Why we’re open about using donor eggs

Recently, I posted on Instagram about how I had explained egg donation to my new osteopath. (That particular post was about the correct terminology when discussing third-party reproduction, but that’s a topic for another day.)

My post apparently hit a nerve with one woman, who commented that she discovered as a pre-teen that her parents had used a sperm donor. She was clearly in a lot of pain still, saying that she wished she had never found out, and that she wished others didn’t know that about her, as she didn’t think it was anybody else’s business.

Obviously we want only the best for the baby we fought so hard to have, and I appreciated her point of view, so I wrote a long response acknowledging her pain and explaining our carefully considered reasons for our openness. However, when I went to post it, I discovered that she had deleted her comment. I still don’t know what changed her mind about posting, but I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this topic anyway. So here I will explain our reasons for being open with our daughter, our friends/family, and the wider community, with the acknowledgement that every situation is different.

Should we tell our child?

When I was first researching egg donation, my googling quickly led me to articles on whether or not to tell any child conceived this way, as that’s obviously the first concern for most people.

What I learned was that if a person discovers at some point that their origin story is not what they thought (like my commenter), this sudden realization can indeed be quite traumatic. The discovery may be on purpose, such as if the parents have chosen some set time to reveal the information, but it could also be on accident, such as from a discrepancy in their medical history, from a relative letting it slip, or from the genetic testing (e.g. Ancestry.com) that’s becoming increasingly popular. In order to best avoid any (intentional or unintentional) traumatic revelation, the experts therefore recommend ‘early telling’, where you tell your child from a very young age (using, for example, the wonderful children’s book Happy Together: An egg donation story). This helps ensure that your child doesn’t have a specific moment in their life when their whole identity suddenly changed.

Should we tell our family/friends?

Once you’ve decided to tell your child from a very young age, you can’t guarantee that the information will stay private. We’re talking about little kids, after all (like my friend’s 5-year old, who recently emerged triumphantly from the bathroom announcing “My dad went POOP!”) But should you actively tell your family and friends?

In our case, our egg donor (Marie) is a close friend from my childhood, and her husband is my grad school roommate. Our families are friends, and many of our close friends are mutual. Partly due to the logistics of getting she and her husband to Europe for the donor screening — and then again (+2 young kids) for the several-week-long egg retrieval process — we were open with our families and friends from the beginning. In a true act of support, Marie’s mother even generously paid for their flights.

Even if logistics weren’t a factor, we were excited to tell our families and friends because of the beautiful gift that Marie was giving us. We didn’t even know if it would work at that point, but Marie’s offer had made us feel loved and supported — the importance of which cannot be overstated after a lonely four-and-a-half year battle with infertility. Our family and friends rallied around us all, waiting with bated breath to see if it would work. And now that it has worked, our daughter will get to meet the nice lady, “Aunt Marie”, who helped mommy and daddy have her (and who has already mailed her a Christmas present for this year!)

Should we tell other people?

I read somewhere that 10% of IVF pregnancies in the US use egg donation, which is non-negligible. Yet when we first started considering this path, I’d never heard of anyone who had done it. Marie told me later that before I mentioned needing donated eggs (not hers, but generally), she didn’t even know it existed.*

It was a scary new path to embark on, and one of the things that helped my husband and I decide to pursue it was finding other women who had children through egg donation. Seeing the relationships they had with their children — and how their children (some of them now adults) were thriving — gave me hope, and it made me want to give back in the same way by sharing our story with a wider community. In the words of a friend of mine, I wanted to help those who came after us by making the path a little less scary.**

With that said, it’s not like there’s a banner flying over our house saying “Come see the donor egg baby!” I would love to show my face on here, as well as that of our baby (because guys, she’s gorgeous), but for the sake of our daughter, I’ve made the choice to keep our identities semi-private. (This may come as no great surprise, but my name isn’t really ‘Allie’, and our egg donor’s name isn’t really ‘Marie’.) Because Marie and I both post about it on social media, it wouldn’t be too hard for mutual friends who don’t already know to make the connection. But while I don’t plan on volunteering additional identifying information to the world in general, it’s my hope that our story will help other people even if all of my Instagram photos feature giant emoticons plastered over our faces.

