Today I’m starting to share experiences from those who are donor conceived themselves, a vital perspective for us to understand and learn from as parents through donor conception.
I’ve found it much more difficult to find the voices of those conceived through egg donation, most likely because it’s more recent and less common than sperm donation, but I am very grateful to two egg donor conceived ladies who have very kindly taken the time to share their experiences with us. I asked my Instagram followers what they would like to know and, with so many questions received, I’ve condensed them down into key themes. Today I’m sharing the experience of Chloe* who is from the UK and egg donor conceived, something she only discovered in the past year.
I want to acknowledge that some of the experiences and viewpoints in the Q&A series might not be easy for us to hear as parents, especially where elements of their conception have ultimately caused distress to them as individuals. I believe that listening to these views is a big part of preparing ourselves as parents for how our child might feel in the future. It’s important for us to open ourselves up to hearing about and understanding more around genetic curiosity and the potential impact around their identity. At the same time I believe you will also find comfort in their words, particularly as some speak about their relationships with their parents, even despite late discoveries. Chloe’s story gives us so many things to learn from and shows the importance of support, the impact of secrets and shame, being open to listening to their feelings and not dismissing them because they cause us pain. I’m so thankful to Chloe for using her experience to educate us as parents, whilst also showing such empathy too, even though it can’t be easy an easy topic to open up about.
How did you find out that you are donor conceived?
I was just curious one day about the statistics around a woman my mothers age (50 years old at my birth.) having a baby. I’d always known I was an IVF baby and I knew that it must have been a very low chance of me being here so I wanted to know what kind of low chance it was. Well I was met with an impossibly low number – unless, an article said, my mother used donor eggs. So I read more and more and it just seemed that it was impossible I could be alive and healthy through my mother’s own eggs. I didn’t speak to anyone about it for a few days as I tried to digest every article I could find on pregnancy stats for older women. I eventually confronted my mum who burst out in tears and told me everything.
How did it make you feel?
As you can guess it was a big shock. I was in denial at first as I thought why on earth I hadn’t been told yet. I have a great relationship with my parents and I never ever thought they’d be the type to keep any secrets from me. Let alone one this huge.
It took me a few days to pluck up the courage to confront my parents. I was worried if I accused them of using an egg donor they might get very upset and I didn’t want to be the cause of that. I was so worried that I may open a can of worms and I was scared of the impact it could have on our relationship.
But this journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions and I’ve changed my line of thought many times and I’m sure I will have my ups and downs for a long time to come – I am glad I confronted them as I think now I deserved to know the truth and even if it was to upset my parents it’s worth having everything out in the open so that we can all heal and move on.
How would you have preferred to find out?
I really wish I had just always known. Finding out as an adult has been hard. I’ve looked back on my childhood and realised that some points I really could have done with knowing the truth so that I could have felt normal and not weird or different. It wouldn’t have been a shock and I wouldn’t feel like my parents were ashamed of it. As if they weren’t ashamed of using a donor then what was the reason behind keeping it a secret. Secrets always come out and finding out on my own has been hard.
I often wonder would they ever have come clean – this thought hurts me because I never thought my parents would lie to me or keep secrets. It has made me so sad as I’ve lost a lot of trust now and I hope to rebuild it all back but it will take time.
Did you feel any differently growing up?
Yes, however I’d like to mention I’ve had a very happy upbringing but certain things never made sense to me which caused me to feel different and disconnected to my family – I just never knew WHY.
I only wish I had known from a very young age as I feel it would have answered a lot of questions I had of myself and I would have been more confident have a higher self esteem. One example – there’s a certain body feature all my family have except me. I noticed from a very young age and often felt weird and hated the way I looked because I felt I SHOULD look like my mum, my siblings, my grandparents. But yet I was so different. I tried to change how I looked so much, I would cry because I couldn’t understand why I was so ugly. I felt ugly because I looked different and couldn’t understand why.
If I had known that I inherited genes from someone else, if I had a photo of my donor, It would have explained why and I wouldn’t have hated the way I looked so much. I would have realised that the people I was comparing myself to all my childhood wasn’t actually the people I got my features from. It would have given me the answer and I could have moved on and thought that I’m normal because I’m not physically different to my genetic family. I could have been at peace with who I was much earlier in life.
I have so much relief now for knowing – it’s like everything finally makes sense!
Often parents can worry about who to tell, how do you feel about it being your story vs a family story and would you prefer to control who knows about your conception?
To me, I would have wanted my family to know. The people who love me. That way they would understand if I ever felt different and could have helped and reassured me. Also because I had comments made about my looks and it would hurt because it was only pointing out that I was different. If they knew they could have avoided any mistakes being said.
I also think close friends should have known too. Someone outside the family I could have spoken to. At the end of the day it’s nothing to be ashamed about and I think keeping it from friends and family makes it seem shameful. Like it’s a secret and shouldn’t be spoken about. Personally I wouldn’t go out your way to tell people who aren’t close to the child/ family unless there’s a valid reason they should know, for example a school teacher or care giver.
If your donor is anonymous, do you resent your parents for that choice?
I don’t resent my parents because they didn’t have a choice back then. As far as they were aware anonymous was the only option. They hadn’t been given suitable information about the lasting effects of using an anonymous donor. How can I be angry at them for that. They honestly didn’t know any better at the time.
I think if they were to have known the lasting implications that an anonymous donor could have on a future child then I most likely would have been angry. As they would have taken the opportunity of knowing my donor away on purpose for their own reasons, without considering my feelings. As an unborn child I had no voice.
