Transcript: Elizabeth Carr: First baby born from in-vitro fertilization in the US and 15th in the world, discusses Women’s Fertility (And Finances)

Keisha Blair: Welcome to the Holistic Wealth podcast. I’m your host, Keisha Blair, wife, mother of three, author of Holistic Wealth and Founder of the Institute on Holistic Wealth. This show will showcase various experts in the key pillars of holistic wealth. Each week, we deliver the best information on how to become holistically wealthy and live your best life.

Today we have a very special guest, we have with us. We have Elizabeth Carr, Elizabeth is a marathoner, journalist, athlete and she was also the first baby born from in vitro fertilization in the United States and the 15th in the world, which means she has been in the media spotlight since three cells old, her first press conference was at three days old. And so Elizabeth, you have an amazing, intriguing story, and we’re happy to dive in to talk about fertility women’s fertility and infertility today. So welcome to the show.

Elizabeth Carr: Thanks so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

Keisha Blair: I’ve been reading up a lot lately about women’s fertility in particular in mid-life. And so I was wondering about even your story. You were the first-ever baby born in the United States through in vitro fertilization, you were born in 1981, right? So was the first time it happened was in 1981.

Elizabeth Carr: That’s right. You got it in 1981, almost four years. Exactly.

Keisha Blair: Unbelievable. And so I’m just wondering about your parents and what led them to IVF, you know, in terms of their ages and kind of how they navigated that.

Elizabeth Carr: The story really starts with my parents who had been married and had tried for many, many years. To have a child and my mother had no problem getting pregnant, but her problem was staying pregnant. And so she had what are called ectopic pregnancies. She had three of them, which basically means that the baby starts to grow in your fallopian tubes. Both of her fallopian tubes actually blew up, which as you can imagine, you know, caused a ton of internal bleeding and had many problems because that’s where all the important stuff, when you’re trying to have a baby happens, with those fallopian tubes. So she basically went to her doctor and she was in her mid twenties healthy and said, what are we going to do?

The doctor told my mom, I have to be honest with you, I don’t think you’re going to be able to have children of your own. And so they were looking into all kinds of options, you know, adoption was kind of the forefront, you know, the main option that they were looking at and she had to go back for one more appointment. And her OB GYN at the time basically threw a brochure across the table to her and said, I don’t know, I just came back from this conference and they talked about this thing called in vitro fertilization. And I don’t know anything about it, but it was done successfully in England. Maybe you want to look into it. That was it. That was the extent of the conversation. So they had no idea what they were getting into. They looked into it and it just barely started with a program in Virginia by a husband and wife team who were doing this essentially in their retirement. They were in their sixties when they started the IVF clinic in Virginia. And, you know my parents contacted them. And the doctors took a look at my mother’s medical record and essentially said, how soon can you get to Virginia? And they were off to the races as it was. So, they didn’t know a lot. I think it’s very interesting when people talk about IVF now, people are so well educated.

My parents really had no idea what they were getting into, essentially because it, it wasn’t something that was called. And there wasn’t a lot of information about it. And so they just kind of had to go into it with this trust of these doctors who had studied it and that was where they started.

Keisha Blair: Yeah, that’s unbelievable. And based on what I’ve read, in terms of IVF, sometimes it takes multiple tries, right? To harvest the embryos. Did they have to go through multiple trials? What was that process like for them?

Elizabeth Carr: So this is what makes it even more interesting. So they did not have a set protocol back then. They were still really kind of trying to figure out what worked well for IVF. And my parents were actually one of 10 other couples going through the program. So they didn’t know that they were going to be the first, or they didn’t know who among the 10 were going to be successful because every couple had a different protocol.

It was extremely rare and it’s still extremely rare that they only harvested one egg. They could only get one egg and they were only able to implant one egg. And that is me.

Keisha Blair: It’s very interesting. That is unbelievable because based on what, like I’ve read, I was reading up about infertility last night until I fell asleep and I kid you not, and you know more about this than me, but today they try to harvest hundreds of eggs. And so to have that one shot, one egg, one go is unbelievable.

Elizabeth Carr: It’s very common for people to go through multiple cycles. We call them cycles multiple cycles of IVF. So you may have a bunch of embryos that were harvested essentially and collected. And then essentially you get to look at the quality of the embryo and decide which ones with your doctor should be implanted. And I always joke that my parents did not have that ability, and the technology was so rudimentary back then compared to what we have now that they really could only kind of look at it through a microscope and go, oops. They couldn’t see anything beyond that.

And ultrasound technology was also so bad back then it was still being perfected. So they didn’t really know if I was completely healthy, they didn’t know how I would come out. I looked to be very small, which is not surprising if you know me now I’m only five feet tall, so like a small baby, not shocking, but back then, but they really were concerned. Is this going to work? Is she going to turn out quote unquote normal, you know, kind of thing?

