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IVF, Personhood, and a Story of Infertility

I don’t have an exciting infertility story.

You probably didn’t even know we struggled with infertility. Although since we have twins, you’ve wondered. Some of you have even asked me in your own polite way. Were you surprised? Do twins run in your family? Did you know you were having twins?

I do have a story, but it isn’t exciting. We didn’t try for years and years to get pregnant. I, thankfully, didn’t have miscarriage after miscarriage.

Our story is simple: We had one kid easily. And then we couldn’t get pregnant again. We saw a team of doctors, I took lots of medicines that made me a little fat and a lot crazy, I pee’d on a lot of sticks, I cried a lot, I had a minor surgery, we had 6 failed IUI’s (intrauterine insemination, where they place the sperm directly in the uterus and hope for fertilization), I prayed a lot, I was finally diagnosed with crappy egg quality, and that left us with our best option being IVF (In Vitro Fertilization, where an egg is fertilized in a petri dish, and then a healthy embryo–or two, depending on your odds of implantation–is placed into the uterus).

When all this was happening, I didn’t talk about it. Not because I was ashamed, but because I didn’t want to answer all the questions. Some women speak of being ashamed of their infertility, of feeling like less of a woman, or a failure. I never felt that way.

I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want the looks of pity. I didn’t want every. single. conversation I had to be about my uterus. I didn’t want my friends to be uncomfortable, not knowing what to say.

I didn’t want to not be thinking about it for a moment, only to be reminded when some well-meaning friend asked me how I was doing: How are you? No, really, how ARE you?

And I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to hear your opinion.

You’ll get pregnant when you’re not trying. Relax!

It’s all God’s plan. Relax!

Just be thankful you already have one kid.

I didn’t talk about it because we decided to do IVF and I knew how controversial that could be. I didn’t want to know how my friends would feel about it because I knew I would cut them out in a heartbeat if they challenged me on it. I can tolerate many differences of opinion, but don’t bring my children into it. I thought it was better to not know how they felt than to lose friends.

And eventually I didn’t talk about it because it wasn’t just my story to tell anymore. I had two sweet babies on the way and maybe they wouldn’t want their beginnings told to everyone.

But it’s different now. It’s been a real learning experience for me. I’m proud of my babies and I want them to be proud of themselves. I want them to know how wanted they were, how loved they are. They were loved before they ever existed.

IVF was hard. It was difficult financially, it was difficult emotionally, and it was difficult physically. I almost changed my mind a lot during the weeks that directly proceeded the beginning of the process. I was terrified–not of the money, or the medicines, or the injections. I was terrified because I knew we only had this one last shot. Up until those moments, I always believed I would get pregnant again, that it was just a matter of time. But IVF was our final answer, and if it failed, I knew I’d have to close a door I wasn’t ready to close.

We went to the beach the week before we were scheduled to start the treatments. I cried the entire car ride home, knowing my life was about to go one direction or the other, and I had no control over it. It was so emotional, so scary, it brings me to tears even now, more than a year removed from it.

We made a stop at a local produce stand on the way home. The lady who ran it also sold jewelry and I found a bracelet that said, The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still. I bought it and I wore it every day throughout my IVF treatment. I believed it.

As the treatment progressed, my body didn’t respond the way it was “supposed to.” There was talk of only 1 possible egg to attempt fertilization and implantation with, there was talk of no eggs at all, there was talk of a failed cycle. I was given the difficult choice of deciding whether or not to halt the cycle and try again, but that would mean thousands of dollars more and we just couldn’t afford it.

The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.

We pressed on. I gave myself injections for 12 days and went to the doctor almost daily to check the progress and to make sure I didn’t hyper-stimulate my ovaries. There were tears and screaming and laughter and anticipation and praying. Lots of that. And there was a doctor I grew to love so much because she gave me hope when I was at my lowest.

And finally, there were eggs! 9 of them! On a Friday afternoon, my doctor went in and took them.

And early on a Saturday morning, she called to tell me they all fertilized. All of them. Nine fertilized eggs! Nine embryos.

Because my odds of pregnancy were low, we transferred two embryos to my uterus.

Twins weren’t the goal–a healthy single pregnancy was the goal. But I loved those 2 embryos from the moment I knew they existed.

As much as the thought of twins scared me, I couldn’t possibly wish for one to not implant.

When I got my first positive pregnancy test, I was shocked.

I’d seen so many negatives, I wasn’t actually expecting that positive. I hit my knees and cried harder than I’d cried throughout the entire struggle. I cried for hours, sitting right there on my bedroom floor. And when I was done, I finally knew everything was going to be okay.

So when we went for our first ultrasound and saw two babies, but only 1 heartbeat, I wasn’t overly worried. I knew that second heartbeat would be there next time. I knew we’d have two healthy babies. I knew there was a chance Baby B wouldn’t make it, but I felt at peace.

The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.

And when we went back a week later, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the doctor smiled and showed us that second heartbeat.

