Garage Sale Baby
Dave and I met about seven years ago at a benefit concert for cancer but didn’t start seriously dating until New Year’s Day 2014. We went for a hike along the Boulder River in the North Cascades and have talked every single day since then. He proposed on a Saturday evening in March, 2015, and, anxious to begin our family, we were married five months later on August 30, 2015. He was 35 and I was 40 at the time.
Neither of us had ever been married before or had children. It is miraculous that we found one another given the amount of time we spent stuck in our own independence. Our love story is beautifully complex and too much to go into here but if there is one thing that Dave and I hold most in common, I think it would be our mutual desire to be a family to one another and to start a family with our own precious, little baby.
In our naivety, we thought having a baby would come easy and we were THRILLED to see a positive pregnancy test just two months after our wedding. Though Dave was somewhat reluctant, I could hardly contain myself. We told a lot of people about our blessing, started entertaining baby names and dreaming about parenthood. Sadly, at 7 weeks, we were devastated to learn that the pregnancy was not viable. After the holidays were over, we scheduled a consultation with Seattle Reproductive Medicine (SRM).
We were told that because of my advanced age, my ovaries were not producing nearly as many eggs as they once were and that, of the eggs they were producing, it was likely that nearly all of them were chromosomally abnormal. As a matter of fact, our doctor at SRM did *not* recommend any option that involved using our own eggs, which was nearly impossible for me to accept. The desire to not just be a mother but to physically reproduce and bear a child with my biological DNA was relentless.
Despite SRM’s recommendation, Dave and I agreed to try some passive fertility treatments and pursued 5 cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI); a relatively inexpensive method where the male sample is deposited into the female uterus at the height of ovulation. Twice we thought it worked because blood tests showed there was a slight increase in the pregnancy hormone (hCG) but after two days, the levels always crashed indicating that the embryo had failed to survive. They call these “chemical” pregnancies.
IVF in Seattle
At the end of these 5 failed IUI attempts, we insisted on trying the more aggressive, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment at least once with our own eggs. This involves extracting eggs directly from the female ovaries, combining with the male sperm in the lab and then transferring a nurtured embryo back into the female uterus. Very complicated and very costly!! We each chipped into our savings to cover the $18,000 price tag and, against the odds, were ecstatic to have developed two beautiful embryos. The shock and grief that we experienced when we learned that neither embryo had “made it” was profound.
Just 24 hours later, I was researching fertility clinics in Europe and looking into a second mortgage. I knew I wanted to try IVF again but I also knew that we couldn’t afford it in the United States. I was super excited when I found out that IVF costs in Europe are about half of what they are here. So, away I went into a therapeutic research mode that lasted many, many months. This research period was also spent trying to accept the fact that my window for having a biological child had closed and that my only option for experiencing childbirth may have to start with a donor egg. Honestly, I’m not sure that I will ever get over the initial blow of that realization. I joined a support group to help me through that process.
IVF in Europe
In January 2017, after many months of planning, my Mom accompanied me to Prague, Czech Republic, to pursue IVF treatment with our own eggs one last time. As a back up, just in case my ovaries weren’t cooperating, we also purchased a Donor IVF cycle. This is where a younger woman donates her eggs to us. The cost for the both of these treatments at SRM would have exceeded $40,000 combined, not including medications. In Prague, they were $3000 and $7000 respectively, not including flight, hotel, transportation, etc.
Though we had very low expectations, my ovaries ended up miraculously producing two eggs in Prague! The donor (who by law must remain completely anonymous to us) produced a bunch of eggs too (13 total). Our medical team in Prague harvested all of the eggs from both myself and the donor and Dave flew out to provide the clinic with a sperm sample for use with all of the eggs. Over the next few days, we waited to see how they developed and which ones would fertilize. We were elated to hear that both of “our” eggs and five of the donor’s eggs had fertilized. We decided to transfer both of “our” two-day old embryos back into my body right away and freeze the donor embryos that remained for future use. It all seemed to be going according to plan …
After flying home, we learned that our precious embryos didn’t “take.” The loss was made more traumatizing when we considered all of the financial expenses we’d incurred over the entire month of January. That was our 2nd failed IVF treatment and was the end of the road for us using our own eggs.
