This story from a 39-year-old reader is utterly heartbreaking. He and his wife not only struggled for years to conceive—suffering a miscarriage along the way—but also struggled to adopt. (Perhaps they can find some helpful insight from our reader series on adoption or the one on miscarriage.) Our reader begins his story plaintively: “Being a father was always the thing I wanted the most, from childhood on up.”
I was an only child to an only son from my grandfather who had lost a courageous battle of MS over ten years before I was born. My nuclear family connections were important and I wanted to have a good job, but not a great job because I wanted to have the freedom to be there for my kids when they needed me, like my family had been for me.
I got married pretty much straight out of college and my wife wanted a professional career that required a master’s. We put off starting a family until she was done, after we’d been married three years. We were both 26 when she went off birth control.
The following January we were pregnant. The following March we were not.
The product of our conception slipped away, and we were excoriated for not visiting the emergency room instead of urgent care. We knew that miscarriage was common, so we chose not to tell anyone (or nearly anyone) that we were trying, nor that we were unlucky.
We were told that our miscarriage meant our clock started over, but six months later there were no positive results. Meanwhile, the parade of friends, family and co-workers getting pregnant started to get bigger and bigger. I became more and more desperate and my wife, obligingly, went along—beyond things that she thought were appropriate: Clomid, IUI, laparoscopy, injectables, IVF.
All the while the costs mounted—both the cost of the treatment and the cost on our marriage. I took each drip of bad news as a personal failing, and both of us were more and more separated from family, friends and each other. Instead we felt trapped, bitter, and unfairly persecuted for something that wasn’t out fault.
When our second round of IVF failed to produce nearly enough eggs, the doctor (who worked for a clinic that had said they could make my wife's ovaries do anything) reported that there was no chance we would ever have a child biologically. My life was basically over at that point. There was no more writing on the pages in the book of my life. All I saw was blankness.
My wife tried to convince me to leave her. She wanted me to have what I wanted, and since she couldn’t give it to me, she’d release me. Like I could be happy with someone I didn’t love.
After pausing for several months, we elected to pursue domestic infant adoption —infant because I wanted as clean a slate as possible, and domestic because international made us both feel icky. Both of us are fastidious book learnin’ types, so we started to read and take the necessary classes. We got into an adoptive pool and waited ... and waited ... and waited. Many times we were told that we were the last couple that a birth mother was looking at, but every time she chose someone else. (And once we even got trapped in CPR class with a couple that had been chosen ahead of us.)
The march of negative pregnancy tests and, later, rejection e-mails from our social worker left a mark. We had become failures of both biology and the judgment of birth mothers. We more distant from one another than ever.
And my wife, who had been in school or trying to have a baby for all but 24 months of the 12 years I had been with her, discovered alcohol—and, just behind it, alcoholism. I was too blinded by my need to be a father to see it. So, as were trying to re-up for another year of being judged by birth mothers, my wife took a water bottle full of vodka on an errand in our car, got lost, and hit a telephone pole.
Let’s just say: we didn’t end up adopting. The empty book returned and we both headed into recovery programs. The good news is they worked. The bad news is neither one of us feels that adding the stressors of adoption would be healthy. Indeed, I was addicted to becoming a father so much that I was willing to throw almost everything away for it.
There isn’t a day I don’t wish I were a daddy. That child we miscarried would be 12 today.
I still don’t talk about this with anyone. What can they say? They have their kids and their lives and here I am stuck. A failure. I built my whole life around something basic and I have nothing to show for it.
I reel when parents complain about their kids being monsters or burdens. I worry for my lonely future when no one will be there to help take care of me when I am old. I resent childcare tax credits when IVF is prohibitively expensive. I resent abortion warriors who think I am the reason that other mothers should be required to carry their children to term. I just wish things were different for me.
But I try to live one day at a time now. I try to think about whether we could be foster parents, as if that would somehow be easier. I try to see what the point of all the suffering and anguish was. I have the heart of a parent and I want to do something with it. As I approach 40 next year, I recognize that it would take a Powerball-level miracle for me to ever really be called someone’s daddy, so my job today is to learn to accept that, tears notwithstanding.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share. I have been looking for more ways to advocate for this community I’m a part of, and telling my story is a way to do that.
If you have any words of support for our reader, especially if you’ve experienced something similar, please send him a note. Update: Here’s one from Leila:
I read your story with tears. When a door to personal life is closed, it can mean we are meant to act on a universal stage. You mention fostering a child, which would be a kindly act. Of course I don’t know what your circumstances are, but you sound like someone who would be a great help in any number of countries, setting up or working with an orphanage to rescue abandoned children from the streets. You could find yourself a Dad to hundreds of children over the years.
I wish you peace in finding your purpose. I am sure it is a different path than most others.
Here’s another note, from Peggy, who addresses another option for our reader:
I am not sure why you and your wife feel “icky” when you contemplate international adoption. But if that possibility remains, do it!
Sure, the process is exhausting, time consuming, and at times painful. But like any pregnancy, the rewards are never ending. Our infant daughters came to us from China. One, who spent many early months in an orphanage, has some anxieties, but then she is a teen now, so I suppose that comes with the territory.
Our 11 and 14-year-old girls are straight-A students with kind hearts and wise minds. And, of course, I think they are as pretty as daisies in a field. My husband and I would not trade them for any other, even children born to us biologically. These are our forever children, and we are so grateful to have them.
Don’t dismiss this possibility. Please.
One more note of encouragement, from Don:
KNOW THIS: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE BY ANY MEANS! Life doesn’t always follow the script we develop in our minds and hearts.
I too have wanted to be a Father since I was very young. In my first marriage my wife became pregnant in both of her tubes and they were removed. At that point we reassessed and considered adoption. As time wore on, we focussed more on her three children from a previous marriage and adoption never occurred. In my second long-term marriage, I fully expected to have a child, and after a few years I broached the subject and learned that my wife did not feel the same. I was frustrated and disappointed.
I have spent my life trying to be the best “Uncle Don” I could be to the children of all of my family and friends. Not having my own child will always be the biggest regret of my life, but there is much more to life. You sound like an amazing person and brought your partner through a very trying time. It may be time to rewrite your “script.” I wish you well.
This next reader shows a lot of self-awareness and self-reflection over the trying process he put his wife through, and what they endured together:
I have a genetic abnormality which results in the absence of the vas deferens (the duct which conveys sperm from the testicle to the urethra). This means that IVF—via medical extraction of sperm directly from the testicles—was the only way for my partner to get pregnant with our child. It also meant, ironically, that many prior years of contraception to avoid getting pregnant was pointless.
I still feel guilty about the IVF process my partner had to go through, which was entirely because of me. Lots of time consuming and distracting medical appointments. Lots of effectively voluntary medical procedures. Increased risk of various forms of cancer.
All I needed done was an extraction needle-gun shot into my testicles every now and then, to get the sperm out. (Although yes, that was as painful as it sounds—give me a basketball or a football to the groin any day.)
The IVF treatments became an obsession. Everything else —jobs, friends—took a back seat. We were initially cautious and put back one embryo each cycle, but it kept not working. Time was getting away from us (my partner was approaching 35), so we started putting two embryos in each cycle.
After half a dozen cycles—voila—boy/girl twins. We were grinning ear-to-ear coming out of that ultrasound room. It was a stressful, high-risk pregnancy, but in the end they were healthy babies born close to full term in the end.
But there was another thing to feel guilty about: That twin pregnancy did a lot of damage to my partner’s body. Fortunately only muscles and no internal organs or spine or anything, but still.
Again, because time was still running out, we crazily decided to go a few more times (my partner was approaching 40), but we were clever this time; we only put one embryo back each cycle. After a few cycles, the signs were good.
Then it was time for another IVF pregnancy ultrasound. You have never seen a couple so devastated by one of those ultrasound confirming a pregnancy—identical boy twins. (IVF increases the risk of embryos splitting, result in identical twin pregnancies.) Our existing twins were about to turn three.
