‘If you can get donor eggs and donor sperm, why not a donor embryo?’: Woman shares journey through male factor infertility, embryo adoption

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“Evan and I were married on November 18, 2016, 3 days shy of our 6 year anniversary. It was one of the best days of our lives! We were so excited to start our next chapter in life as a married couple. We had so many plans and goals. As soon as we were married, we decided it was time to start seeing more of the world. We booked a beautiful honeymoon to St. Lucia, a trip to Disney World and Harry Potter World (we really wanted to do this trip at least once without children), and a cruise through the Norwegian Fjords! The last one is a bit unusual for couples our age (we were basically the youngest people on the ship!) but it was absolutely the most adventurous, coolest trip we took! It was during this trip we began TTC. We thought, ‘How cool would it be to conceive on such an amazing journey?!’

Man dips his wife during wedding photoshoot with the sun setting in the background
Angie’s D Photography

During our trip to Norway, we knew we wanted to start trying. We avoided alcohol entirely, cut back significantly on caffeine, and kept our diets in check (which really wasn’t much of a change for us considering we are so passionate about wellness). We were both so healthy, with the exception of a few minor issues I had a few years back. We had no idea the struggle we were about to encounter.

Couple share a kiss while on a boat during their honeymoon
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby

When we returned from Europe, we couldn’t wait to see if we had conceived! We completely understood conceiving on the first try is way harder than high school health class leads you to believe, but we were so hopeful! We couldn’t wait for the two week wait (TWW) to pass. When it finally did, I took my first pregnancy test, but we were sadly disappointed. At this exact moment, this overwhelming feeling of dread came over me and told me this was going to be hard for us. I broke down in tears, not just because I wasn’t pregnant, but because I just knew something was wrong.

A few months passed by along with a few dozen pregnancy tests. Yes, I absolutely had POAS syndrome (pee on a stick). We were doing everything we possibly could to increase our chances of getting pregnant. I used ovulation tests every day of the month, I invested in the Ava bracelet, I tracked my cycles on about 5 different apps, we used the SMEP (sperm meets egg plan), took fertility supplements, drank Pomegranate juice daily, and prayed and prayed and prayed. Still nothing.

Woman battling infertility shows her fertility tracker/plan
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby

Normally, OBGYN’s don’t refer patients to a fertility specialist until after a year of trying to conceive naturally. However, my doctor knew of my previous issues (many of which required surgeries), so she referred us after 6 months. The clinic we used was South Jersey Fertility Center. Evan and I each underwent a series of tests to determine if there was an underlying problem. The tests included multiple rounds of bloodwork (I have a pathological fear of needles so this was extremely difficult for me), exams, and a semen analysis. The results took a few weeks to come back so meanwhile we just waited.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally got our results back for my tests. As it turns out, despite my past issues, I was completely healthy! This was both good and bad news. One the one hand, YAY! No issues! On the other, what the heck is wrong? It surely can’t be a problem with the man because that’s not a thing. Do we have unexplained infertility? Will we never know what’s wrong? We continued TTC because we didn’t think anything could be wrong with the man. A couple days later, we got the call. The results were in and it turns out our issue was, in fact, male factor.

When we got our diagnosis, we were absolutely crushed. We felt so blindsided and shocked and suddenly VERY alone in the world. Our doctor said what we are dealing with is incredibly rare and she’s never seen anything like it. This made us feel even more isolated. We were transferred to another specialist to figure out what was causing our issue and if it was fixable. We went through even more testing, some of which took months to complete. During all this time, there were more mental breakdowns than I can count. As a result, my fitness took a hit and I just didn’t care about my health, physical or mental. I stopped maintaining a healthy daily diet and indulged more than I should have in the good stuff. However, one benefit did come from my suffering at this point: We ran away.

