Dr. Shahin Ghadir is paving the way to make reciprocal IVF (a way for both mothers to have a genetic bond with their biological baby) be accessible for lesbian couples who want to become parents. AfterEllen sat down with him to talk about his work. If you and your partner are thinking of having a baby and considering IVF, this is for you.
AfterEllen: So, I checked out your website and I watched your video on there, but for most people who are going to be reading this and don’t know, could you start by telling me a little bit about your background and how you got into working with reciprocal IVF?
Dr. Ghadir: Sure! So, my name is Shahin Ghadir. I’m a board certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist and also board certified on obstetrics and gynecology. I specialize in helping individuals get pregnant, and I have a large following of LGBT patients. So, for some of our lesbian patients, one of the most important things has been for both of them to be able to participate in the experience of becoming moms. For that reason, we’ve done a lot of reciprocal IVF work. One partner donates the eggs and makes embryos and the other partner is the gestational surrogate in the relationship, carrying the pregnancy.
AE: Awesome! This hits particularly close to home with me. I just got married in April, and we’ve been talking about trying to get pregnant and what our options are, so I’m very interested in this topic.
Dr. Ghadir: Ok wonderful, so hopefully we can get you as one of our patients! [laughs]
AE: That would be amazing! [Laughs] So if I were to be a new patient, when we come, you know, to you for our first consultation, what would be the first thing you would go over with us?
Dr. Ghadir: So the first thing I like to do is I like to get a complete health background: family background, gynecologic background, obstetrical background, get as much information from each partner as possible in order to be able to give a good assessment of if their plan looks like it’s going to be working. So for example, if a couple comes in and one partner is 52 and one is 38, please don’t tell me you’re trying to use the egg of a 52-year-old, for example, in the 38-year-old. That’s a bad example. But we go over everything, and after the first visit we give a list of things to follow up with, which is usually diagnostic testing to make sure that the uterus and the anatomy of the person who is going to be carrying is good. We also check to make sure that the egg reserve and everything else that needs to be adequate to make the embryos on the other person is good.
AE: So, if a couple were to come in and, kind of like the example you described, but they don’t have a personal preference on who carries, do you just do like a general health assessment to decide?
Dr. Ghadir: We have had people come in and say “Listen, we would both like to have our biological children and we’re flexible”, but most people, probably ninety-five per cent, come in with a solid plan on who is going to carry. But we have also put embryos from both partners in, so we make embryos from one partner and then the other and then whoever is going to carry, carries both at the same time.
AE: Ah, okay. How many times have you successfully completed this procedure?
Dr. Ghadir: Which one? Reciprocal IVF in general, or using from both partners at one time?
AE: Just the general reciprocal IVF.
Dr. Ghadir: Oh, gosh I’d have to say we probably do maybe one per month.
AE: Awesome. Are there any, you know, with any procedure there are health risks, but are there any that are unique for the reciprocal IVF versus traditional IVF?
Dr. Ghadir: I think the entire process of being able to have both female partners participate in one pregnancy makes it extremely unique, and a really beautiful process. You know I wish I could say the same for my non gay patients but it’s completely opposite, and there’s no way to compare. We’ve had many situations where one partner was trying to carry and it was just not going well, so we used the other partner and it went perfectly. So, it’s amazing when there are two sets of ovaries and two sets of reproductive organs available to be used in one pregnancy.
AE: Sure, it definitely gives you more options.
Dr. Ghadir: Yes, yes.
AE: I’m sure this is a loaded question considering everything that’s up in the air as far as healthcare goes, but what are the costs and the options for financing a procedure like this?
Dr. Ghadir: We have financial counselors that go over lots of things with patients. So there is something called Lending USA, and we also have another one called Mark. These are finance companies that help specifically with the reproductive needs of patients. They give loans. There’s the Jewish Free Loan Association that gives loans as well for anyone doing fertility treatments, whether you’re Jewish or not.
AE: That’s awesome, I didn’t know about that. So, from start to finish from the first time someone comes into your office as a new patient, you know if it’s successful the first time around, how long does the process usually take?
