There’s been much-needed talk about what not to say to someone facing infertility, but what about donor conception? Inspired by the amazing Alice Rose and her ‘Think, What Not to Say” campaign about fertility, I wanted to provide some similar advice in the context of using a donor. There’s a whole new level of complexity and insufficient awareness of this route to parenthood, which can bring about even more misconceptions and confusion for those who don’t understand, leading to unintentional but potentially hurtful comments for those who are making this huge decision.
I’ve been writing recently to help friends and family best support those needing to use a donor to conceive a child, with this second blog post looking at some of the things that are often said (or sometimes unsaid) that can make us feel uncomfortable. I caveat this with an acknowledgement that some of these comments are well-meaning, but by sharing I hope to show how they can actually be perceived and how they can make us feel. I also want it to be a way of educating others, to help them feel more comfortable when speaking, not only to us, but also to our children in the future. I hope that others will feel able to respond to questions and hold conversations with our children, so that they too aren’t subjected to feeling uncomfortable from triggering remarks about their conception – something which they themselves had no say in.
The last thing I want to do in this piece is to scare anyone into feeling like they can’t say anything or that they’re walking on eggs shells, so I’ve included some advice about how I think it’s best to approach the topic. I’m no expert, just a donor recipient mum who has personal experience and has listened to the experiences of many others. These are views of my own and won’t apply to everyone, but I’m hoping it captures the essence of where things can become hurtful and help avoid some of those more awkward moments in the future.
I’ll start by giving some examples with some of the more ‘shocking’ comments I heard from my Instagram community:
“Think of all the bad genes you won’t pass on”
“Are you the real mother?”
“Referring to the donor as the ‘Dad’ rather than my husband”
“Oh, so you’re a surrogate”
“Maybe you’ll have your own kids one day”
“But it wouldn’t be your child!”
“You never know you might just get pregnant naturally after, you’ll be just like a step-mum”
“Why would you tell the child?”
“So you’re not the real Mum?“
Many comments centre around terminology and an inference that the parent who doesn’t share genetics isn’t a ‘real’ parent, or that our children aren’t ‘ours’ because we don’t share DNA. It’s hugely sensitive because how we feel as a parent and our legitimacy as one can be one of the biggest fears and emotional challenges we face when choosing this route. After grieving the loss of our genetics we’ve had to think much more consciously and deeply, re-evaluating our understanding of what it means to be a mum or dad.
Parenting is a process. It’s time spent supporting the emotional, physical, social and intellectual development of a child. It’s an act, what we do every single day, the important role that we play which we recognise within our family as ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’. Everything I do for our girls every single day, every decision I make with them in mind, every emotion I feel in relation to them is ‘mothering’ – there’s nothing more real than that. It’s not denying that there is another genetic parent, but it’s recognising the important nurturing roles within our family, in the context of how it was built.
Often when the word ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ is used to describe the donor it’s unintentional, a slip of the tongue, but it can really touch a nerve when it comes to the relationship between the non-genetic parent and the child. I’ve had this one myself where someone asked if Mila’s curls were from the ‘mum’. It hurts because it awakens one of our deepest fears, about being seen as the legitimate parent. Mostly it’s not because people don’t actually see us as the legitimate parent, but more because they don’t know what words to use, which can be understandable when you’ve never considered donor conception yourself.
This is where understanding about the terminology we as a family choose to use is important. If you’re not sure, just ask us – a good starting point is asking how we refer to the donor. In our family we are completely open, we all acknowledge the important role that our donor played and share complete gratitude for her, but in conversation she will always be referred to as ‘the egg donor’ or, for my children at their current ages, ‘the lady who did a kind thing by giving us some of her eggs’.
Simply put, it’s being open to learn about how we as a family intend to talk about things, which will allow you to be able to support us in doing the same. It’s a message I want to be clear and consistent for our girls as they grow up in helping them to understand how they came to be and how our family was built.
