1. What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
I have always wanted children. I played with dolls, babysat, worked at camps, and taught piano lessons. And like most people, I wanted to focus on my career, get married, and then start my family.
At 36, my sweet stepfather passed away. It was heart wrenching to see my mother widowed, after having found true love later in life. Being around all that loss intensified my longing to create life. I was in a relationship at the time, but no matter how hard we worked at it, there were incompatibilities. I could feel my clock ticking and grew tired of waiting. I broke up with my girlfriend and made an appointment with a gynecologist.
As a lesbian single woman, conception would most likely involve an IUI at a doctor’s office. So I figured I might as well get my fertility checked while I was there.
I was stunned when my day two blood test revealed high FSH and a low ovarian reserve.
The OBGYN told me that since most patients don’t come to her until after trying for six to twelve months, it’s impossible to know the statistics on perimenopausal women who conceive naturally, since the successful ones don’t get tested. She said I should have “exposure to sperm” before moving to IVF. She also said I should see a specialist.
I called my insurance to make sure the visit to the fertility clinic would be covered (I was living in New York City at the time). My insurance advised me since I hadn’t been trying for six months with a man, it wouldn’t be covered. I argued that as a lesbian, this rule shouldn’t apply, especially since I was diagnosed with having low ovarian reserve. I was told that no exception could be made. I consulted with an LGBTQ rights lawyer who said that even though it was prejudiced, there wasn’t enough legal precedent to fight it. Needless to say, I was pissed.
I met with a famous fertility specialist who callously told me that my only hope for pregnancy would be with an egg donor. He had no empathy for the fact that I would be paying out of pocket because I hadn’t been trying with a man. I stormed out of his office and never returned.
I found a doctor willing to do IUI’s with me. We did three rounds with no result. I transferred to another clinic, ready to begin IVF. Again, the doctors said that since I hadn’t been “exposed to sperm”, I should do more IUI’s. I did 4 more cycles but felt like it was a complete waste of time.
At this point, I panicked. The costs of IVF terrified me. I actually even started the process of making Aliyah because IVF is free in Israel until you are 44. I had never actually been to Israel, but this “small” detail didn’t phase me. I had heard great things about Tel Aviv and besides, if I didn’t like it, I could always return home.
I looked into adoption as well and learned that it is equally expensive. Since I am publicly ‘out’ as a lesbian, it would rule out many international adoption opportunities for a baby, and make domestic adoption more difficult too. As meaningful as fostering to adopt is, the more I researched, the more I realized I didn’t want to take on those challenges, especially as a single parent, and a first-time mom.
I met with one more specialist in New York City before completing my application for Israel. When I told him my plan to move to a country I had never visited, he offered to do natural IVF, for only $800 each cycle. His theory was that diminished ovarian reserve does not equate poor egg quality - we just needed to find one good egg. He pointed out that I was ‘only’ 36 and my eggs were much younger than most of his other patients.
We did a couple of retrievals, each producing two three-day embryos. We transferred the embryos, one at a time. I had one chemical pregnancy followed by one eight-week miscarriage.
The miscarriage was brutal. At five weeks, the fetus’s heart and growth slowed. I had to go in every few days and watch my little baby die. While there is a chance a fetus can make a comeback, the odds are so small, that it would have been a real miracle. Hearing the silence where a heartbeat should be, at every ultrasound, was unbearable. My doctor sat me down and said that at some point I needed to ‘call it’.
We scheduled a D&C. I had some friends come and hold my hand. The drugs they put you on are strong. Apparently, I was rambling on about egg donation and adoption and how I was going to get my baby no matter what. My doctor said I was pretty loopy and had everyone in the OR laughing.
The grief after a miscarriage is devastating. Losing a baby or child has got to be one of the saddest experiences. I always think of this Zen story, when I think about the loss of a child:
A sick man asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family, to be treasured from generation to generation. The Master wrote:
-Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.
The sick rich man was indignant.
-Is that what you write for the happiness of my family? A tasteless joke!
-No joke intended, said Sengai – if your son would die before you, that would be very sad. If your grandson would die before you and your son, you would be broken-hearted. If your family dies in the order I have written down, isn’t that prosperity and happiness?
REFERENCE: Understanding Women in Distress by Dr. Pamela Ashurts, Dr Zaida Hall
I held a memorial in Central Park with some friends. I drew a picture of the embryo on a small stone; copying the shapes from the photograph the doctor had given me on the day of transfer. We brought trinkets and flowers, and we each said something about loss.
