My Story: Learning the Hard Way that Science Has Not Outsmarted Mother Nature

By Amy Agigian —

by Miriam Zoll

headshot of Miriam ZollMy name is Miriam. I am one of those women who delayed motherhood until the age of 40. I was fit and healthy, ate well and practiced yoga. I had no idea that trying to become pregnant would be so difficult.

Since I was a teenager I had been bombarded by cultural and media messages that said it was okay to postpone childbearing. I wasn’t aware that women’s fertility declined so rapidly after the age of 35, and dramatically more after the age of 40. Everywhere I looked in popular culture I saw images and news clips of older women having babies. I thought I could, too.

Shortly after my husband and I began trying to conceive, we learned that I had endometrial cysts on my ovaries. Those were removed surgically and after another year of trying to become pregnant we decided to sign up for fertility treatments. There was such an optimistic buzz about the promise of reproductive technologies, and everyone in our immediate circle– health care providers, colleagues, family and friends­­–optimistically encouraged us on our journey.

Despite my age and our doctor’s suggestion that we immediately try donor eggs or adoption, my husband and I plunged forward with IVF treatments. The success stories were so compelling we truly believed they would work, regardless of the odds that seemed to be stacked against us. Like millions of people facing a diagnosis of infertility, after the first two IVF cycles failed, we sunk into some kind of psychological denial and eagerly signed up for more treatments.

When the fourth cycle failed, the doctor recommended we try donor eggs. That was an extremely painful decision to make because it meant I would never birth a child I was genetically related to. I suffered enormous depression at this time, and when I somewhat recovered, my husband and I chose a 21 year old donor from a reputable agency.

Believe it or not she turned out be infertile due to a genetic disease. We then selected a second donor who was also infertile. You can imagine our devastation. Not only were we coming to terms with the unavoidable diagnosis of age-related infertility, we were also realizing that the promise of the science was far less than we had been led to believe and that there were no consumer protections in place.

It was only after I completed treatments that I began to research aspects of the industry that are not reported in the media and began to write my book, Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies (May 2013). The fact is, in the United States, there is virtually no oversight of any aspect of the industry, and few if any long-term studies tracking the health of women undergoing treatments or the babies born from them. The only requirement is the Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act of 1992­­–a “law” that loosely mandates clinics to report their annual “success rates” to the Centers for Disease Control.

In the course of my research I discovered that the vast majority of assisted reproductive technologies fail. Around the globe in 2012, approximately 1.5 million ART cycles were performed, with an estimated 1.1 million failed cycles (76.7 percent). In 2010 in the United States, the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control reveals that of the estimated 150,000 ART cycles conducted, approximately 103,000 (68.6 percent) failed.

It is my hope that by speaking publicly about the six failed cycles I experienced–and the physical and psychological risks and traumas that accompanied them–others will begin to speak out, as well. Generating more balanced discussions about these technologies will hopefully help people avoid involuntary childlessness due to a lack of transparency from the industry, and misinformation disseminated in the popular culture.

To read more about Miriam’s experience with aging and fertility, see her blog entry, Busting Open the Fertility Myth.