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Who’s My Daddy?

How to talk to your children about their donor father

Many Solo Moms live in absolute fear of a certain question: “Who’s my daddy?” It brings strong, resolute women to tears in an instant. Maybe it’s because it seems to come out in such strange and unsettling ways. I read about a sperm-donor-conceived child who told his mom that he did not have a dad because she had flushed him down the toilet. She guessed that it was related to the dead goldfish they had flushed down the toilet a few days prior. But it did not lessen her panic and grief.

Boy says I dont know

So what’s the best way to talk to your child about her biological father? First of all, remember that this is a lifelong conversation that will vary based on your child’s age, but the key message to convey—no matter what age the child is—is that you made a decision out of immense love and desire for which you are proud.

But don’t be afraid to ask your child, “What would you like to know?” Children can come out with some odd statements (like flushing daddy down the toilet) because they are exploring the topic. Though your first instinct might be to panic and end the conversation as quickly as possible, it’s important to let children express themselves. Ask some questions so you can hear what they are thinking about, while bracing yourself for irrational, illogical, or untrue statements. Don’t make the topic taboo. If children learn at a young age that they can have an open and honest discussion with you, they will feel comfortable coming to you to express their concerns and feelings.

The world of adoption has taught us that children want to know about their origins. The majority of research seems to suggest that the earlier, the better. But others say you should wait till they start to ask or until they understand something about the birds and the bees. My personal belief is the earlier, the better, so the topic is normalized from the outset and you can become practiced in telling the story. I started telling my son, who is now 16 months old, about his donor origins from the minute he was born.

Just last night I was speaking to a fellow Solo Mom who surprised herself when she tried to talk to her son’s preschool teachers about her child’s lack of a father figure. “I completely tripped over myself and acted emotional, even though I feel very clear about my decision and don’t have any regrets,” she explained. “It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about it, and I found that I just couldn’t find the right words. It came out all emotional and weird.”

So how do you start talking about a topic that involves intimate body fluids and body parts?

Toddlers

Toddlers take their cues about how to feel about things from their parents. So when a toddler asks about having a daddy, if you tell him that some families don’t have daddies or that you are a child-and-mommy family, he will usually accept the answer without much concern. Practice ahead of time. Those little ones are keenly aware of the emotional tone of your words, so if you act apologetic or ashamed, your child will notice.

Preschool and elementary school

By the time they reach preschool, kids have some notion that a father is necessary to make a baby or that everyone has a father. So the conversation needs to be more sophisticated. First of all, explain that you wanted very much wanted to have a family but that you had not found a man to be a part of your family.

To help children grasp the concept, separate eggs and sperm from motherhood and fatherhood, and separate baby making from family making. For example, explain that it takes a seed from a man and a seed from a woman to put into a woman’s belly to make a baby. But some families have a mommy, daddy, and baby, while some families have just a mommy and a baby or two mommies or two daddies.

Using language such as “We don’t have a daddy” as opposed to “You don’t have a daddy,” signals to your child that you are in this together. You may also explain that although your child is unique in how she was conceived, there are many ways to make families and that many other children are made the same way.

At this age, other children may tell your child that he has to have a daddy. It can be helpful to tell your child ahead of time that he might be asked how and why he doesn’t have a dad. You can practice with your child: What will you say? How do you feel about that? What might make you feel better about that?

Many Solo Moms find it necessary to educate their child’s school and classmates. Providing age-appropriate books for the teacher to read is a nice way to give both the teacher and the children appropriate language. There are many books for children that introduce all types of family configurations, such as Todd Parr’s The Family Book (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) and Suzanne Lang’s Families, Families, Families (Penguin Random House, 2015).

Because children hear their friends referring to adult men as daddy, your child may assume that all men are dads and start calling other men daddy. Most moms will instantly crumble when they hear this, but rest assured, it’s simply a label that your child doesn’t understand yet. Take a deep breath. His heart is not breaking, even though yours might be!

Adolescence

As your child reaches adolescence, the concerns will get more complicated as she starts to grapple with identity. Your child may start to ask questions about the donor, how the donor is connected to the family, and how being donor conceived affects identity. She wants to know if she is different and whom she belongs to.

If you’ve been discussing these issues all along, your child will feel free to explore her feelings without shame or discomfort and will likely develop a strong and secure sense of self and family.

It’s gonna be OK

Though your child may catch you off guard with some very colorful explanations and questions about his origins throughout his life, one thing remains constant: the extraordinary lengths you went through to have your child. If you can convey this message over and over again, your child will experience a sense of belonging, knowing that he is loved and celebrated. The good news? Research shows that although children want to know and understand their origins, if they have been able to engage in open and honest communication throughout their lives, they turn out well adjusted and comfortable with their origins.

Resources about donor origins

This article first published on ESME.com

5 Questions To Ask Before You Give Up On Marriage and Have A BABY Alone

5 Questions to Ask Before You Give Up On Marriage and Have a Baby Alone

Have you always dreamed of being a mother but find yourself single? Many women I talk to have a clear plan—if they are not married or in a relationship by birthday X, they are going to use a sperm donor, get pregnant, and have a baby alone. 

For others like myself, the question of whether to give up on partnership and choose single motherhood isn't so straightforward.  How do you know when to implement Plan B and become a single mother by choice?

Aiden_9months_3419

1.    How old are you?

The first consideration should be your age. There are two “fertility cliffs” at 35 and 40 when a woman’s fertility takes a significant plunge.  Your chances of getting conceiving in a given month when you are 15 are about 40-50%, compared to a 20% chance at age 30 and a 5% chance at age 40.

If you want to bear your own biological child, you need to pay attention to these statistics. IVF and other Advance Reproductive Technologies (ART) do help women have children later.

But by and large, it’s hard to get pregnant in your 40’s—there, I said it because it’s true even though women are not always being given this honest answer. By 43, even with IVF, a woman’s chances of conception are less than 5%. Women are being done a disservice when they're lead to believe that they can put off motherhood for career or a partner and still get pregnant easily in their 40’s. Don't be lulled by images of older celebrities having babies—they likely used egg donors but keep that fact under wraps.

