how i got this baby

The Woman Who Spent $110,000 Trying to Become a Mom

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Catherine went from assuming she’d be a mother someday, to considering a life without children, to knowing absolutely that she wanted to have them with her now-husband. When the couple started trying to conceive in their late 20s, they thought Catherine might be pregnant the very first month. They were disappointed when she wasn’t, and their disappointment continued over the course of about seven years and many thousands of dollars. She discusses seeing a positive pregnancy test for the first time, undergoing fertility treatment as her friends had children, her assumptions about a birth mother, and spending $110,000 trying to become a mom.

On shifting mind-sets. I was the kind of girl who played with baby dolls. I definitely believed I’d be a mom someday. But then I went to college and started getting into my career and I thought, Oh. I don’t need to have children. This isn’t something I have to have. I pictured myself living in New York, having a city life — it was more about me and not other people. I knew even then that children are very, very expensive, and I wanted to spend any money I made on myself.

After I graduated from college, I moved for my first job and met my now-husband very soon afterward. Probably a month into knowing him I knew that I wanted to have children with him. I knew he’d be an amazing father. My mind-set completely shifted.

Still, we met when we were 22. We were in no rush to get married or have children right away. We just knew it was something we wanted, eventually. When we got married about four years later, we bought a new car around the same time, and I remember thinking about how it might fit a car seat. Little did we know that car would be long gone by the time we actually had a baby.

On starting to try. We got the bug about a year and a half after we got married, when we were both 27. We thought I might be pregnant that first month, and we were so excited. But then of course, I got my period.

We kept trying by ourselves for about two years. All of my concerns were sort of pushed aside; our family or friends kept telling me to relax. “It’ll happen at the right time — why go to a doctor?” Even my gynecologist told me we’d probably be just fine. Finally, I went in for testing.

On beginning fertility treatments. My hormone levels were indicative of polycystic ovarian syndrome. I took Clomid, a fertility medication, for two cycles. It didn’t work. I had further testing; they couldn’t find any other issues. We tried a higher dosage of Clomid. When that didn’t work, we moved on to injectable medications and then an IUI (intrauterine insemination).

We paid for everything out of pocket. Our insurance didn’t cover anything. That made the process a bit slow, since we were still relatively young and didn’t have a lot of extra income. We’d been hoping to save for the things a baby needs: clothes, a nursery, diapers. Instead, we were spending hundreds of dollars here and there for individual procedures. Each IUI cost $2,500 a pop, and we did two. Neither worked. Our doctor told us we would probably have much better luck with IVF, which cost about $12,000 for one round at our clinic. But that didn’t include medication; that was another $4,000. We needed time to save up for all those expenses.

But we also learned of one more option: I could have a surgery where the fertility doctor would look at my uterus and check for endometriosis (there’s no way to know for sure if you have endometriosis without actually looking inside, but I had enough symptoms that my doctor said he thought it was a strong possibility). Our co-pay for the surgery would be only $1,000 — which isn’t chump change, but was starting to sound like it to us — so we decided to do it.

During the surgery, the doctor removed both endometriosis and a large fibroid. So we were hoping that would would do the trick. We tried one more year before moving on to IVF.

On making lifestyle changes. I was a teacher at the time, with a very busy schedule. I really didn’t feel like I had the flexibility and time to teach and go through an IVF cycle. We made the decision that I would take a year off, longer if needed. For us, the investment of IVF wasn’t worth the risk of it not working if I was stressed out from my job.

That summer before IVF, I did acupuncture, I took Chinese herbs. I did everything you were supposed to do. I’d lost some weight and was on a Paleo diet. I wanted to avoid anything that could possibly go wrong.

On diving into IVF. A lot of people say IVF is a very grueling process. I definitely agree with that, but I wasn’t emotionally upset the way some people are. I was just so excited. I really thought it was going to work.

I kind of became obsessed with the numbers. I’d compare my numbers with other people’s on various pregnancy and trying-to-conceive forums. I looked at their numbers, their results, and I got very consumed. I knew what the hormone levels meant. I knew what the size of the follicles meant, and I knew exactly how many follicles I had. I understood my dosing for the medication.

When we went for the retrieval, we were very excited: It looked like I had great numbers, and we ended up with 18 eggs, which is very good. Eleven were mature — I still remember these numbers exactly — and we ended up with eight high-quality five-day blastocysts. Most people would hope to get two embryos, and they would be so happy and lucky to get that many. We had eight.

Still, when we went in for the transfer, our fertility doctor didn’t give us false hope. He said we had a 70 percent chance of one of the two embryos they were going to put in sticking. If that didn’t work out, then we’d do another transfer. He told us, “You have good odds, but it might not happen.”

They recommend you don’t take a pregnancy test at home until you come in for an official pregnancy test at the clinic. But of course, we couldn’t wait. I did pregnancy tests almost every day. One day, the test was positive.

We were just so very happy. It had been so long at that point, about four years. We’d watched our friends get pregnant; some of them had not one but two children during the time we’d been trying. We were very happy for them, but it was hard — watching someone bring two children into the world while we were struggling and spending so much money just to have one.

