Friday, June 28, 2013


Occasionally, my oh-so-measured, thoughtful and patient perspective fails me and I'm subsumed by rage at my imperfect situation. A confluence of events or thoughts or moods will set me off down a resentful, regretful, growling path of anger. Ready?

I am angry that I chose the wrong man to marry. I'm angry that I stayed with him too long. I'm angry that the relationship stole my most fertile years. I'm angry that it left me so financial insecure I still cannot feel confident about bringing a child into my world. 

I'm angry that I let myself fall in love with and build roots with someone else who does not want another child. I'm angry that I clearly don't know how to plan my life well. I'm angry that I didn't realize years ago how much I'd want a baby now. I'm angry I didn't freeze my eggs earlier. I'm angry that I haven't done the right things to create a life secure enough to raise a child. I'm angry that I didn't realize or ignored that I needed to be seriously thinking and planning for that years ago.

I'm angry that I was raised to believe I could pursue any life or ambition I wanted and it would All Be OK if I worked hard enough. I'm angry I believed fate would be kind to me and magic would give me what I wanted. I'm angry that my women's lib education never included a chapter about planning to fit a child into my life, a chapter that would include straight talk about fertility and the very real dangers of staying too long with Mr. Wrong. I'm angry that I for too long chose what I thought was love over my own desires and needs and better judgment.

I'm angry at the passage of time. I'm angry that I'm aging. I'm angry that my body is losing its buoyancy and fertility. I'm angry that my energy level and time is limited. I'm angry that I will be approaching old age when my child, even if I have one tomorrow, graduates from college. I'm angry that I'll likely not see my grandchildren become adults.

I'm angry at the influence fear has had on my decisions and subsequently my life. I'm angry that I can't or don't know how to do more to make my situation better. I'm angry at the imperfection of life, and the fact that we have to learn to accept the things we cannot change. I'm angry that I'm disappointed.

Whew. Do you feel better now, too? It's always good to let it out. 

I post this rant with great reluctance because it's not normally how I feel about my life. The rage is like a mean thunderstrom that passes through my pscyhe. It thrashes and booms and blows, but then it goes away and the sun comes back out. I return to feeling OK, albeit not thrilled, with How Things Are.

But if I'm being completely honest about my experience on this blog, and that's the idea here, I must share the dark and ugly of it as well as the hopeful and happy. This is not a walk down the yellow brick road. Wait, that passes through the Witch's Wicked Forest, doesn't it? Well, my point exactly. We all run into our malicious haggish selves sometimes, but if we're courageous we find ways to melt her. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nice to Meet You, Let's Have a Kid

The first blush of my excitement about this new co-parenting “movement” has not faded. The New York Times took notice of it in February. So you know it's a legitimate trend now.
Basically, these new websites, set up like dating websites, match men and women who are ready to have a child, but are not in traditional relationships of mother-father-let's-make-a-baby. The potential biological parents then meet, discuss co-parenting arrangements, financial responsibilities, parenting values, etc. It's a date without the romance. Ideally, that means more level heads will prevail. There is no need to wonder if you can wake up with this person the rest of your life. This is just about creating a safe, loving, supportive home life – two of them – for a child.

There are several new social network sites offering wannabe parents this new way to connect.,, and

I joined one to try it out. Within a few hours, I received info about a few men not too far from my home who are looking to co-parent with someone. From their profiles, they seemed passionate about becoming fathers. 

Here's an example:

“We're searching for a nice, loving woman or lesbian couple to become co-parents with us. We are in our mid-30s, are completely healthy, responsible and financially secure, and really would love to be parents and to share the parental duties with another couple. My wife doesn't have much free time, nor does she really feel the need to be a biological mother. But I have an incredibly flexible schedule and would love to be a Dad. I ideally would not just be a sperm donor but would play a big role in taking care of the child. Some things we love are travel, sports (esp. tennis, skiing, hiking, and swimming), music, movies, and games.”

Awwwww. Who wouldn't want him as a father? 

Others were single men, like me, whose lives have not unfolded as they imagined but they don't want to wait around any longer for Mrs. Right. Some of the profiles really touched my heart. I could feel the guy's longing for a child, which surprised me. Sometimes I forget that there are many men out there who also feel they've missed the boat to become a dad. Women are not alone in this. And their desire (desperation?) to be fathers compelled them to these sites, hoping just like women, that it will provide a new option for creating a family, unusual as it might be. I wish us all luck.

Of course there are critics. And I'm sure there will be many more if this trend increases, but the first to come out against co-parenting liken the situation to setting a child up from birth for the difficult lifestyle of children of divorce. I agree that having one stable, loving home might be more ideal, but comparing “parenting partnerships” to a divorce is not accurate.

Parenting partnerships start with two people who are so desirous to be a parent, they are willing to take dramatic out-of-the-box steps and risk all sorts of critical judgment to do it. That's a motivated, passionate person. More importantly, a parenting partnership is just that, a detailed prearranged agreement about who will do what when and how as a parent. All of it put into writing.
The cause of much conflict in traditional families (which often leads to divorce) is differing views on how to raise the children. Many couples don't discuss it before getting married or having kids. They are often surprised to discover their partner's differing ideas or level of engagement in child-rearing.

In a parenting partnership, the “team” of mother and father can be more clear-eyed about the ground rules at the very start. Romantic love between mom and dad is not a complicating factor. It's not even a part of the picture. Anyone who has a child knows it's a lot of hard work. It's a job that requires lots of time, focus, organization, planning, long-term strategies and committed cooperation between parents. That's a whole different skill set than romantic love. All the work of child-rearing, in fact, often dampens romantic love between parents.

With parenting partnerships, mom and dad go into it with the sole focus of working as a tag team to do the job of raising a child. That's all that matters. To me, that seems like a good thing for the child.

Of course, humans can be unpredictable. Unforeseen things can throw all carefully planned arrangements under the bus. But that is the same for all ways of creating families. We cannot remove ourselves completely from the insecurity of life. All we can do is keep moving forward, using our best judgment in creating the life and the family we want as best we can. That's all any of us can do in any endeavor.

