When John and Doris Del-Zio tied the knot in 1968, they already had children from previous marriages. But both wanted one together, something special, in John’s words, “to bond her and me.” They didn’t realize that their wish would become a painful years-long ordeal.
The Pain of Infertility
John and Doris met in 1966 in Doris’ hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, when Doris applied for a job at John’s dental office. He turned her down, not thinking her penmanship was clear enough for a medical practice, but they soon started dating and were married on December 20, 1968. Doris, who had a young daughter named Tammy, assumed she would be able to get pregnant again, but on her honeymoon she suffered a ruptured ovarian cyst that required surgery, and 12 months later, she still hadn’t become pregnant. Over the next five years, Doris, who had been diagnosed with blocked fallopian tubes, had three operations to try and correct the problem, and another three attempts at artificial insemination. She suffered a miscarriage in 1970, and after that nothing seemed to work. For Doris, being infertile was “like the world comes crashing down on you. ... It [drives] you crazy, because it’s all you think about 24 hours a day.” So when she heard that IVF might help her get pregnant, Doris jumped at the chance, even though it would mean another major operation.
Depression and Suffering
When John entered Doris’ hospital room on September 14, 1973, the morning after Raymond Vande Wiele had put a stop to her attempt, he found Doris and her doctor crying on the bed. The next few months were marked by severe depression; Doris stopped going out or doing any work around the house. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Doris wrote John that “I’m in a vacuum now, the only person I can feel love from and give it back to, is Tammy. ... If you feel this is going to be too much for you to handle, let me know. I’ll take Tam and go somewhere alone.” In many ways Doris felt that she was already alone; while men could focus on other things, move on with their lives, her infertility was announced again and again by her monthly period. In June 1974, the month her IVF baby would have been born, Doris said she lost consciousness in a department store and woke up with her arms full of baby clothes. Later that summer, she and John filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Vande Wiele and the hospital where he worked. The medical administrator had destroyed her last chance at having another child, and now Doris hoped to make Vande Wiele pay for her suffering.
An End to the Quest
Doris and John Del-Zio won their lawsuit in August 1978, but the jury awarded them far less than they had hoped, just $50,000, for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Doris felt vindicated by the verdict, while John wondered if he would have been better off focusing on his dental practice during the many years it took to resolve their claim. Doris heard about the birth of the world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, and said she was happy for the baby’s family because she knew what they had gone through. But with all her abdominal scar tissue, Doris knew that for her, further IVF attempts were out of the question.
Doris Del-Zio never had another child, and she might have been struck years later by the irony that Raymond Vande Wiele eventually got into the IVF business. John considered writing a book about their experiences, and Doris was paid $5,000 for her story by Good Housekeeping magazine. But then Doris decided that she needed to move on, and stop reliving the pain of her infertility ordeal. Yet years later, whenever she sees a woman with a baby born through in vitro techniques, Doris can’t help but feel that her own ordeal may have paved the way to wider acceptance of IVF. “And it’s such a joy to know that just a little teeny bit, a part of me may have helped her.”