I was so excited to speak with my two dear friends Becca and Jean Ann recently. Just this year they started on the crazy journey that is parenthood with their beautiful baby girl, Roz. They’re total badasses at home and at work, they’re incredible people, and now they have this gorgeous family. Their TTC journey took them a little while, and IVF helped them get pregnant, and I’m really grateful they could share their story – including incredible advice about choosing and buying sperm, real talk about IVF shots, and really candid conversation about adjusting to life as new moms.
IVF success stories: Two moms talk about growing their family… and how
I want to start by saying congrats! I know you just celebrated your 5 year anniversary, a big milestone. And an even bigger milestone is the birth of your baby girl! I’d love if you could start by telling us a little about your beautiful family.
Becca: We did just celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, and in April we had our baby girl Roz. She’s almost 5 months old. And it’s been great so far!
I just left town for the first time, and left her alone this weekend with Jean Ann, her other mom. And in that 48 hours she learned how to roll over, without me there! And now she sleeps on her stomach, so I came home to a totally different baby. But I feel like she’s changing every single day, so it’s really awesome.
I love hearing about how people make the decision to start a family. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming parents?
Jean Ann: Because we’re two women, one question that I asked a lot is how we decided who will carry. And when your partner basically says, “One thing I’ve always wanted to do in my life is be pregnant and give birth, like, totally unprompted,” you’re like, “Cool, that seemed too easy.” Becca had always wanted to do that, and I’m still sort of on the fence – it doesn’t seem like something I have to do. So Becca had decided that she was excited about that a few years ago, and eventually I got more excited about it.
The first thing we had to do was choose a sperm donor. That was probably one of the biggest decisions we’ve ever made. Because you have to decide if you want an anonymous donor or someone you know. And we actually had a good friend who offered. And we took it pretty seriously, but ultimately decided it was important for us to have our own separate family unit. So then we looked at a lot of the websites for sperm. It’s basically like a KAYAK for sperm, and you can sort for different things.
Becca: It’s almost like online dating!
Jean Ann: We wanted someone that hopefully shared a lot of my characteristics. So were able to find someone who was half-Asian, he was getting a graduate degree in chemistry. We could even listen to a 45-minute interview with him where he talked about his favorite books, and he just seemed very thoughtful, quiet, serious, and nice.
Becca: We spent a lot of time looking for sperm – really thinking about these profiles and listening and narrowing it down. I remember we had all these pieces of paper on the kitchen table – we had written down the different donor numbers and which ones we liked – and then we narrowed it down.
And we actually had kind of had a long journey. It was about two and a half years from buying sperm until having Roz. Buying the sperm was step one. I remember, they were having an end-of-year sale, so we had to get it in before the end of 2015!
Were they really? Like, they were really having a sale?
Jean Ann: Yeah, it’s expensive. It’s something that there’s a lot of in the world, but it’s not cheap!
Becca: Well, it wasn’t quite a sale, but they were like, “We’ll throw in an Amazon gift card if you buy today!”
Jean Ann: “And three years of free storage!” But, yeah, we’ve actually spent several thousands of dollars on sperm, if you can believe it.
So obviously you found a great deal, but how did you get started with that process?
Becca: Really, we just Googled.
Jean Ann: There’s three or four big sperm cryo websites.
Becca: The one we went with is called California Cryo, one of the largest ones. For us, they felt right— it was a good website experience, and their customer service has been great. We did look at the big ones, some other small ones, and some local ones.
Jean Ann: But I think, for us, wanting a donor who was half-Asian like me was important, and that actually narrowed it down a lot. It went from like 550 to like, eight.
Becca: So then we could spend our time kind of really thinking through those people.
Jean Ann: You can definitely get a situation where there’s a run on the sperm. So we had this total disaster about a year later, where we had used up half the vials that we’d bought, and we were getting really low, and we went online, and they had sold out! And the donor had stopped donating! So we recommend you check what’s in stock a lot.
Becca: Yes, check frequently! And if you can afford it, buy more than you think you need.
Jean Ann: Buy a lot!
Becca: Because you can store it, and you can sell it back if you don’t need it.
Jean Ann: Nothing is worse than the feeling of having decided on someone to be your sperm donor and being very excited about them, and being halfway through the journey, and then realizing that if you want to have more than just one kid that you’re going to run out of sperm.
Becca: You’re going to run out and you may have to use different sperm.
Any other advice about that process for others that are just starting out with sperm donation?
Jean Ann: Just check your sperm stock frequently. And if you’re really excited and settled on someone, I would buy more than you need or just be willing to have a weekly reminder to check that it’s not running out.
