What Dreams May Come, part 1

Many years ago, probably when I was in my early 20s but before I met the hubs, I had a dream that I have never forgotten. I was in a backyard, playing with a little boy with blonde hair, pale skin, and eyes so dark they were almost black. That was the whole dream; we were just playing and laughing. I recognized in the dream this must be my son, but it didn’t feel prophetic or like a life-changing epiphany. Just an ordinary dream where I felt very happy and content. I don’t remember most of my dreams, but this one was vivid and has never faded from my mind.

I wrote about it in my journal “just in case” I had such a little boy one day. Also, I didn’t want to risk forgetting. I told the hubs about it years later, even after we were dealing with infertility, as I recall. The hubs is a very grounded, realistic sort of person so this revelation about my dream didn’t exactly full him with confidence that it was a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled. And neither did I, to be honest. It just sort of stuck with me, and I like remembering the way I felt during the dream.

Also of note: I could never find a a picture that really nailed the coloring or true depiction of the boy in my dream, so I couldn’t describe him to the hubs very well. The description sounds fairly ordinary, but the boy wasn’t ordinary at all. His coloring was so unique. Then one day, I was watching the movie Love Actually, when this kid shows up!

The “Love Actually” kid, the one I recognized as being eerily similar to the kid I dreamed of years before.

I was so excited!  Although he wasn’t the exact replica of my dream-kid, he was darn close. Even though I was watching the movie alone, (since the hubs would rather be boiled alive in hot oil than watch this film), I was so excited to find a good representation of the kid from my years-old-yet-vivid-dream, I made him come take a look. He scanned the screen, said something like, “It is noted,” and went back to what he was doing.

Several more years passed, and we eventually became pregnant through IVF and had a baby boy. I wish I could say the memory of my dream propelled me through the most challenging moments of infertility, but it didn’t. I thought of it all the time, but I didn’t think of it as my destiny.  In fact, I thought I was having a girl until we had the anatomy scan.

If I’m being honest, this story would be much cooler if I had dreamed about a boy with red hair and green eyes and freckles, and then actually birthed that baby. The hubs and I have none of those as dominant traits. How awesome would that be to see a menagerie of recessive traits come to life after dreaming of a boy who possessed them? Spooky!

My dream was/is very special to me. I absolutely believe I got a little glimpse of life with my son at least ten years before his birth. Of course, the fact that he was born with the genetic traits of the dream-kid is not exactly a head scratcher. 

After all, the odds of giving birth to a boy are 50/50. My eyes are very, very dark and my skin is about as light as skin comes. The hubs has gorgeous blue eyes and is Caucasian too, but with a lot more color to his skin tone. We both have brown wavy/curly hair, but we were both very blonde as children. Therefore it is fairly obvious that E inherited his very light skin and dark eyes from me, and his blonde/wavy/unruly hair from both of us. Mystery solved.

But still, the dream is awesome. And frankly, I thought of it a lot during our infertility journey. Not as my guiding light but just as a small reminder of how happy I was playing in the backyard with the little boy in my dream.

Has anyone else had a dream that came true, or a similar experience? I hope you will share in the comments below!

Hindsight, You’re a Real Jerk

If I had stuck with the original plan, we would probably be having a baby at the end of June. 

Back in September, we had finally found a suitable egg donor and made a down payment to “reserve” her. Good egg donors are hard to find, and they go fast. We had found a new fertility clinic we liked well enough, better than the other four we interviewed. The plan was for her to begin taking ovary stimulating drugs, like I did when I did IVF, and she would produce a bunch of eggs, then have them retrieved about ten days later. At that point they would have been fertilized with the hubs’ “genetic contribution,” and the ones that developed into suitable embryos would be transferred into my uterus around six days later. 

