Up Against the Clock: Growing a Family in Your Forties
Meghan and I met in the summer of 2014. Her dad had passed away earlier that year, and she was preparing for her third full round of IVF and was engaged in a number of holistic therapies at the time to try to help boost her fertility. By the end of 2014, Meghan learned that her fourth IVF attempt had failed and we were both at an all-time low in our fertility journeys. We supported one another and later celebrated as we both welcomed daughters into our families over the next year and a half.
“Everything we’ve done on this journey we’ve had to work so hard for. I thought because it took me a long time to find the person I wanted to be married to, maybe we would have less challenges starting a family. But nope, that was so much more work than finding the spouse.”
Meghan and Rick met on a blind date. They were both in their mid 30s, in search of a life partner, marriage and kids. Eight months later they were engaged and started planning their wedding. Meghan was 37 at the time and knowing time was not on their side from a fertility perspective, they started trying to get pregnant as soon as they were engaged in 2011. They married in the spring of 2012, and by the fall Meghan was not pregnant, so she went in to talk to her OB. Her OB ordered fertility tests and called Meghan the following week with the results - Meghan had poor numbers on most of her tests and highly elevated FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels. Her OB recommended she see a reproductive endocrinologist and gave her a list of 5 local clinics to choose from.
Forging new waters, Meghan and Rick settled on a clinic, made an appointment, redid their fertility labs with the clinic and asked the doctor what their options were. The doctor was not hopeful - he said their best and likely only option was IVF (in vitro fertilization) and estimated about a 10% success rate. Meghan recalled, “We decided to take a chance on this. When Rick was a teenager his dad had a 95% chance of surviving open heart surgery but he died on the operating table. No one knows what’s going to happen.”
They decided to move forward with their first round of IVF. As Meghan prepared for the egg retrieval the clinic discovered a partial blockage in one of her fallopian tubes, and they required Meghan have the tube removed before the retrieval. Meghan was tentative to have the tube removed, but felt like she had no choice if they wanted to proceed with IVF. So, 4 days after Meghan and Rick moved into their new home, Meghan had a laparoscopic surgery to have the tube removed.
The egg retrieval and their first round of IVF followed shortly thereafter in the summer of 2012. They had 6 good eggs, 3 of which made it to the blastocyst stage, and they transferred 2 of the 3 embryos. Unfortunately, neither embryo implanted. Disappointed, Meghan and Rick discussed their options with the reproductive endocrinologist, and he said based on their situation he would only proceed with another round of IVF if they used an egg donor. Meghan and Rick were open to the idea of an egg donor; however, their local clinic didn’t provide the level of detail they were hoping for in the donor selection process, so Meghan started researching clinics around the nation to find a good fit for them.
“My advice is not to be afraid to switch doctors. Look for a provider that communicates in a way you are receptive to their recommendations. I want to know the facts, but I also would prefer a doctor with a higher ‘hopeful factor’. I feel like connecting with your doctor is important in any medical experience.”
They settled on a clinic in Illinois that accepted them, had high success rates for women Meghan’s age and was driveable in a day. The clinic sourced their own donors, so Meghan and Rick had access to the clinic’s website to review extensive health history, pictures, hair and eye colors, and additional statistics and characteristics about the 20-30 egg donor options. By fall of 2013 Meghan and Rick made their selection, and the clinic prepared the donor for the egg retrieval and aligned Meghan’s cycle in preparation for IVF using fresh donor eggs and Rick’s sperm. A few weeks before the transfer at a mandatory check-up, the clinic noticed polyps in Meghan’s uterus so they performed an emergency hysteroscopy to remove them.
At the same time, Meghan’s dad, who had been in and out of remission was battling a recurrence of cancer. He enrolled in a clinical trial and needed a bone marrow transplant. Meghan completed the necessary tests and was found to be a good match to donate. She could not be on any fertility drugs or hormones until the transplant was complete, so they had to hold off on their second round of IVF until further notice.
