by Stacy Sullivan
I found love at 40. I don’t know what percentage of the New York City dating pool I went through before it happened, but I know it was significant. The city seemed packed with beautiful, intelligent and accomplished women and a dearth of men worthy of them. Love proved elusive. I had faith that I would find it one day, but I didn’t think I would find it in time to have children.
When I turned 39, I went to a fertility clinic. I wanted to see if everything was working okay. I think part of me thought that maybe I was infertile, and if I was, I could stop fretting about missing the opportunity of having children. But I also wanted to know about the viability of freezing my eggs or conceiving a child with a sperm donor.
At the time, and at my age, egg freezing wasn’t really an option. The doctor said my egg reserves looked fine, but that if I wanted to conceive, I would need to act fast. Fertility plummets exponentially after 40 and with each month, the chances of conception were growing slimmer. After a lot of soul searching and tears, I came to the decision that I wasn’t suited to be a single mother and that it was more important to me to find love (and perhaps adopt children later) than it was to have my own biological children.
And that’s when Karl Vick, the man who would become my husband, walked into my life. He was a Washington Post correspondent who had spent many years abroad – in Africa, Turkey, Iraq – covering wars, famine, natural disasters. For a variety of reasons, which included how he has spent the past couple of decades, he had managed to turn 50 and never marry.
Our romance moved quickly. He was beautiful and funny and accomplished, actually liked the idea of monogamy. He lived in Los Angeles and I in New York, but we somehow made it work. When he told me that he liked the idea of having children, I said there wasn’t any time to waste. We tried for a couple of months, and when I didn’t immediately get pregnant, I dragged him to the fertility clinic with me.
We both underwent some testing. Karl checked out fine. My plumbing was a bit more complicated. It seemed my tubes were somehow pinned up and didn’t reach my ovaries. The doctors said they could do some exploratory surgery to determine what was pinning up my tubes, but at my age, they recommended doing IVF.
So began a daily regimen of shots, which stimulated my ovaries to produce a bunch of eggs. I wasn’t terribly bothered by the IVF regimen. I already had numerous friends who had undergone IVF, some of them multiple times, so I sort of knew the drill. At the IVF clinic I bumped into old friends I hadn’t seen since graduate school. I saw a couple of male colleagues I worked with who were there accompanying their wives. IVF was kind of like going to the Hamptons. Everyone was doing it.
Everyone I knew who had done IVF wound up retrieving a dozen eggs or more. One friend of mine got more than 20. In the multiple ultrasounds I got during the two weeks prior to my retrieval had shown at least eight eggs, so I wasn’t worried. The doctors said everything looked fine. But when I awoke from the egg retrieval (which is done under general anesthesia), the nurse informed me that they had retrieved only two.
I was gutted. “Two?” I said, holding back tears. “What happened?”
“You only need one,” she said with what seemed like a well-rehearsed response.
I hated that nurse and her patronizing comment. I hated the doctor who seemed so inept at egg retrieval. And I hated the clinic for not providing an explanation for why they didn’t get more eggs. “Sometimes this happens,” was all they ever told me.
Of those two eggs, only one fertilized. And by day three, when the resulting embryo was supposed to be transferred into my womb, it was a measly four cells. Viable embryos are usually six to eight cells by that time. I asked my doctor if it was even worth going through with the transfer – why put my self through another couple of weeks of injections if the chances were so slim of getting pregnant? He said the odds were low, but that I should do it.
Nine months later, having moved to Jerusalem, I gave birth to my son, Nathaniel Augustus Vick. I was 42. My pregnancy wasn’t particularly difficult. I did my fair share of vomiting in the first trimester and felt nauseated for seven weeks. I fretted about Downs Syndrome and other age-related abnormalities and did every kind of testing known to the New York medical establishment at the earliest possible dates. Some of those procedures were invasive and increased the possibility of miscarriage, so I fretted about that too.
When our son was born, my husband and I felt like we had beaten so many odds. We found love late in our lives. We conceived on the first try with IVF. And our baby was not plagued by the plethora of abnormalities associated with advanced maternal age. It seemed too good to be true.
So when I went in for my six-week post-natal check-up and my OB-GYN at Hadassah suggested that I stop breastfeeding at six-months – and undergo another round of IVF and freeze some embryos so that I might have another child – I laughed and told her she was out of her mind. Nathaniel was colicky and I had not slept in six weeks. And my husband and I were in the business of counting our blessings, not pushing our luck. Almost everyone I knew who had done IVF had to do it multiple times before getting pregnant, and many never did.
But not long after I walked out of her office, I started thinking about it. I mentioned it to Karl and he laughed too. But not long after that, he too started thinking. So when Nat stopped nursing on his own accord at 8 ½ months, I thought maybe he was sending me a message. He pushed my breasts away with both of his hands and I heard “I want a sibling!”
The IVF clinic at Hadassah Mount Scopus was not encouraging. The doctor told us that at my age (now 43), we had about a 2 percent chance of a “live birth.” And she recommended against freezing embryos. If we wanted another baby, she said I should try to get pregnant as soon as possible. We weren’t ready yet – Nathaniel was only 10-months-old, still waking several times a night and I was still exhausted – but we followed the doctor’s recommendation and decided to try anyway.
A couple of weeks of hormone injections, and a handful of blood tests and ultrasounds later, I went under general anesthesia for the egg retrieval. It was Thanksgiving Day, 2011. I don’t know if it was the hormonal regimen the Hadassah doctors put me on or if the doctor was more adept at retrieving the eggs, but when I awoke, a nurse informed me that the doctor had retrieved 15 eggs.
Five eggs fertilized, and three days later, my doctor implanted two into my uterus. We froze the other three. I should have been thrilled, but I spent the next two weeks weeping along side my sick 10-month-old son who was waking several times a night – and praying that I wasn’t pregnant. Motherhood was miserable, I thought, and there was no way in hell I was ready to go through this again.
I wasn’t surprised when the clinic told me a couple of weeks later that I wasn’t pregnant. And I was tremendously relieved. My doctor recommended that we try again with the three frozen embryos as soon as possible, but I knew I needed more time. Who undergoes IVF and then prays she doesn’t get pregnant?
I told her that I understood she was giving me sound medical advice, but that I had other personal factors to consider. I needed to wait until my son was a little older, until he was healthy, until I felt healthy. We were planning a family vacation in South Africa in February, and I told her I would try again in the spring.
The vacation was glorious. I felt rested and warm, and Nathanial responded to the sunshine and the ocean air by taking long naps and sleeping much better at night. When we returned to Jerusalem in March, I felt ready to try again. The clinic recommended implanting all three embryos and advised against doing another round of IVF if this didn’t work. In April, I signed a form acknowledging that there was a possibility I could have triplets and all three were placed into my uterus. It was probably our last shot.
My doctor seemed optimistic after the procedure. She said that one of the little embryos had grown in between the time it was thawed out in the morning and the time it was implanted in the afternoon. I tried not to read too much into it, but I wasn’t surprised when she called me a couple of weeks later – it was Mother’s Day – and told me I was pregnant.
And so it was, against tremendous odds, that in my 44th year on earth, thanks to science, I had a daughter. Sophia Marie Sullivan Vick was born on January 6, 2013.Be Not Afraid, for You Have Sons in America.