In an ideal world I’d have loved to have had a donor I knew from very young who was happy to be a part of my life and always be there to answer any questions. Otherwise it’s like my scenario now where knowing my donor (and any half siblings) is completely out of my hands. A decision has been made for me without my consent. A decision has been made before I was even alive that will impact me for the rest of my life (unless I get lucky with DNA testing but that’s never guaranteed). But like I say, I’m not mad at my parents for picking an anonymous donor as they didn’t ever think I’d want to know my donor and no one told them of the implications it may have in the future.
I’m very very disappointed in the industry for not proving enough support and information regarding long term effects of using an anonymous donor – I feel they failed my parents and I. I know my mum never meant to hurt me and I know if they could do it all over again they would have done it so differently. The most important thing to me NOW is that they understand how I feel and are supportive of all decisions I am making now. They have apologised even though I have not asked for an apology. This means the world to me!️
Of course I believe that anonymous donors should be avoided where possible, but I understand that it’s not always that easy, especially due to finances. It’s unfortunately a money-making industry and it seems so cruel to stop someone from being a parent just down to money. Everyone deserves to be a parent but for some it’s an incredibly tough road.
I know some parents who have already used an anonymous donor who may be very scared or worried about their children being ‘angry’ or ‘upset’ over the decision, and they may well be one day, but I’d like to reassure you that they will understand that you made all your decisions at the time with so much love. For example, I’m upset but this is not directed at my parents at all – especially now that they are fully supportive in my search and are even helping me look! I’m so grateful for that.
Personally I believe that as long as you’re open and honest about everything from the start and you can support them if they want to search it’s more than likely going to be fine! And please remember, if they do ever want to look for their biological family/ donor, this will not take anything away from you as their parent or make them love you any less. They will just be so grateful that they have their lovely parents to hold their hand every step of their journey. No one will replace you.
How did/do you feel towards your parents?
I’ve had many feelings, disappointment has been a big one for the reason that I was never told. That after many years of feeling different (my parents knowing that these feelings had a direct result of having a different genetic parent) didn’t explain why I was feeling the way I did and tell me the truth.
But I think this was down to their own fears. My mum has expressed fears that I wouldn’t love her anymore or wouldn’t think of her as my mum. This was an extremely wrong fear.
Never be afraid that your child won’t love you or won’t think of you as their mother. She has wiped my tears, hugged me tight, made me laugh, danced around the kitchen late at night, been on holidays together, had this incredible mother/ daughter bond. That bond will never be broken. And it won’t break with your children either. We are smart enough to know that we inherit genes from one ‘mother’ and love, care, warmth, fondness from our other.
I personally think I have two mothers. But they are VERY different. One I will have a place in my heart for always and forever and one I thank for giving me life and health. I respect both but of course my mum is my mum. Doesn’t matter if I got my hair or eye colour from someone else. But I just wish I had known from the beginning.
The trust I will rebuild with them over time. But this blip in our relationship could have been avoided with total honesty from the start.
Have your opinions evolved over time?
100%. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had a therapist help me through it all which has been great and I’ve had to courage to be completely honest with my parents to keep them updated too with how I am feeling.
I’m so grateful that they are open and understanding of my feelings. Even if my feelings are sometimes of pain and disappointment. And I too, am there for them. It’s not been easier for any of us, it seems keeping the secret for so long hasn’t helped anybody and we are all hurting in different ways (my parents feel a lot of guilt) but we are helping each other through – as a family.
Do you feel closer to your dad as your genetic parent?
I have always been closer to my mum and this hasn’t changed – we are best friends.
Do you feel like your mum is your mum?
Absolutely!! The thought of her not being my mum has never entered my mind. I may not have got my hair or eye colour from her but I’ve certainly got my whit, kindness and fun loving personality from her. We’re two peas in a pod. Regardless if we don’t share DNA.
Do you wish to find the donor / genetic parent?
I do wish to find my donor. I am looking for answers as to who I am and why. It’s hard to look in the mirror and not know where certain features come from or why I don’t tan well like my parents, or why I can put on a stone in weight by just looking at a piece of cake when my parents can go to an all you can eat buffet and come out looking like swimwear models. Haha!
I am looking for validity in who I am so I can move on. I also want to know the story behind why my donor donated her eggs. What was the reason. I would also like to thank her for what she did.
I think a main reason as well is to be acknowledged that I exist and that we have a big connection through DNA, even though we are strangers. I would love her to know I am alive, I am well and I am happy.
I am not sure at this moment in time if I would like to meet her. I don’t know what kind of relationship I would want yet because I don’t know who she is. I wouldn’t want to force any feelings or have a fake relationship. I would play it by ear.
In a perfect world she would be very kind and open to learning about me and I would love to have an ongoing relationship where I can update her with big life events and catch up every few months but my biggest fear is rejection. I would be so upset if she didn’t want talk or acknowledge me.
Are your parents supportive of you seeking out the egg donor?
They are 100% supportive in my search. This has meant the world to me. I think if they were to have been against my feelings or my intention of searching I would have felt a huge disconnection and would have been extremely hurt. Your parents are the ones you go to in need, they are the ones who love you unconditionally and they are the ones to support you in every way.
They are being the best parents by supporting me because even though they may finds some things difficult they understand this is my journey and their love for me is more important than anything else. I am so grateful for this.
Have you looked for and found any half siblings?
I am looking and praying. I grew up with my mother’s previous children who I always thought were my half siblings. I was always so grateful that although they weren’t my full siblings they were my half. And to know now that we aren’t genetic siblings at all has been one of the main things I’ve found hard. But of course my love for them hasn’t changed in the slightest.
But I think because I feel I have lost a connection I would LOVE to gain some new ones. I’d love to have someone to share this journey with who understands it like me. I’ve always wanted a sibling my age and the thought that there might be some out there is very exciting to me.
Would you like your parents to support you with this?
I would love my parents to support me with this and thankfully they do support me searching for half siblings.
Have you ever experienced comments about you looking like / not looking like your mum?
