I Can Breathe Again

Hey, thanks for bearing with me through a series of panic attacks. It really threw us to fail three IVFs and two FETs, with no end in sight, knowing the next thing(s) could easily fail too, and not knowing how much more failure we could take.

When I heard about California Conceptions, I felt like I could breathe again. A 90% success rate and a money-back guarantee? It’s the closest thing to a sure thing this planet has to offer right now. And the cost is high but not insane. And we’ll probably have at least one baby by the end of 2017.

(Oh God, the bottom dropped out of my stomach when I wrote that. I keep thinking, every year, “Surely we’ll have a baby by the end of next year…” But this time I might finally be right.)

Anyway, it’s the best chance we have. We could probably try IVF or egg donation a few times and get lucky. But it could easily put us deeply in debt, and we might still end up with no baby, and we’re just done with this horrible game of Russian Roulette.

So, bottom line, I’m not feeling as cornered and crazy, and I can think and feel and look forward again without feeling like the walls are closing in on me. It’s good to feel alive and human again.

fresh

I just talked to the doctor assigned to us at California Conceptions, and he answered all my questions brilliantly and just seems super nice. I feel like we’re in good hands.

I joined some discussion groups of couples who’ve gone through it (or are going through it), and they are so supportive. People have generally been through several wringers before ending up at California Conceptions, so they know. And still CC has a 90% success rate, and women are always showing off their twins, and the vibe isn’t “Oh, I’m jealous I don’t have that” but “Cool, that’s gonna be me soon!” It’s all very positive.

And it’s nice that the clinic is in the Bay Area, a place I know pretty well.

Of course, the idea of having no genetic link to our kid(s), and the anonymous nature of the donations, requires some thought and considerations. For me, oddly, I couldn’t care less about my own genetic contribution, but my husband is so sweet and handsome, it’d be really nice to see him in the kids. And will the kid(s) want to know more about the donors, and if so, will I be able to track that information down for them?

I asked some people on the forum about this, and they said they couldn’t even express how deeply they had imprinted on their children, and with epigenetics and everything else, kids have a tendency to look more like their parents (the parents who are raising them, that is, as opposed to the donors) than you might expect.

In any case, whatever a baby looks like, tiny humans are amazing. And the more deeply loved, wanted people on earth the better, right? Our kid(s) will be so loved they won’t even know what to do with all the love.

(Ha, I sound like Trump: “You are going to do so much winning, you’re going to get sick of winning!”)

As for any issues that may come up about genetics or the donors, I suppose we’ll just have to think and feel our way through it as it comes up. As deeply loved as our kids will be, and as honest as we’ll be about everything, I have a feeling it will be fine.

All in all I’m in a really good state of mind for the first time in a long time. It is such a breath of fresh air.

Just in time for winter so I can hunker down and finish my novel before things (hopefully) get exciting around here…

I’m not a ‘Warrior,’ I’m Mad as Hell

You gotta vent every now and then, don’t you? Well, here I go.

I know that on this ‘journey’ you’re supposed to be a warrior, a fighter, strong and serene, doing what you can and accepting that the universe will provide at just the right time.

Well, fuck that. Sorry, but we’re just feeling low these days. Really low. We did things right. We were thoughtful and conscientious. We got married when I was 33 and he was 30 — plenty of time to get all our “trying to conceive” done by the reproductively cursed age of 35. We’d have one when I was 34, then get pregnant the next year and have baby number two when I was 36. Boom, done. We were excited, motivated, and ready. Healthy, active, and happy.

We moved from New York to my home state of Oklahoma, where there’s family nearby, it’s more spacious, and the cost of living is reasonable, to start our family. And we came with a nice nest egg of $30,000, saved carefully over a few years. Amazingly, as Ahmed was building his web design business and I was writing my book, we managed not to touch that money. We still had it as a cushion, a way to take a chance on growing or augmenting Ahmed’s business (some ideas don’t pay for themselves for several months), allowing me to write a third book, traveling somewhere really exciting, and/or putting a down payment on a house.

pamahmedThis is us, happy, before we ever started trying for kids

Until months and years and two surgeries for endometriosis went by, and half of our savings ($15,000) went to our first three IVFs and two FETs in Istanbul.