More guilt, but this time for being disappointed when anyone else without children trying to fall pregnant would have been elated. It was a more stressful and even higher-risk pregnancy, but again we were fortunate to have healthy babies born close to full term in the end.
One thing which amazed us about the whole IVF process was how uneducated society in general was about fertility decreasing with age. Some well-educated friends of ours told us the first they heard of it was when they first told their doctor their intention to get pregnant and universally, the doctor’s response was something along the lines of “better get a move along then!”
IVF can be seen as an excuse delay pregnancy, but it shouldn’t be viewed like that at all. It should be viewed as a last resort. It is expensive, invasive and stressful. There are no guarantees it will work. We made some bad decisions (delaying having children; putting back multiple embryos; trying for a third baby) and had some very lucky outcomes. Not everyone is so fortunate.
My partner would have considered adoption, but I only wanted to have genetic children. But the moral dilemma of potentially passing on my genetic abnormality to any male children was an interesting one: When do you get a boy tested for the absence of the vas deferens? Do you really want an 18 year old running around thinking they’re bulletproof because they can’t get anyone pregnant? On the flip side, do you want an 18 year old having a masculinity crisis of confidence for the same reason?
We still haven’t decided when to tell our boys and/or get them tested, but we continued on regardless because we thought that at least IVF will improve in 20 years time, so our sons would always have it to fall back on, just in case.
Below are two very different reactions to our previous note, “When Infertility Threatens Marriage,” which featured a reader expressing anger toward her husband for persuading her to wait until 35 to try for a baby; another woman who broached—with studies to back it up—how infertility can ruin a couple’s sex life, and marriage overall; and another reader describing how infertility led to her friend’s divorce. The second reader featured below is outraged over that note—“disgusted” even—because she believes it perpetuates myths about infertility.
This first reader, however, exclaims, “OMG that note is exactly right; infertility is brutal on marriage.” She elaborates:
My husband had an undescended testicle at birth and testicular cancer when he was an adult. Despite those issues (should have been red flags), we didn’t get tested until well over a year after we started trying to have a baby.
I had turned down several good career opportunities to conceive. When my tests were fine, but his weren’t (they were all over the map), he blamed it on me, saying I stressed him out. He also flatly refused to see a specialist, so I left and took a job I loved far from our home.
We did see a specialist in the city I was working in and he was optimistic about IVF-ICSI, since my numbers were fine and age was on my side. Then I had an HSG (x-ray to see how the tubes and uterus are) and I got what was later confirmed to be a false positive. My husband was weirdly satisfied, but IVF was still on the table. I ended up leaving my job for a job where I would travel to work and back home, week on, week off. He was paying for the flights. While I loved my job again, the cost was insane. So I moved back.
In hindsight, I should have just called it quits and got my dog, moving on. After all, I had a husband who would not support fertility treatment or my career.
I did get naturally pregnant twice. The first was a missed miscarriage [a.k.a. silent miscarriage] and the second miscarriage was just before a trip to the fertility clinic. The first was just bad luck—a trisomy incompatible with life. After the second, a battery of tests were done and I had an autoimmune disease that should have been obvious as the symptoms were so classic.
We actually did do IVF-ICSI with a lot of backup from a fertility psychologist and the doctors pushing my husband along. They said they’ve never seen anyone so stubborn and resistant. At one point the psychologist said my mental state had deteriorated so much that it was cruel to not do treatment.
The first round worked and we have a beautiful, healthy child (after a terrible pregnancy and emergency C-section). Now we are trying again, but I still feel so much resentment towards my husband. It’s been eight years! I started off being a young wannabe mom and now I’m the dreaded advanced maternal age.
I have felt completely unsupported and alone in both the quest to have a family and in my marriage. No support for infertility or my career. Meanwhile, my husband has gone from strength to strength in his career.
Let me preface my comments by saying that The Atlantic online is my most favorite print media outlet. Your feature pieces are so engaging I have even used them inside my classrooms. So, when I saw Resolve [the National Infertility Association] post about an Atlantic piece on infertility in the Notes section, you can imagine how excited I was to see the topic finally generate some real discussion in a serious online magazine. Being infertile these last eight years, well, I’ve been around the infertility block and I think this topic is one that should no longer be whispered about.
I was completely disappointed. I realize what I read was a rough-ish first take on a story that might not even make it to print, but I was disgusted by it, because it simply perpetuates every misguided stereotype of infertile men and women that exists. It’s unfortunate stories like this that are the very reason why infertility is not considered a legitimate health problem deserving of medical treatment covered under health insurance, just like every other disease.
I don’t have a lot of time to go through your piece point by point, because I don’t even know if a live human will be reading this. But you should know:
Infertility has strengthened my marriage. I know this to be true of a great number of couples. If someone’s marriage was crushed by infertility, maybe their marriage wasn’t too strong to begin with. I could elaborate on this all day long. It is the one thing I am thankful for and proud of: my marriage is better and more solid than most couples I know with kids.
Some of the strongest and bravest women I know are part of my island of infertility-warriors. They fight the stereotypes infertility, and they advocate for themselves with friends, family, and health care professionals tirelessly. They are relentlessly stubborn and hopeful. I invite you get to know some real women who have been through multiple rounds of IVF. There's nothing weak or broken about them.
Not being able to conceive has not turned me into a weeping puddle of a woman and I resent the age-old, sexist implication that scary female hormones—endogenous or exogenous—are insanity-inducing. We are not The Girls On the Train; stop making us out to be hormonally imbalanced nut cases. The IVF hormones I’ve had to take for seven failed IVF cycles (you read that right: seven) basically just leave me with a headache and a few extra pounds to lose each time. Most of the women I know don’t even struggle with the extra weight like I do.
$15,000 [the amount spent thus far on infertility treatments by this reader] is a drop in the bucket in the IVF world. I have no infertility coverage and have paid every dime out of pocket for our treatment. IVF clinics charge people like me MORE than they charge insured patients. I paid a little more for my first two IVF cycles out of pocket than an infertility acquaintance’s health insurance company paid for five IVF cycles. I think clinics actually like it when someone is uninsured. They make more money that way. I think that’s gross. The financial aspect of infertility is the most stressful part of this entire process. We need to start demanding that infertility be covered by mandate like any other disease.
If someone really does read these emails, I’m more than happy to continue this discussion.
If you’d like to ask that reader a question about her experience, about infertility more generally, or if you’d like to discuss your own difficulty with fertility and how it affected your relationship, for good or for ill, please send us a note: email@example.com. All views welcome.
Update from another reader who struggled with both infertility and marriage:
This article could not have hit any closer to home. Infertility has almost ruined my marriage. My husband and I are 34 and 35 and have been trying for a child for five years and have had five reoccurring pregnancy losses at six weeks each time. Each loss is devastating.
We did all the testing and seeking options from three fertility specialists and no cause can be identified. They say it’s likely genetic and recommend in vitro, but when you don’t have $15,000 to spare and no guarantee the next pregnancy will take, it adds financial stress to an already emotionally stressful situation. When no cause can be found, you start think irrationally, and unknowingly anxiety and depression start to develop. If there is not a scientific explanation, then there must be a divine force making a statement that we shouldn’t have children together.
This stress compounded over five losses and many years made me weak and vulnerable, and I allowed someone outside my marriage into my life for distraction and understanding of these new feelings. I fortunately determined that it’s not another man I need. I need clarification to accept that we may not have a child, but my husband is my family and he is everything to me.
Among the many emails we’ve received from readers struggling with infertility, one of the emotions that keeps coming up is envy—unspoken envy toward people who seem to have no trouble conceiving and giving birth to healthy children. As one of our previous readers put it:
I also struggle with jealousy. “Oh! We weren’t even trying to get pregnant!” Even a good friend of mine at age 42 is about to have a baby girl via IVF. I think of her every day and hope I am so lucky.
Another reader can relate:
I am in my late forties. I have not been on birth control since my early twenties and have been married 17 years. We have been through IVF three times. I would have thought the next step was adoption, but my husband said that was a deal breaker. I was not willing to get a divorce over it, so I just suppress my feelings of wanting to be a mother and channel them into caring for three dogs and a horse.
