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Baby Quest

Aired March 3, 2012 - 14:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Kyra Phillips.

I know how hard it can be to have a child, but at the age of 42, I was lucky enough to have twins thanks to IVF. But it's more than just maternal age that's preventing families from having children. One- third of couples where the woman is under 35 have infertility problems.

Dr. Andy Toledo is a fertility specialist here at Reproductive Biology Associates, the first IVF treatment center in the state of Georgia.

And Dr. Toledo thanks for joining me. I was lucky enough to have you monitoring my pregnancy. Tell our viewers, specifically women, what we're up against nowadays.

DR. ANY TOLEDO, FERTILITY SPECIALIST: You hit on the big one, Kyra. Which age is the big one. If it's younger women we're talking about, then we're talking about things like tubal infections, you know, infections that affect the female reproductive tract. We're talking about stress. We're talking about environmental factors that women get exposed to today. We're talking about their partner, because a lot of times the problem lies in the partner. And, you know, 30 percent to 40 percent of the time, there's a male factor that goes along with this.

PHILLIPS: And well, there's women like me, right, that started over in a new relationship, wanted a family. You're dealing with a lot of women my age, also women that have put their career first and really want to have kids when they're older.

TOLEDO: Today is so much better than many years ago. There are more options. The techniques that we use, the medications that we use really give couples that have the age-related issue as a problem chances to get pregnant when before there really was no options. So, yes, there are better options these days.

PHILLIPS: We're going to talk more about those techniques and you're going to come back and talk to me in a few minutes. Great, thanks so much.

Well, as you just heard, the older you get, the harder it is to conceive. But now there's a new simple test that gives women a glimpse into the future of their infertility. It's inexpensive, any woman can take it, and it's helping diagnose and treat infertility. So why don't all doctors know about this? Host of "SANJAY GUPTA, MD," and CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Amy and Tim Hoffman's relationship was right out of the storybooks.

AMY HOFFMAN, FERTILITY PATIENT: We met right after college in our hometown. Actually grew up in the same hometown. We got married in the year 2000. We've been dating for about three years.

GUPTA: After the wedding, dreams of someday starting a family. But there wasn't any rush. Amy was still in law school and the couple wanted to wait to have children until they were more settled.

HOFFMAN: The plan essentially was for me to get started, start working, get myself established at a firm where I knew I would be for a long time, and then start working on having a family.

GUPTA: But things didn't go according to plan. After four years of on and off trying, they Hoffman's realized something was wrong. And Amy went in for a battery of tests. Reproductive specialist Dr. Mitchell Leef says Amy's problem is becoming too familiar among women under the age of 35. There is one test called an AMH that checks the egg count.

DR. DOROTHY MITCHELL-LEEF, FERTILITY SPECIALIST, REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY ASSOCIATES: This actually can tell you on a score of less than 0.1, which is the lowest number up to four or greater how many eggs you might have left as your ovarian reserve.

GUPTA: Amy's doctor gave her that test, and the results were shocking.

HOFFMAN: The number came back incredibly low which reflected I had a low egg count.

GUPTA: Sage Cronk on her partner were on their third round of artificial insemination when Sage had a AMH test.

SAGE CRONK, FERTILITY PATIENT: She said you have a 0.53. I looked it up online and my AMH level where it was that comparable of typical of a 40-year-old.

GUPTA: You may not know a woman's eggs may not necessarily age in tandem with a woman's body. That means it's possible for a woman in her mid-30s to have the eggs and thus the fertility chances of a woman much older.

MITCHELL-LEEF: We're finding that many of these ladies actually have lower ovarian reserve than ever anticipated. We're not sure why, but we're trying to get more of the young women to at least get their test done so they would know where they stand as far as being able to have children in the future.

GUPTA: Despite their low test results, neither Amy or Sage gave up becoming pregnant. Both women were able to harvest enough eggs to create embryos. Amy is thrilled to become pregnant.

HOFFMAN: It's amazing to start to think positively that it is going to happen. GUPTA: And both believe that all women should get tested and hopefully avoid some of the agony they went through.

CRONK: Do it early on. Find out where you're at. Don't wait until you're 33 and think you have a couple of years, you know, to get pregnant a couple of times.