I halted the plan two days before our donor was to begin injections. It just didn’t feel right, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was that I had spent the past 11 months undergoing nearly nonstop treatments, which resulted in 2 miscarriages: one of those was my beloved miracle twins, lost at 9 weeks because they were conjoined. The other miscarriage was at 4 weeks, with what doctors said was almost certainly another set of twins. A third cycle resulted in nothing at all. Right after the third cycle, we learned that we would have to use an egg donor to proceed if we wanted more children. That news came exactly one year ago today, on June 3, 2014. 

So, we charged ahead with finding an egg donor. We so badly wanted more kids that I didn’t bother to stop and evaluate what we had been through in a short time. Three cycles and two miscarriages in 11 months. It became very real to me, right before the donor was to begin her stimulation meds, that I was opening another Pandora’s Box of physical and emotional pain. I was tired of all the fertility drugs, all the time. The drugs you take to do the treatments are very hard on your body, and it doesn’t get easier with experience. I was tired of medical professionals constantly hanging around my lady parts, and I so badly wanted to reclaim both my body and my sanity.  I prayed about it, and that was when I began to feel a strong call to adoption. I had never considered it before, and now here it was, feeling like the most obvious answer in the world. 

Another reason I walked away is because an egg donor cycle costs almost exactly $30,000. And there are no guarantees. If the donor doesn’t respond well, or if the eggs don’t fertilize properly, you are out all that money and it’s over. If you do end up with healthy embryos, transfer them, and they do not take or you miscarry, it’s over. We worked hard to acquire the money we needed for an egg donor cycle, and if it didn’t work, that would be the end. We weren’t going to come by another 30k and have a second chance at this. 

On the other hand, for a similar amount of money, we could adopt an infant domestically and if we never gave up, eventually we would adopt. (Well, that was before what happened to us. Now my expectations are pretty low, if I’m being honest).  Besides my personal feelings about another cycle, the idea that our money would be “safer” going this route was very appealing. I discussed my feelings with the hubs, who was at first quite surprised but then very supportive. 

Today, I’m feeling guilty. If I hadn’t changed my mind and the cycle had worked, my husband and I would soon have the second child we have dreamed of for so long.  My son would have a sibling on the way, and he probably wouldn’t be asking me all the time when God is bringing him “his baby.”  I would be nesting and preparing for a new son or daughter, and revelling in the sheer joy and excitement that a new baby brings. I would not have experienced the past 8 months, which is a huge hypothetical bonus. 

But, I followed my heart, and I listened to the answer that was given when I prayed about what to do. I’m questioning now if it was really God steering me towards adoption, or if that’s what I wanted to hear because I needed a break. Only time will tell. Until then, I have to carry the “what if” burden, which is probably my least favorite kind of burden.

Discover the rest of the story at www.borrowedgenes.com

Infertility Aprils, Chapter I, 2011: The Little Embryo That Could

April has traditionally been a pivotal month in our infertility journey. I can’t explain why we have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during each of our infertility Aprils.  If I were a person who believed in numerology or put my faith in numbers as a way to determine my fate, the number four (4) would be the equivalent of an all-stakes roll of the dice in the game of procuring a baby.

April, 2011: I always prefer to start with the happy stuff first, don’t you? This month four years ago marked our first IVF cycle, and resulted in the birth of the joy of our lives, E, in December 2011. The truth is, many people don’t know how close he came to not existing at all. Even more truthfully, John and I didn’t learn until over three years later that statistically he should not be here, and the only reason he is, is because he was a particularly tenacious little embryo.

One week before my scheduled egg retrieval in mid-April, our RE (reproductive endocrinologist) looked sadly at me after looking mournfully at the ultrasound screen. Sad and mournful are not looks we wanted to see from the doctor who we considered the guardian of our hopes, dreams, and $25,000. Despite tacking on an extra week to my protocol and subjecting my body to even harsher hormones to get optimal results,the $3500 worth of drugs they had me jabbing into myself twice a day had only resulted in the development of five mature eggs. Hence her sad and mournful countenance.

