Photo: George Lange/DCL
Article by Jennifer Arnold-Guest Contributor:
I am thrilled to start blogging on Parentables! I have never been much of a blogger. Most of my time is spent writing academic papers for work. Turns out my childhood heartthrob was Doogie Howser, M.D.: Now I finally get to do what Doogie did everyday. I am not nearly as smart a physician as Doogie was, but I am a doctor with a lot to talk about! I have to imagine that although our journey is unique, that there are other moms- and dads-to-be out there who are also sharing our struggles.
Our Journey Begins
As I write this now, I am on a plane with Bill to Chicago. We are going for yet another step in our long journey towards parenthood. Over the last year and a half — half of the time Bill and I have been married — we have been trying to have a baby. At first, we visited many specialists to determine if it would be safe for me to carry a baby through pregnancy. After 6 months of doctor visits and much soul-searching, we both decided that it would not be in the best interest of our baby or myself to try to carry a baby due to the health risks of my short stature and skeletal dysplasia.
Then, we started to explore other options: adoption and surrogacy. We started investigating all aspects of these options — safety, risks, cost, benefits. Adoption is definitely something we want to pursue, no matter what happens. Since I was young, I knew i wanted to adopt another little person baby, and this is something Bill completely supports. However, given my age (over 35), we decided to try surrogacy before my biological clock stops ticking! Surrogacy will allow Bill and I to conceive a baby that is genetically ours without the health risks of me carrying a baby. I think once we made the decision to try for a surrogate pregnancy, we never imagined how hard it would be to achieve our dream.
The Long Road to Surrogacy
We learned fairly early that we were not only facing health risks of getting pregnant, but that I also had a level of infertility. My body did not develop an expected number of eggs even though I was on medications to stimulate my ovaries: Instead of producing 6-8 eggs each cycle as expected for someone my age, I was lucky to have 1-3 eggs produced. Additionally, my ovaries were not normally placed in my pelvis, making each egg retrieval procedure challenging and difficult for my doctors! It took us over a year to obtain only 2 eggs, which thankfully fertilized with Bill’s super sperm to become embryos!
Although it has been a long journey so far, we feel fortunate to have made it to this step, where we are moving towards transferring our embryos into a surrogate mother to carry. As if we had not overcome enough hurdles thus far, before we can implant our embryos we need to test them for a potentially lethal condition that we could pass on: double dominant dwarfism.
Because Bill and I both carry a single gene for our type of skeletal dysplasia, there are risks. If we only pass on one of our skeletal dysplasia genes, then the baby would be a healthy little person (50% chance). If we don’t pass on either of our skeletal dysplasia genes, then are baby will be a healthy average sized baby (25% chance). However if we pass on both of our skeletal dysplasia genes, then the baby would have a lethal condition called double dominant trait and would likely die shortly after birth (25% chance). This trip is to visit the laboratory that will do pre-implantation genetic testing on our 2 embryos that are currently frozen. While there, we will tour the lab and meet with a genetics counsellor to learn about the risks and benefits of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
The Miracle of Science
I cannot believe how incredible science and technology is today! It is amazing — and at the same time terrifying — to me that they can extract just one cell from a tiny microscopic embryo and tell us whether our baby will live or die after birth due to a lethal condition, all before we even implant the embryo into a surrogate. The goal of the testing is to prevent our surrogate, her family, and us from going through a nine-month pregnancy with a baby that cannot survive. Unfortunately, as a neonatologist, I have seen other families go through similar situations and if possible, I don’t want to put our surrogate and her family through such a devastating time.
Life is amazing. From tiny strands of DNA to a baby, we cannot wait to have our own little one, big or small!!