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.

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! 

Eloise’s Story – Sperm donation

Eloise’s Story – Sperm donation

My husband and I had been married for 3 years before we started trying for a baby. 

We both always wanted children and used to talk in depth about what they’d be called and what they’d be like. The excitement was electric. We almost wanted to wait to start, not just because of our careers, but so that we had something to look forward to. 

Circa May 2015 we thought: right, now is the time to get going! Feelings of both excitement and anticipation about whether we’d conceive that first month. 

We celebrated our 30th birthdays; secretly knowing we were trying for a baby. Had anyone guessed? I used to Google ‘ways to surprise your husband you’re pregnant’. 

Months went by and I started tracking my cycle, thinking every time my period was delayed, THIS WAS IT! I would work out the baby’s due date with excitement. At the six-month mark of no pregnancy, I was panicking. I was inconsolable every time my period reared its ugly head. Friends and family started to guess we were trying because the anxiety and stress became apparent in my face. My husband was horizontal about it. He would say ‘just relax, it’s only been 6 months’. I’m a worrier and I knew we wouldn’t get very far going to the NHS doctor because you have had to have been ‘trying’ for over a year. So, I said to my husband: ‘let’s have a fertility MOT’. Neither of us had been tested and although everyone said, ‘you’ll be fine’, that wasn’t making me pregnant. The day of the test arrived. I remember everything about that day, like it was yesterday. It was November 3rd 2015 and we went to Care Fertility in Wimbledon. We had to go in for our checks at different points in the day due to sample testing and work schedules. Nervously, I got on the bed for an internal scan. They confirmed straight away that my uterus looked ‘normal’ and my egg reserve was ‘in line with my age’. PHEW. So off to work I went, really happy that all was fine. I thought: worst case scenario, we have IVF, right? Lunchtime came and I knew my husband was being tested, again why would anything be wrong? I looked at my watch and thought how weird it was that I hadn’t heard from him. Eventually I did and bam, just like that we knew there was a problem with his sperm and our world came crashing down. My heart started racing a million miles a minute and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. 

During the ‘fun’ lead up to Christmas, that year Father Christmas was definitely not coming. After weeks of testing it became clear that my husband would need to undergo a very painful surgery for sperm extraction, known as Micro Tese. I needed to undergo IVF in tandem to extract my eggs, ready for fertilisation. With a date in the diary I wrote a very detailed timing plan and kept busy preparing. I went to see a nutritionist at Zita West in London and started exercising and gave up drinking. I wanted to make sure my egg quality was the best it could be. We also spent two agonising months picking a sperm donor (in case his operation failed).  

IVF stimulation started, all looked good. My husband was clearly very anxious about his impending operation. His operation was determined by my egg retrieval, for the day before. The morning of his operation I had to be at a different part of the hospital for 6.30am for my pre-op, so I said a fleeting goodbye in the taxi. I raced over to his hospital wing but had missed him going under. I burst into tears, I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye or good luck and I knew how nervous he was. They were the worst few hours of my life. My father-in-law and I sat in a dingy room whilst time stood still. The surgeon had said that it would take roughly 2 hours but it took 5; you can guess the outcome: the surgeon came in with his head hung low (like in the movies) and removed his face mask to confirm our worst fears that the operation hadn’t been a success, although they were watching the sperm overnight (just in case). He was obviously crushed and devastated, having been so optimistic, determined and strong. He was also in considerable pain. I was so proud of him and tried to comfort him as much as I could. I was also terrified about the egg collection scheduled for the next morning.  We didn’t know until 10 minutes before I was sedated for my egg collection that my husband’s sperm wouldn’t be viable and that the route we needed to pursue was with the donor sperm. 

After the egg collection, I was in considerable pain but pleased to have had 12 eggs retrieved. Understandably, that evening we had very mixed emotions.

The next morning came and it was confirmed that 12/12 had fertilised, ‘WOW’, I thought, that guarantees a baby, right…? Fast-forward 2 weeks after the transfer of two three-day-old embryos and it was Easter Sunday. The perfect time to test, when you’re confident you’re pregnant? My husband and I snuck into the bedroom (we were staying with lots of family who had no idea when we were testing) and despite the nurses having said to wait for the blood test, we tested that afternoon, early.  We sat nervously watching the flashing icon, waiting for the result… then it popped up: ‘NOT PREGNANT’. 

Our worlds came crashing down once again. All that physical and emotional pain, plus expense and yet no baby. I then started to panic that there may have been an issue on my side.

