Welcome to Refinery29’s Fertility Diaries, where people chronicle their joyous, painful, and sometimes complicated paths to parenthood. Today, we hear from Christine Smith, a 34-year-old woman in California, who decided to undergo fertility treatments solo after coming out in her 30s.
“When I was a kid, I imagined I’d have two-point-five kids, a dog, and a husband. None of that has ended up happening, except for the dog.
“I grew up with 15 cousins, and just about everyone followed the same pattern. You grow up, go to college, you meet someone, and you have children. That was the model. I assumed I’d do all that — be with a guy and be married — for a long time. Then I came out. I did this fairly late in life, in my early 30s after being in a long-term relationship.
“Because of that timing, a lot of people assumed I didn’t want kids. But I do and always have. With the person I’m dating now, on the second date, I told her, Hey, to be clear, I really want kids. She was cool with that.
“On Mother’s Day in 2021, at age 33, I started looking at what motherhood would look like for me. I did a lot of research, and looked into fertility treatments and fostering. I decided I wanted to try having biological children. I called multiple fertility clinics and did initial consultations. My girlfriend and I talked about it too. This is something I’m doing, not something we’re doing as a couple, but she’s been so supportive.
“I found a doctor where I didn’t get any questions about my sexual orientation or about pursuing parenthood without a partner. But down the road, I dealt with some assumptions and heteronormativity. One medical staffer kept asking me about my husband. I would remind them, Well I don’t have one. I would eventually start wearing rainbow clothing to appointments, and even offered to give them rainbow stickers to put on my chart so they’d stop referring to my husband when giving me news. I’m gonna be honest, you can feel jealous of people who have opposite-sex partners because one person provides something that is very expensive to buy — sperm. I’ve spent $7,525 (approximately £6,208) for sperm and shipping it so far.
“I did the initial testing and got a sperm donor, and started with intrauterine insemination (IUI). I really hoped I would be one of those people who gets pregnant on the first try. But the first one failed. I cried a lot. I did another unmedicated IUI, which failed the night before I was going on a road trip with my dad to see family in Southern California. I think I cried almost the entire 10-hour drive. I even had to call the clinic when we were in the car in traffic to talk about next steps.
“I then did a medicated cycle, [when IUI is done along with fertility drugs]. They gave me the fertility drug Clomid [which boosts estrogen] and gave me intense hot flashes. It was the fall and relatively chilly outside and I’d be working from home with the A/C cranked all the way up. The meds worked really well, but that IUI still didn’t work. It was so upsetting. It felt like I was doing something wrong. I did one more medicated cycle, and when that didn’t work, I turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“I did an egg retrieval, which required like 30 shots, which I gave to myself, which I was really proud of, because everyone assumed my ‘husband’ would be helping me. I was so uncomfortable from the medications. I’m a soccer player, but they told me I shouldn’t exercise. I just spent a lot of time inside and in pain.
“After the retrieval, I didn’t get as many eggs as I wanted. I got 11 eggs at the jump, and they all fertilised. But after five days, they called me and told me only one turned into a blastocyst, which is essentially a developing ball of cells that forms five or six days after sperm fertilises the egg. With genetic testing, I knew the odds were about 50/50 that this one wouldn’t be able to be implanted. I just cried most of the day, when I wasn’t in Zoom meetings for work. It was so hard to be in this place when I did everything I was supposed to do. I didn’t drink, I only had a little bit of coffee, but still nothing was working. But then later that same day I got a second call from the doctor, who said there was actually one more day left (day six) that some could become blastocysts. Ultimately, three total became blastocysts and were healthy. One was low mosaic, which means it’s not totally abnormal, but they could potentially transfer if needed after genetic testing.
“I had my transfer in early June. I knew even then that if it didn’t work, I would feel like it was my fault. There are things on random corners of the web that give advice for improving the odds of getting pregnant, like “Don’t drive over any bumps.” You get to thinking: Was it that bump? Did I walk down the stairs wrong? Did I not eat enough leafy greens? These websites tell you to watch comedies — what if I watched the wrong comedy and didn’t laugh enough? They also tell you randomly to eat McDonald’s fries, but I can’t have them because I have celiac disease. What if there’s something I should have done that I didn’t do.
“Towards the end of June, I had an early miscarriage. At this point I’m still figuring out next steps. I’m meeting with my doctor in early July to see. I do want kids, so I imagine I’ll move forward in some way, maybe another egg retrieval before I do another transfer. I’m mourning my daughter (the embryo I miscarried was a girl), and also feeling like I need to move forward fairly quickly if I want biological kids. It’s a lot of additional pressure, and further fear that I did something wrong along the way. It’s hard to convey to people who haven’t experienced it.
“I found out about the Roe v. Wade reversal the same week I miscarried, and for me, it further reinforced the importance of reproductive rights. We all need to be able to make the best decisions for us and our families. The reversal puts the health and safety of women and all people with uteruses at risk.
“One thing I’ve learned from all this: For people like me who aren’t following the ‘model’ set by their family or society, I’d tell them: There’s freedom in finding your own path. It’s liberating once you realise you don’t have to follow it, there’s so much exploration. Different is okay, and different can be beautiful.”
As told to Molly Longman
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.