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My Sister Gave Me Her Eggs: A Journey Through Fertility

Posted: 03/31/2014 5:39 pm

Part One

Five years ago, I called my sister to tell her that I was pregnant; she happened to be just waking up from a dream where she had given me an egg.

Now we are in the waiting cubicle of an IVF suite in downtown Toronto. She in the massage chair wearing a robe, and me looming awkwardly over her in a glamorous mask and bootie covers. "It feels like this chair is taking my blood pressure from my calves." We are trying to make each other laugh, pretending that neither of us is nervous.

When I finally got married at 37, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get pregnant. But it happened in a flash on our honeymoon and we had a son. I was one of my only friends who openly wanted a second child, while everyone else was hemming and hawing -- the disruption, the boredom, the exhaustion of having a child in your late-thirties made them hesitant to jump in again. But not me; I always knew I wanted more, just not right away. I was growing my business and enjoying our little family of three. I felt exactly the same, I certainly didn't feel like I was aging. I did sometimes wonder about the "last" egg...how you never really know.

My sister and I weren't particularly close growing up. We were separated by a giant chasm of time: six years. It wasn't until our twenties when we both ended up living in the same city did we really connect. We lived together as equals and those were some of the best times of my life. Having my sister in my life is a big part of why I have been stubbornly sitting on the infertility roller coaster for almost two years. I want my son to have that closeness, someone who really knows you.

The nurse and doctor shuffle us along to the operating room. I wait in the hallway for a few moments and when they take me in my sister is up on the table with her feet in stirrups. She is hooked up to heart and blood pressure monitors.

"What did you say you liked to drink? Shooters? Lemon drops?" asks the nurse.

We make a few comments about our high tolerance for drink. There is an air of frivolity and comfort between the nurses and the doctor, and I am trying to play along to stay relaxed for my sister and I am sure she is doing the same for me. Then she's drugged up and the procedure begins.

There is a small half door in the wall behind the doctor and it looks like some of the tubes coming out of the beakers are leading into there. It's the lab. There are beeps and whooshing noises. The doctor gets stuck on one ovary and then finally moves to the other. The frivolity has ceased. All the way through I can watch the ultrasound monitor and see the little needle poking around. The nurses comment on how my sister has a high pain threshold because she isn't wiggling around. Then the doctor announces that they are done.

"How many did you get," my sister slurs. "Four," the doctor replies. "NO! There's more...go back...there's more...mmmmore."

My heart dips.

We want more. They had seen seven follicles and thought that there might actually be nine. The doctor and nurses are reassuring. Better to have quality over quantity. Back in the recovery cubicle my sister, still slurring, asks again.

"How many did we get -- five?" she asks.

"We got four!" I want to sound excited and happy and thankful.

"Ohhhh no I wanted more," she manages before falling asleep again.

When my son was two years old, I did get pregnant again -- by accident, a good four to five months before we "planned." My husband couldn't believe we were having a baby due to the absolute lack of sex that had been going on in our bedroom. I had a new cafe, we had a toddler that didn't sleep -- it was not sexy times. It was however, one time. Then, just as soon as I relaxed into it, I had a miscarriage. I was sad, but not devastated. It wasn't meant to be. I blithely thought we were supposed to have a baby, when it was more convenient for us.

So began the trying; a summer of love. Which then turned into a fall of resentment as I began reading about infertility and changing my lifestyle. No wine, no coffee, no wheat, no dairy, while my husband continued on as though NOTHING was going on. To make matters worse, upon our first month with the fertility centre we discovered that his sperm was AMAZING. Really, the entire office seemed to be a-twitter about it.

So it was my fault. I was old, with old eggs. But I was not deterred. I knew if I just stayed positive, kept to my diet of wheat grass and juicing and whole foods, exercised, went to acupuncture and RELAXED it would happen. Sure, sex was losing it's lustre and my husband was feeling more and more like a stud for hire as I set out the monthly schedule but hey, I thought, at least we're doing it!

As the fertility treatments increased, and the months went by with no baby, my panic and stress hit a new high. As my hormone levels started to swing wildly month to month, I began to seek out more and more alternative protocols.