We traveled to so many amazing places to take our minds off of our situation. Once we returned from our trips, we got the phone call with the results from our tests. To make this part short, we were told our only hope was to have an invasive surgery to give us a shot at successfully going through IVF. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a surgery date until months later, so we were back to playing the waiting game for a while. When Evan finally had the surgery, our world came crashing down. I will never forget having to wake my husband up from surgery to tell him it was unsuccessful and we would never have children together. It was the worst day of my life.

We were rocked to the core at this news. Our RE had told us earlier there were very few issues that can’t be fixed, yet here we were with an unfixable issue. We didn’t know what to do at this point. We were absolutely devastated and needed to grieve. We cried. I screamed. We cut ourselves off from basically everyone by this point.

My way of coping was throwing myself into research. I knew I was meant to be a mother and Evan a father. I turned to Evan and said, ‘How are we going to do this?’ To which he replied, ‘We are going to find our way and we will bring our baby home.’ At this point, our only options were adoption – which is unbelievably expensive, can take years to be matched, and wouldn’t give us the experience of pregnancy – or use donor cells. Neither of us were completely comfortable with the idea of using donor cells. We were afraid of a barrier forming within our marriage if our baby was biologically related to one of us and not the other. We were also hesitant about the cost and wait involved with adoption. We were so ready for our baby now and the possibility of never experiencing pregnancy plunged me into a deep depression.

We just didn’t feel in our hearts that either of these paths were our way into parenthood, though they seemed like the only ways at the time, so we came up with an arrangement: We would begin the adoption process and if we weren’t matched by the time we were 29, we would revisit the idea of using donor cells. We weren’t ‘happy’ with the plan, but at least we had a plan.

A few days after making our decision, I was driving to work and thinking it all over. I was just about out of my development when it hit me. If you can get donor eggs and donor sperm, why can’t you get a donor embryo? I called my husband from the car and the only two words I spoke to him were, ‘Embryo adoption!’ We didn’t even know if this was a thing. I thought I was making it up. He said, ‘I’ll call you back,’ and immediately hung up to see if this was, in fact, a thing. My 5-minute commute to work felt like 5 hours, but the whole time, something inside me was telling me this was it. I pulled into the parking lot at work when Evan called me back and said, ‘Let’s do it.’

All of a sudden, everything changed. I smiled for the first time in months. I felt so good about this. The question was now, ‘How do we do this?’ It turns out there are 2 ways to go about embryo adoption, but I’ll talk more about this another time! As we researched further, we found out the South Jersey Fertility Center actually has an embryo donation program, which means not only could we have a shot at pregnancy, but we didn’t even have to switch doctors! It really seemed like this was meant to be for us.

We made a consultation appointment immediately and before we knew it, we were on the fast track to adopting our embryos! We were given a folder of portfolios so we could choose our donors and briefed on the protocols to follow. Within 2 months, we chose our donors, adopted two embryos, and prepared my body for the transfer. We sadly lost one of our embabies this transfer, but we were also blessed with our miracle daughter, Maerynne Rose. The juxtaposition of elation and devastation is incredibly bizarre. We were so grateful for our perfect daughter, but grieved the baby we would never get to hold. One thing was for certain, though – we love both those babies endlessly.

Woman pregnant with her first child smiles big in purple dress
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby
Mom holds her firstborn child while out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby

Now that we had finally found our way to parenthood, we knew sooner rather than later we wanted to give our miracle girl a sibling. We followed the exact same procedure the second time around. We adopted two more embryos and prepared for a transfer. However, this time the Covid-19 pandemic threw a hard wrench in our plans. Our transfer that was scheduled for mid-April was cancelled without any indication of resumption. We were devastated. We had no idea how long we were going to have to wait again. It was nauseating and heartbreaking. I turned to Evan and said, ‘Why can’t it just be easy? Why can’t we just have a baby when we want to like everyone else?’ He said to me, ‘I don’t know why this is happening to us, but because of it we have a child we never would have had otherwise.’ He was right. It doesn’t make infertility any less traumatizing, but the reminder of what we got out of it was more than worth it is something I needed to remember. Thankfully, though, our wait was only a few months, and we were able to transfer our last two embryos at the end of June of 2020.

