Melissa Carter is expecting you to send her a Mother’s Day card this year. Or make some teeny tiny baby blankets.
While not officially a mom, Carter, 40, is proud of her “Fantastic Four” embryos that are now currently frozen and safe and sound in a local fertility clinic. The journey to get her eggs fertilized is one of patience and love — and a really good male friend whose wife and children were all on board with him being the sperm donor.
In March, Carter, best known for her work on radio station Q100’s “The Bert Show,” had seven eggs retrieved and four began to split after fertilization. Carter and her partner are now leaning toward having the fertilized eggs transferred to a surrogate in the next two years, in hopes that at least one will implant and develop into their child.
“It’s still surreal that I have eight cells in a freezer … and they’re children,” she says with a proud mama-to-be grin. “I’ve done my part.”
Getting to this point — the frozen embryos — was a two-year process with her partner, Katie Jo. The couple dated two years before moving in together. For personal reasons, Carter’s partner declined to be interviewed for this story.
The decision to live together and become parents is one Carter says the couple has taken very seriously.
“There are so many jokes about lesbian relationships and U-Hauls. But I never thought of myself any differently than I would be if I were straight.
“I try not to conduct myself differently just because I’m a lesbian,” Carter says.
“That means I don’t mind talking about my life. And Katie is the first person I have lived with. Since I can’t get married, there was a level of commitment I only wanted to give to someone I was very serious about. For us, it’s been a very progressive relationship,” she says.
When she actually becomes a mother, Carter says she will likely have to leave the Bert Show. She and Katie Jo plan on being working moms, she stressed, but the hours she keeps for a morning radio show would be too hard. Currently she wakes up every day at 3 a.m., works all day, squeezes in a nap in the afternoon, and works night events for the radio station while getting maybe four hours of sleep at night.
“I love my job. It’s the best job in the world. If Bert would just move the show to the afternoon, it would be even better,” she says with a laugh.
From ‘The L Word’ to the M word
Carter and Katie Jo actually met in 2004 at Q-100’s infamous Bitter Ball, held each year during Valentine’s Day for single people.
“Out of a crowd of 3,000, she was the only person I noticed,” Carter says.
They only talked for a few minutes that night. But two years later, Carter saw her again when she hosted the popular “The L Word” party. Carter, pleasantly surprised to find out this woman she was attracted to was also gay, made sure to give her her phone number.
About a week later, Katie called her and they went on a date. They’ve been together ever since and their relationship has been fodder for morning radio talk, including the trials and tribulations of trying to become parents.
“Once we moved in together we started talking about how the rest of our lives will play out. I knew up front she was someone who wanted children. I had been indifferent until my transplant in 2002. I realized, it’s almost weird, that with my job … I’m in a job where I want attention, I love attention, I want attention,” Carter says.
“But however much attention I get or notoriety I get … that’s going to go away in a short amount of time when I leave radio.”
Carter’s father died in 2001. A year later, she underwent a kidney transplant to treat her kidney disease. The events prompted Carter to begin thinking of mortality as well as her legacy — of what she will leave behind and how she will be remembered when she is gone.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the transplant. And with his death … the idea of life and the end of life was heavy on my mind,” she explains.
“When you really make an impact and selfishly live forever … that is only through your family. That’s not a motherly thing to say but that’s part of it — I’m being honest,” she says.
Carter is quick to explain that a kidney transplant is not a cure and that she lives her life now as a chronically ill person. Every day she faces the knowledge her other kidney could quit.
“When I came through the transplant, I felt almost an obligation to live life better than before. And as a woman I wanted to live fully as possible and for me motherhood is part of that,” she says.
But Carter knew she didn’t want to be a mother by herself. When she met Katie Jo and they moved in together, the path to parenthood began to lay itself out.
It was Katie Jo’s idea to have Carter’s eggs frozen because of the uncertainty surrounding Carter’s health. Should anything happen, the couple wanted the option of having a biological child and the eggs would always be there ready.
But when the couple went to the fertility clinic — the gay-friendly Atlanta Center for Reproductive Medicine — they learned that egg freezing is still experimental. However, freezing embryos has proven to be very effective.
