Kathleen describes coming to terms with the possibility of not having a child.
It is amazing to think that after endless discussion and months of research about egg donation, when my husband and I finally arrived in Cyprus for our first attempt last year, we were perhaps not as signed up to the concept as we should have been.
I’ll never forget Thomas’s words as we enjoyed a late afternoon drink (non-alcoholic, of course) in the hotel lobby.
“Well it’s a good time to come here,” he said. “It’s nice and quiet – and no noisy kids around.” I nodded in agreement … and then we looked at each other – were we really doing the right thing?!
In some ways, our journey through fertility hell reached a climax during that trip. It was four years ago that we got married and four years since we started trying for a baby. It felt like we were approaching a natural endpoint in the cycle.
The emotional ups and downs along the way had been, at times, tortuous. Having got married at 37, I’d never assumed getting pregnant would be easy. I’d prepared myself that it would take time and maybe it would be harder than expected. But I had no idea just how hard it would be.
As we worked our way through the various appointments, investigations and procedures, including IUI and IVF – at four different clinics - it became clearer that my eggs were passed their ‘use by’ date. Ovarian reserve testing at my fourth clinic discovered my ovaries were about five years older than me. Egg donation was our best option.
At this point, the momentum of our journey slowed right down; it would be two years before our trip to Cyprus. Something was holding me back.
I read several books; consulted websites and various chat rooms; and spoke to doctors and my close friends. Slowly I changed my view about it – from being something that was my only choice, to something that was a good choice.
There was a clear benefit – egg donation meant there was less chance of chromosomal abnormality due to the donor being a younger woman. On top of this, the donor would be giving me a precious gift - she was bound to be a very special person. Our journey would be a fantastic story to tell our child. We could say: “This was how much we wanted you”.
But there were two issues we struggled with. The first was knowledge of the mother. For Thomas it was simple: an egg was just a few cells. He did not want to associate them with DNA coming from another woman. He didn’t want to see a picture of the woman.
But I thought I’d like to connect with her in some way. I thought it would be important to meet her, to speak to her, to find out why she was doing this. Thomas and I seemed to have fixed positions and it got to a point where I thought we’d never meet in the middle. Then my sister said to me something that was crucial in helping reconcile this impossibility. “Won’t this woman have given you enough? Perhaps she won’t want to give you any more.”
This thought really helped. This wasn’t all about me - there were three people in this complex equation and I couldn’t call all the shots. I stopped focusing on connecting with the donor.
But there was one issue that I just couldn’t overcome – that was the issue of anonymity. On this, Thomas and I were miles apart and, as the months wore on, the distance grew.
Every time we talked about anonymity, we argued. The more I thought about it, the more I disliked the idea of our donor being anonymous to any resulting child. But he just wouldn’t see why I was so hung up about it.
Even though most people seeking egg donation disagreed with the changes to the UK legislation, which introduced the legal right for children conceived with donor gametes to access identifiable information about their donor(s), I thought the UK position was well-considered. Surely it was a human right to know every aspect of your identity. Who was I to deprive my child from that from the outset?
But however well considered, it was going to make it very difficult to get a donor in the UK. There were egg-sharing programmes, but I didn’t like the idea of a woman giving me her eggs because she had no financial choice.
I contacted every single registered clinic in the UK to find out how long waiting lists were outside sharing programmes. The replies were up to four years – time I didn’t have.
I went to see my doctor who asked me why I was so fixated on the anonymity issue? Yes, the egg would be donated, but I would carry the child, I would be its mother. Wasn’t it my job to make sure I chose a clinic that ensured its donors future safety? I could make sure she was not exploited by being given high doses of stimulating drugs to produce multiple eggs.
Perhaps there was even a possibility of finding out more information about my donor (although non-identifying information)? I seized on this opportunity. This could be the answer, I thought.
We accepted a Russian donor and then we discovered her age, her occupation and religion. I found out she was a mum of two little girls. Presumably she knew what joy motherhood could bring? Perhaps she could imagine what it would be like to be deprived of children?
It was this extra information that put me on the plane to Cyprus. I found it really helpful to know something more than just her hair and eye colour, weight and height. I liked the fact that she was a mum. Surely this meant she had given the matter some serious thought.
Still, on the day of embryo transfer I was very nervous. When we saw our two embryos on the laboratory TV screen, they looked so strong, so healthy.
But I cannot say I didn’t have any doubt about what we were doing. I would say I was 95 per cent sure. Part of me felt uncomfortable that any resulting child or children would not be able to find out anything more about this donor. Was this morally right? Was this a decision we might regret?
Nevertheless, the next two weeks were filled with optimistic hope. I put my reservations aside. I wanted it to work. With a success rate of 65 per cent at our clinic, I thought it would be. I found myself secretly hoping we’d have twin boys.
But all of that angst-ridden thinking ended on 4th January with the results of my blood test. The pains I thought had felt ‘strange’ were just my period on its way. When it came, I spent the night vomiting. My body was in full rejection mode.
Three months on, Thomas and I have yet to complete our journey but we have decided it will end this year. We are tired of ‘parenthood’ being a question mark constantly hanging over us, holding us back from life. We may decide to have another attempt at egg donation, or we may not.
However we do have a wonderful by-product from this journey. We have discovered something we had been too distracted to see before – we are happy.
That may sound sugar-coated but I can assure you it has been hard-won. At the beginning of our egg donation journey, Thomas and I were at polar ends of many of issues that couples undertaking egg donation have to grapple with. But over time we have met in the middle. That process of resolution has helped us deal with other issues in our life and as a result, I know I love Thomas much more than four years ago. I believe egg donation brought us closer together. That is a wonderful result.