Jeannie’s Story: Donor Eggs and Miscarriage

Jeannie’s Story: Donor Eggs and Miscarriage

2020

I found myself thinking today, as I was gently cooking some tomatoey sauce to go with our easy IKEA
veggie balls and pasta for dinner tonight (you’re advised to take things easy after an embryo
transfer). I think I have some thoughts that might be useful. Maybe.

It’s just gone 3pm, the day after l’armistice. I’ve been taking oestrogen, folic acid, vitamin D and
prednisolone pills, and smearing oestrogen gel, and injecting and pessarising progesterone for what
seems like forever and no time at all. Again. Today I had the first of our second batch of frozen
embryos transferred, about 3 hours ago. Apparently it thawed perfectly – 100%. Another hurdle
done. They are infinite, it seems, just get less perceptible as time passes and experience grows.
I have been having the Pregnancy Dreams for weeks now. I’ve had Baby Brain for years too. They
aren’t quite what I’m led to believe, really. Pregnancy, as a Thing, is so much more than a physical
condition. It can be an all-encompassing desire, need, dream or obsession which can change your
everything, repeatedly. It’s a state of mind, it changes your behaviour and your way of thinking.
Pregnancy Dreams and Baby Brain, I think, are pretty much the same thing. A huge preoccupation is
going on in my brain, I have so much to think about both consciously and subconsciously that my
normal day-to-day thoughts don’t seem to be as near the front as they used to be. It’s happening
before I’m pregnant, I think because I’m thinking about it all so much because of the alternative
pathway we’ve had to take to get near pregnancy. So it’s not purely physiological. In fact, I’d go as
far as saying it could well all be psychological and emotional. The physiological stuff, for me, is kind
of a rare treat which I fear the loss of.

I’m waking early every morning now, having had crazy vivid dreams. There was one a few days back
where I woke up from a dream, lay awake hearing a piece of one of our toddler’s current favourite
songs overandoverandover in my head for ages, then drifted back into my hazy crazy dream again!
Why?! Not necessary, brain. Too much on my mind, I’m sure. Will it work. Will it thaw. Will it
implant. Will it grow. Will it be “on-going”. Will I see a heartbeat. Will I hear a heartbeat. Will there
be any anomalies. Will it all be ok? Will we all be ok? So many more levels of Things to Think About,
on this our fourth time round. Not sure if I’ve got another one in me, to be honest. But I thought that
after the first one. Can’t think that way really, until we’ve reached what we need to pass together.

It was about four years ago, not long after our first transfer, that I wrote off the car – probably
preoccupied with pregnancy and associated preoccupations. This was the car we got as a
replacement for my car that was off the road since August as I wrote that off too, maybe not helped
by fertility and IVF and pregnancy preoccupations. Genuinely I’m not too bad as a driver, I like to
think. Since we found out that my ovaries failed in my mid-thirties and endured the roads we’ve
travelled together, it sometimes feels like I’ve lost my mind and can hardly string a thought together.
I forget my words. I forget my days. I forget names. (I NEVER forget names.) Back then, the First
Time, I suppose I was scared it wouldn’t work but really didn’t know quite how many ways it could
fail. Also, scared it would work and I’d have no clue as to what to do or how to do it.

I’m not sure I want to be knowledgeable and experienced in this, but I think I am, a bit, in my own
amateur way. It took so long to get to pregnancy, but we got there. We needed an awesome
altruistic donor for her generous gift of eggs, and with the help of some excellent technicians my
husband played his part in making our embryos. 3 good ones, we were told.
Number one was a fresh transfer, which took some coordination as our donor was doing her meds
on a cruise with her family. The other two were frozen. We got as far as the booking appointment at sixteen weeks, the Doppler couldn’t find a heartbeat. We were sent straight to the labour ward for a scan and got told there was no heartbeat. I got booked on to a ward, given a pill and sent home for
the night, to come back to the ward the next day and be induced. I rang my parents. My Dad picked
up. He asked how I was, and was everything ok. I said no. He cried. I had no idea I’d have to go
through labour, it hurt so much in so many ways.