Keisha Blair: Uh, no, absolutely. And so fast forward today where science has evolved so much, and I know you’re a patient advocate at genomic prediction. Can you tell us what you’ve learned about for instance today, in terms of the issues with infertility that women are faced with and in particular women who, who struggled to come see you?

Advances In Infertility Technology and Pre-Implantation Genetic Testing

Elizabeth Carr: The good news for people going through infertility right now is that there are so many more options. So when I was born there weren’t a ton of options was like adoption and maybe IVF. If there was a clinic near you and you could have it. Now there are so many more options. You know, we have things to address and tackle male and male factor infertility, which was not even identified back when I was born. You now have the ability to not only look at the overall shape and health of the embryo like you did when I was born, but we can actually now kind of get a glimpse into the genetic makeup and see if your embryos are at risk for disease, multiple diseases. And we can mitigate those risks through pre-implantation genetic testing.

Women have the ability now to freeze their embryos. And back when I was young, that was really only reserved for people going through cancer treatments. So that essentially harvest healthy eggs, go through their fertility treatments, which as we know, like basically kills all the bad stuff in your body, but also some of the good stuff too. And then when they were finished their cancer treatments and in remission and healthy, they could still go through and have embryos to have a healthy child. So we’ve come a long way. The hormone drugs are far better than when my mother went through them. Some procedures are done outpatient now. I mean, it has really kind of completely grown up as it were. There are IVF clinics around the world and basically in every city in town now.

The Importance of Spreading The Message About Infertility

Keisha Blair: Yeah, for sure. And we hear about celebrities every day, who are having babies, like well into their forties, some of them in their late forties, like we’ve heard of Alanis Morissette, Halle, Berry, Gina Davis, who had twins, I think when she was 48. And so I know there’s some back and forth in the industry about whether that gives women a false impression of what’s possible using their own eggs.

But as you said, technology has also come a far away. And for women who are wondering whether or not this is in the realm of possible, if you’re over 40, then. You know, there’s also lots of different, as you mentioned, different techniques now, and strategies to tell whether or not the embryo has any DNA that might be related to any disease. I remember just this morning, I asked my own mom just before this podcast interview because my grandmother had her last child almost at 50 years old, and all the doctors thought that he’d have some serious illnesses turns out he was fine, but so that’s also of course, another worry or concern for women who have to access these technologies in their midlife, you know, wandering, will there be an issue.

So you mentioned that technology sounds promising. And so we’ve come a far way for sure. So, Elizabeth, I know that you have been on a journey to share your story, to help others. And you’ve spoken around the world about your story. Tell us why you think it’s so important that people hear your story?

Elizabeth Carr: My whole family really made a point when I was growing up that it was important that people knew that this was an option. IVF was an option. You know not a lot of people had access to it. Not a lot of people knew about it. Now it’s much more accessible, not everywhere, unfortunately, and it’s not fully covered in every state by insurance and things like that. So it’s still very expensive, but we always felt strongly about sharing our story. If it could make anybody aware of any technology and have the ability to hope again, that’s really worth the lack of privacy. And I kind of operate from the same place now, not just talking about IVF, but talking about all the different technologies we have, because when you receive a diagnosis of infertility, it is extremely overwhelming.

Every patient that I’ve spoken to has said that it’s just this whole other world that you have to learn to navigate as you’re dealing with this. Hard to digest news. And so juggling those two things is extremely difficult and to just be aware of options out there without feeling like you’re climbing into this crazy rabbit hole and feeling like you have to search really hard for information.

That’s why for me, I know that I am very privileged to have access to amazing scientists and doctors. And grew up going to fertility conferences, for my whole life, even, starting at age five. So I have kind of had a front seat to all of this, and I always felt like it was part of my responsibility to explain and translate what the technologies were and what these doctors were talking about in language that was easy to understand for patients.

Because you can’t make an informed decision. If you don’t understand the information that’s being presented to you. And so that’s really kind of where I operate from is I’m not going to tell you, you know, what you specifically should do. What I’m going to do is provide you with all the information that’s out there.

So that then you can decide, right based on how you understand all of your options, you can decide what’s best for you. And just being able to have that information is what’s critical.

The Impact of Infertility on Mental Health

Keisha Blair: I’m thinking about all the couples out there who are experiencing infertility right now and just how devastating that can be, including miscarriage, right?

It’s just devastating. We’re already going through a pandemic. And, you know, many people are struggling, Elizabeth, you know, like with mental health. And so I’m wondering how you counsel these couples sometimes, you know, in terms of any, and even going through the IVF process can be very stressful, extremely stressful.