Every case is different

Would we have done things differently if we had used an anonymous donor? Or sperm/embryo donation? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s difficult to say how you might handle a situation until you’ve really experienced it first-hand. And on top of that, every particular case really is different.

Since we made the conscious choice to be so open about our particular story from the beginning, we are running the risk that some people may indeed look at our daughter differently. I can’t control what those people may say to (or about) her in the future, and like any mother, that thought pains me. But I hope that whatever others may say, our daughter recognizes that her differences make her even more special. Because it’s ultimately a story about love, and how so many people came together just so that she can exist.

xx

* Marie actually volunteered to be our surrogate before she knew exactly what our fertility issues were. I explained that the oven was working just fine — I just didn’t have any dough.

** Like me, Marie is also excited to educate others and recently gave a presentation about egg donation at the high school where she teaches. Just imagine if she inspired even one student (or teacher) to donate eggs in the future!

Miracle Baby’s birth story

Ten short weeks ago, we welcomed our miracle donor egg IVF baby. I’m told that the first few weeks with a newborn are always a blur. In our case, this was compounded by Miracle Baby’s (MB) traumatic hospitalization at two days old and subsequent Hirschsprung’s disease diagnosis. All of this means that the actual story of her arrival has more-or-less been ignored.

So before all of the details fade into the haze of my sleep-deprived brain, here is the story of her long-awaited birth.

An easy start

I was 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant when I went into labor. Being 11 days overdue, I had already tried pretty much every old wive’s tale you could think of to get things going. So when I started noticing a pattern to my cramps around 4pm — a few hours after I’d had a second membrane sweep — I was definitely more than ready.

The contractions ramped up quite quickly from ~15 minutes apart to ~3 minutes apart. Nevertheless, those first few hours were actually almost pleasant. I was sitting on my birthing ball, leaning on the windowsill near the open window and watching rain fall softly through the twilight and onto the canal below. I would moan through the contractions and my husband would apply counter pressure to my back. When the midwife arrived at 10pm to check me, she reported that I had progressed to 3cm dilated, and that she would be back in 3 hours. We were like ‘We’ve totally got this!’

Spoiler: We did not.

Almost as soon as the midwife left, it became clear that it would not be as straightforward as we assumed. I was having intense pain in my lower back, which our doula told me was ‘back labor’. Worse than that, in what should have been the rest period between contractions, I was having…more contractions. This fun little phenomenon is known as ‘double contractions’, or ‘coupling’, and as I was counting on using the breaks between contractions to get me through the pain, it was a total mindf@&$.

The almost continuous contractions meant that it took 30 minutes just to get me down one flight of stairs (scooting one stair at a time on my butt), where I had a romantic vision of laboring in the shower in a recently purchased bikini top (Americans are prudish, recall). After instead crawling into the shower buck naked and spending several hours crying in agony on a footstool, it then took another 10 minutes to transition me the 10 steps to the bedroom. When the midwife finally returned after 3 years* and reported that I was still only 3cm dilated, I threw my idea of a water birth out the window and immediately requested an epidural.

The hospital portion

The midwife got us a room in the nearby hospital, and our caravan of cars set off through the rain (or so I’m told — I wasn’t very observant at that point). After arriving, it took ages before I was prepped and ready for the epidural. They say real labor isn’t like the movies, but I was definitely that crazed woman clutching the rails of the hospital bed with white knuckles and yelling ‘How long until the doctor gets here?!’

The epidural was a huge help. HUGE. Really cannot stress that enough. Everyone’s always warning you, ‘An epidural can slow down labor!’, and I just have to say that a slower labor is exactly what I needed at that point. When it finally kicked in, I could breath again. Make jokes with my husband. I even ate a sandwich. Sure, they had to give me a little boost of hormones to try to get the contractions going again, but once they did, I didn’t notice the back labor or the double contractions. And those last 12 hours were infinitely easier than the first 12.

In summary — Epidural: 5/5 stars. Would definitely recommend.

