Lisa Peters watches as her son, David, excitedly points out the different plastic characters stationed on a perfect two-foot replica of the Black Pearl, which sits on the living room table. Another wooden ship of the build-it-yourself variety sits next to it. David ignores the “doll ship” and continues to show off the Davey Jones miniature and the Black Pearl’s launchable rockets.
David is just a normal two-year-old boy with a fascination for pirates. No one would have guessed that this skinny, blond, grinning child began life in a medical lab’s petri dish.
Peters, 44, understands what it’s like to want children but not be able to conceive one. After many failed attempts, a medical screening confirmed that she and her husband could not have children.
“My husband and I were trying to have children, and it wasn’t working,” Peters said. “I think I was 39 and the doctor said ‘at this point, you need to try something else.'”
Peters and her husband were referred to the Northern California Fertility Medical Center, where they tried to do artificial insemination. They tried twice – $500 each time – and got no results.
In vitro fertilization was the next clear step, but Peters was warned by her doctor that the process may not be worthwhile.
“My doctor wasn’t in big support of it because of how expensive it is, and the odds are really not in your favor to work,” she said.
The 2007 in vitro success rate for the Northern California Medical Center, as indicated on their website, is 46 percent for women between the ages of 38 and 40. For women ages 41 to 42, the success rate goes down to only 5 percent. This percentage represents the number of females who became pregnant, which differs from live birth rates because some patients may miscarry.
Yet, for Peters, this was the only option. Her husband had vetoed the idea of adopting a child due to a bad experience he had with family members who were adopted.
“It just wasn’t an option,” Peters said. “It was more ‘if we can’t have our own children, we won’t have children.'”
For in vitro fertilization, egg donors are used for their healthy eggs.
“A recipient/donor cycle is actually in vitro fertilization,” said Angeta Van Niekerk, in vitro and donor coordinator for California IVF, in an e-mail interview. “The donor does the first part of the in vitro till egg retrieval, and then the recipient does the second part of in vitro [embryo transfer].”
Peters’ situation was different; she didn’t have to go through the trouble of finding a donor. Since her eggs were normal, she could harvest her own eggs and pair them with her husband’s sperm. This meant that Peters had to go through the entire egg donation procedure, as well as the process for embryo placement.
“Once they do the actual transfer of the embryos, then you switch to different shots that are once a day, and those have to go in your behind,” she said. “Fortunately, I have a friend who lives around the corner who’s a nurse, so every day she came over to give me the shot.”
These injections were to help keep her body from rejecting the embryosand having a miscarriage.
“And unfortunately, nobody paid me to do this process,” joked Peters.
The entire process cost her $18,970, including the $4,500 for drugs. Her insurance didn’t cover any of the expenses.
Her first son, David, was born in March 2004, more than a year since Peters and her husband first started the process of testing. After David, they froze the four extra zygotes, which they decided to use two years later. The second time, it only cost her $2,265 and she gave birth to twins – Douglas and Conor.
“We would have been greatly satisfied with one, and the fact that we got two the second time around – that’s great,” Peters said. “And we’re done.”
Her last foray into in vitro fertilization used up all the eggs she had donated in 2003, which left her feeling relieved.
“When you have the leftover embryos, you can have them destroyed, you can donate them to science or you can donate them to other couples,” she said. “We used all of ours so we didn’t have to make a decision…. I didn’t want to destroy them, but at the same time, I didn’t feel that I could donate them to someone else because I really feel it’s my child.”
Peters was also lucky enough to experience no serious side effects or complications from harvesting her eggs or from her two embryo transfers.
“The process for me was very positive, but that’s not normal,” she said. “You see it in the clinic and you hear everyone else’s stories, [and] it’s hard.
Denise M. Koenes, clinic administrator for Northern California Fertility Medical center, mentions that a potential complication is Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome. The ovaries begin to weep, which means they start swelling and slop off a water-like substance that causes fluid to accumulate in the abdomen.
However, she adds that this complication is not frequent and that donors are monitored carefully to ward off this swelling. In her experience, about one in 100 females experience the syndrome.
Peters watches as David spills his characters onto the floor of her meticulously adorned, rich brown and earthy living room. There are dog hairs all over the couch, she has an appointment to get to and she’s not yet finished planting some flowers in her backyard. Yet she smiles at her son and eggs him on.
“You only realize how complicated [egg donation and in vitro] really is and how important timing is later,” Peters said. “It makes you realize how children really are miracles.”
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