Number two was our Rainbow. It was so terrifying, every second of every day. What was that? Was
she moving? Was she not moving? When did she stop moving?? I called the emergency labour line
early on Christmas morning and spoke to the nicest person, who told us to come in straight away
and I cried and I cried and the scan (done so quickly, smoothly and lovingly) showed our baby was
fine, dancing around beautifully. I guess she was just sleeping. It took a reeeeeally long time to stop
thinking she was just going to die. I think I’m down to normal levels of worrying about my child now,
not thinking every time I look at her clothes or her toys or her bed that when she goes that’s all we’ll
have left.

Number three took a long time to get to, but we finally decided we wanted to give our daughter one
shot at a true sibling and ourselves the chance of having another child. We almost got to six weeks,
then it was over again. Again, I had no idea how painful labour could be – or more specifically this
time how early. Really? At 6 weeks? Horrific, and isolated, at home in the middle of the first Covid
Lockdown. Why does nobody talk about this? Why didn’t I know what a miscarriage might be like?
Saying that, when the right people find out, they talk, and that’s a light in the dark. I had no idea so
many of my friends, colleagues and family had lost children.

Seetal’s story: from own eggs to donor eggs

Seetal’s story: from own eggs to donor eggs

Until recently, I had an attic full of baby paraphernalia: a car seat, pram, Moses basket, breast pillow, pump, etc. And so many baby and maternity clothes. I accepted these hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law after she’d had her last child. While I wasn’t ready to start my own family back then, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth. They’ll come in handy one day, I thought. 

We’re still waiting for that day to arrive. In the many years that the bags and boxes sat gathering dust, we’ve experienced a miscarriage and four unsuccessful IVF cycles. What started out as symbols of hope when they entered our home came to represent our ongoing failure to expand our two-strong family unit.

I wish I could talk to my younger self, the one who arrogantly assumed that she could fall pregnant as and when she felt the time was right. If I could, I’d tell her that she’s not the one in control; her biology and biological clock control her. I’d recommend that she listen to the annoying voices awkwardly advising her to start trying sooner rather than later; deep down, it’s what she wants, but is simply being stubborn as she has always hated being told what to do. She won’t know just how much she wants to become a mother until she discovers that she’s pregnant on Christmas Day.

I have a terrible memory, but I remember exactly how I felt when I saw that result in 2015. Instead of fearing my loss of independence and identity as expected, I was overcome with pure joy. I recall the adrenalin rush as I processed this pleasant surprise. After staring at the stick for a few stunned seconds, I announced the happy news to my husband. In a matter of minutes, I imagined our tribe of two welcoming a new member in nine months’ time. I visualised my stomach swelling, feeling those tiny feet kick, being at the mercy of uncontrollable cravings and proudly wearing the ‘Baby on Board’ badge on the Tube. I vividly recall my heightened sensitivity to cigarette smoke, my instant aversion to wine and regularly putting a protective hand over my stomach. 

Nature, however, had other ideas. I started spotting a fortnight later and a scan confirmed our suspicions: I’d had a miscarriage. I was pregnant, but now I’d become one in four British women whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage. I was a stranger to this statistic until that day. As common as this devastating occurrence is, I felt utterly alone in my grief. Getting a glimpse of something I thought I didn’t want, discovering that I did want it and then not being able to have it was a tough lesson to learn.

Given that this was our sole natural pregnancy in eight years, I finally heard the alarm bells that I’d been tuning out for too long. After visiting our GP, I was diagnosed with a low ovarian reserve and embarked on our first round of IVF via the NHS. Everything was overwhelming: the terminology, the procedures, the medications. Being deep in denial meant that I simply went through the motions.

We went on to chalk up our first failure and headed to a private clinic since we didn’t qualify for a second round of funding due to lack of extra embryos. If I was overwhelmed before, I was now drowning in data and completely out of my depth. Data collated from daily blood tests, scans and countless drugs and drips. For one month, my life revolved around this intense, all-consuming schedule, with my diary entries talking about drugs and dosages instead of dinner dates. Staying on top of all the appointments and administering injections was like a full-time job.

