Guest Blog – By Lilly
Ibiza 2016. My husband and I were there for a week having decided the party capital of the world was the best change of scene from three years of trying for a baby and two failed rounds of IVF (one of which resulted in an ectopic pregnancy). On one very hot day, feeling slightly hungover, we made our daily walk from the beach to our apartment which involved climbing about 150 very steep steps. Half way up I had a revelation. I turned to him and said this is what infertility feels like isn’t it. You put your head down and concentrate on that next step. You know you’ll come to the top eventually but you can’t see it. All you can do is grit your teeth and focus on the immediate next step, having faith that as you plod along you’ll finish – not knowing though if that’s one step away or 50.
If I reflect on our journey to parenthood I’m always reminded of that analogy. It ‘feels’ like that. We were tired. Exhausted. Not knowing how much more we had to cope with. But just putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that all would end well. I’d like to share a bit more about that journey here, in the hope it may help someone in their own experience and in navigating the many challenging decisions and milestones of infertility.
I’ve always known I wanted a family. Growing up very close to my own parents and brother the family unit was the anchor of my life and I knew I wanted that as an adult myself. Having a genetic eye condition sometimes linked to premature ovarian failure I also knew deep down that it may be a difficult path for me. That’s why my husband and I started trying soon after tying the knot in 2013.
A year later we were in an IVF clinic being told that yes indeed we would struggle to accomplish this alone. A house move across counties meant delays to our treatment and it wasn’t until January 2016 that we did our first round. One precious embryo left, transferred at day three. It’s still difficult for me to remember seeing the positive test result, so surprised and joyful I dropped to the floor outside our bathroom. ‘This is it’ we thought. Mother’s instinct kicked in a few days later though and I recall saying to my mum it just felt like something would go wrong. At 6 and 1/2 weeks pregnant I started bleeding; initially told it was a miscarriage and then whisked in for life saving ectopic pregnancy surgery a few days later resulting in the loss of a fallopian tube. It was very terrifying and incredibly sad.
Our family and friends have been our lifeboat these last few years; they rushed to help us recover, filled our house with flowers and booked a thoughtful night away. We felt the love but we still felt empty.
I needed something to throw myself into and re-decorating our house did the trick. We soon felt ready to try again. Second round but this time a handful of eggs and no fertilised embryos.
Our doctor sat us down. Very matter of fact, and said that whilst we could keep trying this way, the quickest route to having a baby for us would be using a donor egg. I remember the drive back home from the clinic; me going into my usual pragmatic action-oriented self. My husband being more upset, more reflective. We discussed it endlessly. What this would mean, what this would feel like. What we would gain, what we would lose.
It wasn’t until we sought a second opinion at another clinic that our decision was made. The very gentle, caring and calm doctor listened to our story and concerns around not using my own eggs. She looked me in the eye and said so powerfully and sincerely, ‘When you hold your baby in your arms for the first time, that all falls away’. I cried then and I get teary now when I think about that moment. Because she was right, and because it put us on the path to all that we have now.
So post a week of beach and attempting to keep up with the party goers in Ibiza we started the process. Picking a donor. Having counselling. Preparing my body for transfer. I had a strong sense this was the approach that would work for us and despite early bleeding again, in July 2017 we gave birth to our first son. A difficult labour resulting in an emergency caesarean I remember pleading with the room full of medical staff to get this baby here safely. He was chunky, with the most gorgeous face. He resembled my husband – he was perfect. We videoed the moment we brought him into our home, looking tiny in his car seat. In our analogy we had reached the top of the steps and it felt completely overwhelming.
Knowing we’d love a sibling for our son we dared to dream for what felt like the indulgent blessing of a second baby. So we tried again, using a different donor as we didn’t have any embryos remaining from before. A failed first transfer brought back challenging emotions but in January this year we gave birth to a second little boy.
Life with a toddler and new born is chaotic and just because it was your dream doesn’t mean parenthood after infertility is a bed of roses. But I don’t think there’s an hour that goes by where I don’t feel grateful.
Infertility and the decision to use a donor – none of it is easy. It changes you and you carry it with you, even after you’ve got what you wanted. But the strongest emotion is Gratitude. For what we have. For the medical science. For the love and support. And for the two women that gave us the greatest gift in their donation and thereby changed our life.
We are going for full disclosure with the boys, already talking openly to our eldest about our journey to have him. We have felt strongly from the beginning that honesty is crucial, although those early conversations with family and friends can feel scary and highly personal. Like most things though we found people were unfalteringly supportive, and our boys are lucky to have so much unconditional love around them.
I think it’s easy to worry that their origin will dominate their identity. That as the mother you might feel ‘different’. This couldn’t in our experience be further from the truth. I grew them, gave them life. And the amazing research in Epigenetics is beginning to explain why our eldest has my mum’s eyes and our youngest is the spitting image of my brother as a baby.
I’ve decided to remain anonymous in this blog because elements of this aren’t my story to tell, but my boys’. I’d hope in time they feel the same pride we do and able to share their own views and feelings. In the meantime though I’m here to help anyone else going through infertility or loss (please do get in touch with me through Becky) – my heart breaks with you. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be scared of the big decisions. And have faith. This is a marathon, not a sprint – remember it’s just one foot in front of the other…..