Over the next couple of months I found it hard to socialise and we both felt depressed. The only thing keeping me going was the prospect of trying again with our two frozen blastocyst embryos. I went back to the nutritionist at Zita West and continued to be as healthy as possible, taking all sorts of fertility boosting vitamins and powders (more expense). This time, I underwent expensive specialist genetic and immunology testing, (they took over twenty syringes of blood; I was black and blue). These tests revealed that I have high natural killer cells and a blood clotting genetic condition called Factor V Leiden. Excellent, more concern and complication!  Despite mixed opinions on whether immunology makes a difference to conception and carrying a baby, the cost to undergo treatment seemed reasonable in comparison to the overall treatment costs, so we went for it.

Second Attempt: with our frozen embryos.  I was totally convinced it wasn’t going to work and kept saying so to my wonderful specialist (who had the nicest bedside manner) and she kept saying, ‘We’ll see; no reason why it won’t’. We transferred both frozen embryos. The two-week wait was such a dark time.  I went to see a hypnotherapist to help with my mental state, which truly made me feel more relaxed… Fast forward a few weeks and it’s testing time again. My husband banned me from doing a home pregnancy test because the first failed attempt was so awful. 

Test day came and after having my blood test at 7am that morning (in tears – I was so terrified), I had to wait 6 hours for the results via the phone. I answered the phone shaking and immediately blurted out: ‘It hasn’t worked has it’ and the nurse replied, ‘YES, IT HAS’! Total amazement! We then had the pregnancy confirmed by a scan at 6 weeks and that it was not twins. On 26th February 2017, our first daughter, Poppy was born. 

Towards the end of my maternity leave, we decided to try and make more embryos, as we had none left. I spent the 4 months leading up to this fresh cycle of IVF, getting back in shape, not drinking and seeing the same amazing nutritionist, to prepare my mind, body and soul. Somehow, this time I felt even more nervous, maybe because I just feared we wouldn’t be lucky a second time and having a child already, I knew how much I wanted to give her a sibling. 

January 2018 and the IVF stimulation started all over again. I went nervously into my first consultation, excited about seeing my specialist, who almost felt like a friend by this point! I was greeted by a man who did not have a nice bedside manner, he also told me I had fewer follicles than he’d hoped for and to quote him ‘probably because you’re older now’. I was only 33! I did not feel I had luck on my side.

Transfer day came and miraculously 3 out of 8 fertilised embryos were looking great by blastocyst stage, Day 5. Woo-hoo, transfer time!  Again, I assumed it wouldn’t work ‘fresh’ because it didn’t the first time before Poppy. Our specialist had called and advised we transferred two embryos because one was doing better than the other. She said the chance of twins was around 20%. We agreed to take her advice (deep down I was really hoping for twins because I knew this was my only shot at having 3 children). The next 10 days waiting to test were a complete blur: I was raging with hormones and couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t decide whether to wait for the blood test or do a home pregnancy test early. I woke up one morning at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was 3 days before I was due in for my blood test. I don’t know what happened but I just ran into the bathroom and grabbed the emergency pregnancy test I had lurking in the cupboard and tested. My heart was pounding, especially as my husband was fast asleep and had told me he didn’t want to know if I tested early because of the first home pregnancy test drama. BANG! Two VERY strong lines appeared immediately, so I did it again with Clearblue and it came up with ‘Pregnant’! I spent the whole weekend buzzing and retesting every few hours. Same result. That following Monday my blood tests confirmed I was pregnant. This time I felt different, my HCG hormone levels came back four times higher than when I was pregnant with Poppy and I was being physically sick from 4.5 weeks, as well as waking up in the night starving. There we have it: after 9 long and extremely hot months during the peak of last summer’s heat-wave, on 24th September 2018 Charlie and Hettie were born at 37.5 weeks, both healthy and perfect. I still pinch myself as if this isn’t real. 

We never take for granted how lucky we are with our three children. The bond and love between them and their father takes my breath away – any apprehensions or concerns we had about my husband not being biologically related to them are no longer there. No doubt, there will be difficult times in the future when they may or may not want to meet the biological donor but we have agreed on a united front of honesty from as soon as they can understand. We picked a donor whom they can contact at 18, if they so wish because we feel this is a decision the children should be able to make, not us. 

Donor sperm IVF has changed our lives and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Therefore, having experienced this difficult road to motherhood first-hand, I decided to set up ‘Fertility Help Hub’, an email newsletter offering fertility tips, support, guidance and inspiration, all in one place, for people trying to conceive. I want to help break the fertility stigma, so people don’t have to suffer in silence and spend hours on Google feeling overwhelmed and alone.

If you or anyone you know is struggling to get pregnant, please do share my site, where you can sign up for free:

https://www.fertilityhelphub.com

@fertility_help_hub