Facebook and other social media channels are saturated with information for moms; there are ways to get advice, ask for referrals for babysitters, and share photos of their kids. And now some are even finding an egg donor or surrogate who can make their dreams of having a baby come true.
Post a video, have a baby
Lisa, a mom in Illinois never would have imagined how social media would help her get pregnant when she and her husband started their journey to conceive more than three years ago. After being diagnosed with poor ovarian reserve and poor egg quality, Lisa underwent a cycle of intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Unsure of what IUI and the other fertility terms meant, she turned to Google and then clicked over to YouTube, where she found an entire community of women just like her talking about their own fertility struggles.
“It really brings women together when you’re going through something like that,” Lisa said. She soon started to post her own videos, too.
Then one day when she was looking for information about an acupuncture mat, Lisa came across a product review posted by Kelli, a mom of two from Ohio who was in the same community. Kelli was also trying to conceive. After Lisa left a comment and Kelli responded, the two became friends on Facebook where they talked about makeup and shopping.
They became closer and started talking on FaceTime nearly every day. Sometimes their husbands would join in, too. As their friendship grew, Lisa and Kelli decided to meet in person and over the next two years, they saw each other every two months.
During this time, Kelli had a third child, yet Lisa and Bill still struggled to conceive. After undergoing a total of three IUI and two in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles, all of which had failed, they were running out of options.
During a visit to Kelli’s home, Lisa and Bill shared their struggles with their friends. They knew it would take years to save for adoption and it seemed like an egg donor was the only choice.
“I wanted to try everything we could to have the baby be half my husband’s because I knew my eggs were not going to be able to be used,” Lisa said.
That night, Kelli thought about what she could do to help Lisa and Bill. She knew she couldn’t offer money, but she could offer her eggs. After consulting with her mom and husband, she made her decision.
“I just wanted to help. I had become so close to her and I saw how much [they] wanted to have kids,” Kelli said.
Initially Lisa and Bill declined Kelli’s offer. But the more she thought about it, it made sense. Not only were Kelli’s children healthy, but Lisa knew that Kelli, who was adopted and had never met her birth parents, would never want her own children to struggle as she had.
“I don’t ever want her to feel that she didn’t know where she came from,” Lisa said of her daughter.
Fertility and flexibility
“It’s definitely a first for me to have had a patient who said she found her egg donor on YouTube of all places,” said Dr. Eve Feinberg, Lisa’s physician and medical director for the Fertility Centers of Illinois’ Center for Fertility Preservation. “My initial instinct of course was ‘no way, I won’t allow that.’ But as I listened to the story, it was really heartwarming in its own way.”
Since the couples were friends and had already spent time together, Feinberg agreed that it was a good idea.
“In that sense, I felt a lot more reassured than just some random person on the Internet,” she said.
So the decision was made that Kelli would be treated as though she was Lisa’s sister or a family member and she would undergo all of the same screenings a known donor would.
“We put them through an intensely rigorous screening process to make sure both parties were suitable,” Feinberg said.
Find friends— and your surrogate —on Facebook
Three years ago, Sally and Alan Rahban of Sherman Oaks, Calif. found themselves at the Southern California Reproductive Center in Beverly Hills, Calif., talking with Dr. Shahin Ghadir about the likelihood that Sally would ever be able to carry a pregnancy.
Since she had only one ovary and one fallopian tube, it was unlikely she would even get pregnant. Plus, she was born with spina bifida, a neural tube defect, which caused her to develop renal failure. Since she had only 10 percent renal function, carrying a baby would be too risky for her and her baby, and it would also guarantee that she would need dialysis.
“I wasn’t going to risk it. If I was going to end up, best case scenario, with dialysis for the rest of my life, that’s no way to live a life or raise a child,” Sally said.
Sally and Alan decided surrogacy was the way to go, but an agency was too expensive. Knowing Alan had used Facebook to market his business, Sally thought maybe it could help them too. So she started a Facebook page without hesitation. “My ultimate dream was and still is to be a mother. I never thought ‘What will people think or maybe this is a bad idea?,’” she said.
The couple also started a fundraiser on YouCaring.com.
“People fundraise to buy a bike or go on a vacation. I want to have a child. If we can’t afford it, the community is going to help us,” Sally told Alan.
To date, the couple have raised approximately $27,000 dollars in both online and offline donations. And they have also found a surrogate, after a woman sent Sally a message saying she knew someone who was interested.
Although he was concerned, Ghadir told Sally that regardless of the surrogate she chose, she would still have to undergo all of the same necessary screenings.
“The patient has to understand that just because you find someone, it doesn’t mean that they’ve met any requirement of the process of being a surrogate,” he said.
In the next few weeks, Sally will undergo IVF and plans to have her embryos transferred in June or July.
The future of social media and infertility
In March, Lisa gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Gemma. And just last week, Lisa and Kelli saw each other in person for the first time.
Although both Lisa and Kelli couldn’t be happier with the outcome, “we have to figure out how to build a new relationship because now we’re no longer just friends. We’re connected for the rest of our lives whether we want to be or not,” Kelli said.
And when Gemma is older and has questions, Lisa will be ready with open arms.
“She’ll know how much she was wanted because she’ll see the whole journey on YouTube and [know] what we did to have her,” Lisa said.
Although Feinberg says using social media to have a baby will become a trend, it’s not one she would recommend since not all clinics have the same guidelines to protect women, especially those who want nothing more than to have a baby.
“Unfortunately in this world, there’s a lot of people who will take advantage of that,” she said.
Yet even though an agency provides a huge level of protection and anonymity for both donors and recipients, deciding between an agency or a blood relative may not work for everyone.
“You have to look at every individual couple, situation, the challenges they face and some potential creative solutions. And this was a very highly creative solution that worked for them,” Feinberg said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.