IVF with a Low Egg Count: Alex's Story
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IVF with a Low Egg Count: Alex's Story

Deciding Between Donor Sperm or Embryo Adoption: Maria's Story

Deciding Between Donor Sperm or Embryo Adoption: Maria's Story

As part of Prima's interview series, "Fertility Journeys Beyond the Clipboard", guided by Jenni Quilter, we hear from Maria, a 40year old woman living in New Jersey, who has had to explore several pathways to building her family after facing male factor fertility issues.

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7 minutes

"You can live your life, but once you’ve begun to stimulate your ovaries, it becomes part of your daily life in a way that feels very non-negotiable." 

 

 

We were married when I was 30 and my husband was 32. We decided to wait to have kids–we wanted to do some traveling, wanted to just enjoy being married–and so it wasn’t till I was 35 that we decided to start trying. Nothing happened. When I was 36, and went to my annual check-up, my doctor gave me a sheet with the addresses of a bunch of local fertility clinics. One of them happened to be down the street, so we just decided to try that one first. We booked an appointment pretty quickly, went in for an ultrasound, and everything looked good, but then they tested my husband’s semen. There was no sperm in it. None. We were in shock: he’s healthy, no prior drug use, no reason to suspect this at all. We were required to wait another six weeks, then tested again. Zero sperm. They then did a surgical procedure where they basically went looking for sperm in his testicles. Again, nothing. 

 

 

 

At the same time, my doctor did a karyotype test, which basically tested our DNA for chromosomal abnormalities. There was no real indication that this would be an issue–she was just being thorough. It turned out I had what’s called a reciprocal chromosome translocation, which basically means that one set of my chromosomes are a mismatch, and the consequence is that approximately nine times out of ten, my eggs aren’t viable. If I were to fall pregnant, I’d likely miscarry. 

 

I felt like we needed dedicated time to discuss the consequences of each choice.

 

Our options were a) IVF using donor sperm, b) embryo adoption, or c) adoption. We attended family counseling because I felt like we needed dedicated time to discuss the consequences of each choice. I cannot tell you how helpful that was. 


We decided to do IVF with donor sperm. The process of selecting a donor was kind of a crazy process. My husband is six feet tall, blonde and blue-eyed, and when you want that kind of donor profile, it’s both slim pickings and expensive. 


Then there was the egg retrieval process. We did three rounds, and each one was so different. The first round, we managed to get one genetically normal embryo. The second round, we got one genetically normal embryo. (Each time, the numbers of eggs and embryos shifted–I’d get four in one round, five in another–but after PGD, the number always dropped.)  The third round, we got no genetically normal embryos. 

 


At that point, I was kinda done. I will always tell people that you can live your life and go through hormone stimulation–I mean, I was doing injections at weddings, in parking lots at concerts, I went to Atlantic City for a conference–but also, it does take a toll on your body. During my third round of IVF, I was driving to the clinic for my morning monitoring during a snowstorm, and another car rear-ended me, and all I could think about was that I was missing my bloodwork. I was begging the police to let me drive one block further. You can live your life, but once you’ve begun to stimulate your ovaries, it becomes part of your daily life in a way that feels very non-negotiable. 


So after three rounds of IVF, we had two frozen embryos to use. That was it. My doctor was extremely careful. She did an ERA (endometrium receptivity analysis) test, which is a mock transfer. The first transfer implanted successfully and I ended up giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. When we decided to have a second child, we were worried about only having one embryo to use, and so we decided to do a fourth IVF retrieval process, but again, that produced just one genetically normal embryo. So we just went with that, did a second transfer, and it worked again. 

 

I know that as soon as we tell her, she’s going to want to announce it to the world.


We don’t really know how we’re going to tell our kids that their Dad is not their biological father. We decided against picture books that explain it all. My daughter is now three and a half and she’s pretty precocious. I know that as soon as we tell her, she’s going to want to announce it to the world: “My Daddy says he’s not my Dad.” That kind of thing. It weighs on me. But I’m lucky to have that kind of weight to bear; this all could’ve turned out so differently.

 

 

 

 
March 2024  
 
Written by Jenni Quilter. Jenni Quilter teaches at New York University. Her most recent books are Hatching: Experiments in Motherhood and Technology and New York School Painters & Poets: Neon in Daylight, for which she was a finalist for the 2014 AICA Award for Best Criticism. She has written for the Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Times Literary Supplement (London), Poetry Review, and the London Review of Books.

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