Becca: I think the other thing is I would pony up for the extra access to information. Because I think, for us, the interviews with the sperm donors, that was the most impactful. You can only tell so much from a baby picture and some generic likes and dislikes – which is the basic info you get – but I actually think you can get a pretty good feel for a person from something like an audio interview. It’s like a typical website where it’s like, “Pay to unlock this feature!” but it’s worth it to pay for that premium membership.
So, in December 2015, once you made that decision about your donor, how did things progress from there?
Becca: So that winter when we were back home from the holidays, we started trying to get pregnant, and we were doing IUI.
Jean Ann: You basically have two options, you can do IUI or IVF with donated sperm. IUI is basically artificial insemination.
Becca: Turkey baster!
Jean Ann: The turkey baster method, but at a facility. So we started with IUI.
Becca: I actually got very lucky with the first IUI try in February 2016. I was tracking my ovulation – I was using the Ovia app – and I was peeing on sticks and all of that, and when my ovulation test said I was ovulating we went in for the IUI, we did IUI, and I got pregnant that very first time. And it was amazing! We were so excited! First try!
And then in the spring at about 12 weeks I had a miscarriage. So I got almost through my first trimester, and I had a miscarriage. That sucked, that was a setback and sad, and that was really hard.
So the summer of 2016 was kind of recovering from that, and then it takes a while to get back on track, especially when you have a miscarriage when you’re that far along there’s a lot that your body has a lot to process and then re-regulate. And then we didn’t have a chance to try again until September of that year. So we got back on the horse and started trying again. And we were gonna continue to do IUI at that same facility because it had worked that first time.
And I started tracking my ovulation and going back in monthly, but something was wonky with my cycles. I would think I was ovulating, but I would go in and I wasn’t ovulating. I think one or two times we did get an ovulation, and we tried, but I didn’t get pregnant.
Jean Ann: And that’s when we started running out of sperm. And we realized that there wasn’t more. So that’s when we panicked, realized we couldn’t get anymore, and so we decided to move to IVF. But neither of our insurances, we thought, really covered IVF. We were both on my insurance, and it wasn’t explicit. It was basically like, “Your IVF is covered, if it’s for a medical reason.”
Becca: “Medically necessary.”
Jean Ann: Yeah, “medically necessary,” that’s the phrase that’s used – and so I went down this whole rabbit hole to figure out if that means coverage if you’re gay. It took forever. But basically, no, being gay was not a “medically neccessary” reason, so it wouldn’t be covered. So I fumed about this for a while.
And then I ended up talking to our company’s head of HR kind of randomly about something else, and I just kind of mentioned this to her and didn’t expect it to go anywhere—I just figured this would sort of take some kind of lawsuit situation to change it— but she was like, “Oh, really? I didn’t know that!” Then two days later somebody that worked for her called and they were like, “Oh, we added it for same-sex couples to our insurance, so it’s covered now!” So I guess some advice would be to know that in terms of your health insurance, you may be able to change the coverage for something like this, depending on your company.
I constantly tell women to ask for those benefits, because they might end up with that exact same story. I was in a meeting recently with a health plan and an employer where we we pointed out in the language of the plan how it was alienating to same-sex couples. And the woman didn’t even realize it and was like, “I’ve gotta change it!” She had just never read the fine print before, but then took action to change it as well. I’m so glad that you asked about it, and I wish more people would!
Becca: Yeah, it was pretty awesome. So, we started IVF in the summer of 2017, and there’s a whole series of tests and all sorts of painful things they need to do to make sure you’re ready for it. And that takes months— you have to wait a few cycles, you have to get on the right timing. So I remember this being such a frustrating time in our lives. It felt like everything was going slowly and like everyday I had to be at the doctor doing some other painful thing. It was a rough period. It is funny now looking back on it, because it all feels like such a blur in retrospect, but at the time it felt really pronounced and painful.
Jean Ann: As someone that has now done IVF three times myself – and Becca has done it once – it’s not as bad as people think it is. It sucks giving yourself the shots, but it’s fast. It’s like a two week period of shots.
Becca: At this point we’ve both done it, because as the journey continues, we ended up having a baby and decided that we wanted to at least give ourselves the option to having another baby in the future with Jean Ann’s eggs.
Can you share more about that experience and what it’s like? Again, I’m sorry to hear about this part of the journey. I just can’t imagine having the 12 week miscarriage, that’s just awful, and the fear of the sperm running out, and then going through the pain of IVF. And I know you say it’s not that bad, but I think maybe you’re just tougher than many – that sounds really hard to me!
