Hi everyone! Welcome to another episode of The Egg Whisperer Show. I am so excited to have Dr. Allison Rodgers here from FCI in Chicago.
Dr Aimee: We’re so excited to have you on today’s show. And the topic
is, How did Anderson Cooper Have a Baby? As a Fertility Expert, you’re one of the best people to talk to us about this. Before we get started, I want to read your bio because it’s so impressive. Dr. Rodgers is board certified in both OB- GYN and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Practicing
medicine since 2004, she completed her residency at Case Western Reserve Metrohealth Medical Center/Cleveland ClinicCleveland clinic followed by a fellowship at University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
She has also had some personal experiences with secondary infertility and pregnancy loss herself that she’ll share about. Dr. Rodgers, welcome to the show!
Dr. Allison Rodgers: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Aimee: So tell us a little bit about yourself.
Dr. Allison Rodgers: Thank you so much for having me. So as you know, I’m a fertility specialist. I see patients in Chicago at Fertility Centers of Illinois, and I decided to go into fertility because I really love problem solving. And I really love trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it. And there is no bigger joy than having a child. And I love being able to help families who are struggling then go on to be able to have the families they want to have.
When I was a fertility fellow, so I was already a fertility doctor, I was trying to have my second child and struggled and we went through IVF. I ended up losing a few pregnancies. Then I finally had my miracle rainbow baby, who started off as twins and then self reduced to one, and she’s now nine. She is not such a baby anymore.
I went on to have a third child as well with some help. So I can really empathize because I’ve literally been on the other side of the table when I’m talking to patients. So I can say, literally, I’ve been in your shoes. I know how it feels. While I was going through it, it was horrible. But looking back, I feel like I can relate to my patients in a really special way.
Dr. Aimee: Well, thank you for sharing such a personal story. I’m sure it makes your patients love you even more knowing that you’re comfortable talking to them about this.
So let’s talk about Anderson Cooper. As you know, he’s one of the most famous journalists, and I was so happy when I saw the tweet this past week that he had a baby. So let’s talk about it, whether gay or straight, how does that happen? I want you to talk us through those steps. So what is your approach when someone like Anderson Cooper comes to you as a patient?
Dr. Allison Rodgers: So the first step is obviously to take a detailed history. We want to get to know each other, see if there are any medical problems. And mainly for men, we want to look for infectious diseases and genetic diseases. We want to make sure they don’t carry any genetic disorders that could be passed on. So we do some screening for that. And then really the first step is to create an embryo. And we do that with a donor egg, and we mix it with the patient’s sperm. And that is sort of the first step of this process.
Dr. Aimee: And how do you go about finding an egg donor? I mean, it can be so overwhelming when you just Google “egg donor” online, and I imagine you’re a very hands on doc.
So talk us through that process that you take your patients through.
Dr. Allison Rodgers: I’m blessed because I’m in a large practice. I have my own team that helps. I have a team of nurses who help my patients with egg donors. And then I also have a team of nurses that help my patients with gestational carriers as well. So what we do, is we get an egg donor and we can either find a fresh donor who is willing to go through IVF just for that one set of intended parents. And this is the same whether you are a single man, a gay man, a single woman that needs an egg donor or a married woman to a man who needs to use an egg donor. So it doesn’t actually matter who you are, the intended parent. And you can either have someone do a fresh IVF cycle for you where they go through stimulation, where we give them hormones to make their ovaries grow a lot of eggs. And then we’re able to do a procedure called an egg retrieval where we have a small needle while they’re asleep, and we use an internal ultrasound probe to collect the eggs. I sort of say it’s (and I’ve been through it myself), so I can probably say this, but it’s
kind of like getting your blood drawn except a little deeper and obviously not your arm. So it’s good that you’re asleep for it so you can stay still.
Dr. Aimee: Never used that analogy. I love it. I love that analogy. Keep going!