Egg Freezing is another ART that many women are turning to, but because of that fertility cliff, freezing your eggs is not a great option unless you do it before your 35th birthday. I’ve seen many heartbroken women who thought they could wait because they froze their eggs, only to find out that none of them produced viable embryos.

Bottom line: your age is no joke. If you are approaching your late 30’s, it’s time to start thinking seriously about moving forward.

2.    Can you abandon the dream of finding Mr. Right?

Since I was a young girl, I was raised to believe in the fairy tale: I would be swept off my feet by prince charming and live happily ever after. To do otherwise would be a disgrace and a failure. This was so innate that I stopped asking myself whether I wanted to be mother by the time I reached my 20's.  Instead, I was waiting to find the partner so that we could decide together. But once I passed 40, and Prince Charming hadn't arrived, I realized that doing it alone did not mean I was a failure, but instead brave and willing to go after my dreams.

Ask yourself why you believe that you need a partner to have a baby. Single motherhood might not be the fairy tale ending you were searching for, but it may be your best option if you deeply desire a baby.

3.    Are you holding onto a fantasy family?

Get real about marriage. Even if you had a husband (or wife,) there are no guarantees that the relationship would last. Men and women walk away from commitments, children, even pregnant partners all the time.  Even if they stay, there’s little chance that your partner will live up to your expectations, something my married friends constantly remind me of.  Having a partner will not solve all the difficulties of being a mother.  Some things will be harder; others will be easier.

Conversely, women who already have children find partners all the time.  In fact, since I’ve had my son, I've found that some men find me more sexy. They see the love and care I give to my son, and they want some of that! One man explained that that seeing a woman with a baby ignites an instinctual part of himself. It’s an instant turn on for him.

Once I realized that there were no guaranteed outcomes no matter which way I approached becoming a mother, it was easier for me to take action towards my dream of motherhood. Spend some time examining your own assumptions to see what you might be holding onto.

4.    Are you financially stable?

Face it.  Having a baby is expensive!  Childcare, preschool, clothes, diapers etc.  You'll need to make a decent amount of money to support yourself and your child.  Obviously women with much less money and much more money than you have children all the time. It's nice, however, not to feel crunched all the time. 

I’m the first one to say that if you really want something, don’t let fears about money to limit you. Trust that you will figure it out if you put your mind to it. Nothing is more motivating than having a baby to get your act together. But don’t completely blow off the question of money! 

5.    Are you an independent woman?

Having a baby alone takes a certain kind of woman.  Most of the women I know who have undertaken this journey might describe themselves as independent, tenacious, and brave.  They do not sit in the corner and wallow in indecision.  They don’t shrink in the face of adversity.  They can deal with challenges.  They know how to //??resource themselves,// figure it out, and get it done. They don’t take “no” for an answer.  Indeed, they didn’t let not having a man stop from the dream of motherhood. 

Bringing a child into the world without a partner is a big decision.  It’s not easy to raise a child alone.  Yet, I’ve never met a woman who has regretted it, and many report many silver linings about going it alone. 

If you’ve always dreamed of being a mother and find yourself single, you owe it to yourself to ask the questions.  Then at least you can say you made a clear decision either way.

If you have more questions about whether to embark on this journey, you can contact me for a private session.  We can discuss your priorities.  

The Balancing Act—When and How to Give Up On Your Own Eggs

By the time I decided that I wanted to be a Choice Mom, my odds of getting pregnant were already abysmal.  My doctor told me on Day 1, “I cannot ethically advise you to try IVF or other measures to get pregnant.  You should likely go straight to an egg donor.  But I cannot tell you what to do.  You need to do whatever you personally need to get closure.”

And she was right,  I just could not accept that I was infertile without trying to conceive with my own eggs.  I started out determined to do everything possible but quickly realized that there would be no limit to what might be possible to try.  With less than a 1% chance of getting pregnant, I had to be smart about what to try.  A better measure was feeling like I did the best I could. So, I gave it a really good effort after which I could put down the project and either walk away from having kids altogether or move onto the next most drastic option.

Even before I started trying to conceive, I could see that trying to get pregnant could stretch into years of hoping I’d beat the odds and convincing myself I should just try one more time.  I didn’t want to be 45 and giving birth.  But I also wanted to be realistic about my terrible odds by not letting my attempts to get pregnant drag on for several years.  I needed to satisfy the desire to see if I could beat the odds, but I balanced that by setting a time limit of about a year. 

Financially, I realized that the amount of money I’d be spending on trying to get pregnant would be minute in relation to the amount of money I would ultimately spend raising a child.  But, I did not want to run down the savings that I’d accrued in order to feel comfortable bringing a child into the world alone. I had to pick an amount of money that felt comfortable to me. I set a financial limit so that I wouldn’t throw too much money at a seemingly impossible task.  I asked myself what it was worth to me to try to get pregnant given the crazy odds.  How much was I willing to essentially throw away in the off chance I’d get pregnant. I picked a precise amount of money.  I did end up going over that amount by about $1000 but at least as I approached that budget I told myself I was nearing my limit and changed course soon after reaching my budget for using my own eggs.

Throughout all of my efforts, I never stopped planning for what felt like the worst-case scenario: egg donation or adoption. Initially, I felt that using an egg and a sperm donor would be akin to adopting a baby unrelated to me, not something I felt called to do. As a young child, I had always been fascinated with the question of nature vs nuture.  Rearing a child with my genes and watching how they were both similar and different to myself felt like part of the reason I wanted a child.

But throughout the year, I took time to warm up to the idea of not being able to conceive with my own eggs.  I’ve found that I make decisions best, when I gather research and then sit with the options and information.  Then I notice whether I am motivated to move forward and take action or gather more information or if I loose steam and interest. I didn’t completely bury my head in the sand and refuse to look at the options surrounding egg donation.  Instead, I started taking steps to gather information and see how I responded.

