Older Would-Be Parents Can Face An Anguishing Struggle
updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT
The couple were jubilant. "Within minutes, I was dancing around the operating room with Sara," Allen, 42, recalls 18 months later. "I was taking pictures all over the place." "It was a miracle," says Janet. "A miracle I never thought we could have."
From the time she was an adolescent. Janet knew she could have trouble conceiving. The older of two children of a Milwaukee attorney and a homemaker, she was 13 when she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian disease, a hormonal imbalance that resulted in erratic menstrual periods. "I always loved children and always wanted them," says Janet, but she delayed motherhood while she pursued her master's degree in sociology from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University and later a teaching position at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University. There she met Allen, a Yale Ph.D. who was teaching economics. They dated for six years and then married in 1984.
Although children were not a prerequisite for Allen, Janet was determined that they try. Allen's semen was analyzed and found to be healthy; but before her ordeal was over, Janet would undergo a battery of tests that would run the gamut of the textbook on infertility. The prognosis was that, with drug therapy, it would be possible to conceive. Shortly after the wedding, her obstetrician started her on Clomid, an oral fertility drug that stimulates ovulation. "It was awful," says Janet. "I had hot flashes and my ovaries hurt." There were emotional strains too. Each morning before she got out of bed, Janet took her temperature with a finely calibrated thermometer and marked the reading on a graph. "If my temperature went up a half a degree it would mean I was ovulating and we'd have to have sexual intercourse," says Janet. She also submitted to a postcoital test to see if the sperm remained active within her cervical mucus. "It was very stressful," she says. A year later, in August 1985, it all seemed worthwhile because Janet became pregnant. In November, however, an ultrasound scan revealed that the fetus was dead. "We felt great sadness," says Janet, but the experience gave them hope. "At least I knew we could conceive," she says. Under the care of an infertility specialist, Janet went back on Clomid. "If her period was a day late, she'd think, 'Maybe I'm pregnant,' " Allen recalls. "And when her period came, she'd think, 'What's wrong with me?' "
The following year the couple moved to Detroit, where they had both been offered jobs at Wayne State University. A new specialist started her on Clomid, then put her on Pergonal, an injected hormone, and finally switched her to Metrodin, yet another injected fertility drug. "Allen gave me the shots at home each night, and every morning I would go to the clinic to get a blood test," she says. In addition. Janet had ultrasound tests and hormone checks to determine the number and condition of her eggs. "At my size," says the 4'7" professor, "I didn't want to take the chance of multiple births."
In December 1987 Janet's doctors discovered that she had an ectopic pregnancy—one in which the fetus develops in the fallopian tube. Surgery the next day saved her life. "I was pretty hysterical," she admits. "I was ready to give up, but not quite." Instead she underwent thyroid and chromosome tests as well as a hysterosalpingogram, a test in which the fallopian tubes are injected with a dye and then X rayed to check for blockages. She also went back on Metrodin. In May 1988 she became pregnant again. "We didn't get too enthusiastic," says Allen. "We knew our problem wasn't getting pregnant, it was carrying the baby."
Janet switched to a high-risk specialist, who performed an amniocentesis in her 16th week of pregnancy. Lucky at last, her mid-August test showed the fetus to be a normal female. "We were thrilled," says Janet. "Our only concern after that was that she would have one of our noses."
Janet and Allen have had to endure one more heartbreak. Last December, Janet became pregnant, only to miscarry 22 weeks later. Still grief-stricken, the couple have shelved thoughts of a second child for now. "At a certain point," says Allen, "one has to weigh the benefits and the risks," Janet agrees: "Sara is our source of joy."
—Bonnie Johnson, Julie Greenwalt in Detroit, Maria Eftimiades in Hightstown, Lorenzo Benet in San Diego