Dese’Rae Stage and Felicidad Garcia got married in 2015 and two years later began looking into starting a family. They imagined all they would need was “a little sperm exposure,” as Des put it. “We had no idea our bodies were going to sabotage us.”
After some fertility testing, the couple was told that Fel had only a 5% chance of conceiving because her levels of AMH — a hormone that gives doctors a sense of what is going on in a woman’s ovaries — were low. The doctors told Des that the results of her baseline fertility testing were pretty typical for her age ― 34 at the time ― but that she should not wait too long. So the two decided to start fertility treatment at the same time. They thought it would likely take Fel a while and Des would get pregnant first — which is not how it happened at all.
The pair spoke with HuffPost Parenting about the extra layers of complication that same-sex couples face when trying to get pregnant (and after) and what it is like to mourn a pregnancy loss at the same time your partner has just given birth.
You two started fertility treatments at the same time, which means there was a chance you could be pregnant at the same time. Was that a concern?
Fel: I had to start right away if I had any chance. And they told Des, “You don’t want to be in Fel’s position. You’re somewhat fertile, but you’re 34.”
Des: And I wanted to carry first. We went into treatment thinking I would definitely carry first.
But you didn’t.
Des: We were told the only way Fel would conceive is if she went straight to IVF [in vitro fertilization]. So we did that. And then we got so lucky and she got pregnant right away. That’s our Gus, who is now one and a half. I started treatment the same month, but I started with IUI [intrauterine insemination]. It didn’t work. The second try, I got pregnant but had a chemical pregnancy. I did four IUIs, but none of them worked. So then we started IVF.
Three months later, I got pregnant. At first, it looked like it might be OK. But I ended up having a miscarriage about a week and a half after our son was born.
That must have been incredibly emotional in so many ways.
Des: It was so complicated. Fel had a really traumatic birth. She got a blood infection that almost killed her, and she had to heal [with] her C-section wound completely open for two months.
Fel: I think both of us — and Des especially — kind of compartmentalized everything. There would be moments when [the pregnancy loss] would pop up and we would grieve, but I was basically in a fever dream. I had a nurse coming daily to treat my C-section wound. I required such intense care, and obviously the baby required a lot of care. It was just ... crazy.
Des: Because of how sick she was, Fel couldn’t physically come upstairs, and our bathroom is upstairs, so I passed the tissue alone. I was not OK. It was really hard. I don’t know if I’ve completely grieved that, honestly.
And after that, you took a bit of time off from trying to get pregnant?
Des: Yeah, we decided I was going to take a few months off, just to get to know the baby. These treatments take over your whole life. You can’t have any other interests. You don’t care about your job or your social life. You’re so focused on what meds you’re going to take, what time you inject, what your follicles are doing. It’s an obsession.
I did start questioning, “Do I need to carry? Do I need to have a biological child?” There was a lot of grappling with that. But eventually, I was like I’m going to try one last round of IVF because I will be mad with myself if I don’t. And that’s when I got pregnant. Our son was six months old at the time.
How was the pregnancy that brought you Theodora?
Des: Honestly, after the losses, for a long time I just kept feeling like this is going to end and I’m going to be devastated again. I experienced depression during my pregnancy, which I wasn’t expecting — and that’s so surprising, given that I’m someone who works in suicide prevention.
Fel: I do think we had some conflicts around “second child syndrome.” I mean, when I was pregnant we celebrated everything — every milestone. When Des got pregnant, it was a bit like we’ve already done this. I had to remind myself that yes, it was our second pregnancy, but for Des, it wasn’t the second pregnancy in her body.
You say you had opposite experiences: One of you had an easy pregnancy and terrible birth. One of you had a hard pregnancy and easy birth. How was the postpartum period the second time around?
Des: It was so much easier. The first time it was our first baby, you know? And Fel was so sick.
This time we had a 15-month-old to chase around, which was hard but it also got us out of the house. It felt like we were at the playground like the day after I gave birth.
Infertility treatment is incredibly expensive. They say one round of IVF starts at $12,000. How did you pay for all of this?
Des: We have amazing insurance coverage that covers 100% of procedures with no cap. And 80 percent of meds.
Fel: We have unicorn insurance.
Des: We still put in about $30,000 having these kids, but I don’t know what that number would be without our insurance. We certainly wouldn’t have our kids.
One last complicating factor is that you then had to adopt your own kids, which many same-sex couples do to guarantee their parental rights.
Des: The adoption part felt degrading. It was like I went through this whole process of infertility and treatment with my wife. And then just because we’re a queer couple, I need to adopt my own son in order to make sure I have full parental rights in case anything goes wrong? It’s expensive, too — maybe another $3,000 for each of our kids (we’re still in the process with our youngest). That whole step just feels humiliating, really.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.