This post is pretty personal, but I wanted to put it out there for two reasons. First, I think it’s pretty interesting. Second, I know there are other people out there in the same situation, and this might help them.
Making a baby is easy and fun
My wife, Adrienne, and I decided to have a baby back in January 2008 after we had been married for 2.5 years. 2 months later, she was pregnant with our daughter Molly, and 9 months after that, Molly was born. It just worked, and it was fun, if you know what I mean. Fast forward a few years…..
Around January 2010, we decided that we wanted to have another kid. Remembering back to the first few months of Molly’s life, I had some reservations (lack of sleep is a hell of a drug), but my wife convinced me and we started the Marvin Gaye process again. This went on for about a year with no pregnancy. Adrienne went to her OB/GYN for her annual checkup and talked to her about the issues. She started her on a drug called Clomid which stimulates the release of hormones necessary for ovulation to occur.
In case you didn’t know, ovulation is the phase of a female’s menstrual cycle in which a mature egg is released from the ovarian follicles. At that point, they are primed and ready to be fertilized if sperm comes into contact with them.
So we continued Marvin Gayeing for the next 3-4 months while she took Clomid, but still had no pregnancy. Adrienne’s OB/GYM suggested we see a fertility specialist, so we found Dr. Lu in New Orleans, who is a very kind and generous doctor.
Dr. Lu told us that if using Clomid for a few months didn’t work, not to worry, because that was really just a “first-choice” drug that is usually effective but not always. He started Adrienne on injectable medications (ouch) whose purpose is to stimulate better ovulation. She started with Follistim for a few months. As each month progressed, she went in for ultrasounds of her follicles to see how the eggs were growing and have the dosages adjusted. When the timing was just right, the doctor would tell us when to Marvin Gaye. Doctors orders, right? No problem…
We did that for a few months with no success. One of the months, we even did Intrauterine Insemination (think of a turkey baster and you have a good idea of how that works) with no success.
So, Dr. Lu put her on a different injectable medication called Menopur, which according to Adrienne, “hurt like a bitch” to inject. This also did not work. The main reason is because Adrienne’s ovaries were just not producing many eggs, even with large doses of medication. By the way, this medication was costing $2000+ per month.
Between the different injectable medications, we had done 3 different cycles/months without success. Dr. Lu shared the statistics and the chance of success goes down significantly after that many cycles, so he suggested in vitro fertilization (IVF).
In vitro fertilization
At a very basic level, IVF is a process by which an egg is fertilized by sperm outside the body. Typically, a woman is given drugs to help her produce a bunch of eggs, then the doctor extracts them from her body. Next, in a lab setting, sperm is brought into contact with the eggs and fertilization occurs. Finally, the “best” embryos are chosen and implanted back into the woman’s body, hopefully leading to pregnancy. And it works really well — 47.3% for women under age 35.
Nope, we aren’t doing IVF
We both believe that life begins at conception – when the egg and sperm meet. The problem with IVF, from an ethical/moral point of view, is that there is the potential for many live embryos (babies, in our view) to be created. Since only a few can be safely implanted into the woman, the rest have to either be frozen, given to medical research (in which they are eventually killed), or just allowed to die natually. We did not want to put ourselves in the position to have to make that decision. We did not want to create lives that would have no future possibility of life.
Of course, we are Catholic and the church also has strong objections to IVF, which we mostly agree with, but not 100%.
We knew that we still wanted to have another child, but we felt like we were out of options and discouraged. We went to a meeting at the Catholic Social Services group in Lafayette, LA regarding adoption. The meeting was very informative but also VERY discouraging. One thing that stood out was that “In the last year, we have only placed 3 children, and of those, none of them were healthy infants.” And, the cost of this is $30,000-$40,000. Ouch.
Our friend Lainey (name changed to protect her privacy)
I had seen on Facebook that our friend Lainey had recently had a baby and I vaguely remembered that she had gone through something called embryo adoption. So, I sent her a message and asked her about it. A few days later, I got an EPIC email from her with all kinds of details that really opened our eyes to the process and convinced us that this was what we should do.