“It’s no biggie, genetics don’t matter”
It’s hard to explain this one, especially because I myself have uttered the words many times – “genetics don’t matter”. In the context of how much I love my girls this is completely true, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel grief and sadness over the loss of my genetics, and that our girls won’t feel similar about their missing genetic link.
Dismissing the importance of genetics can be a throwaway comment, often made to try to make us feel better, to reassure us that it doesn’t matter to them and that they see us the same as any other family. It happens when people want to try to give the impression that it’s “no big deal”, trying to demonstrate that they are fine with the concept, without realising what they are failing to acknowledge – that genetics can still be important to parents and their children. Saying it’s no big deal can dismiss the complex considerations and importance of grieving the loss of genetics. Not only to us as parents, but these comments can potentially be dismissive to a child as well. Should our girls have perfectly normal curiosity about their genetics I want them to feel like it can be something that is important to them, without trivialising their feelings. Please don’t try to tell anyone they’re overthinking it, the importance of genetic connection can vary greatly to each individual – there is no right or wrong way to respond.
My advice would be, rather than dismissing the topic, acknowledge that this must have been a hard decision for them, which gives them the opportunity to share more if they wish. If not, you’ve acknowledged and validated the process they’ve had to go through, which is all that is needed. It’s accepting that it might matter (or have mattered) to us and potentially to our future children.
“At least you won’t be passing on your bad genes!”
When it comes to sharing humour or making light of the situation, always let this be led by the person involved. Saying they’re lucky not to be passing on “bad genes” can be incredibly hurtful and minimises what for many is a core loss. It’s the loss of the ability to see themselves in their child and pass on their family genes, their legacy if you like.
I vividly remember one of the first people I saw speak about using an egg donor at a clinic information evening. She made light of her situation with her explanation for being “quite happy” to have been told she needed to use an egg donor being because her child wouldn’t have to have her nose and that “she didn’t really like her genetic family anyway”. Whilst she used humour, I most certainly wasn’t in the same frame of mind, finding the light-heartedness hard to listen to when I was feeling immense grief at not being able to pass on my genetics. I think it demonstrates how there can be a real spectrum of responses to being told you need to use a donor, there’s no right or wrong way to react. Please don’t assume that it’s ok to make humour or ‘at least you’ comments without understanding how they truly feel themselves and also having respect for the future child whose conception certainly is no joke.
Uncomfortable Silences (and other remarks)
Many told me that some of the most awkward moments are when nothing is said, for example the glossing over of who a baby looks like (for fear of upsetting us) rather than just saying “she looks like your husband”. Changing of the subject can actually be more uncomfortable and upsetting than simply asking a question. Showing curiosity is fine and something I’d encourage, unless you’re explicitly asked not to.
Then there’s total silence and complete avoidance of the subject, something I’ve experienced a few times, and it seems many others have too. It’s understandable that people might feel uncomfortable with such a personal topic they know nothing about. It’s is why I’m raising awareness of this route to parenthood, to normalise the conversation and the feelings surrounding it. But please remember that it’s ok to ask questions, I encourage you to show curiosity whilst being open-minded and non-judgemental. One person said to me, “friends who do it well talk openly like me, have the same gratitude towards the donor, understand our viewpoints, and call out if they actually see a resemblance”. It’s about learning to talk about it ‘normally’, being comfortable to ask appropriate questions, judge the response and respect our family wishes.
What can be hurtful are the comments that suggest an underlying sense of judgement such as “I don’t know how I feel about that” and “I know I couldn’t do it”. We’re not asking you to comment on whether or not you’d do the same thing, no one can truly say unless they’re in that position and have experienced the emotions and challenges of the complex decisions we have to make. It may not be intentional, but it suggests that we’ve done something you’re not comfortable with or don’t approve of, making it about you, rather than how you can best support your friend or family member.
