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.
What does pride mean to me? An excuse for a party, dancing all night at my friends’ gay club night followed by an after party where I’d usually be first to fall asleep? Yup, that’s what it was for me in my early 20’s. Good times. But with every passing year it’s becoming more and more meaningful. I’m growing increasingly aware of the privilege I had by the bucket load; to safely dance with a progressive, inclusive and accepting bunch who I shared many great times with.
As the years go by, I am becoming more and more aware of the injustice that exists within the global LGBTQ+ community. Yes we have come so far, but we have a long way to go. This year in particular we have been rightly reminded of the wider inequalities, prejudice and injustice that exists in our world; they were always there – we’re just talking about them now! It’s shameful and we need to keep talking.
As I reflect over the past year, I am reminded of the privileges and opportunities I have been given as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I got engaged, planned a wedding, bought sperm off the internet, completed two rounds of IVF and signed paperwork with the intention of carrying my partner’s embryo one day. I am lucky to be living in ‘these times’ and I know it. But we have a long way to go. Has it been a positive experience for me? Overall, yes – because, well, privilege. But it’s not been and won’t be easy. It seems with every step there is a behind the scenes compromise. Yes it’s great I’ve been ‘allowed’ to have these experiences, but it’s far from perfect. Take the paperwork required for me to carry my partner’s embryo one day – yes it benefits us, but my understanding is this is only because we’ve fitted ourselves into surrogacy law meaning technically I’m her surrogate and she is donating her embryo’s to me. I’m the legal parent at birth and not her. A pain, but it doesn’t have as big an impact for us as it does others. There are ways around that (being married will help and being part of a recognised clinic will mean it’s not a big problem for us). However, that is certainly not the case for people in many other circumstances and must cause huge anxiety for people already experiencing fertility issues. Surrogacy law reform is so desperately needed. The current restrictive law means those resorting to surrogacy in the UK are not legally recognised as their own biological child’s parent at birth. The person who carried the baby – and their spouse – is! There are so many flaws in all of our systems, and the world still has a long, long way to go.
So where did the baby making begin? My partner and I were friends first and spoke passionately about wanting children one day, we just had no idea they would be with each other. It’s always been a massive part of my future and I wasn’t going to let being in a relationship with a woman get in the way of that.
I was, with no exaggeration, broody from birth. So it was a concept my family struggled with. I was a femme, clichéd ‘lipstick’ loving, heel-wearing teenage girl. My parents did not see this coming, and frankly, neither did I. It just happened, and here I am, 13 years later with 6 embryo’s in the bag and a wife to be.
For the most part we have felt safe, included and welcome. We have had some experiences of ignorance and lack of understanding but our experience of the IVF process within our Glasgow clinic could not have been more positive. They were utterly amazing with us at every stage. We felt safe, included and cared for. We know not everyone across the fertility world has this experience.
We agreed from the get go that we were going to try and embrace this experience and try to frame it in as positive a way as possible. Of course it would be great if we could make babies without a donor, but we had to try and take control of the parts we could. We wanted to take it slowly and try to manage our expectations.
Despite the careful balance of nerves, hormones, apprehension and stress (mainly work related due to unpredictable appointments) I can honestly say we enjoyed many of our trips to the clinic. We made them into date days, shared banter with our nurses and tried to make them as positive as possible.
We were going in at the deep end. We didn’t know anyone else doing reciprocal IVF. The clinic agreed it made sense, that it was a more complicated way of doing it (rather than straight up IUI) but in terms of preserving our fertility they understood. They never tried to persuade us, they just gave us the facts of our options. We were going in blind but it was far from reckless. We had spent years discussing the reasons for every decision and going over every possible eventuality. It was strange that we had no rule book or social norm to follow, we just had to make up our own way of making babies within the options we had available to us at the time. It was really daunting but we tried our best to just go with it, have trust in our decisions and… it was exciting! We felt guilty for finding it exciting at times. I guess for us, unlike lots of other couples who experience infertility, we weren’t grieving an idea of the way we would have children. We knew from the start we weren’t going to have babies naturally. We were excited whereas some of the people we knew had experienced such heartache and we were aware of the need for sensitivity. This did come with a sense of isolation as we didn’t really ‘fit in’ to mainstream services.