As for me, I will begin reaching out to potential parenting partners and exploring my options there.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sperm Donor Bonanza

Shopping for a sperm donor is fun! 

Sperm banks allow you to search for a babydaddy as if you are looking for a new home. Criteria you can checkmark to narrow your search include height (at least 6'2” of course!), eye color, hair color, hair texture, body type, educational level, ancestral origin (Belorussian only, please!), and which celebrity he kinda sorta resembles. I'll take a mix between George Clooney and Russel Crowe.

My first hour or so on the site, looking at the profiles of really tall, blond, blue-eyed, Ph.D candidates who like to do the Iron Man in their spare time, I wondered why I ever bothered to try to find a babydaddy any other way. If you're in the market for genetic material to create offspring, this little slice of sanctioned eugenics is a smorgasbord of dreamy babies.

The California Cryobank sells itself on the high quality of its available semen. This is from their website:

“First and foremost, we actively recruit donors from top US universities who must meet our basic requirements:
  • Must be at least 5'9" or taller
  • Between 19-38 years old
  • Attending a 4-year University or holding a Bachelor's or Advanced Degree
  • Must be in good health
  • Legally allowed to work in the US
But that's not all, they assure us. Their emphasis in bold:

“Again, these are only our basic requirements. Those who meet these requirements may then be considered to move onto the next step which is our qualification process; the standards of which see only 1% of applicants ultimately accepted into our donor sperm program. Our qualification process conforms to our unwavering benchmarks by which potential sperm donations are measured and includes everything from extensive medical testing to genetic screening that allow for the best insemination procedures further down the road.”

And you thought getting into Harvard was hard.

The Cryobank puts together an extensive profile of each donor as well. He must write an essay about himself, his likes, interests, and personality. There is also a “Facts and Figures” form that asks him his grade point average all the way back to high school, what kind of mechanical skills he has, mathematical abilities, what hobbies and sports he enjoys, his favorite food, favorite animal, special talents, where he wants to travel and how he expresses his creativity. Making stained glass stands was an interesting one.

In addition to the self-reporting part of the donor profile, the staff also submits their impressions. (What, do they not screen for liars in that harrowing qualification process?) Here's my favorite:

This donor might possibly be the happiest person on the planet! His cheerfulness is so
contagious; you just can’t help but smile when his beaming face comes through the door. This
donor’s personality is most definitely a rare find. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who is
so genuinely joyful and appreciative of what life has to offer. This donor is definitely cute. He
has flawless skin, bright blue eyes, and a big smile. His teeth are white and straight, with a
small gap between the front two teeth, which adds to his character. This donor is SO tall and
has a broad frame. He keeps his body in shape by skiing competitively and playing soccer
in his free time. Not only is this donor optimistic and fun to be around, he’s also extremely
intelligent. His thought processes are mathematically and scientifically driven, and he’s all
about the facts. He is a well-read and open-minded individual with a vast vocabulary that
never fails to impress. This donor seems to have it all: the personality, the looks, and the
brains. The best part about him is that despite all of these great qualities, he doesn’t think
that he is better than anyone else. Don’t hesitate if you’re considering this donor--he really
is as great as he sounds.”

I was immediately ready to impregnate! Give me my gorgeous-happy-superbaby now!

But after spending multiple hours imaging (stress on “imagining”) how these strangers might mix with my genes, I'm beginning to wonder about the things that aren't knowable from someone's stats or a biased staff member's quick first impressions. 
Weird ticks, oddly-shapen fingers, disproportionately skinny calves. What about all the stuff he wasn't sharing about himself? A compelling obsession with dead cats, his hatred of all things chocolate, an inability to feel the rhythm of the beat. 
I feel uncertain about trusting a for-profit sperm bank to tell me the full, unadulterated truth about their donors. Even if they did, that does not change the fact I can never really know what these men might impart to our child. 
Of course that's the case no matter how we breed. Babies are always a genetic crap shoot. Demon children are born to saints. Beautiful creatures spring from low-down dirty bastards. Some of the greatest people who ever lived would never have been born if their parents had been caught up in designing the perfect baby.

Part of falling in love and wanting to have a child with someone involves wanting to see the parts you love about each other live on in someone else. We valued these traits in each other, and we want our children to have them also. It's a big step in the mating practice of humans. Sperm donation skips that part. 
But I wish I could meet the sperm donors and get to know them a little bit. I want to interact with them, hear their voice, see the real shade of blue in their eyes, see what makes them laugh. I want to get a palpable sense of their personality, base level of happiness, their emotional depth and all sort intangibles that are only knowable by spending time with someone face-to-face.

Maybe I should try to find my babydaddy on an internet dating site. Perhaps I could meet someone who is also in a hurry to have a child. We won't have to go through the process of dating and deciding if we want to be a couple. Maybe we could just work out some sort of arrangement to co-parent the child.

But at what point do I pitch this wild and unusual idea to the prospective guy who's probably looking for a girlfriend or at least someone to hanky panky with? How would I ease a good potential father into the concept? Would someone report me to for abusing the system?

Then another writer and blogger,, who specializes in midlife motherhood, alerted me to a site that specifically brings together people who want a child but not the coupledom. 