The process of IVF is to stimulate the ovaries so greatly that a woman has 15-25 eggs ready to harvest by retrieval time. The RE recommended to the hubs and I that we convert this IVF cycle to an IUI cycle, and try IVF again in a couple months. In other words, she could shoot some of the hubs’ swimmers into my uterus like a sling shot and we could all pretend that maybe it worked for a couple weeks. No matter that it had been definitively decided months before, by our RE, that IUI (inter uterine insemination) would never work for us, and that the other fertility clinics were staffed by imbeciles who didn’t read our lab work properly and put us through three meaningless rounds of IUI. So said this very doctor who was now suggesting doing the same flipping thing(one of the many hundreds of reasons infertility can break you down—at times, you realize your doctor isn’t even paying attention, and it sucks.)

First off, five eggs chilling in my ovaries may not sound like much, but if a quirky little miracle occurred and some of them managed to be fertilized, this is how one finds themselves pregnant with a litter. Stories of quads, quints, sextuplets, etc. are almost always the result of an IUI. Many people believe IVFs are responsible, but it is a much more rigorously controlled procedure that is designed to result in the birth of just one baby. There are only two exceptions to this I can recall offhand, one being the Octomom, who found a shady fertility specialist that would transfer eight fertilized embryos into her womb at once. That is a giant no-no. The industry standard is to transfer two embryos max into women under the age of 41 with a history of fertility problems; recently, it has been changing to where many clinics really only want to transfer one embryo, in order to eliminate the possibility of multiples. It is considered acceptable to transfer a maximum of three embryos into a women aged 41 and older, simply because the odds of success with IVF go down incrementally after age 35, and then take a gigantic nosedive at age 41. The other IVF example in the news recently is the story of the Gardner quadruplets. The mother had two fertilized embryos transferred, perfectly ethical, and in a nearly unheard of twist, both embryos split and resulted in the birth of two sets of identical twin girls. Other than that, the finger should be pointed squarely at IUI regarding high order multiples.

As I said, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the hub’s sperm having free reign in my uterus with five of my eggs bouncing around in there. So far none of our genetic material had demonstrated a lot of motivation, but you never knew when those guys might wake up and decide, “Hey, we should really stop being lazy and do something with our lives.” I didn’t want those sperm turning over a new leaf and living it up, like it was Spring Break for frat boys in my womb.

Also, I had just put myself through countless shots, sleepless nights, scary mood swings, a ten pound weight gain, and in the name of 8lb 6oz Baby Jesus I was going to do this IVF come hell or high water. I told the doctor we were continuing with the IVF and that was that. She sort of sighed, but respected my decision, and scheduled our egg retrieval for exactly one week later.

There are a lot of people out there who believe IVF is a godless way to have a baby. Oh how I despise those people. You can always tell who they are, too. They reek of “Church Lady” from the old days of Saturday Night Live, portrayed by Dana Carvey. With a bit of an open mind, they would see how God’s work is embedded everywhere throughout the IVF process. Like when the RE went to retrieve my eggs seven days later, and she not only extracted the five healthy follicles she had seen on the ultrasound the week before, but also retrieved an additional five that had previously not been seen on ultrasound. They had appeared and grown rapidly in the span of one week, something that is supposed to be impossible. At the end of the retrieval, we had ten healthy, mature eggs. The next day, we had ten fertilized embryos. Five days after that, we had two fresh blastocysts to transfer and five to freeze. The remaining three didn’t survive the freezing process, but overall the results were excellent. Six days after the egg retrieval, we had the fresh embryo transfer. And ten days later, my pregnancy was confirmed. That was a banner April, the gold standard of all the months in all the years, in our quest to build a family.