We had been planning and saving for years so we had a long time to come to terms with our choices. However, it took us 3 years to get to that point. We had lots of conversations about genetics, family reactions and questions like “Would we bond with ‘each others’ genetic children as much as our ‘own’?”, “Would our family’s feel differently?”, “What if it didn’t work?”, “What if we spend all this money and get nothing?” It took a long time and I think realistically we may always have some of these anxieties and whole new ones in our future – show me a parent that doesn’t have guilt, insecurities and worry! I guess ours might just be a little different sometimes, but that’s ok. We all have our vulnerabilities and differences in our family dynamics and make up. I think that’s the nature of having donor conceived children and very little representation of families like ours around us; there is no rule book, and that’s as equally daunting as it is freeing. We are only human.
I always wanted to carry a baby. My partner does not. We both wanted ‘our own’ genetic children. So after years of careful consideration we agreed we would both do a round of IVF with the same donor, freeze all embryos then come back when we’re ready in the future. Our theory was we would be taking control of as much of our future chances as possible at an early stage. We knew we were going to have to do it this way eventually so why not get it done earlier when we had the best chance.
We aimed to do it in stages to try and reduce stress. We intentionally tried to take it one step at a time. Doing one stage then waiting, catching our breath then moving onto the next stage. We went for our initial fertility tests and consultation in August and September 2018, bought the sperm in June 2019 and didn’t start IVF until September and November 2019. We knew we had time and age on our side, so wanted to aim for frozen embryos from both of us then freeze them so we could go back when we were ready. Taking some control over a situation that could easily feel out with our control really helped us. I think I always had the fear of what if it didn’t work or time ran out and we were too late, wishing we had done it sooner. We did it this way to try and minimise the impact of stress in the future and hopefully as an investment for our family whilst slightly reducing uncertainty. We were not entitled to this option on the NHS so had to use a private clinic. This was a minefield but thankfully one we had prepared for so we were happy with the choice we made.
I guess some of the hardest times came before we even started. Once we knew how we wanted to do it we went for it. Choosing the donor, although a big deal, we stayed quite matter of fact about it. When I think of our embryos thoughts of the donor don’t flood to mind. Instead I think of my partner’s genetics, her family, who our children might look like, her parents, her sisters and her nieces. Then I consider my genetics and my family, how our children will be a wonderful blend of us all. How lucky we will be to hopefully have children from both of our genetics and they themselves be genetic siblings. I can honestly say now that I can’t imagine it any other way. How grateful we are to the donor. He gave us what we needed to kick start our family; but they will be our babies regardless of their genetic make up.
We want to use one of my partner’s embryo first. This means I will give birth to a baby not genetically linked in any way to me. We feel this is the closest way for us to have a baby ‘together’ and is really important for our first child. We feel so grateful that this opportunity is available to us. All going well we would like for me to then carry my own embryo and that child will be genetically linked to our first. It took a long time for us to get our heads around this concept, but for us it just feels right. Everyone has different deeply personal views on what feels right for them, but for us this is how we want to make our family. Yes, technically they’ll only ever be half of one of us, but to us parenthood is not measured by DNA. When I give birth to my first child they will have no genetic link to me but that will not make me any less of a mother. They will be made from my wife. That sounds pretty great to me. Our children. We will be creating our family, completing the circle.
It’s easy to get carried away, but I think we’re allowed to dream of what we would like in our future. We know all the success rates and the odds but we want to be able to look forward. In time we may end up with other variations to this plan. For example, if my partner changed her mind about wanting to carry we might have that option available to us and that would be a whole new concept for us to get our heads around. We need to take our time and keep an open mind for what the future might hold.
It was tricky at times during treatment managing our parent’s expectations and excitement. They had a tendency to offer extremely optimistic comments which we knew was meant with good intention but we had to frequently remind them of the reality – for example, my father in law declaring “yass twenty grandkids!” after an egg collection..! We were so grateful for the years spent with our parents preparing them for our plans. The staggered staged approach we took helped not just their understanding of the process but their acceptance of it and their emotional understanding of how we were making our family. We are so proud of our supportive parents who have been on the journey with us from the beginning. They have put in the work to support and understand us, for which we are so grateful.