Dr. Rodgers: Well, we think about getting our blood drawn. We think it’s
no big deal. So it’s kind of the same thing. I mean, it’s not like major surgery. It’s about 15 minutes. And it’s just a needle poke.
And then the other way we can get eggs from an egg bank, just like we buy sperm from a sperm bank. You can buy eggs that are already frozen and ready to be shipped. It’s a little bit faster to do it that way for sure. And the other option is to use someone in your life: a known egg donor, like a family member or friend. Just to clarify, a single man would not want to use his sister because obviously they’re related. But if there’s a two male couple, then you could use a sister of the other partner’s sperm. If you’re looking for a
specific ethnicity, that might be hard to find from an egg bank. If you really just want one child eggs from an egg bank may be quicker and a little bit faster and give you exactly what you need. If you want three kids,
then you may want to get a fresh egg donor because you’ll probably get more eggs and that will lead to more embryos. With the frozen egg bank, you usually get about five to six eggs in a lot of eggs and that’s typically enough for one baby but probably not more than that.
Dr. Aimee: You mentioned testing. Can you just go into a little bit
more detail about the tests that you do on guys?
Dr. Rodgers: So, of course we need to do a semen analysis and for a
semen analysis we can either have men collect a sample at home, which we’re doing more now that it’s, you know, a pandemic, or they can collect it at the office. We have special collection rooms and if you collect at home, we like to have the sample around an hour after collection. And you want to keep it warm. So the funny thing is, I live in the Midwest, you know, it gets so cold and especially in the winter, you want to tell people you want to keep it at body heat, you don’t want it to get cold. However, then I did my fellowship at in Texas, and it was often 110–115 degrees, and we’d tell people “Don’t leave it in your car too long.” You want to keep it body temperature
We look for a bunch of things in the sperm sample. We look for sperm count. We also look for quality of sperm, so how the sperm cells are shaped. And we also look to see how many are moving. These are the ways we tell if the sperm is healthy and has a good chance of fertilizing the egg.
And then if you have two dads, if one has better sperm than the other, would you choose between them? Is that something that you’ve done
Dr. Rodgers: Yes. I think a lot of times they have already have come to
see me with an idea of who they want. You know, sometimes they want to do both and they’ll split the sperm and the eggs will go half and half. So usually they already have that idea, but it’s certainly something we can do.
Remember the FDA is regulating all of this and that sort of sounds
scary when we use the words like regulation, but really it’s for everyone.
We want to make sure everyone is protected from a mental health perspective, from a genetic perspective, from an infectious disease perspective, and from a ethical perspective. So it really is a good thing that the FDA oversees this process.
There are some special infectious disease labs that we do, and that’s just
blood work. We also recommend genetic screening because all of the egg donors are screened genetically. Almost everyone carries some rare genetic disorder. You just want to make sure that the egg source and sperm source are genetically compatible. I would recommend that patients who are looking into either an egg donor or a sperm donor know that almost everybody carries something. So it’s really important to not exclude people just because they carry something because almost everybody does. Both the egg source and sperm source would have to carry the same autosomal recessive disease for there to be a 25% chance of the baby having it.
Dr. Aimee: What are the ethical considerations?
Dr. Rodgers: We want to make sure everybody is comfortable. This is important for single people and couples. It is really important to talk
through the process and think about things like, what is your future going to look like? When people say to you: “Oh, well, who’s the baby’s mom?” It’s important to be able to realize that people are going to ask questions and be very comfortable from an emotional perspective in this journey because obviously it’s a big step.I always tell people, these are supposed to be hard decisions. This isn’t like, “Hey, what are you having for lunch today?” This is a big life decision. And so it’s important that you take the time. We have all of our patients talk to one of our mental health providers for support and guidance, because this is a process that can be emotionally difficult. Sometimes people want to use like a younger relative, coworker or employee as the donor. There are some situations that, you know, come up that may not be the healthiest for everybody involved. So it’s really important from an ethical perspective that we make sure that everyone’s doing it for the right reasons.
