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Running An International Gambling Ring Postponed My Fertility Journey

Welcome to Refinery29’s Fertility Diaries, where people chronicle their joyous, painful, and sometimes complicated paths to parenthood. Today, we hear from Molly Bloom, 44, who struggled with fertility after becoming known for running an international gambling operation and having her subsequent book turned into the hit movie Molly's Game, starring Jessica Chastain. Have your own fertility diary to share? Contact us here or fill out this form. 
In the final lines of the movie Molly's Game, the narrator recites a Winston Churchill quote: "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." In the film, they're referring to the resilience of the eponymous character Molly Bloom. She overcame multiple injuries as a Team U.S.A. skier. She survived being beaten up by the mafia, ran multiple successful private poker games, and subsequently pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling business.
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And it's not just a movie. Bloom's story is real, and her Churchillian resilience came in handy beyond the poker table, the courtroom, and the Olympic arena. After her sentencing (including a year's probation, a $125,000 fine, and community service) and confronting being millions of dollars in debt, her book Molly's Game was adapted by Aaron Sorkin into a popular film of the same name, in which she was played by Jessica Chastain. Soon, she was appearing at the Oscars and delivering keynotes for the Motion Picture and Television Fund's women's conference. Things were looking up, until she needed to confront her next challenge: her fertility journey. Here's her story. 
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"I always knew I wanted to be a parent, but my world was complicated. For so long, I knew I wasn't in a position to bring a baby to this world — both when I was running poker games and again later when my life fell apart. I knew I needed to get some semblance of normality and structure in order to become a functioning parent. 
"I made a choice to freeze my eggs when I was 36 or 37. At the time I thought: This is absolutely going to work. It's like I'm purchasing this insurance policy on my life. That was how it was sold to me at the fertility center that I went to. They said, you've got a lot of eggs, you're in good shape. And so I thought I had the time. 
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"Soon, I met the father of my child, [when I was] about 40 years old. Not long after, we fertilized the eggs, but it didn't work. I remember getting the phone call that none of the 11 eggs were fertilized and feeling like there was ice water in my veins. It was shocking. It leveled me. 
"I went back to a fertility clinic and had blood tests. My indicators of fertility were really bad. The doctor said: it’s not impossible but very implausible you're going to have a biological kid. 
"I knew this was as important to me as anything I've ever wanted to do in my life so I did a ton of research. I looked into both Eastern and Western medicine. I figured out where the best labs were… I ultimately went through [nine rounds of] IVF at a few clinics, and it really brought me to my knees. You're manipulating your hormones and brain chemistry and putting your body through so much, and then you find out that so few of your eggs are chromosomally normal because you're 40 and not 30 anymore. It was such a grueling process. I was feeling this worry: did I miss out on this? On being a mom? There were so many life choices that I made in exchange for starting a family, and it was a deep fundamental fear. Finding a process to use that fear and overcome it was necessary to continue while being in the right state both in body and mind to bring life into the world. One of the biggest takeaways was how important it is to have some agency over the fear, over the mind, and over the depression. 
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"To do this, I leaned in part on the meditation practice that I had developed a long time ago when my life fell apart. I had found myself at 35 years old, millions of dollars in debt, a convicted felon, living with my mom and grandmother, having lost everything. To rebuild my life, I had to have a lot of agency over my mind and found that a meditation practice can actually change the structure of your brain, and can shrink the gray area in the amygdala, which is the fear center. Meditating allows me to sit with the fear, doubt, and sadness and observe it all but not get super hooked into it. To be in an observational place. It's been super powerful in my life when going through hard times. Sometimes I just had to talk back to the voice in my head and be my inner coach. I had to constantly recalibrate and stay persistent. 
"I also got into supplements, Chinese medicine, herbs, and other modalities that can improve your chances of getting pregnant. The community I found was also really important, and being able to source inspiration from other women who've gone through this and been successful. It was also helpful to frequent fertility groups, Facebook, Reddit, and otherwise, but beware of getting sucked in and taking anecdotal stories as fact.
"Meanwhile, I also had to listen to the rational data. I knew if I did this enough times, I'd get there. Even though, due to costs, this is not always an option. I also was considering adoption. Let's be honest, the cost of IVF is extremely overwhelming. More and more insurance policies are starting to cover it… I had insurance that would cover a couple of rounds. But when I did IVF I was by no means in a financially healthy place and I was still in a lot of debt from my life. I took out loans, I borrowed money, and I did what I had to do. But that's totally not available for a lot of people, and that's not lost on me. 
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"I went to a few different clinics and I did a couple of rounds at a few other extremely reputable places before I went to [my fertility center] in Colorado, which had a really killer embryologist and a top-notch lab, and I believe that made the difference. A lot of these fertility centers are huge money makers, and not all are created equally. And because some people are out to make money, they're going to oversell how successful, say, egg-freezing technology can be. In any industry where there's a huge financial upshot, there's going to be some fraud or dishonesty. I'm not knocking egg freezing, there's science, but I am just saying that it's absolutely worth doing the research on what's right for you, even though it's not easy. The learning curve is so expensive. For example, when you're looking at a fertility center, you're going to want to look at live birth rates, which tell you how many women are going through the process and actually having the outcome of a live birth. You also want to ask how many rounds on average it takes for the women who are having live births. And when you're in the room with the doctor and nurse, don't be afraid to ask questions that might make you feel dumb. Even if they're speaking in a language you don't understand, ask what those words mean. Don't let the complicated nature of fertility, the medical jargon, or anyone's sense of urgency get in the way of you arming yourself with information.
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"At my fertility center, it felt personalized and they tried different things to figure out what would work for me specifically. Ultimately, my partner and I got a couple of normal embryos. We found out we were pregnant and wanted to be happy but everyone throughout the first trimester was saying, don't get too attached to the outcome. There's so much fear-mongering. There was all this talk about it being a 'geriatric pregnancy' — a phrase I think no one should ever use again — and I had to go to a high-risk OB. I think it's important to educate people about the risks but also to change the narrative. It should be a more balanced conversation when talking about age. 
"I do think it's important that women know: yes, get your fertility checked when you're younger. And if you're going to wait, look into egg freezing, because, yes, there's no question it's harder to get pregnant later in life. It is hard, but it's not impossible. Yes, the risk goes up a little bit, but there are also benefits to waiting until you're ready. I'm profoundly lucky, and, for me, it worked and my daughter was born in February of 2022 when I was 43.
"I plan to try again as I have one more embryo… But I had such an anxious pregnancy. When you go down this road and you struggle, that's pretty common. Your brain has been conditioned that there's just going to be problems, problems, problems. Every blood test and ultrasound was scary. It didn't feel real until she was born. 
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"When they brought her to me, it was indescribable. You change and feel broken open and feel this deep love you didn't know you were capable of. It was also — oh my god — so redemptive. To have gone through everything I'd gone through. The fertility stuff, completely blowing my life up, and feeling like I was in the ruins. And then being able to be in this place where I'm holding my daughter. It's this new life and this new opportunity. This young little soul and I get to impart all the lessons I've learned. And hopefully, raise a confident, strong young woman. It was an indescribable feeling of redemption."
As told to Molly Longman.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity

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