In order to let the idea of using an egg donor percolate, I did some research around the options for egg donation.  I started with my current reproductive clinic by getting information about the process and pricing for fresh and frozen eggs from their egg bank. I talked to a friend who had used an egg donor, met her daughter and watched them interact.  It was sweet and heart-warming and surprising how much her and her daughter resembled each other.  I read message boards about women who had used donor eggs and noticed that women who had used egg donors had no regrets and they often marveled at how much their children looked and acted like themselves. 

I also thought about what it would mean to carry a baby in utero. The baby would literally be bathing in my juices for a year—listening to my voice, tasting my food, experiencing my moods as my body’s various biochemicals traveled across the placenta.

At some point along the way, someone mentioned the concept of epigenetics-- the study of how variations in diet, stress and chemical exposure can affect which genes within a person’s genome actually express.  The implications for using an egg donor were enormous because it meant that if I carried a baby formed by completely unrelated egg and sperm, I would still has enormous influence over the “genetic” makeup of my child.

A year later, I was still not pregnant.  I had never even conceived. I eventually had to face that I was not going to get pregnant with my own eggs. 

That year was one of the hardest years of my life, fraught with constant hope and disappointment. Luckily, by the time I lost all hope of getting pregnant naturally using my own eggs, I was armed with tons of information about egg donation that helped me figure out how I felt about it emotionally. 

By the time I gave up on my own eggs, I was willing and actually even excited about using an egg donor. I felt very strongly about the importance of the time the baby would spend in utero. I realized that being pregnant, growing a child with my flesh and blood, giving birth and being able to breast feed were what I was seeking to feel linked to the child biologically.  And, once I decided to use an egg donor, I could change from saying to myself “if I get pregnant” to “when I get pregnant.” I’m not sure that this was actually the case now after meeting several women who have not suceeded in getting pregnant even with an egg donor.  But mentally it shifted for me.  And I believe that mental shift was a powerful component in getting pregnant. 

If you are faced with possibly needing to use an egg donor, I think there are many questions you can consider that might help you set appropriate limits, help you do whatever necessary to have closure, and make the choice of how to move forward.

1)   What are the doctors telling you about the odds of getting pregnant with your own eggs?  What do you need to do in order to have closure before moving onto egg donation or adoption or other options?

2)   What will it take to feel like you did your best? Do not frame as how can I do everything because it’s a never-ending money pit.

3)   How much money is reasonable to spend on trying to get pregnant with your own eggs?  Weigh the costs against how likely it is that you may get pregnant. If it's a complete long shot, set a finite amount of money, knowing that you will still need money to pay for an egg donor and raise the child.

4)   How much time can you devote to the effort to get pregnant?  How old are you and do you have any concerns about how old you will be when you give birth?  Or do you have other considerations about wanting to know the direction of your life sooner rather than later?

5)   What are you most attached to in wanting to use your own eggs? Ask yourself, what you think it means to use your own eggs?  Are you concerned about passing on your genes, your legacy, knowing the medical history etc? In many cases if you keep asking what that means, you will begin to see that most of the concerns are concepts that you don’t even really understand but yet you have a strong emotional attachment to the idea.  Keep asking yourself what these ideas mean and why they are important to you?  Keep peeling back the layers?  Can you deconstruct these tightly held emotional beliefs that when examined closely are often held together by vague notions?  



The Money Question

I follow a lot of blogs for Choice Moms.  Every few weeks, someone poses the question: “How much did you plan financially before you took the plunge as a single mom?”  or “How much do I need to save before having a child on my own?” “How much money do I need to raise a child alone?

Money is a huge concern that most women who are consciously choosing to bring a child into the world solo confront before deciding to undertake single motherhood.  For me it was a big factor and it wasn’t until I felt comfortable with the money question that I could move forward with trying to get pregnant.

But it was almost impossible to quantify and amount of money that I would need to raise a child alone or decide on an amount I needed saved before I started trying to get pregnant. So how did I get look at the money question?

Through many years of spiritual practice as well as my work as a life and somatic coach, I’ve come to see money in a much different light.  Yes, it is a necessary vehicle to buy and sell goods and services.  But, in reality it is much more loaded and complicated. It is often tied into our feelings of self-worth and success.  The most common measure of life-time success or achievement is money!  And, most businesses measure success via their profits or net worth as opposed to their ethics or impact on the environment etc. 

Through reflection, I’ve come to notice more and more about how I relate to money.It’s something external that I hope will bring a sense of security, happiness or success. I notice myself saying, “if only I had more money I’d feel comfortable about having a baby alone, or be content, or could buy some thing that would solve my problems.  If I really pay close attention, what I’m really saying is “if I had more money, I’d be more successful, happy or secure.” 

But more often than not, once I get more money, I realize that I don't in fact feel any more happy, secure or successful because I am searching externally for a visceral sensation and a state of being.  I want the external (more money) to fix the visceral internal sensation (insecurity or unhappiness etc), but it doesn’t. The best way to feel secure is to return to the body and tune into its supportive qualities. In this way, I can generate a physical (visceral) sensation of security that is real and self-generated, not predicated on acquiring more goods and services.  Then from that place of clarity, I can actually assess how to plan for a baby.  

Never Enough

I’ve heard many single moms talk about how only having one income makes it more difficult to feel like they have enough money.  Certainly, that must be true.  And, I’ve heard both Choice Moms and Choice Kids talk explain that their children are often asked to have a part-time job in high school to save up for items that aren’t necessities, such as an iPad, cell phone or elective school trip.

But my question: Does anyone ever feel like they have enough money? In my experience, no matter how much money a person has, it rarely feels like enough. It’s seems to be the nature of money!  One author on money talks about how from the moment we wake up we immediately sense we don’t have enough time, money, food, clothes, vacation, help etc.  We are completely preoccupied by what we don’t have enough of.  It doesn't help that advertisers and the media are constantly telling us we need more.