Last summer, an especially intrepid fertility specialist was looking at our old lab work from spring 2011, trying to see if it would provide him with any clues as to why we had experienced three failures in a row as we tried for number two. He called me to say that with the numbers he was looking at, the odds of a successful pregnancy in April of 2011 had been about 10%. Ezra truly was a tenacious little soul who fought his way here, and we should count our lucky stars that he did. The bad news of course, was that fertility labs don’t improve with time, they worsen. If our odds were 10% at age 32 in April 2011, they were exponentially worse at age 35 in June 2014.  Oddly, instead of feeling despair, I felt overwhelmingly grateful that my little creature decided to buck the statistics and show up anyway.  Even then, I knew we would find other ways to grow our family, and I felt very peaceful and hopeful about what was in store down the road.

Tomorrow I will share the exciting tale of how two teeny tiny little feline creatures rescued me from falling into despair, courtesy of the dreaded April of 2014.

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Elective IVF and Gender Selection: A Step Too Far

Flipping through the entertainment news in a moment of downtime this evening, I stumbled upon a story that had my infertility ire up before I was even finished.

 “Joe Francis’ Girlfriend Abbey Wilson Gives Birth to Twin Baby Girls!”

(Joe Francis, for those that don’t know, is the “Girls Gone Wild” guy.)

At this point you may be wondering why I even clicked on this article to begin with…I know I still am.  I think the answer is because at one time I was pregnant with twins, and though I lost them I was told that in all likelihood they were girls.  Consequently, if I see an article about twins, especially girl twins, I usually click on it. If you would like to take a wee gander yourself, I have linked the article here.

To be as forthcoming as possible, I honestly don’t know anything about this gentleman or his girlfriend.  I am not famous and I have never been a Girl Gone Wild.  I haven’t even been to Florida.  I freely admit that I do not personally care for his franchise or what he professionally represents, but he could be a heck of a nice guy for all I know.  It was the part in the article where the new mother is quoted, that hit me with a mega dose of WTF:

 “We both wanted girls and we wanted them to be healthy and free of genetic diseases so we chose to do IVF.”

What?  Whhaaatttt?  What in the cheese and crackers is happening here?  As someone who has traveled this road a time or two or four, I have some strong opinions.  And oh so many questions.  Firstly, why would someone subject themselves to IVF if they could become pregnant naturally?  It’s an altogether unpleasant experience, I assure you.  All kinds of needles in all kinds of places filled with all kinds of hormones designed to make you all kinds of categorically crazy.  For this privilege I paid $25,000.00.  A woman typically ovulates one egg per month-this process is designed to make you ovulate a whole bunch, like 30. Possibly less if you do not respond well, maybe considerably more if you hyperstimulate and produce follicles until your ovaries feel like they are going to burst.  If you are UNABLE to have children naturally, IVF is a godsend.  Every needle stuck in my stomach and each horrifying progesterone injection in the bum cheek was worth it because it gave me my son.  If not for IVF, I would not have the light of my life and I would not be a mother.  I am absolutely in favor of IVF.  I am also absolutely pissed off when someone uses it to make designer babies when they are capable of reproducing without it.

Secondly, it is wrong to choose the gender of your children. True, that is only my opinion, but I feel so strongly about it I will state it as fact.  It is legal, but that doesn’t make it ethical.  Many fertility clinics do not provide this service; others will enthusiastically promote it.  My husband and I were offered the option of doing Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD, to determine gender and rule out any questionably genetically imperfect embryos at one of the clinics where we had a consult. The only thing I could think of in response at the time was, Can we leave one damn thing to chance?  We had a zero percent shot of getting pregnant naturally, and had recently found out that this time around, we couldn’t even use my eggs.  In a reality where my future children will be conceived in a petri dish by injecting my husband’s sperm into another woman’s egg, I truly feel like I am at capacity regarding the level of scientific interference involved in my family planning.  The hubs and I aren’t going through all this to produce genetically cherry-picked super babies.  We are going through all this because more than anything else we have ever loved, we love our son.  We love being parents.  We want more children, and we want our little guy to have siblings.  When those are the goals, things like gender and impeccable health just really don’t matter that much.