And then I froze in fear when she told us that Baby B split and was now Baby B and Baby C. Triplets. She wasn’t happy about it, and I can’t say I was either. Baby B and Baby C were mo-mo twins and the risks that caused for all three babies were great.

So when she confirmed that Baby C had no heartbeat, I felt another moment of relief wash over me. And in the very next instant, I felt the worst kind of remorse for feeling that relief. But I couldn’t deny that I felt it. It took months into my pregnancy before it really hit me that I had my first and only miscarriage during an otherwise successful pregnancy. But when it hit me, I mourned that loss hard. And sometimes now when I look at B and I can see what his identical twin would have looked like, I mourn the loss again.

So now we have 3 healthy boys and we debate whether or not we might want a 4th one day. The other thing we have is 4 frozen embryos, just waiting for us to choose what to do with them. And I love them. How can I not love them? If I loved S and B before they were conceived–and I did–are the 4 frozen embryos not the same? They too were very much wanted, but it was luck of the draw, survival of the fittest. S and B developed first and appeared to be the highest quality, so they made the cut. But truly, it could have been any of them. I look at S and B and think, what if you were frozen? What if I had some other kid in your place?

So yes, I love my 4 frozen little embryos and I think about them a lot. But do I believe they’re alive? No. They need me–or another willing mother–for that.

Do I believe they have the same rights that my living children have? No. But those who proposed the Personhood Bill seem to feel otherwise. They would lead you to believe that it’s just about abortion, but it’s not. The language of the bill would make IVF virtually impossible.

IVF is expensive and hard on the body. Couples don’t just jump straight to it as an answer when they can’t grow their family. But because it’s so expensive, the goal is often to produce as many healthy eggs in one cycle as possible. Those eggs are then fertilized in a lab for about 5 days before the healthiest of the embryos are transferred to the mother’s uterus. Any remaining embryos are then frozen, giving the couple a chance to get pregnant in the future if the first transfer doesn’t result in pregnancy, a miscarriage occurs, or if the couple wishes to have more children in the future.

The Personhood legislation pushes the idea that life begins at fertiliztion. If that legislation passes, the legality of the procedures we used to get our beautiful sons would be called into question. If the Personhood Bill passes, anything that puts an embryo at risk could be a criminal violation.

If an embryo from an IVF cycle doesn’t develop normally (3 of ours didn’t), could the physician, lab, or patient be criminally liable?

Would IUI’s be criminal violations because they carry a higher risk of miscarriage?

Would women with health problems such as fibroids or other uterine problems be forbidden to attempt pregnancy because the risk of miscarriage is too great?

Would women who suffer ectopic pregnancies be allowed to receive life-saving treatment, or would the embryo’s legal rights take precedence?

What about the embryos that have already been created from IVF? What about my frozen embryos? Will I still have the right to transfer one or more to my uterus in the hopes of implantation and birth? Or does that run too much of a risk for the embryo?

Do I think it will pass? It’s been previously submitted for consideration many times before, and each time has died in committee without a vote, so no, I don’t think it will pass this time either.

But I’m furious it’s even been introduced again. And I’m furious with anybody who supports it. I said before that I didn’t want to know people’s opinions on IVF because I didn’t want to lose friends over it. Well, I’m ready to do that if I have to. If you support the Personhood Bill, you are against the very thing that allowed my children to be born. And if you’re against my children, you are no friend of mine.

For the record, we don’t know yet what we’re going to do with our 4 remaining embryos. But we think about it, we talk about it, we pray about it. It is an important decision to us. We know that our hopes for them is that they’re eventually transferred to a uterus in hopes of implantation and birth. We just can’t decide if we want to transfer one more for ourselves, or if we want to adopt all of them out to another couple.

Regardless, our embryos will have a chance at life. But as much as I love them, as much as they mean to me, they are not lives now.

Resolve, the National Infertility Association, works to ensure that all people who face challenges to grow their family are “empowered by knowledge, supported by community, united by advocacy, and inspired to act.” They’re a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization certified under the National Health Council Standards of Excellence. If you’d like to contribute or be involved, you may find ways to do so here and here.

August 5, 2015 & August 5, 2016

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26 comments on “IVF, Personhood, and a Story of Infertility

  1. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. […] It’s taken me nearly 6 months to write your birth story. I know I should have documented it sooner. I want to be able to remember the day, and I want to be able to share it with you. But the day of your birth just isn’t ranked right up there with my best days. I loved you immediately with all of my heart, that’s true; but I loved you both well before that day. […]

  3. […] Source: IVF, Personhood, and a Story of Infertility […]

  4. Hi, I can relate so very closely to your experience. We too went through IVF to start our family and our 3rd and final attempt with 2 embryos also lead to mono mono triplets. After a rough pregnancy, I delivered 2 girls and a boy. Sadly our daughter passed away at age 2 from a complex heart defect. After her passing we had 3 frozen embryos and I would give them names and think about them often. We ended up implanting one that didn’t take and then made the scary decision to emplaned the last two. Fortunately we had one healthy boy who will soon be 3. While I did briefly miss the fact he wouldn’t have a birthday buddy, most days of toddler wrangling make me quite happy he is a singleton! All the best with whatever path you all take!

