A breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy in her 20s reveals that she and her wife spent more than $11,000 on sperm while trying conceive after beating the disease.
The anonymous woman, who is known as Katie, was told that she had a less than a one per cent chance of getting pregnant with her own eggs after her first failed attempt at intrauterine insemination (IUI). Katie's wife went on to have five IUIs of her own, but all of them failed.
'At that point, we were running out of sperm. I had to go back and buy more sperm, which was the most demoralizing experience ever,' Katie told The Cut. Sperm is ridiculously expensive: It’s about $700 a vial. I realized we’d spent $11,000 on sperm.
Fertility struggles: An anonymous woman known as Katie spent more than $11,000 on sperm alone while trying to have a baby with her wife
Katie, who was previously married to a man, always wanted to be a mom, and she and her former husband decided that they would try for a baby when she was 27.
However, when she went to see her doctor to get a prescription for prenatal vitamins, they found a lump in her breast and she was soon diagnosed with breast cancer.
Katie underwent four and a half months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy until she was cancer free, but her marriage didn't survive the battle with the disease. By the time she was 30, she was single and had no idea if she would ever have kids.
To cope with her fears that her cancer would return and she would never have children, Katie decided to get her Ph.D., with the naive hope that taking on such a long project would prevent her from dying, and she ended up meeting her wife.
Katie was unable to have fertility preservation before she started her cancer treatment, but given her age, doctors thought she would still be able to conceive.
After they agreed that Katie would be the one to try and get pregnant, they started looking for a sperm donor, but they struggled with having so much information when choosing their potential child's biological father.
'One donor, for example, we were sure we wanted to go with — until we heard a recording of his voice. He had the most annoying laugh in the world,' she explained.
'Another had a horrible chin. These were characteristics you’d never discount your partner for, because you love them despite their flaws. But in a sperm-donor catalogue, you can come up with a lot of reasons not to pick someone.'
When the finally picked someone, they purchased ten vials of the man' sperm to start the IUI process. They were so optimistic that they went out and bought a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, which she thinks they ended up throwing away.
The moved to a different state after Katie's first failed IUI, and it was there that her new fertility doctor told her that it would be nearly impossible for her to get pregnant with her own eggs, even with in vitro fertilization.
After her wife's five failed IUI attempts, the couple was 'going broke' while 'buying thousands of dollars’ worth of sperm off the internet.'
One doctor suggested reciprocal in vitro fertilization, meaning they would take her wife's egg, use their donor sperm to make embryos, and then put the embryo in Katie.
Katie ended up getting pregnant on their third round of IVF, but she later miscarried.
'We felt like it was the end of the road for us,' she recalled. 'In part, I just couldn’t stand the idea of spending another thousand bucks on sperm.
'Overall, we’d spent $45,000 on fertility treatments. That was more than my salary at the time. We didn’t have any money left, and we were just emotionally shattered.'
For awhile, they focused on their relationship and stopped talking about having babies until Katie learned about a California-based program for double-donor embryo adoption.
Essentially, they would be sharing a batch of embryos made from sperm and egg donors with other people. The program costs $15,000 for three tries and has a success rate of 90 per cent.
She noted that if you meet the criteria and still don't have a baby after the third try, you get your money back.
Katie had two double-donor embryos implanted with the hope that at least one would stick, and she ended getting pregnant with twins.
The mother-of-two said her twins are now eight months old, and 'they're great.'
'We need to figure out how to tell them that they came from a clinic in California, that they may or may not be able to locate their genetic parents,' she explained. Luckily, we are in touch with some of their genetic siblings.
'They’ll always have those relationships. I’m really grateful that those parents are wanting to stay in touch with us.'