“Why would you tell the child?“
Please don’t be tempted to give advice on how to tell (or not to tell) our story. I’ve even had a hairdresser I’d just met ask me “Why would you tell the child? There’s no need.”
It might sound like a trivial question for some – on the surface why would there be any need to tell them? I carried them, gave birth to them and have been their mum from day one. Without much deeper thought this can genuinely be the initial reaction of some people, which actually reflects historic advice that was given by the medical profession years ago. What this doesn’t take into account is our children. By keeping it a secret what does this say to them? How would they feel if they grew up thinking they were genetically related to me, and then for an unknown medical reason or through an ancestry test find out otherwise? It’s information I believe a child should have from the very beginning – it’s part of who they are and forms their story of how they came to be.
It’s their own family story, so please don’t force assumptions or views about how they should tell it, it is completely up to them and something they will have given great thought to. What they need is support and understanding from those around them. Instead, it’s better to ask how they intend to talk about it with their child, what language they will use and how you can help over the years.
How can I best support?
Talking whilst the child is still young allows parents to practice, get used to saying things out-loud and become more comfortable in doing so, with the same applying to wider family and friends too. My overarching piece of advice is to think about what it is you’re saying and the impact that it might have. Instead of avoiding the topic completely, show curiosity (without judgement), ask how you can best support them, understand the family building terminology they use and put them at ease by allowing it to flow into normal day to day conversation.
Realistically, there are always going to be people who don’t know about donor conception and ask innocent but triggering questions, especially when it comes to social situations with the inevitable question regarding family resemblances. As a person close to them you can actually help support these situations, with an example I heard recently from a fellow egg donor recipient parent. In an incredibly insightful episode of Three Makes Baby Podcast Sarah talks about a social scenario where in a group setting she was faced with questions about who her new baby looked most like. A good friend of hers actually recognised the difficulty she was facing in knowing how to answer and was able to support. She came up with what I think is the most perfect answer anyone could give to the question of who the child resembles, an answer that I might use myself, she simply said “he looks like himself”. Entirely true and respecting of him as a person, not just focusing on the societal expectations of resemblances but deflecting the question in a positive way and celebrating his uniqueness. I know that it’s all too easy to focus on resemblances, it’s what we as a society do, but it’s also important to remember that there is so much more to them, that they are their own person and that their differences are just as important.
I hope this is useful as a way to educate and raise awareness from a personal perspective. As always I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences both as a recipient parent or a friend or family member. It’s by sharing these that we can make these conversations much more comfortable and accepting in the future, for us as parents but even more importantly for our children.
Love, Becky x
It was back in May 2010 when my whole world fell apart. I was 15, hadn’t started my periods and I was getting increasingly concerned, especially as my younger sister had already started hers. My mam booked me an appointment with our GP and so we went, I was so nervous as I just knew something was wrong. The GP referred me to my local hospital when the tests began. I had never suffered with any sort of anxiety before, but this just blew it out of the water. During my first appointment I was actually physically sick. It started with my mam and I waiting in the children’s department of the hospital. I had to have my weight and height measured in the room with two doctors. I was examined internally, told to take my bra off, prodded and poked. I was left sobbing and in complete shock. The next test was in the maternity ward with new expectant mothers for an internal ultrasound, with tears streaming down my face I sat next to a glowing pregnant woman. I was then told that I would need to have more hormone tests at their fertility clinic. What? I was only 15, why was I needing to go there?
When I returned home I was a mess. I went straight up to my room and just sobbed, feeling like I had been violated and unable to process what just happened. I was not prepared in the slightest. During that time I was in the middle of my GCSEs, but soon I was struggling to even get out of bed on a morning with exams being the last thing on my mind. At this time I also got my first boyfriend, I tried my hardest to forget about the hospital and instead focused on spending time trying to be happy in my new relationship .
My follow up appointment came in the post, both mam and I went together. Not really knowing what to expect, I remember thinking that they’re going to tell me I need IVF and tried to prepare myself.