Dr. Ghadir: So, let’s say someone comes in and decides to proceed, we begin with the start of the menstrual cycle. If you’re making your embryos in about a month, by the end of the month you should have your embryos made. At that point within five days it can go into the partner. Six to seven weeks later you could know if you’re pregnant. Most of our patients these days choose to do genetic testing on their embryos, which forces all embryos to be frozen because the most advanced genetic testing takes about six to ten days to get the results back. And as a result of that genetic testing, usually as soon as we know we have a beautiful, healthy embryo, the other partner is underway with getting her uterus prepared for the embryo to go in, which is about a four week process. So, realistically doing everything you can the best way, it’s about a five week plus then an additional four to five week process, so maybe two and a half months.
AE: Okay, great. So, this is a personal question and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. But you mention in your video that you and your wife went through a similar journey to get your twins?
Dr. Ghadir: Well we didn’t do reciprocal IVF…
AE: [laughs] Right! Right.
Dr. Ghadir: Yeah, we did regular IVF. After my first child we had a miscarriage, and after that miscarriage we had a hard time getting pregnant for over one and a half years. So we eventually ended up with IVF, and it ended up very well because we have a boy and a girl (twins) who are worth the world to me right now.
AE: Well that definitely makes sense for personal reasons, your passion for IVF. What compelled you to focus so much on benefitting the LGBT community?
Dr. Ghadir: That’s a really good question. I started to, well first of all I think the LGBT community knows how to pick people that they like, and people that do well. They’re very selective in terms of where they continue to send their friends and relatives and people who are interested.
AE: We’re picky and we’re loyal!
Dr. Ghadir: Yes I have very, very loyal patients and it just started to pick up when I had a friend of a friend, and then a friend of her friend, and then her cousins, and her other friend, and her brother and his partner, and just one thing led to another. And then I started to build a great relationship with the surrogacy agency that I think is one of the top surrogacy agencies in the country. And they have referred a lot of same sex male couples to me. I’m also on the board of directors of Path to Parenthood. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, they used to be the American Fertility Association, now they’re called Path to Parenthood.
AE: Yes, that does sound familiar.
Dr. Ghadir: Yeah they’re great. And every year in LA they have this event for lesbians that we host in our building. There’s someone from the California Cryobank, there’s myself as the physician, and an attorney who’s there who kind of goes over everything. A lot of women attend that and I get a lot of patients from that too, so, it’s been a combination of doing things, and I don’t know, I’ve felt compelled to try to help the population because I’ve met such amazing patients. I’ll give an example. There were two ladies I absolutely adored, small world, they had a kid right around the same time that I had my twins, and their daughter got accepted to the private school where my kids were going, and their daughter and my daughter are the best of friends now. So it’s a small, small world, and I love that. I just realized some of the best parents that come through my office are the LGBT parents. Because you know, it’s not so easy. They’ve got to go out of their way to make this thing work, and I have people that come in who have been trying and trying, and it takes tolls on relationships. I’ve had patients of mine get divorced. I’ve had a lot of things happen, but when you have to go out of your way to make a family, I think you’re very deserving of it, and I think you really want it.
AE: Absolutely, yeah. I agree with you one hundred per cent. You mentioned the California Cryobank. When you work with a couple, do you recommend specific organizations when it comes to working with sperm donors and things like that?
Dr. Ghadir: I think they do an excellent job. I’ve never had an issue with a patient who used sperm from them. I think they have a huge collection, I think they know exactly what they’re doing. I haven’t had issues with them, and most of my patients, unless they’ve had problems without telling me, I don’t see them really having any issues.
AE: Sure. Yeah we’re on the East coast actually, and they’re the number one service we’re considering using as well.
Dr. Ghadir: Yeah, sure, they do very well, and they ship internationally, not just domestically, and they’re the number one place, I think, to get sperm from.
AE: Speaking of distance, do you normally only have patients already in your immediate area, or do you have some that travel, like we would have to, in order to come see you?