Remember how I talked about our ethical issues with IVF above? Well, it turns out that many other people have gone through IVF and now have leftover embryos that are frozen. They are in the same quandary that we wanted to avoid. They have to either keep them frozen indefinitely or allow them to perish. But fairly recently, another option has emerged. They can donate these embryos to other couples who are having fertility issues. The frozen embryos can be thawed and then implanted in ANOTHER WOMAN’s body. So, the receiving woman would carry a baby in her body, but the baby would not be genetically related to her at all. Crazy.
NEDC and Dr. Keenan
At the forefront of this process is the National Embryo Donation Center and Dr. Keenan in Knoxville, TN. The NEDC is “a non-profit organization committed to protecting the lives and dignity of human embryos by promoting, facilitating and educating about embryo donation and embryo adoption.” Here’s a really good video explaining the process.
In February 2013, we flew to Knoxville to meet with Dr. Keenan and have some tests done to see if we were good candidates for the procedure. He told us that we have a very good chance of it being successful. So, we were penciled in for a transfer in May 2013, but we had a lot of work to do before then.
One of the requirements of the NEDC is that we complete a home study, which I had never heard of until we started this process. A home study is to evaluate our fitness as a family for the embryo adoption. They wanted to make sure we weren’t serial killers I guess. The irony is that anyone can have a kid “naturally” without any of this oversight. But I am not one to dwell on “poor me” so whatever. Oh yea, this cost $2000 but we passed.
The matching process
Next, we were sent 8-10 anonymous profiles of couples that had previously agreed to donate their embryos to the NEDC. It contained basic physical characteristics as well medical history, hobbies, etc. For me, this process was really strange, because it felt like I was judging these people and having to pick the “best”, even though in reality they were willing to donate their embryos to us and we should just be happy with that. So it felt really weird.
We ended up focusing not on physical characteristics (with the exception of weight) but more on medical history and interests. I believe a child is mostly a result of it’s upbringing, but some medical conditions like depression and obesity have a strong genetic component. Having struggled with both of those conditions myself, I didn’t want to have a child suffer with the same thing, if I could prevent it. And one of the couples liked Wilco, so I felt an immediate connection 🙂
The couple we liked the most only had 1 embryo. The next in line only had 2 embryos. Because the NEDC wanted us to have 5-6 embryos available, we had to pick a 3rd couple as well. We sent our selections back to the NEDC and awaited the couples approval. Within in a few days, all three had accepted us and we were very happy.
Open donation agreements
We wanted the embryo adoption to be “open” in that as the resultant baby grew, he/she would have some form of contact with his/her genetic parents. This is good for a lot of reasons, including knowing about medical issues that might affect the child. At the beginning, the contact is still anonymous and facilitated through a third party, but eventually contact details will be shared.
In order to facilitate the creation of open donation agreements, we worked with Debbie Burke at the National Fertility Support Center. Debbie had phone calls with all parties involved to find out their desires and concerns, then facilitated an agreement that everyone was happy with. In the end, the agreement between us and all three of the couples was very similar. We will be providing yearly updates/pictures as well as other important milestones/developmental progress. We hope to actually have very open relationships with all of the couples because of the gratitude that we have for them. But right now, all we know is their first names, where they live, and their family background.
So now, the last step is to actually thaw the embryos and put them in Adrienne’s body. The live birth success rate for Dr. Keenan’s clinic is 47%, so we are cautiously optimistic. If a pregnancy does not occur, we have the option of trying 2 more times (total of 3 attempts), but we hope that it works the first time!
The transfer date is set for May 21, 2013, so we will be flying to Knoxville, TN in a few days. After the transfer, we stay in Knoxville for an extra day, then come home. About 2 weeks later, Adrienne will take a pregnancy test to see if it worked. If so, she will be seen by a fertility doctor for the first few months of the pregnancy, and if a miscarriage doesn’t occur then, the changes of a live birth are really high.
In many ways, this is exactly like a traditional adoption that everyone understands. A baby is born and then adopted by parents who are not genetically related. The only difference with embryo adoption is that you adopt the baby while it is still in “embryo form” and actually carry it to full term. In neither form of adoption are you genetically related to the child.
I’ll keep you updated on the results of our transfer. We appreciate any prayers or positive vibes sent our way!