And they failed. Two failed cycles with no transfer, one miscarried FET, and one big fat negative after being stuck in an absolutely sweltering Istanbul for six weeks for FET #2 with no air conditioning. That’s probably why I ovulated through my estrogen patches, which is probably why the FET failed. My doctor that time was a patronizing jackass. I told him I was afraid I was sweating through my estrogen patches and begged him to check me mid-cycle — an eminently reasonable and simple request that would have taken him five minutes, and that most doctors do routinely. He refused. God only knows what that refusal has cost us.

And now here we are. I’m 36, which means in the absolute best case scenario, we’ll have twins when I’m 37 (and God knows plenty can go wrong with twins, especially when they’re you’re first and you’ve entered ‘advanced maternal age’), and in the second-best, I’ll have my second kid when I’m pushing forty. Not something that was ever in our plans. And these are our two best possible scenarios. It could be plenty worse.

Dammit, I still routinely get asked if I’m in college. Why can’t I look young on the inside, too?

(No judgment, by the way, for women having children at any age. This just wasn’t our plan.)

We can keep trying naturally as long as we want, but our chances still aren’t good, and my endometriosis (probably) comes back more and more every month. (The only way to know for sure is to do another surgery.) Which means it’ll be smart to try to figure out what to do next, pro-active-like. Which most likely means another $15,000 or so for any option besides foster adoption (which we’re gun-shy about after three years of heartbreak) — the end of our nest egg. The end of our cushion, our pocket of freedom we were so careful to save for ourselves.

And insurance doesn’t cover anything — as if your reproductive system is some kind of trifling luxury. I feel like we’re being punished. I feel like we’ve been robbed. And what if the next thing doesn’t work? Then we’re really screwed. Broke and childless, when we could have had two kids by now and some of our nest egg still left over.

I know, I know. Shit happens. You can do your part in the best possible faith, work your ass off, pay your dues, and the universe still might not deliver. The universe is not Domino’s fucking Pizza.

But it just sucks that our first three years of marriage, which should have been so blissful and exciting, have turned into a long expensive nightmare of procedures and heartbreak and grieving. Grieving something that, once at least, almost was (the embryo we miscarried was a chromosomally normal boy), but in general is just absent. We’re empty inside, feeling constantly choked and helpless, like our life is passing us by. Every anniversary brings us not joy but dread — another goddamn year gone.

We try not to feel that way, but it’s like being told not to think of an elephant.

Three prime years, wasted. Not wasted entirely, of course. But as far as the most important thing to us — those years we could have spent with our kids are gone. Sure, we played a metric crap-ton of soccer, and I did some book tours that took me through several US states and six new countries (Scotland, the Netherlands, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE). Ahmed and I spent six months together in Istanbul (though not really by choice — that’s how long it took to do three IVFs and our first FET, which ended in miscarriage). We had some good times despite the crazy stress.

And we spent money we didn’t have to go on a huge 6,000-mile road trip through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming this spring (and hit a deer outside Yellowstone, which cost us an extra thousand bucks), thinking it would be our last chance before a baby was on the way. (And it probably is — however and whenever a baby gets here, we can’t afford to do that shit again for a long time.)

And Ahmed taught himself web design and has turned it into a living, though business is down lately, which adds that much more stress for us. My novel is almost done, but I could have finished it in two years instead of three if I didn’t spend so much time distracted and depressed, or so many endless hours researching the very latest in reproductive science. That time feels wasted, too. I mean, normally fertile people don’t even have to think about that shit. (And yeah, I shouldn’t be so obsessive. But when it comes to the most important thing in my life, it’s damned hard not to be.) And, of course, the novel may never bring in a dime for us (though several freelance editing projects did), but I kept putting off getting a ‘real job’ because I kept thinking I’d be pregnant any month now…

Anyway, as Ahmed has said, all that other stuff starts to feel hollow when the ‘main dish’ isn’t there.

We really don’t want to feel that way. But we do.

And I’m SO BORED with this bullshit, I can only imagine how little anyone else wants to talk or think about it, so I just swallow it and try to act normal, even if it’s a baby shower for the third baby of a cousin who’s younger than me, or a family gathering with my six nephews who are growing older every day but should have grown up as cousins with our kids.