HOFFMAN: We just think we're invincible and we can all have children into our 40s. And for some people, that's possible, but for most people it's not.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN.


PHILLIPS: Women's fertility starts to decline in her late 20s. That's right, her late 20s. By the time a woman hits 45 she has only a one percent chance of getting pregnant. But now there's a new cutting edge technique that could change that completely. I'll show it to you next.


PHILLIPS: Until recently, experts believed that female fertility begins to drop in the mid-30s. But for some women the biological clock starts ticking a lot earlier. And as more couples wait to have kids, the more they seek alternative methods. Our Sanjay Gupta takes a look at some of the latest techniques.


GUPTA: Michelle and Mike Herring now have the family they always wanted, but it wasn't easy. At 30 she had to use hormone therapy to get pregnant. The result was their son Levi who is now seven-years- old. Two years later they again had a hard time conceiving a second child, so they tried hormone therapy and IVF, in vitro fertilization.

MICHELLE HERRING, FERTILITY PATIENT: By the third time I sort of knew, OK, it was becoming -- it's stressful.

GUPTA: But after rounds of unsuccessful treatment, she learned she had premature ovarian failure. She couldn't produce any viable eggs. So she chose to use an egg donor, and Mae was born.

HERRING: It was an emotionally taxing journey. I knew that one day I would look back and forget the struggle. And I did. I mean, it's hard for me to think about it now. But, you know, we had a wonderful family. I can't imagine it being any other way.

GUPTA: The decision to use sperm or egg donation is a personal one. Embryologist Dr. Peter Nogi says it's often the best solution since donor egg and sperm can often offer higher success rates.

(on camera): So a 40-year-old woman says I'm not making eggs, good- quality eggs anymore, so I'll take a donor egg from a 25-year-old woman. It has that 25-year-old woman's genetic material and you combine it with sperm from -- DR. PETER NAGY, EMBRYOLOGIST, REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY ASSOCIATES: From the husband.

GUPTA: The person's partner. Is this something that happens a lot?

NAGY: Oh, yes, absolutely. Here in the United States about 10 to 15 pregnancies is a donation.

GUPTA: Interesting.

GUPTA (voice-over): Reproductive specialist Dr. Mitchell Leef says more and more families are choosing this route to have a family.

MITCHELL-LEEF: They have a baby picture they can choose from. They also know most of their backgrounds, history, what their genetic makeup is, their interests, maybe their education.

GUPTA: They get to choose their eggs?

MITCHELL-LEEF: Yes, they get to choose them.

GUPTA: How much would that process cost?

MITCHELL-LEEF: It is $16,500, and that includes everything.

GUPTA: If a woman in her mid-40s is pregnant, has a baby, is it -- is it almost assumed that woman had an egg donor?

MITCHELL-LEEF: I think I had five women overall in 30 years that got a pregnancy at 45 with their own eggs. That's not a lot.

GUPTA: Michelle and Mike say they plan to share their conception stories with both of their children.

HERRING: It needs to be OK for it to not be looked at as some weird thing to use alternate methods that, you know, a non-traditional way to have a family.

MIKE HERRING, HUSBAND OF FERTILITY PATIENT: If we're describing it in 10 years, hopefully it's like describing, you know, to the doctor that it becomes a prevalent the stigma is gone. That'll help too. It's nothing we've worried about.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN.


PHILLIPS: Women are only able to get pregnant for as long as they have healthy eggs. And between the ages of 30 and 40 half of a woman's eggs are gone. By 45 the chance of getting pregnant is less than one percent. But now a relatively new technique called vitrification is helping women beat those odds.


DR. JAMIE GRIFO, DIRECTOR, NYU FERTILITY CENTER: The IVF starts with ultrasound monitoring, checking ovaries for development of eggs, blood tests, and then going upstairs and retrieving eggs, using surgery, getting the eggs into the lab.

PHILLIPS: Dr. Jamie Grifo may sound like an ordinary fertility doc, but he's not. He's one of the world's leading scientists with the knowledge to stop a woman's reproductive clock.

(on camera) When you first discovered you could do this, what was your reaction?

