Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Baby, One More Time?


I had discovered that my new donor-conceived baby had a multitude of genetic siblings all across the country; unfortunately, none of them lived nearby and the two siblings she shared a home with would soon be leaving for college.

I never thought I would be the kind of woman who wished she could spend the next 10 years barefoot and pregnant, popping out babies. Now I was that woman, but it was too late. I envied celebrities like Hilaria Baldwin and Kim Kardashian who got to have big broods. If I was lucky, I would get to have one more, for a total of four girls. I could be like Marmee in Little Women! (The 1994 Susan Sarandon version, not the Greta Gerwig travesty.)

Knowing how important genetic relations might be to my baby in the future, I contacted West Coast IVF to ask if there were any more embryos from her profile. The reply back from my coordinator read: “We do not have any more embryos for the profile. I checked on any half-sibling embryos and there are none. We have reached out to the egg donor to see if she is interested in donating again and she has been non-responsive which indicates she is not interested in donating again.”

So a full genetic sibling was impossible – but maybe we could swing a half-sibling? I called the sperm bank (blushing all the while; I don’t know why I was so embarrassed) to ask if my sperm donor had any vials left. Turns out he did; plenty of ‘em. And they were only available to families who already had a baby with his genes, which meant I could buy as much as I wanted.

But to make embryos with that sperm would require going through an egg donor program, where once again we were looking at prices of $30 - $40K. Even if we could afford that (we couldn’t), we would likely end up with multiple embryos, which would force us to choose to destroy them (unthinkable), freeze them indefinitely (to what end?), or donate them to another couple (which went against my new conviction that farming out genetically similar embryos to different families was unethical).

Once again, a donor-donor embryo seemed the only way to grow our family. We could re-enter the program at West Coast IVF, but we’d have to go through all the hoops – paperwork, transfer of medical records, physician consult, bloodwork, saline-infused sonogram – everything except the therapist consult – before we could get on the waiting list for a match. According to the West Coast IVF Facebook group, it was taking clients up to six months to receive a PGS female profile.

We didn’t want to go through all that again…did we?

I was torn, for so many reasons.

1) I recognized that at 39, there were things in life that I was not going to (be able to) do anymore. Having babies might be one of them. Sometimes, I felt too old to be thinking about another baby. At the same time, I also knew there were plenty of women contemplating another kid (or even their first kid) at my age.

2) I questioned if it was ethical to bring another donor-conceived child into the world given that I now knew about the trauma some donor-conceived adults experienced. The donors would be anonymous again; what if we couldn’t find them in the future? Had I learned nothing from all my deep dives into the donor-conceived Facebook group?

3) I didn't want to rob time, attention, and resources away from the new baby in order to give her a little sister. Even just exploring all the options to make a sibling for her was stealing me away from her.

4) I was worried about my health. I felt fortunate to have had a pretty normal pregnancy and a beautiful birth experience, to have survived the hospitalization with endometritis, and that my body bounced back so quickly. Would it be dangerous to go off my cholesterol medication to go through pregnancy again? What about coronavirus? The pandemic showed no signs of slowing down; in Minnesota, we were nearing a third wave.

My husband shared all of these concerns.

“Of course I want our baby to have a little sister,” he said. “But more than anything, she needs to have her mom.”

He wondered if trying for another baby was asking too much from life, if this would turn out to be a “careful what you wish for” scenario, if another kid would further strain our relationship.

These were all good points. We didn’t want to test our luck…but isn’t luck for those who have no faith?

Every now and then, as I went about my daily routines, I did check-ins with myself, imagining how I would handle a baby plus a toddler. How would feeding time, bath time, and bedtime unfold? It’s not like I hadn’t handled two kids under 2 years old before – my teens are only 15 months apart – but when I had them, I hadn’t been working, too.

I would often feel overwhelmed imagining how much juggling I would have to do…but then I’d see my daughters helping each other with homework, chatting about whatever was trending on social media, or embarking on baking projects together, and I’d think that giving my baby a sisterly bond like that would be worth whatever hardship I would have to endure.

Of course, in this case, the sisterly bond might be different. These two girls would not be genetically related. Did that matter? I conjured all the people I knew, trying to figure out what made sibling relationships close. Was it being the same sex? Close in age? Genetically related? I couldn’t tease apart the various influences.

I turned to the West Coast IVF Facebook group to ask if anyone had donor-conceived babies from different profiles. Over 10 women responded in the affirmative, many of them detailing their big, blended family structures. One woman said she had nine kids, a combination of bio children, foster kids, and donor-conceived twins! No one reported a lack of bonding.

The next time my husband and I were alone, I made my case. I reminded him that we didn’t have to drop the big bucks until we accepted a match – and that would be months away. In the meantime, I could jump through all the medical hoops. I had hit my health insurance’s out-of-pocket max for the year with the birth, so it wouldn’t cost us anything to proceed. He said he would think about it, but within minutes, he caught me filling out the West Coast IVF forms on the computer. He just smiled and shook his head, too smart to stand in my way.

“No more after this one!” he said.

Just like the first time around, the administrative part of West Coast IVF’s program was frustratingly slow. I sent a lot of “checking in” emails and “circled back” more times than I could count. Finally, I got to the medical consultation part of the process. The same doctor who did my first transfer called me from California.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Probably the same thing every woman wants from you,” I thought. “Put a baby in me!”

I explained that I’d had a baby through West Coast IVF’s donor-donor embryo program in May.

“How soon would it be safe for me to do another transfer?” I asked.

“I prefer two years, birth to birth, but I’d be willing to do another transfer for you in April or May of next year,” he said. “You need to get your cholesterol down and stay on the Crestor for six months.”

While I knew this was a totally reasonable medical recommendation, it was not what I wanted to hear. I knew there were women on the West Coast IVF Facebook group – one who’d had twins and another who’d had a C-section – who offered transfers at nine months post-partum. Even that seemed to me like an insufferably long time. I fumed for a few days, then called West Coast IVF and left the doctor a message asking him to reconsider the transfer date, but he wouldn't budge.

I searched for other donor-donor embryo options. There was a clinic in Las Vegas that was willing to do a transfer at six months postpartum, but their available profiles were all leftover embryos from other couples’ IVF cycles. This meant older donors (as old as 41) and medically concerning family histories with conditions like schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and dementia. So while I could potentially get pregnant faster, the baby might not be as healthy. And because the Las Vegas clinic didn’t do PGS testing, I’d be tempted to transfer two embryos (to increase the success rate), and we wouldn’t know the sex. All the other donor-donor embryo options I investigated led to dead ends.

So that was that. The only way to go was through West Coast IVF. I would just have to be patient. I tried to comfort myself with the thought that maybe, while waiting for our match, my husband and I might conceive on our own spontaneously. But then I’d remember my bad genes, our ages (and subsequent increase in risk for Down Syndrome, autism, and other birth defects), and the fact that we didn’t want to be surprised by the sex of the baby, and natural conception lost its luster all over again.

Getting pregnant, no matter how I went about it, was still null and void, however, because at four months postpartum, my period was still MIA…

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