There are two “clubs” that I am a part of that I never EVER wanted to join. The members of these groups typically didn’t want to have this in common with anyone else, but it gives us comfort that we are not alone. The first is the group of people who have been divorced. I would think that most people who get married don’t ever plan or expect to become a member of this “club,” and, for me, having made it to my 16th anniversary, I never expected to find myself there either. The second, which I was indoctrinated to before the other, and which was the main cause of my second membership, was that of those who have had to undergo infertility treatments. Both can be extremely devastating and life altering, and they will typically shape the rest of your lift in one way or another. I didn’t choose these clubs and wouldn’t wish them on anyone, but I bring these up because the word “choice” is of utmost importance right now.
I’m a big believer in education. I actually have a Secondary Teaching Certificate in the state of Texas with a lifetime expiration date. No, I’m not a teacher in a school setting, but I truly believe it is through education that we can find the answers to help us make the best decisions as we navigate life. Learning from others is vital as well, as we each have differing experiences that give us an alternative perspective that someone else may not have. It is not until those experiences are shared that we find the missing piece we are looking for to aid us in our decision making. So, how better to educate my fellow Americans than to talk about what I know first-hand. My goal in writing this is that I hope my experiences will open your eyes as to why allowing the right to an abortion to remain the law of the land is so very obvious.
I want you to look at these photos.
The photo on the left is of one of the first embryos that was ever transferred in to my uterus via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). It was only eight cells and less than 5 days old. The two on the right were what are considered blastocysts, as they were too many cells to count at that point and were further developed than the first one. Both of these were transferred directly into my uterus as well. All three were fertilized in a process called ICSI – intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Normally during conception, the sperm breaks through the cell wall to fertilize the egg, but I wasn’t so fortunate, so the moment of conception happened outside my body. Did I ever expect to have to have this done? No. Not in a million years. I thought people just got pregnant. Was I grateful there was a process like this available that would overcome one of the infertility issues I had? Absolutely!
These are two of three photos I have saved, and I can guarantee that the vast majority of the population doesn’t have anything like this. I can guarantee, however, that those of us in the “infertility club” have seen these before…some, many times. These images represent much of what is at the heart of the anti-abortion argument because they believe that life begins at conception.
Go through something like this, and you’ll most likely believe that too. Here is where my first-hand experience comes in, as the process of pregnancy is not simple. Even getting to the point that my spouse and I could attempt IVF was a very long road.
Immediately prior to the IVF round that resulted in the left image, we went through two rounds of an injectable medication called Pergonal in hopes that we wouldn’t have to graduate to the more expensive and invasive IVF process. This medication, like many others used in IVF, stimulates the ovaries to produce multiple follicles that you hope contain viable eggs that you hope can be fertilized, in our case, using an insemination. We even made two trips to Mexico because the cost of the number of vials we needed here in the U.S. was astronomical.
My body responded to the Pergonal very well and my ovaries showed a large number of follicles each time. This is what we were hoping for, as it’s a numbers game at that point. The problem was it was too many follicles.
My doctor stopped each of the Pergonal rounds. She informed us that a normal pregnancy has a very low percentage of multiples. Even with oral medication, like Clomid, which I’d already done countless rounds of, it could be as high as 5-12%. Because of how my body responded to this injectable medication, my doctor told us that we were now looking at more like a 50% chance of multiples, and she was talking like eight or 10 or more. You then get into the notion of selective reduction (reduction=abortion) so that some of the embryos would have a better chance of developing. This was devastating news, as abortion was not something I wanted to have to contemplate at the time. After all, I was trying to GET pregnant, not the opposite.
This decision, unfortunately, is one that many women/couples undergoing infertility treatments have to make, as it can mean the difference between having a family or not and the mother living or dying. This decision is one that we made together, with the help of our doctor, for our situation. Knowing we had that right to make the decision to move forward or not gave us possibly the only comfort we had in an absolutely devastating situation.
Jump forward to our first round of IVF. Using a different medication this time, my body still had an amazing response, and I produced 32 follicles. To compare that to a regular menstrual cycle, a woman will usually produce one follicle on one ovary and it either gets fertilized or not. I had 32 between both ovaries. I ended up with 26 eggs, all which underwent ICSI. A total of 16 of them fertilized. Two of those, including the first picture above, were transferred into me, and the rest were watched to see if they would develop into blastocysts, as that is what is required if you are going to freeze your embryos for later use.
