Sometimes the fairytale doesn’t always go to plan …
I’d wanted to have children for as long as I can remember. Even in my teens, I consciously noted things I enjoyed and planned to replicate those experiences for my offspring. I imagined it would all just fall into place and, at the age of about 15 when asked to write my life plan at school, I remember mapping out that I would go to university at 18, start my career at 21, marry at 25 and start my family a year or two later. It all seemed so simple.
The university and career bit happened on schedule and I even got as far as a serious relationship at the age of 22, which lasted until I was 27. So, the first departure from the plan was the end of that relationship, with part of the reason being that my boyfriend knew how much I wanted children but didn’t feel ready for that commitment.
I began to realise that life was not like the fairy tales
I continued on a successful career path and kissed an awful lot of frogs in the hope of finding my prince. However, years passed and I began to realise that life was not like the fairy tales and that I was going to have to do something drastic myself in order to try to realise my dream. I analysed my life and realised that I was not meeting the sort of guys with whom I was likely to make a permanent relationship. I was working in the arts, spending my spare time singing in semi- professional choirs, and the guys I might have been interested in just weren’t available. So, aged almost 33, I changed my job and started socialising with new people. To cut a very long story short, it worked! I met Rob the next year and we married when I was 35.
It still wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Some months before we got married I noticed a hard lump in my belly which turned out to be fibroids (growths from and within the wall of the uterus). I was referred to a specialist who told me about various surgical treatments, but who advised us (when we told her that we hoped to have children) that due to the risk of my fertility, I should avoid having treatment. We started trying for children on our honeymoon, but a few more years passed and nothing happend. The most difficault thing to deal with was that the fibroids made me look pregnant and on at least one occasion we were congratulated and asked when the baby was due. The mass was at least the size of a 12 week foetus and I got used to broken nights due to the pressure on my bladder, jst as if I was expecting.
We were referred to a fertility consultant
I was almost 39 when we were referred to a fertility consultant at our local hospital and were offered IUI (intrauterine insemination). We did five cycles, but although I was ovulating fine, this was difficult to spot because the fibroids were so big that they were often in the way, meaning that my follicles did not show up when they scanned me. The consultant advised a myomectomy – an incision similar to a caesarean section and then surgical removal of the growths – and I was operated on, a few months before my 40th birthday.
The surgeon removed several non- malignant fibroids of various sizes, thankfully all in the wall of the uterus, so he had not needed to cut into the cavity itself. He also reported a number of smaller ‘seeds’ of fibroids which were likely to grow in the future and he’d noticed endometriosis while he was sewing me up, which could affect my fertility. I took two months to recover from the operation and as soon as I was fit enough I returned to see my fertility consultant. I was now within a month or so of my 40th birthday and knew that the local NHS would only fund IVF for women under 40. So, with absolutely no time to spare, I was put on the list for IVF and soon enough we started the next chapter of our journey.
Our first IVF cycle
We attended a local hospital for our first IVF cycle, where the consultant talked us through the procedure. It was clear that my age was already against us (only around a 1 in 5 chance of conception), but we had to believe that it was going to work. The cycle seemed to go well with a number of follicles responding to the drugs and a reasonable ‘harvest’ of eggs, but in the laboratory stage we only managed to create one embryo, which was graded at approximately 2.5 out of 4, meaning ‘possibly viable, but not great’. It was transferred into my womb and we embarked on the two-week wait before we could do a pregnancy test, but sadly it didn’t implant.
Over the next two years we completed another three unsuccessful IVF cycles; one more at the local hospital and then two at the Agora. The first cycle at the Agora (our third cycle) was particularly hopeful, with three viable blastocysts (embryos which have continued to develop for five days and are therefore more likely to make it) transferred. Sadly none of them survived, though for two weeks I was able to dream that I might be carrying triplets. I even have a print of the microscope image of those three little lifeforms which was taken just before they were transferred, the three tiny groups of cells which were the children created by me and Rob. The relative success of that third cycle spurred us on us to give it one more go, but our fourth attempt was spectacularly unsuccessful. Despite a very good follicle response and high hopes, none of the eggs were mature enough to be fertilised and it became clear that my eggs were now too old for a successful outcome. This reflects the national statistics regarding declining fertility (at 42, around 1 in 10 and by 45, less than 1 in 100).
It looked like the end of the road
We went away pretty heartbroken. We had managed to be fairly level-headed throughout our fertility treatment journey and had always put our relationship first, keeping a healthy balance of other interests in our lives, but this did seem to be the end of that particular road. We started thinking about adoption or fostering, both of which seemed pretty complicated and difficult to start considering our ages (me 42; Rob 47).