Thirdly, PGD is available because for some couples, it is an invaluable life or death test. There are some serious genetic conditions that only occur in a specific gender.  Some couples know ahead of time that one or both partners carry a gene that, if passed on, would prove fatal to the infant.  These are necessary and justifiable uses of gender and genetic testing, and that is the reason the technology exists in the first place.   Some couples use PGD for “family balancing.”  In other words, they may have naturally conceived three sons but they really want that daughter.  For the right price, certain fertility clinics can make that happen.  It should not be offered or available to those of us who are simply infertile but do not have the additional burden of potentially passing along a scary genetic condition.  It is an insult to those who really need it.  Sort of like doing IVF when you don’t need that, either.

I suppose it’s possible that Abbey Wilson is a carrier for a genetic condition she doesn’t want to pass on.  It would be very unfair of me not to at least entertain that idea.  Based on her quote in the article, it doesn’t seem likely.  What does seem likely is that she and Girls Gone Wild Guy really wanted daughters, and they wanted them to be healthy. The truth is, I can’t blame them for wanting healthy children.  That would be crazy; every parent wants their child to be healthy.  I can’t even blame them for leaning towards one gender over another in preference.  Who hasn’t daydreamed during pregnancy about having that little girl/boy they always pictured when they envisioned themselves as a parent?  What I can blame people for is taking those wishes too far and crossing into the dangerous territory of eugenics.  

Does anyone remember the movie Gattaca?  It’s a movie about genetic engineering, and what the results look like a few decades after the concept was first implemented.  When I read this article tonight on Yahoo, I thought about this movie.  It gave me the heebie jeebies.  Science fiction movies set in the future are supposed to look incredibly cheesy when they actually reach that date.  They are not supposed to hold up and accurately resemble the society they portrayed twenty years before.

What do you think?  Were IVF and PGD used inappropriately in this circumstance?  Did it irritate you the way it irritated me?  I’m looking forward to reading/responding to the comments!

P.S.  This may be my favorite part of the article: “I believe people will finally understand my love, respect, and admiration for women.  I love girls.” — Joe Francis

I hope so too, Mr. Francis.  I have a feeling the way you make a living is going to affect you profoundly once you start raising daughters.  Becoming a parent has a way of doing that to you.


P.P.S. The issue of how far is too far when it comes to assisted reproduction will be explored on CNN this Sunday night, October 16, on This is Life With Lisa Ling: The Genius Experiment.  Yours truly will be featured with my husband and son during the last ten minutes of the show, hopefully sounding reasonably articulate and educated about the topic.

The Evolution of Choosing an Egg Donor: A Character Building Experience

Few things in my life have shown me what I’m made of quite like choosing an egg donor.  Between the beginning of June and the end of August, I found myself in a position of playing God as I struggled day after day to locate a donor that I deemed “suitable” to be the genetic mother of my future children.  As I think about my thought process over the summer, I find myself feeling ashamed: ashamed, shallow, and short-sided.

Note: Every woman has the right to choose her donor according to her comfort level.  This is my story, but our experiences are all different and challenging in their own ways.

Before this post starts to sound like we’re delving into Debby Downer territory, please let me share that once you reach the end, the warm fuzzies I hope to communicate should radiate right off your screen and attack you with a big metaphorical hug.

In the beginning of June, my husband and I created a list of characteristics we would like to see in a donor, i.e. characteristics we hoped would eventually reveal themselves in any children born of this process:

  • intelligent,
  • witty,
  • athletic,
  • creative,
  • family oriented,
  • master of at least one instrument,
  • spotless medical history,
  • attractive.
  • Brown hair, brown eyes, tall.
  • Siblings all equally accomplished.

Then one day in July, something occurred to me: I was using my own misfortune, (kaput ovaries) to justify the opportunity to create a human being that I am not, nor have I have been. I was improving upon myself, and then some!  This struck me as being problematic.  A few things had been thrown in the ol’ wish list that could reasonably describe me:

  • intelligent,
  • witty,
  • family oriented,
  • brown hair,
  • brown eyes.