In addition to society’s messages about money, our family upbringing also impacts our ideas about money.  In my case, my parents reinforced the idea that we did not have enough. My mother, who grew up in England during World War 2, was constantly paranoid about money.  It seemed no matter how much money we had she could only see scarcity.  It was NEVER enough.  I grew up thinking I was poor, even though I grew up in a very affluent area of West Los Angeles.  We did have less than many of my friends whose parents were producers, directors, actors, lawyers etc.  But we were far from poor.

As an adult, I notice the temptation to feel like I don’t have enough money, clothes, furniture, friends, time—you name it.  It’s a compelling and very convincing voice.  If I pay close attention, its soundtrack is almost always running like static noise in the background, regardless of its veracity.   I try to take a step back from time to time to figure out whether I really don't have enough, or whether I’m simply running my familiar soundtrack. Am I simply panicked about money because that’s what my parents and society have told me I need to do?

Many parents likely struggle with feeling like they don’t have enough money to provide everything they would like for their children. And, a solo income only accentuates the problem.  It may be harder to make ends meet.

But, women and families with far more money and far less money than you raise children all the time.  I’m definitely not saying to ignore the question about finances, but beware of the traps.  It’s easy to put off your dreams in fear of money because our society always tells us we don’t have enough and that we need more stuff.   For some it’s important to realize that no matter how much money they have, it will never feel like enough. 

Other people may have different histories and stories that affect their ideas and relationship to money.  Some common ones: Money is meant to be spent not saved.   If you follow your heart you will always be poor.  Artists will always starve.  Making money exploits others.  Money = Success. 

Spend some time thinking about the messages you received about money growing up.  By noticing them and realizing they are simply stories and conditioning, you can try to disentangle yourself from them in order to see money differently. 

Instead of simply thinking, “I don't have enough to raise a child alone” sort out to what extent you are succumbing to a common trap of needing more or feeling like you do not have enough.  Examine what other beliefs about money you’ve been taught.  Approach it from various angles.  Look at your own personal relationship to money as well as taking practical steps to visit a financial planner.

Uncertainty

Another major pitfall I see people make around money, and life in general, is to yearn for and seek certainty—about money, the future, relationships etc.  It’s particularly evident in the way some women phrase their questions about money.  “How much did you financially plan before becoming a single mother?”  But the bottom line is that security is a misnomer—nothing in life is secure or certain. 

It’s the nature of life.  We want to know what the future holds or that we will be ok.  But no matter how much you plan, you can never be certain what life has in store. You are an ever-changing being who will definitely change the minute you become a mother.  And you live in an ever-changing economy with ups and downs. Even if you have an amazing, well-paying seemingly stable job when you decide to get pregnant, it can be taken away from you at any time.  You could get laid off tomorrow.  Or, you may decide to quit in order to spend more time with your kids. You will never know what lies around the corner financially.  You can lay out a plan and a budget but there is no guarantee that life will follow that plan.

In my coaching practice, I work with people going through career transitions. People want to change jobs but they fear the loss of income or the financial uncertainty of a career shift.  It often paralyzes them from taking a risk, so instead they stay in a job that deadens their soul. The same can be true of the decision to pursue single motherhood. The fear of having change and uncertainty can prevent women from pursuing their primal desire and dream of motherhood. 

Do some self-reflection around your desire to have everything be certain or to know the answer.  Notice its grip on you and how it might be preventing you from following your dreams. This is a great place to return to the body and its support so that you can stop grasping for a false, external sense of support.

Back Up Plan

Once I realized that life is uncertain, I decided to look at the money question differently.  Instead of relying on a particular job or path, I began to look at the Worst Case Scenario and generate as many back up plans as possible. What would I do if I lost my business and couldn’t find a new job?  Could I go live with family?  I know, for some, myself included, this is a heinous thought, but I could do it if I had to?  Do I have other friends that would take me in?  Could I lease my home, get a roommate, use a different skill set to take lower paying or less desirable work that may not make my heart sing but I could do to hold me over till the right job came along? 

I realized I could rent out another room in my home, and cut back on many unessential expenses.  But worst-case scenario, I could move out of my home and rent the whole thing, while moving to a very cheap rental or moving in with friends.  I know several people who would not let me fall flat on my butt—they would take me in and help me get my feet on the ground.  I know I would not end up in the streets.  To be safe and to build a bigger cushion, I gave up my home office and got a second roommate so that I could rent to generate more income. I’ve contemplated having another single mother move in to share expenses and childcare. 

But also don’t be surprised by what unfolds if you follow what feels true in your heart.  If having a baby is something you really want, you might be surprised what doors open up.  I went to law school years ago because I had a passion to work in bioethics and reproductive rights.  I quit after only 4 years of practice because, try as I might, I could not find work in either of those areas, so I ended up in corporate litigation. I got burnt out and quit.  But now, over 15 years later, my dream job is staring me in the face.  There are now more options for creating alternative family structures using various methods to get pregnant or create families.  Yet, there is an incredible lack of policies and regulations surrounding the use of known and unknown donors, surrogates etc.  Strangely, my life has come full circle and I may just end up practicing law, combining bioethics and reproductive rights. And, I’ve also been called to write a book about my journey and change my entire business focus.  I have a feeling that this avenue will yield much more money than my previous life coaching business would have ever earned. 

Summary

When my writing buddies read a very different first draft of this blog entry they thought I was advising women to ignore the money question if they really wanted the dream of motherhood.  By all means, I am not suggesting to throw caution to the wind and jump in without considering its financial implications. 

Here are some things to consider when thinking about the financial aspects of bringing a child into the world alone:

·      Take a realistic look at your finances.  Talk to a financial advisor. Make sure you have a good cushion or some good back up plans in case things do not go as expected. 

·      Gain some understanding about how you relate to money.  Do you feel like you never have enough?  How does it tie into your feelings of value, self-worth, security and happiness? Do you conflate money with success or security?  Do your work to untangle these confusions as much as possible. 