I remember one of my past colleagues went through IVF and we sat beside each other at work and she would get up every lunchtime, go to the bathroom with her needles and it would have to be like clockwork injecting herself in the bathroom. And so I know it can be stressful, especially for working women.

So any tips, advice, suggestions on what you’ve seen with other couples, how you counsel people going through the process, facing the prospect of going through it and it possibly still not even working any tips and suggestions?

Elizabeth Carr: One thing I will say that again has changed so much in 40 years, is there are so many groups out there now that do provide support.

One that I always go to is Resolve, which is the national and fertility associates. They actually have online support groups, as well as in-person support groups, they have a wealth of information. You can look up for resources and videos on their website. There are also new companies out there, that specifically tackle the mental health side of your fertility journey and have different tools for that, like Organic Conceptions.

There are also resources if you are working with a fertility treatment provider, there are often resources within those clinics as well. So for example, at Genomic Prediction, we’re a lab, but we have on-site staff, a genetic counselor, who will actually walk you through and figure out with you, talk about your family history and things like that, because it’s so important.

The Financial Cost of IVF

There are tons and tons of support groups. There are also amazing scholarships though different groups. As I mentioned, not everybody has the financial capacity to pay for this out of pocket. If it’s not covered in some states, we call them mandate states. There are actually only 19 states in the United States where it is mandated for fertility coverage to be covered by your insurance company.

Keisha Blair: For sure. And Elizabeth, can you tell us how much? So for people who are not covered. Yeah. Can you give us an idea of the cost? Not only of IVF and what everything else, you know? Yeah.

Elizabeth Carr: It can cost upwards of $30,000 just for one IVF cycle, depending on the medication and the protocol that you’re specifically doing or how long.

You know how many cycles you’re going through or, you know, there’s all sorts of things, so, right. So it can get very expensive, and even if you’re going through mini IVF, which is like you know, a miniaturized version, essentially, if an in vitro fertilization, even that can be pricey. So there are scholarships out there that people can apply for. There are great resources. If people want to follow me on Instagram, I’m at @eJordan12. I have a list of resources, kind of for people to check out. I try to share whenever I find a great resource, I share it. And that’s just in my nature of who I am, but it can be very challenging.

And I think that is the one thing that, you know, we still even though you can look around a room and there are probably a lot of IVF babies in that room. It’s still kind of as this topic. And fertility in general is a topic that people speak about sometimes in hushed tones, even to me, right. So, you know, there’s still a need to really speak up and speak out about it.

Miscarriage is so common and people don’t talk about that. I know it’s incredibly painful, but it’s also incredibly common. And I don’t think that people, you know, up until very recently realized just how common it is. So there’s that to it as well.

Keisha Blair: Yeah absolutely. And as we talk about the personal finance aspect of the cost of treatment and everything else that might be associated, you know, say if you have to travel to a clinic that’s specialized in something or run additional tests, who knows, then it, the cost can add up. And for couples who are thinking about it, that’s another big decision that they have to make is how do we afford this?

And as you mentioned, there are scholarships available. There’s other resources. And so Elizabeth, one of the things that I advocate for on the podcast is knowing your personal financial identity to make these big money decisions, especially because, I find even within couples themselves, it can cause tension when there are different money values at play, and especially for big things like this. So I know you took the quiz and I want to take the opportunity here to ask you, because we’re talking about the money aspect. So if you could share your results, any insights you have on that in terms of your thoughts on when you got your results and how you’ve seen that play out in your own life, or maybe in your own family, that would be amazing.

Elizabeth Carr: I did take the quiz, which is very fun and it actually was not shocking to me at all. It said I’m a Minimalist, which is true. You know, I’m actually sitting here doing this podcast with you from my kitchen living room, dining room. I actually live in 749 square feet a house. So we have two bedrooms for myself, my husband, my son, and my dog.

And we are in 749 square feet. We slowly over the years have been downsizing our life and exactly for the reasons of taking financial control, right. It, you know, just kind of seeing what everybody’s been going through over the past, you know, however long we’ve been in this pandemic. Kind of really made us look at well, do we really need two cars?

Can we get rid of one? And so we did, we were only in 1200 square feet, but we said, well, you know, do we really need 1200 square feet? Well, now really over the years it’s been our running joke. Every time we moved, we downsized because we’ve been trying to simplify, simplify, simplify, in every aspect of our lives.

That is always top of mind for me. And you’re right, like with these financial issues and dealing with in fertility costs, even within couples themselves, one couple might want to, you know, not stop and keep going until they end up with a child or a family. And the another one might say, you know what, I’m mentally, physically and financially exhausted and want to stop.

