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‘I’m an obstetrician who became pregnant with twins via an egg donor. This month they turn 5’

‘I’m an obstetrician who became pregnant with twins via an egg donor. This month they turn 5’


by Amanda Cassidy
17th Oct 2021

Shannon Clarke is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist focusing on the care of women with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark married at the age of 39 and started trying to start a family at age 40. After five failed cycles of IVF, she was able to become pregnant via egg donor and delivered twins Sydney Renée and Rémy Vaughn in 2016. This is her story

“Do you think you will bond the same?”
“What if you feel differently because they are not genetically yours?”
“Why didn’t you just adopt?”

Those were just a few of the questions asked of me 5 years ago when I chose to share with
anyone who wanted to listen that I was pregnant via egg donation.

Because I had chosen to be very transparent with my infertility story, I knew that there would be questions, curiosity and even criticism, but I also knew that positives of my transparency would far outweigh any negatives, so I continued sharing and educating.

I am so grateful for the advances in science that allowed me to become a mom, and I am especially grateful to the young woman who played her part through the selfless act of donating her eggs.

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You see, I am a double-board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist who became an unfortunate statistic of delayed child-bearing due to my career aspirations.

By age 38, I was still single and well on my way to successful career in medicine—a career that had taken 15 years of formal training and sacrificing many of my personal goals along the way.
At 38, I had decided that I would be fine with remaining single and was accepting the reality that I would be child-free.

Family planning

However, he walked into a sports bar one night and changed everything. He, too, was 38, single and child-free, but having a family was something he wanted, and after a few months of dating, I realized that having a child was something I also wanted—with him. So we fast-tracked things and married a year and half after meeting and immediately started trying to have get pregnant.

By this time I was almost 40, and although I knew from my training as an ObGyn that getting pregnant at my age may take longer, I was healthy and active and of an ideal weight so I thought that the odds would fall I my favour. And they did! I got pregnant our first try, but that ended in a pregnancy loss.

They are mine in every sense of the word, even though we do not share DNA, and the moment I held their tiny bodies in the NICU we bonded.

I was upset, but not deterred, and we kept trying. After a few more months of no success and my turning 40, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head and I started to panic a little. In an attempt to help my husband understand more about the potential fertility issues with advancing age, we went to see a fertility specialist who was also a personal friend of mine.

Reality

After discussing the stats and looking and the results of my bloodwork and pelvic ultrasound, we were both in shock. The reality of what the limits were of my 40 year-old self was staring both of us in the face.

We signed up for IVF immediately.

Hope

Although I was healthy, my eggs were not, and the transfer of that one chromosomally normal embryo failed.

Truthfully, though, I still wasn’t deterred. I just knew IVF was going to fix what my body could not do its own to get pregnant. I knew it was the answer. I was still very hopeful.

Unfortunately, again, that was not the reality we experienced. After 5 cycles of IVF that yielded 16 embryos that could be genetically tested, only one was chromosomally normal. This was purely due to my older age and the effect it had on my egg quality. Although I was healthy, my eggs were not, and the transfer of that one chromosomally normal embryo failed.

Unfair

It was not what I expected. It was not fair. I was at a loss for what to do next until a call from my fertility specialist changed everything for us.

After almost two years of IVF, I was still not a mother. It was not what I had planned. It was not what I expected. It was not fair. I was at a loss for what to do next until a call from my fertility specialist changed everything for us.

“Have you thought about using an egg donor?”, he said. I was shocked. I was taken aback. I was speechless. But after a few moments, I was hopeful. No, I had not thought about using an egg donor, but knowing there were still options meant everything to me in that moment. I discussed it with my husband, and he was completely on board.

You can learn more about Shannon’s journey here

I was silently grieving the loss of my genetic contribution to a child. I did feel like a failed—like my body failed me.

Anger

I had spent a career caring for pregnant persons and delivering babies. Why couldn’t it happen for me?

I must admit that even after we chose to pursue conception via egg donation, I was
silently grieving the loss of my genetic contribution to a child. I did feel like a failed—like my body failed me. I was also angry and even a little resentful that I was forced to go to such lengths to become a mom. I had spent a career caring for pregnant persons and delivering babies. Why couldn’t it happen for me?

Once the decision was made, we sought out an egg donor clinic and started looking through the egg donor registry. I must admit, the process of looking through profiles for someone to “replace” me was too much.

After all that my body and mind had been through, I simply couldn’t contribute to that part of the process. So I sat down with my husband and picked the top 5 criteria that was important to both of us in an egg donor, and he started the search. After a few weeks, he came to me with three candidates. And our first choice was available!

Our embryos

Things moved pretty quickly after that. The egg donor clinic facilitated things on her end, and
my fertility clinic facilitated things on my end. Because we chose our donor for a fresh donor egg cycle, all of the eggs and embryos she produced after taking medications to stimulate her ovaries belonged to my husband and I.

Ultimately, 5 embryos were produced from our donor’s eggs and my husband’s sperm. The next step was transferring them into my uterus. The decision was made by my fertility specialist to transfer 2 embryos, but in the U.S. single embryo transfer is recommended due to the increased risks of pregnancy with a multiple gestation.

We transferred 2 embryos due to my age (I was 42 at the time), prior pregnancy loss and prior failed embryo transfer. That transfer failed, and it nearly broke me. I had put so much hope into using donor eggs, and even though I had experienced other failures, I had not
allowed myself to even consider that a donor egg cycle would fail.

Rollercoaster

I truly wanted to experience pregnancy myself. After years of caring for my pregnant patients, I wanted to know what pregnancy was like for myself

This was the lowest point for both my husband and I during our entire journey. We even considered just stopping everything.

After a few months, and a trip to Peru for New Year’s 2016, we decided to try one more time. Yes, we could have pursued adoption or a gestational carrier, but I was not ready to give up on my body.

I truly wanted to experience pregnancy myself. After years of caring for my pregnant patients, I wanted to know what pregnancy was like for myself. So, we transferred two more embryos and became pregnant with boy/girl twins!

I won’t go into the details, but I became a statistic for a high-risk twin pregnancy in person of advancing age.

Delivery

After a very difficult pregnancy and two months of hospitalization, I delivered Remy Vaughn and Sydney Renée at 31 weeks’ gestation via emergent Cesarean delivery. Remy
was in the NICU for 5 weeks and Sydney 6 weeks, but they are now 5 years-old and thriving.

As an aside, even though I did a transfer of two embryos and conceived twins, I fully support the practice of single embryo transfer due to the complications of my pregnancy and nearly losing
them multiple times. Maybe I will tell that story at a later time.

Tiny, but mine

So here I am—a mother to 5 year-old twins at age 48. They are mine in every sense of the word, even though we do not share DNA, and the moment I held their tiny bodies in the NICU we bonded.

I am so grateful for the advances in science that allowed me to become a mom, and I am especially grateful to the young woman who played her part through the selfless act of donating her eggs.