By Alicia Lombardini
Ms. Lombardini is a stylist and fashion consultant.
There’s a scene in the fourth episode of the new season of the Netflix series “Master of None” in which Alicia, a woman trying to have a baby as a single mother via in vitro fertilization, steps into another room, off camera. She has been told that, after an arduous and expensive process of thrice-daily injections, hormone pills and procedures to extract her eggs, none of her embryos are viable. Her weeping voice can be heard trailing off.
That scene hit extremely close to home for me: My name is also Alicia. The character’s story is based upon my life.
Aziz Ansari, the co-creator of “Master of None” and the director and co-writer of the episode, is a friend, and in the fall of 2019 he told me that he wanted to write a story about a woman doing I.V.F. without a partner, as I had done. He wanted to hear my story.
As we talked through the multitude of layers that led me to my choice, I realized how hard the journey had been. I.V.F. can be emotionally devastating even when you are sharing the burden with someone else. When you are all alone, you dig deeper than you possibly knew you could.
The logistics of doing I.V.F. alone are daunting. Coverage for infertility treatment varies widely; some states mandate that insurers pay for I.V.F. while others don’t. Even when an insurer does cover I.V.F., people can face additional hurdles. As Alicia in “Master of None” is told by her doctor, a diagnosis of “infertility” is often required for coverage — and that is often defined as having tried to become pregnant via intercourse for six or 12 months, which doesn’t account for single women and L.G.B.T.Q. people. In many other countries, the picture is no simpler, I discovered.
Then there is the societal judgment that single would-be mothers face, especially those over 40, as I was. Doing I.V.F. alone is still seen as an outlandish choice, even by some of those that offer the services. At times it felt as though I was offending everyone else’s morality, just because my circumstances did not fit their idea of what’s “normal.”
The story I told Aziz is not one I had expected to tell. As a girl, I was assured that I would meet someone, have babies, and live a happy life. But that’s not how it turned out. When I got into a serious relationship, in my late 30s, it was no fairy tale: It was an unhappy situation, and I felt trapped, ashamed and scared. I ended up aborting two pregnancies.
Once I managed to escape the relationship, and when I finally felt strong enough, the desire to have a child became a constant. At 42, I knew I might not have any choice in the matter. How long would it take to meet someone, fall in love, marry and have a baby? Even if we skipped the marriage step, I was running out of time.
In 2016, I looked into freezing my eggs. I was told that if I wanted to have a baby, my best chance would be to try to become pregnant now. What was the hold up? Everyone just expects you to have a straight answer. It’s yes or no.
But I still had questions, and it took me over a year to sift through the answers. I asked if I was too old. I asked if I could do this alone. I asked if I was capable, strong enough, if I could afford it. Like Alicia in “Master of None,” I really had no idea what the process would look like, or whether I could handle it.
“If anyone can manage it, it’s you,” my friends told me. But this didn’t make me feel any better. “We struggle, and there are two of us,” one worried parent friend told me. “How on earth are you going to do it?” And my mother didn’t mince words: “I really wish you would just meet a man,” she told me. “I don’t know how you are going to manage this on your own.”
By 2018, when I was 44, I decided to proceed, at least to the next step, which was finding out whether I could conceive. A doctor in New York City looked at my uterus and did some scans. It wasn’t impossible that I’d conceive, she told me, but I had just a 5 percent chance.
I think I may have cried. I know I felt devastated. But I didn’t want to give up.
Since I’m self-employed as a stylist, every choice came with major financial implications. My limited health insurance would not cover I.V.F. The cost varies, but I was told it would be about $30,000 per cycle, including medication and other treatments that would be necessary because of my age. (The average cost in the United States, including medication, is about $25,000.)
I wondered then, why not try to get it done in Europe, in a country where fertility treatments are subsidized or cheaper? I figured I could fly in and out for the procedures, no biggie.
I started my search in Paris, where I had lived for 13 years. That idea was quickly crushed as I learned that single women and lesbian couples are banned from receiving I.V.F. treatment in France. (In 2020, the French Senate passed a bill to change this, but the legislation has yet to become law.)
My next stop was Denmark. Some dear friends, a married couple, had invited me to stay with them while I went through the procedures, which would be much less expensive than in the United States. I started the paperwork, made initial appointments at a clinic, and started reviewing sperm banks in northern Europe.
After looking at my blood work, the Danish clinic gave me more bad news: It had determined that I had a 1 percent to 2 percent chance of becoming pregnant with my own egg, and therefore it would not take me on as a patient. I learned that some clinics will not treat you if your chances of success are low, not because of any risk to your health or the potential baby’s, but to their success ratings.
I started looking at clinics in Israel, Spain, Italy and Germany. But I soon realized that I could not just fly in and out for appointments. The monitoring that is required is sometimes twice weekly. I would have to move to a country that I had no connection to. I felt even more alone.
I am not one who gives up easily. I went back to the New York City doctor I had met at the beginning of my journey. She welcomed me into her office. I started crying. Really crying. She just listened, and never made me feel awkward. She believed in my right to be a mother and believed she could get me pregnant. Was it going to be hard? Sure. Was it going to be time-consuming and wearing and expensive? Absolutely (though, out of compassion she agreed to a substantial discount).
She told me that she would find a way. She did.
Watching all of these personal moments portrayed in “Master of None” made me feel understood and seen. When the season had its premiere last month, Aziz brought a few of us together. When I met the actress who played Alicia, Naomi Ackie, we hugged. I started crying, we hugged again, and we laughed. It felt very full circle.
I know others are feeling seen as well. Single or queer, regardless of our age and demographics, we all deserve the chance to become parents.
I did two cycles of I.V.F., and I became a mother in December 2019, five days after I turned 46. I had a healthy pregnancy and gave birth to a beautiful little boy. My son, Romeo, is now 18 months old and an absolute joy. I know that this was how it was all meant to unfold. I have zero regrets. Not a one.
Alicia Lombardini (@alicialombardini) is a stylist and fashion consultant.
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