I’ve had a number of women contact me over the past couple of years to ask about the procedure Helen and I went through to have our child. We used my egg and her uterus, making things a tad more complicated than the usual assisted reproduction. I’ve e-mailed back a version of the below to those who’ve inquired, but never got around to posting it here. Consider that rectified, by popular request.
Please note that I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, so this is not a recommendation for anything—just a description of my own experience. If you have an aversion to needles or lawyers, stop here and come back tomorrow. If not, read on.
The egg-donation process is a type of in vitro fertilization (IVF). It began with physicals for both of us. Depending on the fertility clinic one uses, there may also be age limits, especially for the egg donor. (This can be slightly higher for a known donor than for an unknown one—at the clinic we used, it was 38 for a known donor and 36 for an unknown.) Something to keep in mind as you discuss who’s carrying and who’s donating.
We also saw a lawyer at this point to make sure none of the paperwork we needed to sign at the clinic would waive either of our rights. Very often, clinics only have paperwork for donors who are either anonymous donors or are giving up their parental rights (e.g., to help a friend or sister conceive). We also made sure our regular stack of same-sex relationship paperwork (wills and powers of attorney) was up to date. I seem to recall we made sure it covered the weird, scary cases like what would happen legally to the child if Helen fell into a coma during pregnancy, was declared brain dead, and then the child was born.
Helen then needed to go through hormone treatments to prepare and thicken the lining of the uterus to receive the egg. I needed to take hormones to produce many eggs at once (instead of our usual one/month).
Helen first went through one “test cycle” of hormone pills to make sure her uterus responded appropriately. Then I went on birth control pills in order to synch my cycle with hers. Yes, the first time I ever went on birth control in my life was in order to have a child. Hee.
We then began our respective real medications, this time as injections. All of the injections for me were with tiny needles, the kind used by diabetics to take insulin. I gave them to myself in the belly, just below the navel. Pretty minor as needles go, though there is a mental barrier to get over. There were about three different types of hormones I took at various times. Towards the end, as my ovaries grew appropriately, I felt bloated, with a little discomfort if I pressed my belly, but no real pain.
Helen started with a hormone given with small needles, and then needed another hormone for a week or two, given with a 2″ needle in her backside, which I had to give her. This was in a thick, sesame-oil base, and caused some soreness.
We both went to the clinic every other morning between 6 and 7:00 a.m. for blood tests and ultrasounds, to make sure things were progressing normally. Not only that, but both of us had cut out caffeine for the duration. We figured it was good training for the tiredness of new motherhood.
My final injection was to “release” the eggs. It had to be timed so the eggs would be ready for retrieval at the precise moment of my scheduled appointment at the clinic. The first time we tried, I was in the middle of a business meeting, and had to excuse myself to go to the ladies’ room and shoot up. I felt like I was doing something rather illicit, under the circumstances.
Exactly 36 hours after the injection, I went under general anesthetic for about 15 minutes, and woke up with the eggs removed. (They stick a tube up the vagina and make a tiny hole in the uterus to reach the ovaries.) No pain, although I was apparently babbling nonsense for a few minutes after the anesthetic wore off.
The clinic fertilized the eggs with donor sperm that we’d purchased separately and had delivered to them. Based on how the embryos developed, they would call us back in either five or six days to implant a certain number. The insertion is done without anesthetic, though it’s done in the surgery room of the clinic—they basically put a tube in and shoot the embryos through it.
They always implant more than one, if they can—this apparently boosts the chances that any one will take. More mean a better chance of pregnancy, but also of multiple births. That was the most difficult question we faced, after choosing our sperm donor. The doctors make a recommendation for the number to insert, based on how the embryos are developing, but ultimately, it’s up to the client.
We then waited for the results. Note that over-the-counter pregnancy tests won’t work in this situation—something to do with the hormones the carrier’s been on. We had to go through this whole process twice (though we didn’t need the test cycle the second time) before we had a pregnancy. Unfortunately, we were not able to freeze any of the embryos from the first attempt, so we had to start from scratch the second time.
Helen kept going to the fertility clinic every few days for the next couple of weeks, until we had a confirmed pregnancy. Shortly thereafter, they cast her loose to see her regular OB/GYN only every couple of months. This was an absolute eternity to us after we had gotten used to being at the fertility clinic so often. We did end up going back to the clinic regularly for a prospective lesbian moms’ group they had started, and were tempted each time to sneak in the back and fire up the ultrasound. (We managed to restrain ourselves.)
The adventure had a legal side as well. In NJ, where we lived, I would have had no parental rights when the child was born—except that we successfully petitioned the state to grant them to me. I was thus a legal parent from the moment of our son’s birth. This had a practical side—there was no lag time between birth and adoption, so if I was hit by a truck, he was guaranteed my Social Security benefits. It also had an emotional one—I probably would have been surly about needing to go through the process of home studies and such in order to adopt my own genetic son. Each state is different, though, so check with an attorney. (Note also that some employers will cover adoption expenses, but not expenses for parentage orders.)
Some states (CA, NJ, and MA, I believe, if you’re in a DP/CU/marriage) will also now put both partners’ names on a birth certificate from the start, without needing an adoption or court order—but the National Center for Lesbian Rights suggests getting one of them anyway, for better federal protection and when traveling outside those states. Again, check with your own attorney.
IVF like this is hugely expensive, about $20,000 per try. My employer’s insurance covered most of it, however, except the sperm, which was about $300 each time. Legal fees for our birth order were about $2500, comparable to an adoption.
It’s not an easy process, but it felt right for us, and we were lucky enough to be in circumstances that allowed us to do it. I hope that by sharing this information, I’m passing along a little of that luck to others who may follow the same path.