In Defense of Human Growth Hormone

In cases like A-Rod’s, the media vilifies drugs that can give infertile women families and treat serious diseases
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(Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez)

Every news story about Alex Rodriguez and his alleged use of testosterone and human growth hormone pains me.  It’s not because I am an A-Rod fan, if there are any of those left. The overplayed A-Rod saga stings because it drags through the mud the drugs that gave me my family.

The day I was told I had significant fertility issues, I noticed a small but foreboding change in my doctor’s office. The bowl of peanut-butter cups that usually sat in the middle of his conference table had been replaced with a box of Kleenex. The swap was thoughtful, but it didn’t matter. Five minutes later, I was beyond the comfort of either chocolate or tissues.

My high levels of a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) indicated poor egg quality. Even though I was 30, I only had as many good eggs left as a typical 40-year-old woman. As a result, the doctor estimated my chances of naturally conceiving a baby to be just 5 percent. It doesn’t take a sports fan to know a stat like that isn’t good. Furthermore, the doctor explained that improving egg quality is a difficult, if not impossible, thing to do. “Once an egg is bad, it’s bad,” he said.

Even after this devastating news, my husband and I decided to keep moving forward with our dream of building a family. We considered our options and then sought out a reproductive endocrinologist who specialized in helping women with depleted ovarian reserve (the fancy medical term for bad eggs).

Our new doctor was more optimistic about our situation. He recommended that I follow a typical in vitro fertilization (IVF) protocol, with a couple of small deviations. Specifically, he suggested that I take testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH), additions that, while not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, are fairly common in the treatment of infertility. The doctor explained that these hormones might be able to turn back the clock on my eggs in the same way they supposedly give has-been ball players a new swing.

Like many people, the assumptions and associations I made with steroids and hormone use back in 2009, in the thick of the BALCO steroid case, were completely negative and all related to athletics. In fact, the first thing that popped into my head after hearing the doctor’s recommendation was an image of Barry Bonds’ bulging skull. Thinking of what changes might occur to my own body brought me to tears.

Still, I took to the IVF field.  Following doctor’s orders, I wore testosterone-leaching patches and stuck a needle, big enough for a horse and full of HGH, into my ass every day for just less than a week. To my delight, after the treatments ended, I did not find hair growing on my chest, and thankfully, my head stayed the same size. On the downside, my arms did not look anything like Dara Torres’s.

Even though I couldn’t see any physical differences, the changes I needed were happening inside my body. My doctor removed enough good eggs to fertilize six embryos. To me, this still feels like a miracle, and in the years since, I’ve delivered two healthy babies from those six embryos. Our daughter is almost 3, and our son is 6 months old.

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Shawnee Barton is a writer and artist based in Austin, Texas.

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