During our treatment however we felt we had to shut ourselves away and focus on each other. There were so many unknowns and we could definitely feel the pressure becoming overwhelming at times. I’m a positive affirmations kind of girl but hadn’t really properly felt the benefit of them until one sleepless night waiting for results. I turned to writing them out on my phone – visualising our embryos develop, trusting the process etc. It makes me laugh a bit now and who knows if it helped the process but it certainly helped me. Interestingly, watching my partner’s IVF from the side-lines made me more anxious than I was about my own. Maybe because she went first and it was all new to us or maybe just because watching from the outside makes you realise what a vulnerable and delicate experience it can be. Seeing her being wheeled in after her egg collection, sedated with wires attached to her made me very emotional. We had intentionally not ‘read the next page’ in an effort to avoid over thinking and manage expectations. This was a careful balance; we were informed, but not obsessed.
By the time it came to doing my IVF a month later though, we were experts on every detail of the process. My partner’s first injections carefully watched over by me with ice cubes. By the time it got to my turn I didn’t even get an audience! I injected between work, in public toilets and friend’s bathrooms. We were less protected in that sense. We knew the success rates and statistics by then so it was a different experience. I had very few symptoms compared to my partner, this made me realise how different two IVF cycles can be. Up until the first scan I assumed because I didn’t feel any different (I felt pretty good actually..!) that it hadn’t worked. Reflecting back on this I think finally being able to crack on with it probably gave me a boost and a focus. I had a job to do and I had to get it done. My treatment also involved the discovery of Endometriosis which made my IVF a little more complicated. But we did it and it worked. We got our embryos. Will these embryos be our future children? We hope so – but we don’t know. We need to live with that uncertainty for now, safe in the knowledge that they are snug in the freezer waiting for us to try and bring them home.
For now, we’ll happily talk about it to anyone who asks. Will I share with everyone the exact details of when we go for an embryo transfer? No, probably not. The same way your average heterosexual couple wouldn’t announce that they were away off home to have sex, but everyone knows how those babies are made (out with the fertility world of course).
The difference is I passionately believe LGBTQ+ fertility and parenthood needs to be spoken about. We need to talk about LGBTQ+ people having babies! The process and the normalising of creating families in lots of different ways. Visibility. The more I tell people how we’ve ‘done it’ the more they’ll be comfortable to ask me questions and develop more awareness and understanding for the next person. The same goes for all of us beyond the LGBTQ+ community making babies in non conventional ways (such as other forms of donor conception, surrogacy and solo parenting). But it doesn’t mean I don’t still have vulnerabilities; moments of self doubt and fleeting moments of sadness that it’s not straight forward for us. Difficult as it is to admit, I probably still have some deep rooted shame and fear that still exists creeping out during occasional vulnerable moments.
But as the years go by I am becoming prouder and I am becoming stronger. I am deeply aware of the importance of teaching our future children to be proud, to own their stories of how they came into the world and understand how longed for and planned they were down to every last injection. We will tell them every part of their story, after all it will become their story to tell not ours. We want them to feel secure and informed, with as many choices available to them as possible for their future. We will tell them how much we thought and talked about them for the months and years they were snug in the freezer just waiting for us to bring them home.
There’s lots of uncertainties and we know we need to manage our expectations. We’ll have to see what’s next in our journey to parenthood. It’s a long one, and already with COVID19 changing our plans and some surprise Endometriosis there have been some bumps in the road. But for now, we don’t have an issue celebrating the stage we have reached. We have 6 embryos in the freezer, 3 from each of us and we can’t wait to pick up where we left off when the time is right. Whilst we know very little about them, what we do know is that they’ll not be ‘donor conceived children’ to us, they’ll be our children who were made with love.
I don’t know what the future holds for us and it’s mostly exciting, some parts stressful and some parts terrifying. I know it won’t be easy for so many reasons. We are going into the unknown as we have been from the start – together as a team. Having children, becoming a mother and sharing that role with someone I love. A revolution was started 51 years ago to allow me that privilege, something still not afforded to so many. To have the future I have always wanted ahead of me. That’s what Pride means to me.
I want to say a huge thank you to Caroline for sharing such a beautiful and inspirational blog post, shedding light on some of the additional challenges faced building a family using donor conception within the LGBTQ+ community. You can follow Caroline on her journey on Instagram @PrideAndJoy. She has also created a LGBTQ+ fertility support group for Fertility Network Scotland to fill the gap in local support – check out the Fertility Network Scotland Facebook Page for more info.
Forget the auntyjis and cultural pressures; just look after yourself!
‘Beta (child), you have been married for one year now and still no baby – is something wrong?’ As British Asian women we’ve all heard these comments from countless auntyjis before. Whilst politely delivered, they epitomise a culture which magnificent at times, is also deeply judgmental and still not open about many issues, including infertility.
