At RADfertility, we understand that infertility can be a very isolating disease to face. It is important to know you are not alone. The purpose of the Making a Difference series is to highlight the dedicated organizations and individuals in the community available to help you on your journey.
Dr. Shannon M. Clark is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, and founder of BabiesAfter35.com. Dedicated to her education, training and career for 15+ years, Dr. Clark married at the age of 39 and began her journey to have a family of her own.
Dr. Clark has been very open about her personal journey of love, loss, infertility, and continued hope. In her role as a physician caring for high-risk pregnancies, she has counseled and treated hundreds of women over the years in her very own situation. Her recent announcement that she is expecting twins at age 42 has launched a new chapter in her life that she continues to share. She hopes to give a voice to women who have experienced pregnancy after age 35 and be a source of information for those who anticipate starting a family later in life.
Shannon M. Clark, MD - Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist & Founder of BabiesAfter35.com
You have been very open about your fertility journey through your website, BabiesAfter35.com. At what point did you decide you were comfortable sharing such personal details with your audience?
Dr. Clark: When my husband and I decided to pursue IVF, we thought the process would be simple and quick. Two years later, we knew all too well that IVF is never a sure thing, especially when ovarian aging is a factor. In reality, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did despite the fact that I was an OB/GYN. I decided then that I needed to educate women on the reality of ovarian aging and the potential difficulties of delaying childbearing. Since then, complete transparency about my personal experience and education on fertility and pregnancy after age 35 have been my goals.
What is your advice for women under 35 who are not quite ready for a family, but hope for one in the future?
Dr. Clark: My advice would be to have check-ups on your fertility just as you would for a well-woman exam. This means discussing your fertility with your OB/GYN, assessing your ovarian reserve, making sure you are leading a healthy lifestyle, and considering egg freezing if delaying childbearing until after age 35 is a potential reality for you.
You are an obstetrician-gynecologist who specializes in the care of high-risk pregnant women. You are also struggling with infertility. How are you able to emotionally separate the two?
Dr. Clark: As a high-risk obstetrician, I routinely take care of patients who do not have ideal outcomes in their pregnancies for any number of reasons. As a result, I have to be able to separate my personal emotions from my duties as a medical professional in order to deliver the best care that I can to all women experiencing difficulties in their pregnancies. That doesn’t mean, however, that when I am alone or finally get home that I don’t feel for them and think about their individual situations. As an infertility patient myself, I have to be able to leave my personal struggles at the door. I do not want that to interfere with my job. It is difficult at times, but in some ways I think it has helped me better relate to my patients and have more empathy. If anything, I think my experience with infertility has helped much more than hinder.
Has writing about your journey been therapeutic for you?
Dr Clark: Absolutely. Not only writing about my journey, but being able to educate other women has been extremely therapeutic. Writing has also been a way of communicating with my friends and family; a way of keeping in touch with them. Although I have always been willing to talk about my struggle, friends and family are not always comfortable asking about it. This has sometimes allowed some distance between us. Through my writing, they know how I feel and know what I am experiencing.
You have been open about using donor eggs. What was this process like for you?
Dr. Clark: During the 5 cycles of IVF, we had briefly discussed the possibility of using an egg donor. We also discussed adoption and using a surrogate. Once we realized that I was not going to be able to provide any quality eggs we did not hesitate looking into an egg donor. My husband did most of the research. It was hard for me to look at profiles of women and pick one that would essentially replace me. My husband was much more analytic-he is a businessman-and narrowed a list down to 5 women who fit the top 5 criteria we both felt were important. The process actually went pretty quickly. Once we decided, we never hesitated or questioned our decision. We were only grateful that the option of egg donor existed. The egg donor bank we used was wonderful. I can say that the entire process was very positive for us.
What advice would you give to women and men who are struggling with the decision to use donor egg?
Dr. Clark: I know it is a very personal decision and it is very hard for someone to give up their genetic contribution to having a child. It was hard for me. However, if having a family is the ultimate goal, pregnancy through donor egg, if needed, is a valid option for a woman to still carry a child even though the child is not genetically hers. I truly believe my contribution by carrying my babies is just as important and vital as actually having provided the eggs myself. I feel no differently knowing my twins are from another woman’s eggs. My husband feels no differently either. I am just so grateful that we had this option available to us.
You have been such a great resource for women going through similar adversities. Where do you turn for support?
Dr. Clark: My husband is my number one support. We have been through everything together. We were married in May 2013 and started with our infertility journey with our first miscarriage in September 2013. Practically our entire marriage has consisted of struggling with infertility. Somehow we have managed to survive and our marriage has gotten stronger. My family and friends are also supportive, but whenever I needed to cry, yell, and wanted to give up, my husband was there. This allowed me the strength and piece of mind to continue being a resource for others and remain strong. Being able to be there for other women has always been therapeutic for me.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Dr. Clark: I would tell myself that I didn’t need to always be so strong. I have always been a strong person, but sometimes it got overwhelming. Trying to maintain my job as a MFM specialist, advocate and educate through Babies After 35, and go through 2 years of infertility treatments was a lot to manage. I would have allowed myself some time to just be a normal woman experiencing infertility.
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