Everyone automatically assumes you can just get pregnant whenever you want. People even say to me they got pregnant just by talking to their husband. It’s very hard to hear that as someone who has tried so hard and has been through so much. I can’t even tell you how many pregnancy tests I have peed on—a ridiculous amount of hope each time, only to have a huge amount of disappointment and tears after. Not to mention the money we have poured in.
I gave up in my late 30s. Having a family should have just been easy—something everyone assumes will happen if you want it. I do feel I have been successful in other areas in my life, but it still is hard seeing all of my friends and their happy families.
This next reader’s excitement over being an aunt was clouded by her feelings of jealousy:
In five days, I’ll have my second FET (frozen embryo transfer) and I feel I like I should be excited, but I’m just numb.
My husband and I have been struggling with infertility for almost three years—about the same amount of time we’ve been married. I wouldn’t say this issue has been hard on our marriage [unlike these readers], because he’s been more than supportive. It’s definitely affected me more than him. My heart aches for a child.
We got pregnant right after our wedding and were thrilled to see the tiny heartbeat at our eight-week appointment. But the joy was short-lived, as I miscarried right after. We had already told friends and family that we were expecting. I was so naive about miscarriages, as I had only known one other person who had gone through one. But after mine, I heard from friends who had also had a miscarriage, which made me feel better that we had told people. [Read many more stories of miscarriage here.] I also learned that most women who have a miscarriage go on to have healthy children soon after, so I was hopeful.
Then, just a month after the miscarriage, my younger brother and sister-in-law announced they were having a baby. I was devastated. It’s irrational, I know, but it felt like something of mine was stolen: a due date close to our baby’s, our parent’s first grandchild, and just the joy I once had was now theirs. I kept up appearances around them, but inside I ached. I had difficulty being around her pregnancy, but once my niece arrived, I couldn’t help but have joy in being her aunt.
It took about six months before I got pregnant again. That one only lasted maybe five weeks. I went on to get two more positive pregnancy tests and yet two more rounds of disappointing news.
That’s when we saw a fertility doctor and decided to go with IVF and genetic testing on the embryos, since miscarriages are usually caused by genetic abnormalities. My husband and I both were tested for about everything that could affect pregnancy. Nothing was found. We had unexplained infertility.
After two egg retrievals, we had five healthy embryos. In August, we had our transfer of one embryo. I was so excited for the pregnancy test, thinking that this would be it. Our chances of success after genetic testing were even higher. We had eliminated the major factor causing miscarriages, so how could this not work?
It didn’t, and I didn’t even get a positive pregnancy test.
Around this time, my brother and his wife announced they were pregnant with their second child. Of course they were. Them and everyone I know on Facebook.
All of this is why infertility has made me numb. I protect myself from pain, because I’m afraid to put too much hope into it. I brace myself for disappointment. All I know is I won’t give up. I will have a child one day, however that may come.
Even if this isn’t shared, it was definitely cathartic to write this out. So thanks.
If you have any words of support or advice for either of these readers, please send us a note and I’ll update.
I have uterus didelphys—a.k.a. having two uteri, two cervixes, and two vaginas. (On top of that I have a hormonal imbalance, which one doctor said was PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome]—I had a trans-vaginal ultrasound done and my ovaries are riddled with cysts—but a second doctor said it’s not PCOS.) Each of my uteri is smaller than a normal-sized one. But my menstrual cycle is like clockwork, and there are no other downsides besides high-risk pregnancy.
The doctor told me that the organs of the female reproductive system are duplicated at one point during development, but eventually the organs merge and become one. For mine to have not merged is like a mutation! I’ve thought of it like the X-Men. It’s pretty cool, IMO, because I can break the ice by telling people I have two vaginas.
I’ve read about women with uterus didelphys who have successfully become pregnant and carried almost to term, successfully delivering via C-section. I recall reading that one woman carried twins in one uterus and a single child in her other uterus simultaneously and they were all delivered successfully. [Our reader is likely referring to Hannah Kersey’s story. And here’s the story of Sarah Reinfelder, who also had twins—one in each uterus. That occurs in one in 25,000 women with uterus didelphys, making the overall likelihood one in 50 million women.]
The doctor said that my uterus that looked more developed was on the side with the smaller vagina. It’s too small for a penis, let alone a baby to come through, so if I ever got pregnant, they would likely do a C-section. I really wanted to give birth naturally, but it would be impossible.
Though to be honest, I’d rather not try to conceive. I’ve always been extremely squeamish and quick to faint (while having blood drawn, for example). I’m honestly glad about my malformation, so I see it as a sign to not try. I would be risking my life. I’ve never been on birth control or used protection with my husband and I’ve never become pregnant. (I wonder if my hormonal imbalance may be contributing to my luck.) I’ve never tried to get pregnant and I can’t afford any other options [e.g. in vitro fertilization]. Adoption would be nice. Until then, I have animals.
Yesterday we heard from a reader with uterus didelphys, a genetic condition that forms two vaginas, two cervixes, and two uteri—each linked to an ovary through its own fallopian tube. It’s difficult to determine exactly how common the condition is, but it’s between one in every 2,000 to 3,000 women, including the following reader. Her uterus didelphys went undetected for many years—and nine months:
I have wanted to share my story since it happened to me, to let other women know it’s OK to have uterus didelphys and that you can successfully carry a baby to term even with the condition.
This spring I was 36 weeks pregnant when my doctor came in with some very scary news. My baby was slowing down on the growth curve and they didn’t know why. There were many possibilities, from genetic disorders to the more probable explanation that my placenta was not giving my baby the nutrients he/she needed. We ran tests and monitored the baby, and the whole while I knew something was different about my pregnancy.
I only ever felt the baby kick on my right side, and we could only ever find the heart beat on the right side.
I shared this with my friends and family, asking questions about their pregnancies and wanting to relate to their stories of the baby kicking their ribs one minute and their bladder the next, but I never shared it with my doctors. I think I thought that I was crazy and was just imagining it; certainly there was no way my baby was just on one side of my stomach.
The next four weeks were scary and we were worried. We didn’t know what was to come. My doctors wanted me to carry the baby as long as possible and were ok with me going into labor on my own. That didn’t happen, and I was brought in for an induction during my 40th week. For 48 hours we tried to get my body to go into labor on its own, but I never felt a contraction, even though I was supposedly going through them like clock work. I went in for a c-section on my second night in the hospital and had a healthy baby boy delivered not even an hour later.
During the C-section, my doctor discovered I had uterus didelphys. I have two sides to my uterus, which explained the baby only kicking on my right side, and I also have two cervices and two openings in my vagina. All of this came as a shock, but I was also so happy there was an explanation.
I was able to carry a healthy baby to term without even knowing that it was a high-risk pregnancy. My husband and I hadn’t been trying to have a baby, though we wanted kids eventually, and I am so glad it happened the way it did. If I knew what I know now, I, like the previous woman who wrote in, might not have wanted to try due to the risks.
The more I read about uterus didelphys and the struggles such women have had to get pregnant, the more I am so grateful for our little guy. He was born small (5lbs, 12oz) and had to be kept in the hospital nursery for about 24 hours, but I would do it over again any day to have him. I hope that other women who have this same condition hold on to some hope that they can have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Here’s a very rare experience we haven’t seen in our reader series yet: embryo adoption. It’s a middle ground between having your own biological child and adopting one: You adopt an embryo created from a donor egg and sperm and bring the fetus to term in your own body, thus experiencing the biological aspect of motherhood when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. But let our reader tell it:
My husband is infertile and didn’t know it when he married his first wife (college sweetheart). Her sadness/bitterness was a leading cause of her leaving him after 13 years of marriage.
When we met several years later, he told me early on about his infertility “in case it’s a deal breaker.” I said it wasn’t, given our ages (36 and 45). Fast forward five years to today, married four years now, and we have a beautiful son born of “embryo adoption.” We met our son’s genetic parents through friends of friends and have an open adoption relationship (even though legally, it was just an embryo “donation”). They had leftover embryos from their own IVF and we adopted all three (and we’ll give our last one a chance at life next year). The four of us have become good friends and are like an extended family. We are ALL thrilled with this arrangement.