Wow. A whole new option just opened up for me to explore... I love progress. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Grasping at Miracles

Somehow, before I met with Dr. M, I was able to exist in a state of denial (or ignorance) about my low follicle count. I told myself and everyone else who was curious about my journey that “follicle counts vary every month.” Next month, instead of three follicles, I could have 30! Where did I hear or read that? Did I make it up in my head? Extreme wishful thinking? I don't know. Also, that study about 42-year-old women with low AMH and “excellent” egg production kept my hope alive and blinded my reality radar. Even my second low follicle count at the most recent ultrasound did not open my eyes to my obvious waning fertility. It took Dr. M's straight talk to do that for me. And now I was reeling.
When I got to my car after my visit with him, I was ready let loose the dam of tears wanting to burst out. My phone rang before I could fall apart. It was D, he wanted to know how it went. But I still couldn't speak. I knew if I tried to say something I'd only start to sob and my words would sound like the wails of a drowning cat, so all he heard was silence.
“Hello?” He thought the call had cut out.
“I just need to cry right now,” was all I could get out.
He was sweet and sympathetic. I could tell he felt for me and wanted to comfort me. He said he's be home soon and we could talk then. “OK,” I said before hanging up.
The tears were already streaming out of my eyes. But this cry wanted to be loud and volcano up from the deepest part of my gut. It wanted to be one of those roll into a ball and convulse cry. I was waking up into a nightmare. I never imagined I could actually be so close to infertile. How could my body betray me like this? There were no “if's” or “but's” about it anymore.
But then I remembered something Dr. M mentioned right before I left his office. “Some people think this helps with follicle growth...” He scribbled the words “DHEA 20mg/3x a day” on the back of his card.
I looked at the card. I wanted nothing more than to let the tears stream from my eyes like raging rivers and crumble into a hysterical mess against my steering wheel, but now I realized I had to go to the store first. God forbid I do that with mascara running down my face. I may be depressed but I am still vain. I overcame those insistent tears and drove onward. I wanted to get that shit flowing in my system as soon as humanly possible.
I took two pills before I left the vitamin store parking lot. Once at D's, I settled in for another Googling session. What is this DHEA stuff anyway? Is it another miracle tonic like the stuff peddled by so many other fertility gurus? The more I read about DHEA, however, the more encouraged I felt.
The benefits of DHEA began to gain notice recently after a 43-year-old fertility treatment patient did her own research on different supplements that might help her develop more follicles and viable embryos. She had gone through IVF and only had one egg. The next time, it was three eggs. Buried in old medical studies, she read about DHEA and realizing it was the only over-the-counter drug that showed any potential for fertility, she went to the store and bought some. Over the next several months, her egg counts grew so high that her doctors told her to stop taking it. They were worried the stimulation drugs she took for IVF would over-stimulated her now very productive ovaries. She had 17 eggs that month, 16 of which fertilized.
Since then, several studies have been done around the world confirming its power to improve egg development, and many stories are emerging of women who had abysmally low AMH and low follicle counts, turning things around after a few months on DHEA. It doesn't work for everyone, but enough women consider it a miracle that I am willing to put my faith in it too.
No one knows how it works, but one theory is that DHEA produces the right mix of hormones in our bodies that promotes healthy egg growth. This flies in the face of existing theories that eggs deteriorate as we age regardless of what is happening in our bodies. If in fact, we can improve both the health and number of eggs a woman produces by improving her hormone levels, that suggests that our eggs are not aging while in hibernation stage, but rather are simple not able to develop as they should once they leave hibernation and become influenced by the mix of hormones in our bodies.
Only time and more studies will tell. But I have my new life boat of hope. I will take a month or two off from IVF treatments and cross my fingers that the DHEA will go to work on giving me more opportunities for a baby. 

In the meantime... I'll be searching sperm donor profile pages for a potential babydaddy. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Battling the Cinderella Complex

I was suppressing tears when I left Dr. M's office. His simple solution, try to have a baby now, was the furthest thing from simple for me. Obviously, he could not know or fully understand that. He doesn't have a front row seat to my imperfect life.
He initially didn't fathom my reluctance to try to get pregnant right away. If I want a baby, his thinking goes, just do it.
Noticing my distress, however, he paused and said sympathetically, “I guess it would be easier if you were married.”
Then he said what many well-meaning people say when they hear about my situation: “What about your boyfriend. You've been dating for three years, what's he waiting for.”
That question always stabs me in the heart. I've worked hard to make peace with the fact that D already has too much on his plate trying to manage his existing family to feel willing to add more to his brood. It's a reasonable, legitimate and responsible position for him. No one should be pressured into having children they don't really want. I get that. I fully understand it and respect it. Plus, I'm not even sure if creating a new blended family for us at this point is the right thing to do for all of the people who would be affected anyway. The timing is just not right.
But sometimes, when that “why doesn't he want to?” question is put to me, my rational, measured, patient perspective crumbles.

The question hits me at the vulnerable spot in my psyche shaped by decades of romance stories and fairy tales. Suddenly, Cinderella awakens and whispers insistently in my ear, “If he really loved you, he'd slay dragons to breed with you.” Or her evil step-sister hisses, “Clearly, he's planning to dump you when he finds someone he loves more. And you watch, he'll have a baby right away with her.”
Possessed by these voices in my head, I shrugged at Dr. M's question as if I didn't care (the best defense against inner emotional turmoil), and tossed out, “I don't know. Maybe he doesn't love me.” I was trying to be irreverent, tough, anything to swat back the army of tears Cinderella had summoned.
It didn't work. Her powers were too strong. Before I got the last words out, I cracked. My hands shot up to my face to cover the sniveling mess I was about to become. Shit. I'm crying like a little girl in the goddamn hallway of the fertility clinic. Can I be more cliched? But these attacks come on suddenly and strong. I have little defense against the initial onslaught.
Dr. M put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. “Well, it might be the time to figure that out,” he said. I nodded, unable to form syllables at the moment. And he continued, perhaps encouraged by my nod. “Don't you think you deserve to be loved?”
Jesus Christ. He is good at twisting that knife. He was taking tough love to a whole new stratosphere.
“Yes,” I tried to say confidently, although it came out small and feeble. Yes, I do.
The thing is, I know my boyfriend loves me. And I love him. But when it comes to making a baby, the world puts that love on trial.
I've already gone through all the reasons why he and I are not at the place where a young couple would be when their lives are yet to be written, or where an older couple would be if they were both still trying to create the family they never had.
Yet I often encounter (in myself as well) a belief that we should apply the mindset of those types of couples onto the lives of people in a much different place. The assumption is that love means wanting to make a family and a lifelong commitment to that family. And we judge the quality of love by testing the equation in reverse... If he does NOT want to have a baby, than he must not love you.

Perhaps that simple equation works better in our 20s and 30s when the big decision is who to create a family with and not if you want to create a family. But using that same equation on people in their 40s often fails to compute. There are just too many new factors involved that complicate the math.
I can't blame anyone for making these assumptions. It's the common human experience of love, marriage and family. My experience puts me in a super small minority, and very few people can imagine how the circumstances of my life change the rules for me.