Pushing

The nurses weren’t happy with how MB’s heart rate was dropping (and staying) low during contractions, or how she’d pooped in the amniotic fluid**, so they drew some blood from her head to do a stress test before they would let me push. Thankfully it came back ok, so at 2:30pm on my 12th day overdue, my husband put on my ‘Birth: Energetic’ playlist*** and away we went.

Pushing was predictably intense, with a lot of yelling from both me and my husband. My yelling was from the sheer exertion of bearing down with everything I had, and his yelling included encouraging phrases like: ‘IF I DON’T SEE POOP, I’M GOING TO BE DISAPPOINTED!!’**** At one point between pushing contractions, I even wailed ‘WHY DIDN’T WE JUST ADOPT?!’ (which — like any good insider joke — is something only infertile people are allowed to say about themselves).

After an hour of pushing, they threatened me with an episiotomy and vacuum pump. That was apparently all I needed to hear, because soon after, I started to make real progress. Twenty minutes and three second-degree tears later, our Miracle Baby entered this world. And I’ll tell you what: she is absolutely perfect.

xx

* This is not a typo. Special relativity teaches us that time is relative, and those 3 hours felt like eons.

** MB’s apparent ability to poop was one thing that complicated her Hirschsprung’s disease diagnosis, which essentially means she can’t poop (enough) on her own.

*** In contrast to the ‘Birth: Mellow’ playlist that we’d had playing during the rest of the labor, my ‘Energetic’ playlist featured a lot of early 2000’s screaming punk (much to the amusement of the Dutch nurses).

**** We’d given permission for a young male intern to observe, and between all of the yelling and the blood/tearing that occurred, I think the poor dear was traumatized.

She’s here!

She’s finally here! After making us wait almost six years, and then another two weeks just for good measure, our miracle donor egg IVF baby finally arrived in mid-August at almost 42 weeks gestation. And while she’s currently home and doing well, it’s been a wild ride since then, to put it mildly.

I’ll get back to the actual birth itself later, but the events that followed her arrival are where the real drama occurred. And if you’ve ever witnessed a birth, you already know that’s saying something.

The beginning

We stayed in the hospital the first night after she was born, with no idea that anything was wrong. Miracle Baby (MB) slept through the night after some initial breastfeeding, but I had read that newborns often sleep for a long stretch right after birth. The nurse came to check on us every few hours, but she also didn’t seem concerned.

In the morning we discovered that MB had spit up (or more likely vomited, as we realized later) all over her bed, and her temperature was low. However, the nurse told us that this can happen if they swallow amniotic fluid with meconium in it, as MB likely had. We assumed this nausea was also the reason MB wasn’t interested in further nursing, and we were advised to go home and try some skin-to-skin time.

At home, we were met by our postnatal maternity nurse, which is an amazing after-birth benefit to living in the Netherlands. She was with us for several hours that first day, during which time she tried to help us determine why MB still wasn’t interested in nursing. I also tried to pump, but I wasn’t making much milk at that point, and we eventually resorted to finger feeding formula just to get something in her.

That first night at home was awful. My husband and I tried to wake MB to feed every three hours, but she was super sleepy and wouldn’t eat. She also kept vomiting (which, as I mentioned above, we mistook for spit-up). Nevertheless, it was starting to seem concerning. By the time the nurse had arrived back at our house the next morning, I was a crying mess.

After more failed attempts to get MB to eat, and a home visit from our midwife, we were sent to see a pediatrician at the local ER. At that point, MB had only peed once in >48 hours, was extremely lethargic, and her stomach was hard and bloated.

The hospital did some abdominal X-rays using an adult-size X-ray machine, which required my husband to stand behind it and hold MB straight out in front of him (#RealLifeCrossFit). I hobbled over to a chair, delirious from lack of sleep, and more worried at that point about the long-term effects of radiation on a 2-day old. The X-ray showed a large blockage in MB’s bowels, and they gave her an enema which released a mountain of poop. They also took some blood from her feet to run some blood tests. While we were waiting in our hospital room for the results, I pumped to stimulate my milk supply. At that point, I naively thought the enema was the answer and it would all be resolved soon.