  5. I saw your article on Scary Mommy and I wanted to say thank you for posting this article. My husband and I had no idea this was going on. We live in Huntsville, AL and are deeply religious. It has taken us 5 years to finally get pregnant (I have PCOS) and we’re finally starting a family in March/April (whenever Zach decides he wants to make his appearance). We, fortunately, have several embryos left over. We’re just nervous about what will happen with the bill. We sent a message to Mo Brooks and we’re hoping we get a positive response from him.

    Again thank you and my husband wanted me to tell you “War Eagle”. I’m a Tiger, too, I’m just purple and gold. 🙂

  6. hi there! i just read your awesome blog post and wondered if you would consider sharing your story with an art project that i am working on? it’s a project designed to connect strangers through stories about the ways different laws (and attempted laws) have impacted their lives. each story is on our website and giving a code. people make craft objects with that code and then abandon them for folks to find (with instructions to go to the website and read the story).

    it’s called Project Canary and you can find out more and share your story at projectcanary.org.

    everyone is welcome to participate and i would love to have more stories like yours to represent! story submission is anonymous.

    • Hi Nicole,
      That’s a very cool project and I love that you’re doing it! I don’t mind sharing my story, but I’m not sure it’s applicable to me at this point? There is no current law in place banning IVF–these are all hypotheticals that will only be a problem if the Personhood Legislation is passed.

      • thanks for your reply. thankfully many of these laws don’t pass, but the disconnection that leads to them being introduced is what we are trying to fight. there may not be current personhood legeslation right now, but chances are it will be introduced again. so, i think your story is very much pertinent and we’d love to have it. having worked for a long time in reproductive health i have seen firsthand these nuanced complexities but it’s not always easy to convey in words. your blog post did that so well. i would love for you to contribute if you’re up for it. thank you for considering it and for all your awesome work on this blog. nicole

    • hi kristia, you’re welcome to email your story to me at submit@projectcanary.org or submit online at https://projectcanaryblog.wordpress.com/your-story/ . you can write as much or as little as you’d like. i am about to make another round of objects to abandon during an upcoming lobby day here in washington state and would love to be able to code some of them with your story! thank you!

  7. p.s. thank you so much for telling your story, people really need to see the nuanced ways these kind of laws will impact lives.

  8. What do you think about people who support the personhood bill but disagree with the premise that this would affect IVF. Several of my friends (who have done IVF themselves or are about to) support the bill but make a case that it affects ALIVE unborn children. Therefore the handling of dead fetus and frozen embryos is a separate issue, and the jumps you make are pretty large. I would not be friends w someone who disagreed w my decision to pursue IVF, but I wouldn’t unfriend someone because they hold a different stance on policy on abortion than I do. I understand there is speculation it could affect IVF and that would be terrible, but that assumption would require another law to make that jump.

    • My thoughts are that I think they’re mistaken and should do their research. The bill is very vague and that leaves a huge potential for misinterpretation. I have no doubt that it’s not intended to halt IVF or other fertility treatments. But vague bills become vague laws, and that leaves a lot of room for misuse of the law. At the very least, it could make fertility doctors overly cautious of the treatments they perform (for instance, they may refuse to create more than 1-2 embryos at a time during an IVF process), for fear of malpractice suits. Your friends can make the case that it only affects a fetus (or whatever their definition of “alive” is) all they want, but that doesn’t make it so. I would highly encourage them to do their own research and check out Resolve’s stance on it: http://www.resolve.org/get-involved/the-center-for-infertility-justice/personhood-legislation/. These aren’t “jumps” that I’ve made myself; it’s a very broad concern.

      And for the record, I never said I wouldn’t be friends with somebody “because they hold a different stance on policy on abortion than I do.” I live in Small Town, Alabama–I’d get pretty lonely! The vast majority of my friends believe differently than I do regarding abortion. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t find fault with them either. How could I find fault with a person believing a life begins before I believe it begins, and wanting to protect that life? If they truly believe that, it’s a loving choice to want to protect it.

  9. Thank you for explaining this so well! I’ve been wondering how the personhood proposal would play into IVF. We’re not there yet, but it’s crazy to think it may not be an option when the time comes.

  10. Brill blog thanks.
    Currently waiting for paper work to come through to try IVF after 3 failed attempts of IUI last year.
    Very excited to get started but also nervous and feel sick thinking about it.
    Thanks again for your story
    MrsH (UK)

  11. I have to apologize, I could only read half your post or I was going to start crying. Maybe some day soon I can come back and finish your story. I have it saved for later 😊

  12. Your words about other people’s comments really resonates. If I had a pound for every person who said ‘it’ll probably happen naturally’ while you’re waiting, I’d be a rich woman. A girl in work is particularly bad for it, and it’s quite upsetting given that she stopped taking the pill against her partner’s wishes and ended up with a beautiful little boy.

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