a mentor to several startup company CEOs and a founding board member of the nonprofit Girls4GirlsNYC, which empowers young women through storytelling. She graduated from The University of Oklahoma and was raised in Fort Worth, TX.
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