Then shit got real

What we didn’t know is that the doctors had been consulting with some specialists at a nearby children’s hospital. They said that the X-rays couldn’t rule out that MB had a volvulus (i.e., twisted bowel) — which can be extremely serious — and the other hospital wanted to see us right away. Suddenly they were prepping MB for surgery, with an IV and nose tube, and taking my blood as a precaution in case she needed it. They strapped her tiny car seat to a gurney, which is probably one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever witnessed, and we were rushed to the children’s hospital by ambulance.

Our two-day-old miracle baby strapped to a gurney

I was still in shock when we arrived at the children’s hospital, but I recall them doing some more abdominal X-rays (which still showed a large blockage) and taking yet more blood from MB’s tiny feet. We were then met by a team of doctors and surgeons, who did contrast imaging of her bowels. Thankfully, they were able to rule out a twisted bowel fairly quickly, but they told us they suspected a rare congenital bowel disease called Hirschsprung’s disease, which is also serious*. They started treating her immediately, and it was probably close to 3am by the time we were shown to our hospital room.

To make a very long story slightly shorter, we spent the next week in the pediatric surgery wing of the children’s hospital. MB responded well to the treatment for Hirschsprung’s disease, which consisted of irrigating her bowels twice a day. Still, it all seemed so wildly unfair. First it took us six years and another woman’s eggs just to get pregnant, and now the baby we fought so hard to have likely had a serious birth defect? It was a possibility I hadn’t even let myself consider while pregnant (surely we’d already had our share of bad luck?!), and we felt like we were stuck in a nightmare.

An unexpected result

After a few days, they started slowly decreasing MB’s IV and reintroducing feeding using the breastmilk I’d been religiously pumping. After five days, they began teaching us how to do her bowel irrigation procedure ourselves**. On the eighth day, she got her IV and nose tube out and we were sent home to await her biopsy results. At that point, we had accepted that she would need surgery before she was six months old and continuous monitoring until she was an adult, and we were ok with it. We realized that it could be much worse, and we were finally starting to find some happiness in the small moments. Some of our parents had flown out to assist, which also helped immensely.

IMG_7303
Re-introducing feeding with some pumped breastmilk at the hospital.

It came as a great surprise to all of us, then, when the doctor told us that her biopsy results came back negative. In other words, she did NOT have Hirschsprung’s disease! We could hardly believe our luck, and we began slowly decreasing the frequency of her bowel irrigations.

And that was the end of the drama?

Unfortunately, no.

Cutting back on the bowel irrigation didn’t go as smoothly as expected. MB stopped eating as much and was sleeping through the night, which was worrying in her case. At one point, her stomach was so distended that we had to do the bowel irrigation early. Then, at a follow-up appointment, the doctor informed us that after reviewing the biopsy, it was, in fact, positive. Our Miracle Baby did have Hirschsprung’s disease. We had come to terms with this at the hospital, but after spending the subsequent weeks thinking otherwise, receiving the diagnosis again was a fresh shock.

The good news

The good news is that things could be worse. According to WebMD, “Though the disease can be deadly, modern medicine is able to fix the problem with surgery, and children who have been treated can live normal, healthy lives.” The only way I’ve been keeping my sanity through all this is by repeating the last part of that sentence like a mantra.

We went back to the hospital last week to meet with the surgery and anesthesiology teams and make a plan. Thankfully, MB’s case is not so severe that she needs a stoma, so she will hopefully only need one surgery. The 3-hour operation involves removing the affected part of her large intestine, and it will occur when she’s around 4-5 months old. After that, she will hopefully be ‘cured’, and we can stop doing the twice-daily bowel flushes.

So there you have it — the full saga of MB’s eventful first weeks. If we thought things would be smooth sailing after her multi-year, multi-person conception effort, boy were we naive! But while this has all been extremely scary/stressful, we’re still *soooo* happy that our Miracle Baby is finally here. And we can’t wait until she’s grown so we can tell her what a huge pain she was not only before birth, but also after.

xx Allie

* Lest you wonder, her Hirschsprung’s diagnosis has nothing to do with MB’s donor egg conception.