·      Develop a somatic sense of security and/or happiness so that you are not constantly seeking externally for these things. 

·      Get creative.  Think outside the box about how you could structure your work and living situations. 

·      Be open to the unexpected.  Let go of your desire for certainty.

These questions can be hard to navigate alone.  I’ve been working as a life coach for many years helping people untangle these questions.  I would love an opportunity to help you look at your underlying relationship to money, your desire for security and help you think outside the box to generate potential back up plans so that you can move forward in your dream for motherhood if you so choose.  

MY Son is Here!

I gave birth to my son on April 3rd, 2014.  He is simply perfect!  I can’t imagine mothering any other baby. There is no way to explain how much he truly feels like 100% my child. But he doesn’t actually share any genetic material with me. I had to use an egg donor to conceive.  Because I am a single mom by choice, that means he’s what’s being called a 100% Donor baby.  Yet, I never question the fact that he doesn't actually share my genes.  He’s just simply MY perfect son!

It took me a long time to decide whether to pursue single motherhood.  By the time I decided to make the move, the doctors were already telling me I should go straight to egg donation.  Initially, I questioned whether I would even want a child if it did not share my genetics. I refused to listen, needing to see if I could be the one that would beat the odds. I tried for over a year to get pregnant.  I have been devoted to mind/body practices and alternative health for over a decade so I turned to that first.  But I took numerous supplements, gave up alcohol, wheat, and sugar to boost my fertility. But I wasn’t even ovulating with any regularity. Then I turned to fertility drugs with equally disappointing results and the addition of ovarian cysts. 

However, during my many devastating unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, I got very clear about wanting to carry a child in my own body.  At one point, the RE called into question whether there was a problem with my uterus that might prevent a pregnancy of any kind.  In that moment, I got very clear that the important thing for me was being able to carry a child, no matter whose genetics the child carried.  I’d previously stumbled upon the idea of epigenetics that made me realize I’d have more influence over the traits and personality of my child than might have otherwise been thought, just by carrying the baby in utero. The basic concept of epigenetics is that the genome is covered in protein tags that make up the epigenome.  These tags cause genes to express or remain silent.  For example, differences in the epigenome can cause a mouse that is genetically coded for brown hair, to give birth to a yellow haired mouse.  Studies like these suggest that the in utero environment such as diet and stress levels play a critical role in the overall genetic expression of the child. I thought about how the baby would bathe in my juices for 9.5 months, experiencing my emotions and thoughts on a biochemical level, hearing my voice, feeling my rhythm and smelling me.  The link felt significant enough to make me comfortable with egg donation.  

After researching options for egg donation in the US, I realized that I was facing and incredibly expensive project.  I had been very unhappy with my experience with the high-end fertility clinic and reluctant to fork out $40K to them, so I started researching other options such as egg banks, egg sharing, embryo adoption and egg donation abroad.  I eventually landed on using an egg donor in Cancun, Mexico, mainly because I could see adult pictures of egg donors and because I have a friend who owns a hotel close to Cancun that I could go with. I got pregnant on the first try and gave birth on his due date to a very healthy 9 lbs. 4 oz. baby.  I’ve never been so happy in my life. 

After years as an executive and somatic life coach, I’m excited to share my insight and support to women embarking on this journey.  I want to reach out to every woman who’s been told that she can’t have a baby using her own eggs and tell her don’t worry, you can still have the baby you are meant to have! 

Vacation IVF PART 3—“Don’t Worry, Sarah”: A Lesson in Trust and Letting Go

PART 3—“Don’t Worry, Sarah”: A Lesson in Trust and Letting Go.

“Don’t worry, Sarah.”  The words rang in my ears. I resisted these words, because they did not comport with my American, lawyer mind that is concerned with details, contingencies and specifics.  But these words were spoken by every member of the FCC team, almost like a mantra, and in the end, they were probably the best advice I received.  

As soon, as I chose my egg donor, the clinic liaison sent me a one page document via email that constituted “The Contract” with the Clinic. Being a lawyer, the “Contract” was laughable.  And I was shocked to learn that I needed to pay a deposit of $1300 to the liaison, but I paid nothing to the Clinic until I arrived. I was even a little unsure whether the Contract specified that my particular egg donor had been retained and would be the donor no matter what. 

I first heard the words when I was syncing my cycle with the egg donor’s.  It’s not a complicated process but I needed to inhibit my own ovulation and then start taking estrogen to build my uterine lining for at least 14-16 days before the transfer.  My period came early and I ended up having to take estrogen for about 4-5 weeks before the transfer.  Of course, I immediately jumped online and started researching but I couldn’t find anything very satisfying.  Instead the Clinic assured me over and over, “Don’t worry, Sarah.  You can be on estrogen for up to 3 months.” I had no choice but the trust them, but I did continue to have dreams of my lining over thickening, an issue, I dreamt up.

Then there was my small cervix that sits at a difficult angle for IUI’s.  When I was still receiving care from the fancy reproductive clinic in the Bay Area, they had suggested I come in for a mock transfer.  And, the explained a whole host of procedures that could be used to encourage my cervix to open to make the embryo transfer easy.  However, after they fired me as a client, I no longer had this option.  So, I immediately set to work asking FCC, “Can I do a mock transfer in Mexico? Do I need to arrive in Mexico a few days earlier in order to do the mock transfer and have enough time to give me medications to get my cervix to open if necessary? What if my cervix is too closed? 

The response came, “Don’t worry, Sarah.  You can do a mock transfer when you arrive here.” 

I arrived in Cancun on a Monday for my first appointment. The clinic was beautiful, with white sparkling floors and professionally dressed, English speaking staff.  I was greeted by Emma the clinic administrator.  “Do you have a copy of your Contract? ” she asked. “I can’t find yours.” Luckily, I had it with me so I could give her a copy. 

“Do you have a contract with the egg donor releasing her maternal rights,” I asked.  On my way to Cancun, I had been reading books about egg donation and realized that I should ask about this contract.  “Yes, we have a contract with her.  Don’t worry.”  Part of me thought I should push harder to see it, but instead, I decided to trust. 

