Five years ago, I met my husband. Getting married in our late 30’s, we were well aware of the potential difficulty of starting a family naturally, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to come. I quickly became pregnant after our wedding at the age of 39. That pregnancy ended at 9 weeks due to miscarriage. At 40 I miscarried again. Another at 41.
After tests concluding I had nothing preventing me from a successful pregnancy, and that my husband was also issue-free, doctors surmised that my eggs may be “old,” and the best way to proceed would be to undergo IVF with PGS (pre-implementation genetic screening) testing to ensure we could transfer an embryo that was showing to be chromosomally normal. After three rounds, including retrievals and testing, we were left with nothing normal to transfer.
Soon after, sitting across from our doctor, he gently pushed a pamphlet across the table, advising that an egg donor should be a serious consideration as a next step, as younger eggs would provide less likelihood of abnormalities during pregnancy.
Donor egg is a far quieter topic than IVF in the realm of infertility conversations. I scoffed at the presumption that I would even consider using another woman’s eggs. That’s desperate, I thought. But I am an interested skeptic and eventually, my curiosity led me down the path of research into the world of donor eggs.
I quickly learned the ropes of selecting a donor. It felt like online dating but for a girl to essentially take my place genetically. A dozen pictures from childhood to adulthood, medical and mental health history of the donor and her entire family, education level, blood type, and even how she spends a typical day. I had to begin to ask myself what was important. Is it more important for a girl to look like me physically? Have a higher degree? To love dogs and birds?
Once my husband and I settled on someone we both felt good about, it was a new road of paperwork, payments, doctor appointments, and waiting. We had chosen a fresh donor, so along with attorney work and logistics, she had to meet medical clearance with our clinic. Since this would take several months, we took ourselves on vacation. In my mind, this was it. We were finally at the end of our journey, and in a few short months, I’d be pregnant. The next time we had a vacation it would be a babymoon or with a baby.
Within days of returning home, we got a call from the doctor with shocking news: our selected donor did not meet medical clearance. The chances of that happening are slim. We couldn’t move forward with her. I was devastated. My husband rushed home from work to comfort me, only to find me back on the computer in tears searching for someone else. There was no one. Again, I wanted to give up.
This is not how I imagined things happening. At this point, I realized I was caught up in the pursuit of having a family, having a “win” in this three-year process, rather than wrapping my head around the reality of how we were not choosing to grow our family. It is important to stop. To grieve past losses. To do some soul searching.
Today, we are in the process of moving forward with another donor. We have no choice but to be hopeful, while also acknowledging that reality that so much of this continues to be out of our control. Even at this stage, I have frustration, sometimes leading to downright anger and “why me?” This can be a lonely and guilt-ridden process.
Emotionally, I have experienced feelings of shame and failure, no matter the stage, no matter the hope or excitement. If any of this resonates with you, you are not alone. These journeys are tremendously challenging. For us, we have been treated and counseled by no less than 10 doctors and specialists, some deemed to be the best in the country. Finding a doctor and a practice that takes the time to understand the uniqueness of your experience and treats you with compassion can be challenging. But moving on to using donor eggs has been the most difficult decision to come to terms with for both myself and my husband.
Even when decisions have been made to move forward, I have had a deep sense of uncertainty, moments of grief, and sleepless nights. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve changed it back.
I’ve developed a heightened awareness and sensitivity to seeing children that look like their mothers. Just writing that sentence puts a lump in my throat. The grief around letting go of the ideal family you picture for you and your partner is unexplainable.
But, our goal is a shared one. Our story will just be a bit different than we imagined before. My body will provide a healthy environment for our baby to grow. My experiences and environment will influence and nurture our child. Together, we both have important responsibilities ahead.
If you are not at the end of your story yet, take a moment and admire the strength and resilience that has gotten you this far. And if you are open and curious, you might be surprised at what you learn on your way to the end of your story, even if you fall a few times along the way.
I have metaphorically fallen and had to pick myself back up many times. I will continue to do so. What does it look like to get back up? For me, it looks like equal parts fear, courage, and a willingness to let go of what I believed things to be. It will be three years ago this fall that I was first pregnant. Perhaps by this fall, I will be pregnant for the 4th time. And with that news, I will keep creating my story. And so should you.