Being an OB/GYN and Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about being advanced maternal age when I married at age 39. I knew that starting a family at my age may not be exactly easy, but never did I expect that my desire to become a mom would take me on a journey that has largely been fraught with failures and disappointments over the past three years.
My husband and I experienced our first miscarriage 4 months after we married. This was quickly followed by my being diagnosed with melanoma, which took valuable time away from our potential to conceive. After I was treated and recovered, 4 more months had passed and the alarms starting sounding. I was now 40, so we made the decision to see a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist. Even then, though, I truly believed I would need one or two rounds of IVF, and I would be pregnant well before age 41. I was wrong.
After 5 cycles of IVF that produced 16 embryos, only one was genetically normal. This was purely due to my age alone. This was a very humbling and sobering fact to accept. Because I was healthy, I never thought that my body would not be able to produce quality eggs. Even more disappointing was the unsuccessful transfer of our one normal embryo. Prior to this transfer, we had already decided that we were done doing IVF; my body had been through a lot and I simply could no longer entertain the idea of any more IVF cycles. So the options before us were using an egg donor and my uterus, or that of a surrogate, or adoption. After much discussion with my husband, I realized that since my genetic contribution was no longer an option, being able to carry a pregnancy was very important to me. As a result, we contacted Egg Donor Solutions to aid in our journey to find our egg donor. We did one egg donor cycle that produced 5 embryos.
In October 2015, the transfer of two donor egg embryos was unsuccessful. I thought I had experienced pain along in my journey to become a mom, but this pain was unbearable. I was completely devastated. My husband and I were ready to give up, but before we made such an important decision, we decided to take a life-changing trip to Peru for the New Year. We came back refreshed and optimistic. Even though my husband felt that using a surrogate would give us the best chance of having a child, we decided together that we were not ready to give up on my body. We transferred two more donor egg embryos in March 2016. Maybe it was the trip to Peru, the effects of acupuncture I started in the November prior, or maybe it was simply luck, but this time it worked! We are now pregnant with twins!
This journey has been all things bad AND good for me. Because of my background as a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist and our struggle with infertility, my husband and I started www.BabiesAfter35.com in October 2014, a site that specializes in providing accurate medical information on fertility and pregnancy after age 35. Through our experiences, I have found a whole new respect for the challenges and complications a woman may experience when trying to have a baby later in life. More and more women are delaying childbearing until after age 35 for various reasons, which has allowed this population to represent a growing number of women becoming pregnant.
Starting Babiesafter35 has kept me sane through the past three years by allowing me to reach other women on a similar journey as my own. Despite the many disappointments I have experienced, being a resource for other women as been a constant silver lining to an otherwise very dark cloud. I have also chosen to be very open about my personal experience with infertility, ovarian aging, failed IVF and using an egg donor by writing and blogging about my experiences. It is my hope that my transparency with will encourage other women to talk about their own experiences and seek help. But more importantly, I want to take any shame or stigma away from the choice to use an egg donor. My babies may not have my DNA, but I made them, and they are mine.
Dr. Shannon M. Clark, Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist at UTMB-Galveston, TX and founder of Babiesafter35