My struggle with infertility took me five years, countless doctor appointments, even more countless tests, four in vitro fertilizations (IVF), one artificial insemination, four failed pregnancies, a lot of doctors, all sorts of anti-immune therapies, and over a year of acupuncture and herbal treatments.
I married one month short of my 35th birthday very much familiar with the statistics about infertility in older women. I read about it in several publications, and at home, I was constantly reminded of it by a father who, desperate for grandchildren, would give me the you-are-no-longer-a-spring-chicken sermon each time he egged me to find a husband. In a nutshell, our fertility is halved every year after we turn 35. So when I found out I was pregnant four months into my marriage, I thought, this infertility scare was overblown -- until I found out six weeks after that it was a failed pregnancy. I remember it was a holiday, and my obstetrician-gynecologist was on vacation. My husband Berck and I went to a doctor we did not know. When she did an ultrasound and said there was no heartbeat, I remember feeling numb. Outside the hospital, I burst into tears.
The pathologists told me it was a partial molar pregnancy. I immediately searched the Internet to learn more about it. I managed my grief by trying to gather as much information as I could about partial moles. It was very rare: It resulted from two sperm cells fertilizing the same egg. It was quite common in the Philippines for unknown reasons. It led me to ask many more questions.
Another try Almost a year later, I was pregnant again. This time, I kept my excitement at bay (which was the right thing to do). A heartbeat was never detected. Experts said it could be anything: a bad embryo, a hostile womb, anything.
At 36 and with two failed pregnancies, I was getting anxious. Those statistics started to taunt me, and I talked to Berck about seeking more aggressive means. I remained optimistic. After all, I could get pregnant -- I just couldn’t maintain the pregnancy. After a slew of tests, doctors could not find anything wrong with us but encouraged us to keep trying.
I belonged to a category of women who had no problems conceiving but had problems maintaining the pregnancy. This led me to a branch of fertility medicine called reproductive immunology. Basically, some women’s bodies, when pregnant, “see” the fetus as a foreign entity and produce antibodies to reject it. Treatment ranged from taking aspirin daily to injecting blood thinners to intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) infusions. The treatment had its detractors, but I decided I would try it.
After a few months of trying but failing to conceive naturally, we tried artificial insemination -- and that also failed. We decided to go for the most aggressive means of all: an IVF. We agreed that we would do it only in the best hospitals, and chose one in New York based on our research and the success stories of friends who had gone there. During our preliminary consultation with the specialist involved, we were told that I was the ideal candidate for an IVF. There was a 35 percent chance of success. The whole procedure, including the medicine, would cost more than U.S.$25,000, but since Berck’s parents volunteered to pay for it, this was not an issue.
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Not a walk in the park Anyone who has undergone IVF knows how physically taxing and invasive it is. Basically, it consists of about 10 perfectly-timed injections to stimulate your ovaries and create eggs to be harvested in a minor operation. The eggs are combined in vitro with sperm cells, and then the embryos that are formed are implanted in the mother’s uterus two or three days later. During my first try, we were able to harvest nine eggs in what was supposed to be a routine procedure. The night after the procedure, I was rushed to the emergency room of the same hospital because I felt intense pain in my gut. Apparently, while harvesting my eggs, the doctor had inadvertently tapped into an artery and caused profuse bleeding. Thankfully, I was discharged after a day in the hospital and two days later, I was ready to have my embryos inserted.
The bad news was that only two of the nine embryos had survived to the third day. That was good enough. I knew people who were successful with just one embryo. I tried to keep my optimism by naming the embryos and even hoping for twins! Although my doctor said it was fine to walk around, I spent the next two weeks practically immobile and praying the embryos would stick. Unfortunately, the procedure failed. Berck and I did a post-mortem with the specialist after that and he said, “It was just the luck of the draw.”
Maybe our luck would improve if we did it again. I was relentless. I had always believed that if you want something bad enough, you had to really focus and work for it. So I tried IVF three more times -- once in Singapore and twice in San Francisco. The procedures took me away from work a lot, and it cost a lot, too. The emotional roller coaster also took its toll on us, but we knew a child would be worth the sacrifice. After my third failed IVF, my doctor told me it was probably impossible for me to have a child with my own eggs. I was too old; my eggs were too old. So I asked my youngest sister if she would share her eggs with me. She was good enough to do it. Unfortunately, that failed, too.
Meanwhile, I had gotten pregnant again twice naturally, and both failed. In both pregnancies, I also underwent immunology treatment, which was very expensive. While aspirin was cheap, injectible blood thinners like heparin cost about P400 per dose. IVIG cost me a little over P100,000 per monthly session. Besides the cost, I was worried about the effect of all these drugs on my body.