Becoming a parent is often not the simple and straightforward process that many individuals hope and expect it to be. The more complicated or difficult journeys can be the ones where we feel we need more support and community than ever, yet the intimate nature of the topic, can make it harder to find others to connect with. The experience of parental transition is different for every person, and we believe that difference needs to be talked about. We have the privilege of sharing a very honest and open story of one woman’s experience to becoming a first-time mother.
I’m writing this from the perspective of a parent with 13-year-old twins, conceived by egg donation and looking back on my fertility journey. First point to note, that if one is lucky enough to conceive and have a healthy baby, you won’t have much time to contemplate the finer points of donor conception for some time after the baby arrives. And I’m aware of how incredibly lucky and blessed I am that I’m able to write from this perspective. There’s such silence about failed IVF and the wanted children who never came. Having spent so long on the side of the failed IVF and negative pregnancy tests, it can be a very lonely place to be.
My partner and I met when I was in my late thirties. I’d never considered my fertility as an issue. I assumed that I would conceive, despite my age. My sister, my mother and several aunts had all had children in their forties. After 18 months we started on the merry-go-round of IVF. It became apparent my egg quality and quantity were poor. I had always been healthy and looked young for my age so that was a shock. After 3 rounds of IVF our consultant explained that as long as we had the financial and emotional resources to keep going, he would keep treating us, and suggested egg donation.
My husband was keen to look at the USA. The commercial nature process put me off until my exposure to the European restrictions on how much egg donor could be compensated. I felt uncomfortable with the prospect of European women receiving only £800 for several weeks of daily injections, several internal scans, and egg retrieval under heavy sedation. We were also referred to a clinic in Madrid, where I was assured I could be easily matched with my pale freckly skin and grey eyes. There was no-one in the streets of Madrid that looked remotely like me. The women prepared to go through the medication and procedures for egg collection for several weeks for £800, weren’t in view and I just felt incredibly uncomfortable not knowing anything about the lives of the women going through egg retrieval for us.
So back to the USoA, fairer financial compensation for the egg donor, and donor information available. Again, at that time we had the luxury to choose this route.
It’s odd, you make one decision to step onto a track, and then each step comes along and one just keeps moving forward. At the time my partner and I did have the financial resources to keep going, so we did. Looking back, I think I went through all those examinations, procedures, injections only by detaching.
The US clinic had a folder of donors, and a fixed fee went to the donor. We could see photos, medical histories and a narrative written by the woman as to what motivated her to donate her eggs (tuition fees paid). It felt a much more transparent transaction. We chose a donor with a lovely smile, what else can one do?
6 months later we went back to the US, the clinic recommended that we transfer 2 eggs, giving us a 60% chance of a single pregnancy and 20% of twins. We were very focussed on the 60% figure, having spent years of hoping to be the outlier 1%. We went home with a bag of medication to be injected for the next 12 weeks. How soon the squeamishness passes… I looked at the photos of the donor sometimes when I was pregnant, chatting to my little creatures hatching inside of me.
My cubs finally arrived at 37.5 weeks, and we came home with two little scraps that grew and grew and grew.
We conceived the children outside of the UK, so the children are not on the HFEA register of donor conceived children. I was really keen to support their legal right to know their history so have always been very open with them about how they were conceived. Sometimes, entertaining by-standers in cafes; when they were 4, my daughter told the story about how sad daddy and I were that we didn’t have a child and we waited a long time, then a lovely lady gave me her eggs to grow in my tummy, so I could have a baby, and guess what, there were two! Their conception comes up in conversation once every few months or year. Each time I add more detail. It’s fascinating, the questions and perspective they have.
They’re now studying science in Year 8 and that has changed the discussion: talking about inherited characteristics and where their eye colour comes from. My daughter asked to see a photo of the egg donor, so I showed her, and her curiosity has been satisfied for now. My son is more aware. For a while he was very unsettled, so I’ve been more careful about how much info I give him at the moment. I don’t want him to harbour ideas about another family (a la Harry potter?) lurking in his background.
They asked recently if they have two mothers, and I asked them what they think. I explained I saw one woman (me) feeding them, doing laundry, holiday planning, taxi-ing et al… I sometimes also add that they have no legal relationship with the donor. She won’t know any detail about them, apart from being told 13 years ago, that her donation had resulted in a couple having twins. I’m not looking forward to the inevitable conversation in my future about the possibility of biological half siblings out there. Note to self, I must google ideas for this discussion.
This week, my daughter said she was biologically related but not genetically related to me – it’s a straightforward way of expressing the relationship. I was, briefly, a little saddened. That’s a feeling that happens rarely (once every 10 years maybe, mourning the absence of my genetic legacy). If I’m straightforward, it gives them the space to ask questions and have their curiosity satisfied. There’s no healthy alternative to being open with the children.
I’ve been open with family and close friends. It does feel private though, I suspect my daughter has told several random school classes, possibly in an attempt to appear interesting. I’ll only share the photo of the egg donor with my family, the children are mine (Mine).
We’re a family and families are made in lots of different ways. We are incredibly lucky and blessed have two amazing young people in our lives.
We have a range of Real Stories written by working parents sharing their different journeys and experiences of parenthood. If you are thinking about alternative routes to parenthood, we have collated the stories of three professionals who share their stories of their routes to parenthood. We also have worked closely with Fertility Matters, who have provided advice on how you could juggle work and fertility treatment .