** The bowel irrigation consists of sticking a 35cm tube up MB’s butt and injecting a huge syringe of salt water. The first few times you see it, it’s terrifying.

The genetics of my donor egg baby

Accepting that we had to use donor eggs during our IVF struggles was extremely difficult, to say the least. I’ve written previously about the grieving process that necessarily goes along with this ultimate admission of one’s infertility — how it feels like a part of you has died, and the post-traumatic stress that can accompany it. And even though I’m extremely grateful to modern science that there was still a way for me to get pregnant, fully accepting that you’re a genetic dead-end is a long, emotionally complex process which I’m still working my way through.

To give one example: when our egg donor, Marie, was here a year ago for her egg retrieval, she was explaining to her 5-year-old how she was helping put a baby in my belly. “One day you, too, will grow a baby in your belly!”, she explained to her daughter.

“Hang on a sec”, I wanted to interject — feeling compelled to add a caveat that it’s not necessarily a given so as not to set unrealistic expectations for the little girl. But then I realized that she was right — the odds are that Marie’s daughter will have no trouble conceiving a child naturally, should she eventually choose to. That then led me to an uncomfortable truth: I was jealous. Of a 5-year-old.

Why it still stings

Even though I’m now very happily 39(!) weeks pregnant thanks to one of Marie’s donated eggs, the lack of a genetic connection between me and our future child is something that I’m still coming to terms with. I think there are two main reasons for this.

The first reason has to do with my husband. We’ve been together over 15 years now, and he’s basically the best man I know. When you are in a (heterosexual) relationship like ours, it’s natural to dream of one day creating a family together — making a kid that is half you and half your partner. It’s like the ultimate expression of unity and an awesome science experiment at the same time. You never dream of creating a child with a third person, as lovely as that person may be.*

The second reason is a bit more selfish. I’m no Mozart or Giselle B, but most of the time I like to think that I’m sort of a cool person. This is also totally natural — everyday insecurities aside, I think most people are partial to their own genetics. It’s therefore become a running joke over the course of this pregnancy that whenever I’m feeling particularly pleased about some totally unimportant aspect of myself, like my exceedingly low blood pressure, or my yogic lung capacity, my husband and I will turn to each other with sorrowful eyes (mine serious, his teasing) and say “What a waste!”

Finding acceptance

Fully accepting the lack of a genetic connection with a donor egg baby is not something that happens overnight, and I think the most important thing is to allow yourself time. As I’ve experienced my own feelings about it evolve, I also wanted to share some thoughts that have helped me find acceptance.

The first and most obvious point is that genetics don’t make a family — love does. (This is also true for sperm donation, embryo donation, and adoption.) I’ve heard again and again from parents of non-traditional families that once you hold the baby in your arms, nothing else matters. You certainly won’t love the kid any less. From the very beginning of this journey — when we first made the leap to egg donation — this thought has comforted me.

Then there is the whole nature-vs-nurture point, where there is increasing evidence that nurture plays a huge role in many aspects of development. For egg donor babies carried in the prospective mother’s own uterus, the latest research in the exciting field of epigenetics even suggests that these environmental effects start in the womb. This means that although the baby’s basic genetic blueprint didn’t come from me, my diet, lifestyle habits, and even genes (via MicroRNAs) do influence which traits in the baby actually ‘turn on’.**

(Yes, I know I just got done saying that genes don’t matter, but this is still pretty cool.)

Another thing that has helped me is something I’ve mentioned before in the context of deciding to use donor eggs in the first place. In particular, I used to worry that I would get sad if our baby looked just like Marie (as beautiful as she is) because it would remind me that we weren’t actually related. However, my husband (smart man) made me realize that I needed to change my perspective. Instead of seeing the lack of a physical resemblance as a painful reminder of my infertility, I should instead see it as a reminder of the amazing gift we’ve been given. This slight change in perspective has helped me immensely.

