surrogacy

How our IVF Journey Began

I’ll try to use my personal journal to proceed in chronological order — we began knowing little about it, and research took some time.

I haven’t made much of it here, but my husband of 15 years is a guy, which I think, unless the PC terminology has changed recently, makes us a gay couple having children. Our new neighborhood of 60 or so houses has two other gay couples with children already in residence, so we’re not unusual. This street has many children already and more on the way since the schools are considered top-notch and we’re within easy commuting distance of San Diego’s high-tech employers.

The first reason we started to think about kids was the experience of raising two puppies. I haven’t had a pet since I was five, and the sense of taking care of and training a young animal is similar enough to raising children that I realized we would enjoy it (after the initial unpleasantness!). We had both had some desire for kids earlier in our lives, but the hurdles then seemed insurmountable and of course we were busy with work.

First entry from my personal journal, June 5, 2019:

I checked again to see if it’s too late for us to have a kid of our own. No *outright* reason not to, except the $150-200K to order up a donor egg, IVF, and surrogate mother, *and* I’d be feeble long before the child left for college. Not that upper class families shrunk from sending their kids to boarding school at 12. If you’re not independent enough by then, you soon will be. 🙂 Kid would get a nice trust fund and of course lots of attention. I can’t get anything done anyway, might as well nurture, no?

As of two years ago, we were both retired from normal full-time work, so it now seemed practical to handle the baby years. Half the stamina, but two people home most of the time!

I found some online sources, and a surrogacy agency supportive of gay couples (and run by two gay dads.) Near enough, in LA, so I talked to them and they referred us to a West LA IVF doctor to get started.

July 2 2019:

I was going to write something about our Skype meeting with the LA baby consultants coming up later, but running out of time. We’re far from designer babies, but the current crude technology and regulation does let you 1) seek out and pay a premium for the egg donor with rare characteristics (it’s a hoot that Ivy League Asian women are the gold standard for certain seekers and so get the highest payments), and 2) you can’t do gene tests of the eggs yet without damaging them, but you can test embryos by removing a few pre-placental cells early, seemingly doing no harm at that stage. By choosing those without gross abnormalities you can reduce miscarriages and select for sex. We might try for twins, actually, for that 1.5x the costs for 1 and the sibling experience….

[Husband] is onboard. Which suddenly changes our plans for later life. Sort of like a Hail Mary pass on your last down, I’m starting to downgrade my expectations for my own work to put effort into the fresh new entrants in the race. They, at least, won’t be crippled by a lack of early support.

We found out later that multi-embryo surrogacy (hoping to improve chances of having one, but often ending up with twins) is no longer considered wise; this is partly because the technology has improved so 50-60% of screened and well-timed implantations result in a healthy birth, just as high as for multi-embryo attempts which risk twins and complications. Our meticulous IVF doctor won’t do multis anymore. This became the consensus in the last five years or so. Other changes in the technology made it just as safe to freeze embryos after 5-7 days of development, which allows the implantation at the perfect time for success. So our process was 1) freeze sperm, 2) have the egg donor provide eggs, and 3) fertilize eggs with sperm via ICSI (which is now standard for late-in-life IVF — ICSI is “intracytoplasmic sperm injection,” where the lucky sperm is injected into the egg by a very fine needle.) The resulting zygotes are cultured and observed for 5-7 days, graded on an A-F scale for viability, and genetically tested to improve likelihood of a successful birth.

micorphoto of needle injecting egg with a spermatozoa]

Needle injecting a single spermatozoa into an egg.

In hindsight, the natural process for young people is error-prone and hit-or-miss, resulting in early miscarriages and other bad things. Nature’s Way includes Nature’s Punishments.

We had both done sperm tests. [Husband] did fine, I did not — my test report was stamped “azoospermia,” which means zero spermatozoa in the sample. Turns out my decade of testosterone supplementation (“exogenous testosterone”) was the cause; complex feedback loops shut down both endogenous production of T and sperm production, which made drug companies run studies of such sufferers hoping to find the male Pill. No such drugs were found, but the cause and recovery are thoroughly documented in medical journals.

So I was hoping I could catch up with time and treatment — younger men in the same boat can have fertility restored in 3-6 months, but as the doctor warned me, that doesn’t mean an old man can recover as quickly, or at all.

[Husband] went ahead and started the process by driving to LA to deposit his contribution.

Aug 8 2019:

Project stall: [Husband] drove all the way to West LA (2+ hours) to make a 10:30 AM appointment to give a sperm sample for freezing. Two hours later, he’s told “we need more than that, could you come back next week?” The legally-required FDA paperwork only lasts 7 days so you can’t wait longer or you have to pay for it again (several hundred dollars?) So he goes back Tuesday leaving here at 6 AM. At least the doc complimented him on his youthful motility.

Meanwhile, I’m just working on producing a gamete or two. Tap tap tap.

[to be continued: “How We Did It,” in installments.]

Having Children – Progress Report

I generally write on attachment theory and relationship topics to report on research results and the personal experiences of others. I try not to let my own personal experiences show too much because I’m trying for a neutral, nonjudgmental view. I have been too busy with other projects to keep up the writing and reporting here — but in a few years there will be enough new research to do another book on attachment. But for now I have more important projects!

It’s perhaps slightly embarrassing that I have weighed in on child-rearing topics but never had children until now. So we’re almost too old to undertake such a project, but we have the time and the space for it now.

The first few minutes of Idiocracy humorously cover the modern issue of long-delayed (and often foregone) children amongst the highly-educated, well-off young people of today, who may well stay in academia and avoid commitment until they are in their 30s and 40s, thinking “we must have stable jobs and resources before we have a child.” This is biologically risky since women’s eggs begin to slowly decline in quality after 25, and drastically after 40. Males, too, decline in sperm quality with age, though not as quickly (since sperm are generated from stem cells on demand, rather than being stored as buds from birth as eggs are.) Couples who want to have children but find their fertility has waned sometimes use IVF. A would-be mother whose eggs are too dicey can use a donated egg, and if unable to carry, a gestational carrier (the modern term for surrogate.) Anonymous male sperm donations are (compared to eggs) relatively cheap if it’s the male who has the issue with fertility. IVF procedures have improved greatly in this decade, and it’s a good thing because women are tending to postpone children for careers and men’s sperm is rapidly declining in potency. In a few generations perhaps most children will be IVF babies — presuming the price declines from the current $40-100K per child.

So I’m going to write more about these much more personal topics. We have (as mentioned elsewhere) embarked on our first child; we started in August of 2019, and our first is due in April of 2021 (21 months after our decision, delayed by COVID-19 shutdowns and other snags.) We found a great egg donor and have a second (and perhaps third) frozen embryo ready to start this month. The embryos have been screened and graded, and PGT-A genetic tests (not completely reliable) say they are all healthy boys.

20 Week Ultrasound

Ultrasound at 20 weeks

We moved from a comfortable home on a golf course in the Palm Springs area because public schools weren’t very good there, and since there were no children in miles (the average age of our neighbors being 70), we moved to Carmel Valley in San Diego, which has fantastic schools and a neighborhood that will have hundreds of children within walking distance. We want them to grow up like we did, free to roam the suburban area by bike and walking, to build peer relationships with a wide variety of other children.

I’m planning to post the history of our IVF experience before the first baby arrives. The initial 6 months of caring for an infant are pretty much all-absorbing, so I won’t have time to post much until after that.