And that’s where, you know, even having those conversations of, okay, how far are we going to go? What’s our end goal. When is too much, too much, should we make a decision to add a certain point, pursue a child free lifestyle? Um, and what would that look like? And, you know, even talking about those conversations is something that we never used to do in the past, which is absolutely correct.

Keisha Blair: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s so important because as you were talking and sharing your results and the insights just fascinating. So the first IVF baby is a Minimalist, it’s unbelievable.

Like I’m just intrigued because I’m fascinated with your story. And of course, with the minimalist lifestyle, that you’ve chosen. This is what the quiz has shown. To be honest with you, is that what you’re doing is exactly what people are doing. That’s the trend I’m getting in the quiz results during this pandemic. So it’s fascinating to hear because most people are identifying more with minimalism now and really figuring out, as you said, you know, do I need all this stuff?

What have we been working for to buy all this stuff? And so, as you talk about the fertility aspect of it with couples and sitting down and having that conversation on the end goal, then what we’re willing to do. And at what point do we stop? It’s amazing because what occurred to me was, you know, in terms of your downsizing, And just in values in particular and thinking about what am I willing to give up?

What are the trade-offs that I’m willing to make to get this done? You know, and as a couple, what are the trade-offs we’re willing to make, to have a baby or to expand our family? So as you were speaking, and I’m sure this could be helpful for so many people, you know, listening to this episode and thinking, oh, So there are options.

Like we can actually downsize, like we can continue to downsize to meet this goal. We can continue to look at, as you mentioned, do we need two cars? Cause you’re right. Since the pandemic started, our family has focused on just one car to be honest, because we’re not commuting as much as we used to.

Are there things that we can do to try to accommodate those bigger goals that we have, like focusing on fertility or expanding our families. And so I love that. And Elizabeth is your husband. Your husband is obviously a Minimalist too, right?

Elizabeth Carr: Yeah, I mean to a certain extent, we joke that we are Minimalists in some aspects, and Maximalists in others. So we are avid runners. So if you look at our closet and see the amount of sneakers we have, we are perhaps not in, so Minimalist. But the two of us really kind of have had those conversations with like, what is it exactly that we want to do and how are we able to do those things? And it’s very important to both of us that, you know, for many years I was working in a job where I was honest to goodness, spending a total of four hours a day, commuting in a car.

And having the opportunity to, as a writer and a patient advocate and a journalist, having the opportunity to work fully remote, even before the pandemic was something I really focused on. And I was like, I can’t, you know, my mental health is suffering with four hours a day commuting and not being able to move my body no.

During those times and things like that. So, even within our own household, we’ve had those conversations and even my son knows that if he gets something new, something old goes out, and we donate or we, you know, we’re in a bunch of “buy nothing groups” so we can trade and, you know, like his Bicycle that he finally outgrew. We ended up giving to a woman who needed it for her grandson. And, that was like something that we were so happy to do and pass along. There was nothing wrong with it. He was just too small for it, but instead of throwing it away, we found a way to repurpose it. Things like that are really important to us.

And I think that’s again, going back to that conversation of exactly what is your north star is, what is your ultimate goal? It has not been easy. There are some days I wish we had two cars again, but in the long run, not having the stress of a second car payment. You know me saying it’s okay, I’ll sit at so-and-so for extra long or we’ll bike somewhere.

If the weather’s nice or whatever it takes, we’ll, we’ll figure out a way to make it work. You know, you kind of have to be a little bit ruthless in, in deciding what your goals.

Keisha Blair: Absolutely. And it’s something I talk about in my book, Holistic Wealth. And as you’re talking everything about holistic wealth is coming out there. At one time we thought about our wealth just in terms of money. And I think lots of women are saying, no, no, we want a redefinition of that wealth term, because as you said that four hour commute, no, our mental health is super important. Now everybody’s prioritizing. And of course, we want to be able to have that those north star goals met.

And for many of us, some of that has to do with finances. Yes. But not everything. And so we’re, we’re taking a more holistic view on our decisions and our personal missions and I think every family should sit down and do a family mission statement and figure out, you know, overarching values. And so, thank you so much for sharing your story and your wisdom with us on the podcast. And you mentioned one of your social media handles through your Instagram, which is great. Can you tell us where else to find you on social media and your website?

Elizabeth Carr: Sure. So I’m most active on Instagram. So again, it’s easy @ejordan12, and that’s on Instagram or people can go on and you can find my podcast. You can read the blog, you can sign up for my newsletter. You can find out more information. My work at Genomic Prediction as a patient advocate, all of those good resources. And I’m an open book. So I love to hear from anybody who has any questions, there’s basically no question off limits.

Keisha Blair: Okay, perfect. Once again. Thank you, Elizabeth. It was a great episode. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot in the process too. So thank you once again for sharing with us.

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