Then one of those once-in-a-lifetime things happened. A much younger friend, Amy, who had been aware of our fourth IVF cycle, asked me how it had gone. I told her it had failed and why. While hugging me to console me she whispered in my ear that she wanted me to try again with her eggs. Up until that time I hadn’t considered using donor eggs, but Amy was – and is – everything I wanted to pass on to my child. Not only is she a beautiful, but she shares most of my passions, interests and talents. With tears in my eyes I mumbled back to her that she didn’t know what she was offering and I couldn’t possibly accept, but if she wanted to learn a bit more about what could be involved I’d love to discuss it over a coffee.
My biological clock was no longer an issue
That coffee happened – as did a number of others over the next few months – and we explored the whole subject of IVF with all the practical, physical, ethical and personal issues which we would have to consider if we did create a child. At the end of all that, amazingly, she was still game, so I took her to meet my consultant at the Agora and we embarked on the mandatory counselling and blood tests for all three of us to ensure we were compatible. The results were all positive but we then decided to wait another six months to ensure we were all certain about it and to find a time which best fitted in with our lives. My biological clock was no longer an issue as the eggs would now be from a 25-year-old (more than a 50% chance of success) but I still couldn’t believe my luck that I had such a selfless and generous friend!
So, in September 2009 we embarked together on an IVF regime, my fifth cycle. I had to take HRT drugs to down-regulate my body and get my cycle in harmony with Amy’s and then she started her injections. I was amazed that someone would willingly go through that for me; she was truly wonderful. Everything seemed to be going well, but we were careful to keep the pressure off in the same way as we had managed our previous cycles. It was simply an amazing secret. We all went to the clinic together on the day of the egg collection and were delighted to hear that the harvest was good. The three of us went out for dinner together that night to celebrate and five days later, at the end of October, I had one of six viable blastocysts transferred into my uterus. We were firmly advised against having any more transferred as the chances of the IVF working were now so high, due to the potential in Amy’s eggs. One last two-week wait – but this time a positive outcome! I couldn’t believe it.
A positive outcome!
I spent a lot of the early part of the pregnancy expecting something to go wrong. As well as having experienced so many setbacks, I knew that my Mum had miscarried many times before she had managed to have me and my brother,so I feared the worst.
I didn’t even get morning sickness! Slowly, but surely, my belly filled out and I gradually began to acknowledge that I was actually going to have a baby. I can’t tell you how excited I was! Rob was able to attend quite a few of my ante- natal appointments and Amy came to one scan too. I decided early on that I wanted to know the gender of my baby to help me with the bonding process, given that it was not genetically mine – and we were all delighted to find out that I was carrying a girl.
My bump had been measuring big throughout the pregnancy and my 20 week scan confirmed from the femur length and tummy circumference that I was carrying a bigger baby. Various IVF and early antenatal scans had also picked up that some more fibroids had, indeed, developed. I really wanted a normal vaginal delivery, ideally a water birth, and I had an extra scan at 34 weeks to check that the fibroids would not prevent this. Everything seemed OK; at 36 weeks the baby was transverse, but she turned head down by 38 weeks. Phew! My obstetrician had told me she was keen that I should deliver by or on my due estimated delivery date (EDD) as there was a slight, though increasing, risk of a still birth the longer we left it.
On my EDD nothing was happening. There wasn’t the potential for a membrane sweep as my cervix hadn’t softened at all and my fibroids meant I couldn’t be induced as the potentially more violent contractions could have caused very serious bleeding. We were persuaded to agree to an elective caesarean section five days after the due date if there was still no action. At that point something inside me knew I would not go into labour and we prepared ourselves for a very different birth to the one we had planned. We even went out to dinner the night before the caesarean section to celebrate our last night before parenthood.
Our fairytale ending
I won’t go into the birth story here – I could fill many pages. Despite it not being the birth we had wanted, it was an incredibly positive experience and I couldn’t praise the staff at our local hospital enough. Both Rob and Amy were allowed into theatre and the three of us celebrated the birth of our wonderful daughter, Georgina, just before 9.30am on 23 July.
Up until Georgie’s birth we had told friends that we had managed to get pregnant via the most amazing gift of egg donation, but with no details. Once we knew we had achieved our goal we started to reveal Amy’s identity to our mutual friends. I am really keen that people recognise what an incredible thing she has done for us. Amy is one of Georgie’s godmothers and we will tell Georgie as soon as she is ready to understand how she was created – and how much she was wanted.
Did you conceive using donor eggs? We would love to hear your story. Drop us a line at email@example.com if you would like to tell us how your fairytale ended