Facing fears relating to donor conception

Facing fears relating to donor conception

Many on Instagram have engaged with my posts about fears – thank you for confirming that I’m not alone!

These fears are important to acknowledge & I believe talking about them can better equip us to recognise & support our children with similar feelings that actually might ‘mirror’ ours.

Before we connected on Instagram, I remember listening to Jana Rupnow LPC talk about this with Natalie Silverman on ‘The Fertility Podcast‘ it was a lightbulb moment where it all made sense. I have grieved for genetic loss, but so might they…and who might be best placed to support them through it?…me! Having worked through my own grief I now have the ability to truly empathise – something Jana calls ‘mirroring’. It got me thinking… if we deny our own fears then are we more likely to dismiss or diminish theirs, rather than listen, empathise & support? I’ve come to realise that the phrase “but without what we did you wouldn’t exist” isn’t necessarily going to be a comforting response to my girls, should they have a genuine feeling of loss in connection to their identity. I now understand that there is a real spectrum of responses to being donor conceived, which can be influenced by parenting decisions such as whether to not to tell. Genetic loss might be of no significance at all to my girls, but it might be something that is important to them understanding their identity as they grow – the best thing is for me to be prepared.

It’s definitely not something I’d even remotely considered when all-consumed by infertility. Someone commented on a post recently and summed it up perfectly – “infertility robs you of a long-term view”. It’s so easy (and perfectly understandable) to not be able to look further than a positive pregnancy test, followed by pregnancy anxiety as you wait to hold a healthy baby in your arms. With donor conception there are many more stages to think about…it still sometimes blows my mind! It definitely would have completely shattered my mind to think about all of these things when I was so fragile & desperate for a baby, but knowing I wasn’t alone in my fears could have made all the difference. So what would I advise?

Talk to someone about it – having an open, safe space to talk with my counsellor really helped.

Read – I highly recommend Jana Rupnow’s book “Three Makes Baby”.

Listen to different perspectives – “Half Of Me Podcast” is a great way of understanding donor conception from the perspective of someone who is donor conceived.

I’m always here if you want to connect and ask questions, just click here and send me a message.

Love, Becky x

 

 

Finding out we’d need to use a donor

Finding out we’d need to use a donor

I still remember exactly where I was, what the weather was like, even what I was wearing when I first heard the ‘D’ word. By ‘D’ word I mean ‘Donor’. It was so life-altering for me that the memory has stayed with me.

There I was, still trying to process the need for medical assistance to have a baby (something that for most is so natural), when I then had to process the potential use of a third party, replacing a role I had always taken for granted that I would play – a genetic parent. It’s huge news. Mind-blowing. Devastating. So many emotions all rolled into one. Yet it is often dropped into a consultation as loosely as the use of an add-on, like embryo glue or a different type of progesterone. Dropped into the discussion was simply “…or you would have the best chance of success using a donor”. With my rash (but perfectly understandable) emotional reaction his words were then interpreted in my mind as “let’s scrap your crappy eggs & genetics, then you can carry a baby made by your husband & some other woman’s eggs”. A bit extreme I know but that was where I went to initially – the whole concept seemed alien to me. Obviously now I know that there’s so much more to it, it’s a beautiful option, but at the time I felt so alone & so lost. Anyone else felt the same?

I understand that the whole aim of a consultation with a medical professional is to look at HOW they can get you to the end goal – a healthy baby. That’s what we’re paying them for & I’m so grateful for medical advances for actually giving us options. On reflection I think what is sometimes lost is the recognition of just how complex the decision to use a donor can be. It was a real cliffhanger – I was left with something I never knew was even possible, let alone considered, & sent off to make these life changing decisions. I’m sure I’m not the only one leaving these appointments feeling totally overwhelmed.

That’s why I want to share my story – to help those who are only just finding themselves in this situation. I can’t help but think more can be done to bridge the gap & help guide people, as well as give much needed emotional support for the grief involved.

