Redefining my vision of a Mum…

Redefining my vision of a Mum…

It wasn’t a simple choice based on odds alone, it was a complex emotional decision that took time. I realise now that one blocker for me was worrying about what others might think – the main worry being “would people think I wasn’t the ‘real’ Mum?” This stemmed from my deeply engrained societal view that creating a family was solely down to shared genetics. Based on my life experiences and limited exposure I’d been programmed to believe that this idyllic family would inevitably happen at some point and my view was, quite ignorantly, that being a parent was all about DNA. In my naive mind it was all about the sharing of features and looking alike, which I realise now was actually very simplistic. I’d never considered in my wildest dreams that I’d need to imagine anything other than a genetic child. I worried that everyone else would think the same and automatically question my role as a parent.

It was only through seeing what I call a ‘positive reality’ that I realised my worries stemmed from my own fears.  It was through speaking online to Sarah, who is now a dear friend, where I witnessed first-hand the true meaning of being a Mum. Seeing the deep relationship and bond Sarah had with her son, I instantly realised that no-one would question their relationship as Mother and Son as they were intrinsically linked and loved each other unconditionally. I realised that there were so many more ways they were ‘related’ other than genes. (You can find out more about Sarah’s story here.)

Was I going to let a worry about what other people might think stop me from becoming the only thing I have ever wanted to be in life? I realised what mattered most what was I thought, not what other people might think. I had to step back and realise what it was I truly wanted – I had to re-define my vision of a Mother. So, what was it I wanted?

I knew I had a deep desire to be pregnant, grow a child and give birth – to me this would provide a deep connection from the start. I would be the one responsible for playing a part in the expression of their genetic make-up (something called Epigenetics – see my previous post here), effectively giving them life. I wanted to be the most trusted person in a child’s world – to comfort them, sing to them, read to them, feed them, teach them – to have the chance to shape a human of my own and show them how to live their life. As I’d drive in my car I would look in the rear view mirror and desperately want to see a little face smiling back at me, calling me ‘Mama‘. I wanted to do all of the things that any Mum does – even the mundane everyday tasks…the sleepless nights and endless nappies.

I craved it all, and when I asked myself the question of what I wanted from life as a Mum, I just knew in my heart that using donor eggs could still give me everything I’d ever dreamed of. Since I was a child I’d pictured a ‘mini-me’ running around with my green eyes and brown hair, but after thinking about those cherished moments I desperately craved, I began to realise that these physical features were just not important. I’d been grieving for the loss of the genetic child I’d always imagined but I began to accept that, although using donor eggs would mean I would be sacrificing the passing on of my genetic traits, ultimately my child sharing my eye colour never actually popped up in the list of things I truly wanted. I had to accept sacrifices would need to be made but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t still have everything I had always wanted.

Now that I am on the other side, I can truly say that my worries were completely unnecessary – I know that no-one would ever question my role as Mum to Mila, Eska and Lena. They’ve seen my body grow whilst pregnant, bring them into this world, feed them, raise them and love them unconditionally. I’m so blessed to now look into my rear view mirror and see three faces smiling back at me, calling me “Mummy” and “Mama”.

I’m not one to usually believe in ‘fate’ but I can’t help but think everything happened for a reason. I couldn’t imagine anything other than being Mum to these 3 girls – they were destined to be mine, and I was meant to be their Mum. I would say that this was the best decision I have ever made (albeit the most terrifying). Quite simply, it has given me everything I have ever dreamed of, and possibly more. I am pretty sure that if I had been lucky enough to conceive with my own eggs it would have been a one-off miracle, one we would have been incredibly grateful for, but with little hope of a sibling to grow the family. Now I am blessed with three miraculous individual children to complete our family, I just can’t wait to see them grow up together.

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Recognising the odds were stacked against us…

Recognising the odds were stacked against us…

Throughout our infertility journey I was completely emotion-led, to the point where all rational thinking went out of the window. Anything that gave us a possibility, however small and expensive it might be, I’d want to try it without a second thought. Matt on the other hand was much more rational, and it was his direct questioning of our consultant after cycle number four that made me stop and actually consider the facts and more scientific probabilities.

As fertility struggles are filled with emotion, having transparency about your chances is SO important! Although there will always be an element of subjectivity and opinion (as so many variables are at play), by having some trusted opinions you should be able to get a feel for how likely your chances might be. Whilst it doesn’t (and you shouldn’t) remove emotion, what it does give is a chance for you to apply some rational thinking to your decision making.

When Matt actually questioned our consultant more specifically on our odds of conceiving with my eggs, it was definitely a turning point which provided more focus for discussion. My instant response when I heard that we had a 5% chance of a baby with my eggs was to focus on it still being possible – the blind hope was taking over, clouding my rational thinking. What I didn’t consider was the flipside – the 95% chance that it wouldn’t work. How would you feel putting £6,000 of your hard-earned money on an outside 20/1 shot?

Having previously shied away from having in-depth discussions about donor eggs, I then asked about potential success rates if we were to change direction. I was amazed to be told that it would give us closer to a 50% chance of success.

So, we had a choice. I finally started to think more rationally – we could keep going with my eggs but only have the potential of success 1 in 20 times, or a conceivable 1 in 2 chance with donor eggs (literally).