I know that someone else’s gain isn’t my loss. But our loss is our loss. And we’re reminded of it constantly.

With our nest egg gone, we’re going to have to probably get more conventional jobs and abandon our little dreams. We’re already living at the bare minimum, in a small apartment cooking our own food, not even paying for Netflix or cable or cell phones (except my $7-a-month pay-as-you-go flip phone for emergencies), rarely going out except to play soccer (which is free except for our league games). Most of the TV we watch is pirated and has Turkish subtitles (which is really annoying when they start speaking Valyrian on Game of Thrones). There’s not much more fat to trim. But we have to start saving again, or how the hell are we going to actually raise kids?

Sigh. It was all planned out so beautifully, so carefully. It just sucks that, through no fault of our own, it somehow turned into this sad, broke shit.

And believe me, I know our lives are blessed in so many ways. And I shouldn’t focus too much on what I don’t have. And for a couple of years I was pretty OK. But after three years? It’s hard for either of us to have faith in anything, and it’s unthinkable for us not to have kids. So we feel squeezed and trapped in so many ways — and I, at least, also feel guilty for not handling it better, for not being the strong and fearless person I thought I was. This shit has ground my ass down.

So, that’s my little pity party. I’ve been holding it in for a while, and holding it in doesn’t work well for me. I gotta spew it eventually. Purge it.

Hopefully I’ll feel a little lighter tomorrow.

Another Hat in the Ring: California Conceptions

I read somewhere about a different path that has a lot to recommend it: Embryo “adoption” at California Conceptions. The basic idea is that they create embryos using healthy young donors and match you with an embryo (or embryos if you want to transfer two) based on your preferences (in our case not that picky other than healthy, which they should be anyway with the comprehensive screening). We don’t get to pick, we just give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to profiles they choose. And we don’t get to see photos, which is probably a good thing in a way. It’s better to think of the child as its own little unique life, conjured out of love and healthy genetic building blocks. No expectations, just watching the new life unfold.

You get up to three tries in one year for $12,500 (not including your meds, travel, and health screenings, which will add another $2,500 or so, give or take). If you are healthy enough, you can qualify for the refund option, which means if you don’t get pregnant in three tries, you get the $12,500 fee back. Due to their stringency with donor and recipient health screenings, their success rates are roughly 90%.

And if you’re in that 10%, you can get your money back.

Here’s the thing about going to Mexico: So many things can go wrong. The donor we choose might back out, or she might not be sure how to use the medications, or there might be a problem in the lab, or my husband might be having a bad day when it’s time to make his contribution, or the donor’s eggs might not be as good as they should be based on her age, or I might get sick on the food, or…

Before we did our IVF in Turkey, I would have charged boldly ahead and damn the torpedoes. But now I know what it’s like to be stuck in a foreign country when things have gone wrong. I know what it’s like to fall ill with a miserable summer flu and high fever just before egg retrieval. I know what it’s like to be not quite sure the lab and your doctor are doing all they can (and should). I know what it’s like to sweat through estrogen patches because of a heat wave (and no air conditioning) and thus ruin a cycle. I know what it’s like to get a report that everything has gone wrong and you’ve ended up with nothing despite huge expense and (what seems like) heroic effort, which means you’re going to be stuck far, far from home for another month or more (and pay a fortune to change your plane tickets, and for accommodations) to try again and things still might not work. I know what it’s like to travel through eight time zones dealing with bureaucracy at each step, stressed out and not even knowing if you’re pregnant or not. I know what it’s like to go through a miscarriage just ten days after the most thrilling news of my life.

I felt like I could have dealt with any of the things (and so many others we’ve had to deal with), or some combination. But all of it together, for forty months (and counting), has ground me down. I feel like it’s going to be very hard for me to go through any more high-wire acts at this point. I know I’ve “only” had two surgeries, one IUI, three IVFs, two FETs, and a miscarriage. And we’ve “only” blown through 3+ years and maybe $20,000 when you add it all together. So many women have gone through so much more, so much worse. And I thought that after traveling solo through the Middle East and everything else, I could handle this better. But I feel pretty PTSD about the whole thing. I’m so ready for this part of my life to be over.

