My Family Was Made Possible by IVF. My Heart Aches for the Women of Alabama.

The whim of a theocratic judge should not supersede the wishes of myself and my husband and the suggestions of my doctors.

Azeema Mohaideen Batchelor with her children in late 2023. (Courtesy)

My heart aches for the women of Alabama. The ones who have pinned their hopes and dreams of motherhood on the amazing accomplishments of medical science. The ones who are crying and fearful and likely poorer due to the way they chose to start their families. The ones who are just like me.

For over a decade, I have been faced with constant reminders of the long and winding road it took for me to become a mother. After losing my mother suddenly at age 7, I had hopes for starting my own family one day, to be the center of light and love for my children, with a willing, able and ready partner at my side.

In 2013, when I found myself still single and approaching age 35, I decided to make the investment of time and money (dear god, so much money) and froze my eggs.

Over the course of nearly a year, I went through two rounds of egg retrievals and endured many doctor’s appointments, blood draws, injections and invasive procedures. I leaned on the closest of friends to share their own stories of assisted reproductive technology (ART), to drive me to the ambulatory surgery center, to cry with when I lost nearly all the eggs from one round due to early ovulation, and to administer a precisely timed trigger shot in a stall of the ladies’ room of a restaurant on D.C.’s trendy 14th Street during a work dinner. Then came the waiting.

In January 2016, I met the man who would become my husband, who was just as eager to start a family and was thrilled that I, ever the prepared chef, had eggs in the freezer (humor is key to getting through all the indignities of ART). 

After a year and a half, we were married, and six months after that, when after trying on our own, it was obvious that I might need to use those frozen eggs, we started working with a fertility clinic. We started slowly, with slightly less invasive tests, treatments and protocols. But it appeared within months that IVF was going to be our best route to parenthood. 

Due to my relatively high ovarian reserve and hormone levels and being just barely at the 40-year-old mark, my doctor suggested another round of egg retrieval since my dream was to have two to three children one day. Save the frozen ones for kids two and three, she said. Subpar results on our first attempt led to yet one more round of egg retrieval (if you’re counting, that’s now four).

Each time involved months of preparation, daily pills, weekly injections—and so much time. So much energy, emotional ups and downs, weight fluctuations and doubts. 

Why did I need to keep going? What was it about becoming a mom that I couldn’t let go of? How much of this was related to my own childhood traumas and wanting to fix my wounded 7-year-old self? 

At this point, I had also lost my older brother very suddenly. He died in October 2017 from undiagnosed colon cancer at the age of 50, three months after standing next to me at my wedding, four days before my 39th birthday. I was lost. I needed a family of my own, and I recognized that I was privileged enough to get to try a method reserved mostly for those who could afford it, due to my husband’s excellent insurance coverage.  

We ended up with only three viable embryos. One tested positive for genetic abnormalities and we were advised to discard it. We agonized over the decision and decided to kick that can down the road and paid $600 a year in storage fees until we could decide what to do. 

Then, our first attempt at implantation was unsuccessful. We had one embryo left and went for it. 

At last, in September 2019, a month before my 41st birthday, the day that should have been my brother’s 52nd birthday, we had the news I had been waiting for: I was pregnant! Our first child, a beautiful and healthy baby boy with my husband’s thick hair and my dark eyes, was born in May 2020. Pandemic be damned, we were in our own bubble of joy that summer.  

The ambiguity of what I would face, financially, physically and emotionally, is horrifying to imagine. Yet, this is reality for many women of Alabama right now.

As our son approached a year old, we decided it was time to visit the freezer. We thawed my eggs to undergo the fertilization process and were blessed with another three embryos. This time, we were advised to discard an embryo due to genetic abnormalities incompatible with life; meaning that if I chose to implant this embryo, and if I did not miscarry (the risk there was high), and if I did not have a stillborn birth, the resulting child would have a condition that would severely limit their lifespan—most likely to two weeks, possibly up to one year.

I cannot imagine the physical and psychological torture that would entail—something women in Alabama are facing right now. Prepping your body with endless hormones, transferring an embryo, possibly carrying a baby to full term that then is destined to die? My husband and I agonized over what to do with that embryo. We hoped to donate it for research purposes, to help aid others and to create or prolong the life of another family’s child one day. A close relative of mine is the recipient of organ donation. One family’s loss turned into our gain—decades more with a loved one due to the untimely death of theirs. Perhaps our little clump of cells could do the same. This was before Dobbs—thinking we had time, we kicked the can down the road yet again. Another $600 a year to remain indecisive.

IVF works by using a combination of medicines and surgical procedures to help sperm fertilize an egg. (Jens Kalaene / Getty Images)

I would get the same wonderful news in September 2021 and October 2023, with our second baby boy born in April 2022 (four weeks early, less than 5 pounds, yet never had to stay in the NICU). I am currently 25 weeks pregnant with that last embryo, the little girl our 22-month-old has nicknamed “Bunny” who already keeps me up at night, won’t cooperate for sonogram techs, yet whom I love fiercely and cannot wait to meet in May. Post-Dobbs, I was now told my only options were to continue paying $1,200 a year in storage fees, or to discard the embryos. We chose the latter, deciding that we’d rather put that money towards our children’s college funds.

In the wake of last week’s Alabama Supreme Court ruling, there are very obvious places along the way where the whims of a judge who would like a Christian theocracy would supersede the wishes of myself, my husband and the suggestions of my doctors—well-educated and well-known experts in their field. The ambiguity of what I would face, financially, physically and emotionally, is horrifying to imagine. Yet, this is reality for many women of Alabama right now.

If the far right—a far too vocal minority in American politics—gets its way, the way of Alabama would be the way of the nation. Never mind the declining birth rate, and the fact that these embryos are desperately wanted to become babies.

It’s not about the children. It’s never about the children, or we’d have universal healthcare, parental leave and subsidized daycare. It’s always been about control and the removal of our medical freedoms.

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Azeema Mohaideen Batchelor is a professional in the legal industry with over 20 years of experience (Cornell 2000, Fordham Law 2004). She is the mother of two boys (3 years and 22 months) and is currently six months pregnant with her first baby girl—all of whom are the product of love and science. She is a fierce advocate for reproductive bodily autonomy, maternal healthcare, and embracing all the ways one can make a family.