GRIFO: Well, when we had our first baby from it, it was very exciting. Because we knew this would help a lot of people.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Grifo uses a technique developed within the last decade called vitrification, which freezes eggs about 100,000 times faster than the old method. It's still considered experimental by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

GRIFO: We weren't very good at freezing eggs and the ice crystal damage to the cell was the problem and using the technique where you dehydrate the cell and flash freeze it without ice crystals allowed it to survive the freezing and thawing process so that it could be as viable as if it'd never been frozen.

PHILLIPS: Grifo is the director of NYU's fertility center. Since using this fairly new egg-freezing technique, he has seen a surge in new patients. There are now more than 900 frozen egg cycles safely secured in these liquid nitrogen tanks. He's made it his life's work to tell women, when it comes to having children, you've got options.

(on camera) Would it be fair to say that you're actually stopping that biological clock from ticking for a moment?

GRIFO: Well, we're freezing that reproductive potential in time. So, you know, if a 30-year-old freezes her eggs, she freezes her 30-year- old potential.

PHILLIPS: That's important because as a woman gets older, the quality of her eggs diminishes, making it harder to get pregnant. And many experts would suggest if you're a woman who wants to wait to have kids, you should freeze your eggs in your late 20s or early 30s.

So how did I meet Dr. Grifo? I was 42-years-old and wanted to get pregnant and it was under his watchful eyes I was blessed to have these beautiful twins through traditional IVF. It was during my pregnancy Dr. Grifo told me about vitrification.

GRIFO: It's hope, not a promise. It's an option, not a requirement. It allows women to be more thoughtful about how they conduct their lives and how they think about their fertility.

PHILLIPS: Women like 37-year-old Katherine Cooper who has a high-power job in New York's frenetic banking industry. With two sisters and a really tight family, Katherine knew she wanted a family. She also wanted a career. Babies would have to wait.

(on camera) How do you balance your want for a baby but also your want to have a really successful career?

KATHERINE COOPER, EGG FREEZING PATIENT: The balance part is tricky. So obviously I really want to have a baby, I just don't want to have one right now.

PHILLIPS: So her gynecologist sent her to Dr. Grifo, the leading specialist in the New York area.

COOPER: He brought up the fact that my fertility was going to decline rapidly over the next several years and that I should consider freezing my eggs.

PHILLIPS: She decided to take the leap. But it took three months to get an appointment. Then Katherine started the process to harvest the most eggs she could, a daunting series of hormone shots.

COOPER: Once I had everything all mixed up. I'm looking at this needle thinking I know that's the wrong needle, it's so big, and I decided to insert it half way and hoped for the best.

PHILLIPS: Bottom line, it wasn't easy?

COOPER: No, it wasn't easy.

PHILLIPS: After two weeks after ramping up egg production, Katherine's lucky number was 13.

PHILLIPS: That's 13 chances at having a baby?

COOPER: Yes, sure. I think the odds are pretty good if I choose to use them. Plus it's not as if I'm doing this because I'm infertile. I don't know I have fertility problems. I'm doing it to create options in my life.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Those are 13 options frozen in time until Katherine says go.

(On camera) So considering the costs, the shots, what it felt like. It was not an easy process. Was it worth it?

COOPER: Completely worth it. No doubt in my mind worth it.

PHILLIPS: I was thinking about this, you're like the ultimate ladies' man. You have gotten so many women pregnant.


GRIFO: Well, you know --

PHILLIPS: Have you ever thought of it that way?

GRIFO: No, other people have.

PHILLIPS: But actually, Dr. Grifo is very old-fashioned. He hopes his patients like Katherine can conceive naturally. But if they can't, he's at least been able to freeze a little bit of hope. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: We've been talking a lot about women, but men are part of the equation too. In fact half of all infertility among couples is caused by the man. But there's a simple procedure you've probably never heard of, and it can enhance a man's fertility rate by 70 percent. We'll show it to you next.


PHILLIPS: Now something that a lot of men just don't like to talk about. Half of all infertility among couples is caused by the male. But Dr. Sanjay Gupta does have one story of a man who wanted to tell his story. He thought he'd never be able to be a dad. But he wouldn't take no for an answer.


GUPTA: Steven and Lindsey Averett always dreamed of becoming parents.