Of course, if I didn't love D and his kids as much, I could more easily go out and try to find a partner willing to create a family with me. But I've already explained the lottery winning odds of finding that person in the short time I have left to get pregnant. Leaving behind the love and relationships I have and deeply value for the unlikely chance I'll meet a fantasy idea of a my more perfect Prince Charming in three months does not feel like a wise trade off. I must embrace the good things I have.
Even writing this, I cringe. I hate the calculating aspect of this decision. Every outcome is imperfect. Fairy tales princesses didn't have to face these kinds of choices. If she did, she was swept up in glowing sparkly magic dust and *poof* her prince appeared right in front of her – ready to impregnate her. All the difficult, complicated, disappointing stuff in her life was washed away and the story ends in the land of dreams. Everything becomes easy, simple and perfect. Happily Ever After.
But even fairy tales admit their happy endings require magic. And while I like to believe in magic and luck, I also know reality is just as powerful. I wish I could solve all my problems with the wave of my Fairy Godmother's magic wand, but alas, I musta stayed out past midnight too many times to warrant her attention anymore.
So like it or not, I must face I do not live in a fairy tale world. A perfect Prince Charming has not poofed up at my side. My life is complicated and imperfect and difficult. It's real life. And I really hope Cinderella's ghost will stop haunting it someday, cuz she definitely succeeds in terrorizing me on occasion.
I know I am not alone in this battle. The only thing that Dr. M said during his seminar that actually made me feel better, in a misery loves company sort of way, was that regularly in IVF treatment for older women, partners (usually men who already have children) are less than enthusiastic about having a child.

“Ah-ha!” I thought when hearing it. “I am not alone. Other women face this issue, too! Thank fucking God!”
None of us should feel like the only unloved woman in the world because our partner is reluctant to have a child. We should not feel shame or embarrassment if our men say no because they already have too many family responsibilities or other reasonable objections. Someday, if we talk about it enough, and help the rest of the world see love does not always equal baby, maybe we won't feel the pitying eyes of others when they hear our stories. We won't hear them say, “Honey, open your eyes. He doesn't love you. Find someone else. You deserve better.”
Sure, yeah, I deserve better. I also deserve to drive a Porsche and own a private island.

This is an increasingly modern problem for couples to have. With more women delaying motherhood into their 30s and 40s, we are also increasing the likelihood we will fall in love with men who already have children. That means more and more women will face the same issues I now face. Some might make decisions to leave their boyfriends who don't want children, others might chose to stay like me. Regardless, we should not judge our boyfriend's reluctance to have a child as a singular red flag that he does not love us and destroy the relationship because of that. It's unfair to him. And it's unfair to us. True, his lack of love might be the reason he doesn't want to have a child, but it also might not be the reason. Bottom line, though, it is not the litmus test Cinderella and her evil step-sisters would have us believe.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Second Opinions and Second Thoughts

May 17, 2013 -- I met with my second opinion Friday and it was like meeting the face of the baby reaper. I knew from sitting through Dr. M's seminar that he doesn't put pretty bows on the realities of trying to get pregnant in our 40s. I appreciated that. I want the facts regardless of how painful they are to accept. So I braced myself for bad news. And he delivered.

I told him he was my second opinion, and I gave him the lowdown on my stats. Good health otherwise, but nightmarish AMH numbers and barely countable follicles.

He was blunt and straight with me. He didn't think egg freezing was the best plan for me, unless of course I wanted to go through the process multiple times. If I'm only retrieving one to three or four eggs in a cycle, he didn't think it was worth it at my age. Each cycle costs $10,000 to $15,000. To have even a decent chance of a successful pregnancy from egg freezing (excepting a lucky miracle), I'd need to have 20 to 30 eggs in the freezer. As Dr. M said at the seminar, 80 to 90 percent of 40-plus year old eggs are abnormal, meaning even if some of my eggs fertilized and actually implanted in my uterus, they would spontaneously abort. If by chance an abnormal egg hung in there, growing into a fetus, chromosomal tests during pregnancy would detect those genetic abnormalities and I would be faced with whether or not to abort my problematic baby.

But he was not encouraging. In fact, reading between the lines of his tough love, he was trying to tell me that my chances of getting pregnant are not good. He did not want to give me false hope. Nor did he want me clinging to it in ignorance or, let's be honest, denial.

I was resistant, saying that I had heard follicle counts can vary month-to-month. His face scrunched up a little as he shook his head. “Not by much.” He wanted me to look at the facts before me: low AMH numbers and low follicle counts.

I jumped in excitedly to tell him about the AMH study I discovered, the one that gave me so much hope a month ago. I told him that the fertility field's accepted belief that low AMH is a good predictor of low egg production was wrong when it involved women past 42-year-olds. “The whole picture changes after 42,” I exclaimed, nearly leaping out of my chair. I was gonna educate this doctor too! I told him the study showed that women over 42 with low AMH numbers but normal FSH actually produced “excellent” eggs! Egg counts comparable to women much younger with normal AMH. And and and...

He heard me out, but then shrugged. “Yeah, but the proof is in the pudding.” He reminded me that I only had one follicle, and then a total of three tiny ones even after stimulation drugs. In other words, You're not producing “excellent” eggs, dear. My almost undetectable AMH was a good predictor that my ovarian reserves are tapped.

That brutal fact I had yet to fully face. I had been clinging to that study as a life raft, and I was unable to see the big hole right in the middle of it. Looking into that big hole now, I knew I was close to drowning.

Sounding a little weak and confused, I asked why then did Dr. P want me to move forward with egg freezing. Dr. M did not bring up the lucrative profit factor, he simply said “because no one wants to be the one to tell you to stop trying.”

All doctors know sometimes people get lucky. Unexpected things happen. Sometimes, “there's a good egg floating around” in a 42-year-old's body and by lottery winning like odds, it becomes a baby. No doctor is going to tell a woman who is willing to put herself through prolonged hell to get that miracle baby that she should give up. Perseverance sometimes pays off. The question is how much money and other sacrifices are we willing to expend to make a miracle.

