I Became A First-Time Mother At 46—And I'm Not Done Yet

Cherie Cohen tells her incredible story of becoming pregnant with an egg donor after 40

The toll of the motherhood bell never rang for me. Not during my first marriage, and the years of my late 20s and early 30s, nor the beginning of my second, in my late 30s. Not, that is, until I turned the big 4-0. Then the bell tolled loud. And the bell tolled frequently. And there was no silencing of the bells. The desire to be a mother was upon me.

Unlike our own mothers, motherhood has not become an automatic rite of passage—rather one that we believed we could afford to delay. My generation had the great fortune of many remarkable new opportunities. And yet, while the world around us needed to adapt to all that we wanted and were willing to fight for, biology has simply not kept pace.

We women are born with a set number of eggs that is plentiful and is established during our own fetal life development, peaking at approximately the 20th week of pregnancy, when as many as 5 million eggs are present in our ovaries. Ironically, with the onset of puberty at age 13, only 350,000 eggs remain, with the reverse trend now unfolding for us, as the monthly loss of eggs continues until menopause, at which point less than 1,000 eggs remain.

Staggeringly, more than 99% of all eggs will ultimately die without ever being ovulated. In fact, it is estimated that only 450 eggs will ever be ovulated by a woman during her reproductive years.

But of course, none of us becomes intimate with these remarkable statistics, reminding us of the sophistication and marvel that is the human body—until we need to confront the painful truths about our eggs, the lack of them, and the compromised state of their quality, at that very moment in time when we are desperate for them not to disappoint us.

This was indeed my own case, as I sought to get pregnant. I was successful not once, not twice or even thrice, but four times. And yet I was unable to stay pregnant. For a host of different reasons, they were all equally painful and disappointing. The ease with which I became pregnant had created a false sense of what was possible. And each time my husband and I forayed down the path, we had a renewed and exciting sense of what was possible, as we sought to grow our family.

After our fourth loss, my obstetrician sat us down to suggest that with me rapidly approaching 45, there appeared to be a problem outside the bounds of his own expertise. He implored us to seriously consider consulting none other than a fertility specialist.

It was a horrid experience. I’m the first to acknowledge the merits of a capitalist society, but our visit reeked of nothing other than a big baby-making business. In under five minutes of being in the fertility specialist’s office, she had (a) advised me how shit my own egg quality was, (b) informed me that IVF was going to become my best friend, and (c) that the big elephant in the room needed to be identified, so we could place it in a box and put the box up on a shelf.

What was the big elephant in the room? None other than the prospect of using an egg donor, rather than my own eggs, to become pregnant. Sadly, it was this option that would prove to open a Pandora’s box for us.

In Canada, unlike the ease with which one can purchase sperm, from a donor bank, one cannot purchase eggs in the same way. Instead, our legislation mandates that the donor does so for purely altruistic reasons, whereby these donor eggs can not be bought and paid for, and then, of course, the donor is known, rather than anonymous.

And so as we embarked on our own journey to use an egg donor, it quickly became apparent that we were going to need to do so outside the country, to ensure (a) the use of fresh eggs, and (b) total donor anonymity. Shockingly, nations like the U.K. and Australia have equally archaic legislation in this space, whereby both nations in fact grant rights to the egg donor of the resulting children until the age of 18.

After much research, we landed on South Africa. For us, it checked lots of boxes. For one, I was born in Johannesburg and had, at the time, a ninety-one-year-old grandmother, whom we tried to visit at least once a year. Egg donor business was big in South Africa. With a plethora of egg donor agencies rigorously regulated, offering loads of choice, iron-clad anonymity legislation, first-world medical care and a very favourable foreign exchange rate, we embarked on this very exciting phase.

Sadly, our first donor experience proved unsuccessful, yielding 30-year old eggs of much lower quality than my own. A full IVF cycle and a double embryo transfer all for nothing. Ironically, it was this non-pregnancy that proved more gut-wrenching than many of my own pregnancy losses, where I was keenly aware of my age, and the likelihood of my own body disappointing me. But choosing and paying for younger, fresher, more fertile eggs was not supposed to also kick me in the gut and leave me empty in my belly.

A couple of months later, we hit the reset button and arrived in Cape Town ready to make babies. This time, for real. Our new donor was a rock star and she produced nine high-quality embryos. I underwent another double transfer, and two weeks later I discovered that not only was I pregnant—but indeed both embryos transferred had decided to snuggle comfortably into my uterus, as a set of boy twins began to grow inside me.

By all accounts my pregnancy until the final trimester was uneventful. Notwithstanding my maternal age of almost 45, I was no longer treated as a high-risk pregnancy, as my eggs were that of a 30-year-old. All the usual precautions, including the much-dreaded amniocentesis, were no longer issues I needed to confront. As a total outlier in the statistics department, I developed a very rare condition that saw my Twin Baby A at a great risk of survival if my water broke and/or my body went into labour. As a result, I required hospitalization near the end of my third trimester, as I approached my scheduled C-section date.

And then on the spectrum of total flukes, the night I was admitted to the hospital, just over three weeks prior to my C-section, in the most devastating twist of fate, we lost our Twin Baby B.

I continued to carry both boys until my scheduled C-section date, for another three weeks. It was a time wrought with so many different emotions and some of the longest days of my life. But finally on June 28, 2016, at 14:44 I delivered my very much alive and kicking Twin Baby A, Coby Jack, and literally seconds later, Twin Baby B and our angel, Gabriel, who will forever watch over his big brother, his Daddy and I.

Were it not for the loss of our Twin B, Gabriel, our family would be complete. But because of the advancements of science we still have seven frozen embryos on ice, in Cape Town, ready and waiting for us.

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