I anticipate this question being on the tips of people’s tongues whether or not they actually ask. Like any couple making an intensely personal decision, we don’t have to justify ourselves to anyone. But curiosity is understandable in this case, and I’d rather have a link to refer well-meaning people to than try to explain it anew each time.
These were our other options, and I’ll go through them one by one and explain why we didn’t go that route: more IVF, donor eggs, traditional adoption, foster adoption, or embryo donation (which is different from donor embryos, as I’ll explain).
By the fall of 2016, we’d already gone through three failed rounds of IVF. We had enough money in the bank to try one more thing before hitting the point where we’d have to go into debt. We still didn’t even know why IVF wasn’t working, and we could have used a good chunk of the money we had left to check into ever more obscure reasons. (For example, there’s a rare condition where the man’s sperm is simply not compatible with the woman’s uterus, in which case IVF with his sperm will never work.)
If we found some good reason why IVF wasn’t working, we’d have to abandon it anyway. In the more likely case we found nothing, we could just keep trying IVF and hoping our luck would turn around. But I’ve never had much of a stomach for gambling, and we no longer had any faith whatsoever in our luck. I know people who’ve done ten rounds of IVF and still had to go an alternate route, and we just didn’t have the money or the stamina for that possibility.
If you’ve never done IVF, it’s a horrendous process. Physically I could handle it, but emotionally, the stakes are so high at every point in the process that the cumulative stress — and then the heartbreak when it doesn’t work — is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. (Not to mention trying six million different things to optimize our gamete production year after year was getting exhausting and demoralizing — and expensive.) We just weren’t up for putting ourselves through that anymore. Everyone is different, but three years and three failures was our breaking point.
I’ve never been hung up on my own genetics, so in that respect it would have been an easy decision for me. We probably would have done it in Mexico. (It’s not affordable in the US.) It had about a 70% chance of working, which sounds great. But 30% is actually a pretty big chance of failure, and egg donors can have unexpected problems, or drop out at the last minute, or Ahmed might have had a bad day (especially in sultry Mexico), or who knows what else. It was still a pretty big gamble with the last shot we had left before diving into debt.
And Ahmed still doesn’t have his citizenship, and “traveling while named Ahmed” isn’t super easy in the best of times. And these are not the best of times.
All in all it felt like jumping out of a plane with a parachute that had a 30% chance of not opening.
This is a wonderful option for many people, but it’s tremendously expensive — more expensive than we had funds for. We could have done some kind of fundraiser to help keep us from going into debt, but I already raise money every year for a Palestinian family (in fact, I’m raising money now), and there’s only so much you can bug your network for cash.
Plus we would have wanted to do an open adoption, and this would have meant inviting another woman or couple rather intimately into our lives, and we’re both rootless introverts who have no idea where we’ll end up raising our kids long term. We’d rather be as autonomous as possible when it comes to huge decisions like that.
Not to mention it’s a long, stressful, invasive process that involves, among other things, waiting for a birth mother to pick you. And you can imagine how many Oklahoma birth mothers are going to pick a couple comprised of a foreign Muslim and an agnostic.
Meanwhile we’d have to get a bigger place with an extra room just to qualify, which means pretty much immediately moving into (and paying for) a bigger space than we need for God knows how long. And we plan to sleep in the same room with our kids anyway (at least for the first year), so it would really be a waste. And the idea of staring at that extra room for all those months or years we’d be waiting… Not super appealing.
Plus we like where we live. We like the tree outside our window and the walking path next to a river just a few steps from our door. We’ve decorated this place with the intent to be here for a while, and uprooting would just add a whole other (expensive) level of stress.
And then there’s the fact that adoptions can be disrupted at the last minute, or end up costing thousands more than you were led to believe, and so on. In short, it can be an extremely rough (and expensive) road, and we’d already been on an extremely rough (and expensive) road.
This can be another wonderful option, and I looked into it, researched it, talked with an agency, and spoke with people who had foster adopted. Of course, you run into the same problems with needing an extra room, inviting random adult strangers into your life and home, and having a harder time whisking the kid(s) away for a year in Turkey if you feel like it.
Even worse is the very real possibility of bonding with a baby for months only to have that child taken away from you and placed into a potentially dangerous or abusive (or at least not super attentive) situation. I get attached so easily, and this kind of thing could hurt worse than anything that’s happened so far. And some of the kids are born with drug addictions or have major attachment issues or other serious problems that we didn’t feel particularly equipped to handle.