I was then escorted down the hall into a beautiful state of the art examination room.  It was a gorgeous room with attached bathroom and changing room more akin to a nice hotel than a doctor’s office.  A doctor came in and introduced himself.  Dr. Gaytan was away on business so this doctor, whose name I never caught, would be doing an ultrasound of my uterine lining to make sure it was ready for implantation. “What about the mock transfer?”  I asked.  He looked at me with a puzzled look.  Of course there was nothing in my chart about it and he seemed confused and reluctant to do the test. I almost jumped off the table and strangled him.  “Don’t worry, Sarah.  It will be okay.  We will try to do the mock transfer.  I usually do not suggest them because there is a risk of disturbing the uterine lining.  And, there are many things I can do at the time of the transfer to open your cervix if there are any problems.”

I sat fuming and upset on the ultrasound table, wishing I could talk to Dr. Gaytan, instead of the assistant doctor.  “Don’t worry, Sarah.  We will try to do one.”  He had me drink water and then wait an eternity to do the test.  In the end, he did the mock transfer with no trouble at all.  The catheter passed my cervix without any issue and the lining was not disturbed.  

 And, even better, they didn’t charge me extra for the mock transfer even though it was not included in the fees I had paid.  (I noticed throughout the process that they did not add on a bunch of extra fees.  They accepted my sperm samples and are continuing to store them for me at no charge.  They incurred several administration fees from customs and the health department for which they did not charge me either.)

The next item on my agenda, “How is my donor doing?  How many follicles does she have?” 

“Don’t worry, Sarah.  She is doing well.”  I had been expecting updates from the Clinic about how many follicles my donor was maturing long before I arrived at the Clinic.  So now to be told she was doing well, with no details, again spiked my blood pressure.

“What does that mean?” I asked as calmly as possible. 

“She has more than 15 follicles,” the Doctor assured me, but would not give me specifics.  I had friends who had been through IVF, in which the doctors gave them a detailed blow by blow of the process, the number of eggs, how big, which ovary etc.  So, I was expecting much, more information.  But once again, I was being asked to trust the process and calm down and so I did.

Two days later, on Wednesday, they retrieved my egg donor’s eggs (one day later than originally planned).  Once the eggs were harvested, I was given daily updates about the number that had fertilized and how many survived each day. They harvested 23 eggs, 22 of which fertilized.  But at one point they told me I was scheduled to come in for a Day 3 transfer.  When I pushed them and asked whether it made sense to wait until Day 5 since I had 22 fertilized eggs.    The response “Don’t worry, Sarah.  You can come in for a Day 5 transfer.” 

“But wait, I’ll defer to the doctor.  What does he think is best? I’m just curious because I’ve read that Day 5 transfers have many benefits.” 

The response kept coming back, “Don’t worry.  You can come in on Day 5.”  I never received a satisfying answer about the change of days.  But again, I told myself to trust.  I was just now beginning to realize that “Don’t worry” was the clinic’s mantra.  But, instead of freaking out, I sat back and realized that every time they had told me not to worry, it had been the perfect advice.

For 5 days I waited on edge for the embryos to mature into blastocysts.  By the following Monday, I took a private taxi from Tulum back to the Clinic in Cancun to have the embryo transfer.  After I changed into a gown, the assistant doctor came to greet me in the room.  He brought with him a picture of the TWO embryos he was planning to transfer.  “What?  Two.  But I only want to transfer one.  I did a lot of research and as far as I can tell, the success rate is so high, that if you don’t want twins, you should only transfer one, correct?”

“That’s correct. Don’t worry, Sarah, we will only transfer one if that’s what you want.” 

“Yes, that’s what I want.  But how do I choose the embryo?” I asked.  As I stared at both pictures I had the distinct feeling that I was choosing between a boy and a girl.  I decided that I had been too involved in the process that would normally be taken over by nature and wanted to allow fate to have some role in the process. 

“Let’s allow the embryologist to decide,” the doctor suggested. 

“Yes! That’s perfect.  The embryologist should decide which embryo is stronger.” 

The transfer went smoothly and I traveled back to Tulum in my private taxi without incident.  I was not allowed to swim in the ocean and told to take it somewhat easy.  I enjoyed my last three days in Tulum and returned to the US to endure the dreaded two week wait.

There were some challenges I had to face by going to Mexico but in the end they were all worth it to me.  I can’t say the service I had received from the reproductive clinic in the US had been in any way satisfying.  I was given the wrong information many times, and had to constantly ask for clarification or remind the patient coordinator of my unique circumstances.  I was paying a high price for service in the US, but instead I was put in a factory assembly line and told to comply. 

In Mexico, people are generally more relaxed but at times slightly less diligent and detail oriented, but they make up for it in sweetness and genuine care.  I had to let go of my lawyer mind that is constantly worrying about details and all the things that could go wrong and simply trust.  Not to mention that being on vacation in Mexico, swimming in salt water, taking long walks on the beach, dancing with friends, eating great food also helped soften my ever-vigilant mind and allowed me to trust that everything would work out for the best. I’d done my homework and hadn’t found any complaints from pervious customers about FCC.   And, the minute I found the clinic, my gut had said it was the right choice.  So, I kept returning to that knowledge and relaxed into the process.  For many people the relaxed attitude and lack of details would not work.  But for me it actually provided a necessary piece of the puzzle. 

When I returned home, I was relaxed and content from a fabulous vacation.  Best of all, I wasn’t worried.  In two weeks, I would either be pregnant, or I'd be told I needed to return to Cancun for another transfer.  I still had 6 strong embryos in storage and worst-case scenario, I’d have to spend another few weeks in Mexico.   .   I spent a mere $7500 instead of anywhere between $40,000-$60,000 for an egg donor in the US.  If I didn’t get pregnant on the first try, the subsequent embryo transfers would only be $3,500.

