The Fertility Race
Twenty Years of Test-Tube Babies

Meet a Family from the IVF Lab

ABOUT ONE IN SEVEN American couples are infertile. A suburban Philadelphia couple named Patti and Alex are among that number. He's an entrepreneur in wireless communications, she's a banker. Doctors never figured out why Patti can't get pregnant the conventional way - something's amiss in her reproductive system.

Patti and Alex were in their early thirties when they encountered difficulty getting pregnant. They tried for three years, struggling through a variety of infertility treatments and spending many thousands of dollars. Finally, Patti says, their options narrowed to two: an adoption agency or an IVF lab.

"I was on this mission, there was nothing that was going to stop me from having success," Patti said. "I probably would have tried in vitro a couple of times before pursuing other options like adoption."

Patti is a tall, slender woman with short red hair, wire-rim glasses, and an easygoing, sarcastic manner. Six years ago she underwent an IVF procedure called zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) which involves fertilizing a woman's eggs outside her body and then using a surgical device called a laparoscope to transfer the fertilized eggs (zygotes) into her fallopian tubes. It worked doubly well; Patti gave birth to twin boys, Matty and Zack, in March 1993.

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Clockwise from left: Patti, Alex, Matty, and Zack.

With their house now happily chaotic, the couple assumed they were done having kids. They watched with pleasure and fascination as Matty developed into an impulsive, dramatic child and Zack played his quieter, methodical opposite. Ever the entrepreneur, Alex got to thinking.

"We have twin boys that are total opposite polar ends of the spectrum," he said. "I'm really curious to see, if we have a third child, where that child would fit [in terms of] disposition, demeanor." Alex added with a smile, "Also, I'd like to have a daughter."

Some couples who are infertile the first time around get pregnant the conventional way later on - but not Patti and Alex. To expand their family meant a trip back to the in vitro lab, which they took last fall. Preparing a woman for IVF means giving her daily, often painful drug injections to jolt her ovaries into high gear. A woman normally produces just one egg each month. To better the odds for success, doctors prescribe drugs that can stimulate the ovaries to produce a dozen or more eggs. Husbands and other relatives are usually enlisted to give the daily shots, but because Alex travels so much for work, Patti's neighbor Janet sometimes steps in. Braced against the dining room table, Patti waited for a jab.

A nurse draws Patti's blood for the pregnancy test.

"Take a deep breath," Janet said, soothingly. "A little stick - it's going to burn just a little bit. You want a Band-Aid, girl?" "Nah," Patti replied. "That was fast."

Janet is a nurse, so she knows her way around a needle. It also turns out that she's been on the receiving end of the very same kind of shot herself. Janet and her husband conceived their young son through IVF.

"When I met Janet she was just pregnant," Patti recalled. "Then I met her husband and I sensed they had been through the war like we had."

Remarkably, Patti's other next door neighbor also fought the fertility wars and had a child through IVF. So, in the space of three consecutive houses in one Philadelphia suburb, four children were conceived in a laboratory dish. While this neighborhood coincidence is striking, it should also be said that these families live in a relatively affluent community - where people are more likely to afford expensive infertility treatments.

"We're not alone," Patti said of the common bond among the neighbors. "It says that the technology's getting better and better." Alex added that with so many thousands of children conceived by IVF in this country, his own kids are in little danger of getting harassed about being "test-tube babies."

Alex chuckled, "You know, half their class will be like that."

Next: Riding the IVF Roller Coaster

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