The best way to learn about anything in life is to talk to someone who has been there, which is why we sat in awe as Anna Buxton talked to us about her surrogacy journey. Her story is so fascinating and informative, and an absolute must read if you are considering surrogacy.
In part 1 of her journey, Anna tells us about her physically and mentally gruelling fertility journey, that resulted in her and her husband Ed, choosing to go down the surrogacy route.
What led you to explore surrogacy as an option?
Like all women who turn to surrogacy, it was after a long, painful and complex gynaecological and obstetric history. After Ed and I got married, we started trying for a baby straight away and three months later, I was pregnant. We were thrilled, but at eight weeks I had a miscarriage, specifically a missed miscarriage because my body had not miscarried the pregnancy. I had to have an ERPC (Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception) under general anaesthetic. The procedure was painful and upsetting but it was over quickly and I could return home knowing that I could look forward.
A week later I was still in terrible pain and knew something was not right
I returned to the hospital and a scan revealed that the surgical procedure had not removed all the pregnancy tissue and that it would have to be repeated. Another general anaesthetic, another upsetting procedure but finally it was done. We were told that as soon as I my period started we could try again. The next month we were pregnant. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were, but I had another missed miscarriage at 8 weeks followed by the same operation. A week later, I recognised the same pain has I had previously and again another operation was required. In only four months, I had conceived two pregnancies, had two miscarriages and had four surgical procedures.
Ed and I were exhausted
A few months after the miscarriages and operations, I knew something was not right because my periods never returned and I was in a lot of pain. I was diagnosed with Asherman’s syndrome – adhesions or scarring in the womb – which was caused by the scarping process of the ERPCs. Left untreated, it can be very difficult to get pregnant because an embryo does not have a healthy lining in which to implant.
Over the course of 16 months, I had five more operations to remove the scarring from my uterus. After each operation, the scarring would reform and after the fifth procedure, my surgeon said that he could not operate again. The damage to the lining of my womb had been too severe and he felt it wrong to put me through any more surgeries.
Our only hope was to do a round of IVF
The theory being that the extra hormones of the IVF might stimulate my lining to develop and if that was the case we could transfer an embryo to my uterus with the hope that I’d be able to carry a pregnancy. We started IVF but my lining never grew to more than 1mm (doctors like to see a minimum of 7/8mm) and we were informed that it would be a waste of an embryo to transfer it back to me. The embryos were frozen and the doctor told us that the only way we could use our embryos was with the help of a surrogate.
After being told that you would never carry a pregnancy, did you immediately decide on surrogacy?
Given that we had viable embryos from the IVF and that I had been categorically been told I could not carry a pregnancy, surrogacy was the next natural step for us. For any women, surrogacy is not a choice, a luxury or the easy option but it can be the light at the end of a very long and painful tunnel. We felt lucky to live in a time and a country where surrogacy is an option and that there are women in the world who want to be surrogates.
It sounds strange but we were lucky in that we were told 100% I could not carry. For lots of couples, turning to surrogacy can be a much longer and harder decision. If you aren’t told definitively that you can’t carry a pregnancy, rather that you may not be able to, and given that surrogacy is still shrouded in mis-information, it can just be a much more difficult decision. The reason I speak so openly about my experience, is to make that decision making process just a little easier for others
Can you tell us about your IVF experience?
IVF is hard. Ed and I did six rounds of IVF to have our three children. We did rounds in London, India, London again and shipped embryos to Canada and then finally the US. The needles, the appointments, the blood tests, the internal scans are all unpleasant but for me I found the loneliness of IVF the most difficult part. Every round I did, I did without telling me colleagues at work. For two weeks, I would have to pretend that everything was normal despite the daily surge of hormones coursing through me. After the collection, I jumped every time the phone rang thinking it might be the embryologist with news of my precious embryos.
I think one of the cruelest but equally remarkable parts of infertility and IVF, is that the more negatives you have, the more failed IVF rounds, the more negative pregnancy test results, or miscarriages, the less you can ever believe is is going to happen for you yet you do find the strength to keep trying. I cherish that strength and reserve I found during this journey and when something isn’t going quite right now, I remember I’m capable of more than I think.
How did your mental and physical health cope during this time?
Physically it was a very challenging time. The endless procedures and hormones meant that I never felt like myself. Mentally, it was a battle. Some days I felt like I was winning but others I lost. For a period of time, I suffered from panic attacks. I just didn’t know how I could continue to get up each day and be a wife, a friend, a colleague, a sister, a daughter when I was carrying so much pain and disappointment.
What kept me going was my relationship with Ed. Infertility of any kind changes you as a couple. That level of pain and anxiety can never be forgotten but the resilience, the patience and the strength you find together ends up defining your relationship.
In part two of Anna’s story, she talks us through the surrogacy experience, and what it was like holding her children for the very first time
Anna has given up her 20-year career in investment management to help others on their journey to parenthood. Working with San Diego Fertility Center, the clinic where her twins were conceived, Anna supports couples navigating surrogacy. For more information, you can reach Anna on Instagram @anna3buxton or email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org