Becca: Honestly after being pregnant for nine months, you can barely remember the IVF, it’s like a blip. But I think that the shots – for us at least – I think the shots look scarier than they end up being.
Jean Ann: I feel like the first and second time you’re really just like, am I really going to stab myself in the leg with this needle?
Becca: The thought of it is tough. The first time is the hardest, because you’re just staring at this needle and you’re like looking at your leg, and you’re just like, so I’m really just going to push this in, huh? But it’s a needle, and it’s made to go in. I actually think over the two week period of shots, it gets progressively more painful toward the end. So the last few days are the worst. I think at that point you’re feeling a little bit bloated, you’re not allowed to go to the gym, you’re giving yourself shots every single night. For some reason those last few nights hurt the worst. At that point you’ve shot yourself everywhere on your legs, everywhere on your stomach, and you’re looking for a new spot. So those last few nights, you just want it to be over.
Jean Ann: And then you have the trigger shot, and everybody makes a big deal of the trigger shot. Somebody else gives you that one, and it has to be at an exact time – like, 1:45 in the morning, 10:30 p.m. – so when you go in to have your eggs be retrieved, it’s exactly 36 hours after the trigger shot.
Becca: And then for the egg retrieval process you do go under.
Jean Ann: Under some very temporary anesthesia. You’re all the way under, but it’s very short. And then you’re done!
Becca: And then there’s some anxiety as you wait to hear your egg count. For us we were doing embryos, so right when they retrieved the eggs they fertilized them with our frozen donor sperm. So after that you’re kind of waiting on eggshells – no pun intended – to hear how many of your embryos made it to day 3 or day 5, or just what the status of them is. And we’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. For me, I was really fortunate, I had a pretty high egg count, and with just one retrieval I got enough embryos that we felt comfortable and were able to freeze them. For Jean Ann, on her first and second try she didn’t get that many, and so she’s had to go through the egg retrieval process three times now.
Jean Ann: I will just add that for anybody that’s getting close to age 35, 35, you can get a blood test that will give you your AMH number. It basically tells you how many eggs, roughly, you have left. It’s a very good indicator or whether IVF is going to be a breeze and you’ll just have to do that once, or if your egg yield is going to be low and you’re going to have to do it multiple times like me. It is also a good predictor of if you will have to do IVF at all because the same number is also a good indicator of whether or not you will naturally be able to get pregnant. It’s a very easy first step.
Did you know about this AMH (or Anti-Mullerian Hormone) test before starting the IVF process, or did you learn about that after?
Jean Ann: Actually, someone at work told me about it. Because I was like, “I don’t think I want kids for a few years,” and this very matter of fact 40 year old man was like, “How old are you?” And I said, “35.” And he was like, “Just go get your AMH number. My wife had a low AMH number and it took us 5 years of trying and then we ended up adopting.” I was like, oh, my gosh!
And then I got the test, my AMH number was bad, and, indeed, it took me multiple times to do IVF. So I feel like this AMH blood test is pretty much free information.
A lot of healthcare providers might say no to that sort of testing, but I always suggest that people go to their provider and just insist on it. So through this process, who was supporting you along the way. Obviously you had each other. Was there anyone else in your life who was particularly helpful during this time?
Becca: Each other, for sure. I’m not a big oversharer, but it’s been really helpful for me to share, because what I’ve found is that as soon as I start talking about it, everyone has either a similar story themselves, or their friend does, or their sister does. So when I had my miscarriage, it was really helpful for me to tell people about it – even at work – and then people would share these success stories, and that made me feel better. And it was similar when going through IVF. I would talk about it with my friends, and they all had someone they knew who had been through it. At the time, I was really the first of my very good friends who was having a lot of trouble getting pregnant, and I felt a little bit alone, so their IVF success stories were helpful for me.
Jean Ann: But since then, now we know several people who’ve been through this.
Becca: We know people who’ve had miscarriages, been through IVF, and now I’ve been able to help them because we have this success story. So, for me, I would tell anyone who’d listen! And that helped me a lot.
Jean Ann: Then you had a pretty good pregnancy.
Becca: Yeah, and the IVF really worked well for us. We did an egg transfer, and I got pregnant on that first one, and then I had a pretty good pregnancy.
Jean Ann: And you have to give yourself these progesterone shots for the first 12 weeks.
Becca: No one talks about this!
Jean Ann: No one talks about this, but these are actually really terrible shots. And every night for the first 12 weeks that you’re pregnant—
Becca: You give yourself a progesterone shot in the butt.
Jean Ann: That was probably the worst part.