Dr. M said his best advice for me was to try to get pregnant with the few eggs I have left now rather than go through the process of trying to freeze them first. He even suggested we try insemination with a sperm donor first before moving to IVF.

Whoa. He takes my false hope away and now he just yanked away that year or two I was hoping to give myself by freezing my eggs. Someone stop the room from spinning.

“Now” really is the moment of truth. If I want a baby, I need to get fucking serious and do it. No more delaying. No more waiting for a better situation. No more hoping I'll have a man in my life who wants to be my partner in it. The imperfect situation is what I have, and if I want a baby, I will have to bring the baby into that imperfect situation. If I think the imperfect situation is too imperfect for me to raise a child, well, then maybe it's time I face that fact and kiss this dream good-bye.

I've heard countless times from friends, family and strangers: “There's never a right time.” People have babies because they want babies regardless of their life situation. They make do. The desire to make a family overrides fears or anxieties about a less than ideal situation.

So I have to ask myself the question: Is my desire to have a child that strong? Is my impulse for it so powerful that I don't care what the consequences are? Am I willing to just leap for what I want regardless of all the other things I DON'T want that will come along with it? The answer, I must admit is still, I don't know. I simply do not know if I can do it. I'm not sure I have the strength, the energy and the necessary patience in me.

I have to be prepared to raise this child on my own. I have to be prepared to care for a newborn ALONE. God help me if the process gives me twins, which regularly happens in fertility treatments. One of my 40-year-old friends is pregnant with twins from IVF. I fear it. I really do.

It would be easier if my financial and career situation were more stable. I gave up a good career as a newspaper reporter several years ago and moved across the country to pursue a new career as a writer for film and TV. It was a wild leap of faith, especially since the odds of success are so miniscule. The average time that it takes working writers to make their first sale in Hollywood is 10 years, but most never do. I sold a small project to a small production company after about a year, but since then I've had to make ends meet with freelance work supplemented by my dwindling savings. This financial instability is supposed to be temporary, until I can better establish my new career. But how long that will take, or if it will ever take, is hard to say.

If I was willing to give up my professional dreams, it would be easier to take a steady job doing something else and build a more secure home for a baby. But I'm not willing to do that, not yet. I want it too much. Plus, I've worked too hard, put in too much time and am too close to the final bell to throw in the towel now. Besides, I don't think giving up my ambitions as a writer to have a child is a wise or healthy choice. It would only breed resentment and create an unhappy mother.

So my question is, can I figure out how to do both? If I really want a baby and my career, I will have to carve out a baby “room” in my small studio apartment in the heart of Hollywood, learn to write in between diaper changes and feeding sessions, and live on rice and beans so I can afford proper baby food and pediatrician visits. Millions of single moms make do. Some of the best people are produced from difficult lives, right? Obama. Bill Clinton. John Lennon.

But I'm guessing that those difficult situations were thrust onto their single moms. The single women who choose to have children are usually in relatively stable situations, at least compared to me. They probably felt ready to do it on their own.

I don't feel ready. I feel scared. I feel confused and worried I will create a bad situation for my child and for me. I feel a horrible paralysis in my chest, locking up my ability to move forward confidently in either direction. I don't know what to do. I am disappointed and angry with myself and my imperfect life. I feel totally alone facing the unpredictable prospects. And I wonder how the hell I managed to so thoroughly fuck up what seemed like a very promising life not too many years ago. As Richard Byrne sings, My God, what have I done?

Boo freakin' hoo, right? Yet, all of this wringing of hands does illuminate the very real emotional, financial and logistic obstacles that block my path. I might make a giant leap above them to pluck a baby out of the clouds, but both of us will come crashing right back down to this road. Alone.

I hate to admit it, but my fears and reluctance to walk what will clearly be a difficult path might make me decide that it's unfair to both of us.

I Have a What?!?!

May 15, 2013 -- I've been good for two months now. Almost no booze. My worst cheat was the Rolling Stones concert when I had two limp Staples Stadium Margaritas. But I choose to believe I was protected by the same Rock-n-Roll gods who have preserved the bodies of Mick and Keef. Besides, if I had refused all inebriates at a Rolling Stones gig, that would've been sacrilegious. Plus, I might've run off any and all spirits of badass rock-n-roll babies. Not good.

I've been less successful in the coffee department. For a few weeks I was able to keep things to one cup a day. Granted it was a super duper size cup. (When they say cup, do they mean a measured cup or a cup, as in a mug any size, of coffee? I prefer to leave that question in the realm of the great unknown.) But I rationalized: I drink my cups half milk, half coffee. So that's less than one cup, right?? One late afternoon, however, I needed a little boost to rev up for a writing session. This is why people worship caffeine. I pulled several more highly focused, productive hours out of my day. So now, on afternoons when I need to be in the desk saddle for several more hours, I dose with a second cup.

I feel guilty about it. I realize that with each cup I sip I'm potentially further deteriorating my chances of having a child. And that's kinda crazy. Does that mean my desire for coffee is stronger than my desire for a child? Wow. Not sure I want to self-analyze that tidbit further. Instead, I hold fast to the words of Dr. P and the studies I had read: caffeine can undermine a pregnancy, it does not impact the eggs. I didn't totally believe it, but addiction is a manipulative bitch.

For those of you who recoil from the normal process of bodily functions, brace yourself for the sight of blood. My orders were to call the clinic on the first day of my cycle and set up an appointment for day 3. For the men out there and girls under 11, Day One means the first day of our period.

Most of my life my periods were on 25-day cycles. Very short. Most women are at 28 days. In the last several months, my periods have been closer to 28 days, sometimes longer. Sign of my waning fertility? Perhaps. But on day 30 of this cycle I was still waiting. Day 31, 32, 33. I was beginning to wonder if I'd even have a period. Dr. P said it would probably be late, so I kept waiting. But maybe all those hormones really screwed up my system. Years ago, I had to have a period induced, so I thought perhaps I'd need to do that again. But finally, on day 34, I saw blood. OK, back on track, body!