“That brought on a new level of, oh my god, now we’ve got to find the sperm,” Carter says.
A whirlwind of emotions accompanied them as they decided to find a sperm donor from lists of donors available. Carter says the process was “weird” as they had to start thinking about physical traits they might want in a child.
“With eggs you don’t have to think about this. Now I’m choosing what I want. It’s like playing God. And all I wanted to do was freeze my eggs,” she says.
After weeks and weeks of searching, Carter says there were five finalists. The couple then handed over the packets of information about the five to Carter’s mom, Millie Pete, and Katie Jo’s mom during the Christmas holidays and told them to make the final choice. Interestingly, they all picked the same one.
So on a Friday they made a call to the clinic to say they had selected the donor. By Monday, however, that donor’s sperm was all gone.
“His last swimmers were taken,” Carter says.
The emotional rollercoaster taken to select a donor was too much to face a second time, so the couple decided they would ask a male friend who was already a father to donate his sperm.
Carter said it was interesting how many straight men, especially radio personalities, wanted to be asked to be the donor.
“You wouldn’t think Jeff Dauler [co-host of the Bert Show] would be offended if we didn’t ask him, but I think his feelings were a little hurt,” she says smiling.
The friend they did ask, who is remaining anonymous, said he would be honored to be their donor. And Carter says she really considers him and his wife as the donors.
When he went to make his deposit in March, two lesbians and his wife accompanied him, Carter remembers.
“I’ve never seen him walk with so much swagger then after he made his deposit,” she says. “And he is the most non-testosterone-y guy I know.”
Big Birth Control Adventure
Before all this happened, however, Carter and Katie Jo had to save up about $20,000 — which took about two years — so Carter could undergo the medical treatment necessary to produce enough eggs to ensure some could be retrieved and fertilized, and to pay for in vitro fertilization. IVF is not covered by most insurance, Carter explains.
While she and Katie Jo were thrilled to be going to the required therapy to deal with the financial and emotional turmoil of IVF because they knew they did not have fertility issues, seeing straight couples in the waiting room looking somber and sullen after having spent up to six figures out of pocket trying to get pregnant was a strong reality check.
“I had no idea what some of these were people going through. We were in there [the waiting room] jovial and giggling. As gay people, we know we have to find options to have children. I felt bad for [the straight couples] because they were going in assuming they were going to be able to do it naturally and it wasn’t going to happen that way,” Carter says.
As part of preparing for egg retrieval, Carter had to take birth control pills for a few weeks — something she had to learn to do. She thanks Bert Show co-host Jenn Hobby for teaching her the tricks of taking what color pills on what day during Bert’s Big Adventure in February, an annual trip that sends chronically and terminally ill children on vacation to Walt Disney World.
After taking the pills, Carter then had to take hormones to stimulate her ovaries to develop enough eggs for retrieval, and that meant giving herself shots in her belly for more than a month.
Finally, in late March, all of the hard work paid off. The sperm was donated, the eggs successfully retrieved and fertilized. And when Carter’s eggs became frozen embryos, the donor couple sent her and Katie Jo flowers.
‘Wanted and loved’
Carter says their child will always know how he or she came to be and the donor and his family will be a part of their child’s upbringing.
“As long as you are honest with your children … things work out,” Carter says. “There are some things we will have to deal with, like who will be male influences. But our children will be raised by two female parents who are very communicative and ambitious women. They will have absolutely no doubts in their mind they were wanted and loved.”
Millie Pete, as Carter calls her mother, has some advice to give her daughter and Katie Jo about being parents.
“I think they will be very intelligent about the baby, but need a guide book like Dr. Spock’s book,” she says.
They also should “be alert every minute to what the baby is doing — and be very particular about who takes care when they are absent,” Millie Pete says.
While there is still some stigma about gay parents, Carter is not at all worried about raising children in a world where homophobia exists.
“By the time they’re old enough and will be around people who will want to make it weird, we will have hopefully instilled enough independence in them,” Carter says.
“The thing that brings tears to my eyes is someone thinking of me the way I think about Millie Pete,” Carter says. “I want to be the best mom I can be.”
Video interview with Melissa Carter:
Photo by Bo Shell