The path to parenthood can sometimes be fraught with difficulties. And being a same-sex couple, Bliss and Ashleigh Coulter were immediately faced with some very specific challenges. But when they were exploring ways to have a baby who was as naturally theirs as possible, a doctor offered the two women an opportunity that would make history.
Ashleigh and Bliss, from Mountain Springs, Texas, first met in 2012 and quickly fell in love. Even prior to tying the knot in 2015 the couple considered the idea of becoming parents. And so, throughout the first 12 months of their marriage, they looked into starting a family and the options that were available to them as a same-sex couple.
Ashleigh was excited about the idea. Her partner, however, harbored some reservations. As Ashleigh recalled to ABC News in October 2018, “I was very much interested in having children, but Bliss was a little iffy on it.” For Bliss, it seems, the situation wasn’t entirely straightforward.
As Bliss further explained to ABC News, “I wanted a child that was biologically mine, but I did not want to carry the child.” Often when it comes to female-female couples, donated sperm is used to fertilize one of the women during IVF treatment. This means that only one will be biologically related to the baby.
So when Ashleigh and Bliss both stated that they wanted to be involved in the conception and gestation process, the situation seemed irresolvable. But then a friend proposed a potential solution. She pointed the pair toward a news item she had seen regarding Dr. Kathy Doody, who specializes in fertility.
Not quite believing what they had found, Ashleigh and Bliss were wary. As Ashleigh explained, “[We] didn’t really think it was possible until we heard it from Dr. Kathy’s mouth.” So, in 2017 they booked an appointment with Dr. Doody to learn more about the procedure she had to offer.
The treatment Dr. Doody practiced was a form of IVF known as “effortless IVF.” In traditional IVF, eggs are fertilized and incubated in a laboratory. When the embryos have sufficiently developed, they are transferred to the mother’s uterus. Effortless IVF, however, works slightly differently.
In effortless IVF treatment, instead of sending the harvested eggs to the lab for fertilization, a small device is used. It’s called an INVOcell – a kind of incubator for the eggs and donor sperm which is placed inside the carrier’s vagina. The developed embryos are then implanted in the uterus from the INVOcell device.
According to effortlessivf.com, there are fewer drugs and doctors visits required throughout the process of effortless IVF. And so, the site claims, it works out significantly cheaper than traditional IVF, but is no less successful. And in the case of Ashleigh and Bliss, the treatment presented an opportunity which was otherwise unavailable to them.
Dr. Doody believed that the procedure could be combined with a treatment called Reciprocal IVF. This would allow Bliss’ eggs to be fertilized and develop into embryos before they were placed in Ashleigh’s uterus. In other words, Bliss would get the biological baby she desired, while her wife would carry the baby through pregnancy.
According to ABC News, Bliss was reportedly “overwhelmed with joy.” As she herself recalled, “Knowing that we’re about to create [something] that’s biologically mine. My next thought was, ‘What is he going to look like? What is he going to be like?’ Pretty much like every parent, but I was very excited that this was even possible.”
Typically in effortless IVF treatment, only one woman would be involved in egg donation through to receiving the developed embryos to complete the pregnancy. But by adopting this method, Bliss would carry the INVOcell device before the embryos were implanted in Ashleigh. And this would mean that both women would be involved in the pregnancy.
But such a procedure had never been tried before. “What makes this so special,” Dr. Doody explained to MailOnline in October 2018, “is that it’s the first time that two women have actually carried the pregnancy of their child together.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Doody, who developed the method, was confident the treatment would be a success. And so 36-year-old Bliss had her eggs placed inside the INVOcell, where they were introduced to a donor’s sperm. The cell was then implanted into her body to allow the eggs to fertilize.
Bliss expressed concern about carrying the device. Indeed, the plastic cell, shaped like a champagne cork, might make even those of a strong constitution a little nervous. But she needn’t have worried. As she recalled to ABC News, “I didn’t feel it all. I never had any pain from it.”
Then it was 28-year-old Ashleigh’s turn. As soon as her hormone therapies had been completed, she was ready to receive her wife’s embryo. And then, a little more than a week later, they took a pregnancy test. Dr. Doody’s method had been successful – the Coulters were pregnant on their first attempt.
“Bliss always jokes she has golden eggs,” Ashleigh quipped to ABC News. “She came out of anesthesia and was like, ‘Did you get all of the golden eggs?’” The pregnancy passed without any complications, and in June 2018 Ashleigh gave birth to an 8lb 4oz baby boy. The couple named him Stetson.
As Bliss recalled, “The moment he was born… I felt like I was the most blessed person in the whole world, because he was just perfect in every way.” Ashleigh described the process as being really special, as they both had a role to play in the pregnancy.
Dr. Doody feels it’s a doctor’s responsibility to develop new ways of offering pregnancy methods to people who need them. She feels Reciprocal effortless IVF is the perfect procedure for same-sex couples. As she put it to ABC News, “It feels more natural for parents and it gives them a unique bond with their baby.”
The Coulters currently have their hands full as first-time moms to Stetson. Since the arrival of their son made medical history, Dr. Doody has since performed the treatment for another same-sex Texan couple. And with two embryos remaining in the freezer, there’s the possibility of another Coulter baby. Although Bliss is happy with just one child, Ashleigh claimed, “I’m going to talk her into a second one for sure.”