When this aggressive approach failed twice, our clinic mentioned donor eggs. While they didn’t advise against another fresh cycle with my own eggs, using a donor would increase our chances. Unfortunately, they only work with known donors who are under 35 and have already had a child. These criteria ruled out the potential candidates we had in mind, along with the fact that they’d need to get drugged up with me to sync our cycles and undergo counselling. It’d be the biggest of asks. 

New year, new clinic: we switched earlier this year to one offering fresh and anonymous DE IVF. By coincidence, both clinics are on the same street, but they couldn’t be more different in their approach and attitude. I feel like Goldilocks having tried the porridges, chairs and beds of Father Bear, Mother Bear and Baby Bear and the latter’s is all ‘just right’. Hearing others talk about ‘finding the right fit’ elicited some skepticism until I found ‘the one’ that worked best for me.

Only it didn’t work. Our first cycle with them was our last one with my eggs and so we have closed one chapter in our fertility story and are starting a new one with donor eggs. 

I imagine the primary concern for couples considering donor conception is the loss of genetic links to their baby. While this is upsetting, my desire to be a mother outweighs my sadness over losing the biological bond with Baby Savla; the act of carrying the baby would be enough for me. The prospect of using a Spanish or Portuguese donor is quite exciting, to be honest. There are very few South Asian donors in the UK and as time is of the essence, we didn’t want to wait around for one to become available. Since our clinic was founded in Spain, they can easily match my characteristics to their many donors. 

My main concern was using an anonymous donor versus a non-anonymous one. Would the former be sheer selfishness on our part? Even though our clinic would provide information on their physical features and medical history, we wouldn’t be able to shed any light on their upbringing, personality or interests. Our child may feel that they’re missing a crucial part of themselves and resent us for depriving them of the opportunity to discover more by contacting the donor. They could also judge us for how they were conceived, be embarrassed by or ashamed of the fact that everyone knows and eventually reject us. These are all worst-case scenarios – our child may only have a passing curiosity about their conception – but must be weighed up carefully before proceeding. After much reflection, we decided to choose a non-anonymous donor so that we have the necessary information to hand should our child request it one day. We’d be open about how he/she was conceived because we’d be proud of this alternate path to parenthood. 

Following accounts about donor conception on Instagram and watching webinars with experts, patients and donor conceived children have allayed many of my fears. For example, by documenting her DEIVF journey and discussing how she has gently introduced her children to their conception story and received heart-warming reactions, Becky paints DEIVF in a very positive light. Her words undoubtedly reassure many like me and encourage us to dare to dream about having our own family in the future.  Here’s hoping because that’s all we can do.

Early Menopause and Me…

Early Menopause and Me…

As it’s #WorldMenopauseDay today I thought it would be the perfect time to open up more about my experience as a 34 year-old, infertile, menopausal, mum of three (I know there’s so much more to me than that, but this description describes my complex situation well)! Quite honestly, it’s not something I refer to in detail often, which I guess is partly because I’m still figuring it all out, but probably more-so because I still feel pangs of shame and embarrassment at times.

When I was diagnosed with “premature ovarian failure” (or premature ovarian insufficiency) just after I turned 28, I didn’t really hear the early menopause diagnosis. All my brain could process was the fact that I might not be able to have children and, even though it’s intrinsically linked, the news definitely came secondary to my fertility. It’s only post our fertility journey, after I’ve grieved the loss of my genetics in building my family, that I suppose am now grieving the impending loss of my menstruation (I say impending as I’m still peri-menopausal 6 years since diagnosis, with two donor egg pregnancies during that time).

I’ve asked myself what it is I’m actually grieving? I’ve joked at times that I’ll be pleased to never have a period again, but in reality the loss of my periods actually makes me feel quite sad. I suppose it’s the loss of something that reflects my womanhood, something I’m not really ready to let go of two decades before I’m supposed to. What I hadn’t realised was the complex emotional and physical impact that this transition can have, something which has varied over the past few years.

