Building a family doesn’t look the same for everyone. For LGBTQ+ couples, there are a range of options, some of which include surrogacy, sperm donation, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), or what’s called reciprocal IVF.
Also known as co-IVF or co-maternity, reciprocal IVF involves two people with uteruses. One partner in the reproductive equation has their eggs stimulated and retrieved, and then fertilized with the help of a sperm. The other partner has the fertilized embryo implanted into their uterus and carries the pregnancy – sometimes this will be decided based on who wants to be the gestational carrier as opposed to the egg donor, but other times a medical professional can help make that decision based on each person’s medical history.
Sarah and Blakely Murdock, who have been married since November 2021, dreamed about having kids since their first date, just three months before their wedding date (“When you know you know,” they laugh) and both wanted equal roles in creating their first child. That would involve IVF, specifically reciprocal IVF, but they both are part of the U.S. Coast Guard, which only financially covers people who have proven infertility. For queer couples, you won’t necessarily know you have infertility until you go and spend thousands at a fertility clinic to begin with, Sarah points out, so they’re hoping to raise more awareness about what they’ve gone through as a couple.
Completing reciprocal IVF from start to finish involved harvesting Blakely’s eggs, fertilizing them, lots of genetic testing, and finally implanting the viable embryos into Sarah in order for her to carry the pregnancy. It was quite a lengthy and expensive process, but good news: The couple is now 16 weeks pregnant and expecting a baby boy in December 2023.
Here are the most important things the Murdocks learned along the way.
Fertility clinics can have a wait list.
Sarah and Blakely wanted to go to a fertility clinic that reflected their own values and a place they knew they’d be welcome, so they got in touch with a clinic in Northern California, outside Sacramento, that came highly recommended from friends. That process started with doing some basic fertility testing, including blood tests, ultrasounds, and ovarian reserve counts, to ensure that both of them were healthy.
Once they put in their application, in June 2022, the clinic informed them that it would be a seven month wait to begin the IVF process. “We didn’t foresee being on the waiting list that long,” Sarah told SheKnows. They did end up waiting about four months, and began their next step in October 2022.
Genetic testing for both the sperm donor, egg donor, and gestational carrier is extensive.
Before anything else with IVF happens, clinics order bloodwork for genetic testing. Both parents and the sperm donor are tested for any abnormalities in their genetics. “When you’re being matched with a donor, you don’t just go off of blonde hair blue eyes, you go with who genetically will be your best match, not just for Blakely, but me as well,” Sarah says. While the military did cover this testing, it took almost two months to get the results back, setting back the fertility process even further, they explain.
The egg retrieval process is exhausting.
After determining that Blakely had healthy egg follicles, the retrieval process began in mid-December 2022. Blakely underwent ten days of two hormone shots a day to produce the optimal amount of egg follicles, and felt her body responding well to the treatment, she tells SheKnows.
“After the procedure, I felt like a raisin, pumped full of hormones for 10 days, and then they drain everything out of you. For two weeks after, you’re not supposed to do any physical activity,” says Blakely. She was able to take a few personal days off to recover, but did not have specific medical time off for her fertility procedure.
Many embryos might not be genetically viable.
As soon as the eggs were harvested, they need to be fertilized and make it to the blastocyst stage in order to undergo another round of genetic testing. “The clinic won’t transfer non-viable embryos. It turned out five embryos made it, but only two of them were genetically viable,” Sarah says. “Once those results come back, it’s go time.”
But before a doctor can transfer any of the viable embryos, the gestational carrier receives hormonal medication to sync up their menstrual cycle, and a test of the uterus to make sure everything is healthy.
The embryo transfer may actually be successful on the first try.
And then it’s actually go time. Sarah’s embryo transfer was successful on the first try in mid-March, which is rare (often IVF takes multiple cycles to result in a pregnancy). However, she had another health curveball thrown at her, as she had broken her leg in February.
“Going into all that with a broken leg, I’m rehabbing my body still, while pregnant, doing that healing while I’m growing a child,” Sarah says. “But there’s so much joy – I wouldn’t trade it for anything – especially seeing that first line on the pregnancy test and waking Blakely up first thing on a Saturday morning.”
The financial aspect is the most shocking.
Everything has intensified “when you put a price tag on what it was required for us to have a family,” says Blakely. The love and support from family and friends once the couple decided to announce the pregnancy at 12 weeks was worth it, but it didn’t take away from the shock of the expense of the IVF process. Buying the donor sperm was a huge lump sum that they needed to pay upfront, for example. Given that they had just bought a home, they decided to go with Future Family, a service that could help them finance their fertility journey, and with zero-percent interest.
Beyond even the physical stressors of the IVF process, the financial stressors were top of mind for Sarah and Blakely, but they felt like they were able to make it work with that financial safety net of a fertility loan.
Sometimes, IVF leaves you with additional embryos.
Because they have one more viable embryo still, Sarah and Blakely can still have at least one more child from this initial IVF cycle. They have to wait until their son is at least a year old to try again for pregnancy, so they have plenty of time to decide. They’re still going back and forth about who will carry the pregnancy, or if they will do another egg retrieval where Sarah contributes eggs.
Either way, they both have played an integral part in becoming parents so far. “Still every day I don’t think it hits us, quite yet,” Sarah says of her pregnancy. “We’ve overcome a lot to get to this point.”
Before you go, check out these cozy pregnancy essentials.
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