Having fertility issues is utterly overwhelming, all-consuming and is often something many of us, regrettably, deal with in secret. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment, disbelief and confusion. This is even more so in the British Asian community because of the immense cultural pressures to get married and have children. There is limited awareness of fertility issues and treatments, leading to those who struggle to conceive often being outcast and ignored.
That’s exactly what happened to me, and I know to many others across the Asian community. And this experience has made me hugely passionate about breaking the taboo and social stigma surrounding infertility in ethnic minority cultures.
After three years trying to conceive, endless visits to the GP and countless heartbreaking negative pregnancy tests, my husband and I conceded that we would need a helping hand from science to have a baby. Because being a mum and having children naturally comes to define your success in many South Asian families, regardless of anything else you may have done, we weren’t able to share our struggle or the anxiety and sadness we felt, with our own families.
Even when we tried to subtly hint at the fact that we had been trying for some years, our struggle was met with confusion, and a hint of disappointment, that we weren’t as perfect as had always been assumed and expected of us.
This lack of awareness and taboo around fertility struggles in ethnic minority cultures unfortunately means couples from BAME groups don’t have the same support networks as white couples. We’re not able to talk to our parents or friends about our issues as openly as others, and we don’t get to tell those around us not to keep asking us personal questions about when we’re having kids. Cultural pressures and long standing protocols, which are wrong and need to be challenged, mean we continue to face a barrage of insensitive questions and comments, and this can often have a negative effect on our mental health.
After changing Doctor and one operation for me, we finally got the answers we had been looking for, a simple issue with one of my tubes had been the problem all along, and not endometriosis, stress or irregular ovulation as had been assumed by many doctors. Hearing this was incredibly difficult; I felt like a failure and inferior to every other woman – how could I not do the one thing that is so natural – bear a child! What made this even worse was the disappointment and embarrassment this would bring on my family and on me amongst the in-laws. I just wasn’t going to be good enough anymore. I felt defective. And so we told no one; we suffered in silence.
In the midst of all of this, our siblings announced their ‘happy’ news. The pressure on us was no immense, and the impending babies were being talked about endlessly without any sensitivity for our situation.
The Asian auntyjis were in their element too, remarking how ‘You don’t want to be left behind or people will start to talk about you’. Yet no one asked how we were doing; we were left feeling lonely and belittled. And all this, just as I was about to start my first IVF cycle.
But we remained resilient! So that nothing, especially not cultural pressures, would disrupt our treatment and our chances of having a baby, we took the decision to stay away from all the aunties, family or friends who were insensitive or judging us. It was difficult but so important and it really helped.
After the rollercoaster of multiple appointments, blood tests and weeks of taking injections every day, the day of the IVF finally arrived. However it wasn’t all good news. Because our embryos were of a high quality, to give us the best chance possible the embryologist advised us to freeze them and for me to have another procedure.
Two months later, after another operation, much needed holiday, and another cycle of injections, we finally had the embryo transfer. I was fortunate enough that my embryo implanted. Nine months later, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family. We planned to do another frozen cycle with our remaining frozen embryo. However, 15 months later, we were unexpectedly blessed with a natural pregnancy and I gave birth to non-identical twins last summer.
On some days I still struggle with the deep scars dealing with fertility issues amidst social stigma and cultural pressure, has left behind. And three years later, I’m still learning to process what happened and find a peace and acceptance in our situation. I hope by sharing my story I’m able to provide insight and support to others, and most of all, I hope by starting a conversation about the taboo subject of infertility, I can begin to change attitudes and break the stigma.
I want to say a huge thank you to Pooja for sharing her story which highlights the additional stigma and challenges faced by those experiencing infertility in the Asian Community. I hope others who are feeling unable to share their struggles can read stories like this and know that they’re not alone. You can read more blog posts from Pooja at http://www.auntyjisbanglesfertility.com, or you can follow her on Instagram @auntyjis_bangles_babies .
I was 33 when I received a Stage 3 hormonally sensitive breast cancer diagnosis. Within weeks of my diagnosis I underwent a full mastectomy to my left breast, the next stop of the Breast Cancer bus was active treatment. For me, that involved Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.
As most people do, I struggled hugely with the thought of chemotherapy. The impact it would have on my physical appearance, the nausea that would come with it, the awareness of its devastating effects would pop to the front of my mind over and over again.
