An Oeuf – Aplastic Anemia and Fertility

I have wanted to be a mother since I was seventeen.  Up to that point, I had very few dealings with children beyond the occasional babysitting job.  Then one day something turned on like a switch.  I actually remember it happening.  It occurred to me that I wanted to have babies and I knew the desire was deeply etched into my biology.  I had to  have children.  Since I was not completely out of my mind or careless in a Juno-type way, I didn’t run right out at seventeen and get pregnant.  Maybe I should have.

Aplastic Anemia Blog - Eggs

Eggs! Note - not human.

I am now facing the possibility of permanent infertility.  Human females are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their lifetime.  When they’re gone, they’re gone, and the body doesn’t make more.  My bone marrow transplant is going to involve a harsh cocktail of ATG, chemotherapy, and radiation.  Unfortunately, there is a strong possibility that my eggs will be damaged or destroyed in the process.  The destruction of my eggs will cause POF (Premature Ovarian Failure) – otherwise known as early menopause.

Naturally, this is a very upsetting prospect for me.  I have known of this possibility since the beginning, but I didn’t allow myself to think about it as I didn’t know if I was going to have a transplant until four weeks ago.  When my treatment course was decided, the infertility issue became very real, very quickly.  The likelihood of losing my ability to have children felt like one more indignity, and I wasn’t prepared to go down without a fight.

I discussed my concerns with my hematologist-oncologist and we went over my options – one being the possibility of my wearing a lead cover during the radiation treatment.  I do not yet know if I will be able to shield my uterus and ovaries, as doing so might also cover my hips and pelvis – the primary area where bone marrow creates stem cells.  I will find out about that possibility after I talk to my radiation-oncologist in two weeks or so.  The other option my doctor suggested was egg freezing.  Egg freezing, for those of you who have never had to confront infertility issues, involves extracting eggs that have been hormonally induced to maturation and cryopreserving them.

Aplastic Anemia Blog - Bracelet


Having one’s eggs frozen does not come cheap.  In addition to the cost of the extraction, lab fees, and cryopreservation itself, the medications associated with the process can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the total.  Fortunately, I have savings available and was also able to take advantage of a grant from the LiveSTRONG Foundation (Lance Armstrong’s organization), which has a program called Fertile Hope.  The Fertile Hope program provides fertility medications for egg or embryo freezing for patients who are about to undergo chemotherapy and other cancer-like treatments.  The foundation approves applications very quickly, as they know patients in these circumstances can’t afford to wait.  I feel very lucky to be the recipient of their generosity!

Once I knew it was possible both physically and financially to have my eggs frozen, I met with a physician at a private fertility practice which had been recommended to me by my obstetrician-gynecologist.  After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to move forward with the process.  Starting last night, I began injecting myself with hormones that will stimulate my egg maturation, and on August 19th I will have my eggs extracted in an outpatient procedure.  I expect the hormonal ride to be a doozy!  My poor, poor boyfriend.

Aplastic Anemia Blog - In-vitro

This could be my baby! Not literally.

Should my fertility not return after my transplant, the little eggies will be thawed and injected with sperm from my husband/boyfriend/anonymous donor and the newly created embryos will be implanted in my dormant womb.  I will be given a hormone to thicken the lining of my uterus in order to make a home for the little embryo(s) and hopefully one of them will take.  I am amazed that despite having gone through menopause, women may still be able to carry a child naturally.  Science!  If the in-vitro doesn’t work, adoption is, of course, another option.

Emotionally, I have had to try to come to terms with the fact that my long-held belief of how I planned to have a baby may not be as I expected.  I always thought I would meet a man, fall in love, have sex with him, and give birth to our baby nine months later.  Turns out my path may not be quite so linear.  Initially, I went through a grieving process as I realized that despite my best efforts, including the “insurance policy” of freezing my eggs, I may never be able to have a child naturally.  As I’ve grown and continue to grow to accept my circumstances, I’ve realized that if I am able to carry a baby to term (my own biological child no less), it doesn’t really matter if I have to go the in-vitro route.  Nor does it matter if I have to adopt.  My child will be blessed, since I want him or her so much that I am willing to make the physical and financial sacrifices required to conceive.  What a lucky kid!

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrew Robinson
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 23:25:39

    As regards your options, I would imagine that using a surrogate could also be an option.

    Just want to say that reading your posts is… well, it’s not “enjoyable” per se, but I do look forward to them. Your ability to go through these tribulations and to communicate the experience in such an emotionally clear-eyed manner, with humor and eloquence and relatability, is beyond impressive. Thinking good thoughts for you as you undergo this transplant.


    • aawarrior
      Aug 10, 2011 @ 12:19:56

      Definitely looking into surrogacy is an option. That’s a very good point, which I forgot to address.

      Thanks for reading my posts! I hope they are somewhat enjoyable, despite the circumstances surrounding their existence. Life is crazy and unpredictable, but worth every second of living it. 🙂


  2. Emily
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 05:55:00

    I am so excited and hopeful for you, Katherine. The journey you’re on right now truly sounds like a doozy, but you continue to handle it with such grace. I’m thinking of you as you begin the process of getting your eggs frozen, as well as prepare for your transplant. We’re all rooting for you. xo


  3. Belinda
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 09:29:08

    Great heartfelt post that so many women can deeply understand. You have shown such grace and fortitude as you have faced each obstacle that your illness has set before you. The road of life has many unexpected turns, but like the poster says it isn’t the destination– it is the journey.
    Sending you love and comfort.


  4. Julie Lawrence
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 15:26:35

    Great post and I’m looking forward to hearing about the process. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable but I’m so happy this is an option (if needed) for you! Good luck and let me know if you need anything!


  5. Trackback: Transplant 101 « Aplastic Anemia Journal – Marrowly Rolling Along

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