Those who have been through the infertility struggle know of its hollowness. There is self-loathing -- why can't I do this this? Why did I wait? Why can't I just relax? There is panic and fear. And, oh my, there is jealousy. So very much jealousy. Jealousy of total strangers because they are pregnant. It is that gut wrenching twisted jealousy of friends who are pregnant. You don't want to feel it but you do and it eats a little hole inside of you. There is the financial strain. The emotional turmoil it puts a marriage through. The loneliness. No one ever wants to talk about it. It's just too depressing.

Read Part 2

By Erin Malin

The Purple Fig is a community where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame, no judgement. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.

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  • <strong>1. Your fertility is mostly determined by genetics, which influences how many eggs you are born with. </strong> Doctors believe that the number of eggs you have at birth determines the length of time you will remain fertile. At birth, women have about two million eggs in their ovaries. For every egg ovulated during your reproductive life, about 1,000 eggs undergo programmed cell death. Other things, such as smoking cigarettes and certain types of chemotherapy, can accelerate egg cell death and promote an earlier menopause.

  • <strong>2. Regular menstrual cycles are a sign of regular ovulation.</strong> Most women have regular cycles lasting between 24 and 35 days. This is usually a sign of regular, predictable ovulation. Women who do not ovulate regularly have irregular menstrual cycles. Those who do not ovulate at all may have a genetic condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

  • <strong>3. Basal temperature charting does not predict ovulation.</strong> An older method of tracking ovulation involves taking your oral body temperature each morning before getting out of bed. This is called basal body temperature. This method is used to spot a rise in basal temperature, which is a sign that progesterone is being produced. The main problem with using this method is that your temperature rises after ovulation has already occurred. This makes it more difficult to time intercourse at an optimal time for conception. A better method is to use over-the-counter urine ovulation predictor test kits such as Clearblue Easy. These kits test for the hormone that prompts ovulation, which is called luteinizing hormone (LH).

  • <strong>4. Most women with blocked fallopian tubes are completely unaware they may have had a prior pelvic infection.</strong> About 10 percent of infertility cases are due to tubal disease, either complete blockage or pelvic scarring causing tubal malfunction. One major cause of tubal disease is a prior pelvic infection from a sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia. These infections can cause so few symptoms that you may be completely unaware your tubes are affected. This is why fertility physicians will order a dye test of the tubes, called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), if you have been trying and failing to conceive for 6 months or longer.

  • <strong>5. In most cases, stress does not cause infertility.</strong> Except in rare cases of extreme physical or emotional distress, women will keep ovulating regularly. Conceiving while on vacation is likely less about relaxation than about coincidence and good timing of sex.

  • <strong>6. By age 44, most women are infertile, even if they are still ovulating regularly.</strong> Even with significant fertility treatment, rates of conception are very low after age 43. Most women who conceive in their mid-40's with fertility treatment are using donated eggs from younger women.

  • <strong>7. Having fathered a pregnancy in the past does not guarantee fertility.</strong> Sperm counts can change quite a bit with time, so never assume that a prior pregnancy guarantees fertile sperm. Obtaining a semen analysis is the only way to be sure the sperm are still healthy!

  • <strong>8. For the most part, diet has little or nothing to do with fertility.</strong> Despite popular press, there is little scientific data showing that a particular diet or food promotes fertility. One limited study did suggest a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, fish and legumes may help promote fertility.

  • <strong>9. Vitamin D may improve results of fertility treatments.</strong> A recent study from the University of Southern California suggested that women who were undergoing fertility treatments, but had low vitamin D levels, might have lower rates of conception. This vitamin is also essential during pregnancy. At Pacific Fertility Center, we recommend our patients take 2,000-4,000 IU per day.

  • <strong>10. Being either underweight or overweight is clearly linked with lowered levels of fertility.</strong> The evidence in recent years is that obesity is clearly linked with a longer time to conception. Having a body mass index less than 18 or over 32 is associated with problems ovulating and conceiving, as well as problems during pregnancy.


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