It’s great that in the UK there is now a mandatory counselling session and we have many useful resources from the Donor Conception Network. I just can’t help but feel that there is still some front-end support missing, at the clinic stage. Surely if we’re more looked after, prepared and emotionally aware at this early stage then it can only help with our decision making, ultimately making us better parents in the long-term? That’s the aim at the end of the day isn’t it… to be in the best frame of mind to be the best parents we can to our children – no matter how they were conceived. It’s something I’m working on behind the scenes, with an event coming very soon to bridge this exact gap.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… How did you feel when you were told you needed to use a donor? Please share – I’d love to hear about your experiences, both the good and the bad.

Sharon’s Story – Egg Donation

Sharon’s Story – Egg Donation

I’m not sure if I differ from any other donor egg recipient mums. The wrong side of 35 (I put my career first) my husband and I started trying for a baby and assumed we’d get pregnant naturally. Well… we did after a few weeks but unfortunately, we suffered our first loss at eight weeks.

After eight years of trying again (and again!) unsuccessfully to get pregnant, we went to our GP then waited a year to be referred to an NHS fertility clinic.

Having been put through one too many invasive tests (you know the ones!) we were told our infertility was “unexplained”. What? After all the prodding and poking, we still had no answers and no solution to becoming parents?  What next? Give up?  

The specialists told us they couldn’t help as I was too old (and overweight for the Scottish IVF rules) and there were no options open to us. We didn’t want to go down the IVF route but that’s when it was *our* decision. 

We decided to go private instead. After more tests, we met the consultant who told us we had a 23% chance of IVF working with my eggs. I was really disappointed with the results but my age was a major factor, I was 42 at that point. He gave us the choice of going on the egg donor waiting list, as our success rate would be higher – 50/70%. We decided there and then to choose the donor route, as we saw the chance of becoming parents slipping away from us. We also figured it would cost a lot of money and emotional stress to keep trying with my eggs with only a small chance of it working and couldn’t go through it time and time again. I suppose we’ll never know if it would have worked using my eggs and it’s best not to wonder.

As we made the decision really quickly we hadn’t done much research on donor conception, anonymous/anonymous identifiable or the complexities. 

After six long months, we finally reached the top of the recipient list. Then things moved really quickly! One counselling session later, it was time to make decisions.

My main objective was to choose a lookalike donor to me (to avoid questions). Well, as much as I could! I felt this would help me to feel an even greater connection to the baby. We bought six eggs from one donor as we figured it was better to get more, as it gave us a bigger chance of the eggs surviving the thawing process, thinking we could keep some in reserve. 

Days later, I found myself sitting in the waiting room while Rob was “making his deposit” I witnessed the metal box arriving that stored our eggs. Our clinic has an on site storage facility.  It was amazing to see but surreal. I was quite emotional, as our hopes and dreams were caught up in this small metal box! 

After a very hard few days, and more waiting! I worried about how many eggs would defrost. Would they be viable? Get to blastocyst stage? All words I never knew about a year ago! I even broke down at work in front of our chief executive – very unprofessional, but he was amazing! 

Then… transfer day arrived. We got the news that two embryos had reached day five blastocysts. I worried about transferring two and having twins but decided to transfer both. Rob and I had a bit of a laugh afterwards, as it turns out he was looking at my bladder during the transfer not my womb. So, missed the whole thing by a few inches! 

A week later, getting the positive pregnant result was the “easy” part. Believe me, I use this term very loosely! I had eight weeks of spotting and worrying that I’d miscarried (again), so I paid for lots of private ultrasounds just to check the baby was still there. I had so much anxiety throughout my whole pregnancy… then after 38 weeks, three days of labour and a traumatic birth, we welcomed the most beautiful baby boy into the world, Milo. What a rollercoaster! 

After an hour, we were separated from “our little miracle”, as he had to go to the special baby unit for breathing issues. This really didn’t help my anxiety or bonding issues, as I’d struggled throughout my pregnancy with the fact that I may not bond with the baby or that I wouldn’t feel like the baby’s “real mum’. 