Two days later, we went in for the pregnancy test. The number came back very low, a nine. It would be good, by then, if the number were closer to 100. I knew then that something might be off. They told me to come back in two days, and that the number should double. When we went back, the number was a 77 — but they told me to still not get too excited. I went in again, and the number had gone up. Then I started bleeding.

On continuing IVF after a failed round. A lot of women will want to jump into another right away. I was not ready for that, emotionally, by any means.

We still had six embryos. Over the next year, we went through transfers with those. Our first IVF cycle cost about $15,000, with the retrieval, the medicine, and the transfer. Each frozen cycle was about $5,000 to $6,000. By the time we were done with all eight embryos, we had spent over $30,000, and none of it worked. We were heartbroken. And we were out of money — most of the cost was on our credit card and we still needed to pay it off.

Our fertility clinic suggested that we apply for a grant for an IVF cycle. We got it, $6,000 for our next fresh cycle. I was 31 during my first fresh IVF cycle, and I was 33 for my next one. This time, I did not do acupuncture, I did not take Chinese herbs, or go on the Paleo diet. I was healthy, but this time, we lived a much more normal life, and I was working again. This cycle gave us three high-quality blastocysts.

We did our last transfer about two years ago. It didn’t work. As soon as we got those results, we both drank a bottle of wine. The next morning, I said I couldn’t do it again, even though we had one embryo left.

On wanting to be a mom. Adoption was something we’d discussed along the way. We knew we were both open to the idea. After going through five transfers, I just knew my body couldn’t take anymore. I told my husband, Just make me a mom, with adoption. And then I’ll do whatever treatment you want, after I’m a mom. I’ll do IVF with an egg donor, I’ll go through surrogacy, whatever you want. I just needed to be a mom.

My goal had always been to be pregnant, and then my goal shifted to wanting to be a mom. Obviously, the goal was always to be a mom — but I did think about the pregnancy aspect, having the bump, maternity clothes, having a baby shower, doing a gender reveal. I’d gone to countless parties in honor of someone else having a baby. I wanted my turn. And then, of course, you get to bring home a baby.

On pursuing adoption. Once we decided to do adoption, we met with a social worker who did home studies for prospective adoptive parents. That meeting alone was $1,800 — just to have her come over and interview us and peek around the house.

We found an adoption lawyer that required an $800 fee just to apply — you didn’t get it back even if she didn’t accept you. She told us the cost to adopt through her ranged from about $40,000 to $60,000. We’d been under the impression that adoption would be about $30,000. Eventually, we just decided to get it done, by taking out a loan.

One of the birth mothers resembled me physically, and we had other things in common too — we both crochet, we both do jigsaw puzzles. But this particular adoption would be more in the $60,000 range. Still, we decided this was the one. We were lucky: The birth parents liked us back.

On bringing a baby home. When the birth mother was 30 weeks and one day pregnant, we got a call saying she’d given birth early. The hospital wasn’t being very communicative with our attorney, who had spoken to the birth mom on the phone. All we knew was that the baby was born, the birth mom had heard him cry after the C-section, and that was it. We had no information on his condition — we didn’t even know if he was alive.

We’d both left work, pacing around the house, not sure what to do. Finally, the social worker at the hospital called our attorney and gave her all the information. He weighed 4 pounds, 3 ounces (which is very good for being born at 30 weeks); his length was good; he scored an 8 out of 9 on the Apgar scale. But he was still very young, so he was in the NICU.

As soon as we knew he was alive, we packed our bags and headed four hours away to live in a hotel for six weeks.

Our son stayed in the NICU to grow and get stronger, but his premature birth never caused any major health problems. He’s been home with us for a year and a half now. It’s been the best year and a half of my life. I knew I would love being a mother. I knew it would feel wonderful, but I didn’t know it would feel this good.

On family-building. My son’s birth mother is not the person I was picturing when I thought about adoption. I thought maybe the birth mother would be a teenager, or a college student who got pregnant and just couldn’t raise a baby at that point in her life. That’s not what we got, and I think that’s more than okay. Family-building comes in many different forms, whether through donor eggs or surrogacy — trying “naturally,” or not trying at all and accidentally getting pregnant.

Our biggest fear was that the birth parents would back out at the last minute. We worried that we would get to the point of meeting a baby and then the birth parents would change their minds, and we would be left heartbroken and penniless once again. The appeal of these specific birth parents was exactly that they had done it before. These days I don’t really tell people about the previous placements — I don’t like when people judge my son’s birth mother. My son will never hear a bad word about his birth parents from us.

Initially, I imagined us talking with our son about adoption a lot more. We’re going to be very open about the fact he’s adopted — it’s not going to be a secret. But I don’t want him being adopted to be his identity. Because he’s absolutely our son, not our “adopted son.” A lot of people don’t even know he’s adopted. He looks a lot like us. Strangers in the grocery store will say how much we look alike, and I just say thank you. Sometimes I’ll tell the story, but other times I don’t see the need to get into it.

All in all, we spent about $110,000 trying to bring a child into our home. It was worth every cent, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. I feel complete now. Recently, we decided to have the cryobank discard our last remaining embryo.

The Woman Who Spent $110,000 Trying to Become a Mom