I still remember the doctor's face during my annual well-woman's check-up when I was 41 years old. I had just shared with him that I would like to have another child. His tone changed to a very monotone, Dr. Spock articulation and he developed a sort of "deer-in-the-headlight" expression. "The odds are not good," he said, and my heart sank. My oldest biological child had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness at age 7. Although my desire to add to our family was still strong, my husband's desire was not. For him, the equation became, "Children equal pain -- the worst pain ever." Our firstborn had to undergo grueling, disfiguring treatments and was not expected to live. We were told that it would be a long, slow process. The brain tumor that the neurosurgeon had removed would almost surely grow back, and because she had metastases down her spinal column that required full brain/spine radiation, future treatment options were limited. They could operate again. And possibly again, depending on the location of the recurrence, but ultimately this terrible disease would claim her life. Out of respect for my husband, I held off trying to get pregnant. He finally came around, but by then I was in my early forties. What my ob/gyn was telling me made it sound like it was now too late. Luckily, I sought a second opinion. And I eventually sought treatment from a specialist. These specialists are called "reproductive endocrinologists." My first specialist was a young woman, and I could tell that she disapproved of my desire to have another child. Or maybe it was just my sensitivity to being over forty and trying to get "knocked up." At the very least, she appeared less than enthusiastic about my desire to get pregnant. Looking back now, I realize that she was pretty much blowing me off. By this time, I was 43 years old. We had been "trying" on our own for awhile. I would get pregnant but then suffer an early miscarriage. I later learned that almost 50% of pregnancies for women in their forties end in miscarriage. Dr. First, I'll call her, did not do any testing. Not even a blood test. I now know that testing my ovarian reserve and FSH could have saved me about 3 years, but initially I trusted that this doctor was doing all she could to help me. She told me that if I did not become pregnant with Clomid that I should move on to egg donation. "Egg what?" I remember asking. She explained, and I remember thinking, "No way." I even told her that if I could not become pregnant on my own, then we would give up. I now know that this is a rather common response among fertility patients. Nobody wants to resort to donor gametes, and it takes awhile to wrap your head around the concept.
Fast forward through 2 years of trial after trial of Clomid without success. We looked at international adoption. Not as easy as everybody seems to think, especially given our age. And the time it involves. A minimum of 2 trips of 2-weeks duration to the foreign country and the whole process can take from 18 to 24 months! " Gosh," I thought, "I'm getting older by the minute, I cannot wait two years! Who will take care of my daughter and son and work to pay the bills if one of us is on another continent?" Nope. Adoption was not going to work for us. Finally, my wonderful, new ob/gyn (a woman, I might add) referred me to Dr. Kathy Doody at the Center for Assisted Reproduction. My doctor told me, "If the Doody's cannot get you pregnant, then nobody can." During my fist visit, Dr. Kathy was very direct and told me that at age 44, my best chance of getting pregnant was to use donor eggs. In fact, Dr. Kathy told me that she would not do IVF with my own eggs. The chance of success was just too slim. I really needed somebody to tell me that and not mince words. It helped to get that closure. I knew in my heart that she was right. And I immediately knew that I was ready to move on to egg donation. I still wanted another baby. Who cares if I have to "borrow" an egg? I would still be the birthmother, and the child would be my husband's child. A flash of jealousy surged through my veins at the thought of some "young" egg joining with my hubby's sperm. Then rational thought took over again, and I realized that it was more important for me to have this child, than to get hung up on what happens in a petrie dish. After all, my daughter (yes, she survived the brain cancer albeit with lifelong disabilities) and then 9-year-old son both strongly resembled my husband. A child born of egg donation would also probably favor him, and who would be the wiser, right? Boy, did I have a lot to learn. Looking back, I'm not sure how I really got through those days. But I kept going. Each criteria that I had to meet represented a step that I was capable of taking. Recent PAP smear? Check. EKG to make sure that my heart was healthy enough for pregnancy at my age? Check. Recent mammogram? Check. Blood work? Check. Psychological consult? WHAT????? Okay. Now my early paranoia reared its ugly head. They think I am crazy for wanting to have another baby at my age, don't they? I knew it. What if I don't pass? Should I be honest and tell this person that I am secretly a little jealous of the egg donor and all of her young, vibrant eggs? Should I mention that my husband looks a little sheepish when we discuss what characteristics he thinks are important in a potential donor? It's like asking your husband to describe the woman he would marry IF something happened to you. God no. I'm going to keep my mouth shut. I'm going to be the most NORMAL person that psychologist has ever seen. Question: Does my husband have to come in also? Oh no, now we're sunk.