Success factors: (1) Embryo adoption/frozen embryo transfer is much less expensive than full IVF because the embryos already exist. (2) Neither my husband nor I are genetically related to our son, so it feels like “equal footing.” (3) We got to experience pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding like genetic parents. (4) It aligned with our ethical beliefs that embryos are humans; we didn’t create more to be discarded. (5) We are not overly enchanted with our own genes; we were happy to adopt others.
More stories of embryo adoption, and donation, are here.
The beginning of our reader’s note mentions how her husband’s first wife ended the marriage due to his sterility. We’ve previously heard from readers on how infertility has variously ruined marriages and strengthened them. Below are three more readers along those lines. The first one attests to how struggling to have a child forged an even stronger bond with her husband—partly because both of them have infertility issues:
I take strong issue with the urban legend that IVF can destroy a marriage. IVF is simply one of those major life events that will test the depth of a relationship and the maturity of the people involved in that relationship.
My husband and I feel that we were both very lucky but also very smart in our IVF process. When we started trying to conceive, because I was in my 30s and my husband in his 40s, my OB-GYN told me that if nothing was happening after four months of trying, get into a fertility clinic and have tests done. I also had an amazing herbalist/acupuncturist whom I worked with to regulate my cycles who gave the same advice. Furthermore, I had watched several friends struggle through IVF, and I knew that it was better to be proactive rather than waiting and trying and waiting and trying for years.
(By the way, it is infuriating when someone flippantly suggests, “Have you thought about adoption?” Adoption is not the panacea, and it is not a simple—or cheap—process, and IVF is usually cheaper. Adoption is simply a different means by which to have a child with its own particular challenges that may be different or similar to the challenges of going through IVF.)
After eight months of trying, we had fertility tests done. It turned out that we both had issues, which, honestly, was a relief in the sense that neither one of us could feel like it was our “fault.” We were even, and in it together.
Our issues mean that it is extremely unlikely that we will ever conceive naturally. I think that diagnosis was a blessing, because I know of other couples who don’t have a clear diagnosis and who go through IVF but secretly hope to conceive naturally. That is not a possibility for us, and it was a relief to be able to return to having sex as a form of relational intimacy and to let go of the pressure on sex to make a baby.
Because of our particular issues, we skipped over IUI and IVF and started straight away with ICSI [intracytoplasmic sperm injection]. I was grateful for this, because it would have been very hard (and expensive) to go through so many failed rounds. Our first round of ICSI worked, and we are expecting a baby girl in only a few more weeks.
Throughout the process, IVF brought my husband and I closer to each other. Going through IVF is a very intentional process. There’s no “magic” in it, like you see in the movies where getting pregnant seems to happen so effortlessly and is often used as a cheap plot device. Our process of having a child forced us to talk about things that some couples never talk about. We had hard conversations. These conversations can, yes, test a marriage, but our marriage was strong to start, and making these choices together only made our marriage stronger.
We also continuously reminded ourselves that we are a family with or without children. We told ourselves that if IVF didn’t work, then we would buy a scooter. Stupid, maybe, but it helped keep our perspective clear that our family and our life together is about more than having children, no matter how badly we want a child.
My husband administered all of the shots to me, and we went to every single appointment together. Actually, we didn’t do that once, and there was bad news, and we learned after that just how serious and vulnerable the process of fertility treatments is, and we made sure to do everything together from that point on.
Even if we hadn’t gotten pregnant through IVF treatments, the process was still very positive for us. It opened our eyes to a world of medical professionals who do incredible work everyday. It also gave us an appreciation for how unique each person’s experience with fertility is.
Finally, it forced us to get very clear about what our marriage means to us and what it means to have a family together. It made us acutely aware that if we want something in life, we have to go out and try to get it. There is nothing passive about IVF. Everyone’s experience is different, but for us, it was a very good experience, and I remember the closeness that we felt as we were preparing for the treatment as a time of deep love and togetherness.
This next reader’s marriage also survived infertility issues, but their infertility nevertheless had a powerful ripple effect on her extended family:
I was 25 when I married and we tried starting a family right away. I had normal periods but never could get pregnant. When I saw my gyne a year later, she found my FSH [follicle stimulating hormones] to be slightly elevated and sent us to a RE [reproductive endocrinologist] right away. That led to numerous IUI attempts and two IVF attempts, lab draws, and lots of tears and heartbreak. I remember getting up one night just sobbing so hard I could hardly walk at the thought of never being pregnant, giving birth, looking at a copy of me and my husband.
It is now 12 years later, we have since given up, but we are better emotionally now. Our marriage was in a rut for a long time, and needs of all kinds were not being met. We both stuck through it and have a stronger marriage now.
Along with my own heartbreak though, my sister also dealt with infertility and IVF treatments. Nothing worked for her either, and her husband expressed a desire to have “his own kids.” Sadly, their marriage did not survive. This is doubly hard on our family because my parents will never have biological grandchildren, so they are struggling with acceptance as well. My dad’s family ends with my sister and me.
Infertility affects more than just the infertile couple; it really affects a whole family. We are all still grieving over all the losses infertility caused and will one day, hopefully, move on.
Another reader also reconciled with being childless:
My wife and I pursued increasingly aggressive treatment for infertility necessitated primarily by what we eventually discovered to be my azoospermia [low sperm count]. We faced the feelings many couples experience of stress, personal failure, loss, jealousy, worry about the future, concern about the financial burden, questions about the consequences of donor sperm, and horror stories about adoption. It was a very difficult time in our lives, but we worked extremely hard to keep communicating our feelings with each other and to be supportive of those feelings, no matter how complex or mixed.
In the end, after receiving treatment for more than a year, we decided to remain childless, and we’re not sorry at all. What got us through dealing with infertility—communication, respect, and mutual support—has made our marriage stronger. We also feel that we tried as much treatment as we were comfortable with, and therefore that our choice not to have children is just that: our choice, made deliberately. Lastly, infertility treatment diagnosed a separate health issue I didn’t know I had, and treatment for that problem has improved my quality of life.
Two years later, our marriage is stronger than ever, and we’ve found a world of opportunities and experiences that fill whatever hole may have been left by the lack of children. I’m saddened by how many of your readers and others have had overwhelmingly negative experiences that destroyed those relationships. I know it’s a very hard situation, but not all experiences with infertility lead to the end of relationships.
Update from a reader:
I’ve been reading your series on infertility and am having a really hard time with these entries. Why? Because I am an adoptee. I was born in 1971 to a young woman who struggled with drug use, and after a month in foster care, I was adopted by a family who has given me everything in the world.
So when I hear language from your readers like “... her husband expressed a desire to have ‘his own kids’”; “This is doubly hard on our family because my parents will never have biological grandchildren, so they are struggling with acceptance”; and “my dad’s family ends with my sister and me”—well, perhaps you can’t imagine how hateful and hurtful that feels to someone who is adopted.
My grandparents were thrilled to have a new grandbaby, no matter how I got there. My parents definitely thought of me as their “own” kid, and their family line did not die out simply because they couldn't have biological children.
I would never say to a couple “just adopt,” because it’s a long and challenging process. But being a parent is about a lot more than just having a baby. It is utterly insulting to adoptees to imply that we are not a “real” part of our families. I heard this stuff a lot when I was a kid; I really didn’t think I’d still be hearing it into middle age.
For dozens of personal stories from readers on adoption, check out this Notes thread. For quick reference, here’s a chronological list of entries:
A reader revives our series with a rare perspective we haven’t heard from yet—a lesbian couple struggling to conceive:
I’ve read many, many of the stories you have posted regarding infertility, deciding to have children, and adoption—mostly to find answers to my own questions. The stories seem to be consistently from heterosexual relationships, and while I can relate to these on some level (infertility, financial strain, marriage), I am at the same time seeing them at such a distance. My experiences are not the same and I have many of the same options, but they are altogether different.