The most difficult phase for me started around six months after giving birth to Eska and Lena, just after I stopped breastfeeding. Aside from the awful night sweats in the early days, it’s the first time I truly recognised the physical and mental impact it was having on me, with the biggest impact being on my mental health and mood. My fuse was so short it was almost non-existent, to the point where I would lose my temper frequently and far too easily. The best way to describe it was almost like an out of body experience – I could see how unreasonable I was being, but had absolutely no power to control it. Around the same time my libido completely disappeared and the hot sweats returned. One thing for sure is I know how lucky I am to have such a supportive and understanding husband in Matt, whilst also having a fantastic consultant to talk to. He retested my hormones and we began to experiment with different types of HRT to try to help me to feel more balanced and ‘normal’ again. After a disastrous attempt with a hormone patch (a form of birth control which in itself was ironic and triggering) we finally found one which has settled my moods and helped me to feel somewhat like ‘me’ again. Now I’m much more balanced emotionally, although more recently I’ve noticed more of a physical impact to my body shape, particularly weight gain around my abdomen, something which has impacted my body confidence.

Reflecting on all of this, I’ve realised that there are so many parallels between early menopause and infertility, which explains why both experiences can be so hard to deal with. Personally, for me they represent my femininity and my purpose as a woman, losing which has led to feelings of grief, for things that aren’t tangible and often misunderstood.

Just as I easily felt triggered when trying to conceive, when it comes to menopause I can equally feel emotionally triggered out of nowhere simply by a conversation about periods. I’ve said many times before that experiencing menopause at this time of my life has made me feel “old before my time”. My biggest trigger last year was sitting in a menopause clinic waiting room full of women twice my age – I felt odd, alone and, in a way, abnormal. I’ve also found that, even as menopause becomes more talked about and less ‘taboo’, I can find myself triggered by images that accompany these conversations – often the typical ‘mid-life’ woman, which admittedly can be hard to relate to outside of my age group.

One thing that has helped massively has been hearing from others, those who have contacted me through DefiningMum and also through the amazing work that The Daisy Network do. As I spoke on a Daisy webinar earlier this year, I listened to another woman speak openly about her experience and grief; instantly I felt less alone as her words and feelings resonated with me.

I realise that this too is a journey where, just like my infertility, I have to process and make peace with the cards I have been dealt. I’ve wrangled with the voices telling me “it could be worse” and “pull yourself together”, but I’m holding onto one of the main things that infertility has taught me – that my feelings are valid, should be felt and shouldn’t be compared to others. It’s thinking about my fertility journey when I realise just how familiar these feelings actually are – the loss of control of my body as it changes, the feelings of failure as my body isn’t working in the way that it should, the shame and loneliness of it being a topic so rarely talked about. That’s why I want to use my platform to share these conversations too, building on the power of sharing and making connections to show that no-one has to experience these things alone. I know for sure from my experience of talking about infertility and donor conception just what a difference it can make and so I hope that this helps at least one other woman experiencing the complex physical and emotional impact that early menopause can bring.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, how has menopause impacted you? If you’d like to share a guest blog on this topic on my platform please get in touch – the more stories we share, the less alone people will feel.

Discovering Donation – Free Webinar

Discovering Donation – Free Webinar

I’m delighted to announce my third webinar in collaboration with Altrui Egg Donation and Apricity. ‘Discovering Donation’ is an evolution of our hugely successful webinar back in May, introducing a range of perspectives from the donor conception world to explore both the emotional & practical side, helping you to make the decision.

‪On Tuesday 15th September 6-8pm (BST) we’ll be hosting a virtual evening filled with supportive speakers, information and interactive Q&A, plus a giveaway on the night too. Starting at 6pm (BST) you’ll hear from:‬

▪️ Your truly! Becky Kearns – aka DefiningMum, sharing my perspective as a mum thanks to donor egg IVF.

▪️ Angela Pericleous-Smith, Counsellor & Chair of the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) sharing thoughts on the emotional journey.

▪️ An egg donor who has donated through Altrui talking about why she has donated.

▪️ A donor conceived adult sharing her perspective growing up as a someone conceived using a sperm donor.

Following the main event, we will then break out into smaller sessions to explore some more specific topics, with sessions on:

▪️ Finding a UK Donor with Altrui’s Jane Holman.

▪️ How treatment works for you & your donor with Apricity’s Lucy Beaumont.

▪️ Why I donate with an Altrui egg donor.

