Babies. I don’t know that there is a subject that tweaks the heartstrings and fuzzes up the solar plexus quite like babies. Just the thought of tiny wriggling newborns gets us all giddy with promise and potential. We thrill to the touch of their tiny fingers and toes, their tufted, downy crowns, their milk-mottled necks. We cradle them in our arms; they cradle our legacy in their limbs.
Four years ago, this past week, Mike and I brought our own downy-crowned, milk-mottled newborns home from the NICU. And we’ve been caring for and corralling our twin bundles of rollicking, unequivocal energy and joy ever since.
We owe it all to the generosity of the universe — and a top-notch IVF team.
Because it was five years ago, this month, that Mike and I sat down to meet with our newly- acquired fertility specialist to learn all the ins and outs of “test tube” baby making: the belly and booty shots, the ovary stimulation, the egg extraction, the cup deposits, the petri dish insemination, the embryo transfer. All of it.
Talk about exciting.
Daunting because I was about to do from-scratch motherhood all over again at forty-seven. I’d already raised two daughters successfully into adulthood (no small task); yet here I was again, preparing myself mentally – and physically (hence the fertility specialist) — to bake up a couple more.
And daunting because the odds were not necessarily in our favor.
Now the first thing I recall about that initial meeting is the vast, heavy, wooden desktop in the doctor’s office. The surface of that desk seemed to me a small-scale representative of the hard, formidable expanse that must be crossed to make Mike’s and my dream of parenthood together come true.
But luckily, there on the other side sat Dr. Perloe himself – frothy white curls, cropped close, and eyes twinkling behind clear lenses. He instantly put us at ease.
But he didn’t mince words either, when he gave us the facts. The fact that my eggs were too old to consider for our IVF procedure. The fact that using a donor’s eggs could cost us as much as a compact car or a midsize sedan, depending. The fact that the procedure was no guarantee, but the odds were greatly increased if we followed his protocol precisely: multiple medical and psychological exams; donor candidate selection; numerous supplemental vitamins and hormones using ingestions, injections and suppositories; and time and patience — lots and lots of time and patience.
Our success depended on it. Our success demanded it.
We signed a contract to do our part. The contract also specified that our clinic would do its part.
We never considered otherwise. Events in the news this past month suggest perhaps we should have.
Thank heavens, Dr. Perloe and his staff are consummate professionals and we never had a need to worry. Mixing babies for couples with fertility issues goes beyond their life work. It is their passion. And they do it with compassion. And with contracts.
Those two qualifiers — compassion and contracts — ensure that they would never, ever risk a patient’s hard work, dedication, financial and emotional investment, and (most important of all), eggs or embryos. Never.
The procedure is risky enough as it is.
The IVF success rate for a woman over 40 is between 13-18%. A donor egg increases those chances to 35% per embryo. Transferring twin embryos gives slightly more favorable odds, procuring a 55-65% success rate that one embryo will take. With a chance for twins at 30-40%.
Now I’m no mathematician (far from it – despite being the daughter of a physicist), but I do understand that even when hedging my bets with donor eggs and a double-embryo transfer, there was absolutely no guarantee we would find success – especially on the first try.
But success, we found. On the very first cycle, too. And with both embryos.
It was an absolute miracle. Without a doubt.
But the miracle was brought to fruition through the hard work and dedication of our IVF team – the physicians, embryologists, nurses, technicians, and Mike and me. We were all in it together, working hard and following our contract to the letter. We dotted every egg and crossed every petri dish.
Again, I reiterate that the one thing that was never considered when we rolled the dice, said our Hail Marys, and took our gamble on IVF was that our clinic would be negligent.
But a month ago this week, a fertility clinic in Ohio was just that: grossly negligent. There were issues with a cryogenic tank that housed microscopic miracles, the frozen eggs and embryos of thousands of prospective parents. Somehow, the built-in failproof — the remote alarm system that would notify employees if temperatures began to climb — had been turned off.
As a result, that tank — a tank that housed a total of 4000 eggs and embryos– rose to temperatures that left all 4000 nonviable. 4000 hopes and dreams, 4000 Hail Mary passes, 4000 double or nothing bets, 4000 potential babies… all lost.
I’m up close and personal with the IVF process that these heartbroken families went through. I understand their hopes, their dreams, their financial and emotional investments. I understand their courage, their fear, their gamble.
But I am not up close and personal with their loss. The emotional cost is unfathomable. I can’t imagine it. I don’t even know where to begin. That reality is too harsh, too brutal, too gut-wrenching. There is too much frustration and betrayal and agony and pain for my mind to go there. It slams shut at the thought.
IVF is a wild, whirling roulette wheel. The odds are frightening. A world-class clinic makes the risk worth it. Still, it’s a scary bet.
Wannabe parents willingly take bold risks at steep odds because babies are the jackpot. Babies. Our tiny-fingered, downy-crowned, milk-mottled legacies. We will do almost anything humanly possible to bring them into this world.
These parents in Ohio did just that.
This clinic in Ohio did not.
This clinic was anything but. It is a tragedy and a travesty.
The harm done is irreparable. The resources lost are irreplaceable. The crime committed is unforgivable.
And as the lawsuits stack up, the cases are nearing class-action status. But how do you put a price on hearts broken? On families fractured before they’ve begun? On entire legacies lost?
How is justice ever to be found? How?
It can’t be done.