My wife and I have been married for three years. We decided to have children, and, as lesbians, were sent directly to a reproductive endocrinologist. We kept trying to tell the doctors and nurses (and each other) that we weren’t infertile ... we just didn’t have sperm!
Except it appears we are somewhat infertile. After four failed IUI cycles using my uterus and donor sperm, we reached the point at which we were told, “If it was going to happen this way, it would have already.” Our 20 percent chance was knocked down to 10 percent for further IUI, and they suggested IVF—or, to change tracks and let my wife become pregnant.
My wife is somewhat gender nonconforming, and her view of becoming pregnant herself is that she would do it if it were necessary for us to have a child—something we both want. But she is uncomfortable with the idea of being pregnant. I can understand her feelings and empathize with the choice. As her wife, I don’t want her to do something she isn’t excited about.
Our doctors can’t seem to get the language right; they talk about “her” baby and “my” baby, as if any baby we had wouldn’t simply be our baby. One doctor even told my wife that if later she “wanted her own baby,” then we could use embryos from my IVF for her to be pregnant. We understand at face value they are concerned with the biology of making this baby, but it’s hurtful.
Everyone says we’re lucky: We have two wombs, and sperm is inexpensive compared to surrogacy. Some people suggest we “just adopt” (we would if we could afford it!) or simply tell us to let my wife become pregnant.
The choice isn’t that simple. IVF is expensive, giving up the hope of being pregnant is difficult, and spending money on infertility is hard when it’s just taking away money we could use to raise the child. Having my wife go through IUI and spend another $6,000 on three or four chances at 20 percent sounds like bad odds ...
Some days it seems as if every other lesbian is just throwing around sperm and getting pregnant. Why should it be so difficult?
I never thought I would deal with infertility, and I am devastated at the thought of never being pregnant. I don’t even care about the baby’s genetics being mine; I simply want the experience of being pregnant with our child.
Meanwhile, for more reading on the subject of lesbian mothers-to-be, here’s Alana Semuels back in December 2014:
Increasingly, lesbian couples who want to have children are turning to men they know for genetic material, and are sometimes asking him to share some parenting responsibilities. It’s possible that gay men who use a surrogate to have a child are involving the mother in the child’s life too—at least if you believe the premise of the failed 2012 NBC comedy The New Normal.
“We are seeing a growing trend of a female, same-sex-couple parenting with the man who provides the genetic material but does not relinquish his rights as a sperm donor,” said Diana Adams, a New York lawyer who advises families on issues like these.
To be sure, this new type of family can create a minefield of legal issues. A Florida judge last year allowed the names of three parents on a birth certificate after a sperm donor sued a lesbian couple, who had been his friends, after they asked him to cede parental rights. Last October, California amended its family code to provide that a child can have more than two parents. And the case of Jason Patric, who donated sperm to his ex-girlfriend on the condition he wouldn’t be involved in the child’s life, and then changed his mind and sued for custody, got widespread media attention in 2012 after Patric started lobbying for more rights for sperm donors.
“Three-parent families will be one of the next major legal issues for the LBGTQ community,” Adams said.
But in the future, a sperm donor might not be necessary at all. In the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal sketched out “Five predictions about the future of reproduction”—the fourth claiming that “synthetic sperm will save the nuclear family”:
Researchers may ultimately be able to take a cell from an adult man or woman, turn it into a stem cell, then change that stem cell into a sperm or an egg. Doctors have already succeeded in breeding same-sex laboratory animals in this way.
Timothy Murphy is a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago whose work focuses on the bioethical implications of reproductive technologies for gay, lesbian, and transgender people. He points out that creating artificial sperm and eggs could, rather than leading to radical social change, actually preserve a normative family structure. “For gay and lesbian couples, the synthetic gametes would eliminate the need for a third party,” Murphy notes. This kind of assisted reproductive technology—“unnatural” as it might be—would allow same-sex couples to keep reproduction solely within the family.
The following reader tells the story of her long battle with infertility that culminated with the successful use of donated eggs. But despite the happy ending, she struggles with uneasy questions about the ethics of the donor industry and the “massive resentment” she harbors toward her husband. She prefers to stay anonymous here “in order to protect my daughter’s privacy”:
I met the love of my life late, at age 36. Two years later, we were married and trying for a baby. In retrospect I wish we had started to try as soon as we decided to spend our lives together, but hindsight is 20/20. I had several friends conceive without difficulty in their late 30s, so I was confident that we still had time and that it would happen.
But it didn’t. For three years we did the usual fertility treatments, including three rounds of IVF, with one heartbreaking early miscarriage. The treatments just didn’t work.
Early on we had discussed backup plans, though we weren’t crazy about any of them. Adoption was potentially just as expensive, difficult, and heartbreaking as fertility treatments and it could take years, particularly if we wanted infant adoption. The thought of starting from scratch with a whole new cycle of hope and disappointment was daunting. But we didn’t much like to face the prospect of childlessness either, since both of us had long dreamed of having a family and desperately wanted to raise children together.
A friend in her mid-40s told us about donor egg programs. She had a successful pregnancy using donor eggs and strongly recommended it. Our initial reaction was “no way, no how.” We wanted our own genetic child, and my husband balked at the idea of “having a child with another woman.”
But as the years wore on, and after our final disastrous round of IVF, we weren’t ready to give up yet, so we faced a choice: start from scratch with the long complicated process of adoption, or go with donor-egg IVF.
The upside of donor eggs was a massively increased chance of success, since the donor would be under 30. So long story short, we went with donor eggs. It held the highest chance of success with the least chance for heartbreak (a huge consideration given that we were already worn out by the stress of the previous attempts). It would allow our child to have a genetic relationship to one parent. And, I would be able to have the hoped-for experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
We now have a beautiful daughter who gives us joy every day. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. But at the same time, I still have very mixed feelings about the process:
I worry about the ethics of the situation. I can’t get around the fact that we effectively “bought” a baby. The only reason we have a child is because we could afford the costs. I also worry about the financial pressure on the donors, who are generally young women trying to pay off student loans.
Being walked through the donor database was surreal and icky. Much like a dating site, we could review donors’ photos, medical histories, eye colour, height, etc. As we searched the list—trying to find a donor who bore at least a vague resemblance to me—I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie picking out a designer child. Reviewing the list I knew that hundreds of potential donors had been rejected for not being worthy. I knew full well that I wouldn’t have been considered worthy due to a bouts of depression in my past. It just felt too much like eugenics for comfort.
I struggled with massive resentment toward my partner—resentment that he would get the chance to see himself in his child and that I never would. To see all those little resemblances: his dimples, his sister’s eyes, his father’s laugh. I will never get a chance to see how the random magic of genetics came together to make a child out of the two of us. It’s a huge grief, and one that I bear alone. Only our closest friends and family know the details of our daughter’s conception. I still have pangs whenever someone tells me she has my eyes or asks which one of us she looks like.
I still sometimes grieve the ideal of parenthood I thought I would have. But I am also grateful every day that my daughter exists. It’s an astonishing thing to bring a life into the world and see her become more and more herself. And if this is what it took for this unique little person to exist, I can make peace with that.
For more reading on the ethical quandaries of egg donation, check out this 2015 Atlantic piece by Jacoba Urist. She addresses a key question: How much money do donors typically get—and how much should they get?
In the [American Society of Reproductive Medicine] guidelines, issued in 2007, the organization’s ethics committee considered—and then rejected—a pricing structure based on an outright comparison to sperm donation. If the average payment for sperm donation was $75 for an hour’s worth of work, the committee members reasoned, then a woman paid the same hourly rate should get $4,200 for the 56 hours it typically takes to donate eggs—but “because oocyte donation entails more discomfort, risk, and physical intrusion than sperm donation,” they wrote, “sperm-donor reimbursement rates are reasonably considered to underestimate the amount that is appropriate for women providing oocytes.”
The committee members also argued, however, that the space between too little money and too much is a narrow one. The ideal payment is up to $5,000, the ASRM believes; higher fees “require justification,” while more than $10,000 is always inappropriate. The possibility of more money, the guidelines say, could create an opportunity for donor exploitation in the egg market: Women may provide eggs “in response to financial need,” leading them “to conceal medical information relevant to their own health or that of their biological offspring.” [...]