Rob (and my close friends) said that of course I was Milo’s real mum, but it’s hard. Rob said – and still says when I’m having a tough day – that I carried Milo for nine months, felt him kick and that surely as biologically I must have influenced his development as he grew inside me. 

Fast forward to a year and a half later and we have the most energetic, amazing toddler who I love more than life itself. And I honestly didn’t think I’d ever feel like this or this strong a connection.

Milo’s currently going through a “no mumma” stage and preferring his dad over me, which I’ve found really hard. But everyone I know with a toddler is experiencing the same thing.  I just need to remember it’s not because I’m a donor mum – Milo’s just an independent and headstrong toddler!

Reflecting on my journey, I can’t pinpoint the exact day/time I bonded with Milo. Something just clicked for me. I have the strongest feeling that he’s mine, words can’t describe how much I love him, and I always will. Maybe it was one of the 2am feeds watching re-runs of Grand Designs, or just the way he looks at me or calls me “Mumma” It just melts my heart and I’m so proud. I know using a donor was absolutely the right decision for us.

I’m so grateful to the woman who carried out the most selfless act of donating her eggs so we could become parents. We used an anonymous identifiable donor, and I’d be lying to myself, and you, if I didn’t say I worry she’ll turn up one day. I know that Milo may want to meet her and I worry that he may reject me – I hope this isn’t the case. 

I suppose it’s down to Rob and I about how we tell Milo about how he was conceived. I won’t hide the truth from him, he needs to know about his genetic background, as I don’t think it’s fair to keep it from him. I hope Milo reads this one day and knows we could never have imagined our lives without him and that we love him so much. We were given a pen portrait of our donor which explains who she is and why she became a donor. I’ve kept a copy to share with Milo when he’s old enough.

I’d also be lying if I said I don’t have major anxieties about when we need to open Pandora’s Box and tell Milo. No one truly understands how I feel unless they’ve chosen the same path to becoming a mum. I’ve read so many articles on the best age and how to tell – any tips gratefully received!

Part of me does really worry about what other people think and about being gossiped about. I suppose this is just human nature but I’m proud of the path we chose. Hence why I’m sharing my story. 

Even writing this blog… it’s so personal to Rob, Milo and I… but I hope I can help you if you’re swithering about what to do. I don’t think using a donor is widely recognised in the UK or that most people truly understand it. But the more we talk about it, the more accepted it will become.

In my experience, there’s no after-care or support from fertility clinics and that’s why I’ve found the DefiningMum blog so helpful and supportive as I know there are others like me out there. It would be good to meet others who have chosen the same path to motherhood/parenthood.

In the end…

There are so many ways people become parents these days. Some of my good friends aren’t “traditional” parents. I’m thankful we made the decision to use a donor to give us a chance to become parents. The most important thing is seeing our beautiful boy develop and grow every day is just the best present anyone could have given us.

I hope you’ve found our journey helpful.

Guest Blog – Ally from HalfOfMe Podcast

Guest Blog – Ally from HalfOfMe Podcast

I’m Ally and I’m donor conceived. When I found this out in my late twenties, there were so few resources for people like me, so few voices that echoed my experience. This is why I now like to share my story – talking about donor conception lifts the shame off of something that has been shrouded in secrecy for decades. In the processing of my news, I often wondered what my parents went through. Since then I’ve sought out voices of recipient parents to hear their stories, to see donor conception from their perspective and compare that viewpoint with my own experience. Becky and I were introduced via Instagram and I have found through her blog and community not only a sense of understanding of the emotions that my parents went through when deciding upon donor conception, but also a space for me to share my thoughts and perspectives with other recipient parents that have always been very welcoming and eager to talk about ways to support their donor conceived child. These times to share perspectives are so important, and I’m glad to know and to be able to have these conversations with Becky and other parents like her!

Ally’s Story

Living life as an only child for 28 years, I have often wondered what life would be like with siblings. I imagined family vacations, Christmas parties, fights, sharing bedrooms, and having someone to talk to about shared childhood experiences. After 28 years, though, I assumed odds were that I’d never have a sibling. Life has a funny way sometimes of laughing at you when you make assumptions, though.