All my life I’ve had comments about how I don’t look like my mother. These hurt a lot because I could see it too but never understood why I was different. I felt weird and this gave me very low self esteem. But I know for the physical likeness we don’t have we more than make up for it in emotional likeness – I just think the truth would have avoided a lot of pain I felt when I was young.
Have you ever had any bad experiences / comments from friends and family who knows?
I have always had comments made about how ‘different’ I am from family. I am not upset about these comments because no one in my family knew I was donor conceived. Not even my grandparents. They obviously didn’t mean to upset me but if they had known I’m sure these comments wouldn’t have been said or they’d have a better awareness of my feelings.
What advice would you give to recipient parents?
Personally, just be honest from the start. Don’t make it seem like there’s a shameful secret. They will always come out and sometimes not in the best ways. Children are so clever, they have such big hearts and if you teach them that is okay to have 3 parents, one being someone who helped give them life, they will understand that.
Respect that the donor is a big part of your child’s life. Make it normal. Don’t have the big ‘sit down we have something to tell you’ just make it normal like telling them who their cousins and aunties are.
And don’t worry. Your children won’t ever think you’re not their mummy. You are, you are the ones who rock them to sleep at night, who hug them when they cry, who looks after them when they’re ill. Who plays games with, cooks with, spends precious time together. Having a donor won’t take ANYTHING away from you as a parent.
But the donor is someone to acknowledge as they may not understand why they look different or have a different trait of some kind. Explain to them that actually they’re not weird, or different – that although you don’t have mummies skin colour, or eye colour you have mummies strength, loving personality and humour.
Don’t be ashamed either. Having to use a donor doesn’t make you less than any other parent. It shows how strong you are and how much love you have to give.
Remember as well that your child’s feelings may change with time. So I would say as a donor conceived person to not expect any certain types of feelings your child may have. Be aware they may change from time to time just like our feelings change about everything else in life. We have phases where we feel more vulnerable or more curious about things. Just embrace your child’s feelings and go through them together. What’s so amazing if you have each other and the bond and love you have for each other will overcome anything.
Also, as I sure any you would anyway, just make sure they know they can talk to you anytime about their conception.
And if you do ever get upset over a question or it’s a bit hard to hear, don’t show that you’re upset as it may make it seem like their conception is upsetting to you as their parent and therefore they may want to protect you and not bring it up again – please know that I don’t mean this in a hurtful way – your feelings are valid. It’s just I felt this way with my parents and since I’ve told them they have urged me not to keep any of my feelings from them even if it’s a bit painful for them. I often think I shouldn’t talk about it but it then means I can’t heal or move on and it’s then a catch 22. I don’t want to upset them but they don’t want me to be upset with any part of my conception story.
But please remember that your feelings are so important and any hurt or pain you feel around your child’s conception is normal and should be embraced. The journey of a recipient parent can’t be easy and I give you all my love and best wishes. I hope my comments make sense and are not meant to hurt anyone. I just feel as a donor conceived individual I feel I should share my feelings as I wish someone had done that for me before I was born.
Do you feel like your parents understand how you feel about being donor conceived?
Yes they do and this is because I’ve felt I can be 100% honest with them and it’s helped me heal a lot. And in turn my happiness and my healing has massively healed my parents too. It’s taken some time (several months) but we’re getting there.
What have you found to be the most difficult part of being donor conceived?
The truth being kept from me for so long and the fact I have an anonymous donor. My parents and I are working on our issues together and we’re making great progress with each other. I know that we will get back to where we were at some point but I feel I need time to heal from being kept in the dark about such important information about myself.
Regarding the anonymity of my donor, I have strong feelings about this but no negative feelings are directed to my parents as they didn’t realise the impact of the decision at the time. Now they do.
My anger is focused on the clinic and industry itself although now thankfully I have seen the UK take a great step forward and making donors known at age 18. I wish I had the choice of knowing my donor. I feel like the industry not only let me down but let my parents down.
I’m not sure how it is now in the industry but I know for a fact they didn’t give enough support to new recipient parents at the time. They didn’t think of the implications an anonymous donor may have on the child.
I’m not saying every donor conceived person will want to know who their donor is, but I believe whole heartedly that they should be given the opportunity and the chance to know them if they wish. I am hurt that a clinic has taken the opportunity out of my hands, more so they have made this decision before I even had a voice. Not considering how I MAY feel one day. I didn’t sign any contracts, I didn’t make any decisions yet I am the one suffering now because of it.
I now have to live with the fact that I may never find out where half my DNA comes from but I will keep searching and I pray that I am acknowledged and accepted by my genetic family and can have any questions answered and understand exactly who I am.
What have you found to be the best part of being donor conceived?
The best part of finding out has been the fact that I understand now more of who I am and why I am the way I am. Why I look the way I do and when, at times, I felt like an outsider when I was young. I can make sense of certain features and why I don’t look like my family. I’m learning to love myself for who I truly am and my uniqueness. And the fact that I’ve met so many lovely people along the way, from Donors to Donor conceived people to Recipient Parents.
*The name Chloe has been used to protect anonymity.
If you want to learn more about the support, connection and resources on offer through my platform Paths to Parenthub do follow the link below. There are already many recorded resources to support you on your donor conception journey, including conversations with experts about talking to our children, examining our common fears and chats with other recipient parents and donor conceived individuals themselves. There’s also a private community, away from social media, for members to join and connect with each other for support. I would love to welcome you there! www.pathstoparenthub.com
What I wish I’d known about using a known egg donor
Looking back, the darkest part of our whole infertility ‘journey’* was not when I received my diagnosis of premature ovarian failure. Nor was it when I only grew a single egg during our first IVF cycle, which subsequently failed. Nor was it when the following two cycles also failed.
