We are snuggled on a large sofa on her porch, Celine and I, a soft breeze wheezing through the garden. Her gaze trails into the distance. All is quiet, but for the hyper dog running from the living room to the garden and back, in an endless loop, and for the downstairs tenant who makes a brief appearance.
Celine is petite, tiny and fit in the way we imagine all French women to be. She has lived in the United States for many years but the “r” still rolls heavily, her accent unmistakable.
“I was in my mid-30s when I decided I wanted children. By my late 30s, I was in a stable relationship and I stopped birth control. Nothing happened. And then we broke up.
I resumed my efforts in my early 40s, after I had met somebody else. Nothing was wrong with me or him but I wasn’t getting pregnant. I didn’t think of freezing my eggs, I imagined I still had time. I began the process of in vitro fertilization when I was 47.”
In Vitro Fertilization is the assisted process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining egg and sperm in a laboratory dish.
Celine tells me that the first step is to take fertility medications – hormones, essentially – to stimulate egg production. The medications typically produce side effects consistent with hormonal fluctuations: hot flashes, swollen breasts, mood swings. After blood tests are performed to check the hormone levels, eggs are retrieved with a minor surgical procedure that produces little discomfort.
The eggs are combined with the sperm collected from the participating man, and encouraged to fertilize in a dish. Once one or more eggs show signs of fertilization, what are now called embryos get transferred back to the uterus, through the insertion of a small catheter. The procedure is painless for most women but can cause some cramping (it did for Celine).
About 10 to 12 days later, a blood test will determine if there is a pregnancy.
While there are some risks associated with IVF, such as the risk of multiple pregnancies, infection from the procedure, rapid weight gain and nausea, most women sail through it. The viability of the pregnancy depends on many factors, including age, the reasons of infertility and any medical conditions, such as endometriosis, that might have played a part in causing infertility. The older the woman, the fewer the chances of getting pregnant.
Celine tried three times, all with no success. Twice she had her own eggs implanted and once she used a donor. Should a woman’s eggs not be viable anymore, eggs can be obtained from an eggs bank, where younger and healthy donors have their eggs anonymously harvested.
Each failure is an emotional blow (and financial – the typical cost of one round of IVF treatment is between $12,000 ad $17,000, although some clinics provide more than one round for the price).
In the United States there are no legal limits to the age of a potential mother, although some clinics impose their own limits, knowing full well that the rate of success for a woman over 55 is in the single digits.
I have always wondered why women would be willing to put themselves through such physical and emotional upheavals to conceive. Many would be wondering why not opt for adoption but I do understand wanting to have a child biologically linked to oneself.
Celine, who is now 51, is exploring different options, from surrogacy to adoption.
“I was never attached to the experience of pregnancy. I just want a child or two. It’s an innate need I have had for a long time. I feel like I have so much to give and, while I am taking into consideration the possibility this might not come to pass, I have a firm belief that something will work out for me.”
When the process is successful, the joy is boundless. After all the sacrifices, the hopes raised and squashed, to hear the words “you are pregnant”, is to erase in a second everything that came before. That is how Tara describes her experience.
Tara, 48, lives in New York and is a single, professional woman who works as a consultant. Like Celine, she always knew she wanted a child but life intervened: at first, her career took precedence; then a relationship that ended and the feeling that time was running out. In her mid-forties, Tara realized she couldn’t wait to meet the right person, who might or might not come along. Some of her words echoes Celine’s: “I am in the fortunate position of being able to give, both emotionally and economically. Maybe a relationship will come along but that is not my priority right now. Establishing a bond with a child is.”
After two IVF attempts with her own eggs, she gave it a third try with an egg and sperm donors. Her baby will be born next July.
This post was sponsored by the Donor Egg Bank Usa