Eight years ago, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I talked “babies.” Neither of us thought we wanted kids before, but our relationship was getting serious, and for some strange reason we were both kind of struck by these new feelings that maybe raising a child could be fun if we did it together.
We definitely weren’t ready, but we enjoyed talking about the possibilities. My wife, who was adopted, expressed a desire to have a child that was biologically connected to her. I, on the other hand, felt strongly about wanting to experience pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. One afternoon, my wife said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could somehow take my eggs and put them in you?”
A couple of years later, we found out that indeed, it would be technically possible to do just that, using in vitro fertilization (IVF). The information we found was about egg donation and surrogacy, but the technical details were the same: one woman undergoes a procedure to remove a number of mature eggs from her ovaries, which are then fertilized with sperm and transferred into a different woman’s uterus. We also learned that the procedure is really expensive, and success rates vary widely. We were excited that it was even possible, but put the whole idea in the realm of “things we would do if we won the lottery,” right beside our dream of opening a left-wing bookstore/record store/vegetarian café with space in the back for punk and indie rock shows.
Another few years passed, and it seemed like time to start thinking about that whole baby thing again. By chance, we found out that my wife’s workplace health insurance covers fertility drugs. Considering that the drugs alone are thousands of dollars, this was just the push we needed to look further into IVF. I did the same thing I do whenever I’m faced with anything new: I researched the hell out of it.
We met with one of the largest clinics where we live (Toronto, Canada) and immediately clicked with our reproductive endocrinologist (RE). She assured us that the clinic had performed IVF for queer women in the way we were hoping. She explained the costs and success rates to us. These can vary widely depending on the clinic, the location, ages and health issues. The average cost of IVF (in the US and Canada) ranges from $8,000 up to $15,000, plus medications. The average success rate is around 26% . We were completely terrified of sinking literally all of our savings into this knowing there was a good chance it wouldn’t work at all. Despite the daunting numbers, we somehow felt compelled to try.
First, we both needed to have extensive bloodwork and vaginal ultrasounds. As the gestational carrier, I had to have an additional ultrasound called a sonohysterogram, which is a not-so-fun little procedure where the doctor puts what feels like a vat of saline in your uterus, while pressing down on your abdomen with an ultrasound wand, to check for abnormalities in the uterus. Our RE went over the results of all of the tests with us carefully. They checked everything: hormone levels, ovarian reserves (how many eggs you have), Sexually-transmitted infections, immunity to certain diseases… pretty much anything you can think of.
At this point, we had to pick our sperm! We had decided to go with an anonymous donor, for many reasons. We did ensure that the donor we picked was what they call “Open Identity,” which means that our child can access the donor’s name and last known address when they reach 18. The clinic gave us a (short) list of sperm banks that are Canadian-compliant. It felt like online dating — browsing profiles with questions like, “What’s your most embarrassing moment?” But instead of quizzes about your “dating style,” there are medical profiles including family history of diseases, allergies and SAT scores. Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve done any online dating — for all I know that stuff is included now, too.
Anyway, as I tend to do when faced with any big decisions, I made a spreadsheet. We spent a few weekends discussing our deal-breakers and priorities (a BA in art history and a love of animals? Great! But his favourite song is ‘Life is a Highway’….well, that’s not genetic, right?). We narrowed it down and submitted our top three choices to the clinic.
Being in a big city with a large queer population, the staff at our clinic never treated us any differently for being two women. Though we were usually the only obviously queer couple in the waiting room, we felt more out of place for the way we were dressed than for being queer. The one issue we did experience was with our paperwork. Because our situation isn’t very common, we were usually given paperwork for either egg donation or surrogacy, but our clinic was open to our “manual editing.” At one point however, my wife was asked to sign some contracts that would have had her signing away her parental rights (as an “egg donor”). We refused to sign that, resulting in a bit of confusion with some of the administrative staff. We had it changed and it worked out fine, but I’m glad we were so careful!
The actual process for IVF varies depending on your circumstances and your doctor. For us, the first step was that we both had to go on birth control. Our RE explained, “We have to shut you down so that we can control you.” AWESOME! Just what two feminists love to hear. After two weeks, we both stopped the birth control and started new medications. I took estrogen pills, which gave me some nausea, to thicken the lining of my uterus.
My needle-phobic wife had it worse: daily injections of hormones into her stomach for 2.5 weeks. They made her migraines worse and more frequent, gave her hot flashes and mood swings, and her ovaries expanded from their usual size (about the size of almonds, apparently) to the size of grapefruits. She felt like she was walking around with two heavy water balloons suspended above her ladyparts. On top of all that, she had daily bloodwork and more vaginal ultrasounds to track the progress of the maturing eggs in her ovaries. Once our doctor was satisfied her eggs were just about ready to go, she got another, even bigger shot into her bum: the so-called trigger shot.
At this point, I also had to start daily progesterone injections. I continued these for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, so some of these injections ended up happening in fun locations like the back of a rental car in a mall parking lot and in the bathroom at a fancy wedding (yep, I had to cram a syringe and a bottle of progesterone into my tiny vintage purse!).
I practiced my relaxation breathing and visualized my womb as a warm and welcoming place, because I’m a bit of a hippie like that.
Two days post-trigger shot, I held my wife’s hand while she half-slept on twilight sedation, watching as our doctor expertly extracted eggs from her ovaries with a tiny needle. We got the report the next day: 12 eggs retrieved, 9 of which were mature, and 5 of those fertilized with our donor sperm. Our doctor picked out the two best embryos, and the rest were frozen.
On transfer day, it was my turn to be in the stirrups, though there’s no need for any anesthetic for the transfer. I practiced my relaxation breathing and visualized my womb as a warm and welcoming place, because I’m a bit of a hippie like that. Two agonizing weeks later, I peed on a stick, and lo and behold, two lines! We were ecstatic for a full week before we both started to get completely freaked out about the prospect of being parents. But that’s a whole other story!
We didn’t tell very many people that we were undergoing IVF beforehand, as we didn’t want to face constant questions about how things were going. I don’t regret that at all, though it did feel a bit isolated for the couple of weeks of near-daily visits to the clinic. It was an incredibly emotional and physically intense experience.
We feel extremely lucky that it worked for us on the first try. I’m so excited to meet our baby (in the beginning, we were convinced that both embryos had stuck and we were having twins. When we found out that there’s only one, we both felt a strange mixture of sadness and relief) and am enjoying being pregnant. I’m curious to see the ways in which our child will be a reflection of both of us. I’m wondering how our child will feel about the road we took to conceive him or her, and how we’ll manage to explain it in age-appropriate ways. Some friends and family think we’re a little crazy for spending so much money and putting our bodies through all of it, but I don’t regret any of it at all. It feels absolutely right for us.