In honor of Mother’s day this month, we are featuring articles from some of our volunteers about various aspects of motherhood.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” the nurse on the phone asked me. “Yes,” I said tearfully. I was filling out the paperwork to donate our eleven remaining embryos and had called with questions. My husband and I had already had our HIV tests and we were confident, albeit emotional, in our decision. Five years had passed since we’d had triplets via in-vitro and now we had to give up our storage space in the freezer. We had three choices for our frozen embryos: destroy them; donate them to science; donate them to an infertile couple.
We had chosen to donate them to a couple. I was surprised my husband agreed to this option. I thought he’d be too uncomfortable with the idea that another one, or more, of his children could be running around out there somewhere and he’d never know. I figured we’d go with donating to science. I knew we weren’t going to destroy them.
We decided that our embryos had (barely) started life. At only eight cells big, there was no guarantee that they would blossom into full life, but they deserved the chance. And the unnamed couple or couples that would get our embryos deserved a chance to be parents, just like us. We were lucky enough to have thirteen viable embryos. We were even luckier that the first two we used on our first in-vitro attempt turned into babies.
We had eleven embryos left. Eleven more chances. But we had all we could handle with the first two because one of them split and we had triplets. We knew we could not handle any more children emotionally, financially, etc. We knew we were not going to implant eleven more embryos. Our family was complete and we were happy. So we decided to give our embryos the chance to make some other couple happy. The doctors told us to think of it like giving a child up for adoption. Except that it’s not as certain as that. We thought of it as giving chances, at life, at happiness.
To clarify, we used two embryos for our first in-vitro attempt. One split, and we had triplets, two identical and a fraternal. Like many infertility clinics, our clinic discouraged carrying more than two babies. If you elected to implant more than two and they all “took,” you were strongly encouraged to reduce the pregnancy. In fact, we had to sign a form agreeing to do just that. Because of my age at the time, the doctors were planning to implant three embryos. After we signed the form, we decided we were not comfortable with the idea of reducing the pregnancy, should we be lucky enough to have more than one embryo successfully implant. So we asked the doctors if we could just implant two instead. The doctors agreed and that’s what was done. And then one split.
Because our triplets were “spontaneous,” the doctors told us it was up to us whether to reduce; they would not force the issue. We spent the next month visiting various specialists trying to determine if any of the babies were sharing sacs or placentas. I was terrified of Twin Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). I know several women who lost one or both babies to TTTS and I did not want to risk it, especially with an “innocent bystander” in there too. I was afraid I could lose one or all of them to complications.
Luckily for me, after a month of tears and stress, we discovered that each baby was in its own sac and had its own placenta. I learned that that only happens when the “split” occurs within the first two days after conception. And since we had the best case scenario according to the doctors, we decided to go for it. We were going to have triplets. It was fate.
Now I’ll get back to the donation story. My husband did not want to know anything once we donated our embryos. If he had other children out there, he did not want to know. That’s the normal procedure. But I had to know. I did not want to stalk anyone. I knew I couldn’t raise eleven more hypothetical children. But I needed the closure. I needed to know how the story ended. And maybe get a chance to meet him/her/them when they were old enough to understand. And I wanted to know so that I could tell my boys when they were old enough to understand that they had a sibling(s). I explained all of this to the nurse who was helping me with the forms. We actually had a couple of conversations. Fortunately, she understood. She told me to call her back in a year and she would be able to tell me how it went.
When I called back a year later, amazingly, she told me how our story ended. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find out because the usual policy is for the doctors not to tell you. I think my conversations with the nurse enabled her to explain to the doctors that I needed closure, nothing more. What makes it even more unusual is that the intake procedure at the fertility clinic we went to includes a psychological evaluation. I think they want to make sure you’re expectations are realistic. Anyway, my husband and I never had the evaluation. We weren’t sure why we were exempt. Maybe it was because of my less than enthusiastic reaction to the success rate they were so proud of? We’ll never know. Maybe it was because we had “passed” the impromptu psychological evaluation that the doctors allowed the nurse to tell me? Again, we’ll never know. I was just happy I was going to get my closure.
So here’s how our story ended. All eleven survived the defrosting process. Hooray! Our profile was chosen by one couple, who received all eleven embryos, which they used in three cycles. Unfortunately, none of them became babies.
I was so sad for the couple and for our little eight-cell wonders. But I was at peace. I had a moment’s thought that the nurse could have lied to me. But I decided it was too detailed an account for that. If she’d wanted to lie, she could have just told me they didn’t survive the defrosting, or that only a few did. So I believe her and continue on my amazing journey as the mother of two identical and one fraternal energetic triplet boys.