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.
Turns out, what happened to me is normal and what happens to athletes who abuse performance enhancing drugs is not. Dr. Neil Minkoff said on NPR’s Tell Me More, “If I’m going to be prescribing steroids in a way that is safe…it’s not going to help anybody hit and it’s not going to help anybody tackle, because the effects will be reasonably minimal. That’s the problem. If you’re using steroids in a way that is safe, it will not be effective [in drastically altering athletic performance], and if it is effective, it will not be safe.” (It’s unclear if HGH is, in fact, effective.)
I can’t know for sure why this particular IVF cycle had a different result than our prior efforts to conceive. But that doesn’t stop me from drawing the connection between the steroids and HGH I took and the babies I had, especially given my diagnosis. I certainly feel that I owe at least some of the immeasurable amount of joy and craziness that my children have brought into my life to HGH.
Testosterone and HGH are good for much more than clandestinely beefing up sports stars. Testosterone therapy helps men recover from prostate cancer. Aside from its advantages for infertile women, HGH can be used by people with AIDS to maintain weight, and it can also regulate the pituitary glands of adults with a rare condition that causes them to continue growing. Most notably, HGH helps hormone-deficient children mature. A pediatric cardiologist friend told me that many of his patients take growth hormones to treat short stature, which is caused by many other medical conditions.