The story of our family, by Michelle and Simon......
With the tact and diplomacy for which the medical profession is reknowned, I was given the diagnaosis of primary ovarian failure, or premature menopause, back in 1981 when I was twenty-two and just about to get married. We were devastated to be told that I would never be able to have children, as there was no fertility treatment that could help us at that time. Seventeen long and eventful years later we have two wonderful children - Emily aged eight, whom we adopted at the age of three and a half months and Tom, aged twenty months, conceived through IVF with donated eggs.
So our story has a happy ending, or rather a beginning, as we look ahead to the challenges of bringing up Emily and Tom, including helping them to understand their different genetic backgrounds. Like all parents of children born through donated games, we have to consider whether Tom will have a problem with knowing he is not genetically related to one of us - me in this case. But we are confident that all the lessons learned with adoption apply: it is better to be open, truthful and honest than to hide the truth away, only to be discovered by mistake.
Surely what matters to every child is that they were wanted and valued as individuals and both our children will only have to look through their thick files of paperwork to see how much each of them was wanted! We explained IVF with donor to Emily as 'adopting an egg' which is how we ourselves came to think of it: a precious gift, given altruistically by a wonderful person who could empathise with our desperate wish for a baby.
There are many similarities I am sure between undergoing egg donation and DI. The anguish and longing to have a baby, the grief of hopes raised and dashed, the mental agonising of whether to pursue a course which brings in a third, probably unknown, party and whose genetic contribution will have such a fundamental effect on the family. There are two major hurdles to overcome for couples going through egg donation - firstly the paucity of egg donors which means clincis have waiting lists of two to three years per treatment cycle. Even with good pregnancy rates of around 40 per cent being achieved, imagine the stress of only being able to try for that desperately wanted baby for one month out of thirty-six!
Some centres offer a 'queue-jumping' service, which puts the onus on the couple wanting to be treated to recruit donors. I became pregnant on our second treatment cycle and then miscarried. We were so devastated to find ourselves at the bottom of the hated list that we did everything we could to find a donor - TV interviews, magazine articles, a poster and leaflet campaign, and we even appealed for a donor via DI Network newsletter! We did not find one person willing to donate for us.
In the end my best friend became a donor on our behalf and Tom is the indirect result of that wonderful gesture. The other major hurdle to overcome is financing treatment. Very few health authorities fund fertility treatments, not recognising fertility problems as disease, or the extreme mental anguish caused by infertility. So many couples cannot afford treatment, or are forced to give up after one or two failed attempts. We were fortunate in that our health authority, bombarded by passionate letters from a desperate and hormonal female (me) eventually capitulated and funded the treatment cycle that resulted in Tom.
So, in conclusion, what changes would we like to see to help couples in our situation? Our experience of both adopting and having a child through gamete donation, has made us aware of the immense amount of experience and research that has been done with regard to 'telling' a child about their origins: we should work more closely with adoption agencies to draw from their experience. Our difficulties with finding donors have made me resolved that something must be done to raise awareness of the extreme need for more egg donors nationally.