In January of 2019, my world changed forever when I realized that my “close family matches” on Ancestry DNA were a hint towards my genetic origins. The amount of DNA that I shared with these 8 or more individuals was higher than the amount of DNA I’d share with a first cousin, and similar to amounts that I’d share with an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. When I realized that I couldn’t account for these people in my family tree, I started asking questions. Spoiler alert: these DNA matches were to my donor siblings, of which I now can count fifteen.

After some prodding, my parents admitted to me that they used donor sperm to conceive me. I remember my mom asking me if I ever wondered why they were a bit older when they had me – my mother was 33 and my father was 40 when I was born. It never really crossed my mind that their ages would indicate that they had fertility issues, but indeed my parents tried to conceive naturally for ten years and went through several rounds of artificial insemination with donor sperm before my mother fell pregnant with me.

Learning that I was donor conceived at age 28 was a shock. My parents were very concerned that learning that my father was not genetically related to me would lead to an identity crisis. This is the reason they gave for never telling me in the first place. Research has told me that this was common for other recipient parents 30ish years ago. Doctors actively advised their patients to go home and forget that the insemination procedure ever happened; some doctors even mixed donor sperm with the father’s sperm to encourage the myth that the child is genetically related to the father.

I can’t say that what I went through over the next few months, and still currently deal with, was an identity crisis. Learning that I was donor conceived didn’t force me to think about how that changes my sense of self. Instead, the revelation brought up a lot of emotions for me about family. Some days, even now, almost a year later, I feel like someone is punching me in my stomach when I think that my dad is not biologically my father. I have said out loud more times than I can count “I wish my dad was my dad.” 

I work often in therapy on that idea – on defining family. I’m also working to define this newfound family of fifteen half-siblings and the donor himself. Who are these people to me? How can I incorporate this new information into my life? Some days this is easy – when I’m texting back and forth with a half sister or when we shared one too many beers at my half brother’s home. Other days I find it more difficult, a reminder of the question marks that now take up half of my family tree.

If I could sum up the lessons I’ve learned since January of 2018, the most salient one thus far is that I am grateful, and this carries me so far. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me the best childhood I could have asked for; I forgive them for hiding a secret from me as I know their motivation was to protect me. I’m grateful, too, that their secret has not caused me harm. I am acutely aware that this is not the case for a subset of donor conceived people. I do believe that the healthiest pathway in donor conception is to tell your child early and often, and I encourage parents to practice openness and honesty with their children.

I’m also grateful for these newfound connections in my life and opportunities to get to know people that I now find myself genetically connected to. I can’t say for sure that I know how these new sibling relationships will pan out – will we have family vacations and Christmas parties? I hope we won’t fight, and sharing bedrooms now seems absurd… but the best part I’ve found is that I have someone to talk to about these shared childhood experiences that up until a year ago we didn’t even know we shared.

You can find Ally’s podcast by clicking here. To listen to my episode with Ally and Jana Rupnow – follow the link here.

Rachel’s Story-Single Mother & Egg Donor

Rachel’s Story-Single Mother & Egg Donor

When I was in my late teens, I had always said to my Mum that if I am single when I hit 40 I was going to have a baby on my own using a sperm donor. I knew nothing about how it worked or the ins and outs at that stage, but it was something I was always considering. 

Fast forward a few years, aged 26 and single (again!) I started to think about this more and thought to myself…why wait if I want to have a child and become a Mum? I contacted a local fertility clinic (Nurture Fertility) for an initial appointment as I was clueless on the whole process and where to start. 

After an appointment to check that I was able to conceive, I then attended a consultation to discuss my options and the process. Initially I’d thought I would use IUI but this soon changed after discussing the chances of it working, number of attempts etc. and so I was swayed more towards IVF.  When given the cost of it all I was taken aback – I’d never considered how much donor sperm alone would cost, never mind anything else. I had to think about how I was going to be able do this – being as determined as I was, I wasn’t going to give up easily. 