▪️ Life after Donor Conception – talking about telling with Julie Marie, author of Happy Together Children’s Book and myself.

To attend this FREE virtual event you can register through this Eventbrite link. Here you can also submit any questions you’d like to pose to our speakers on the night – we want the evening to be built around what you want to know. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more from the comfort of your own home, also with the option of your partner or family to also view, as a way of helping them to understand more.

If you want to preview our previous work together, you can watch our recorded webinar held earlier this year by clicking here.

I really hope you can make it!

Love, Becky

To tell or not to tell? The school years begin…

To tell or not to tell? The school years begin…

It feels like we’re approaching a significant change in childhood stages as Mila starts school in just a few weeks time. As I’m sure most parents are, I’m particularly apprehensive and emotional about it all, although I’m trying to hide my emotions as best I can so that she doesn’t pick up on it. On the flip side, I know she is so ready for it and I’m excited about seeing her develop even more – my baby is really growing up! I write about this on my blog today because it has brought back memories and has given me the opportunity to make decisions about disclosure.

Very early in our journey I remember listening to a mum speak at a fertility clinic donor conception information evening, as a parent to an older boy (conceived using a sperm donor) she talked about how each year she would write to all of his teachers at school to tell them about his conception, just in case it came up. At the time I was horrified at the thought, something that seemed to me to be completely over the top. In my eyes it appeared to make a ‘big deal’ out of his conception, which made me think about how defining that might have been for him as a teenage boy. This was back when I was uninformed, at least a year before we even made our decision, at a time where I was all-consumed by my own fears about this route to parenthood. Announcing it to the world outside of family seemed terrifying and while this lady spoke, all I kept thinking to myself was “why should it even matter how they were conceived if they have a loving family?”.

Nowadays, I’m much more comfortable with openness and believe it is important for us as a family. That being said, when it comes to telling people outside of our close network about our use of a donor to conceive I’m keen to get the message right. In doing this I’m often torn between my firm belief that it isn’t really a ‘big deal’, not wanting it to define them in any way, but balanced with the knowledge that it is still important. My overarching desire is for people to be in the know, so that if our girls bring up the subject they aren’t met with blank faces or unwanted reactions (as much as is possible, knowing that we can’t control every situation).

I faced my first dilemma of this kind as I completed Mila’s school enrolment forms recently. A question box, with limited room for explanation, asked “is there anything we should know about? (i.e. adoption, family circumstances etc.)”. I hovered over it but for some reason decided to leave it blank. The limited space to explain something so personal, important, and core to us just didn’t seem appropriate. Maybe there were some of my old fears resurfacing in some way, but as the week went on it played on my mind and, given everything I know now, it didn’t feel right not saying anything at all. I decided to contact Mila’s new teacher and have a conversation – a much easier way to convey such a personal story and how I’d like the information to be handled. As comfortable as I now am speaking about our use of an egg donor, I still felt nervous as I waited for her call – unsure of what the reaction might be, but also desperately wanting to strike the right balance between not making a ‘big deal’ out of it, whilst at the same time emphasising the importance. I needn’t have worried because she responded in the perfect way (it turned out she’s had her own IVF journey too which helps) and I was able to come away feeling totally at ease that if Mila starts to talk about “mummy’s broken eggs”, “the donor” or even “Miss Eggy Special”, she won’t be met with a blank face, but instead encouragement, discussion about how different families are built and acceptance of what is such a special, unique and beautiful story of how she came to be.

I share this to show how your emotions can change significantly over time, especially once your child is with you. I believe I have a responsibility to put myself outside of my comfort zone in times like this, enabling openness and acceptance for our girls as they grow in a world where what will always be their ‘normal’, isn’t necessarily something other people are aware of. One thing I am becoming more comfortable with is how to strike that balance between openness, being realistic about why sharing their story is important, but doing so in a sensitive, conversational approach, without it ‘labelling’ or ‘defining’ them in any way. It’s an important part of who they are, but it’s not all that they are.

I can safely say I won’t be sending out numerous written letters at the start of each term, but instead I’m going to keep the conversations going – if anything it will help towards continuing to normalise and raise awareness about this route to parenthood.