Is the money for a donor’s eggs, or her services, or her discomfort? It’s virtually impossible to decide how much a woman should be paid for the process, and how open the egg market should be, without confronting the underlying issue of what she’s being paid for in the first place.
Urist also mentions the documentary The Perfect Donor, whose trailer is below. It begins with a young woman relaying what an agency told her about her prospects for donating: “You’ll probably get picked pretty fast, because you’re blonde, you’re blue-eyed, and you’re white”:
Dr. Greene [at the donor agency] asked about my parents’ and siblings’ bodies: average-height, average-weight, fair skin, and blue eyes, and she makes an approving expression at the last fact. This is like a sunroof on a car you might buy or a washer-dryer in a potential apartment. Grad school is a leather interior, a pool in the backyard.
Lacey was compensated $8,000 for her eggs. Jessica Cohen, while an undergraduate at Yale, responded to an ad in her college paper to donate her eggs for a whopping $25,000. From her 2002 Atlantic account:
Beyond their desire for an Ivy League donor, they wanted a young woman over five feet five, of Jewish heritage, athletic, with a minimum combined SAT score of 1500, and attractive. I was curious—and I fit all the criteria except the SAT score. So I e-mailed Michelle and David (not their real names) and asked for more information about the process and how much the SAT minimum really meant to them. Then I waited for a reply. [...]
David responded to my e-mail a few hours after I’d sent it. He told me nothing about himself, and only briefly alluded to the many questions I had asked about the egg-donation process. He spent the bulk of the e-mail describing a cartoon, and then requested photos of me. The cartoon was a scene with a “couple that is just getting married, he a nerd and she a beauty,” he wrote. “They are kvelling about how wonderful their offspring will be with his brains and her looks.” He went on to describe the punch line: the next panel showed a nerdy-looking baby thinking empty thoughts.
The following paragraph was more direct. David let me know that he and his wife were flexible on most criteria but that Michelle was “a real Nazi” about “donor looks and donor health history.” [...]
After I’d brooded about these matters, I received the shortest e-mail of the correspondence. The verdict on my pictures was in: “I showed the pictures to [my wife] this AM. Personally, I think you look great. She said ho-hum.”
After we published a story from a reader who had ethical qualms about using a donated egg that became her daughter, a bunch of readers in the TAD discussion group debated the question, “Is egg donation unethical?”—especially since thousands of dollars are typically given to the donor. Below are some of the best comments and personal stories from those readers, edited for concision. Here’s Terri:
My only real concern is compensation. Selling to the highest bidder for significant profit is risky and unseemly. It has to be regulated in a manner that protects both parties.
Another reader takes a more libertarian approach:
As long as all parties consent and the child created is loved and taken care of, then all is good. What’s unethical is bad parenting.
Jim compares egg donation to adoption:
The financial aspect of donation is no more fraught, to my mind, than adoption fees. The stickler is setting a fair price for the not inconsiderable pain and discomfort the donor experiences, as well as screening donors to make sure they are psychologically secure with the process.
Egg donation, fertilization, and implantation is essentially a rich person’s ethical problem, if that. Many women and their partners beggar themselves financially in an effort to become pregnant. If they can afford it and they want to, why not?
This next reader complicates Jim’s characterization that it’s “a rich person’s ethical problem”:
I am part of an IVF support group, with 10,000-plus members, and I’ve undergone IVF myself. The large majority of us are not affluent.
Also, it’s not fair for people who have never struggled with infertility to imply/demand that those of us who suffer from infertility settle with adoption, as if it’s an easy solution. We just want the same chance fertile people have—a chance they didn’t have to fight for or pay for, or suffer from.
Another reader also isn’t troubled by egg donation:
Is it less creepy than adoption? Prospective parents are also given dossiers of babies/kids they would like to consider. It shouldn’t be creepy to “choose” a child. We choose our mates, after all, and the initial attraction is mostly superficial there too. Is a child that arises from such a pairing not “chosen” as well?
It’s not uncommon in egg and sperm donations for people to search for donors who bear some similarity to them. Since the child will not have a genetic connection to the replaced parent, isn’t it better that they at least have some physical similarities? This is supposed to make life easier for the young kid, so they are not wondering why they look different or being teased as school for looking different (young kids can be merciless to their peers).
Finding physical similarities and other preferences is a big part of Gail Sexton Anderson’s job. She runs Donor Concierge, a service that matches intended parents with egg donors and surrogates.
Race and ethnicity is a big part of that process, which Gail addresses in this blog post:
For many intended parents having a sense of continuity within the family blood lines helps them to come to terms with going forward with an egg donor. I have had many intended parents tell me that they would like to find a donor who is Irish, Welsh, Italian etc. so that they can share stories of their heritage with their child and not feel they are being false to their child who shares their family but may not have similar ethnic heritage. ...
One problem that we run into over and over again as we search for our clients is how difficult it can to find the egg donor’s ethnic heritage. Too often egg donors and agencies confuse race with ethnic heritage and will just use race as a blanket answer to cover both. The trouble is they are not the same. One is a very broad category and the other defines the details of that category and for many intended parents it is an important distinction.
For example when I am looking for a Chinese donor I often find that all donors with any Asian heritage are listed as Asian. That is fine to a point if within the details of the egg donors profile her specific heritage is listed such as Chinese, Hmong, Japanese, Korean etc. Many programs have thought to include this information but many others still list the donor as just Asian. For a Chinese or Korean family this can be a real problem for many they feel strongly about their ethnic heritage and one is not interchangeable with the other.
Fertility industry experts say there are several reasons Asian eggs are in demand, including a cultural aversion to adoption. If a woman is infertile, they say, many Asian couples would prefer to use the husband’s sperm with a donor’s egg to conceive a child that carries at least half of the couple’s genetic identity than to adopt a baby from other parents.
Demand is also high among Jewish couples, many of whom put off having kids to pursue higher education or careers, clinic operators say. According to a report from the United Jewish Communities, half of Jewish American women have college degrees and 21% have graduate degrees. They tend to marry later, the survey says, and have lower fertility rates. …
One reason for the lack of supply [of Asian eggs] is that Asian women are less likely to go through the discomfort of egg donations out of financial need. On average, Asian women earn higher salaries and are more likely to be college-educated than their counterparts in other racial groups, according to Labor Department statistics. Asian females out-earn white women by 13%, black women by 31% and Latinas by 52%, the agency said. “A lot of young women who elect to be egg donors do so for financial reasons,” Vorzimer said. “But many Asian and Jewish donors who are in such high demand are young ladies who do not need that financial compensation.”
Back to our readers:
I can see how the donation process could feel “designer baby” or “eugenics lite” and leave a bad taste in mouths, especially with the sadly inevitable preference for fair-complected donors. But it’s worth noting that 1) this has always been true of sperm donation and 2) the cost of entry, so to speak, for parents is too high for this to have a significant impact on population dynamics.
This next reader is on the same page:
I don’t think the eugenics comparison is fair at all. Even if every couple goes into the process looking for a baby that is similar in appearance to them, those are the babies they’d be conceiving naturally were they able/should they choose. Races are not being wiped out by egg donation and subsequent selection.
The eugenics angle isn’t just about aesthetics. As this reader illustrates, “My now-wife (we were dating at the time) looked into egg donation for financial reasons but was told she couldn’t due to some family medical history.” Another reader can relate:
My daughter looked into donating, to try to pay off student loans. She was turned down because her father is mentally ill and because she and both parents are nearsighted.
Setting aside the fact that I have reasons to believe that my ex-husband’s mental condition may be more a product of environment than heredity, can I just say I worry for the offspring of people who may come to believe that their high priced, perfect eggs will invariably yield perfect children.