Like a good little patient, I called the clinic to set up an appointment two days later. I even set it for 7:30 a.m. See how eager I am? I'll be there when you unlock the doors.

Dr. P did the ultrasound while the girl intern who did my first one observed. One small and one “dubious” follicle on the right ovary. One small giant (compared to the others) thing on the left.

“I think that's a follicle...” Dr. P said, as he examined a 15 mm black circle on my ovary.

But because it was so much larger than the others, it could be “something left over” from my last cycle. Or it could be my dominant egg for the current cycle, meaning it had already won the death match and the other follicles would already be dying out. It's a brutal world down there. But we wouldn't know exactly what it was until my blood tests revealed my estrogen levels.

Dr. P wanted to act quickly to put me on the stimulation drugs immediately if my blood tests showed the right result. That meant ordering a different batch of drugs than the ones I had the last time and sitting through another session of medicine prep. I was becoming such a pro with needles, I figured if all else fails I could take comfort in a future heroin addiction. The fear of needles no longer stands in my way!

While waiting for the elevators outside the clinic, I struck up a conversation with another patient. I'll call her Jill. Jill was carrying a box, and I asked, like a comrade in arms, “Got all your drugs, huh?”

Yep, she said, volunteering that they were given to her by a friend who had leftovers. This was not a new concept to me. I have two friends who recently went through IVF. After one successfully became pregnant, she gave her very expensive leftovers to the other one. I love that women do this. I can't see men doing this. 

Imagine the conversation:
“Why so sad, Joe?”
 “I have a low sperm count.”
“Dude, me too! But don't worry, I have a bunch of extra meds you can take for that.”
“Awwww. You're so sweeeeeet.”

So Jill is also freezing her eggs. She is the first live person I've met who is doing it. I probably was more excited about that than is socially appropriate, but what's a lonely egg freezer to do?

 “How's it going?” I ask, after she tells me she's mid-cycle.

“Really good,” she said with a serene and unshaken confidence that good things will prevail.

The next question fell out of my mouth like a broken-reined stagecoach. It seemed reasonable in the half-moment it traveled from my brain across my lips.

“How many follicles do you have?” Then realizing I didn't really want to know, I blurted out, “Just so I can be jealous.”



The horses were still running loose...

“How old are you?” There was no decorum left in me. I hoped my humor-in-the-gallows tone, tenuous as it might be, and the bond of this sisterhood experience might win me forgiveness to such blunt inquiries.



Young bitch, I thought. But then I was sincerely happy for her, knowing my own tragic fate. “It's so good that you're doing it now.”

She nods. She knows this. But I doubt she knows just how good it is.

We chatted more in the elevator and then in the lobby. I blabbed about my measly follicle counts. She said she had given up alcohol and coffee, citing a Harvard study saying it decreased fertility treatment success. She held up her cup. “This is lemon water.” Her skin was so clear, her commitment to the fertility olympics was so obvious. I felt outdone, like an also-ran in the race for baby. She was besting me with such committed training.

I told her what Dr. P had said about caffeine not impacting the eggs, but I shrugged, not confident at all about it. We both had spent hours on the internet, soaking in all the statistics and studies we could find. And we both agreed a lot is still unknown.

“We're guinea pigs,” she said.

The one thing we both seemed to feel good about was the study that said eating ice cream improved fertility. It reminded me to stop at the store on my way home and buy three pints of Haagen Dazs.

Nurse J called about 4:30 pm. She said my estrogen levels were too high to start stimulation this cycle. They were at 97, and while 100 is the cutoff, it was too close. She said “if the cyst is producing hormones, we don't want to overstimulate.”

What?!?! A cyst? No one mentioned the word cyst earlier. Why do I have a cyst? Is it going to go away? Was it caused by the previous cycle of hormone injections? Am I dying of cancer? Have I killed myself trying to have a baby?

I didn't ask her all those questions, but I did ask if it would pass with my next cycle, and she assured me it was no big deal, that it happens sometimes, and that it would disappear this month. “It's just left over from your last cycle.”

“So it's like an empty follicle?”

“Yes, exactly.”

OK, I can deal with that. I understand that. And in a way, I was thinking I'd prefer to wait another month anyway. It gives me more time to eat ice cream with impunity.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fallout From Cheating

I trust, respect and like Dr. P and his team. I know their clinic has some of the highest pregnancy success rates in Los Angeles for women my age. I still plan to try another cycle for egg freezing with them. But I can't help but wonder, now that I know there are so many different types of treatment programs, if someone else would advise me differently. Considering the time pressure and importance of finding something that works in the next few months, I know I don't have the luxury to go through a few cycles of failures before seeking a second opinion on how best to proceed. I'm racing against the egg reaper here. I can't worry about denting a few doctor's egos along the way.

My wandering, panicked eye led me to a website that compares the success rate of clinics with national averages. I actually stumbled onto it. But once there, I discovered another local clinic with comparable, and sometimes higher, success rates than Dr. P's clinic. It also happens to be located a quick drive from my boyfriend's home. When the treatment program requires several office visits a week, convenience is a major bonus.

What made stepping out for me an easy decisions was the fact that this “other clinic” offered free consultations... if you attend a seminar with one of the clinic's doctors. Yes, it was a bit like a Florida time share sales tactic, but I'm a sucker for free stuff, so I went to one of their talks.

The success rate of The Other Clinic's (I'll call it TOC) is impressive. People from all over the world come to them for fertility help. And the doctor who gave the seminar (I'll call him Dr. M), seems extremely knowledgeable as well as passionate about all the latest medical innovations that increase the odds in the miracle of birth.

Dr. M did an excellent job of explaining the various causes of infertility, what they can do to help, and the options for fertility treatments. They even handed out little educational booklets that I wished previously existed.

Clearly, this clinic is a well-oiled machine. The room was at full capacity. At least 20 people. Of course, that means two-by-two. Like Noah's Ark. There were two other women alone like me. I felt an instant sisterhood with them, but didn't strike up a conversation. They might tell me their husband was at home babysitting their other children.