Last but not least, finding the humor in the situation never fails to help. Just as I sometimes feel particularly pleased about some aspect of myself, there are other traits that I’m decidedly less enthusiastic about, like my terrible eyesight, or my somewhat unfortunate tendency to occasionally drool on myself in broad daylight. Whenever one of these unpleasant traits come up, my husband and I will turn to each other, half smiles on our faces, and say “Thank goodness those genes aren’t being passed on!”

xx

* And luckily for us, Marie is extremely lovely, both inside and out.

** So, unfortunately, that drooling gene may not be quite out of the picture yet.

Should I use a known or anonymous egg donor?

For those brave infertiles who have gone through the necessary grieving process and decided to make the leap to egg donation, choosing between known and anonymous donation is usually the next big decision that needs to be made. I’ll say up front that in our case, the decision was essentially made for us. This is because we were told that an anonymous egg bank wasn’t really a thing in the Netherlands, and we found out that while our Dutch insurance still covered us in Belgium, we weren’t allowed to use the egg bank that does exist there. This was crushing, to say the least.

There were a few reasons we had hoped to at least have the option of anonymous donation. For one thing, I was mildly concerned that if the kid turned out to look exactly like someone we knew, this would be a constant painful reminder of my infertility (as well as fuel for gossip among those who didn’t already know). There was also the concern that it would negatively affect our relationship with the donor. Would I be jealous of their genetic connection? Would they become overly attached to the child? What if they, or their family, became overly involved?

But the biggest reason we initially hoped to use an anonymous donor was that we didn’t think a known donor was even an option for us. Nobody we knew had offered to donate, and it seemed WAY too big a thing to ask (“How has the weather there been? Would you mind having surgery to give us your genes?”) Very few of our friends met the criteria set out by the clinic, and we doubted that those that did would be willing or able to put their lives on hold to fly to Europe, where we had recently relocated from the US.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, anonymous donation seemed like our best (and only) bet.

Will my egg donor baby look like me?

I was never very worried about finding a donor who looked like me, but this can be another benefit of anonymous donation for many women. In particular, some clinics will offer egg donor matching based on physical characteristics. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a sister or close relative who’s willing to donate, this can be the best way for your baby to have a chance of resembling you.

Just to play devil’s advocate for a minute, I actually had the opposite concern — that if the baby looked too much like me, people would be constantly commenting on the likeness. Wouldn’t comments like that be an unwelcome reminder that I have raisins for ovaries? Worse yet, since I’m such a stubborn advocate of infertility awareness, would I feel the need to launch into a diatribe at every innocent ‘She has your eyes’ remark? I could see that getting annoying (for both them and me) real quick.

Benefits of known donation

While my husband and I were initially planning on using an anonymous donor, we could also see the possible benefits of known donation. For one thing, the kid would never have to wonder where they came from, because the donor would already be in our lives (assuming they were happy to be identified). Even with an anonymous donor, the increasing popularity of DNA testing from companies like 23andMe or Ancestry.com means they may not be anonymous forever. What if the child wanted to reach out to learn more about their heritage, and they were rejected?

Another potential benefit of known donation is that you have more information about the donor. If you’re worried about the child inheriting specific qualities, knowing the donor may give you peace of mind. (Although I think any woman who donates eggs has a heart of gold, which is arguably the most important quality.)

Our experience with known donation

In the end, our hopes of using an anonymous donor were dashed when we learned that a known donor was our only option — at least if we wanted to have the procedure partially covered by our insurance. Fortunately, we were extremely lucky that my childhood friend, Marie, volunteered. Marie and I actually share quite a few characteristics (physical and otherwise), which is just icing on the cake. We were even luckier that we managed to work out the ridiculously difficult logistics that accompanied a donor traveling from overseas. (This was, in no small part, thanks to the help of our awesome Belgian egg donation nurse.)