This last reader can relate firsthand to donation:
As someone who has undergone IVF and has eight embryos waiting and who plans on donating any leftovers to a couple/person in need, I do not find it creepy in the slightest. I understand where people are coming from about adoption, and I have heard from so many people over the past eight years of TTC [trying to conceive]. And we do plan on adopting out of the foster program, which we have already been approved for, but not placed.
Unless you have gone through infertility, you just can’t possibly understand the heartache it causes. We have to watch over and over and over women have children who don’t appreciate the gift, or who abuse their child, abandon them and so much worse, so we cry and cry and wonder why me, why us. It’s awful. There is nothing wrong with a person/couple wanting a biological piece of them to exist in this world.
A reader, Erin, raises a really interesting concern among the estimated 30,000-60,000 Americans born every year from artificial insemination:
I’ve seen several of the posts in this infertility series pop up in my social media feed and was wondering if you’ve considered sharing the perspectives of adults who were created using 3rd party reproduction methods, such as donated eggs or sperm. If you are attempting to engage in a conversation about ethics, I believe that is a vital piece of the puzzle. Please don’t forget that infertility “treatments” like egg and sperm donation affect the people they help to create. It’s worth noting that the majority of people conceived through anonymous sperm donation do not support the practice.
Indeed, according to a 2010 study written up in Slate by two of its authors, Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt, “About half of [people conceived via sperm donors] have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even if parents tell their children the truth.” More of their findings:
Two-thirds of adult donor offspring agree with the statement “My sperm donor is half of who I am.” Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. About two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, donor offspring are […] more than twice as likely to report having struggled with substance abuse. And they are about 1.5 times as likely to report depression or other mental health problems. As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families.
Read the rest here. Clark and Marquardt conclude that the U.S. “should follow the lead of Britain, Norway, Sweden, and other nations and end the anonymous trade of sperm.”
Circling back to our reader, I asked Erin if she has personal ties to the issue of sperm donation, and she replied:
Yes, I do. At the age of 36, I learned I was conceived via an anonymous sperm donor. It was absolutely the most mind-blowing experience of my life. In an attempt to make sense of my new reality, I joined Facebook groups for donor conceived people, read every available resource and eventually launched a website, We Are Donor Conceived.
The craziest part of the experience wasn’t how the disclosure affected me personally, it was learning how the modern-day sperm donation industry functions. There are tons of resources out there, but this post is a great place to start.
That post is titled “10 Things Your Doctor, Clinic, or Sperm Bank Won’t Tell You.” A few passages:
Many parents use donor conception instead of adoption because a genetic connection is important to them, but then negate the importance of that very same genetic connection when it involves their child’s relationship to the “donor”, the other half of their child’s genetic family, ancestry and medical history. [...]
Parents: This shouldn’t be about your unresolved grief, your hesitations, or your fears. This should be about what’s in the best interests of your child, and their right to the truth about themselves, their medical background, their ancestry, and their genetic relatives. After telling (or after your children find out via DNA testing), please do not ask your children to keep the “secret”. This may have been your secret, but it shouldn’t be theirs. This type of response could cause unnecessary resentment, anger, and upset. Secrecy implies shame, and donor offspring have nothing to be ashamed of, most certainly not the methodology of their conception.
Are you a parent of a donor-conceived son or daughter and would like to share your perspective on this issue? Or, were you conceived from an anonymous donor and would like to tell your story? Please send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A reader, Mimi Lee, introduces a new and rare experience to our ongoing series:
Ten days before my wedding, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a doctor, I naturally freaked out and quickly arranged my own lumpectomy within 48 hours of the diagnosis. I celebrated my new marriage surrounded by friends and family, wrapped in surgical dressings.
We returned from the honeymoon and embarked on a single round of artificial reproductive technology (ART) to preserve my fertility and our chances to build a future family. Meanwhile, I learned from a pathologist colleague that my cancer had not been completely removed, so after multiple consultations and opinions, I prepared for a mastectomy.
Amidst this whirlwind of uncertainty over the big C, I carefully emptied vials, mixed drugs, and prepared syringes for ART—only this time, it was not for any of the thousands of patients I had cared for as an anesthesiologist who specialized, ironically enough, in fertility. The prep was for me, inspired by the hopes and dreams of my own biological motherhood once I stomped cancer out of my life.
The ART went extremely well. At age 41, I had 18 eggs harvested. Twelve were fertilized and yielded five beautiful-looking embryos—my future babies. Two weeks after the embryos were frozen, I underwent my mastectomy.
A year later, after acknowledging that pregnancy was contraindicated for my type of breast cancer, my husband and I scanned gestational profiles at a surrogate agency. A year after that, he told me he wanted a divorce. After we separated, I underwent two more years of legal proceedings, which amounted to a full-time job, leading to a courtroom battle for the custody of the frozen embryos. My future babies’ lives hung in the balance.
Devastatingly, I lost that battle, and the embryos were ordered destroyed. With that, my ambitions of biological motherhood were forever silenced.
Like many educated, career-minded women, I had postponed marriage and motherhood until it was too late. My cohort of women was instructed to wait until “the time was right.” For me, that meant waiting until my career was stable and my financial independence was established. Many women I knew had chosen either motherhood or a career. Now many of the empty-nested moms are struggling to create new identities while the career women are struggling with feeling left behind, single and childless.
I lie somewhere in between. I have landed in a new career, but I was almost a mom. What feels terrible is that I missed the chance to keep my babies safe and secure.
ART is at once incredible and terrifying. It is fraught with ethical, legal, and socioeconomic minefields. Designer babies are happening now. Gender selection, physical features, and even genetic predispositions are all options. Furthermore, given the price tag, it’s only an option for those who can pay, generating huge concerns about the morality of our society. Why should parents who aspire to parenthood equally, but lack the out of pocket cash required, be left behind?
Finally, due to the lack of legal policy to reign in the practice, women and men are getting hurt. Custody battles are on the rise. Embryos hang in limbo. In my case, rhetoric borrowed from pro-choice arguments was used against me, and my ex argued that he had a right to not become a parent. This, however, failed to acknowledge the fundamental fact that accidental unwanted pregnancies differ vastly from the deliberate, invasive, expensive and time-consuming journey of ART.
Mimi is writing a memoir about her experience, and you can read more on her website, BabyEmbryos.com. The legal details of her story are here.
Another very public battle over embryos took place in 2010, when Jennifer McLaughlin, after giving birth to twins derived from embryos donated by a couple, sought custody of the two remaining embryos because they were genetic siblings to the twins—but the couple wanted to donate the embryos to another woman. McLaughlin appeared with her lawyer on The Early Show:
Perhaps the most high-profile custody battle over embryos involves the actress Sofia Vergara, whose ex-fiance, Nick Loeb, tried to gain custody of the couple’s two frozen embryos after she wanted to keep them “frozen indefinitely.” In 2015, he took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times and appeared on The Today Show to make his case:
From Loeb’s op-ed:
A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects. Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects? These are issues that, unlike abortion, have nothing to do with the rights over one’s own body, and everything to do with a parent’s right to protect the life of his or her unborn child.
In January, Melissa Cook, a 47-year-old California surrogate currently pregnant with triplets, sued the commissioning father, a single 50-year-old Georgia postal worker, who wanted her to abort one of the fetuses. (The egg used to create the three embryos implanted in Cook was sourced from an anonymous, 20-something donor.) Cook, who is pro-life, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming California’s surrogacy law violates due process, as well as equal-protection rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
Cook says she wants to take all three fetuses to term, adopt the unwanted third, and collect her full surrogacy fee. She also wants the court to rule that her surrogacy contract is unenforceable, which would protect her from the consequences of breaching her contract and possibly allow her to keep the multi-thousand-dollar fee stipulated in her gestational carrier agreement.
“She’s trying to get the state of California, essentially, to not recognize the contract she signed,” explains Elura Nanos, a fertility attorney based in New York.
Ultimately all the triplets were born and went into the custody of the father, and the surrogate lost her legal effort to gain custody herself.
Every year thousands of Americans die on the roads. Individuals take the blame for systemic problems.