So, we can pay in the neighborhood of $15,000 for three transfers and a 90% chance of a baby (and a refund if it doesn’t work) or almost that much for egg donation in Mexico, hopefully at least two transfers, and maybe around a 75% chance (unless things go all sideways), but no refund if it doesn’t work.

I’ve heard great things about IREGA in Cancun (wonderful female head doctor and very friendly staff), and I’ve also heard lovely things about the doctors at California Conceptions. And CC is right there in the Bay Area, where I know people (and know the language) and know how to get around. Of course, Cancun has gorgeous beaches, and lovely Mexican food. 🙂

Either way it’s the end of our savings, and we aren’t keen to go into debt for this. But being child-free has never been something either of us has considered. So if our next try doesn’t work, we feel like we’re really running over a cliff.

Going to Mexico feels a bit like skydiving — thrilling and exciting (we pick the egg donor, and my husband is the bio-father!), but with a roughly 25% chance the parachute won’t open. CC feels more like a gondola ride. More sheltered, not nearly as exciting, but you’ll probably get where you’re going without too many (more) major hiccups or catastrophes.

Hopefully.

Of course I have to ask the question, what right do we have to create a whole new life when there are children who already exist who need parents, and embryos that already exist that could become children?

From what I know, the waiting lists for already-created healthy donor embryos tend to be pretty long — which is one of the reasons California Conceptions started doing this thing in the first place: huge demand. And many already-created embryos were, of course, created by couples who (apparently) had issues (and are probably older), otherwise they wouldn’t need to do IVF. And it’s not like you’re getting the best of the lot; you’re getting the leftovers. Sometimes they are wonderful, of course, but it adds another layer of risk.

And it’s a whole headache finding the donors and squaring away all the legal details and transferring the embryos between clinics, etc. As for the cost, one embryo donation place we looked at charges around $10,000 for just one try. The lowest I’ve heard for that in the US is $6,000 for one try, and we’d be damned lucky to find something like that. And still it would be $12,000 for two tries, as opposed to three, and with no money-back guarantee.

So if it doesn’t work, you’re back at square one.

We’re sick of square one.

As for “regular” adoption, it costs $20,000 at the bare minimum, and we’d risk that being “disrupted,” too. (We probably wouldn’t qualify for it anyway, being freelance nomads.) The thought of going through foster adoption, with such long waits and so many unknowns and so many people to deal with and go through makes us both twitch. Especially the very likely possibility that we’d bond to a kid only to have the child returned to his or her biological parents. We might be ready for that after we’ve had our first kid — after we’ve learned how to be parents. After the sting of the past three years has started to wear off. But right now we just want it to be us, and we want a healthy baby.

Hopefully we won’t be judged too harshly for wanting what most couples get for free and choosing not to take on something that feels way over our heads right now.

Of course, I could be wrong, and foster adoption might be our best option — our kid might be waiting for us right now, and the whole thing could go super quickly. Sometimes it works out like a dream. But… sometimes you lose a kid you’ve fallen in love with, and right now it’s hard to imagine surviving that.

Pregnancy comes with its own risks, of course, especially at ‘my age’ (almost 37), even if I look and feel 27.

Sigh. Y’all who just have sex and have a kid within a few months of having the notion have no freaking idea how easy you have it. At least this part of it. No freaking idea.

I wish no one ever had any idea.

But… I feel like we will be parents within the next two years. And that’s pretty thrilling to think about.

Next Stop: Mexico?

So… yeah, after three years and enough money down the drain to put a down payment on a modest home, all we have to show for it is one miscarriage. The three IVF cycles did not go well, but it might have been because it was too close to the surgery, or I was too stressed out from travel. Two doctors have said I’m a good candidate to try again.

But I’m thinking… no. Including the two egg donation cycles I did when I was 30 (I was the donor in that case), I’ve done a total of five IVF cycles (the hard part anyway), and I’m just kinda done. Not because the cycles are physically hard (though they aren’t exactly fun) but because waiting at each step is so incredibly stressful, and failing is so incredibly painful. And because of having surgery on both ovaries, because of my endometriosis, because of my age (almost 37), my chances just frankly aren’t that good.

If I tried five more times, yeah, maybe I’d get lucky. Hell, I probably would. But I just can’t put myself through that.