Maybe after we have a kid and start to feel like competent parents, and have had a little time to recover from these four awful years, we’ll be ready to look into this again. But these years have really taken a toll on our soul, and the last thing a child needs is to be taken in by people who still feel shell-shocked and not quite fully 100% ready to take them on.
This led us to consider embryo donation, which means being gifted the leftover embryos of another couple. Some organizations treated it, absurdly, like adoption, with home studies and everything (and high price tags to match). Most clinics put you on a wait list that could take months or years, and then you didn’t know if you’d end up with embryos from a couple who themselves had had trouble conceiving, or if you’d get one that had used an egg donor. Your chances could vary wildly, and it was quite overpriced as well (in my opinion). If you wanted an open donation, you’d have to wait to be picked, and again: foreign Muslim and agnostic in Oklahoma.
The most “progressive” embryo donation organization I could find charged something like ten grand for a single try (the same cost as donor eggs in Mexico), which again you’d be very lucky if you had a 70% chance of success. More likely your chances would be even lower.
And it’s hard to overstate just how little faith we had in our luck by this point. We weren’t even sure if I could carry at all, and spending another $30k or whatever for three more tries of whatever only to come up empty yet again would have been… too much. Just too much. And it’s entirely possible the stress of continuing on with no safety net would have prevented anything from working.
Then I stumbled across what became our clinic: California Conceptions. They offered double donor embryos (meaning two healthy donors, i.e., an excellent chance of healthy embryos and healthy kids) with virtually no wait list.
The clinic was founded because there’s such a big demand for healthy embryos — much higher demand than supply. It’s true that more than half a million embryos are sitting in cryo-tanks in the US, but the vast majority of them are not being donated. Hence the long wait times at most clinics.
Even better, they offered up to three tries for one very reasonable set price — $12,500 plus meds and travel — with a 90% success rate over three tries. (The price has since gone up a bit.) Each try would be with a different set of donors, so if one egg or sperm donor had problems or some rare, undetected incompatibility, it would be a relatively minor setback instead of a catastrophe.
Even more amazing, with my age and health status, I could qualify for a guarantee that would either refund the $12.5k or give us three more tries if the first three tries didn’t work. There’s nothing else on earth that comes close. And it’s based near the Bay Area, where I have a ton of friends and contacts.
It gives me full control over the prenatal environment. I’ll be able to give birth to my child(ren) and breastfeed them. The program also comes with an active Facebook group that shared tips, advice, support, and plenty of pictures of beautiful babies to keep you motivated.
The main drawback of the program was that it was anonymous, and I don’t think that’s really fair to the kids. It should, ideally, be up to them if they want contact with their donors, or at least it seems that way to me. (And I’d love to exchange emails and pics with these two kind people in any case — I was at least able to send a gift of thanks to the egg donor via the clinic.) But anonymous was all that they offered, and the sperm donor can be contacted once the kids turn 18, and with all these online DNA tests, true anonymity is getting harder and harder to maintain in general. Maybe our kids will never care that much, or maybe they’ll end up wanting to track down their donors. We’ll fully support them either way.
Sure enough, our first try — despite a roughly 70% chance of success — failed. But it didn’t set us back all that much time, money, or stress, considering how much worse it could have been. We got right back up and tried again. And so far so good on our second try (fingers infinitely crossed).
If you’ve never gone through years and years of fertility struggles, please do me a favor and say a little prayer of thanks. It’s not something I’d wish on my worst enemy.
Ask anyone who’s been through it. It rips you apart in ways you didn’t know you could rip. I consider myself a pretty grounded and psychologically healthy person, and I could never have imagined how much this would hurt.
As a fellow fertility blogger wrote: “A recent online article from US News and World Report cited a Danish study that found infertile couples who fail at treatment were three times more likely to get divorced. Psychological impact surveys have shown women with infertility experience anxiety and depression similar to those diagnosed with cancer and other major illnesses. [We] knew living like this for much longer was not going to be good for anyone [including our as yet unborn child].”
To all those women who have more stamina and more tolerance for risk than I do, I can only tip my hat and wish you every success. And of course, every couple is different. For some, donor eggs or adoption is their best options at a given branch point, and that’s wonderful. We fully support whatever feels right to you. A lot of these hang-ups are very specific to us.
But we know ourselves, and we were very near our limit of tolerance. Four years and all of our savings down the drain was more than enough stress and heartache for us.