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'Effortless IVF' is a new procedure that lets same-sex couples share the conception experience

Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter *both* got to carry their son.

'Effortless IVF' is a new procedure that lets same-sex couples share the conception experience

Deciding to start a family is a huge, life-altering decision, and for couples who need to use in vitro fertilization, that decision all too often comes with a huge, life-altering price tag.

As a same-sex couple, Texans Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter knew they would need to turn to IVF to start a family, and thanks to some new developments in reproductive technology, they were not only able to both carry their baby at different stages of pregnancy, but also save money and time in the IVF process.

The Coulters made international headlines this fall when news broke that they had both carried their son, Stetson (now 4 months old) thanks to a procedure called effortless IVF, and the INVOcell device, a small medical device that basically uses a woman's vagina as an incubator.

"I wanted to have a child that was biologically mine, but I didn't want to carry the child," Bliss tells Motherly. Her wife, Ashleigh (seen above holding Stetson), did want to be pregnant.

It's common for same-sex couples to turn to reciprocal IVF (also called "shared motherhood") when one woman wants a biological child but her partner wants to be the one to be pregnant. Reciprocal IVF sees one partner's eggs fertilized and then implanted in her spouse's body.

It doesn't come cheap (costs per IVF cycle range between $16,000 and $30,000, according to WinFertility), but for some couples, it is the perfect way to start a family.

The Coulters knew that's what they wanted, but when they heard about the work Drs. Kathy and Kevin Doody of the Center for Assisted Reproduction (CARE Fertility) were doing, they wondered if the method the Doodys pioneered, effortless IVF, could allow them to add a layer to their reciprocal IVF plan—and remove the need for a laboratory incubator by using Bliss' own body.

When the couple met with Dr. Kathy Doody to inquire about whether effortless IVF with the INVOcell device could be used in reciprocal IVF, they were thrilled to hear the doctor say she couldn't see why not. "We've done close to 200 effortless IVF cycles with heterosexual couples," Dr. Doody tells Motherly. "But this is a special opportunity that same-sex couples can share in."

Dr. Doody and her husband are passionate about helping more couples (both same-sex and heterosexual) access IVF by reducing the costs associated with the procedure. The effortless IVF method makes things more affordable by reducing sonogram and monitoring appointments and by using the patient's health, age, and weight to determine the dosage of medication (which reduces the costs of the medication and eliminates the need for appointments for medication adjustments).

"I think the onus rests on us as physicians, it is our obligation to figure out ways to help as many patients as we can rather than just stick to a very confined model of what we think IVF should be," Dr. Doody says.

"The way the cost is less is just not with the device. There are fewer visits, there's no blood work during their IVF cycle, [and] they have a fixed dosing protocol," she explains.

For the Coulters, having fewer costly appointments than are required with traditional IVF was a great bonus, but the fact that Bliss got to carry the embryo that would be implanted in Ashleigh was even better, and actually easier than they expected.

Regarding the INVOcell device, Bliss tells Motherly "there was no side effects, it didn't hurt at all. I continued to ride my horses like I do, and so that was pretty cool. That kind of took me by surprise in a good way."

After the embryo that would become Stetson was done incubating in Bliss and moved to Ashleigh, another welcome surprise came along. Although Dr. Doody seemed super confident about the likelihood of success, somewhere in the back of her mind Ashleigh has worried that it wouldn't work. "It was something that had never been done, honestly," she tells Motherly. "I was so shocked that it happened on the first try. I think that was the biggest thing for me."

The first time she felt Stetson kick, it all became more real. Finally, she and Bliss were going to be parents. A shared conception experience followed by an uncomplicated pregnancy and the birth of a healthy baby boy. It was an absolute dream come true.

Both the Coulters and Dr. Doody tell Motherly they hope the story of Stetson's conception not only helps same-sex couples share in the IVF experience, but that it also makes IVF more accessible to all couples who are working within a budget or live far from an IVF clinic.

As Dr. Doody points out, there are places in America where there isn't an IVF clinic in the entire state, and Bliss says that with the minimal appointments she and Ashleigh experienced, she could see effortless IVF being a good option for people who live far from a clinic and need to keep out-of-state appointments to a minimum.

"The concept of effortless IVF is to make IVF more accessible to more patients," says Dr. Doody. Whether that means making reciprocal IVF a more shared experience for two mamas or reducing the burden of the investment on couples in general, she's keen to help more families experience the life-altering results of IVF with a less life-altering price tag.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

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Life

Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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