Don’t get me wrong — each of these events left me completely devastated. Each time, I crawled into bed and cried for days. We just hadn’t reached peak devastation. That was still to come.
And it did come, ultimately in the form of our fertility clinic informing us that we would not be allowed to use the anonymous egg bank due to our foreign citizenship. That’s when any hope I was clinging onto was ripped away. Grappling with the decision to move to donor eggs was hard enough on its own, but it was infinitely harder when there weren’t even any donor eggs to speak of. That was peak devastation.
My husband and I had already had many conversations about trying to find a friend or family member to donate eggs, but there were so many unknowns. How would we even begin to ask someone for their eggs? Would anyone we know fit the donor criteria in the first place? And if we did find someone who was willing and able to donate their genes, would they also be willing to drop everything and fly to the Europe**, where we had recently moved and where we were lucky that our health insurance largely covered the incredibly costly procedure?
Finally, even if — by some miracle — we found someone who was willing to do all this for us, I still had some lingering concerns about using a known donor in general. Namely, would it complicate things in the future? Would we feel like we were ‘sharing’ our kid with a third person? If the (hypothetical) baby ended up being the spitting image of this (hypothetical) friend, would it be a constant sad reminder of my broken eggs and lack of genetic connection with my child?
Confronting my fears
As with most hard things in life, the best way out is through. In this case, that meant sitting myself down and having a long, hard look at where these concerns were really coming from in the first place. Once I was brave enough to do this self-reflection, I quickly discovered the source of the concerns: Fear and insecurity.
I wasn’t afraid that using a known donor would affect my feelings for the child: I knew I would love any baby that was ours just the same. Rather, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be seen as the ‘full’ mother by our mutual friends and, maybe eventually, by the child too. If I then followed this thought to its ‘logical’ conclusion — and if I was brutally honest with myself — a small part of me was afraid that the baby won’t love me as much as they otherwise would.
This fear isn’t restricted to known donors, of course. I’ve seen many women that are using anonymous donors express this fear in one form or another. However, it’s clearly much harder to ignore when the donor has a name and a face, and may even pop by the house for a visit.
Only when I was able to articulate the deep-rooted fear underlying my concerns could I recognized how ridiculous it sounded. Of COURSE the baby would still love me the same amount. Of COURSE I would be their one-and-only mother. It just meant that there would be no huge secret around where the other half of their genetics came from. And I realized this could actually be a benefit for the adult our baby would eventually grow into.
What I wish I’d known
Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Instagram know how our story unfolded next: An old friend from high school, Marie, volunteered to donate her eggs and flew out over her summer teaching break for the DEIVF cycle. Our fresh embryo transfer failed, as did our frozen transfer after that, but we eventually got lucky on our third (‘poor quality’!) transfer. I had an amazing pregnancy, giving birth to our perfect daughter at 41 weeks and 5 days pregnant. And after some scary (unrelated) health complications — because real life isn’t a Hallmark movie — she is now a very healthy and happy toddler.
Sitting here and watching her sleep on the baby monitor, I wish I’d known that my fears were unfounded. Using a known donor didn’t complicate anything — we are a family like any other family. Our egg donor is still a good friend who I text randomly about high school gossip, and our respective families are just as thrilled as we are that everything worked out.
I wish I’d known that using a known donor doesn’t feel at all like ‘sharing’ my daughter. More than that, I wish I’d known that I’d enjoy having another person with whom to share my adoration. I’m not threatened by my daughter’s connection to our egg donor, and I actually love that she has an extra special ‘Auntie’ in her life*** who thinks she’s as special as I do. At the end of the day, it’s one more person in the world who wants the best for my child, and what parent wouldn’t want that?
I wish I’d known that using a known donor would make my husband and I feel less alone during what is an incredibly isolating experience. Even when we didn’t know if it would work, having someone fly across an ocean to donate their genetics gave my husband and I renewed energy. Our private battle became a team effort, and after feeling alone in our struggles for so long, that support was invaluable.
Most importantly, I wish I’d known that using a known donor doesn’t make me feel like less of a mother. Yes there are times when I notice a hint of our donor’s features in my daughter’s sweet face, and yes, it has occasionally made me sad for the genetic connection we’re missing. However, most of the time, it just makes me feel ridiculously proud and grateful that I get to call her my daughter. More than anything, I hope that when she gets older and starts realizing that she doesn’t look like mommy, that she finds the answers she needs with her Aunt Marie. And I hope these answers make her realize how mommy and daddy moved heaven and earth just to have her.
xx Allie (aka @thebunlessoven)
* I hate the word ‘journey’ here because it conjures an image of a leisurely hike through a meadow, with an occasional stream crossing or maybe some light bouldering. If you’d have asked me after our 5th failed transfer, I’d have instead described our ‘journey’ more like that documentary where the guy has a horrific canyoneering accident, gets pinned behind a boulder for five days, and ends up sawing his own arm off. I think you get the picture.
** We are from the US but live in the Netherlands and did our DEIVF cycle in Belgium, because — according to my husband — I like to make everything ‘as complicated as possible’.
*** We talk openly with our daughter about her conception story. However, since there’s no honorific to indicate ‘woman who donated her genes to make the embryo that went in mommy’s tummy’, we stick with the next closest title: ‘Aunt’.
Paths to Parenthub & DefiningMum are collaborating with Apricity and Altrui
When I first launched my virtual donor conception support platform Paths to Parenthub I said that I wanted emotional support to be recognised as an essential part of the donor conception journey, not just an optional extra. I particularly wanted fertility clinics to recognise this and for donor conception not to be seen solely as a ‘practical’ process, but one that is often complex and requires deep emotional consideration, not just for us as patients now but to prepare us to best support our future children too.