Dr. M slathered us with information. Unfortunately, it was mostly depressing information for me. What I did not know had allowed me hope. But when he said 80 to 90 percent of eggs from a woman past 40 are abnormal, it was a punch in the gut. I almost decided right then to throw in the towel. Doing the math, that means, on average I'd have to produce 10 eggs to get one or maybe two viable ones. My follicle numbers from last cycle look even worse now against that backdrop.

“I speak the truth,” Dr. M said to the disbelieving faces of the women over 40 in the room.

Whether it's denial or simply a lack of awareness, I suspect most women have a hard time facing the reality of our abruptly deteriorating fertility. The other older women in the room looked much younger than the ages they admitted during questions to the doctor. It was obvious they were vibrant, enthusiastic, healthy people. I knew what they were feeling. How could we not be fertile when we still feel so young and vital?

When one woman asked about her chances of getting pregnant at 44, Dr. M broke the horrible news that it was extremely rare using her own eggs. I could see the tears form in her eyes. She looked up at her husband, who put his arm around her tight. The shared heartbreak was palpable. 

I don't know if that is also the sales tactic. Scare the shit out of women, but then give them a glimmer of hope. An expensive, desperate ticking time bomb glimmer of hope. I mean, it's not like we can claim later he didn't tell us how small our chances were at success. 

But sitting there, a heavy sad feeling began to press down on me. I was not ready to accept and face that I might be past any chance of having a child, but the idea of it was moving closer into my radar field. Driving to my boyfriend's home afterwards, I didn't cry but I definitely felt newly discouraged. 

Even if I could get pregnant, would my damaged eggs created damaged children? I don't want to do that to another human or to myself. I have a lot more to think about while I wait to see what kind of basket of eggs I might produce on my next cycle.

The Growing Tribe of Late Moms

I very rarely meet women my age and older who don't have kids. When I do, I cling to them like a newfound soul mate. I want to know why, how they feel about it now, the pros, the cons, the fun and freedom it allows and any sad moments or regrets they endure.

Our tribe is still small, but we are growing in numbers. A generation ago, less than 10 percent of women arrived in their 40s childless. Now that figure has doubled – one in five American women slide into their 40s with no children in tow. And my generation is the one transitioning our 40-and-childless kind from total oddball anomalies to a small minority “trend.”

The opposite side of that coin, however, is that more and more women in their 40s are trying to become moms for the first time. That also is a trend, making our age-group the fastest growing segment of women having babies. Generations past, few women tried to have children past 40. Now many of us in the growing tribe of childless are hoping to slip into motherhood before the door slams shut on our fallopian tubes.

Obviously, there are a variety of reasons why we didn't pop out babies in our 20s and 30s. Some women simply cannot have their own children, and decide not to adopt or have a child with a donor-egg's genetic code. Some of us chose not to have children. I have friends who are adamant about their lack of interest in being a mother. They are lucky to feel so confident about the choice. Most of us, unfortunately, feel much more uncertainty and anxiety about the “to be or not to be a mother” choice.

In previous generations, getting married and becoming a mother was one of a very few options for women. But by 1970, the year of my birth, women's lib was in a breathless rant. We were raised from little girls to believe we could do anything and everything with our lives. We could pursue any career. We could be independent, earn our own paychecks, make our own decisions. We didn't need a man. A popular coffee mug quote from the era was: Women need a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Getting married and having children was just one part of the exciting package of our future lives – but only if we wanted and when we wanted it. Somehow, that “family” part would fit itself into everything else we wanted to do...only later. For many of us who took that to heart, we chose to focus on our careers and independent lives instead of settling down to create a family.

In my 20s when I was first building my career as a journalist, I knew I did not want children yet. But I definitely wanted marriage and children at “some point.” I often imagined grand plans on how I would raise them. Oh, the things we would do!

I've seen enough interviews with childless older women to know many of them shared the same thought process as me. We delayed having children for a variety of reasons – to focus on our careers, find the right mate, choose the right time, stabilize our finances, etc., etc., etc. But then we crashed up against our 40s childless. All the different elements we wanted in place before we brought baby into the world had not materialized. Things had not gone as hoped. And now we are left without those children we imagined. It's a sad moment to experience. For those of us who never imagined it would occur, it's a true shock. Has this really happened to me? Am I really one of those women who never had children?

Put bluntly, I don't want to be one of those women. I never ever saw myself as one of those women. So I don't want to accept that as my life. I don't think there's anything wrong with not having children. In fact, I admire women who embrace it. I just don't want that life for me. Or rather I want a different life, with a family, for me. When I think about failing to get that family, I shudder with fear. I imagine the regrets and sadness and loneliness I know I will feel when I think of the children who never came into my life.

That sadness and regret might still be my fate if I find out I really did wait too long, but until that answer is definitive, I feel I must do what I can to keep the door open in my life for those children I have been imagining for so many years.

Livin' for Baby

In every human endeavor with unpredictable outcomes and high levels of chance, advice gurus proliferate. Each promises the secret to improving my fertility. Over-the-counter supplements, bottles of wheat grass, special yoga poses, acupuncture treatments, meditation mantras, no alcohol, no coffee, so soy, no fish, no fun. Preparing to harvest my eggs apparently requires an intense commitment to clean livin'.

I've always been a relatively healthy eater, and I exercise often. But extra strength coffee is manna from heaven to me. It's the one dietary vice I embrace wholeheartedly. Years ago, I wondered how I could possibly give it up during pregnancy. It scared me. Literally, I was horrified that pregnancy would require it and I might not be able to do it. I dreaded coffee abstinence more than breast feeding and constant poop wiping.

Booze, the other big dietary no-no when training for the fertility Olympics, holds less sway over me. Generally, my intake is less than 8 drinks a week. That amount is considered beyond what scientists call “moderate” drinking. Really? I think stopping myself from ordering a third drink after two drinks have greased my inhibitions is a very good sign of moderation. I'm not a scientist, but I know some of you are with me on this.