Throughout the rest of 2013 Meghan’s dad’s health was unstable so the bone marrow transfer kept getting pushed back, and it wasn’t until January of 2014 that Meghan was able to donate. As soon as she donated, Meghan and Rick initiated their third round of IVF - a fresh cycle with a new egg donor they selected and Rick’s sperm. Meghan’s dad’s health improved directly following the transplant and then rapidly declined and he passed away two months later in March. At the same time that Meghan was at the funeral home with her mom planning the funeral, the clinic called and said the donor eggs had been harvested and it was time for them to head down to the clinic for the fertilization and transfer. Meghan was at her emotional threshold trying to manage the death of her father and didn’t know what to do with the donor eggs, so they decided to stay put, freeze the eggs, terminate the drugs and hormones Meghan was taking in preparation for the transfer and determine next steps after the funeral.
The following month was April - Meghan’s birthday month - and with it came a milestone birthday, she turned 40. Meghan and Rick were still heavily mourning the loss of Meghan’s dad and were trying to decide how to move forward in their fertility journey. Rick decided to booked a last minute getaway for them to Florida to escape the hard times and celebrate Meghan’s birthday.
Upon their return, they decided to move forward with another round of IVF, which would be their second full cycle, since their previous attempt had been cut short. The clinic thawed the donor eggs, fertilized them with Rick’s sperm, and transferred two well-rated embryos to Meghan in the summer of 2014, but neither of them implanted.
“I remember I was at a bachelorette party and I wasn’t telling anyone at the party that we were doing IVF. So I had Rick come to the parking lot and I went out to the car, pulled up my dress, bent over in the backseat, he gave me a shot in the rump and I went back in. People just thought I went to the bathroom and he left. Now I can laugh about it, but at the time it was completely consuming.”
They decided to try a third IVF cycle in December of 2014. By this time Meghan had layered in a number of holistic therapies - she was seeing an acupuncturist on a weekly basis, frequenting a naturopath, and was on a strict no sugar diet since the summer. They selected a new egg donor and did a fresh embryo transfer hoping to maximize their chance for success. Meghan went in for her blood work 9 days after the transfer to see if she was pregnant and the results were inconclusive - they couldn’t call it a pregnancy and couldn’t say it wasn’t a pregnancy - so they had to wait 3 very long additional days before they could retest. Eventually, the day came to retest and the clinic told them Meghan was not pregnant - they were devastated.
At this point, Meghan confessed that they were exhausted - physically, emotionally and financially. I asked her if she wished she had done anything differently throughout their journey and she said, “You can second guess yourself all day long - it’s hard not to wonder. But I’m not going to regret it, I had to go through this process. The only thing I regret is not knowing or doing more natural things at the beginning when we first started trying, when I was 37. I wish I would have known all the stuff I knew 4 years later back then because I would have tried some different things - including more holistic therapies. And I’m not sure I would have gotten that tube removed so early on, it limits your chances of getting pregnant naturally.”
Clearly at a crossroads, I asked Meghan how they determined what to do next. She admitted, “Our entire engagement and marriage had been about having a baby. By this point we were having no fun, we were stressed out all the time, and my dad died - it was not a good few years.” Meghan said they had talked about adoption on and off throughout their journey, and they were now focusing more seriously on the idea. She explained, “The conversation shifted to how bad do you want to be a parent. We threw it out there that maybe we would not be parents. Either we’re never going to experience parenthood, or we’re going to adopt and experience it in a little bit different way than how other people might experience it.” Ultimately, they both wanted to be parents, and so, by February they decided to move forward with the adoption process and completed their home study a few months later in July of 2015.
“When we chose to adopt that was a really long process for us. At first it was really freeing - I didn’t have to do hormones and shots anymore or plan vacations and work trips around our cycles. It felt guaranteed that we were going to get a baby when we were moving through the home study. We had the best summer of our married lives after our paperwork was done and we were in the waiting process because we didn’t expect to be matched immediately. The average match time was 7 months [at this agency]. We also didn’t expect that it was going to take 11 months to get a baby, so the funness wore off, and we started to get discouraged.”
