by Connie Matthissen

When Karen Smith first began trying to get pregnant, she was 23 years old and menopause was the last thing on her mind. “I figured I wouldn’t have a problem because I was in my fertile prime,” she said.

After a few months of trying, Karen went to see her ob-gyn, who gave her a clean bill of health, even after Karen told him that ovulation predictor kits showed that she was ovulating every few months. “The doctor told me to just keep trying,” she recalls.

Finally, after three years of trying, Karen went to see a reproductive endocrinologist. The endocrinologist did some tests and found that Karen had the estrogen levels of a menopausal woman. “It turns out that infertility is often the only sign of early menopause. I didn’t have hot flashes or any other symptoms; my estrogen was just extremely low,” Karen says.

Karen was given hormone injections and intrauterine insemination (IUI), but after three procedures, the physician told her that her only options for pregnancy were adoption or IVF with donor eggs.

“It was a really tough decision,” Karen says today. “On the one hand, we could adopt. It might be difficult and take a long time, but at the end of the road we could be pretty sure of having a child. If we tried donor eggs and IVF, it might not work. And it costs so much money!”

After a lot of soul searching, Karen decided that she wanted the experience of carrying and bearing a child, so she went ahead with IVF using donor eggs. She and her husband had to take out a loan to be able to afford it. She recalls, “I had to sit down and write a $23,000 check to the hospital.”

They were lucky because donated eggs became available relatively quickly. But the process was still daunting. “They want to make sure you understand that the whole thing might not work,” Karen explains. “They reiterate that again and again, so the whole time, I was sure it wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t until the day of the procedure that the doctor told me, ‘This is going to work.’ That was the first time I felt a little hopeful.”

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