We sat down, two doctors in front of us, when one started drafting a diagram of the female reproduction system. She said, “your ovaries aren’t responding, your brain has failed to send signals to your ovaries to start working, you are technically in the menopause and you will never have children naturally, the only chance will be with donor egg IVF”. I switched off after she told me I couldn’t have children, broke down and sobbed. My mam sobbed too. I even remember her even offering to donate her own eggs at the time with the Dr saying, “I’m sorry, at 38 your eggs are too old!”
We soon left as I couldn’t take it anymore. I remember getting in my dads car as he anxiously sat outside waiting for the outcome. My mam just said the words “they have told our baby she can’t have kids”. My dad also broke down, we were all a mess. I went home got straight into bed. We were suppose to be going to Scotland that afternoon. My boyfriend came round, my mam told him and he sobbed too.
We were two 15 year olds sobbing in bed over infertility. Now we are two 25 year olds still sobbing in bed over infertility. POI has changed me and I don’t think I will ever get that girl back again. I still grieve over the loss of my genetics and find it hard to look at my own baby photos or images of me as a child because it’s a reminder that I won’t ever see me in anyone else genetically. My heart physically hurts knowing that I will never see the child James and I could have made together. But… because of these experiences I have a new, much stronger personality in place. We are so determined that we will have a family either through donor eggs or adoption that even on the darkest days we still see hope. I’ve still got hope that I will carry our child.
Over this last year I have gained so much more confidence and, although I’m not 100% shouting my diagnosis from the rooftops (I think that may take a while), I’m learning to reach out to others and share my story on my Instagram IVF account. I have met some incredible women including Jenny (@the_poi_guide) where we talk about all the different ways POI impacts on daily life, and also Becky (@definingmum) who gives me and my husband so much hope of parenthood in the future. Our next steps are to go ahead with our DEIVF cycle in Czech Republic, once the Covid situation allows us to. I hope my story can support others in knowing that however dark those days are, you will always always get through them and there is always hope.
I want to say a huge thank you to Kate for so bravely sharing her story. It’s important that we hear from people who have been diagnosed at very different stages of life, I just can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to process all of these emotions during such an important development stage, all whilst as a teenager you are finding your own identity. If you’d like to connect with Kate you can request to follow her on Instagram @positivevibes228.
I also want to mention The Daisy Network who offer great support for those experiencing POI at whatever stage of life.
If you’re reading this blog post as someone wishing to support a loved one who is (or has) needed to use a donor to grow their family – thank you. Thank you for taking the time to better understand and support them in this huge decision, one that will require love, collaboration and understanding as a family (and beyond) to best support not only your loved one, but also their future children.
For many it can be difficult to find the words to properly describe their emotions and everything that has led to their decision, even with those who are close to them. Both infertility and donor conception are often shrouded in secrecy and shame, which is why it is rarely talked about, with little awareness unless you’ve had the misfortune of experiencing it yourself.
In this first of a series of blog posts I want to ‘set the scene’, to try and paint a picture using my own experience and perspective to allow better understanding and empathy towards those who are facing this now and looking for support. Please note that this is based on my own personal experience, I am no expert, and others will feel varying levels of emotion.
What emotions might my loved one have experienced?
Your friend or family member has most likely experienced trauma and grief leading to a decision to use a donor, whether it be over several years of failed treatment and loss, or a sudden devastating diagnosis which means using a donor might be the only way they can build a family, aside from adoption. However they have come to this point, it can form what is described as a ‘core grief’, something significant, but hard to put into words because nothing visible or tangible is lost.
When I was first diagnosed with early menopause and told that my chances of having a genetic child were very low, the best way to describe the magnitude of this news was that it was the potential loss of a lifelong dream. In that moment I had to process that I may never be a mum. The one thing I was sure I would always be. The path I’d expected my life to take. What society expected of me. What I desperately wanted to give to my husband and my family. Frustratingly, what everyone else seemed to have so easily. Since I was a little girl I’d ‘mothered’. My dolls, my pets, I’d talked about when I’d have babies of my own and fantasised about which parts of me they’d share. In short – infertility can be finding out the dream you’ve always had, may not be possible.
