South Jersey couple struggled to start a family — until learning about embryo adoption
Marissa Weatherby, a first-grade music teacher from Mays Landing struggled with endometriosis for years before trying to conceive. When six months passed and she wasn't getting pregnant, she assumed it was because of her health issues. But that was not the case.
After many tests, it turned out that her husband Evan suffered from a rare genetic disorder that was both severe and irreversible.
Marissa and Evan weighed their options: sperm donor or traditional adoption — but nothing felt right to them.
Marissa said she wanted to experience pregnancy so adoption was out. She was also afraid there would be complications such as the birth mother changing her mind.
With sperm donation, they were concerned with causing a rift in their marriage.
Then one day, Marissa was driving to work and it dawned on her: If there was such a thing as egg and sperm donations, maybe there's something called embryo donation. That's how the couple came across Dr. Stephen Sawin and South Jersey Fertility Center.
Data from the Mayo Clinic shows 10 to 15% of couples are infertile. The good news is that there are many effective treatments such as sperm and egg donations and traditional adoption. But there's also a fairly new process called embryo adoption or embryo donation.
About embryo donation
Sawin, medical director at South Jersey Fertility Center, said embryo adoption is when couples who have gone through invitro fertilization successfully may not want to throw out leftover embryos or donate them to research. Rather, they've decided to donate leftover embryos to other infertile couples.
He said embryo adoption has an excellent success rate. In 2019, there was a 48% pregnancy rate. The normal human fertility rate, by contrast, is only about 20%.
There are three causes of infertility: problems with sperm, eggs, and blocked tubes.
Sawin recommended that women under 35 should try conceiving a baby for about a year before seeking help from an infertility specialist. Women over 35 should try for six months before seeking help.
Common misconceptions about infertility
Sawin said infertility is common. In fact, 10% of couples will experience infertility in their lifetime.
He also said there are effective treatments that are not expensive.
"In New Jersey there's a law that requires coverage from insurance by employers, so many couples can go through infertility with minimal expense," Sawin said.
In June 2018, Marissa had her first embryo transfer at South Jersey Fertility. The result was a beautiful baby girl who will turn 3 years old next month.
During the pandemic, she had a second embryo transfer. From that, she gave birth to her son.
Marissa now shares her experiences through social media and her blog The Infertile Journal and serves as a mentor to other women experiencing fertility.
She wants to remind infertile couples that anything they are feeling — frustration, anger, sadness, depression, any emotions at all — are valid. She said it took her a long time through countless therapy sessions to come to terms with the fact that her feelings were valid.
Marissa said she knows firsthand that infertility can be very isolating.
"But you are never, ever, ever alone. If you can look for online communities, support groups, there are people all over the place who understand the struggle," she said.
Infertile couples are in this together, which means that communication and being open with each other is important, she said. That is what helped her and Evan get through this ordeal. They were adamant that no matter what came out of their infertility journey, they were not going to let it come between them and their marriage.
"What we went through could easily tear a couple apart. But keeping that at the forefront, knowing that that's a possible outcome and actively working to ensure that your relationship stays strong, it's worth it," she said. "We didn't just want to have a kid. We wanted to have a kid together."
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