Luckily there is a way to take my chances from 25% (or whatever they are) to roughly 70%: Donor eggs. Take my age, my ovaries, my endometriosis out of the equation, and suddenly the road looks a hell of a lot sunnier. (Studies show that transferring non-endometriosis eggs into a body with endometriosis gives you as good a chance as putting them into a non-endometriosis body. In other words, it neutralizes that factor, as well as age. Yay.)

Genetics have never been of prime importance to me, nor is jealousy that my husband might conceive a baby with another woman’s donated tissue. In fact, that main thing that bothers me about egg donation is the anonymous nature of it. Unless you find your own donor, most donations are closed to any kind of contact. Which doesn’t seem fair to the kid or the donor. I’d love to send at least a Christmas card every year to the person who helped us start a family. And I’d love for them to be available for any questions the child might have. So that part sucks — and I have a feeling it won’t be that way forever. It’s a beautiful thing, and in my opinion, it should simply be normalized — heck, celebrated.

Anyway, we can’t come close to affording egg donation in the US. It’s $20,000 at the bare minimum, and follow-up frozen embryo transfers cost at least a few grand more. I just can’t deal with prices in the US. It’s ridiculous and exploitative.

That leaves two main options (that I know about): Mexico and the Czech Republic.

The clinics in the Czech Republic are so cheap, it strikes me as odd. Something like $6000 for egg donation. Maybe it’s just a really good deal, but something about it smells weird. I also understand you don’t get to pick your donor — they pick for you, and you don’t even get to see a picture. That seems a bit dodgy as well. Plus it’s in a time zone far away, and I’ve learned that long international trips do not combine well with assisted reproductive technology, at least for me and my not-yet-a-US-citizen Turkish husband.

I’d be glad to hear about anyone else’s thoughts / experience

Mexico is a little pricier, but much closer to home, and also closer to beaches if you do it right. 🙂 Egg donation “only” sets you back about ten grand (sigh…) with a FREE frozen embryo transfer if needed (you just pay for meds) plus a couple grand for plane tickets and an Airbnb place in town. They sent me a list of donors with pictures and a good deal of information. The donors are mostly Mexican with a few other nationalities mixed in, and with some of them I feel a comfortable connection. Some are university students, others are mothers already, a few are in graduate school.

I only wish I could meet them and cheer them on as they embark on the often thankless task of cultivating a few eggs to give to someone they’ll probably never meet. As I said, I did egg donation when I was 30. It’s a two-week process, and for me it was relatively easy (if a bit clinical and theoretical, since I was shielded from the whole point of the thing), and I was glad to do it. But it would have been so cool to meet the intended parents.

I never imagined one day I’d be on the other end of it.

If we do this, it will pretty much be the end of our savings. (The savings that were supposed to be for RAISING kids, not making them. Oh well.)

But it seems like our best shot. And, at the end of the day, raising kids will still be ridiculously more expensive than making them, so… there’s that.

I gotta be honest, though. My stomach seizes up at the thought of trying again. There’s been so much loss and heartache already, year after year, month after month. The thought of more piled on, plus more money down the drain, makes it hard to breathe when I think about it. Nothing in my life has ever been this hard or scary. Not even close.

But what else can you do? Make a decision, pick yourself up, move forward, do your best. That’s what you have control over. I’m not the first woman who’s gone through this, and I draw a lot of strength from so many women who have gone before and written about it powerfully and honestly.

But I’m feeling pretty weak and discouraged lately. Every single time, even trying naturally, I can’t stop myself from believing this will be it. By the time it’s time to take a pregnancy test, I’ve spun a big hopeful future around a positive test and a kid in nine months. Every month it’s like I’m kicked in the stomach, punched back to zero. I can’t keep living like this, and I can’t stop trying, and I can’t pretend I’m not trying and hoping and sweating every single time.

So yeah. I’ve been in a low spot since the failed FET. I just knew at least one of those five embryos from last year would be our kid. Everything felt like it crumbled after the last two failed. I feel like I’m on this endless highwire and I can’t rest and I can’t go back and I can’t see the other side. I’m just walking and walking and trying not to fall, trying to have faith it will end some day.

Anyway. Just some thoughts. Glad to hear yours.