Becca: I think some doctors will allow you to do a suppository instead. So I went, like, running in after three nights of shots and was like, “Give me the suppository!” And they were like, “No, we highly recommend the shots.” They wouldn’t do it. So you’re giving yourself shots for 12 weeks. So much worse that the two weeks of IVF shots! It’s so much longer! So you’re basically so sore in the butt for the entire first trimester. But once we got through that, things were okay.
Jean Ann: Smooth sailing.
Becca: Yeah. I had a lot of heartburn, and that was my main symptom really.
Jean Ann: Then because you were a geriatric pregnancy, they told us that they wouldn’t let you go past one week over your due date. So we got an induction date for almost a week past your due date.
Becca: Yeah, 5 days past my due date they scheduled us for an induction. We went in, I got induced, and like these things do, it took forever to get a room, it took forever for the induction to start.
But then, like, once it started, it really started.I had pretty strong contractions for a long time, for like 15 hours. But I really wasn’t dilating. So, it was kind of sad, I kept having these big contractions and the doctor would go away and then come back a couple hours later to check my cervix and every time I was like, “Oh, I think I’m making progress!” and then she would check and be like, “Nope, still 3 cm. You’ve barely made it to 4 cm.” So I just wasn’t dilating. And then at some point, in about hour 16 or 17 of labor, I got a fever, and they said we’ve got to do a C-section. So we went in on a Thursday night, that Friday night at 11:30 p.m. she was born via C-section. And she was great!
Jean Ann: There’s so much pressure to not have a C-section and to be able to breastfeed right away and all this stuff, and, like, if you walk out with a healthy baby, that’s the goal, that is 100% success. I feel like people shouldn’t put that much pressure on how they want everything to turn out.
I know. There’s so much pressure for birth to be this perfect experience, just as planned. And I remember too, even with me, I had a C-section, just feeling guilt, feeling like a failure, and realizing that, like, my baby’s awesome, and I really don’t care about how I got her! Do you remember what the first couple of days after Roz was born were like?
Becca: It’s funny, it’s such a blur. And I remember at the time saying to myself, I’m totally lucid and I’m recovering fine and I’m gonna remember all of this. And now I realize I don’t remember much of what those days were like!
I remember stumbling out of bed in the middle of the night and either feeding or pumping, and I remember napping a lot. Because I was recovering from a C-section, I needed a lot of help both during the days and the nights. So luckily I had Jean Ann to help, we had family, we got some help for me during the day when she went back to work. We were fortunate to be able to do that because I couldn’t lift the baby, but it’s all such a blur.
I do remember her being so cute. Like everything she did was so cute. I would feed her, and she’d fall asleep on me right after, and it was the cutest thing I’d ever seen! This weekend, actually, I saw a picture of Roz from her first few weeks. And I remember at the time looking at her and thinking, My newborn is so cute! She doesn’t look like a weird scrunched up newborn like every other one! She’s a perfect baby! And, like, five months later I realize that she definitely looked weird! But you just don’t see it at the time.
You do have an exceptionally cute baby! So what is it like now versus what it was like then?
Becca: I just feel like we’re getting more into what our life will look like for the next few years. Those first few weeks in my maternity leave I just kept thinking about how it was a temporary time – and it was wonderful, and I really enjoyed it – but now we’re trying to figure out what our real life looks like. Like how we manage the jobs and the baby, how we manage finding time for ourselves, how we manage time for the extended family who wants to visit. So, it’s different – I’m much more lucid, I’ve recovered from the C-section, all of that kind of blurriness is gone – but I’m in this, like, this half-place where I feel like, we don’t quite have enough time for everything. And I don’t know if this is just what the new normal is, or if we’re still figuring it out. So that’s kind of the phase we’re in now.
I feel like our journey has taken a lot of different turns. And where we are now – we’re so so happy and so lucky that we have this wonderful healthy baby – but it took a while. And it took a lot of different types of interventions, and along the way there were times when it felt like it wasn’t going to happen, but now she’s here, and she’s perfect, and it makes the last two and a half years feel like a blur, like just a blip. So it was all worth it.
Jean Ann: But at the time, it was tough. It can be very tough.
Becca: Yeah, and I guess some advice we would give is to try to release some of the expectations that you have and some of the perfection that you’re striving for, because you really just don’t know how things will turn out. Like, you might not always be able to hit that exact timing for getting pregnant that you want. Or we thought we wanted a boy, but we obviously love our baby girl! It turns out it doesn’t matter. So just to try to release some of that, to the extent that you can, because the journey is hard enough.