In early February they got matched with a birth mother but it ultimately fell through due to interstate regulations. By the end of the month, another birth mother and father asked to have a conference call with Meghan and Rick and following the call they requested Meghan and Rick travel to their hometown to meet them. They spent a full day and evening together, which went well, and the birth mother and father decided to move forward with Meghan and Rick.
Meghan explained, as soon as you are matched and the necessary sign-offs are complete the adoptive parents are required to send funds to the agency to secure the adoption. After Meghan’s dad’s passing, Meghan’s mom gave Meghan and Rick a portion of her dad’s life insurance death benefit payout to use as payment for the adoption. The one year anniversary of her dad’s death was the day they were required to transfer funds for the adoption. Meghan went to the bank to initiate the money transfer and when she pulled into the parking lot, a Cole Swindell song entitled You Should Be Here came on the radio. Meghan hadn’t heard the song before, but the lyrics touched her, and she knew it was a sign from her dad. Cole Swindell co-wrote the song in honor of his father that had also passed away. Meghan recalled, “I couldn’t recreate this. It was the most amazing sign and I knew right there that everything was going to work out. I feel like there’s always something going on in the universe and there’s a connection and there’s a reason. My dad knew how much we wanted to have a baby and this was his blessing to us.”
"You should be here, standing with your arm around me here
Cutting up, cracking a cold beer
Saying cheers, hey y'all it's sure been a good year
It's one of those moments, that's got your name written all over it
And you know that if I had just one wish
It'd be that you didn't have to miss this
Aw you should be here"
- Cole Swindell, You Should Be Here
They were matched 3 months before the baby was due and Meghan and the birth mother were in constant contact during this time. Meghan recalled this period being exciting and difficult at times, and said overall, “Because of our connection I feel like I experienced more of this pregnancy than many people do that adopt. I feel really lucky, without having that baby, I was still a part of the whole delivery. We sat in the room for hours with them and the birth father videotaped the birth and sent it to us.” Eden April was born in June 2016, nearly five years after they started trying to grow their family. After the 72 hospital hold, and the 5 day stay in an extended stay hotel while the interstate paperwork was completed, Meghan and Rick got the necessary approvals to bring their baby girl home.
I asked Meghan if the transition from IVF to adoption was difficult for her and Rick, and she explained that it was a process. “The whole point of adoption is, you really have to view parenting in a different way. You have to change your whole outlook on what parenting means. You’re not the only one that is the mother to this child, there’s a whole other life that they have. So, are you willing to share? You have to be willing to share your child and the love in multiple ways. You have to be okay knowing that [your child] has other parts of his/her life, and other people that they love, such as a biological mother, biological father, and potentially siblings. You have to understand that he/she may get love from a lot of different angles, and accept that you are not this child’s only supply of life. Most kids are not just going to be settled knowing they are adopted, at some point they are likely going to want to know who their birth parents are and what that looks like. We felt a connection with our daughter’s birth parents, they are part of our child’s life story. We’re so grateful and thankful to these people who gave us a child. You really have to change your view of parenthood to be broader.”
Now about to turn 44, I asked Meghan if she and Rick hope to add another child to their family. She explained that they are both very aware of their age, and it continues to influence their decision making and associated timeframes. She said, “We’re forced into timeframes that are not realistic for a lot of people. We don’t get to say I want to wait two years and then decide because we are older. We are forced to make these decisions even if we’re not fully ready to make them. We don’t want to not do it and regret not making the decision, but we also don’t want to do it for fear of not doing it. We’re just constantly up against this clock. No matter how much you want to pretend age isn’t a factor and 50 is the new 30, your age is still a thing [when you’re trying to grow your family].” You may be wondering where that leaves Meghan and Rick and Meghan admitted that she wonders what their next step is as well. She smiled and said, “I’m a big sign person. I’m pretty intuitive and I get signs or very strong feelings when I know the path, but in this case I don’t know the answer to my story yet.”