But I do over-imbibe occasionally. And truth be told, I over-imbibed rather frequently in the month prior to this cycle. This worried me. I imagined my budding eggs swimming around in a toxic alcoholic soup. In a panic, I emailed Dr. P early in the process to ask if I should sit the cycle out because of it. I figured he probably got weird panicked questions like this all the time. As usual, his calm knowledgeable response settled me down. He didn't think the alcohol would have an effect on the microscopic pre-eggs (officially known as immature eggs), which at the time of my imbibing were still safely ensconced in my ovaries. Besides, those microscopic immature eggs have been in my body since I was an embryo. If they weren't already damaged from the kaleidoscopic variety of toxins I've blithely ingested since adolescence, then a few more drinks won't hurt them.

Again, I went back to the internet to educate myself more on the path these microscopic machines of life make through my body. Women are born with tens of millions of eggs in our ovaries. By the time we hit puberty, we've already lost 65 percent of them. You know the story of how their numbers steadily decline until they are a sparsely populated desert when you hit mid-40s. They die in a constant war of attrition, where every month, new recruits are called up for a year-long march toward the uterus. If you've seen Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, you might remember the scene of the sperm lining up like astronauts about to launch. Eggs do a similar thing, but just like a woman, we take our time. Once called up for the march, the immature eggs grow ever so slightly each month until they move into position to bloom from follicles on the ovaries. That's when the death match to become the dominant egg begins.

So basically, for a year prior to pregnancy, the egg has been growing in the mother's biological environment, whatever that might be. That's a long time not to eat sushi. But there is no consensus or even much talk that I could find about how the mother's biological environment might effect the immature eggs, the budding follicles, the resulting egg, its fertility chances, and the potential child. The focus of medical science is on how the mother's biological environment might impact the egg after it is fertilized, not prior to its release from the ovary.

After spending hours “researching” my eggs' long journey and fertility diets on the internet, I asked Dr. P to weigh in with his own recommendations. He ever so slightly rolled his eyes. Clearly, he's seen all the advice, heard about all the different “programs” from his patients. He said nothing has proven to increase ovarian output. If something had shown success, there'd be proof, lots of evidence, a ticker tape parade.

Also, he stressed that I'm “harvesting” eggs to freeze, not trying to get pregnant, so the standard practice rules about alcohol and caffeine do not apply specifically to my situation. Alcohol has proven to effect the growing embryo in the womb. Caffeine is linked to higher incidences of miscarriages. We're not worried about either of those problems when we're just sucking eggs out of my ovaries.

If cleaning up my diet, however, made me feel better about the process, Dr. P told me to follow what he tells his IVF patients... “one cup of coffee in the morning and one drink a night is OK.”

So I've cut down to one cup of coffee in the morning and cut out alcohol. I also cut out the soy milk, which I love in my coffee, because a friend told me it mimics estrogen and can subsequently cause your body to produce less real estrogen of it's own, hence decreasing eggs growth.

All of this fretting over how my eating, drinking and living habits might ultimately effect whether my child is born with six toes or half a brain makes crystal clear the huge burden of responsibility a woman carries with her child. It's enough to overwhelm a lifelong free spirit. In a moment of frustration, when I really wanted to have a drink with friends, I actually thought, If my baby can't handle my occasional drink, then maybe it's not my kind of baby. Of course that thought was immediately followed by abusive self-admonitions, If you can't sacrifice your fleeting pleasures for a few months to protect your child, how are you going to handle sacrificing the next 21+ years of your life to said child?

It's not an easy balance, nor is it easy to know when we are being too obsessive. One of my friends who recently went through several rounds of unsuccessful IVF treatments told me she was strict as a Spartan for several cycles. On the last one, at the end of her wits and in high need of a drink, she said, Fuck it, and stopped torturing herself about what she ingested. That was the cycle that produced her beautiful baby boy. And I'm not just saying the kid was beautiful in the generic all babies are a gift from God way. This little thing was literally the prettiest baby I've ever seen.

These things are not predictable. We do what we can to assist and not impede the process, but in the end, it all comes down to chance. But changing our life to live for baby does begin the lifelong conflict every mother faces when we have a child: Our individual desires versus our motherly instinct to sacrifice those desires for the child's needs. I know men experience this too, but I suspect it's not quite as biologically deep wired.

Experiencing something provides knowledge and a perspective that cannot be gained any other way. Living through something is a full body experience, not just an intellectual exercise. For nine months, women live with another human being growing off of our body's biological system, feeding from what we eat, affected by how we live our everyday lives. Women experience an awareness of that child's full reliance on us, and how what we do or don't do can impact whether the baby thrives or dies. The experience is seared into women's psyches as new mothers. And I think it's probably nature's way to prime us to care for the child's every need once born. Living as one, mother and unborn child, we cannot avoid the awareness that the buck begins and stops with us in this child's life. Our job is to make sure that what we do helps instead of hinders the child, regardless of what we might have to sacrifice to do it.

I have to admit that my awareness of the sacrifices I'd have to make as a mother are a top reason I waited so long to even try having a baby. I didn't want to bring a baby into my life if I would resent it for taking my time and focus away from pursuing my career. Plus, my early marriage was a disaster, emotionally untenable and a financial black hole. I could not responsibly bring a child into such a precarious situation. I always knew that when I had children, I wanted to devote myself to motherhood. I did not want to shortchange them with poverty, an unstable home life or a distracted mother. So in the decision process, I was also thinking of my child's life, not just my own.

Did I sacrifice my chances to have children because I was too concerned about their well-being? Perhaps. But equally, I must consider how my ambitions, my desires to pursue a new career in my mid-30s, might have kept me from focusing on finding a way to make my life safe for a child. Perhaps if being a mother had been my top priority, I would have found a way to make it work. But I don't regret my decisions. I know I could not and would not have done it any other way. I'm glad I did not bring a baby into a tumultuous marriage. I'm glad I don't have a child stuck in the middle of a bad divorce. I'm glad my child and I are not suffering from the stress of my being a single mother. But I do feel a sense of deep loss that my choices have perhaps left my dreams of motherhood on the cutting room floor.

And I know I am not alone.