AVERETT: We both knew we wanted to have kids right from the get go. It was important to both of us.

GUPTA: They got married. They bought a house in a good school district and they eventually started trying for a family. Lindsey was in her 20s and totally healthy. Yet after nearly a year they hadn't gotten pregnant.

LINDSAY AVERETT, WIFE OF FERTILITY PATIENT: It honestly didn't really cross my mind for 11 of those 12 months that it would be a male issue. But finally, you know, I said well maybe you should go to the doctor.

GUPTA: Urologist and reproductive specialist Dr. Michael Witt says male infertility is a more common problem than couples may realize.

(on camera) One of the first things is figuring out how big a problem male infertility is. How big is it?

AVERETT: Well, probably affects about 12 percent of men in general, but all couples who struggle with infertility, probably half of those there's probably a male contribution.

GUPTA (voice-over): It could be a myriad of factors, genetics, irregular chromosomes, obesity, drug use, even smoking. For some men it's as a result of something as simple as an undetected cluster of veins.

(On camera) So when someone has a cluster of veins, how is that making a man infertile?

DR. MICHAEL WITT, UROLOGIST, REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY ASSOCIATES: It's just like a varicose vein you can get in your leg except it's around the testicle. You can' can fix it. And about 80 percent of cases, you get improved production and essentially can enhance fertility rates about 60 percent, 70 percent.

GUPTA: A lot of people probably don't know that. If that's the problem, a high likelihood it can be treated.

(Voice-over): Infertility caused by obesity, drug use, and smoking can also be reversed in many men. Even more complicated cases like Steven Averett, a diagnosis of male infertility is not necessarily the final word. When he went to see his doctor, Steven was given devastating news.

AVERETT: I walked in the office and he said you have cancer. You have cancer in the left testicle. You may have it in the right testicle and you'll almost certainly never father children.

GUPTA: For five years Steven fought to save his life and his fertility. He froze sperm, had surgery to remove a testicle, underwent chemotherapy and went through an additional sperm extraction all in the hopes of someday becoming a dad.

AVERETT: You try to visualize and you try -- you know, you just try to will it to happen. And it's, you know, at some point it's out of your control.

GUPTA: Using Steven's extracted sperm and Lindsay's eggs, they were able to create embryos that the couple used during an IVF cycle. Today Steven is cancer free and he and his wife are 33 weeks pregnant with twin boys.

AVERETT: Just to see her belly growing and, you know, it's cliche, but seeing the heartbeats on the ultrasound, it blows your mind. You can't believe they're in there.

GUPTA: He hopes other men will hear his story and realize that for male infertility patients like him, there is some hope.

AVERETT: I think here is better.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN.


PHILLIPS: So you just heard about a number of recent breakthroughs in the field of infertility. I want to bring back Dr. Andy Toledo whose clinic has been on the forefront of a lot of this research that's helped so many couples become parents.

OK, Dr. Toledo, as we look into the future, is there a certain method or methods you're looking at that you're excited about down the road?

TOLEDO: Yes, Kyra. There are a lot of good things coming down the pike. Genetics, particularly in the field of testing embryos is big. I think it's going to improve outcome because it's going to give women of older reproductive age a chance of having normal embryos that ultimately will result in pregnancy.

And I think, finally, the other big area that I'm excited about is in the area of what we call receptivity. That is, what is it about some women that everything looks right, everything's gone perfect and they don't get pregnant? And we believe it's probably the level of the lining of the uterus. There's something there, whether it's a missing protein or something. That's where I think we'll see a lot of focused research over the next couple of years.

PHILLIPS: Five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road, will it be easier, you think, for a woman over 40 to have kids?

TOLEDO: If we can solve those issues and improve upon them, I think you're going to see many more women in this particular group be looking at a very happy outcome for those couples.

PHILLIPS: Great news. Dr. Toledo, thanks.

TOLEDO: Thank you for having me.

PHILLIPS: Every year, millions of couples are dealing with infertility. But thanks to these new methods, so many of them are having babies. I was one of them. So if you want to learn more about fertility issues tune in or set your DVR for "SANJAY GUPTA MD" tomorrow morning 7:30 a.m. eastern.

Now, more from the CNN NEWSROOM straight ahead.