By the time I celebrated my 47th year of life, two particularly powerful journeys had unfolded.
I had been a dedicated spiritual seeker, with the opportunity of volunteering time to support the lives of local communities in India, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Russia and more. Separately, yet ever intertwined in the complex tapestry of fate, I had lost most of my nuclear family in one way or another. My only sibling, a sister, had died in a car accident years earlier. My father had the surprise of a brain aneurysm burst in his front lobe, leaving him looking like a man yet behaving as an incorrigible child. My mother took on his difficult care and I believe the daunting task killed her, in the form of cancer. My husband and I inherited my father, the parts that were left of him, and he lived with us for several years.
Naturally, I was in therapy at several points in my life. At this particular time at age 47, I was in therapy contemplating the trajectory of the rest of my life, from a purposeful standpoint.
I had a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and felt passionate about this career path in California, yet my husband’s job moved us to Virginia. I wasn’t convinced we would stay in Virginia long enough for me to pursue licensure in the state. In addition, at that moment at age 47, becoming a therapist didn’t have the spark to it that I often felt.
At one point in a therapy session, my therapist opened a metaphorical box of life and tossed it in the air between us.
She said, “If you didn’t have to think about all of the obstacles or challenges of your dreams going forward, think pure and simply, what do you want?”
The answer, invited to come stripped of all the reasons “why I can’t” at the age of 47, was clear and immediate. “I want to make my own family,” I choked out, “…I want..I want to have my own baby…”
I hadn’t been convinced until that moment that I would ever have children.
At times it sounded like a wonderful idea, yet for all practical purposes, I was a very busy, independent, fulfilled woman. There truly never was an ideal time to have a baby. Years rolled by and then my husband and I nonchalantly decided to stop contraception and be open to pregnancy, or not. I was about 43 then, so in our case, it was “not.”
During that nonchalant, open to pregnancy stage, we also checked out adoption, again, from a fairly uncommitted place. We discovered there were many more obstacles and issues than we’d imagined. We were not considered a highly attractive couple in the adoption world, given my age, our age difference, our eclectic spiritual background, and my husband being from a foreign country. Who knew it would be so competitive?
Until my crystalline epiphany in therapy, I hadn’t been willing to admit how much it truly mattered, how much I actually did want my own family.
That moment started a burst of energy in me to pursue the possibility of having a baby. I found an infertility clinic and went immediately. I’d never looked into IVF as I hadn’t been willing to consciously commit until now. The clinic gave me a quick lesson in infertility and all the ways to address it – and – the percentage chance that I could get pregnant at age 47. Blood work confirmed that there weren’t too many eggs left in my basket. I can’t remember the exact percentage, but I was told something to the effect that if I went through very expensive and tedious infertility treatment, I had about a 3 % or less chance of becoming pregnant. My heart sagged.
The discreet and professional staff gently suggested that I could look into the possibility of an egg donor.
“You mean, I could still become pregnant and have a baby? With my husband’s sperm?” Very much so, yes. They showed me a series of profiles of donors that had similar characteristics to me. The lead Doctor estimated there was a good chance I could be pregnant within 8 weeks. Possibly a 60 per cent or so chance. Coming off of the 3% figure of possibilities, this was a miracle.
Everything clicked and it made perfect sense to me at that moment. Since we’d been willing to adopt any child of any ethnicity, the idea of using someone else’s eggs didn’t seem that foreign to me. My husband agreed. We proceeded.
Once the door to the world of third party fertility was open to me, it felt as if everything easily moved into place.
There were a few bumps in the road – it turned out my uterus had a grapefruit sized polyp and I had to have surgery to remove it. The Doctor took that opportunity to clean my uterus for the upcoming implantation which would add a few points more to the good percentage chance of a pregnancy.
My donor provided six beautiful embryos. Two were implanted in me and four were frozen. As estimated, I was in fact pregnant about two months after beginning the process. I had a C-Section a week before the due date and our perfect baby girl was pulled out of my body – my body that had grown her from an invisible embryo into a seven pound, real live crying baby. When my husband brought Sofia over to my face and I sobbed hello to her, she immediately calmed down and stopped crying. She knew my voice. She knew: Mommy is here.
Fast forward a couple of years later
My husband and I are sitting on the couch with Sofia shooting back and forth between us, playing “catch me!” by throwing herself on to our laps. She’s adorable. She’s intense, she consumes me. I love her fiercely and wholly.
We are having A Conversation about the four remaining frozen embryos and the fact that I am now 50 years old. We are talking about our financial situation not being incredibly solid since I have been, by choice, a stay at home Mom to Sofia, giving my best quality of attention to her. We’ve had this conversation several times and always concluded that we weren’t ready to make a decision either way. In this final conversation, my husband said, “Given everything…it doesn’t really make sense, does it? To try to have another baby? We’re so lucky, you and Sofia are both so healthy. So let’s stop paying the fee to keep the embryos.”
As soon as my husband stated the obvious, I realized that I could not take responsibility for destroying them or giving them away.
I respect everyone’s personal decision on this, so I only speak for myself. With the four frozen embryos, I had to let them decide if they wanted to join our family or not.
Even with this certainty, a lot of concerns came into my head at this point. For example, I wondered: So exactly how old will I be when this kid graduates from high school? Let’s see…I’d be 51 when I gave birth, so that means I’d be 69 years old at high school graduation…73 at college graduation…I’d have to work until I’m at least 75 to pay for the many needs of two children. And, Sofia did wear me out at the end of the day. One kid is a lot…two must be — complicated at the least? Maybe bring me to my knees?
Could my 50-year-old body handle another pregnancy?
While chasing an active two-year-old around? This was my time of doubt. Yet again and again, I came back to the fact that I had to pursue this to its end, whatever happened.
I was put through quite a few medical tests to check my heart and other body parts. As with the first time, everything seemed to be “go.” I had a deep feeling with the first pregnancy that my pure trust and belief that this was right, had contributed to the success of my pregnancy. I made a sincere effort to really let go and know that I was leaving this up to the universe to decide if another baby wanted to come. My job was to be as positive and open as possible and trust the experience to be whatever it was meant to be.
With the doctor’s approval, we decided to thaw all four embryos.
I didn’t want any leftover to have to consider again. One embryo didn’t make the thaw. One embryo was mediocre quality, and two responded very well and looked beautiful. The doctor place all three in my uterus. One embryo stayed with me After nine months, this fully formed baby left my uterus and was swaddled into my arms. She is Michelle and I can’t imagine the world, or our family, without her. Also, and I’m not alone in this experience as a mom who used donor eggs, Michelle is very much like me, in looks and behavior.
I recently celebrated my 57th birthday, and a gift to myself is to write these words.
It’s almost a decade past the moment when I knew I wanted to create my family. Sofia is now nine: She is downstairs right now, jumping and moving and sparkling and bright. Michelle will be six in June. She is humming happily as she eats some cheerios and watches Sofia like a show. As soon as she’s done with her snack she will twirl around Sofia in one of her princess dresses. They are trying to patiently wait for me to be done working, so that I can play with them before bedtime.
I have a family. My daughters happen to have been extremely and intentionally planned.
However they come, our children are our children. I have a family and I can’t wait to go downstairs and grab them in my arms and give them extra hugs tonight, for their gift of my motherhood.
Cheryl Lister is a Senior Case Manager and Surrogacy Specialist with Donor Concierge. She holds a Masters Degree in Counselling Psychology and enjoys a small private practice coaching individuals and families to unpack the knowledge they have to develop a meaning-filled, purposeful life.