It was at this point I decided I had had enough. I felt even more resolve that my genetics were not as important to me as having a healthy baby. I found a clinic with the best donor egg statistics in the country, which also had a money-back guarantee program where if you don’t bring home a baby, you get a full refund. I decided that if this didn’t work, I would take back my money and use it to adopt. It felt good to have a solid plan in place.
You can imagine my joy when the first transfer of donor egg and donor sperm worked! In the first trimester, I was both thrilled and worried that something would go wrong. But when I started feeling my baby kick, I grew more confident. I imagined that when I finally held him or her in my arms, I would break down, sobbing with relief. Instead I surprised myself by feeling calm and cool. My mother and I broke out singing, “You Are My Sunshine”.
With the birth of my son (and the ensuing demands of motherhood), I quickly forgot most of the details of my struggle to conceive. I wouldn’t have even remembered the ceremony in Central Park if it hadn’t been documented in Vegas Baby (a movie about IVF that is now up for an Emmy)! About a year after my son was born, I watched Vegas Baby again and was shocked to see how much I had forgotten.
And I’m not done yet. Now, I’m taking estrogen in prep for the transfer of donor egg and donor sperm, to conceive my second child. I am using the same sperm donor as my son, but with a new egg donor as my son’s egg donor is now retired.
So far, I have found that going through fertility treatments the second time around is much easier. I have done one failed transfer (leftover from the retrieval that produced my son) and one egg donor retrieval that failed to produce healthy embryos. I now know when to trust the doctors, when to fight them, when to distract myself, and when to let myself cry. Most importantly, I know I will succeed, so long as I remain flexible, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Just the other day, one of our oldest family friends saw a photo of me, my mother, and my son on Facebook. She told us it’s hard to believe he isn’t genetically related (yes, there’s epigenetics but you know what she meant), and that my son has the same dynamic energy of everyone in our family – not to mention the big blue eyes, love of music, and gift of the gab.
2. How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
When I was going through it, I told myself it would make me a better mom because I would appreciate my child more. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, as I have nothing to compare it to. I think I experience motherhood pretty much like any other mom - the ups, downs, challenges and unending love. Sometimes I wonder if I carry some of the trauma of infertility into my experience of parenthood; expressing itself in anxiety. On the other hand, what mother isn’t somewhat anxious?
How can you ever really know who you would be, if your life hadn’t played out the way it did? We are who we are, influenced by our experiences. Now that I have my child whom I love dearly, I am at peace with what I went through to create him.
3. When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
Having a plan in place was the most important thing that kept me going. I also had an incredible fertility coach/therapist who knew the field, had been through it herself, and helped me stay positive. I see infertility as a state of war. It’s awful but you just have to keep pushing through until you get out of it. And when the war is over, you do forget about it and move on.
4. What have you learned through this experience?
I have learned to be more compassionate when friends become ill or have things happen to them that are beyond their control. It has also made me very irritated at pseudoscience and our culture’s tendency to blame the victim. While there’s no harm in getting a fertility massage or thinking positive thoughts, I don’t believe those things can “cure” infertility. You don’t experience a loss because you are too stressed / didn’t eat enough kale / thought negative thoughts / weren’t spiritually ‘ready’ enough. Some women’s eggs age faster than others and there are multiple medical complications that can affect fertility. It’s not the patient’s fault if he/she struggles to conceive.
5. What did you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
My fertility coach told me over and over that I WOULD get a baby. She said that she didn’t know if I would get my baby through pregnancy or adoption, but that if I wanted it, it would happen. Her personal experience with adoption agencies is that they do find babies for all of their clients eventually. I think the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” holds real value.
6. How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
When I reflect back, I feel so grateful to have finally succeeded. I am so lucky I can carry a child. But I know that even if I couldn’t, I would have moved on to surrogacy or adoption. There are still moments where I can’t believe my son is here, and that I am his mom.
7. In three words describe yourself before/during/after miscarriage (in miscarriage specific situations)?
8. How have others responded to your infertility situations? Has it impacted your relationships? What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
Going through infertility has connected me more deeply with others. I love helping and providing positive encouragement to others who are going through it. I understand illness and struggle on a deeper level than I ever did before.
9. Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I am an actress, writer, and entrepreneur with many projects on the go. I act in film & TV, perform as a Lady Gaga Impersonator, write about fertility and parenting for magazines such as Chatelaine and Today’s Parent, work as a fertility coach, own a boutique hotel, and recently launched Alternative Families International Magazine. I have a real passion for creativity, family building and community.
10. What is your favourite quote?
Choose to be optimistic. It feels good.
- Dalai Lama