Using this information, I was then able to let my emotions creep back in. Thinking about these odds, I just knew I didn’t have it in me to try another 20 times in the vain hope that we might find that one golden egg. Emotionally exhausted and completely drained by the previous failed IVF cycles, I was also acutely aware that when I did actually conceive I hadn’t made it past 8 weeks of pregnancy, an experience I wasn’t sure I could go through again. On top of this was the huge financial burden that came hand-in-hand with continuing to play such low odds, something that was pivotal to the potential future we wanted to be able to give our children – our future family. Consumed by my infertility, I knew my life was effectively ‘on hold’ with my deep, primal desire to become a Mum growing each day – something had to change. Now I knew that by using a donor egg we potentially had a 1 in 2 chance of becoming parents it suddenly made the prospect appear more real. It felt achievable and within reach for the first time since my diagnosis, a feeling that lifted me significantly and I actually started to feel excited. It seems that knowing my odds was actually played a big role in reconciling my thoughts allowing us to make a much more considered decision.

How did I know when it was time to use a donor?

How did I know when it was time to use a donor?

This is probably the most common question I get asked and definitely the most difficult to answer! It’s a complex decision…everyone has their own individual thoughts, experiences, diagnosis, hormone levels and funds available to keep trying with their own eggs.

I remember wishing that one of my Doctors would just take it out of our hands and make the decision for us, it can be so hard to know when to stop and abandon the dream you have always had – a genetic child. If you’re experiencing this scary, potentially life-changing decision now, I can truly empathise with you – it can feel like such a leap into the unknown. The acceptance that we were going to need IVF to conceive was hard, but the move from own eggs to donor eggs was so much more significant. For me it took just under 18 months from diagnosis, after 5 failed IVF cycles and a miscarriage we decided to take a step in a different direction to reach our end goal. Although it’s impossible to give a definitive answer, what I can talk about is my personal experience in making this momentous decision.

Being honest, I believe that becoming pregnant with my own eggs on ‘IVF cycle one’ was a huge factor in extending the length of time that we tried with our own eggs. Whilst I felt the loss so deeply, what it had given me was faith and hope that, because it had happened once, it could easily happen again. We’d also retrieved five eggs from my first cycle, three of which were mature – more than we ever thought possible with my miniscule AMH of just 0.7. It was during the following four cycles where our hope dwindled. Negative results and consistent failure of our embryos from day two to three showed that quantity wasn’t our only problem, my egg quality didn’t appear to be great either. Each cycle I fell deeper into despair but, I always had at the back of my mind, “I can still be a Mum using donor eggs”. Even though I wasn’t ready for it yet, I think it was this option that kept me from falling apart completely.

There definitely wasn’t a lightbulb moment of clarity and realisation. We both yo-yo’d back and forth numerous times, with what felt like a decision based on so many unknowns and ‘what ifs’. In fact, after making the decision to take a step towards Donor Eggs and have a consultation in Prague, I was actually in my two week wait following a surprise opportunity with my own eggs just a few weeks prior to travel. With my FSH uncharacteristically low, we decided to roll the dice again with a natural IVF cycle. With help from no stimulation drugs whatsoever I produced TWO eggs and two day 2 embryos for transfer – it was all so improbable and had me believing that this really was meant to be. I almost cancelled our appointment in Prague but we figured “what have we got to lose?” by finding out more.

Although the failure of this ‘bonus’ cycle was devastating, unexpectedly I felt some comfort in knowing that we had a plan in motion and all wasn’t lost.  So, what were the factors that led us to start changing direction and move towards donor eggs? The two blog posts that will follow will talk more about what I believed were our big turning points, I hope that in some way it might resonate with you and provide some comfort as you make your own momentous decision…

The first turning point was starting to recognise that the odds were stacked against us – click here to read more…

Finally, I had to define what it meant to me to be a Mum – click here to read more…

Mummy Rabbit

Mummy Rabbit

This is ‘Mummy Rabbit’ – Mila’s favourite thing in the world, she goes everywhere with her, sleeps with her and is her ultimate comfort. I share this with you because I wanted to show that, regardless of genetics, a Mum who has used donor eggs is still everything to that child. I have been asked ‘will I feel a connection to the child?’ and ‘will they feel a connection to me?’ I must admit, I did worry about the latter question – part of me worried that my baby would somehow have a sixth sense that we didn’t share genetics and it might affect our bonding. How wrong I was! I can only give my experience but my answer to the questions above is unequivocally – YES.

I use ‘Mummy Rabbit’ as an example because comforters are a child’s safety blanket, a reminder of close special times and a bridge to help them move into the ‘big wide world’. The fact that Mila has so lovingly named her ‘Mummy Rabbit’ tells me that she sees me as her safety blanket, the one she feels closest to, and the one she has shared the most special times with.

She may not have my eyes but she sees things the way I do, she sounds just like me and has the same sense of humour as me – I smile when I hear myself in her, and even my family comment that she is just like I was as a child.

I now ask myself – why should it be any different to any relationship between a non-donor child and their biological Mother?! Biological is an interesting word – pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all biological, and so technically I am their ‘biological mother’. The difference is that there is another biological link in that a very kind lady donated her eggs to allow us to form the ‘blueprint’ for our children. It is with this ‘blueprint’ that I grew them, nourished them – effectively gave them life. Beyond all of this we could get into the nitty gritty science of Epigenetics – an evolving understanding of how donor mums play such an important part in determining the building blocks of our children (Epigenetics is fascinating – but that’s for another post!).