Although, according to the CDC, 1 in 8 couples experience infertility, it is something we suffer with alone. Year after year, we watch our loved ones move forward with their exciting lives, growing their families with little to no effort, while we feel stuck at the starting line. We feel the pressure to conceive every time a well-meaning family member or friend looks at our empty bellies. We rely on our doctors for guidance on medical explanations and options just so that we can bring new life into our world.
My own struggle with infertility began in 2018 after conceiving on my honeymoon. I was young, in love, and so excited to start our family. Getting pregnant the first week of “trying” makes you feel like some sort of fertile unicorn. But 1 in 4 women will sit at their first OBGYN appointment after seeing those two pink lines and hear the devastating words: “I’m so sorry; there’s no heartbeat”. I was supposed to be 10 weeks pregnant but our honeymoon baby had stopped growing at 7.5 weeks. I was experiencing a missed miscarriage, meaning the fetus inside me was no longer alive, but my body did not recognize the loss or begin to expel the pregnancy tissue. When this happens, a D&C (dilation & curettage) procedure is recommended to remove the already-lost pregnancy. If a D&C is not performed and the fetal tissue remains in a woman’s body, the woman may be at risk for infections and further medical complications which can be fatal.
While navigating our broken hearts, my husband and I chose to go forward with a D&C. Outside of it being a life saving procedure, an additional benefit of the D&C is being able to retain and test the fetal tissue for chromosomal abnormalities which might impact the journey towards parenthood.
Two years into our trek, I was diagnosed with Diminished Ovarian Reserve or DOR. On July 23rd, 2020, my doctor suggested I go straight to Donor Eggs IVF as my numbers indicated a very low chance of success. But I needed more information on my own health. I wanted to give my own eggs a chance before using a donor. Though I didn’t necessarily have a great egg retrieval, only retrieving three mature eggs, two made it to the blastocyst embryo stage.
The National Library of Medicine states that on average 25% of fertilized eggs make it to the blastocyst stage of an embryo. And because results from my miscarriage had come back as a chromosomal abnormality, we decided to test both embryos for the potential of genetic abnormalities. This would help me avoid a transfer and ultimately another miscarriage with an embryo that would not be viable for life. Two blastocysts is a very low number for someone my age, but one embryo had come back healthy.
But not all transfers lead to pregnancy, and not all pregnancies lead to a take home baby. Studies from IVF Australia show that only about 38% of frozen embryo transfers result in a live birth when the mother or gestational carrier is 34 years old or younger. The odds grow as the mother ages. Statistics are not on our side, and yet we are everywhere, fighting for our families. Ultimately, our one embryo successfully transferred. Our son was born on July 23rd, 2021, exactly one year after I was told to pursue Donor Egg IVF. I am now an IVF unicorn.
During the spring of 2020, all fertility treatments had gone on pause, which further isolated women all over the world. My husband and I were in our second year of our infertility, and while the numbers say that many women are struggling with infertility, nobody was talking about it. In my tight-knit Brooklyn community, there were countless groups to support new parents, but what about us 1 in 8 women facing infertility? I decided to start the virtual support group, Sunny Side Up in April of 2020, during a time that felt overwhelmingly lonesome. It was the group I needed myself, and I knew there were more of us out there that needed a connection too.
Two years on, we have 4 different support groups that meet biweekly on Zoom and can be found on Instagram. Sunny Side Up has provided a safe space for myself and other women to know we are not alone. These women have the shared experience of being pushed into a corner while fighting like hell to grow their families.
Many of us have been saved by access to an abortion. Some of us have experienced ectopic pregnancies detected too late, ultimately losing fallopian tubes. Some have had to terminate for medical reasons after choosing a name or decorating a nursery. Over the course of the last 2 years, we have nurtured deeply personal friendships, bonded by vulnerability and strength. Some have moved on to have their miracle children like myself, but many are still trekking uphill, desperately doing their best to grow their families.
Not having access to a D&C, which is a type of abortion, causes a huge concern for those not looking to grow their families, but what does it mean for those doing everything they can to bring life into the world? For the latter, it means life or death. A death many of us have come too close to. 1 in 5 women will have a missed miscarriage, like myself. 1 in 100 pregnancies will lead to an ectopic pregnancy, while occurring more often for those undergoing IVF transfers. Ectopic pregnancies are the leading cause of maternal morbidity in the first trimester.
But our medical needs go beyond abortions. If religious lawmakers claim that a fertilized egg is regarded as a person, what does this mean for the advances in science that are safely bringing life into the world? In IVF, egg retrievals can sometimes lead to 20+ eggs being retrieved, but not all eggs fertilize, not all fertilized eggs make it to the blastocyst embryo stage, and not all embryos are viable for life or a safe pregnancy. If we can’t continue to use science to genetically test embryos, we may begin to lose the lives of women trying to have children. Access to genetic testing and the biopsy of an embryo save women’s lives.
Some have described the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a war on women, and war comes with casualties. If we can’t consult professional scientists and medical doctors on the subject of their expertise, what does that mean long term for our society? How would this affect the global perspective of our country if we disregard education and research?
Infertility is a disease, and should be treated as so. The infertility community experiences many of the same traumas that other health conditions navigate. While other health issues are continuing to be researched to ultimately advance national care, why do we not value the same forward thinking towards reproductive health? If this is a pro-life movement, and women bring life into the world, why is the health of women not valued above all else? Fertilized eggs, embryos, and/or fetuses can not grow on their own. It should not have more rights than its
host. Religious choice should not be valued above a woman’s choice to live. Had I not had access to a D&C in 2018, I might not have lived. And without access to healthcare and scientific support, neither would my son.