I looked around for women like me, British Asians, who had been through cancer and shared their stories. A face I could resonate with, a story I could empathise with, but they we few and far between.
I had been told during an early appointment with my oncologist that there was a chance I would face infertility secondary to chemotherapy. It was at that point that my journey with infertility began.
Indian girls are raised in a world full of social pressure. The pressure of physical beauty, light flawless skin, thick long dark hair, to be attractive to the opposite sex so that your marriage can be arranged when the time comes. The pressure to succeed academically so that you could find a job, earn a good wage and own a house larger than Mr Patel next door. The pressure to bring children into the world. To do so within the early years of marriage. The pressure always falling on the female partner, any issues perceived to be hers and not his. I knew that Chemo would strip away everything that was considered success and beauty within my life.
When the words infertility crept into my Oncology treatment plan, I sank deeper into the black hole cancer had landed me in.
I constantly wondered how I could get through cancer without telling anyone, and now I had to figure out one day becoming a Mother without anyone knowing my struggles. Of course, as time passed I realised that neither were possible.
I had heard about cancer patients harvesting eggs before Chemotherapy from online forums and spoke to my oncologist about it. I thought that if I could store my genetic material, one day (after this particular nightmare was over), I could have that material put back inside me, I could be just like everyone else. I could still be the person I was expected to be.
I was given 14 days to carry out IVF. To find the clinic, to find the money, to inject myself whilst guarding against feeding my tumour, to have eggs collected and fertilised, embryos created and frozen in time. 14 days to put all those practicalities in place, but not a second to deal with the emotional and mental struggle that this process brings. For me, that time with IVF was part of my treatment for cancer, it wasn’t about creating a life from a place of love.
It took time for me to fully comprehend what we had done in those two weeks, I often wondered why we chose to do it. Why did I think creating a life was a good idea, when my own life was surrounded by such fragility, I wondered if my husband would ever use those embryos if cancer stole my life, or if those tiny cells that contained a part of me would cease to exist the day that I did?
Fortunately for me, the words that I now read on Oncology papers, and the words that bring me such joy read are ‘In REMISSION’. Cancer didn’t steal my life; in fact, it gave me a whole new life.
Three years after my Breast Cancer diagnosis, my husband and I were on holiday. I became extremely unwell very quickly and was taken to A&E, from there things got worse and I was admitted to Cardiac Intensive Care. I had suffered acute Heart Failure, a delayed side effect from my Chemotherapy 3 years prior.
We were told I may not make it through, that my heart was so damaged it was barely able to pump blood around my body, we prepared for the worst. Somehow, I pulled through, and after months in a foreign country, was allowed to fly home with medical assistance. During my darkest days in ICU I had an awakening, it was as if a voice within me whispered that my time was not up, that I had to pull through; I heard it and believed it with every fibre of my being.
It was then that I received a message from a lady who had found me on a Surrogacy forum. I had been exploring Surrogacy as a route to motherhood for just over a year before I received this message. My oncologist had told me that falling pregnant would still involve risks around cancer recurrence rates, and I couldn’t get my head around becoming pregnant, experiencing motherhood, only to one day be told my cancer had returned.
It took a while to get my loved ones on board with a Surrogacy journey. Not only had they been brainwashed by stories in the media of journey’s that had gone wrong, but there was simply nobody within the Indian community who seemed to have been through it, and who was sharing their stories about it.
It became apparent very quickly that there were very few, if any, surrogates on the forums I became a part of who were of the same ethnicity as me. In fact, people of colour are difficult to find within this community. Whilst our community is happy to accept help in this way, we’ve not yet found the strength to give back to it. There wasn’t and still isn’t enough dialogue around these unconventional routes to motherhood, and as such, representation of minorities within the Surrogacy community are low.
Initially I was advised by people to go to India, to use a Surrogacy House, to create and bring this baby back to the UK without anyone knowing what we had been through.
Whilst this works well for some Intended Mothers, it never sat well for me. I wanted to be as present as I could be in the creation and growth of the little life that would one day be my world. I wanted to see the scans first hand, I wanted to feel the kicks, I wanted to know the woman who honoured my family with this precious gift of life, and for that reason, despite the issues I knew I would face around matching, whether a white woman would carry a coloured child, I chose and committed to UK based altruistic surrogacy.
After returning to England, focussing on my recovery and spending a year getting to know Ina, the person who messaged and stood by me when some doubted whether I would live or die, we found ourselves at our IVF clinic, ready for the transfer of our 5 day old embryo.