We thought that having gone through this before, it might be easier the second time. Boy were we wrong. As it turned out, the two embryos we adopted from our donors were the last two in the group. This meant so much was on the line for this transfer. If our two precious embabies didn’t survive the thawing process, we were out of luck unless we chose ‘back up’ donors. Of course, we looked at the profiles in the database to reserve another set of embryos, but none of these profiles were nearly as healthy as our original donors, which made our anxiety skyrocket. They also didn’t have many embryos left in their groups either, which means we were really taking chances here.

When we transferred Maerynne and her twin, they were 2 of 19 embryos in the group. God forbid one of them didn’t survive the thaw; the embryologists would’ve thawed additional embryos from their group so we could transfer two embabies no matter what. Because there were only 2 left in our original donors group, if one didn’t survive, we couldn’t transfer twins. Our clinic does not transfer embryos from different donors in the same transfer. If both embryos died in the thawing process, only then could we transfer the embryos from the new donors. Of course, we’d be playing the same game though. Will they survive and what do we do if they don’t?

Thankfully, both our embabies from our original donors did survive the thaw and were successfully transferred to my body on June 29, 2020! However, unlike our first transfer, my husband couldn’t be in the room this time because of covid. Having to get pregnant without my husband at least being in the same room as me just added to the trauma of not being able to get pregnant without help. The only way he could be with me as we were trying for our next child/children was through FaceTime.

Fast forward through another painstaking two week wait, we were pregnant! We were so thrilled and couldn’t wait to find out if both our embabies implanted! We had hope we would both be able to attend the ultrasound, but even this wasn’t allowed. I had to find out by myself we lost another embaby. We were so grateful for the little one who stuck around, but devastated again that we lost another perfect embryo. The juxtaposition is so bizarre and impossible to explain. We really thought both had implanted because my HCG was through the roof at all of my blood draws, so we got our hopes up only to fall. With all this said though, we now have our beautiful, perfect son, Lennox Evan.

Couple celebrating their pregnancy take winter-themed photoshoot for their snowflake baby
Carlyvous Photography
Mom holds her newborn son in the hospital after giving birth to him
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby

If we decide to try for a third baby, we will have to start the entire process completely from scratch – including choosing new donors. This is not something we can entertain right now, but perhaps at some point we will. We are so in love with our kids and we are enjoying life with them to the fullest. Our story is extremely unconventional and full of loss and despair, but our children are our world and we are eternally grateful to our medical team, our donors, and the miracle of science for making our family possible.

Mom takes photo of her rainbow children in rainbow-themed photoshoot
Weatherby Photos

For anyone in this devastating, traumatic situation, my words to you are: You are stronger than you know, but it’s okay to not be okay. You are allowed to feel any and every emotion that comes to you. Enjoy the good times in the midst of the bad and don’t be sorry for having those moments. When hard days hit, remind yourself it is okay to feel those emotions and do not feel guilty for it. Also, and most importantly, you and your partner are in this together. Keep your relationship a priority and do what’s best for the two of you. Keep communication wide open and never hide your feelings from each other. You may grieve differently, but you’re in this together, hand in hand.

Family of four take Christmas photos together in front of their Christmas tree
Weatherby Photos

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t think there was a reason I ‘needed’ to lose two of my babies. I do believe, however, that as hard as infertility is and as much as we suffered, our kids are absolute miracles on earth. Because of our situation, they are mine, and if I had a genie in a bottle who could grant me the power to undo it all and conceive on month 1, I would NEVER do it because I love my kids with every fiber of my being. I don’t think everything happens ‘for a reason,’ but I do believe beautiful things come out of suffering. My perfect children are proof of that.”

Mom holds her two children conceived through embryo adoption
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby
Mom takes photos of her two kids sitting on the kitchen counter in matching red outfits
Courtesy of Marissa Weatherby

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marissa Weatherby of South Jersey. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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