About 12 days after my embryo transfer, I broke down and took an incredibly sensitive home pregnancy test. (We all know how hard it is to actually wait the prescribed 14 days.)  I couldn’t believe my eyes.   It was time to celebrate.    I was PREGNANT!!

Vacation IVF (Part 2) Getting Sperm Samples into Mexico

When my friends started calling me MacGyver I knew that my situation was getting ridiculous.  From the outset, the liaison and everyone I spoke to about Vacation IVF told me it would be impossible to get my sperm into Mexico.  But I was determined to get my chosen sperm vials from the sperm bank in the Bay Area into Mexico, rather than using an anonymous donor in Mexico. 

“You’ll have to bring your donor, or use one of our donors,” FCC assured me. But finding a sperm donor I could bring with me was easier said than done.  And, I had already decided that if I was going to do this alone I wanted the simplicity of an anonymous donor.  The problem with a Mexican donor from FCC was that although the Mexican clinics will allow you to see adult pictures of the egg donors, they do not allow clients to see pictures of the sperm donors. And, the information provided for each sperm donor is limited to height, weight, eye color and some nominal health information, which coincidentally is exactly the same for each donor.  It consists of a single column of various diseases, all of which are marked “No.”  So for me, I had no other options but to get my own sperm samples into Mexico.  I wasn’t simply going to be told it was impossible.  

The problem was that the sperm bank holding my chosen samples refused to FedEx them to Mexico even though I owned them and was paying to store them.  They would ship to many other countries, but refused to ship to Mexico, claiming that their tanks had been broken open at the border.  I generated many solutions to this problem—I could buy the tank, or, I could use a private courier to transport the sperm in his own tank.  But the sperm bank wouldn’t go for this and initially refused to do the paperwork that would release my sperm samples to the courier.  I had to get special clearance from the clinic’s president to release my sperm to the private courier.  

Once I had clearance from the sperm bank, FCC tried to obtain a permit on their end.  The private courier assured me that he had taken samples across the border many times without any sort of permit.  But FCC disagreed and wanted to apply for a permit from the Mexican officials.  Initially the permit was supposed to take 2-3 weeks to issue.  But after 3 weeks I checked in with FCC only to find out it would be another 2-3 weeks.  And, again 2 weeks later I got another response that it was going to take another 2-3 weeks.  

When making my travel plans to Mexico, FCC recommended a later date that it usually might, in order to allow time to get my sperm samples into Mexico.  So, even though I had allowed roughly 2 months, it was down to the wire with a few weeks before my departure.  

I started to panic and dream up elaborate schemes for getting the sperm vials into the US.  One involved Fedexing the tank to a friend’s house in San Diego.  Another friend and I would fly to San Diego that same day and rent a car to drive across the border into Tijuana with the tank hidden in the car.  My friend assured me, “I’ve been across that border so many times, I can get anything across that border.  I’m as cool as a cucumber crossing over and I’ll get that tank in.” Then we would drive to Ensenada and FedEx the tank to Cancun.  It seemed like an elaborate plan but it was one I had read about on fertility chat rooms by one person who successfully did it. 

I took matters into my own hands and chose a new sperm donor from another sperm bank that ships 50% of its samples abroad.  They assured me they had shipped to Mexico several times and that it would not be a problem.  “We don’t need any special permits.”  This new sperm bank simply asked for a form to be signed by FCC agreeing to accept the sperm and within a few hours my sperm was on its way to Mexico for under $300 in FedEx fees.  

When the tank arrived in Mexico, it was held at customs.  But this sperm bank was experienced dealing with customs and did work for me behind the scenes with FCC.  It as a hair-raising couple of days but between the clinic and the sperm bank, the permit magically appeared and my sperm was released to the clinic.  

The next hurdle was getting medications and tests completed in the US before my arrival into Cancun. The idea is that you complete all the preparatory tests and simply arrive in Mexico for a short number of days for the actual transfer. There were several steps that needed to happen in the US, including taking several medications, doing an estrogen test cycle to ensure that my body would respond to the estrogen and thicken my uterine lining, and getting a scan of my uterus to check for fibroids.  

I did the initial uterine test scan after 10 days of estrogen to make sure my lining would thicken at my Reproductive Endocrinologist’s office because they thought I was moving forward with a frozen egg from their egg bank.  But once they got wind of the fact that I was planning to go abroad for an egg donor, they stopped responding to my questions and eventually actually refused to treat me.  Luckily I had a good relationship to my OB/GYN who agreed to order a hysterosalpingogram, to screen for fibroids and prescribe the estrogen I would need to take for several weeks before arriving in Mexico.  

Then there was on big Lupon shot that I needed to administer in order to inhibit my cycle. Although my OB/Gyn was very helpful, she was a little reluctant to prescribe this drug for me since she really had no experience with the protocol used by FCC.  And, it would have potentially cost a couple hundred dollars through my insurance.  A brilliant idea popped into my head!  I would ask my friend who was in Tulum at that very time, to stop by the clinic and pick up the Lupron prescription for me.  She was flying home the next day via Cancun so it was perfect.  

She’s a bit conservative so she was hesitant at first but eventually agreed to be my mule.  In the end, her timing was tight to the airport, and I didn’t want her to battle going into downtown Cancun unless it was absolutely necessary.  So we arranged an elaborate plan to have a trusted taxi driver of the clinic liaison meet my friend at the airport for the exchange of Lupron for cash.  The email strings got pretty hilarious as we arranged for the “drop.”  But my friend was a great sport and brought the Lupron with her in her checked luggage.   

I have since heard of other people getting medications through online Canadian pharmacies with prescriptions written by the foreign IVF clinic. I don’t know the legality of this and didn’t have time to figure out this process in time. Some fertility clinics may be more willing to help.  But this is an area you need to explore before committing to go abroad.  The bottom line is that you will need to make sure your doctor and your sperm bank, if you are using one are cooperative.

