By J R Silver, author of Sharing Seeds, a donor sperm story, written following his own fertility journey
At the start of my first book, “Sharing Seeds”, the young reader is deliberately drawn in with the concept of a “magical” fertility freezer – an ice cold storage place for healthy embryos, patiently waiting for the chance of life. Most such embryos are likely to have been overlooked in favour of better quality embryos created during the first round of a (fresh) IVF cycle.
Sadly spurned but, crucially, still deemed of a good enough quality to be stored away for future (frozen) IVF cycles.
Sharing Seeds goes on to deliberately tell a “fairy-tale” story of how a male and then female embryo are selected from the freezer during two separate successful frozen IVF cycles, going on to live happily ever after.
A positive fertility outcome may come in many different forms for the modern day family but we all come into the world from the same place, unblemished and innocent. To quote a Mrs Kristina Galloway from one of my Amazon book reviews:
“One part of innocence is not judging or prejudicing others and this story helps in the mission of preserving children’s open-mindedness and acceptance of others, by normalising a way of children being conceived and telling it to children openly, taking away stigma created in the adult world.”
And, whilst my younger readers will not remain innocent forever, with hard and testing times ahead, a story about fertility is a delicate and complex subject to be gently and sensitively introduced and talked about. This is especially the case for those individuals and couples who may never experience a “fairy-tale” ending to their fertility journey. My closest comparison is having my original narrative ripped apart (the traditional one where man makes child), and having to adapt to a very different story (the nontraditional one where man helps man make child). On a more light-hearted note, I can also hopefully comfort those readers not yet blessed with children that this does not mean our days are filled with peaches and roses, culminating in idyllic snuggles before bed-time!
My wife and I always swore we would never be one of those “ungrateful” couples who, having become parents, would complain about how wretched this can be. But this is the harsh reality of life including parent-hood: with the ups comes the downs, happiness followed by sadness and so on.
In our current case, we are currently torn with a very modern “first-world” dilemma: what to do with our one remaining embryo still waiting patiently in the freezer
As I explored in my last IVF Babble article, fertility treatment can pose a lot of difficult questions, including some that may never be solved. Some of you are probably thinking “what’s the problem: if you want another child go for it and, if not, get rid”.
But I can assure you that, even with my practical “male” hat on, this issue has not been so easily resolved. We would love to have another child, even several but children are expensive, even those conceived naturally.
IVF has already cost us over £100k, not to mention the accompanying mental and physical hardship and the strain on domestic relations
We are also relatively old parents, both in our early 40s, so do we want to be parents to a young teenager as we enter our 60s. And what about the current happy family dynamic – do we want to risk rocking the boat with a third, outnumbering not just the parents but one of the sexes. But there are also many pros, the prospect of filling our empty bedroom with another joyful soul, sharing the precious gift of life and saving that last poor embryo from the freezer: and, in a way, this moral dilemma niggles the most – now we have given life to two of these frozen embryos, we feel guilty at the thought of leaving one permanently in the cold. And, to exacerbate matters, we cannot leave this embryo indefinitely in the freezer: current HFEA regulations only permit embryo storage (at an annual cost of course) for up to 10 years.
An ultimate decision is forced on its “owners”: use, discard or donate
In the event that we do not try again with the embryo, then we are clear we would not simply discard the embryo. Instead, we have a strong preference to donate, likely to fertility research or training, rather than to another couple in need. For our embryo is a very healthy one (a previous recipient of PGS – Pre-implantation Genetic Screening): whilst we would love to donate to another couple, we are struggling with the concept of “abandoning” our freezer baby and, even if we donated overseas, inadvertently bumping into them in later life.
I think the fact that the embryo has undergone PGS may be the deciding factor: whilst the easiest clinical solution is to give one last frozen cycle a try, we have been told that there is a 60 – 70% chance this cycle would succeed. So perhaps, in there, lies our answer, as we have not rushed to rescue the embryo from the freezer. Instead, we will likely continue to procrastinate, the contents of our “fairy-tale” freezer having become the occasional nightmare.
For now, we must count our blessings, treasuring our two still young children and preparing them for the challenges to their innocence that inevitably lie in wait, before their own “fairy-tale” life narratives are complete.
Take care, JR Silver