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Why threats to IVF have these women alarmed: ‘Are they going to make me try and have all those babies?’

For many, it seemed like fearmongering to say that in vitro fertilization (IVF) — the process through which 2% of the nation’s babies are now born — could be the next frontier in the national battle over reproductive rights. But last month the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are legally considered children, and that those “children” are to be protected under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. For the thousands of families in the state and across the country undergoing IVF treatments to grow their families, the news was hard to make sense of and personally devastating, not to mention terrifying.

Last week the state passed a bill that would enable IVF procedures to continue, though it notably does not address the issue of embryo personhood. Critics also worry it may do more harm than good by making it harder for patients to take legal action if their embryos have been destroyed due to a fertility clinic’s negligence or equipment failure.

And many of those who are currently undergoing IVF, or have embryos they’ve stored following past fertility treatments, still feel “apprehensive” about how the earlier Alabama ruling will affect their families, says Leah Bromley, a mom in Tuscaloosa, Ala. After conceiving their child through IVF, Bromley and her husband are preparing to transfer their one remaining healthy embryo this spring in hopes of having another baby. But that’s not all they have in storage.

“We have eight other embryos, besides our one healthy embryo,” Bromley tells Yahoo Life. “All of those are considered nonviable [and] not recommended for transfer. So I’m scared. Are they going to make me try and have all those babies? Are they going to try and come after me for negligent homicide?”

Of the just-passed new bill protecting IVF, Bromley says she’s “beyond grateful to all the IVF advocates and legislators that helped pass [it] to ensure our care could resume.” But, she adds, “I also feel very apprehensive and know that more work needs to be done to ensure our rights aren’t taken again.”

Ahead, women open up about the impact IVF has had on their lives — and what their fears are as assisted reproduction comes under new scrutiny.

IVF was not my first choice to have a baby, but it was a lifeline’

IVF is not a simple process. There are daily hormone injections, frequent doctor’s appointments and testing, an egg retrieval that requires a surgical procedure, implantation and more — and that’s if everything goes smoothly.

“I started off with 11 eggs, six of which became embryos,” Sarah Schulman, who is from Alabama but now lives in New York, tells Yahoo Life. “Of those six embryos, two of them stopped progressing, which left me with four embryos. Genetic testing revealed that two of those embryos had chromosomal abnormalities, which meant they would never have a chance of being a viable pregnancy.” In other words, out of 11 retrieved eggs, she was left with just two healthy embryos — one of which became her son. “IVF was not my first choice to have a baby, but it was a lifeline,” says Schulman, who struggled with infertility for years.

“People don’t even know that IVF involves needles,” New Yorker Cassandra Merolla, who has two children both conceived via IVF, tells Yahoo Life. She calls the procedure a “life commitment.” “It’s mentally hard. It’s physically hard. It’s expensive. People think it guarantees you having a baby. It does not.”

“People who are going through IVF want babies more than anything,” Julie Cohen, who lives in a suburb of Birmingham, Ala., tells Yahoo Life. “We have done six embryo transfers and only one of them … gave us living babies. I know from personal experience that not every embryo equals a baby.”

“It’s impossible to describe what it is like to put your hopes of growing a family into the hands of doctors and, frankly, luck,” says California-based Danielle Lazarus, who got pregnant with her second child via IVF. “Your entire life is consumed with ‘will this or won’t this work?’ while having no control over your hormones.”

New York-based Beth (who asked to not share her last name for privacy reasons) had numerous physical side effects that resulted in debilitating pain as a result of IVF, but she highlights the emotional side effects as all-encompassing. “It impacts all of your relationships,” she tells Yahoo Life with regard to the stress of fertility treatments. “I would fight with my husband, take it out on my husband. I would distance myself from my friends.”

Once embryos have been made, there is then the financial component of storing them safely. “I pay $50 a month for storage for the one embryo that we have,” Michelle Howard of Gulf Shores, Ala., who is currently 13 weeks pregnant with a baby conceived through IVF, tells Yahoo Life. “What if I was one of those people that got 10 embryos, tested all of them [and found out that] eight of them are abnormal — what are we supposed to do? Pay $50 a month times eight embryos for the remainder of my life? Who does that bill go to when I die?”

Ultimately, IVF is neither a simple procedure nor a simple choice. It requires a lot of patience, and extreme attention to detail. “Any interruption in that process and you risk having to start over,” adds Schulman. That’s a situation many women in Alabama are currently facing.

‘I never expected for anything to directly affect me’

“We had a tentative March 4 transfer date,” Latorya Beasley tells Yahoo Life of her plans to welcome a second child via IVF. The court ruling in her home state came down on Feb. 16, however, which meant the Birmingham-based mom of one had to put everything on hold.

Beasley says that after the repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022, she knew that all kinds of reproductive rights would be up for debate. “What I didn’t expect was for my life to be disrupted. I never expected for anything to directly affect me — that’s so American of me,” she says. “The day before my clinic closed, I called my husband to tell him what was going on. With so much confidence he reassuringly said, ‘We’ve already started medicine, they can’t just cancel the transfer.'”

But her transfer was indeed canceled, says Beasley, who remembers thinking, “Without the transfer, my dreams to grow my family don’t exist.”

With the passage of the new bill protecting IVF this month, Beasley has been able to reschedule her transfer, but the ruling has cost her time and disrupted the process of taking hormone shots to prepare her body. “Due to the delay I missed my opportunity,” she says. “My endometrial lining was too thin to support a pregnancy.”

‘There are so many implications that aren’t on people’s radar’

When hearing of the ruling, most people think of today’s women, but for many parents, they think more immediately of their children’s futures. “I’m in a situation that probably wouldn’t be anyone’s first or second or third thoughts when thinking about the potential for limited fertility treatments,” Martina (name changed to protect her child’s privacy) in New York tells Yahoo Life. “I have a beautiful, healthy, giggly, strong 1-and-a-half-year-old intersex child who is XY female. Genetically the baby is male, but anatomically completely female.”

Martina says that in addition to setting up a savings fund for her daughter’s future education, she and her husband set up an account in case she one day wants to have children, for which fertility treatments will almost definitely be required. “I was fortunate enough to conceive naturally,” says Martina. “But I’m pretty confident that will never be the case for her.”

When she heard the news out of Alabama, her thoughts went immediately to her daughter. “There are so many implications that aren’t on people’s radar.”

‘Setting a dangerous precedent for other states’

“I always feel like when this stuff happens, it’ll never happen in New York,” shares Beth. “But you also never think it would happen anywhere in this country.”

With that in mind, the women in Alabama are sounding the alarm. “I’m not a flaming feminist,” says Howard in Gulf Shores. “But I have been an infertility patient for over three years and I have seen what the government is willing to take away from women. Roe v. Wade was already overturned; now this is happening. I feel like women’s rights are just not a thing anymore, like people are willing to take away women’s rights at the drop of a hat.”

“Living post-Roe v. Wade and watching how quickly everything overturned and how swiftly other states moved to take away the ability to have an abortion, it scares me,” says Bromley, the mom from Tuscaloosa with embryos in storage. The Alabama ruling has meant looking at transferring those embryos to other states. She and her husband considered Florida or Georgia, but with similar legislation being discussed there, she’s not sure where to turn next. “I think Alabama potentially is setting a dangerous precedent for other states. I think people in other states should really be watching this. It scares me.”

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