Vacation Fertility Treaments

Vacation IVF (PART 1) 

I shut my computer screen and took a deep breath.  After months of stress, I finally had a sense of calm.  I had just watched a video of the doctor at a fertility clinic in Cancun, Mexico being interviewed.  His name was Dr. Gaytan from Fertility Center Cancun (FCC).  While it was obvious that the video was staged by a woman who acts as a liaison to bring people to the clinic, it didn't matter.  The sweetness of Dr. Gaytan radiated through the video.  I could immediately feel that his heart was still in the right place—he truly wants to help women get pregnant.  

I’m not naïve to think that the money isn’t a lure for this Mexican doctor who caters to foreigners and very wealthy Mexican nationals.   But in contrast to the fertility doctors I had been working with in the California, he seemed like the sweetest man on the planet.  My experience at a high-end reproductive clinic in California had been fraught with issues, the worst of which was receiving someone else’s positive pregnancy results and the Clinic throwing up their hands, claiming innocence and refusing to apologize for fear of admitting liability!   From the outset, the Clinic tried to act like they cared but in actuality, I found that they turned me into a number and applied the “protocol” refusing to listen to me when I had ideas and insights into my own body.  They made mistake after mistake, and yet when I became a squeaky wheel and started complaining, they fired me as a client! I was outraged when I got the letter stating that they would no longer provide me services.  

So, when I came across FCC and Dr. Gaytan, I immediately shot off an email and was contacted within 24 hours by a liaison person for the clinic.  I filled out a short form and sent in my medical records so that I could start viewing egg donor profiles.  Within 3 months I was on a plane returning home from Mexico with an embryo implanted and embarking upon the “2-week wait” to find out if I was pregnant 

My actions may seem rash, but they were anything but.  My story begins like many.  I started trying to decide whether to become a single mother in my late 30’s.  By the time, I finally took the plunge I was 41-years old and already facing very high FSH (which you want to be low since higher levels indicate that you are working very hard to ovulate) and abysmally low AMH (a newer, more accurate test that measures levels inside the ovary and indicates the quality and quantity of your eggs. A higher number indicates healthy ovaries and eggs).  

From the outset the Reproductive Endocrinologist in the US told me I’d be better off with donor eggs. But I wasn't willing to accept this fate and was determined to try with my own eggs before giving up, even though I was barely ovulating and had numbers consistent with menopause.  Thus began an incredibly stressful year in which I tried every form of alternative medicine to improve my fertility.   I attempted about 5-6 IUI’s with anonymous donor sperm in months when all the signals I was tracking indicated I might be ovulating.  When that wasn’t successful, I upped the ante and tried a few cycles, one with Clomid and another with Letrozole, drugs that hyper-stimulate your ovaries to increase chances of conception.  Instead, I did not ovulate, gained 15 pounds in a matter of weeks and developed cysts on my ovaries.  With this devastation, I finally accepted that it was time to move to an egg donor. 

Because I’m fantastic at research, (possibly a remnant of my lawyer days) I started researching my options.  Very quickly, I realized that pursuing an egg donor in the US would be outrageously expensive—at least $40K but possibly as much as $60K.  So, I immediately started pursuing my options: frozen egg banks, embryo donation, egg sharing, US reproductive clinics or going abroad.  Thanks to Google, I quickly stumbled upon the world of “Vacation IVF” and was bombarded with numerous offers in every imaginable country. 

The multitude of countries and options could have been overwhelming, but I easily narrowed down the potential countries.  I was very clear that I only wanted to go to a country that would allow let me see pictures of the egg donor.  Within a few hours of poking around on the web, I learned that the only countries that would allow you to see pictures of the egg donors were Mexico, Panama, South Africa, and the Ukraine (though someone recently told me that Turkey may also show pictures).  

However, if I’d been simply pursuing IVF abroad, that would have left almost every country under the sun.  There are services available to help you narrow down the playing field.  I found a woman, named Sue Taylor (www.IVFtraveler.com) who charges a flat rate to consult with you about your priorities.  Then she provides you with a report about which countries meet your criteria and advises about the reputation of the various clinics. I believe she also does embryo matching. 

Once I had my country list, I started looking at the clinics in the various countries.  I was pretty clear that if I found a donor that stood out amongst others, I would go to that clinic. I immediately felt unsettled by the pictures of the donor’s in the Ukraine so instinctually I ruled that out and focused my search on South Africa and Mexico.  

I spent some time researching South Africa and the clinics there. They have a different system of keeping the egg donor banks separate from the IVF clinic.  It seemed a little bit harder to navigate.  But again, there were people offering services to assist me.  Vacation IVF is a huge part of medical tourism and there are people there to help you navigate at every turn.  One woman works with Czech clinic because she is a Czech national living in the US who went to the Czech Republic for IVF when she couldn’t conceive in the US.  She noticed a potential market helping people go to the Czech Republic for IVF.  She now acts a US liaison with the Czech clinic and doctors while you are setting up services from the US.  When you arrive in the Czech Republic, her sister meets you at the airport, provides transportation and acts as your interpreter at the doctor’s office.  

The choice to go to Cancun, Mexico was pretty clear for me after viewing the video of Dr. Gaytan.  But this gut decision was strengthened since I have a friend who owns a hotel named Zamas, in Tulum (90 minutes from Cancun), who was willing to host me for the journey.  I knew I loved this part of the world and felt comfortable and safe there.  Plus, I’d have a familiar place to stay in a lovely quaint hotel with a friend.  

I also discovered another clinic in Cancun, called IREGA.  They were incredibly responsive and wonderful to deal with as well.  To cross check my gut reaction, I scoured chat rooms for information and experiences with both clinics.  As far as I could tell, everyone who had gone to these clinics had a wonderful experience.  No one had anything negative to say.  I could have asked Sue Taylor her opinion of the various clinics in Mexico, but since my intuition was giving me a green light I didn’t take the extra step.  IREGA had slightly better pricing options, but I found a fabulous donor at FCC, so I went with my initial excitement about FCC and Dr. Gaytan. 



© Choice Mama Baby Project 2013