In Vitro Fertilization: A Unique Adventure

Testimonial by Martin Lemire

I have always dreamed of becoming a father, and how I achieved this – adoption, having children with my spouse or artificial insemination– made no difference to me. I was lucky to meet the most wonderful person in the world: my spouse, Isabelle. At the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t know whether I would be able to have children naturally. Since Isabelle also wanted children,

I had a spermogram a few months after we started seeing each other. Since I have only a mild form of cystic fibrosis, I was hoping to be among the 2% of men with this disease who are fertile. Unfortunately, I was disappointed when the physician called to give me the results: statistics do not lie. In the meantime, Isabelle had undergone genetic screening to find out if she was a carrier of the CF gene. The good news was that she was not a carrier of the two most common CF genes in Quebec and Canada.

A few years later, we went to a fertility clinic. The first meeting was promising, and we were told what we already knew, namely, that we had three options: adoption, artificial insemination with a donor’s sperm or in vitro fertilization. Since Isabelle wanted my child, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea: I had a striking resemblance to my father, so why not inseminate her with his sperm? But Isabelle disagreed, and my bright idea quickly fizzled out anyway, because Quebec law prohibits this type of practice. In hindsight, I admit that it wasn’t a very good idea for a number of reasons, including moral considerations. We left that meeting with all the necessary information and decided to think it over for a year.

During this time, we visited another clinic, the OVO Fertility Clinic in Montreal. We felt very comfortable and confident right from the outset. This was in April 2005. Our meeting with the physician was very informative and led to the decision to try in vitro fertilization. We started the process a few days later, with much enthusiasm. First, we had blood tests, and my spouse had an ultrasound; both procedures went very smoothly. Before going back home to Témiscamingue, we made a second appointment for the next step, which involved meetings with a gynecologist, an urologist and a geneticist.

We made our second trip to Montreal in May. Our meeting with the gynecologist was positive and things were looking good. Our meeting with the urologist was a little more stressful; he said the vas deferens was absent, but there were sperm in the epididymus. What a relief! Everything was still going very well. However, the meeting with the geneticist shook us up quite a bit. Before we started the process, he wanted to make sure that our future child would not have cystic fibrosis, so he told us that, as responsible parents, we should have Isabelle undergo a CF gene sequencing test. This is a more advanced test to find out if the person has one of the numerous CF genes found in North America, and it takes three or four months to obtain the results. This made us very sad and disappointed, because we had been planning to start the in vitro cycle in July, and I had chosen my vacation time accordingly to be able to travel to Montreal. Our plans were dashed. My spouse was outraged and asked me: “Why is it so hard to have children? Why can’t we have them naturally? We went back home, broken-hearted.

In early June, Isabelle had a blood test for the gene sequencing in a local hospital. Right before our vacation was to begin, we got an unexpected call from the geneticist: the results were perfect. According to him, there was almost no risk of having a child with cystic fibrosis. We were ecstatic! We immediately contacted the OVO Clinic to tell them we wanted to start the in vitro process because, as if my magic, it was the right time in my spouse’s menstrual cycle. We couldn’t have been happier. Our friends were encouraging, although some of them weren’t in total agreement with us, because the process can be hard on a women’s health and trying for the couple. In addition, it is expensive and doesn’t guarantee results. Nevertheless, after we reassured them, they gave us their full support and encouragement. We went to Montreal and, a few days after taking the prescribed drugs, we went to the clinic. All the professionals (physicians and nurses) were very friendly and made themselves available to answer our questions and address our concerns. They explained that the process would last six weeks. We began our in vitro adventure with confidence and optimism, yet remained realistic: we were aware of all the possibilities.

We went back home with an armload of drugs and filled with hope. Because we lived so far away from the clinic, they facilitated the process by arranging for us to undergo tests in our area. The first drugs we took were in pill form, but the second batch had to be injected, which was painful. We were both worried and nervous. We then prepared to go back to Montreal because, for the two following weeks, we had to be near the clinic. In the meantime, the drugs were doing their job and everything was going well. The day that the ova and sperm would be harvested was approaching and we awaited that day with trepidation.

Finally, on August 15, the physician harvested 24 ova from Isabelle, 14 of which were mature. Fortunately, this wasn’t a painful procedure because Isabelle was on sedatives. Then, it was my turn. I panicked: I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up. The nurse explained the procedure in detail, and all went well: the sperm were there, thank goodness! A few hours later, the clinic confirmed that our ova and sperm had produced nine embryos. However, that was not the end of our troubles. The ovarian hyperstimulation that Isabelle had undergone had caused severe abdominal pain; if it got any worse, they would have to delay implanting the embryos. Finally, on August 18, a very difficult day, the physicians implanted two embryos into Isabelle’s uterus. The procedure was practically painless. The remaining embryos would be allowed to develop to a certain degree of maturity, and the ones that survived would be frozen. Now, all we had to do was waiting and stay calm.

We went home two days later. On our way back, we found out that none of the embryos had survived. We had very much been counting on those embryos so as not to have to repeat the entire procedure in case Isabelle had a miscarriage or in case we decided to try to have another child. We had to wait two full weeks for the results of the pregnancy test; they were the longest weeks in our lives. We were happy, worried and confident all at once. The patiently awaited results of the first pregnancy test were positive, with hormone levels indicating that only one embryo had survived. We were happy, but also disappointed, because we were selfishly hoping that both embryos would survive; that way, we would have had our family in one attempt. This event made us realize that the success of this procedure hung by a thread; that the whole thing was really quite fragile, which is a difficult concept to swallow. I was torn between the positive result and the fact that nothing could be taken for granted until our child was born. I was apprehensive because there was a risk that Isabelle, like any pregnant woman, could miscarry. I was still afraid of getting bad news. It had not yet sunk in that we were indeed going to have a child.

Then we got the results of the second pregnancy test, which were also positive. We were going to have a baby! But I was still worried. Furthermore, Isabelle had a hard time early in the pregnancy, because the procedure provoked another episode of ovarian hyperstimulation, which was even stronger than the first one. She had serious abdominal cramps that made us fear the worst. But about two months into the pregnancy, things became normal and the rest of the pregnancy went off without a hitch. Each new stage – her expanding abdomen, the baby moving and hiccupping, the ultrasounds – brought us joy.

The wonderful day we had been so anxiously awaiting finally arrived. Was I finally going to realize that we had a child? The birth went very well. When I saw that rosy little baby wiggling and crying on my spouse’s belly, I burst into tears of joy at the beauty of this miracle.

And now we have a lovely baby girl. The sweat test ordered by my physician indicated that she doesn’t have cystic fibrosis. She is now six months old and she, along with my spouse who made it possible for me to live through this adventure, is the best thing that ever happened in my life. The process certainly wasn’t easy, but we had been well prepared. A few days after the in vitro process was over, if anyone had asked my spouse if she would go through it again, she would have said no. But time goes by and the memory of the pain fades away. Today, with this little bundle of life and love, we cannot imagine what our lives would be without her. We would love to have more children, and if life is willing to grant us this wish, we’re ready. Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time, science will have made advances that will alter the process, and even make it easier. In the meantime, we are happy and make the most of every minute with our daughter, who fills our lives with joy.

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