I write about this because the impact the journey can have on an individual is often misunderstood, with a significant effect on emotional and mental health. People (well-meaningly) can try to help those struggling with infertility to see the ‘positives’ in life, trying to give perspective by suggesting that ‘it could be worse’. An example from my own experience was comparing it to a life threatening illness, “at least you’ve not got cancer”. In saying this, what they were (unknowingly) doing was diminishing and devaluing my valid feelings of grief. For me, my diagnosis wasn’t life-threatening and I was grateful for my health, but it was life-limiting and impacted every element of the future I’d always planned. There was no ‘at least’ about it.
How might they have felt learning about the need for a donor?
It most certainly wasn’t an easy concept to process. We learned that donor conception could still make my dream possible, just in a way that I’d never envisaged, whilst I’d need to accept the loss of the chance to pass on my genetics.
Looking back, I remember the moment I was first told that my best chance of having a child was to use an egg donor, it hit me like a sledge-hammer, seeming like such an alien concept. I never even knew people donated eggs, never-mind that some women could use those eggs to carry, grow and have babies when otherwise they wouldn’t be able to. Honestly, my initial reaction was of confusion and sheer horror; the thought of mixing my husband’s sperm with another woman’s eggs felt so foreign and hard to comprehend. You may feel this initial reaction about donor conception too, it’s not unusual and totally understandable – it might well be why you’re reading this blog, to try and understand more.
Our decision came after numerous failed attempts at IVF, including a devastating miscarriage – the only pregnancy I’ve ever had with my own eggs. We had to face the facts that our odds were low, financially we were stretched, emotionally I felt broken and I still desperately wanted to be a mum. We had a 5% chance of success with my own eggs vs. a 50% chance of success with using a donor. Our heads told us that the best option was to go with using a donor, but that in no way made it an easy decision. In reality, consumed with grief, my heart wrestled with my head, making the decision even harder. “What if?” questions whirled around my mind with so much unknown.
I share this to show the complexity of the conversations we had to have that led us to this choice. I had to grieve and accept the loss of a genetic link to my future child, which brought along with it so many fears and worries, many of which your friend or family member will likely be experiencing themselves.
Would I feel like the ‘real’ parent?
Would it be obvious to everyone that I’m not their genetic parent?
Would I feel the same connection and attachment with my child?
How will our future child feel about our decision?
Will others be accepting of our decision? Most importantly you, our close friends and family?
You may even have perfectly valid questions yourself such as – will I feel like the ‘real’ Grandparent?
There is no easy or quick answer to these questions at the time, all of which I’m pleased to say for me couldn’t be further from my mind, with the exception of how our future child might feel. All I can say from experience is that it’s a process, which takes different amounts of time for each individual, whilst for some using a donor may never feel like the right option.
Personally, my own feelings changed significantly over time after each failed cycle. One of the biggest turning points being when I listened to other stories of success, seeing other people’s ‘realities’ and what might be possible. It changed my focus to what I could gain, rather than what I would be losing in not using my own eggs. I was grateful for the advances in medical science, allowing us an opportunity to still have a family, even though it wasn’t the way we’d originally envisaged. I started to re-define in my mind what it means to be a mum, and realised that there’s so much more in the act of mothering than simply sharing genetics.
What can help my loved one navigate this process?
I’ll talk in a later blog post about how you can support them specifically, but my advice for anyone who is looking to make this decision (and equally for anyone else who wants to come to terms with this alternative route to parenthood) is that these three things can significantly help.
Firstly – communication. Talking about these fears out-loud and spending time with a counsellor really helped me, but the most important thing was that I could share these emotions with loved ones who understood and allowed me to talk openly, without judgement.