This is when I first learned about egg sharing. I’m totally embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know you could donate your eggs! I’d heard of sperm donation but never egg donation, I’m so pleased it’s something I found out about and looked into.  As I was using a donor myself to help me have a baby I thought…why not help someone else at the same time by donating my eggs to someone who needs them? In the meantime, I had to choose a donor for myself so I began by logging onto the European sperm bank, searching through the profiles matching the characteristics I had inputted. I was soon drawn to one, I just knew it was the one for me and so I took the leap, ordering two “lots” of Swedish sperm ready to be delivered to the clinic.

I informed the clinic that I wanted to share my eggs and so then had to wait for a match to be found. This took from October until around May time when I got the call to say someone wanted my eggs. Suddenly it was all systems go and everything was back on track. I started my IVF stimulation drugs in the May, ahead of the planned egg collection and transfer in June. It was important for me to have a counselling session to discuss the implications of both donating my eggs and using a sperm donor, followed by signing paperwork confirming that I understood the law around donation and that, although it was anonymous now, the child could find out where they came from after they turn 18. I was comfortable with donating my eggs as I understood how it worked, my child would be the same position when they were older, should they want to find out who their sperm donor was. 

About to undergo egg collection…

To egg share they needed to collect seven or more eggs, any less then I would have to make the decision to keep them all or donate them. I decided that, in this scenario, I would donate them all and start again as soon as I could. Thankfully, eight eggs were collected and shared – half each. Two of my four eggs fertilised and created viable embryos. I have since discovered that the shared eggs were frozen and have not yet been used by the recipient.  Five days later my embryo was transferred and two weeks after that I was delighted to read the word “pregnant” on the two tests I had taken. Unbelievably, it had worked – I was going to be a Mum and was about to embark on a crazy solo parenting journey. 

After Evelyn was born I repeatedly saw adverts about egg donors being needed to help others to conceive, I knew I wanted to help and so I decided to do it again. I made contact with the clinic and was told to wait until my cycle was back up and running before starting again. When Evelyn was around 10 months old I made my first appointment to check everything was still ok… things had shifted around a little since carrying Evelyn but thankfully I was given the go-ahead to donate again. 

A donor recipient was found quite quickly this time and so it wasn’t long before I was back on the stimulation drugs, gearing everything up ready for egg collection. I found it easy administering the drugs, even more so this time knowing that I was doing it to help someone (hopefully) become a parent. My eggs were collected in February this year and all went to the recipient ready to use. I felt so happy and proud to have done something so life-changing to help others. I plan to donate a couple more times in the future to help more families. 

A lot of people have been curious and asked questions about egg donation. Some say they’re not sure how they would personally feel about it, but personally I think…if people donate organs and blood, why wouldn’t you donate eggs to help someone?! It feels like sperm donation is more widely known about, more-so than egg donation, which is why I wanted to speak out and share my story. I would really encourage anyone who is thinking about donating their eggs to get in touch with their local clinic, I’m even happy to be contacted myself to share my personal experience and answer any questions! 

I am now 17 months into my solo parenting with Evelyn and, whilst it isn’t an easy ride juggling work, a house and a child, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am thankful to have a great support network around me. The majority of people have been lovely and positive but as always, there have been some people who are negative about the choices I’ve made. I featured in an article for a local newspaper and received some backlash, mainly from men opposed to me purposely depriving a child from having two parents, (mainly) a Dad, with the viewpoint that all children should have a Dad. In reality though, not everyone does…whether that be due to separation, parents passing away or same sex couples. But why does it matter? In my view it doesn’t, not one bit, because as long as a child is loved and cared for then it doesn’t matter if they are raised by a single person, two people, two women, two men…love is the most important thing.

I think it’s great to see these topics being spoken about more openly and I have benefitted in connecting with more people who are looking to, or have embarked on a journey to become a parent on their own. I am enjoying my time as a parent to Evelyn, but I do hope to meet someone in the future and not be on my own forever. Parenting and living alone can be quite lonely, I would love to have someone to share my evenings with!