I flew back to Prague in March to transfer two of the three frozen donor embryos. I was absolutely mystified upon returning home in April why even those didn’t take. Each and every time we started this process, we were resolved not to get our hopes up. Yet, no matter how much I tried to protect myself, no matter the statistics I’d read about, no matter the lessons I’d learned from the first few failed treatments, faith and excitement always prevailed. All of the spiritual axioms I’ve ever learned, like “think positive” and “expect great things” take hold and again I would find myself bursting at the seams with hope during the magnificently tormenting “two-week wait.” Thoughts like, “maybe we’ll have twins!” would crisscross through my mind constantly and it would always prove too hard not to allow my heart to get involved.
After giving it considerable thought following that 3rd failed transfer, I started to share more openly about what we were going through, particularly on social media. It was shocking to learn how so very many couples struggle with infertility and while there was some strength in sharing, I think we experienced a bit of judgement too. It must be very difficult for our friends and family to watch us go through this voluntary process and I would be remiss not to mention how all of the hormones and medications I’ve been prescribed for each treatment have affected my perceptions of the world around me. I believe that this process has temporarily shifted the essence of who I truly am.
To try to curb some of the mounting financial stress, we decided to put on a garage sale in April. Our entire network went berserk in support by donating items they had designated for the dump, Goodwill or OfferUp. These efforts gave way to the bizarre hashtag #garagesalebaby. We were stunned by the success of our first sale, which ended up covering all of the costs involved for our May trip back to Prague to pick up the last embryo. We thought maybe God had saved “the best for last” but alas, it was not meant to be, as the blood test following my return home in June did not indicate even a mere trace of pregnancy hormone.
We’ve had a lot of folks ask why we haven’t tried adoption. We suspect many wonder why we would throw so much money at a process that is not guaranteed. Valid questions filled with a great deal of complexity making it very difficult to answer straightly. I have felt SO vulnerable asking for donations toward something that technically is considered a medical treatment yet, in all honesty, is not medically necessary. We are seeking these treatments in response to our heart’s desire … which is stronger than ever. We know there are a lot of people out there in much greater predicaments than we are; people that have life-threatening illnesses that truly need help just to survive. We are extremely humbled by the generosity of our friends, family and community who have given away their many beautiful and valuable things in support of our cause.
We have literally gone to the ends of the earth to try to make this happen. In August, we went back to Prague to try for one last donor cycle. The August cycle produced a total of 6 embryos, 2 of which were transferred and four that were frozen. We had a “different” feeling about it all this time and demanded our “win” from the powers that be.
It appeared that all of our prayers had been answered 14 days later when I saw the word “pregnant” on a digital Clear Blue pregnancy test! I immediately went in for a blood test and it showed a solid 61. Cautiously, I allowed the the same hopeful emotions I’d come to resent set in, and, like a balloon, lift me higher and higher. My second blood test two days later showed the doubling of the pregnancy hormone. I was well on my way. Two more days passed and my blood test had quadrupled to a whopping 988! I screamed with such passion and delight following seeing those results. This was it, I just knew it. The little voice in the back of my mind — the one warning me how high above ground I had climbed and how much damage could be done if I fell — was easily drowned out by the noise that accompanies states of blissful happiness.
A couple of days later, the evening of our two-year wedding anniversary, we were celebrating when I noticed some bleeding. By the end of the evening, it was fairly significant. My medical team assured me the following morning that all was normal but let me come in for a blood test anyways. My numbers had fell from 988 to 819. Horrible, horrible news. It always usually indicated an impending miscarriage.
We left for our trip to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, the following morning anyways and resolved to enjoy the long Labor Day weekend away. We would have to wait all weekend long to find out whether the pregnancy was terminating. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we could have done to change the course of what we feared was taking place. Nevertheless, the ever-scheming glimmers of hope crept in to keep the dream alive in my heart. On Tuesday, the numbers had crashed to 183. We lost it, AGAIN.
Despite the toll it has taken on us and those around us, I don’t think we will ever regret having tried so hard to bring our precious, biological baby into being.