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.

Do I Regret Not Trying Again With My Own Eggs?

Do I Regret Not Trying Again With My Own Eggs?

Regret – Feeling sad, repentant or disappointed over something one has done or failed to do.

I’m asked often if I regret not trying again with my own eggs. 

I can honestly say that I don’t feel one ounce of sadness, repentance or disappointment about choosing to use donor eggs to have my family. I’ve never regretted not having one last roll of the dice with my eggsHow could I feel anything but happiness when I have our three beautiful girls? 

At first, I worried whether it was the right decision, I wobbled even at the point we were in Prague for our DE consultation. I was torn between two conflicting emotions, riding the waves of grief along with surges of excitement about the new possibilities, a very strange and confusing position to be in. 

I started asking myself some questions after our 5th failed own egg cycle, knowing the odds were so much more favourable with donor eggs. 

“Will I regret moving to donor eggs now?” 

My initial thought was – if it worked then I would have the long-awaited chance to be pregnant, to grow, nurture, give birth and raise a child. Maybe more than one child, if we were lucky. My childhood vision of a big family could actually be a possibility, something that had become such a distant dream as we battled to find that one golden egg. 

“What could I potentially regret by making this decision?”

My second thought was about what I might regret. I’d be giving up my chance to have a genetic child, to pass on my DNA, family links and physical characteristics. I wouldn’t get to see the child that Matt and I would make together.

I realised that I had already begun to grieve for the loss of these desires, with each loss and failed cycle. When compared to the immense hope that I had been filled with from my initial thoughts, there was no comparison. I realised I could start to let these things go. 

This then led to my third question… 

“Would I regret NOT trying donor eggs?”

I answered this question in an instant, without even a second thought – YES. If it meant I couldn’t have the family I’d always dreamed of then I was absolutely sure that I would have lived every day regretting not giving myself the chance to try.

I think when it comes to regret, you need to ask yourself these questions and be really honest with yourself. If the feeling of potential regret is more dominant, then maybe you’re not ready to go there just yet, but it doesn’t mean you won’t ever be. Grief is a journey – it can shape your views and redefine your perspectives – you need to ride the waves and stay true to yourself. 

I hope this helps those who are facing these crossroads in decision making. How do you face the question of potential regrets? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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.

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.