That’s why I’m delighted to announce Paths to Parenthub’s first clinic partnership with Apricity and Altrui, to offer another layer of emotional support to their patients on this journey in addition to the practical support they are providing in helping then to grow their family. Apricity and Altrui are sister companies. Apricity is the fertility treatment arm of Altrui, and Altrui – with a pregnancy rate of 79% (the highest in the UK) – is the egg donation arm of Apricity. With this partnership, throughout 2021 they will be giving all of their egg donor recipients the opportunity to access Paths to Parenthub with a free 3 month membership.
After collaborating with Apricity and Altrui on a series of informative webinars in 2020 I’m delighted to be working with them again. I love their ethos and genuine aim to provide a smooth, warm and supportive journey for their patients. I’m going to be joined for an Instalive on my DefiningMum instagram account this Thursday 11th March at 7pm by Altrui’s Lead, Jane Holman, where we’ll chat about the importance of emotional support as well as a little bit more about how they work.
For so long now I’ve wanted to provide a space filled with information, support and connection opportunities for all different stages of the journey. Less than 6 months since launching, I feel proud that Paths to Parenthub has also been recognised and valued at a clinic level, so that patients will have the opportunity to feel more supported, informed and connected whilst embarking on their path to parenthood.
You can read more about our partnership and what Altrui offer through the following links:
If anyone ever has any questions about the information and support that is available through DefiningMum and Paths to Parenthub
please just let me know
By telling my story I hope to lead the way and help raise awareness of Premature Menopause/POI. As a younger woman who has been dealt this card, I also want to try and help other ladies with my positive outlook on life. I have never let it define me or take away my spirit for a good life. I have it tough yes, but I am not going to let it ruin me. We have one shot at this so let’s live it as happily as we can.
Here’s the background to my story….
14 years old and told I had gone through the menopause… yep that’s right 14 years old.
I will never forget that day, sitting on the bed in a hospital room waiting for the Consultant to come into me and my Mum saying those words. My Mum balling her eyes out and me comforting her asking her to not cry as it’s ok. Thing is, it wasn’t ok, but then I had no clue what the Consultant was even talking about.
At the age of 12 I started my periods like a normal teenager. Then after a year they just stopped. I was struggling to concentrate at school and the nights were hell. Waking up dripping with sweat and just feeling weird. That’s literally how I described it to my Mum one day. I don’t feel like me Mum, I feel weird. So off we went to the Doctor’s. I explained what was going on and I was referred for a blood test and an ultrasound. Then two weeks later a Consultant Gynaecologist confirmed I had gone through my Menopause and that I needed to start taking HRT tablets.
I was told I had a womb but a small one and that they could only find one ovary. That was the first and the last time I was going to see my Consultant. I am now 39 years old. I literally have never been contacted since. Not given any follow up appointments, no help, no guidance to understand what had happened to me nothing. Put on HRT (Prempak C) and left to just get on with it.
Even when Prempak C was discontinued a few years back I wasn’t even informed by my Doctor. The pharmacist told me when I went to pick up my meds. Meds, may I add that I have to pay for… which I find astonishing. I need to take these daily and I had none left so luckily after a long phone call I managed to get in with a GP the next day. Who then told me there was no exact alternative and she was putting me on another brand. But that was horrendous. All my levels went crazy and my symptoms returned, and my bleeds were so painful. I then was changed onto Femoston which I took for years. But I have since learnt after a consultation with Dr Louise Newson that many symptoms I had presented at my Doctor’s with, were in fact menopausal symptoms. My GP never linked the two and instead prescribed me anti-depressants for insomnia. He should have sent me for blood tests, which would have revealed my estrogen levels were too low and my HRT in fact needed adjusting. I have also realised since taking control of this and speaking out that I should have been having DEXA scans. I have never been for one in my life. I have since pushed this with my GP and I now have one booked for Jan 2021.
As a child I needed to learn what it all meant, and back then there was hardly anything on the internet to read and even to this day limited material to a teenager experiencing this happening to them. This needs addressing as I felt lost for years as I just didn’t understand it all. Medical professionals looked at me like I was some sort of freak. If I was given a pound for the amount of times a doctor or nurse has said to “me you poor girl” when I answer the dreaded question… “what medication do you take”. I would have had loads of work done on myself. Which leads me on to how I have felt growing up… hating what I saw looking back at me in the mirror. The one job a woman is given to do, and I couldn’t even do that properly. I felt like a failure. A failure as a woman.
I can’t say I grew up depressed, I just learnt how to cope. I grew up not liking my appearance. I suppose I felt insecure about myself. I struggled with relationships with guys as I knew I had it looming over me that one day I was going to have to tell them. Even when I did tell them or my friends, neither understood. I even lost a friend over it as she said I was lying and that it was a sick thing to make up! Charming ay… The response I got from the close few I did tell was always the same… It will happen one day mate, loads of women are told they can’t have kids and they do.
Nobody understood what I was saying. Because no one was or is educated enough, No one knows what it means. Even to this day people still do not understand. So, in my words I say it how it is…. To produce a baby, you need an egg and a sperm, and I don’t have eggs, end of.
Since I have spoken out, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted and in a way I feel free of it. I hope that by speaking about my experience out loud I can try and get this recognised more. To help educate all, that this can happen at such a young age as many are still so unaware of this. I have even been called a liar on some so called “menopause support groups” on Facebook, as people do not believe that this can happen. I want to help Mother’s if their daughters are showing any signs to get them to the doctor’s as soon as possible. I also want women to push at the doctors for them to listen to you. As doctors still sound like they are in denial that it can happen to younger women. As well as to get people to speak out and not hide it all inside, because you feel everyone will be gossiping about you.
Unfortunately, it happens to all of us females one day. There is no set age limit on it, which I am living proof of.
The present day….