So…here we are…16 fertilized eggs. No biggie, right? After all, this was in the early 2000s and our right to choose was our right and our doctors weren’t at risk of being fined, losing their medical licenses, or risking jail time if anything happened to the embryos and they didn’t develop. To put it simply, we just wanted a chance at having a family.
Now, did all of them survive to the blastocyst stage? No. Only four of them did. Remember, I said it was a numbers game. That means that of the 16 that were fertilized with ICSI, there were 10 that didn’t make it. Was this heartbreaking? Absolutely! Were we hopeful that at least one would work? Of course! Did we have to worry that someone would report this to the authorities and we’d go to jail or be fined as much or more than we were already spending to even go through this process? No! This was painful enough to go through without that weighing over our heads. Don’t even get me started on the emotional rollercoaster just from being pumped full of fertility drugs!
Two failed frozen cycles later, and did we worry that someone would hold us responsible because my stupid body wouldn’t maintain a pregnancy? No! Remember though, the moment the embryos are transferred into my body, and my uterus takes over being the incubator for them, I have zero control over how my body will respond. Even despite taking painful intramuscular progesterone shots (in oil), every day to help maintain the pregnancy until the placenta can take over progesterone production, I have absolutely no control over the further development of the fetuses.
Our last fresh cycle, which took place in 2008, was incredibly hard on my body both physically and emotionally. The doctor almost called it off because I just wasn’t responding like he and we had hoped. Three perfect embryos were transferred in and the wait began. My first blood test was “positive,” but, with infertility, you get used to disappointment, so we didn’t get our hopes up. Amazingly though, the second blood test showed the levels going up. HOLY SHITBALLS! This was the furthest we’d ever gotten!! The third blood test showed the levels even higher!! IT WAS HAPPENING! We were both ecstatic!!!
Three days later, my blood test was zero. I’d failed our family.
Now, for those of you who are blessed to have gotten pregnant easily, and, from the bottom of my heart, I am so glad you did, you will never understand the depths of the grief and frustration that goes along with this. You feel it in your soul. It destroys you again and again, as infertility is like having your dreams taken away from you over and over and over until you just give up.
Imagine going through this, losing the pregnancy, which, for some women, can happen much later than mine did, and then being fined or going to jail because your body aborted a pregnancy yet you couldn’t prove it. Imagine fertility doctors fearing using ICSI because they could be fined or jailed because they created life without being able to bring it to full term. Imagine finally getting pregnant after years of trying only to learn it’s an ectopic pregnancy, which risks your life and that will never be viable despite a heartbeat detected, but not being able to have surgery to remove it and knowing you’ll most likely die when your fallopian tube ruptures. Imagine finally getting pregnant only to lose the child several months in and, while dealing with insurmountable grief, not having access to a medication that would induce labor or being able to have a safe procedure or to remove the fetus because it’s illegal and knowing it could lead to sepsis and your death.
Imagine being a woman who wants more than anything to be a mom but who has a husband, such as I did, who would finally reveal after 16 years of marriage and a very long infertility journey that changed you both forever that he would never be open to adoption despite there being countless children awaiting a loving home. Do I blame him for his beliefs? Of course not. He’s a good man. I’ll defend that to my last breath. Did the fact that he refused to adopt contribute to my most recent “divorced club” membership? 100% yes.
All this is what I want to open your eyes to should Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey be overturned. The decisions women make when pregnancy is unwanted is not black and white. The decisions women/couples make when pregnancy is wanted is not black and white. It’s not fertilized and unfertilized. It’s not heartbeat and no heartbeat.
Please, I implore you to learn how these restrictive laws affect a much larger group than previously identified. For many, the decision to end a pregnancy is the hardest thing they have ever done and ends the dream they’ve had for as long as they can remember. In many cases, it can end the marriage itself. For others, it could mean closure to a very traumatic experience. Don’t make it even more difficult because you refuse to see past your own beliefs and experiences and pass judgement when you know nothing about the actual consequences or emotional toll surrounding the bigger picture. We are all more than eight cells. It’s time we act like it.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry you had to do so. I’m firmly rooted in the belief in choice. I know many, mostly women, who are not. I cannot fathom that no matter how hard I try to see their point of view. I hope you don’t mind, but I will post this to my Facebook page. There are some people who need some education.
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That would be wonderful of you, Julie. If even one person’s mind is changed because of this, it would be worth it.