IVF – In vitro fertilization is the procedure in which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside the woman’s womb.  IVF is the most common treatment for infertility when other methods of conceiving have failed.  The process involves hormonally controlling the ovulatory process, removing eggs from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilize them in a liquid medium.  The embryo is then transferred to the patient’s uterus with the intent of creating a successful pregnancy.  For a more thorough explanation of the cold scientific facts in layman’s terms go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_vitro_fertilization To get an earful (or eyeful) of bellyaching about the painful and unpleasant human experience of IVF continue reading.

When Tom and I were “ready” to conceive in 2001, at the age of 34, we tried for 3 years before I went to get checked out to find the problem.  After numerous tests and painful procedures we found that I had blocked, irreparable tubes. Before IVF technology my only option for having a baby would have been adoption. You can’t get pregnant naturally without working tubes.  I first went through surgery to remove my damaged tubes then checked into an IVF clinic to start the hormonal regimen.  We had to pay $8,000 upfront to the clinic (most insurance plans don’t cover IVF) then another $3,500 to the drug providers. We took a class on distinguishing, measuring and injecting the hormonal drugs since I had to have multiple daily injections for more than 10 weeks. The pre-pregnancy hormones are to be injected into the fat under the skin, either in the arm, thigh or stomach.  I didn’t have much fat so sometimes Tom would accidentally get it into my arm or leg muscle and it would burn like crazy.  I hated the thought of it, but we finally resorted to injecting into the stomach area. It wasn’t so bad.  During the first seven weeks of pregnancy (I got pregnant on our second try), the shots are done in the buttock muscles with a big fat needle in order to pass the thick oily progesterone. Halfway through the treatments the skin is so hardened from so many shots that the needle refuses to go in sometimes and Tom had to jab in different areas until it would go in.  I took a month off work since I had to be present at the clinic so often (sometimes daily) to monitor my hormonal levels and ovarian progress. After 3 weeks the doctor performed the egg retrieval surgery.  Five minutes after waking up she told us that the six follicles that I had made were empty of any eggs.

We were dissuaded by the Texas doctor to try the same procedure again since it would probably yield the same results or produce low-grade eggs.  Our other option was egg donation.  After thinking it over and praying about it we decided to accept that course of action.  This time the price was to be $20,000.  Tom and I went over the catalog of anonymous woman donors. Most women do it for the money.  They get paid about $3,000 per procedure.  The Ivy League students make about $10,000 per procedure for their “highly intelligent” eggs. We followed the protocol of having therapy with a psychologist who evaluated our emotional fitness for the program.  We passed.  By now I was feeling very sick from Lyme disease that I had caught from a tick that bit me by the river on a school picnic.  Nine doctors and I wouldn’t know what this sickness was for another year.  All I knew was that I was in no condition to get pregnant, so we gave up the plan.

 After moving to Korea in July of 2005 I continued to be sick until the following spring.  Afterwards I felt better so we went to a Korean fertility clinic.  Korean embryo scientists use to have more liberty and national funding for their research until the infamous Korean Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk was found to have deceived the world by falsely claiming to have cloned human embryonic stem cells and pressuring his research assistants to donate their eggs for free to him.  Now the Korean scientists have more restrictions and egg donation, paid or not, is entirely illegal in Korea. Even so, they had more advanced technology than my Texas clinic had two years ago even though my Texas doctor had trained directly under Georgeanna Jones, of the husband/wife team who pioneered the first in vitro American baby in 1981 and the second in the world.  The Korean clinic had developed a method to help people like me who lose the eggs from the follicles before they mature.  We tried the new treatment again and I made a whole one egg.  After that, everything went smoothly (but painfully).  Another advantage here is the price.  Due to the overabundance of educated people (doctors, engineers, etc.), the national control of medical prices and the government’s push for more babies (Korea has the lowest national birthrate in the world) the IVF price is only about $3,000 including the medications. Korean citizens get a government gift of $1,500 for each of two rounds.  We are not Korean citizens but the price is much better than in most countries and the facilities and services are topnotch. Many foreigners come here for their IVF treatments.

For five months I was never sure that it was really my genetic egg.  I thought the nice Korean doctor might have felt sorry for me and slipped me an egg from the assembly line of sleeping women in the surgery room that morning. My confidence was so low after so many years of disappointment.  What are the chances of every step going smoothly with just one egg? They are very slim indeed. But when Andrew was big enough to view in detail in a 3-D sonogram it was obvious.  The poor kid looks just like me and he has his father’s wide flat feet.  Although it’s technically illegal for the doctor to tell us the gender of the baby our doctor told us it’s a boy because he knows we’re definitely not going to abort just because of the gender. After so many years of disappointments, emotional pain, physical pain and financial pain, who cares if it’s a boy or a girl?  We just hope he’s healthy mentally and physically.  And if he’s not, may God grant us the strength and grace to cope. This Thursday morning (Oklahoma’s Wednesday night), God willing, we’ll be welcoming Andrew after his cesarean delivery.