Dr. Aimee : And in the moment it might seem like a good idea, but that’s our job: to tell people about the pitfalls they haven’t considered. What about surrogacy? What is your approach to finding the right surrogate?
Dr. Rodgers: When we think back, it was 20 years ago when people originally started doing surrogacy and sometimes you would take the man’s sperm and you would put this inside the woman’s uterus. It would be her eggs. She would carry the baby, and then she would give the baby to the parents. And
we’ve really moved away from this because of the emotional and ethical
concerns that we have about it. So when we use the term gestational carrier it means we will use someone else’s eggs with the sperm.
You can find a gestational carrier through family and friends, an agency or online. It sounds sketchy when you first hear about finding a gestational carrier online. It’s kind of like online dating. Would you really want to do that? But I will tell you, like I said, this process is all regulated by the FDA. So even if you find somebody through an agency it is going to be still very, very important that they get screened and they still have to go through all that FDA screening.
Now, the gestational carrier doesn’t have any genetics into the baby so they don’t need the genetic screening, but we need to make sure their uterus is healthy and can carry a pregnancy. We take a very detailed history, and remember. We hold gestational carriers up to a little bit of a higher standard than we would hold a maybe normal patient going through fertility.
So if a patient had premature deliveries or multiple C-sections or medical problems that have affected a pregnancy, they may be declined as a gestational carrier. If she was a patient coming to me, I would have no problem with them getting pregnant. This is a situation in which we hold them to a little bit of a different standard. We take a detailed history. We get testing on their uterus. We do some blood work as well as we get some imaging of their uterus. Typically I’ll do something called a three dimensional saline sonogram. I look for any problems with the uterus, polyps, fibroids and scar tissue. If they’ve had a c-section, I will make sure the uterus is well-healed. I will also make sure there are no swollen tubes or anything like that. Even if you find this person outside of an agency, we will do a very, very thorough screening. It breaks my heart when I tell a patient their carrier isn’t a good fit. You spent all this time, you’ve flown in somebody you like, because
sometimes they come from different parts of the country so I do understand that it’s hard to hear from a patient’s standpoint but at the same time, I do not want there to be a horrible complication. It’s really my job as their fertility specialist and reproductive endocrinologist to evaluate that gestational carrier and make sure that they are a good fit for the patient.
Dr. Aimee : I’m sure you get this question all the time: What is the chance that the transfer is going to work the first time?
Dr. Rodgers: That’s a really good question. So it actually boils down to the age of the egg donor. If you’re using a friend or a sister who is in her mid to late thirties the chances of miscarriage and the chances of things like down syndrome will be higher than a younger egg donor in her 20s.
It’s all relative to the age of the egg donor. If you’re using someone in their early twenties, your chances of success are incredibly high. Chances of miscarriage are incredibly low. I would say it depends on the lab too. Obviously every lab has a little bit of a different success rate, but probably somewhere in that 65 to 75% range is pretty typical. It is unfortunately not a hundred percent.
Dr. Aimee: If Anderson Cooper was a patient of yours starting his journey or any other gay dad, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them at the beginning of their journey?
Dr. Rodgers: So I think it’s really important to understand that it is a journey. There are ups and downs in every journey. There are, you know, amazing things, but every part is worth it in the end. And I would encourage patients who want a family to go for it. There’s likely very little reason why somebody like Anderson Cooper couldn’t have a biological child.
And it’s just everyone’s dream to have a baby, right? Not everyone’s dream, but certainly it is for our fertility patients, it’s their dream to have the family they want to have, and everyone deserves to have that family. It doesn’t matter who you are. You deserve to have the family you want.
Dr. Aimee : Amen. Thank you for saying that. Thank you for being a guest on today’s show. Can you tell us where can patients find you? Give us all your social media accounts.
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