I always assumed that once I made the decision to start a family, and put myself in the stirrups, that science and my body would just do their jobs. After all, I come from a long line of reproductively gifted people. My mom is one of 12, and my father is one of eight. Hell, I am the oldest of five. My family makes babies. That’s what we do. My mom once joked she could get pregnant sitting next to a man’s hat. As I found out, by way of a very uncomfortable ultrasound and some lackluster bloodwork, I could be sitting on that man’s hat, in my birthday suit, on ovulation day, and I still might not get pregnant.
I knew that once I decided to begin a family that there would be battles to fight. For starters, I was unattached with no plans or desires to get married. To have a baby, I was going to have to mix and mingle with a vial of sperm provided by an anonymous donor. Tricky, but not a deal-breaker. Secondly, I was a bit riper on the vine than science would like; I was 38, and at my age, becoming pregnant can be a bit more difficult.
I didn’t procrastinate having kids, I just kept thinking I had time. I thought seriously about becoming a mom at 35, but at that point, even I was a little wary of the unconventionality of it all. Getting married was never a goal, but I thought it was a possibility, so I didn’t want to rush to jump on the turkey baster. Then suddenly I was 38. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a partner and I also knew, more than anything, I wanted to have a kid. Never getting married would not be a life regret for me. Not trying to have my own child would.
So four years ago, when I was 38, I decided it was my window. That the time had come to put my money where my uterus is.
Suddenly I was 38. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a partner and I also knew, more than anything, I wanted to have a kid.
It was exciting and puke-on-my-shoes frightening once I decided to begin the whole process. My age was a motivator, but it was also one of my biggest fears. My single life didn’t really faze me, maybe it should have, but honestly I didn’t feel so alone. For the most part, my family and friends were really supportive. I was living in Indianapolis, near most of my extended family, while my immediate family was still living the tropical dream in South Florida. There were a few folks who gave me side-eye and encouraged me to get a cat.
Then there was my 95-year-old grandmother, who wanted me to run to the nearest Catholic orphanage and grab a cute little girl baby. Truth be told, I looked into private adoption, and it isn’t cheaper than in vitro fertilization. I was also worried about being passed over by birth mothers because of not having a partner. Adoption was never off the table, and I think any parent/caregiver route is admirable, but for me, I knew in my heart that I really wanted to birth my child, and that’s the route I wanted to try before relying on the kindness and generosity of others.
I was armed with my resolve and supported by my people. On the financial side, I wasn’t rich, but I was resourceful. Fertility care is not covered by insurance in Indiana, so I had to dip into my savings and take on a part-time job as an Uber driver to make treatment financially possible. With my support system and my small stash of cash, I was ready to face my battles with everything I had. What I wasn’t prepared for was a blood test that told me my fight might be over before it even began.
My bloodwork revealed that I had low ovarian reserve. This is science-speak for “there weren’t a bunch of eggs left in my basket.” My levels weren’t just low for my age, they were low for a woman years older than me.
I hadn’t even passed go yet, and I felt like a fertility failure. I come from the big, fat, fertile family. I honestly thought fertility was inherited, and like the thousands of baby-making Catholics that came before me, that I would just fire out kids, age be damned. Unfortunately for me, fertility is not inherited. For the first time in my life, I felt like my body and I were at odds. I had never known it to turn against me or challenge me. But there I was, an eggless reject with a jerk for a body.
What I wasn’t prepared for was a blood test that told me my fight might be over before it even began.
I was scared and shaken, but I was still eligible to compete. My doctor tried to build me back up with inspiring fertility slogans: “Quality not quantity” and “It only takes one.” I chose to suspend my disbelief and actively believe. Not because I was convinced, but because the alternative might break me.
So I tried and I failed. I tried some more and I failed some more. I underwent seven inseminations and was empty ― in every way possible. An insemination is the least invasive method in fertility care, and though it’s not physically grueling, it’s emotionally taxing. I had to purchase sperm from a federally regulated cryobank for about $740, which includes shipping, then wait for an ovulation pee stick to tell me it’s showtime. Then I had to rush to a clinic, where they thread a catheter locked and loaded into my uterus, and then I had the pleasure of waiting for two weeks to take a pass-fail pregnancy test.
Each time it failed, I had to wait for my period to start, and then the whole thing starts over again. It’s a vicious cycle that comes with a ton of effort and, for me, a whole lot of emptiness. I was empty in my heart, empty in my wallet for paying for treatment, empty where it really mattered.
Finally, my fertility specialist told me my best chance to conceive was through IVF, but IVF is expensive and not a guarantee. One round of treatment in Indianapolis would cost me a fortune. I was still committed to becoming a mother, but after seven insemination attempts, I was starting to get the feeling that I was being priced out of a life I really wanted.
I was still committed to becoming a mother, but after seven insemination attempts, I was starting to get the feeling that I was being priced out of a life I really wanted.
If my body was going to shoot me down on biologically having my own child, I could find a way to accept that and happily pursue other options if I knew I had tried everything I could. Stopping because of money didn’t feel like trying everything, so I started researching affordable fertility clinics out of state and came across one in Syracuse, New York, called CNY Fertility. There, they offered IVF treatment at $3,900 a cycle, a huge difference from the quote I had received in Indianapolis.
So I got in my car and I took my measly basket of eggs to New York for IVF.
At CNY, I underwent two failed IVF attempts. At this point, I was 39 and, much like my ovarian reserve, my hope was low. I was doing the most aggressive thing science could do for a woman like me, and it was not working. Correction, I was failing.
I was a hard worker who rarely surrendered. Failure didn’t seem to make sense. I was doing the work and going the extra mile. Hell, I was going 600-plus extra miles, and I was still coming up short. I was fighting as hard as I could, but I didn’t have much fight or money left in me.
I made a promise to myself that I would give this one more chance. One more round of IVF before I would move on to a different way to become a mother.
A lot of my people who had been so supportive initially were now beginning to have their doubts. I could feel their pity, and I could see from their faces that they thought I was beating a dead horse. It hurt because it felt like they didn’t believe in me, and it hurt because a part of me thought they were right. As committed as I was to my last try, I was equally embarrassed and ashamed. I hated being pitied, I hated feeling like the fool who couldn’t see the writing on the wall. Lucky for me, I hated surrender, too.
As committed as I was to my last try, I was equally embarrassed and ashamed. I hated being pitied, I hated feeling like the fool who couldn’t see the writing on the wall.
So I kept going for what would be the last time, and I came out with a positive pregnancy test.
For 10 minutes after that gorgeous plus sign appeared, I was filled with a happiness I had never known. It was the type of euphoria reserved for Disney princesses who get their houses cleaned and their dresses made by cartoon bluebirds.
Then the twelfth minute struck, and that’s when the terror and “what ifs” started to roll in. I had spent the better part of two years being clobbered by bad news. You don’t just get over that in a heartbeat.
It’s been almost four years since my fertility journey began and I was told I had low ovarian reserve. It wasn’t an easy conception, but my son was worth the two years of trying and all the pain, tears, energy and money.
Have a compelling first-person story or experience you want to share? Send your story description to email@example.com.