by Anndee Hochman, FOR THE INQUIRER
THE PARENTS: Rachelle Schneider, 38, and Megan Schneider, 36, of South Philadelphia
THE CHILD: Avi Wolfe Schneider, born January 13, 2018
HOW THEY FINANCED THEIR QUEST FOR PREGNANCY: Health insurance covered a portion of the IUI procedures; grants from Jewish Family and Children’s Service and an organization called Hasidah (which means “stork” in Hebrew) also helped; so did “being frugal and saving,” the women say.
Rachelle didn’t have to say a word.
She showed up at Megan’s office unannounced, bearing her wife’s favorite Philly foods — fries from Hip City Veg, a tahini shake from Goldie Falafel — and a card whose message she’d scribbled hastily with a borrowed pen.
Megan, a physician assistant, shut her office door. The two hugged, cried, and danced to “Finally” by CeCe Peniston:
Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face / My feelings can’t describe it.
They were pregnant. After three-and-a-half years, 17 intrauterine inseminations, four IVF cycles, 219 doctors’ appointments and bills that amounted to twice the down payment on their house.
They didn’t tell anyone right away; early in their quest, Rachelle had had a miscarriage, so they knew conception was no guarantee. “But every night we would huddle on the couch, giddy, and talk about our future,” Rachelle says.
From the start, it was conversation that bound the pair. “The first time we ever hung out solo, we stayed up all night and watched the sunrise and wandered through the fountains around the city,” Rachelle recalls. “I remember thinking how comfortable I was. We could just talk and talk and talk.”
In 2013, the couple quit their jobs, rented their house, and backpacked around Central and South America for seven months: Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia.
“We thought there would be times when we’d get sick of each other, but it made us closer. We had to rely on each other so much,” Megan says. During hours-long bus rides, they talked about the life they wanted to build: Jobs with nights and weekends off. Membership in a Jewish community. Children.
“I used to joke that I didn’t want to be a young person with kids — I wanted to have a free, exciting life — but I didn’t want to be an old person without kids,” Rachelle says. The two thought about asking a friend to donate sperm but felt wary of the unpredictable relationships that would entail.
“You can control the legal aspect of that relationship, but it’s very hard to control for the emotional aspect. We definitely didn’t want a third parent,” Megan says. Ultimately, they decided on an anonymous donor who would allow his contact information to be shared with any offspring once the child turned 18. The plan was for Rachelle to carry the baby.
Their first IUI was in July 2014, Rachelle’s birthday weekend. Then three more IUIs. A pregnancy; a miscarriage; six more tries. “Then we said, well, maybe we should switch up the plan, and I would try doing IUIs,” Megan says. Meantime, Rachelle tried once more. Megan did six IUIs, including one with sperm from a different donor, before the two decided, on the advice of their fertility specialist at RMA of Philadelphia, to up the ante with IVF.
“We never gave up hope that we would have a child; it was just — how would we get this child into our lives?” Rachelle says. “Friends and family were having children all around us. It was emotionally and financially and physically draining.”
Rachelle published a photo essay book, Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, and did 100 speaking appearances, exhibitions, and workshops connected with the project. The two joined a synagogue. Rachelle converted to Judaism.
It anchored her to keep track of the numbers: three egg retrieval cycles, 120 eggs in all, two that were viable, two pregnancy losses shortly after implantation. “I had quantity but not quality,” she says.
Their fertility doctor recommended they use an egg donor. Rachelle, after months of injections, blood draws, and failure to conceive, still longed to be pregnant. Megan was a few years younger. What if the egg came from her?
“We were nervous that it would not work, but we figured: we’ve gone this far; why not give it a shot?” Megan remembers. A retrieval cycle yielded exactly one viable embryo. “I think you should try to carry it,” she told her partner.
That was IVF cycle No. 4. That was their son. And because they hope to have another child, Megan went through one more retrieval cycle for eggs that could be fertilized, frozen, and banked for the future. “Siblings on ice,” the women call them.
It was April 27, 2017 — another number Rachelle will never forget — when she stepped away from her desk at the University of the Arts, where she was an administrator, and returned to the voicemail from RMA.
She hoped for a natural, unmedicated birth. But when she found herself hospitalized for a nasty gastrointestinal bug near the end of December — her due date was Jan. 4 — she found herself thinking, “Just take the baby, and we’ll get the tax credit.”
That wasn’t Avi’s plan. He arrived nine days late: seven hours of labor at home, then 11 hours more in the hallway and in a delivery room at Pennsylvania Hospital. “One thing that stands out: I didn’t make a noise,” Rachelle recalls. “It was definitely the most pain I’ve ever experienced. But the next day, I totally forgot all of it.”
Megan, despite her medical training, felt light-headed during the birth. Suddenly, she leaned heavily on Rachelle and slid down the side of the bed. Nurses said it was the most graceful faint they’d ever seen.
“They put her on the couch and gave her apple juice and told her to lie there,” Rachelle recalls. “But she said, ‘I’m not going to miss the birth of our kid.’ ”
They named him for Megan’s grandfather, Arthur, and Rachelle’s uncle, William; “Wolfe” is also Rachelle’s mother’s maiden name. And when they consider their arduous route to parenthood, it all makes sense.