Ten days later, it was confirmed that we were pregnant, and nine months later, we became proud parents to our daughter Amaala, our pride and joy. Everyone around us welcomed Amaala into our lives, yet the lack of awareness around Surrogacy and how to talk of it in the South Asian community became apparent as people would ask me, ‘Is she yours?’. I always knew what this question meant, was she genetically mine? Why was that important was the question I wished I could ask back, but never had the strength vocalise? Why did it matter whose DNA runs through the veins of this beautiful, perfect, gift of a child?
I still find the way Amaala came to us miraculous, the events leading up to her birth exceptional. If it wasn’t for cancer and heart failure, she wouldn’t be the child she is today, and I wouldn’t be the mother I am today.
The tragedy to this part of our story came when our clinic discarded our remaining embryos without our consent. After transferring Amaala’s embryo our agreement was to re-freeze our remaining embryos. We knew there were at least four, however a clinical error meant that they were all thrown away, without a second thought to the devastating effects that this would have on us as a couple. A couple who could not collect further eggs, a couple who would never be able to make further embryos. Back then, and now still I mourn those little ice babies, the maybe babies, who were never given a chance, the babies that were stolen from us before we even had a chance to know them.
However, when Amaala arrived she brought with her so many life lessons, she taught me a love that I had never known before. She taught me that motherhood was so much more than a person giving birth, or the genetics we shared.
She taught me that what made me her mother was the love that I gave her, the protection she felt when she lay vulnerably in my arms. The comfort she felt at the sound of my voice, the feeling of home when I open my arms. She healed the wounds of the lost embryos and gave me the strength to move forward to the next chapter of my life.
We longed for a sibling for Amaala, a partner in crime who she would grow up with, the first friend she would know.
It was here that I began to look in to egg donation, and our options in this space. It became clear early on that finding an Indian egg donor was not going to be easy.
White friends would say to me, ‘Does it matter if your donor doesn’t share your skin tone? Why is it so important?’
That I guess is an example of white skinned person, not understanding the issues that surround people of colour; a circumstance that my fair skinned friends would rarely have to experience.
How in that moment could I explain how a donor with different skin tone could affect the future of my potential child forever? I am wholly comfortable with not sharing the genetics of my child yet a match in skin tone, is still a preference that I wanted to explore. Because I have grown up in a community where the colour of my skin has caused me suffering, where feeling like I looked differently to the rest of my class/friends/colleagues has left me feeling so isolated. I don’t want my baby to be exposed to that because he or she ‘looks’ different to Mummy and Daddy. It isn’t the only characteristic to look for in a donor but would be certainly be a nice to have.
In July 2019, our sibling journey took a very unexpected turn. After looking into our donor options more closely, I registered with an overseas agency. I felt a pull towards known egg donation. For me, it was an extension of my choice to undergo UK based surrogacy. Knowing that there was so little I could control about this journey, knowing I would be unable to carry the pregnancy, that I would require two women to help make me a Mum brought with it a desire to know as much as I could about the woman who would help me take the first step on this long winding road.
I remember receiving the profile of our egg donor. She had quoted one of my favourite quotes within her bio. He vibrancy flew out of the page and into my heart. Physically, she looked quite like me. I knew immediately that she would be the donor that I would request.
After getting the logistics of international egg donation and IVF in place, we flew to Cyprus where we would meet our donor and fertilise her eggs to create embryos. There was a familiarity around the process, yet so much of it felt brand new. IVF abroad comes with its own complexities to navigate! We met our donor after her egg retrieval. We shared stories of our past, we laughed and joked; but more than anything we cried. There were tears of relief for getting to this point. Tears of empathy for the journey’s that brought us all here. Tears of joy at future that we prayed would unfold. The more we spoke the more I knew that this was absolutely the right choice for us.
A few months later, I received a message from Ina, our surrogate who brought us Amaala. A change in her circumstances meant that she was unable to undertake the sibling journey we had spent the past 18 months planning. My world, once again, came crashing down. How could life be so unfair, how could we have come so far to have the dream taken away?
