How 2 Women Became Friends After Bonding at IVF Clinic – and Ended up Giving Birth to Siblings
November 24, 2015
By Pam Grout
When Melissa Greenberg met Tina Kolovchevich five years ago, she knew immediately she wanted to be friends. They were both professionals in New York, both in their 40s and both struggling to become moms.
"We hit it off right away," says Greenberg, who met Kolovchevich at an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic in Manhattan. "We were there for egg retrieval (a process where eggs are pulled from the follicle wall for fertilization). We were cracking jokes, nervous, both about to pee our pants. I thought to myself, 'I need your email. We need to be friends.' "
What she didn't know is they would eventually become pregnant with full-blood biological siblings, creating an unconventional family and a bond that goes much deeper than blood.
"It's so incredibly painful when you can't get pregnant," Greenberg, 47, tells PEOPLE. "Unless you've gone through it, it's very hard to understand. The only people you can really talk to about IVF are people who are going through it – the fertility drugs, the emotions, the disappointment. You try to push it to the back of your mind, but it's like you carry it around like a backpack.
"Getting pregnant is one of those things most people just take for granted. Piece of cake, right?" Greenberg says. "For everybody else, it seems somebody sneezes on you and you're pregnant."
That certainly wasn't the case for Greenberg, an event planner and stand-up comic now living in San Diego. She suffered two miscarriages, endured four rounds of IVF and spent more than $100,00 in her quest to become a mom.
Turning Over Every Rock
After nearly a decade of trying to get pregnant, Greenberg was told by doctors not to have high hopes. Her husband, whom she says was ambivalent from the beginning, decided he was no longer on board. They split amicably in 2012, but Greenberg was still not ready to let go of her dream of becoming a mother – even though she lacked the necessary financial means for costly IVF treatments.
"In most states, insurance doesn't cover it. They claim it's medically unnecessary," she says. "They'll prescribe Viagra to an 80-year-old who wants a boner, but being a mom is an elective."
So instead of relying on insurance, Greenberg staged comedy fundraisers, applied for as many credit cards as she possibly could ("I figured it would take a while before they got suspicious," she says) and started GoFundMe campaigns.
"I wasn't about to let a little thing like money get in the way," she says.
"Melissa dives in head first to everything she does," says Kolvovchevich, who supported her friend during her first IVF miscarriage. "She's amazing. She just keeps on going."
It was during this time that Greenberg learned that by using eggs from a younger donor, her chances of carrying to term shot up by 70 to 80 percent. The cost, too, shot up, because now she was not only paying a sperm donor, but also an egg donor.
But her persistence paid off, and after years of trying, Greenberg finally became pregnant after her first round of IVF using the younger donor egg.
On November 17, 2013, when she was 45, Greenberg gave birth to Elias and Marielle, fraternal twins who recently celebrated their second birthday.
"They are the two most amazing children in the whole world," Greenberg gushes. "I am so blessed that I now get to discover life through them. My life is not easier (she's a single mom), but it's so much lighter. Everybody says I look 10 years younger. It was worth all the effort."
The Roller Coaster Continues
Kolovchevich, on the other hand, had abandoned her longtime dream of having a child.
She endured two unsuccessful rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination) and two rounds of IVF. A successful executive, she was 47, single and finally concluded that a baby wasn't in the cards. Instead, she got a dog.
"When I went to the hospital to see the twins, I was so excited for Melissa, but threw a pity party for myself," Kolovchevich, now 49, tells PEOPLE.
Still, she continued to support Greenberg, showing up to help with overnight feedings and changing diapers.
Greenberg asked her one day, "Are you sure you're done? I've got these two embryos..."
At first, Kolovchevich wasn't sure. Did she really want to go through all that risk and disappointment again?
Then one night when she was feeling a bit down, her mother offered up some advice.
"You should call Melissa," she told her daughter. "You've already seen the final product. What do you have to lose?"
Kolovchevich gave in and called her good friend, who was immediately onboard.
A Legal Roadblock
"Turns out you can't just give your embryos away," Greenberg tells PEOPLE.
Indeed, embryos have to meet FDA standards and be tested. And some clinics don't accept donated embryos, while others don't allow them to be moved.
"At this point, there's no statutory guidance," says Melissa Brisman, the surrogacy attorney who helped the two moms negotiate red tape. After overcoming her own infertility, Brisman opened Reproductive Possibilities to deal with this burgeoning new field. She facilitates gestational surrogacy arrangements, resulting in the birth of over 200 babies in the last year alone.
"There are a lot of ethical issues that are yet to be hammered out," she continues. "People tend to get very attached to their genetic material."
"What Melissa did was very generous," Brisman says. "It is an enormous gift. For one thing, it's a huge economic gift. It can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 for someone who wants to get pregnant but can't use their own egg. There's the additional gift of knowing that the embryos are healthy, knowing you're starting with good gametes.
"But because it is such a struggle for some women (as it was with Greenberg), they have sympathy and want to give back."
With Brisman's help, the legalities were finally ironed out, and after her first IVF attempt with her friend's donated embryos, Kolovchevich became pregnant.
On May 15, 2015, she gave birth to Julia – Elias and Marielle's biological sister. Naturally, Greenberg was there to provide support – even though she had to fly across the country to give it.
"Are you kidding? Of course, I'm going to be there. Julia is my niece," Greenberg says.
"Melissa is so incredible. If we weren't on opposite coasts, we'd be seeing each other all the time. There's this bond that will never be broken. We don't have to talk every day. I know she's always there. And she knows I'm always there," Kolovchevich says.
She adds, "I'm able to watch her siblings grow up just 19 months ahead. See when they cut their teeth or start walking. It's like having Cliff Notes."
Even though the three full siblings now live on separate coasts (Greenberg moved back home to San Diego after 10 months of lugging strollers up her fifth-floor Manhattan walk-up), the two moms plan to keep the siblings close.
"We realized our parents are older and, at some point, it will just be her and me and the kids," Greenberg says. "Things don't always look the way you think they will. But we are a family. We will always be a family."