More than 20,000 people died on American roadways from January to June, the highest total for the first half of any year since 2006. U.S. road fatalities have risen by more than 10 percent over the past decade, even as they have fallen across most of the developed world. In the European Union, whose population is one-third larger than America’s, traffic deaths dropped by 36 percent between 2010 and 2020, to 18,800. That downward trend is no accident: European regulators have pushed carmakers to build vehicles that are safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and governments regularly adjust road designs after a crash to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
But in the United States, the responsibility for road safety largely falls on the individual sitting behind the wheel, or riding a bike, or crossing the street. American transportation departments, law-enforcement agencies, and news outlets frequently maintain that most crashes—indeed, 94 percent of them, according to the most widely circulated statistic—are solely due to human error. Blaming the bad decisions of road users implies that nobody else could have prevented them. That enables car companies to deflect attention from their decisions to add heft and height to the SUVs and trucks that make up an ever-larger portion of vehicle sales, and it allows traffic engineers to escape scrutiny for dangerous street designs.
A group of films, ranging from art-house gems to big blockbusters, that deserve a fresh look
Moviegoing is at a strange, tenuous moment. With pandemic fears still circulating, and many studios still delaying their films’ release dates, not everyone is comfortable going back to theaters yet. But this is also a time of extraordinary at-home accessibility for cinema, with many thousands of titles available to stream, or digitally rent and buy, every day. So I’ve returned to a topic that sustained me during 2020’s most isolated moments: celebrating underrated and unique movies in need of wider appreciation. The following 26 films cross every genre and range from art-house to blockbuster. They were all unappreciated by critics or audiences on release and deserve a fresh look.
People with scant illusions about Trump are volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies.
If Donald Trump had been supported only by people who affirmatively liked him, his attack on American democracy would never have gotten as far as it did.
Instead, at almost every turn, Trump was helped by people who had little liking for him as a human being or politician, but assessed that he could be useful for purposes of their own. The latest example: the suddenly red-hot media campaign to endorse Trump’s fantasy that he was the victim of a “Russia hoax.”
The usual suspects in the pro-Trump media ecosystem will of course endorse and repeat everything Trump says, no matter how outlandish. But it’s not pro-Trumpers who are leading the latest round of Trump-Russia denialism. This newest round of excuse-making is being sounded from more respectable quarters, in many cases by people distinguished as Trump critics. With Trump out of office—at least for the time being—they now feel free to subordinate their past concerns about him to other private quarrels with the FBI or mainstream media institutions. On high-subscription Substacks, on popular podcasts, even from within prestige media institutions, people with scant illusions about Trump the man and president are nonetheless volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies.
Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, was first detected in Botswana and South Africa earlier this month, and very little is known about it so far. But the variant is moving fast. South Africa, the country that initially flagged Omicron to WHO this week, has experienced a surge of new cases—some reportedly in people who were previously infected or vaccinated—and the virus has already spilled across international borders into places such as Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel, and the United Kingdom. Several nations are now selectively shutting down travel to impede further spread. For instance, on Monday, the United States will start restricting travel from Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
The preponderance of the evidence suggests that social media is causing real damage to adolescents.
Social media gets blamed for many of America’s ills, including the polarization of our politics and the erosion of truth itself. But proving that harms have occurred to all of society is hard. Far easier to show is the damage to a specific class of people: adolescent girls, whose rates of depression, anxiety, and self-injury surged in the early 2010s, as social-media platforms proliferated and expanded. Much more than for boys, adolescence typically heightens girls’ self-consciousness about their changing body and amplifies insecurities about where they fit in their social network. Social media—particularly Instagram, which displaces other forms of interaction among teens, puts the size of their friend group on public display, and subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is a mainstay of basic cable—and a rallying cry for a country that is losing touch with itself.
In 2007, in one of the first episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri visited Patrick’s Roadhouse, a railway-station-turned-restaurant in Santa Monica, California. The diner’s chef, Silvio Moreira, walked Fieri through the preparation of one of Patrick’s most notable dishes, the Rockefeller—a burger topped with mushrooms, sour cream, jack cheese, and … caviar. Fieri, looking playfully trepidatious, lifted the burger with both hands, said a fake prayer, and did what he would proceed to do thousands of times on the show: He took an enormous bite. And then he fell silent. “Wooow,” he commented, finally, shooting Moreira a what-have-you-done-to-me look.
“Different, huh?” Moreira said, grinning. “Yeah,” Fieri replied. The show’s camera discreetly cut away to the next scene.
These statements relieve the speaker and the audience of the responsibility to think about Indigenous peoples, at least until the next public event.
In David Mamet’s film State and Main, a Hollywood big shot tries to shortchange a set hand by offering him an “associate producer” credit on a movie. A screenwriter overhears the exchange and asks, “What’s an ‘associate producer credit’?” The big shot answers: “It’s what you give your secretary instead of a raise.”
The practice of “land acknowledgment”—preceding a fancy event by naming the Indigenous groups whose slaughter and dispossession cleared the land on which the audience’s canapés are about to be served—is one of the greatest associate-producer credits of all time. A land acknowledgment is what you give when you have no intention of giving land. It is like a receipt provided by a highway robber, noting all the jewels and gold coins he has stolen. Maybe it will be useful for an insurance claim? Anyway, you are not getting your jewels back, but now you have documentation.
The degree to which the world depends on oil and gas is not well understood.
To appreciate the complexities of the competing demands between climate action and the continued need for energy, consider the story of an award—one that the recipient very much did not want and, indeed, did not bother to pick up.
It began when Innovex Downhole Solutions, a Texas-based company that provides technical services to the oil and gas industry, ordered 400 jackets from North Face with its corporate logo. But the iconic outdoor-clothing company refused to fulfill the order. North Face describes itself as a “politically aware” brand that will not share its logo with companies that are in “tobacco, sex (including gentlemen’s clubs) and pornography.” And as far as North Face is concerned, the oil and gas industry fell into that same category—providing jackets to a company in that industry would go against its values. Such a sale would, it said, be counter to its “goals and commitments surrounding sustainability and environmental protection,” which includes a plan to use increasing amounts of recycled and renewable materials in its garments in future years.
Instead of using his acquittal to promote vigorous discussion, many administrators sent out statements decrying the verdict.
At universities, the recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse should be an opportunity to study a divisive case that sparked complex debates about issues as varied as self-defense laws, guns, race, riots, the rights of defendants, prosecutorial missteps, media bias, and more. If administrators were doing their jobs, faculty and students would freely air a wide variety of viewpoints and have opportunities to better understand one another’s diverse perspectives. Instead, many administrators are preemptively imposing their preferred narratives.
The Rittenhouse saga began in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, amid rioting that followed the police shooting of a Black man. Rittenhouse, then 17, armed himself with an AR-15-style rifle and walked into the chaos, claiming that he intended to protect the community. He wound up shooting three men, killing two. Last week, a Wisconsin jury found him not guilty of murder, crediting his claim that, at the moment he fired, he feared for his life and acted in self-defense. This, many analysts argued, was a plausible conclusion to draw from Wisconsin law and video footage and testimony presented at trial.
The pandemic has been a near-perfect mass hair-loss event.
When I first suspected that I was losing my hair, I felt like maybe I was also losing my grip on reality. This was the summer of 2020, and although the previous three months had been difficult for virtually everyone, I had managed to escape relatively unscathed. I hadn’t gotten sick in New York City’s terrifying first wave of the pandemic. My loved ones were safe. I still had a job. I wasn’t okay, necessarily, but I was fine. Now my hair was falling out for no appreciable reason. Or at least I thought it was—how much hair in the shower drain is enough to be sure that you’re not imagining things?
The second time it happened, a little more than a year later, I was sure—not because of what was in the shower drain, but because of what was obviously no longer on my head. One day, after washing and drying my hair, I looked at my hairline in the mirror and it was thin enough that I could make out the curvature of my scalp beneath it. I still had enough hair, but notably less than I’d had before the pandemic. Feeling a sense of dull panic at the no-longer-refutable idea that something might be wrong, I tipped my head forward to take a picture of my scalp with my phone’s front-facing camera. When I looked at it, the panic became sharp.