Secondly – reading, learning and listening to those who have walked this path and now have their family. ‘Hope’ is a fundamental part of facing infertility, something I wish to give to others – not simply through ‘rose tinted spectacles’, but with a realistic perspective on life as a mum to three precious, donor conceived girls. I’m starting to share more guest blogs to add different voices and perspectives with the same aim of giving hope, support and inspiration to others. You may also find comfort in reading these, as they’re a great way to bring to life other families that are being built with the help donor conception.
Lastly, it’s about finding others who are also on the journey towards making these decisions. I believe strongly in ‘finding your tribe’, whether it be those who are still yet to use a donor, or those who already have children through donation, so much validation and mutual understanding can be found within each other. Through my Instagram page I am constantly trying to connect people with others who can help, both anonymously or openly. Building a community and support networks is something I feel incredibly passionate about.
As someone close to them, why it is so important that I’m involved?
It’s important because, not only is it a significant decision for them to make right now, it is one that will inevitably be a part of their future child. I’m an advocate for telling the child about their conception from early on, so that it’s all they’ve ever known. Having an understanding and supportive circle of family and friends means that our children are able to talk openly about it, without being met with upsetting reactions of confusion or resentment from those closest to them. We all play an important role in supporting them and answering questions as they learn about how they came to be, in what will become an incredibly special story. I’ll share more in one of my next blog posts about how you can help with this, along with how my own family felt and embraced our girls, despite not sharing genetics.
I share all of this as another way to encourage understanding, change perceptions and ultimately give hope. This is an incredibly difficult journey in itself without having to worry about what those who are close to us are thinking and saying, which is why I’ve tried to give context behind our decision. If your friend or family member has made the decision to use a donor, or already has a donor conceived child, know that they haven’t made this decision lightly. Please be kind and show empathy, it will be the result of lots of difficult conversations, often many tears, leading to a path of hope, to give them that lifelong dream and to bring a much-loved child into the world.
Ultimately, through DefiningMum I try to show others that there is so much more to building a family than simply DNA – it’s about the bonds that we share, the time spent together, the lifelong memories we make and the importance of nurturing. Now that I have my three girls, I wouldn’t change them or how I came to have them for the world. They’re wonderfully unique, loved beyond measure and have brought so much joy to us and our wider family. The journey has taught me a lot about gratitude and relationships and given a much deeper level of connection as a family, just through having to consider and support each other with these complexities that we otherwise wouldn’t have consciously faced.
I love to hear from those who follow my blog solely to support someone they love, it shows just how much you care and how important it is to open these conversations. Please do get in touch if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to respond to these as I write my next blog post, which will also be written for friends and family of current and future donor recipient parents.
Love, Becky x
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…..
Guest Blog – By Cat
As I sat on the edge of my bed, after just finishing another sobbing session in the shower….I looked in the mirror and saw a familiar sight. My eyes were all red, my face wet and blotchy and I couldn’t help but feel angry, helpless and incredibly sad. An inevitable sadness that washes over me every now and then when I get a question, a comment or even someone else’s pictures of parenthood that hurts like a horrific paper-cut! Thankfully throughout my 33 years I haven’t lost any close members of my family or friends, with grief being an emotion I’ve largely been able to escape. However, I can say that the grief that comes with infertility is very real and hurts like hell. I debated about continuing to feel sorry for myself for the remainder of the day OR I could dry my face, eyes (and hair!) and continue with my day.
The reality was I was in the grips of infertility…..I had been for the past 8 years ever since my ovaries decided to take an early retirement without consulting me – or as doctors prefer to call it, “Premature Ovarian Insufficiency”. My body had decided it couldn’t quite release eggs anymore -although it could still potentially carry a baby.