There’s no doubt that if an anonymous egg bank had been available to us, I’d be singing the praises of anonymous donation. Since known donation was our only option without breaking the bank, I’m so grateful to be here singing Marie’s praises instead. When all was said and done, I think the emotional support we felt from Marie’s offer was probably the biggest advantage of having a known donor. And as my husband wisely pointed out, if our kid turns out looking exactly like a miniature Marie-clone, it will be a beautiful reminder that someone in our lives cared enough to literally give us a child.

xx

A small (17mm) victory

The last couple of weeks didn’t exactly go to plan. I’ve been prepping for a frozen embryo transfer (FET), where they will carefully defrost one of the extra embryos that resulted from our recent donor egg IVF cycle, then place it in my uterus with what is essentially a high-tech turkey baster. To prepare my body, I stopped taking my birth control pills and started taking estrogen (Progynova) in order to grow a nice thick endometrial lining. And to prepare my mind, I timed all this to occur while I was sipping piña coladas on a Greek island.

Unfortunately, I managed to come down with a nasty little case of laryngitis on the last ~5 days of our trip, which instead saw me pitifully sipping chamomile tea in bed. My clinic assured me that the cocktail of pain killers and antibiotics I was taking wouldn’t negatively impact the upcoming transfer, but I was still bummed that I wouldn’t be as healthy and rested as I wanted.

Lining check

Fast forward to my first day back from holiday, where I started my workday nice and early with a date with Wanda*. The point of this 12-day scan is to ensure that the ovaries are quiet and the uterine lining is sufficiently thick to allow for implantation.

The ideal lining is at least 7 or 8mm thick and displays a distinctive ‘triple-line’ structure that indicates good ‘estrogenization’ and healthy growth of the endometrium. I’ve never had any trouble in this area, but growing a sufficiently thick lining is one of the hardest parts for many women facing infertility.

After confirming my ovaries were dormant (I could have told her that!), the doc headed over to my uterus (it’s like Mrs. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus over here). Immediately her eyes bulged, and she pointed at the screen like ‘Get a load of this’. She asked me to repeat what medication I was taking, and when I answered Progynova, 2mg, three times a day, she said “Well it’s working.”

Since I don’t have nearly as much experience as she does staring at fuzzy ultrasound screens, I still didn’t really know what she was talking about…until I saw her measure the endometrium thickness: 16.93mm.

My 17mm triple-lined endometrium in all its glory.

Since I posted this image on Thursday, Instagram has been losing its collective mind. And with good reason — studies show that pregnancy rates correlate with lining thickness. Many women struggle to grow a lining even half this thick, which probably explains the plethora of heart-eye emojis in the photo’s comments. From all the oohing and aahing, you’d think I posted a photo of a puppy in a mailbox rather than an ultrasound of my uterine tissue.

How did I grow a 17mm lining?

In addition to the heaps of admiration, one commenter asked the question everyone really wanted answered: “Holy hell. 16.93???? How?!”

At first I didn’t think anything of it. I’ve always grown a fairly thick lining (~11-12mm), so I thought maybe it was just a natural gift (& the world’s lamest superpower?) Still, it’s almost 50% thicker than usual, which seems like quite a large deviation. Maybe it’s a weird side effect of the antibiotics I’ve been on? Or maybe that wondrous week I spent spread-eagle in the sun somehow did the trick?

Then I had a realization so obvious that I’m embarrassed it took me as long as it did: I was taking an iron supplement this cycle. I didn’t think of it earlier because I was taking it for a totally unrelated reason. Namely, I’ve been feeling particularly tired lately, and a friend mentioned that low iron levels could be the culprit. I happened to have some sitting around in the medicine cabinet, so I popped it in my pill case without a second thought. I only took it for about 10 days due to unpleasant side effects**, so by the time my ultrasound rolled around, it was totally off my radar.

I can’t be sure it was the iron, of course. There are too many other variables, and I don’t have a control group. But it makes a lot of sense, since iron plays a vital role in the creation of healthy red blood cells. So if you’re looking for ways to thicken your uterine lining, you might consider some combination of taking a Greek holiday, developing severe laryngitis, and talking to your doctor about an iron supplement.

xx

* Wanda is the trans-vaginal ultrasound wand used to check one’s uterus and ovaries. We’ve been having a torrid affair for over a year (don’t breath a word to my husband).

** This is my polite way of saying severe abdominal bloating and constipation. At one point, there had to be at least five Greek salads in there.