So life currently is busy, busy, busy, as well as working a 40 hour week, trying to get my story out there… me and my Husband are currently going through the Adoption process. We always knew it was the route we wanted to take. We had discussed in length the idea of going through IVF and he accepted my decision that it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I had already grieved for years and knowing from the age of 14, I was never going to be able to have my own biological child I had accepted. I was never going to have a baby of my own biologically so egg donation for me just wasn’t the way I would see myself become a Mum. In my eyes to be a parent it is to provide endless love, support and just adore your child. Nurture over nature so they say. I know how much love I have to give, and for me to be able to give that to a child whose own parents cannot do this, will fulfil my dreams of becoming a Mother. I also now see that maybe things do happen for a reason, as that reason is to find my Child through adoption and give them a much better life, then their birth parents were able to give them.
The adoption timeline is actually a lot shorter than it used to be. So if you are considering this please don’t let that put you off. Once you have got through the Pre-stage and into Stage 1 it can feel a bit slow waiting on training days and workbooks to be issued, but you just have to keep the faith that it’s just part of it all and it will all be worth it in the end.
We are currently in Stage 2 and are due to meet our new Social Worker in January, so we will then be working towards a panel date to become approved adopters.
Soooo, wish us luck!
I want to say a huge thank you to Hayley for so bravely sharing her story with us. Having experienced an early menopause diagnosis myself at the age of 28, I just can’t imagine how difficult this news must have been to process at such a young age, with such little support. I couldn’t agree with Hayley any more that awareness needs to be raised – that menopause isn’t just something that impacts women later on in life, it can happen at a much younger age and, with the stigma that often comes alongside this, it can have an even greater impact on day to day life and mental health for the individual. As Hayley’s story suggests, it’s not just in society where awareness needs to be raised, but particularly within the medical professional community itself.
I personally was misdiagnosed at first and treated with such a lack of empathy from my GP, who didn’t even seem to know that it was a ‘thing’. Even to this day I still get comments like “you’re far too young for HRT” from medical professionals who haven’t understood and read their notes. That’s why I’m delighted to be able to share stories like this on my platform, to show why it’s so important for us to talk about these subjects. It’s also why the work that charities like The Daisy Network are doing is so important in breaking down the stigma, sharing these voices and ensuring that no-one else has to go through this diagnosis alone.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, please do share your experiences and comments for Hayley below.
It has always been a funny time for me. I usually get itchy feet of current situations and yearn for change and growth. I never view it as the beginning of a sparkly, fresh New Year, full of hope and promise. Instead, I see it an ending. A time for reflection, preparation and visions; ready to make changes by March (my birthday month), which is when my New Year begins.
January was the month that my husband and I decided to hatch plans to move from London; my home town, to his. With the cost of houses far cheaper in the East Midlands, we saw it as a way to secure our family. He would be able to support us when I finally became pregnant (we had been trying for roughly 3 years at this point and had only just started the referral process and initial blood tests. Why did I wait 3 years? I honestly thought that we weren’t trying hard enough, and denial), something which would have been nigh on impossible in our rented house in East London.
In preparation, I changed jobs (again — that’s a whole other post), to save money for our big move. I thought that by moving to a small rural town, being closer to nature and that by ‘slowing down’ somewhat, I would have more chances of conceiving. Surely, the late nights and constant standing, in my previous career as a hairstylist, had a lot to do with why that wasn’t happening! So, off we went, with a spring in our step to gloriously, lush, pastures new. I secured a job in our local school, which gifted me with vast experience of being with children (I didn’t have the best role model growing up, which is another reason why it took me so long to seek medical help — fear of being the same), shorter hours and long holidays — great for our soon to be extended family!
We settled into our new home, taking wonderfully long walks with our angel dog, making plans and really getting the ball rolling with our treatment. I put on weight, stopped exercising as much (I was a keen runner and cyclist in London, but I decided to considerably cut down), changed my diet, read books, and channelled my energies even more, to this ever encompassing project of mine. I might add, that I felt it tricky making friendships. There were some inherited wives of my husband’s school friends, who were very lovely and super supportive. However, I found that I pushed them away through shame, embarrassment, and possibly a slight lack of connection, due to the very fact that I was childless, and they were not. I had no confidence.
Another reason why forging new relationships with people was hard for me. On reflection, I was in the height of the self loathing that comes with infertility and had very little confidence, if any at all! I was anxious, sad, jealous and angry. Depressed too. I remember saying to my husband that I would consider taking tablets if it was not for trying to conceive. I was gripped by all of the emotions that comes with this journey and now I was feeling even more isolated due to our ‘idyllic’ new life. School was bitter sweet, I both cherished and loathed it. As you can imagine, the cohort of staff was 99% female. Most of whom had a family, were pregnant (ouch) or were not thinking that far ahead yet. I began to feel increasingly sad. Being around children, was pretty torturous at times. But all would be fine, as my day would come!
Fast forward, to the extensive tests and an investigative operation, healing, and treatment waiting- lists. We finally got a diagnosis of ‘unexplained fertility’. Excellent! That’s positive, no? I had hope (I say I, as my husband, didn’t really ‘get it’. Our infertility was ‘my’ infertility).
Our first clinic advised us to begin our IVF journey by having some rounds of IUI, due to nothing being seemingly ‘wrong’ on the surface. Finally! A starting point! We were appreciative of the ‘extra’ opportunity. Finally! After all the waiting, all the devastating and heartbreaking monthly menstruation, we really could be well on our way, to extending our family by Christmas! A thought that I began nurturing and visualising, ever since we became infertility patients. My hope grew. As the control was out of my highly incapable hands, it might actually work! However, I did have reservations. I was growing increasingly impatient and desperate, our journey had been painstakingly long already (four years), my age was rapidly rising (38) and the success rates were not incredible. Nevertheless, there was hope. And, who were we to look the (amazing NHS) gift-horse in the mouth? After one unsuccessful round and one cancelled treatment — due to unripe follicles, I fell pregnant.
