Behind the Curtain

So many people have commented that our surrogacy experience–and victory–sounds like the plot of a movie. I agree. Recently, our movie falls into a totally different category than “feel-good.”

A letter addressed to me showed up a few weeks back. I am still figuring out how I feel about the news it carried. Writing helps me process my feelings, so maybe I’ll have a clearer picture of my next steps after I share what has happened.

Folks familiar with our story know I have always referred to my reproductive endocrinologist as “Dr. Miracle.” He no longer deserves that title. I am not going to use his real name here, not to protect him, but because he deserves no more recognition as a professional, in any capacity.

The letter on clinic letterhead was signed by my former fertility doctor, although it was almost certainly written by a legal expert.

In short, my former endocrinologist has admitted to an arrangement where he was paid by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their fertility drugs. He has stated, in writing, that the owner of the pharmacy his patients were very strongly encouraged to use was also earning secret kickbacks for these prescriptions.

Oh, but wait. It gets worse.

The letter also admits that he sometimes prescribed higher doses of fertility medication than manufacturers’ recommendations and best practices for fertility treatment. During his under-the-table scheme, higher doses injected into his patients meant more money for him and for the pharmacist with whom he colluded.

This is the point where I stop and emphasize that we have healthy, amazing twin daughters. Everything we experienced in our quest for parenthood is worth it now that we are raising our sprouts.

At the very least, a doctor we trusted at one of the most vulnerable times in our lives took advantage of us and countless others. My stomach twists just thinking about the reality of what was done to his patients.

I have started digging further into my records. My current pharmacy pulled my official prescription records from our IVF cycle. After comparing notes with friends who have also done IVF, my doses were high. Seriously high. It appears that my starting dose of one medication was double a friend’s prescription, while my dose of another was triple her starting dose. Triple.

As far as I know, there was nothing in my medical history or revealed in my extensive pre-cycle testing that would warrant starting the IVF cycle with a sledgehammer of injectable medication. These drugs are serious business; they have massive impacts on many systems in the body. They are also incredibly expensive products. My medications cost roughly 700 dollars every day of the cycle, which lasted almost two weeks.

My egg retrieval was stunningly successful. I grew 22 useful eggs in the cycle, which is an usually huge number. Because I did not respond to the IV sedatives, I was fully aware during the procedure, which was stunningly painful every time the specialist went in for another egg.

An overdose of fertility injections, which I having growing belief I was prescribed, could cause high responses in the ovaries. At worst, women whose bodies are overstimulated can develop ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome (OHSS, which can be deadly. I was told at retrieval I was at increased risk of that dangerous syndrome because I had so many ripe follicles. I had to drink Gatorade (ick) in large amounts and weigh myself repeatedly to catch OHSS early if it happened. My belly felt bruised and bloated for weeks afterward, but thankfully I dodged OHSS.

After IVF, my PCOS kicked into high gear. I repeatedly developed ovarian cysts that were painful until they ruptured, after which they were excruciating. For me, the pain after rupture took weeks to fully dissipate. There was a stretch after some of the worst ones where the only thing that would touch the pain was percocet. I don’t know if the IVF caused the increase in the frequency and brutality of my cysts, but I have a feeling they are related.

I recently remembered a conversation I had with this doctor where earnestly told me he worked at a public hospital rather than a private fertility clinic. He quipped that the private reproductive endocrinologists drive a new luxury car, while he is just trying to help people as best he can from his clinic that operated on a cost-recovery basis. Complete and utter bullshit.

Really, the worst part of this whole mess is realizing someone I trusted with my life, and the lives of my potential children, was deliberately taking advantage of people with very few options. We were fortunate to achieve healthy embryos after a single IVF cycle, and also to have decent benefits and generous family who helped offset the heavy costs.

Recent news coverage shared the stories of couples like us who were knocked sideways when the rotten core of our doctor was revealed. We are one of the lucky families that have children. Others have nothing but broken hearts and towers of debt.

This doctor is someone I thought of often in gratitude since our girls arrived. I used to speak glowingly of him to people who asked about our experience. I planned to send him a thank-you note with photos of our twins. The information that recently emerged has left me unsteady, grateful as ever for our miracle children while simultaneously furious about being used by someone we trusted so deeply.

It is a strange, unsettling thing, to look behind the curtain and realize the man we thought was a miracle worker was just another grifter.

The detritus from my medication.

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