“I didn’t want to do this as a single mom, but I realized I didn’t have the time to find someone, mutually fall in love, make the decision to have a kid, and try it out.”
Myriam Steinberg attempted a DIY insemination, seven rounds of IUI, three IVF transfers, and two egg donor cycles—all on her own—before becoming pregnant with twins using donor eggs and sperm. Now, finally home from the NICU with her three-month-old babies Abegail and Isaac (pictured above), just over three pounds each at birth, she’s opening up about the four-year-long road to meeting what she affectionately calls her “catalog” babies. “It was a very difficult journey—but damn are they worth the price of admission,” she says. From the actual dollar cost of becoming pregnant to choosing to have an “open” donation, read her story below.
What led to your decision to conceive using donor eggs and sperm?
When I turned 40 and still hadn’t found someone to be with, I decided I wanted to build a family as a single mom. I went to a fertility clinic and tried 7 intrauterine inseminations with anonymous donor sperm, and one “DIY” pregnancy with known donor sperm when the clinic was closed for the holidays. I got pregnant twice, but lost those babies. It turns out I had a bunch of eggs, but they weren't all that viable anymore, so I decided to try IVF so I could do genetic screening. On my third round of IVF I got pregnant but miscarried. At that point I was so tired and burnt out from all the needles and drugs. I realized I needed to use an egg donor.
How tough was it to make that call?
It was an incredibly hard decision. It meant my baby would have no biological material from me or someone I knew and loved, but I really wanted a baby so I decided to go for it. People would ask me “why not adopt?” but it kind of became a trigger—not being able to pass along your genetic material, and not being able to carry a child, for some reason put my womanhood into question. It meant not only my eggs were a failure, but my entire body was a failure. I wanted to know what it was like to feel the magic of a baby growing inside of you, and have that connection with the child no one else has.
What's the process of finding an egg donor like?
You browse through a catalog over and over again, since new people come in all the time. I wanted someone who kind of looked like me, but also someone who looked kind and intelligent and had the same values as me. Some of the banks offer really great photos, medical history, and the donors even write an essay. I learned about epigenetics (changes in gene expression that don’t involve changes to the DNA) which made me feel better about the whole process—I knew that while the baby might not have my height, or nose, they could still possibly take on some of my traits. It’s a big part of why I decided to go the egg donor route.
Can you describe the costs associated with egg donation?
This isn’t the easiest thing to talk about, and it sounds weird to say, but the bank I used had a “money back guarantee” and it cost around $35,000. I would get a batch of six to eight eggs to try, and if none of those eggs turned into a live birth, I would get another batch, and so on up to six batches. If I didn’t have a live birth after six batches, I’d get 100% of my money back. I miscarried the embryo I got from the first batch. I had to then choose a second donor because the first one no longer had any eggs left at the bank. With the second donor, the doctors transferred two of the embryos, because of my history, hoping one would stay. Both embryos took, which is how I became pregnant with twins.
How was your pregnancy?
Tough. I had a hemorrhage in my first trimester with quite a bit of bleeding, and then my son Isaac’s water broke at 18 weeks. So I was on bedrest for seven weeks at home, and eight weeks in the hospital. Labor started at 32 weeks and 4 days—about two months early. They both arrived at three pounds and change. Abegail was mostly fine and just needed to feed and grow, but Isaac was born with the lungs of a 24-weeker, so he was intubated with chest tubes. He had IV's coming out of every limb and spent 67 days in the NICU. They’re 3 ½ months now, and he’s been home for over a month and is doing good. He’s a snuggle bunny.
That's a lot to handle on your own, how did you manage?
I was super lucky my family was so supportive, and I had loads of friends coming to visit at the hospital and bring me food and keep me company or offer a shoulder to cry on. I don’t know how I would have done it without them. That said, when you’re going through this stuff, it’s super lonely at the best of times. I made friends with all the other pregnant women in the hospital or “inmates” as we called ourselves. We all had different things happening but what we had in common was we were all eating the same shitty hospital food and didn’t know when we’d give birth. We’d talk and hang out—we stay in touch to this day.
How do you plan (if at all) to tell the twins how they were conceived?
There’s still quite a bit of secrecy around egg and sperm donorship, but I’m going to talk about it with them right away in age appropriate ways. I think it’s important that they know and don’t feel ashamed about it if it comes up. (I’m already imagining the scenario where we’re at the park and someone says, ‘You look so much like your mom!’) Both the egg and sperm donors were ‘open’, meaning the twins can choose to contact them when they’re 18 if they want to. I felt super comfortable with it from the sperm side, but it was a really hard decision to have an open egg donation. I don’t know how I feel about them meeting their genetic material on the female side, but I think it’s the right decision in the long run. I also put them on the sibling registry in case they have any half brothers or sisters in the world, which I’m sure they do or will.
How is the twin mama life going?
It’s surprisingly easier than I expected. Going into it my biggest fear was sleep deprivation, but they actually sleep super well. I have a nanny a few times a week for a little bit of relief. There are moments for sure when they both lose their mind that are super challenging, but double cuddles are the best. We wake up at 6:30 or 7 most days and do a tandem feed, and snuggle for 3-4 hours. They’re mostly on the same schedule which helps a lot.