January. A time for reflection, preparation and pregnancy!
This is the moment where my journey became OUR journey. My husband was super detached from the whole process until the BFP (big fat positive). My obsessive and ever absorbing mission, to carry a child in my womb, was wearing. I had changed. Drastically. I was a stranger, not only to myself, but to him. I was a shadow of who I once was. We had also just found out that my husband’s dynamic mum, had been given the heart breaking diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We put the past pains and strains behind us, as it would all be worth it! We were quick to share our news with my husband’s parents. We felt it would lift their spirits, especially, his mum. Cue to our imaginations running wild. My mantra was no longer, we could be pregnant by Christmas. Instead, we were revelling in the fact that we would have a baby by Christmas and it would be magical again. We would make traditions. No more pain and grief, and wanting to hide away. No more harnessing feelings of the insidiously aching, childless void.
Throughout the initial 6 weeks, I took pregnancy tests almost daily. You know, just to check. Honestly, I wish I had shares in pregnancy test manufacturers. The amount of tests we have purchased over the years could probably have paid for a small flat in London! And pregnancy was no exception! I was elated. I felt like a ‘woman’ at last! My body was no longer my foe. I took myself and my baby off for long dog walks, privately bonding. I experienced a plethora of comforting pregnancy symptoms. My body was changing, my tastebuds too! We were enjoying every single second. Unfortunately, four days before our 6 week scan, I began to bleed. I knew something was not quite right, to be honest. That instinctive feeling, the same one that told me I was pregnant, just days after treatment. I had taken a test the previous week, one which stated I was only two weeks pregnant. My anxiety soared. I frantically booked reflexology and a facial to try and relax myself. Through my experience of working with children with behavioural difficulties, I have learned that anxiety can be transferred through the womb (something that I am particularly interested in, due to my own childhood experiences and relationship with my mother).
However, it was futile. It took another 6 weeks of hospital visits and blood tests until we could take a breath. It seems as though I had an ectopic pregnancy. One that cannot be proved either way but, due to the lack of an embryonic sac and hormone levels rising, before plateauing, this was the most reasonable explanation. I won’t go into my experiences of this moment too much here, as I it requires far too
many words. But, know that I felt inexplainable, immeasurable pain and despair, juxtaposed with, somehow, positivity.
My initial reaction was, of course, utter self hatred and shocking shame, and absolute fear; feelings that have been like long standing friends since this journey began. Strangely, it was not too dissimilar to how I felt during each menstrual cycle. It was a time where I felt so alone. My husband and I were pretty rocky. The pressure of trying so hard for a family, the grief of his mother’s illness and the ectopic really took its toll. My husband and I had some time out from each other, a few days after the initial detection of the pregnancy loss, due to heightened emotions. I was the only person in my group of friends who had been through something like this. I felt as though I shouldn’t be burdening anyone really, as it could have been worse.
Thankfully, I saw the positives too. I saw how it could have been so very much worse and that I was lucky. I was lucky that I had a super supportive boss. I was lucky that my friends reached out. I was lucky that my body was actually managing this misplaced embryo all by itself. I was lucky that I could see that. It was a truly pivotal point during this whole process of creation. I felt empowered. A month, or so afterwards, we changed clinics. A new clinic meant new hope. Our consultant told us that we were eligible for ICSI as we had been trying for over 5 years. We only needed to have some blood tests and could start the following month.
Yet, I knew that I needed to refocus my attention. It had been wrapped up in my womb for too many years. My life had been on hold. We had moved our whole life. We needed to rebuild us. I needed so desperately to rebuild me. I was utterly and totally exhausted. So, four months later, after grappling with the guilt of spending some of my savings on me, rather than future maternity leave or baby related ‘stuff’. I flew to the textured, whispering mountains of Barcelona; to rekindle my long standing love affair with yoga and to become a yoga and meditation teacher. To say that the month was transformative, is an understatement. I felt re centred. I felt like me, for the first time in years. For the first time in 6 years I put me first. Not, my desire to have a baby.
On returning, I was beginning to feel clear about my future. I was beginning to envisage my career again, my life. What made my heart sing? What did I need to flourish? Was it time for my husband and I to go our separate ways? I was months away from turning 40, was it time to
abandon the idea of having my own child? With age related success rate depleting at an alarming rate, was it finally time to put this to bed?
January. A time for, reflection, preparation and soon to be turning 40!
As I embarked my 40th year of life on this magnificent Earth, I had new hope and optimism. Life began at 40 right? Time to really set some personal goals in concrete. Time to get my fitness back on track, after years of cultivating a nurturing and nourishing environment for our baby. Time to have fun again. Time to drink coffee again. Time to travel and experience the depth and the breadth of life, together, with my husband and our dog. Time to put it all behind us. Not yet.
It was late January, when my siblings and I had a call from my estranged mother, telling us that she had cancer. This was an interesting time for us all. Lots of feelings to unpick, again, silently. Whilst providing emotional support for my mother. We (my sister and brother) pulled together and provided my mother with the best support and care that we could give. It was at this time that my heart began to yearn again, for my own child. Somehow, I felt triggered by my mother’s attachment to her children, even after the many years of not being in our lives. The unprecedented bond between (my) mother, and (her) children, roused my intrenched biological urge to have my own, again. It had been a just under a year since we last met with the clinic. I was advised to ‘just give them a call’ to begin.
As IVF journeys are notoriously penned as being a roller coaster, ours was no exception. After 7 exhaustive years of trying, 4 years of actually having medical help, an ectopic, not to mention 8 months off, more agonising waiting ensued. Why? Covid.
