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, and I’d rather have a link to refer well-meaning people to than try to explain it anew each time.
I’ll go through our other options 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 then it should be clear why we chose the route we did.
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 fine, but mentally, 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. I’ve heard of people spending anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 or more. 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.
Much 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 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.
Not to mention, I know many people who tried to adopt, traditionally or through the foster system, and despite the best efforts of everyone involved, it simply did not work. The possibility of spending two more years spinning our wheels, not getting anywhere, in a house too big for us, was, in a word, unbearable.
Edited to add: It’s particularly grating for fertile people who have never adopted to accusatorily ask fertility-challenged people why they don’t “just” adopt. (As if adopting is a matter of running down to the local baby shelter and picking one out.) For most fertile people — like for most fertility-challenged people — the answer is the same: We didn’t feel a calling to adopt (at least not at this time, and it is a calling, not something people just do offhand-like), and we had a simpler and less stressful alternative available to us.
If fertile people feel fine about that, they shouldn’t be surprised many fertility-challenged people feel the same way. Family building is extremely personal, deeply intimate, and most of us are doing the best we can. If you don’t want people pressuring you to adopt or judging you for not adopting, it’s probably a good idea not to do that to other people.
On the other hand, if you have actually adopted and have pointers or opinions, I’m all ears! It can be an incredible path, and we may well be in a place to consider it down the line.
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 don’t know if you’ll end up with embryos from a couple who themselves had had trouble conceiving, or if you’ll get a batch that involves a healthy young egg donor. Your chances can vary wildly, and it’s quite overpriced as well (in my opinion). If you want an open donation, you have to (generally) pay even more and 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; some clinics charge a bit less, but rarely less than $5,000), which again you’d be very lucky if you had a 70% chance of success. More likely your chances would be even lower.
This path has worked beautifully for many families, and I’m definitely jealous of the open relationship some people have with their donors.
But 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 if it didn’t work, we’d be out all our money and still not sure if it was just continuing bad luck with embryos or a medical issue with me. Or, for all we knew, the stress of doing it with no safety net might have prevented it from working. The rabbit hole just seemed like it could be bottomless, and we were already deeply depressed and beyond frustrated (and nearly dead broke).
Then I stumbled across what became our clinic: California Conceptions. They offer 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 many clinics.
Even better, they offer up to three tries for one very reasonable set price — $12,500 plus meds and travel — with a 90%+ success rate over three tries. (Even I couldn’t screw up 90% odds, right?) Each try is with a different set of donors, so if one egg or sperm donor has problems or some rare, undetected incompatibility, it’s a relatively minor setback instead of a catastrophe. (The price has since gone up a bit.)
Even more amazing, with my age and health status, I qualified 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 shares tips, advice, support, and plenty of pictures of beautiful babies to keep you motivated.
If it didn’t work after three tries, we’d consider our options: Take the money back and apply it toward one of the other options above, or continue on with three more donor embryo tries. (If it didn’t work after six tries, we could be pretty damn sure we’d closed the window on me ever carrying our child(ren).)
The main drawback of the program is that it’s 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. (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 is all that they offer, and the sperm donors 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.
So, before we knew it (within a three months of getting in touch with this clinic), it was time to transfer our first two embryos. Sadly, despite a roughly 70% chance of success, it failed — blighted ovum miscarriage at seven weeks. 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) — we transferred two and ended up with a healthy singleton. We are over the moon excited and truly can’t wait to meet this little one.
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. 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 enough stress and heartache for us.