When Rachelle and Meg Schneider found out they were pregnant, they weren’t nervous about the prospect of such a life-altering moment; they were ready.
The couple got the happy news in April, more than three years after they started trying to conceive. Their path to parenthood was filled with many bumps — including 219 reproductive endocrinologist appointments, an evolving plan and many tears.
Rachelle, 37, and Meg, 35, met online in 2006. Seven years later, they embarked on a new chapter — they quit their jobs, rented their home and spent months traveling.
“One of our goals as a couple for when we returned was to start a family,” Rachelle said. “When we were traveling, we saw a lot of families traveling with kids and realized, We can maintain the same lifestyle-ish, and still have kids.”
They landed on U.S. soil the day the federal Defense of Marriage Act was repealed, and quickly began planning their wedding.
The couple then set their sights on family-building. They initially asked a friend to help with their “missing piece,” but ultimately decided, on both ends, against having a donor who was actively involved in their lives. They instead went with a sperm bank and selected an ID-optional donor, meaning he was open to the child contacting him when he or she turns 18.
“That option felt like a good balance,” said Rachelle, who works in the industrial-design department at University of the Arts and is a freelance photographer. Meg is a physician assistant, works in an emergency department and teaches at Drexel’s PA program.
The couple decided Rachelle would carry first, using the intrauterine insemination process, in which sperm is placed into the uterus — as opposed to in-vitro fertilization, in which the egg is fertilized outside the body. They agreed on six IUI attempts; after four months, Rachelle got pregnant but had a miscarriage.
“After the loss, it was kind of medically starting over,” Rachelle said, so she ended up trying a total of 11 IUI attempts.
“We were really trying to avoid IVF because neither of our health coverage covered it, so it was going to be a big out-of-pocket expense and it’s also much more invasive,” Meg explained. So the couple switched to Meg trying IUI; she underwent six cycles, none of which were successful.
Throughout the process, the couple chose to switch their sperm donor.
“That was a hard decision because you fall in love with this person you don’t know and we kept being told the donor’s been tested, there’s nothing wrong, he’s had reported pregnancies before,” Rachelle said. “But something had to change so at some point we did switch to a new donor.”
After Meg’s unsuccessful attempts, the couple decided to go the route of IVF.
“IVF just sounded like the silver bullet,” Rachelle said.
Rachelle underwent three cycles of egg retrievals and, though she produced more than 100 eggs, only two ended up being viable; those resulted in back-to-back chemical pregnancies.
The couple began considering other options, like using an egg donor, foster care and reciprocal IVF, in which Meg’s eggs would be retrieved, fertilized and transferred to Rachelle’s womb.
“We loved the idea of doing something like that all along but it’s one of the most complicated ways to do it and, again, more expensive, so that wasn’t our first choice,” Meg explained. “But we did love the idea of both having a piece of the pregnancy.”
Doctors were able to extract one viable embryo from Meg’s first egg retrieval and implant it in Rachelle.
“This was my last shot to carry basically,” Rachelle said. “If this didn’t work, I was going to bow out of the equation.”
Thankfully, the procedure was successful.
“You know that CeCe Peniston song, ‘Finally (It has happened to me)’? I went to Meg’s office and played that and we had a dance party,” Rachelle laughed. “It was the news we were waiting for for over three years. It just didn’t feel real and only recently has started to.”
“I feel like there was so much preparation for so long going into that moment that once we got the positive pregnancy test, I just felt so ready,” Meg added. “I wasn’t scared or worried how life would change; I felt ready for this change to happen.”
When they got the news, Meg was prepping for a second retrieval; that ultimately produced five embryos, which they have frozen for future family-building options.
The couple couldn’t have envisioned the many changes their plans would undergo in the last three years, emphasizing the need for being open and adaptable throughout the process. Preparation is also key.
A vial of sperm from a bank typically costs between $700-$1,000; the couple noted that many sperm banks offer a free vial once clients purchase a certain number. On top of the sperm cost, each round of IUI cost about $1,000 — and that was beyond what was covered by the couple’s health plan — and IVF was approximately $5,000 a round. They worked with RMA Fertility, which they noted offers programs, such as a shared-risk plan that returns expenses after a certain number of unsuccessful IVF cycles, to help clients manage costs.
The couple started saving before trying to get pregnant and got grants from Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia and Hasidah.
Workshops and support groups, like those offered by Philadelphia Family Pride, were good outlets, the couple noted, as was sharing their experience with loved ones.
“It was cathartic to open up to people about our experience,” Rachelle said. “Infertility is pretty crappy to go through and it’s even crappier to go through it alone. Even with just the whole process of trying to have a baby, it’s good to have people around you who you can talk to.”
The couple is now looking ahead to their due date, Jan. 4.
“We have a whole binder of things we need to do, a checklist,” Meg said about the preparations for the baby’s arrival. “We’re just super-excited to be at this stage.”