Looking back, myself and my husband were married in the summer of 2018. We blissfully decided that we would try naturally for our first year and, maybe just maybe, we might get lucky. Sadly I could hear my first fertility doctors words of ‘less than 5% of conceiving naturally’ ringing in my ears and it proved true. We found ourselves in a private fertility clinic in Belfast a few days after our first wedding anniversary, with an incredibly kind and sympathetic gynaecologist. He had that look in his eye when he pointed out we had three options. Acceptance, adoption or donor egg IVF. After going through all of the necessary scans and tests he concluded we were ‘prime candidates’ for the procedure ‘DEIVF’. After much discussion with our family and a few selected close friends we decided to go for it! A chance to carry a baby that was at least genetically related to one of us? What an incredible feat of science and medicine IVF is.
As the youngest in my family, I’m the only one who isn’t a parent. Most of the time it’s never an issue but when I least expect it – it will hit me like a train, leaving me in an emotional wreck in its path. On a typical chilled Sunday morning, I received three text messages / pictures within 20 minutes from my family showing what their children were doing that morning, everyone cooing over them (naturally). I went to the bathroom to have a shower and once again I could feel the horrible, yet familiar, wave of sadness and grief hit me.
What did I do to deserve this?
Will I ever be a mummy?
I turned on the water, turned up my Spotify playlist to ensure my husband wouldn’t hear me and I exploded into tears. I couldn’t stop – well I did after 3 Snow Patrol songs. The infertility sadness that I’d come to know all too well was holding me it’s prisoner once again. As someone with a cancelled donor egg IVF treatment (cheers Covid!) I was heartbroken – and felt like complete crap. I managed to have my shower and slump off to my room to get dressed. I sat at my dresser, looked in the mirror thought “Enough is enough; Don’t let infertility rob you anymore”. So simple, yet so true.
Infertility has obviously robbed me of the chance to try and conceive a child naturally, if I let it take hold of me even more, my mental health would suffer more than it already has. Infertility is a bit like a wound. It can heal up well, but every now and then it can open up, fester and cause a hell of a lot of pain. It’s robbed me of so much. At my worst I find myself avoiding certain social gatherings, family events and it can even make me isolate myself from everything and everyone I love (all pre Covid…obviously). Today I thought to myself……not anymore.
“Don’t let it rob you anymore”. Such a simple affirmation….why didn’t I think of this before? On this occasion, I got up, got dressed and made dinner. I went for a walk and FaceTimed my sister and her adorable 6 month old twin girls. Infertility can prevent you from so much, but not today my old foe. I’m not completely naive – I know that this affirmation may work for me on some of my ‘sad days’ but I also have the knowledge that on others it won’t, but today it does help and for now that’s enough…
Myself and my husbands fertility story is most definitely in its infancy (pardon the pun), but after having to cancel our overseas trip for our donor egg IVF treatment because of coronavirus – at the moment I find myself experiencing sad days much more frequently. However, infertility has robbed me of so much that today and many others, I’m determined to not let it ruin my life. Yes it has and will leave a huge mark. The wound I previously referred to will most definitely leave a scar. But just like scars, we learn to accept them and live with them….I hope as we all move forward throughout this horrible pandemic that things will get better. Myself and my husband will, like many other couples, begin to reschedule and plan for our treatment. So until then….I will continue to hope, dream and plan….because like many others in this infertility bubble….that’s all we can really do, for now….
Love, Cat x
A little more about me…
In one of my days of research I decided to see if I could find any other women who may be in my position or who have come through to the ‘other side’. In the last 6 months, Instagram has opened me up to a whole new network and community of other women and couples who not only ’gets it’ but who are always there for reassurance, guidance and advice. As a secondary school teacher I remain private on social media, revealing everything or ‘going public’ is just something I’m not quite comfortable with yet while I remain at this side of the fence (pre-baby) but in years to come, I can see myself not only being open about it all, but also reaching out to other people if they need any help or even just for someone to listen. I always like meeting others who have been or are experiencing similar to me, so if you’d like to connect with me privately please send a message to Becky @definingmum who will put us in contact.