Time passed and I began to socialise on the surrogacy forums once again. I had created a family within this community, so many friendships made, friendships that would last a lifetime. It was through a friend that I was introduced to Laura. I didn’t know it then, but Laura would soon become the woman who gave us hope again. We matched with Laura within a few months, and soon found ourselves back in Cyprus, this time for our embryo transfer. I felt strangely calm. Laura is an experienced and incredible surrogate; she brought enough positivity for us both! We had our transfer and stayed in Cyprus for four days in all. When we returned home, we were in the dreaded two week wait. Seven days in, Laura sent me a photo. A positive pregnancy test, my heart leapt into my mouth, I couldn’t and still can’t believe how lucky we were. A few weeks later at a six-week scan, it was confirmed that we would soon become parents to multiples! Our emotions were off the scale, and now, here we are. Eagerly awaiting the arrival of our newest arrivals. In the middle of a pandemic, knowing the last time I boarded a plane, ahead of borders closing around the world, was with my Surrogate who was carrying an embryo created using a donor egg, to make me a Mum again.
Donor conception is complex, donors of colour are hard to find. Social conditions and perceptions of ‘giving away’ babies are still prevalent and as a result people of colour rarely register to become donors. Agencies still struggle to understand the differences and importance around the ethnicities of the donors on their books; with Intended Parents having to explain the difference between Indian, Mexican, Black or Chinese ethnicities. These are issues that white Intended Parents don’t have to contend with.
We need more voices; we need more stories. We need to educate more and to understand the resistance that’s present. To find a way to open conversations, so that more people of colour come forward to help their peers. So that more surrogates of colour can be found, more donors of colour. So that more families of colour can be built, and that currently unconventional routes to parenthood become more conventional.
I can’t thank Kreena enough for sharing her journey on my blog, her positivity despite such adversity amazes me and I’m sure it will inspire you too.
You can follow Kreena on Instagram @kreenadhiman and you can also listen to her podcast which she co-hosts called @theintendedparent.
Guest Blog – By Caroline
Even today, after having our beautiful son, the trauma of infertility remains. It feels a part of me, even when I tell myself it will not define me. It is the voice in my head. My ‘story’ of adversity and triumph. A deep shame, yet a great pride. The light and dark. An old friend that comes knocking on my door once a month.
Reflecting back, I find it hard to believe I had the strength to fight through four years of trying to conceive, multiple rounds of IUI and failed IVF’s. The diagnosis you may ask? There wasn’t one . . . well ‘unexplained,’ whatever that means. You see this diagnosis, for me, felt like a double-edged sword: hope but no hope; aka: torture.
I’m starting to feel selfish as I write these words as I haven’t mentioned my husband and what he went through. Infertility only ever made us closer and I know we’re lucky for that as not all couples survive it. But it was also always a very personal journey for me. The deep-rooted fear of never having a baby was too much for my brain to ever contemplate, never mind say the words out loud to the one person who was hurting as much as me.
Talking of selfish, can you believe I used to be jealous of women who’d had a miscarriage? Hard one to admit. I used to think ‘well at least they can get pregnant, I’d take that.’ Of course, the one and only time I ever was pregnant, the thought of losing my baby terrified me and it certainly wasn’t an envious position.
There are so many layers of self-sabotaging feelings that come from infertility. Shame was a huge one for me: shame of not being able to get pregnant, the shame of not giving my husband a child and the shame of the person it turned me into. I was in a dark place for a long time and was not a nice person to be around.
Prior to our fourth and final round of IVF we changed clinics, agreed a different protocol, new medication and had a completely different mindset. We had a six month break too, during which time I worked on changing the narrative in my head. I told myself it will work this time; I will be a mum and trusted the universe. Our son is our biggest blessing, but I naively believed he would heal us. And as I sit writing this, longing for a second child and sibling for our boy, the old feelings of shame and fear resurface.
Last night for example, whilst the whole street was out clapping for our carers, I was inside crying because my old friend had turned up for her monthly unwanted visit. I then felt very selfish, given we are in a global pandemic, which made me cry even more; then I laughed at how ridiculous I was being. Crazy lady indeed.
Every month I feel stupid to ever believe I can get pregnant naturally but then as the luteal phase comes around (yes, I have all the medical terms down to a tee) I have a glimmer of hope.
Moving forward, I’m not sure if I have the strength in me to triumph once more, knowing the IVF battle ahead.
Good old infertility eh, it never leaves my side.
I want to say a huge thank you to Caroline for sharing her deepest personal emotions relating to her struggle with unexplained fertility, and now secondary infertility. If you’d like to connect with Caroline you can follow her over on – Instagram @Avocado_Fertilty