Until recently, I had an attic full of baby paraphernalia: a car seat, pram, Moses basket, breast pillow, pump, etc. And so many baby and maternity clothes. I accepted these hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law after she’d had her last child. While I wasn’t ready to start my own family back then, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth. They’ll come in handy one day, I thought.
We’re still waiting for that day to arrive. In the many years that the bags and boxes sat gathering dust, we’ve experienced a miscarriage and four unsuccessful IVF cycles. What started out as symbols of hope when they entered our home came to represent our ongoing failure to expand our two-strong family unit.
I wish I could talk to my younger self, the one who arrogantly assumed that she could fall pregnant as and when she felt the time was right. If I could, I’d tell her that she’s not the one in control; her biology and biological clock control her. I’d recommend that she listen to the annoying voices awkwardly advising her to start trying sooner rather than later; deep down, it’s what she wants, but is simply being stubborn as she has always hated being told what to do. She won’t know just how much she wants to become a mother until she discovers that she’s pregnant on Christmas Day.
I have a terrible memory, but I remember exactly how I felt when I saw that result in 2015. Instead of fearing my loss of independence and identity as expected, I was overcome with pure joy. I recall the adrenalin rush as I processed this pleasant surprise. After staring at the stick for a few stunned seconds, I announced the happy news to my husband. In a matter of minutes, I imagined our tribe of two welcoming a new member in nine months’ time. I visualised my stomach swelling, feeling those tiny feet kick, being at the mercy of uncontrollable cravings and proudly wearing the ‘Baby on Board’ badge on the Tube. I vividly recall my heightened sensitivity to cigarette smoke, my instant aversion to wine and regularly putting a protective hand over my stomach.
Nature, however, had other ideas. I started spotting a fortnight later and a scan confirmed our suspicions: I’d had a miscarriage. I was pregnant, but now I’d become one in four British women whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage. I was a stranger to this statistic until that day. As common as this devastating occurrence is, I felt utterly alone in my grief. Getting a glimpse of something I thought I didn’t want, discovering that I did want it and then not being able to have it was a tough lesson to learn.
Given that this was our sole natural pregnancy in eight years, I finally heard the alarm bells that I’d been tuning out for too long. After visiting our GP, I was diagnosed with a low ovarian reserve and embarked on our first round of IVF via the NHS. Everything was overwhelming: the terminology, the procedures, the medications. Being deep in denial meant that I simply went through the motions.
We went on to chalk up our first failure and headed to a private clinic since we didn’t qualify for a second round of funding due to lack of extra embryos. If I was overwhelmed before, I was now drowning in data and completely out of my depth. Data collated from daily blood tests, scans and countless drugs and drips. For one month, my life revolved around this intense, all-consuming schedule, with my diary entries talking about drugs and dosages instead of dinner dates. Staying on top of all the appointments and administering injections was like a full-time job.
When this aggressive approach failed twice, our clinic mentioned donor eggs. While they didn’t advise against another fresh cycle with my own eggs, using a donor would increase our chances. Unfortunately, they only work with known donors who are under 35 and have already had a child. These criteria ruled out the potential candidates we had in mind, along with the fact that they’d need to get drugged up with me to sync our cycles and undergo counselling. It’d be the biggest of asks.
New year, new clinic: we switched earlier this year to one offering fresh and anonymous DE IVF. By coincidence, both clinics are on the same street, but they couldn’t be more different in their approach and attitude. I feel like Goldilocks having tried the porridges, chairs and beds of Father Bear, Mother Bear and Baby Bear and the latter’s is all ‘just right’. Hearing others talk about ‘finding the right fit’ elicited some skepticism until I found ‘the one’ that worked best for me.
Only it didn’t work. Our first cycle with them was our last one with my eggs and so we have closed one chapter in our fertility story and are starting a new one with donor eggs.
I imagine the primary concern for couples considering donor conception is the loss of genetic links to their baby. While this is upsetting, my desire to be a mother outweighs my sadness over losing the biological bond with Baby Savla; the act of carrying the baby would be enough for me. The prospect of using a Spanish or Portuguese donor is quite exciting, to be honest. There are very few South Asian donors in the UK and as time is of the essence, we didn’t want to wait around for one to become available. Since our clinic was founded in Spain, they can easily match my characteristics to their many donors.
My main concern was using an anonymous donor versus a non-anonymous one. Would the former be sheer selfishness on our part? Even though our clinic would provide information on their physical features and medical history, we wouldn’t be able to shed any light on their upbringing, personality or interests. Our child may feel that they’re missing a crucial part of themselves and resent us for depriving them of the opportunity to discover more by contacting the donor. They could also judge us for how they were conceived, be embarrassed by or ashamed of the fact that everyone knows and eventually reject us. These are all worst-case scenarios – our child may only have a passing curiosity about their conception – but must be weighed up carefully before proceeding. After much reflection, we decided to choose a non-anonymous donor so that we have the necessary information to hand should our child request it one day. We’d be open about how he/she was conceived because we’d be proud of this alternate path to parenthood.
Following accounts about donor conception on Instagram and watching webinars with experts, patients and donor conceived children have allayed many of my fears. For example, by documenting her DEIVF journey and discussing how she has gently introduced her children to their conception story and received heart-warming reactions, Becky paints DEIVF in a very positive light. Her words undoubtedly reassure many like me and encourage us to dare to dream about having our own family in the future. Here’s hoping because that’s all we can do.