Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Care Team Offers Support
Marla Cichowski always knew she wanted to be a mom. Single and approaching her 40th birthday, she knew it was time to take action.
“I decided I was going to make it happen. So I froze my eggs a few months after I turned 40 years old,” says Marla. She asked a close friend if he was interested in being a sperm donor, but after exploring that route, she ended up relying on a sperm bank.
“I was faced with picking a donor, which was one of the hardest decisions of my life,” recalls Marla. “For a long time, I didn’t think I could do it. I didn't think I could have a child who wouldn’t know who her biological father was until she was old enough to find out on her own. Eventually, I realized that if I was going to use my frozen eggs, I would need to have sperm to go with them.”
The Northwestern Medicine Center for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine care team, which includes physicians and therapists, prioritizes inclusive, comprehensive and compassionate care for a variety of patients, including single mothers by choice.
“Our mission at the Center is to help patients achieve their fertility goals,” said Mary Ellen G. Pavone, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist who was Marla's physician. “Our team approaches each patient with compassion and without judgment.”
While searching for a donor, months of research followed, a process Marla compared to match.com but without the ability to meet or talk with any of the donors in person for anonymity reasons. In January 2019, using some of her frozen eggs and the donated sperm, and after weeks of injecting fertility medication, Marla received a transfer of two embryos at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“In my heart, I thought it would work,” says Marla. “Then, they called and told me it didn’t work. It was awful — in addition to going off the medications cold turkey, my hormones went from full steam to nothing. It was so hard on me both physically and emotionally.”
Helping her emotionally was Susan C. Klock, PhD, a psychologist at the Center who is part of a care team that meets with every patient undergoing in vitro fertilization. The meeting is a required part of the process, and something that patients typically find extremely valuable.
“Going through infertility treatments is emotionally grueling,” says Dr. Klock. “The Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center psychologists provide preparation and support throughout the process to help people maximize their ability to cope. It can be particularly helpful for people to identify friends and family members who can provide support during their treatments and after their transition to parenthood."
Marla underwent two more rounds of in vitro fertilization at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, including two egg retrievals and using preimplantation genetic diagnosis testing for the last round, before finding out in October 2019 that she was pregnant.
“I was in disbelief after going through infertility treatments for so long,” she said.
Three years after she first started fertility treatments, at age 43, Marla delivered a healthy baby girl named Lucy at Northwestern Memorial's Prentice Women’s Hospital on June 12, 2020.
“I froze my eggs in May of 2017,” Marla said. “I couldn't believe that in June of 2020 I was holding my beautiful daughter. I told my mom there were days I would wake up and wonder if a stork just dropped my baby off.”
She adds, “I leaned on a lot of friends who also went through in vitro fertilization. I never thought I would be having a baby on my own — it is so important not to ever give up.”