We speak of pregnancy and childbirth as being “transformative,” but what does this really mean? Explore this idea by seeing it through the eyes of four women interviewed by Ph.D. candidate Rachael L. Gerbic.
Natalie’s husband is a cancer survivor and she herself had lost an ovary and fallopian tube due to complications from cysts that had developed from endometriosis when she was younger, so when it came time to start planning a family together, they both knew they would have some obstacles.
At age 30, Natalie learned that she had low ovarian reserve and that she was peri-menopausal, meaning she was ovulating like a woman 15 years older. Her husband reassured her that this was not the worst thing in the world and that they could always adopt a child if they could not conceive.
But Natalie wasn’t quite ready to go that route and wasn’t ready to accept that she could not bear her own child. She joined some infertility groups looking for support, though many of the women got pregnant through IVF, and her situation was just different. She also sought out therapy, read a lot of books, practiced meditation, did yoga, reiki, and acupuncture. “I was doing everything in my power,” she says. “I thought that I could fix the problem myself.”
She visited five different doctors and followed their advice, taking the highest doses of estrogen, but she still wasn’t producing the quality eggs needed for IVF. One doctor even recommended using an egg donor and at the time she said, “No way, what is that? No way.”
But Natalie was sure she wanted a baby. “I wanted a child more than anything. I didn’t care how we got it…[I asked myself] could we live child-free, and the answer was no.” So they went about finding a way to make it happen. They tried to conceive naturally, they tried IVF, and they tried IUI but none of these methods resulted in pregnancy and cost them a lot of money out of pocket as insurance didn’t cover them. Five years and thousand of dollars later, the couple finally decided to look for an egg donor.
They looked into donor agencies and after selecting one, chose an anonymous donor from the website, focusing mainly on physical characteristics similar to their own. After their initially chosen donor backed down, and a second had a change of heart after getting married, they found a third donor and proceeded with the preparations of taking medications, getting on the same menstrual cycle so that the embryo would stick, extracting the viable eggs, joining the egg and sperm in the lab, and finally, transferring the embryo. The total cost was $25,000, which included the agency fees, the donor herself, airfare, hotel, medical screening, and lawyers’ fees.
Natalie sees the whole process as a medical miracle rather than a spiritual act. “Everyone would say, ‘Oh, God willing you’re pregnant’ and I’m like, No, it wasn’t God willing- it was medical intervention! It was science.”
Natalie says the process of getting pregnant was the most challenging part- her pregnancy went smoothly and the birth was an amazing experience. “I just felt empowered.” She said to herself, “I’ve gone through all this, I can definitely do it naturally.” And she did, with just her husband there by her side. “I never thought it would be possible, it’s so transformative… I’m so proud of myself.” She visualized the birth process as it happened, just as she had visualized her body accepting the egg transfer and then the embryo growing inside her. During the birth, the nurse asked if she wanted a mirror to watch the process but when they brought it, she just closed her eyes and visualized it, so finally they took it away. “I was just in my own zone…totally.”
Natalie shares her story with those who she thinks will understand. Her husband’s family is very traditional and when she mentioned fertility problems they told her to just relax, “You’re doing something wrong.” They just don’t understand. “People think that infertility is not an issue and it really is. It’s absolutely huge.”
Now the mother of a beautiful, energetic 8 month-old boy, she finds people will say, “Oh, he looks like you” and the truth is, he really does. The couple is now trying for a second child with another egg from the same donor that has been frozen since the first extraction.
Let’s see what the world has to give you this time, Natalie!