I first contacted our clinic shortly after the first lockdown, just before my 40th birthday. To be told that, regrettably, no more patients were being accepted. Again, although we felt pretty disheartened, we knew that so many people and couples were having their treatment cancelled. Something which I knew to be monumental, but I was unaware at quite how much. I, along with my siblings, continued to care for my mother, as much as was emotionally and physically possible, due to the rich dynamics of a dysfunctional family and the new restrictions that covid introduced to us all.
Increasingly, I felt anger growing in my heart. I was angry that my mum had three (amazing) children, who, despite everything, were doting on her. In her time of need. Even though she had created wounds as deep as the Earth’s crust. This experience exasperated my need to have a child with my husband. I knew that I would be a good mother (finally, I began to see this after many, many years of work) and I was cross that she wasn’t and was totally unaware of her blessings! I actually think this is when I first began to feel as though it just wasn’t fair. And also, the first time I admitted to myself that I was dancing a tango with infertility.
Treatment started. I felt OK, generally. My husband and I pretty much self isolated. I utilised my yoga teachings and mediated daily, using visualisations. I religiously gave myself acupressure, with guidance via zoom, from my long standing acupuncturist (another area in which I wish I had shares), I still had my job and was able to work from home. The sun was shining, we were all settling into the new normal. We were all beginning to come out the other side. My last scan before egg collection was very promising. I had 24 follicles — the idea that we really could be pregnant by Christmas skipped around in our heads and our hearts. We got the call that four of the 19 eggs had reached blastocyst stage the day before transfer. From the collection, there were 11 that were mature, which, after day one went down to 9. On the day of transfer, we had two B graded blastocysts. In theatre, the embryologist put a picture of them (our babies) on the screen. I was a hormonal, sobbing wreck, and even my husband was emotional. He proudly took a photo of them.
Sadly, we had a BFN (big fat negative). It really took the stuffing out of us. I think, after the prolonged, emotional rollercoaster of IVF, of us supporting our mothers, Covid and not seeing friends, it all just mounted up. It almost felt as though we had had an another pregnancy loss again. After all, those cells were blastocysts. Our DNA. Our babies. However, we were stronger than ever. Something which we are very grateful for. The day after the pregnancy test, my mum got the all clear, thankfully. I was completely drained from it all and was unable to give anyone any type of support, not least my mother, who I was still pretty angry at. A week later, schools started back after the summer and I returned to work, which was challenging, for many reasons. I knew that treatment would start at some point in the near future and I was super anxious about getting Covid and its impact on treatment.
To add insult to injury, someone I worked with, was heavily pregnant and weeks away from her maternity leave (great timing). It was at this time that I spoke to a fertility counsellor. The following weeks were pretty painful. I couldn’t stop gazing at her gorgeous bump, wanting to hug it, at the same time feeling totally heartbroken. No one at work knew about my infertility, apart from my bosses. I have always felt so ashamed about it all, always blaming myself (until now). Due to my high response to the stimulation drugs, we were advised to wait a few months for my hormones to settle down, before going again. We had one blastocyst left. We couldn’t leave it in the freezer. What if that one worked? Our last chance? I always said that if I was not pregnant by the end of my 40th year, then we would should to call it a day. We started treatment again. I took time off from work. Everything was good to go. I felt great on the HRT tablets! And I was lucky enough to have acupuncture (something which I prioritised spending most of my hard earned money on). This time around, I continued to do gentle exercise, which was so needed for my mental health. We knew that IVF was not a miracle cure, but having the control taken from you makes you somewhat optimistic. Of course the chances of it working on the first round is pretty slim, but, you still have hope, because, you know, it could work. But after the devastation I had felt after the first round, I knew that I needed to take my mind off of the process, and to not invest so much of my energy on it.
We were one scan away from transfer, when our treatment got cancelled. The scan revealed a polyp in the lining of my womb. That was on December 3rd, 2020. We weren’t going to be pregnant by Christmas. Again, that familiar feeling of despair, panic, sheer frustration and grief settled back into my bones and to the pit of my stomach. We have been told that surgery will be needed if it does not shed after my next bleed. More waiting… More uncertainty. More time floating by… And, to make matters worse, due to the length of waiting lists as a result of Covid, we have no idea how long our referral could take (here’s hoping that current restrictions won’t extend our wait even further. Or worse still, rob us of our chance of having our own baby). The silver lining? Because of Covid, we were able to have the Christmas that WE wanted. Just the three of us. In our home, making new traditions.
January. A time for reflection, redirection and endings? And hope.
The theme continues. This year is no exception. On reflection, I am so grateful for this journey. Although I lost myself, I have found me again, albeit, a different version than before. I am more resilient. I feel more ‘womanly’ than I ever have before. I no longer have the shackles of shame and self hate. I have much more respect for myself and my body now — even though I am a few stone heavier! I finally feel happy in my own skin. I feel empowered, and you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.
We are still waiting to see what will happen next. When my hormones become grounded again, we have hope that the pesky polyp will have disappeared. If not, then it will be surgery, whenever that will be. In the meantime, my amazing husband and I are flirting with the idea of getting our lives back. Of enjoying our time together, like when we first met. Without the strains of infertility dragging us down. Focussing on what we do have, rather than what we don’t.
We are discussing the possibility of adoption. We are also getting comfortable with the idea that it may just be the three of us, and that is beginning to feel ok. Will we finish our round after Mr Polyp has been eradicated? It changes daily. What I am certain of, is, that it will be alright. I am more than my infertility. You are more than your infertility.
Through endings there is also hope.
I want to say a huge thank-you to Emma for sharing her personal journey so eloquently and openly, you can contact Emma on Instagram @daisyduchessduke or @yoga.forchange.