That is all.

If I wanted to be really honest with myself, the list should really have included features such as this:

  • impatient,
  • unable to pick towels up off the floor,
  • short,
  • blunt,
  • demanding,
  • intolerant of dry material on my hands.  You know, like flour, or really dry dirt.  It’s icky and I hate it.  I do like mud though.  Mud is fun.

In other words, what was I doing trying to create a super baby when I, with my many flaws, lead a happy and blessed life.  Is mastery of the oboe a requirement for personal happiness?  Will I love my child more if he/she excels in rugby instead of limping their way through each sport they try with average achievement, at best?  If they develop a medical condition, will I love them a little less because they didn’t live up to the genes I so painstakingly chose off a checklist?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to have a relatively serious conversation about what you are hoping to gain from your genetically engineered baby.

Overwhelmed by over a thousand profiles of potential egg donors, I decided to step back to regain some perspective.  As I lay in bed at night running each of them through my head, I began to wonder, Do I really want to know these things about the woman who will provide the genetic make up of my child?  If I know that she excels in math and science, will I constantly monitor my kids for emerging mathematic brilliance?  If they don’t, am I going to question what happened to that particular strength and wonder if she made it up on her profile?  And if she made it up on her profile, what else did she lie about?  You can see how this can quickly devolve into a paranoid frenzy of nonsense and the goal to avoid that all costs.

Sidenote: My brother is a mathematical genius.  I am not.  Not even close.  Neither are our parents.  My mother is a brilliant artist and my father is a history buff.  My strengths lie in the humanities, literature, and writing.  Genes are what they are: mysterious, unpredictable, and overall one big crapshoot.  Also, I look nothing like my brother.  Neither of us look like our parents.  These lack of commonalities has not influenced our close relationships as a family unit.  Surprisingly, my brother the genius decided to love us all anyway, even though our collaborative math skills are enough for us to balance a checkbook, nothing more.

Near the end of August, my mother made an interesting comment.  “I hope this doesn’t offend you,” she began.  As we all know, comments that being with preemptive statements absolving one of what is to come next have at least a 97% chance of being offensive.  So I sighed deeply and resigned myself to what was coming.  “When you do select a donor,” she stated, “I don’t want to know anything about her.  I don’t want to see a picture.  As far as I am concerned, YOU are the only mother of this child, and I don’t need to know anything else.”

Hmmm. Mom surprised me and fell into that remaining 3%, prefacing what she believed was an offensive comment with one that was actually a brilliant revelation.  Well done, Mom.  Hearing it was a touch shocking, but it the most thought provoking way possible.  Over the next week, I considered her words.  I realized that was she was needing as a grandmother, was the same thing I was needing as a potential egg recipient mother.  Did I need to know whether my egg donor enjoyed painting in her free time?  Was it important that she considered herself a city girl and felt most at peace during her daily subway ride?  No, twas not.  And that is how I came to revisit my list from June:

  • healthy medical record
  • brown hair
  • brown eyes

All donors have to be FDA approved, regardless of what clinic you choose.  This means they have been vetted as being very healthy and very fertile, and they are the unsung superheroes of countless women who could not have children if it were not for them.

The short list above is what I know about my chosen donor, and that’s enough.  The important stuff is covered, the healthy part.  The hair and eyes are a bit of vanity just for me.  I’m not a saint, you know. Our donor/recipient relationship is completely anonymous, and will remain that way unless genetic health problems arise on either side and necessitate the need to share that information both ways.

I feel much more in control of this process.  I feel good about myself that I took the time to develop the insight needed to proceed with this process with a clear conscience.  This child/children will develop and grow exactly the way they are supposed to; unpredictable little blank slates that may develop a little from nature but a whole lot from nurture.   Even then they will surely grow up to be unique wee beings with their own interests and goals.  They don’t need to be like me, or their father, or this amazing lady who is donating her eggs.  They will be who they will be, and that is exactly the way is it supposed to be.