Working on a secret project at work for so many months got my brain churning on another “secret” thing… Plus I just wrote a foreword to my doctor’s book coming out soon…
Operation Santa Claus.
That was the code-word for my highly-anticipated, highly orchestrated birth.
At Norfolk General, the hospital where I was born, personnel had to have special clearance badges to get in to the wing where my mother had her room.
The press was given a fake description of my father, so that he could come and go to and from the hospital without being questioned. News vans with giant satellite trucks took up the entire parking lot and lined the block.
By her own admission, my mother didn’t know she was going to be the first woman in the US to have an IVF baby until doctors Howard and Georgeanna Jones told her as much.
When she found out she was pregnant, she has told me, she was excited but extremely cautious. You see, she had never had trouble getting pregnant in the past– the trouble was always with staying pregnant.
My mother had three eptopic pregnancies (tubal pregnancies) before she sought help from a small clinic in Virginia. All she and my father wanted was a child of their own and to have a family. That desire, I think, allowed them to have them the strength and courage to overcome any kind of fear or doubt they had about this unproven thing called IVF.
When the doctors confirmed my mother was pregnant, they told my parents there would be opposition, and gave them the option to keep their story private. Their names wouldn’t have to be released, the doctors said, and my mother could give birth at a hospital in Massachusetts if she so desired.
My parents decided on the spot that even though they weren’t seeking fame, they didn’t want to keep their story private either. They felt that if their journey to face infertility and overcome it through technology could help just one family hold on to the hope that they too could have a child of their own, then the lack of privacy would be worth it.
They also decided that they would have their baby in Virginia, since it was home to the cutting-edge technology other states, such as Massachusetts, had banned.
Of course, there were still those who opposed the idea of IVF altogether, saying the doctors were “playing god” and creating “designer babies.” Even the Pope was against the procedure (and still is.)
The process of IVF seems almost simple when I explain it to people now: My mother’s egg and my father’s sperm were combined inside a Petri dish rather than my mother’s uterus. Once the sperm fertilized the egg, it was put back inside my mother’s womb to grow as any other egg would into a normal, healthy fetus in 9 months.
All of the people involved in “Operation Santa Claus” knew they were going to witness history – history that would either further assisted reproductive technologies in the United States, or, effectively, end it.
I’m not sure how much my parents thought about the fact that if they did not have a healthy, normal child, that the chances of IVF ever being tried again would be slim to none.
I am sure, though, they thought about it.
Even my doctors thought about it. I know this, because I’ve heard about the existence of one short statement on a small piece of paper Dr. Howard Jones kept in his pocket to read to the media if I did not turn out to be healthy.
I don’t know what the paper said. All I know is that it was ripped up the moment I came out and was pronounced to the world a “beautiful, healthy baby girl.”
Dr. Jones and I have never talked about what was on that paper. It is something that has never been discussed. It’s scary sometimes to think that so much was riding on the birth of just one child.
When you’re old enough to realize how much the world was looking to you as their bit of hope for a way out of infertility, it sort of paralyzes you – it’s a lot of pressure.
It’s the kind of pressure that makes you ask: Did I live up to everyone’s hopes – am I the child (and adult) my parents hoped and wished I’d become?