Something we often have lesbian couples say to us when they begin treatment is that they didn’t know where to start or who to turn to for advice when they wanted to start their family, so we are very grateful to this amazing couple for writing the story of their journey to having their son. If you’re wondering where to start we hope this helps.
My partner and I had been together for almost 10 years, and after going through all the normal things such as progressing our careers and buying a house, we both decided that it was time to start a family, however, trying for a baby when you are a lesbian couple requires a great deal of planning and gathering of information.
Being a lesbian couple we initially spoke to other couples that had gone through fertility treatment and discussed how they did it and which clinic they had used. We also thought it was important to find out whether they had needed donation of some kind, either egg or sperm in order to start their family, as well as whether they had also donated in order to help others. We asked this as not all couples go down the ‘official’ clinic route to start a family; some find other sources or ways to get what they want.
When gathering all the information the obvious financial involvement was a key factor, and we also decided that advertised success rates were really important. This is because when investing a substantial amount of money into starting a family, you want to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Three couples we knew had used Herts & Essex Fertility Clinic, and couldn’t stop raving about how they had felt so comfortable and supported whilst they went through their treatment. It was also great to talk to these couples about their experiences, about the whole process, and what they had actually had to go through. Also, all three couples had been successful in starting a family with Herts & Essex, two of which were lesbian couples so were obviously in the same situation as us.
However, a recommendation is one thing but it also came down to personal choice as to why we ultimately chose to use Herts & Essex ourselves. We started out by looking at their website, being new to the whole fertility treatment process it was great that the website explained all the terms and the different options available. However, two of the biggest draws to the website was the “alternative families” section, which provided information for both gay and lesbian couples on how to start a family. It also provided information about donor sperm which again, being a lesbian couple, was a key part of being able to start our family. We also saw that donation was a focal point on their website, and there was clear information about becoming a donor. My partner and I had already discussed in great detail about starting a family and something we always came back to was that we both wanted to help someone else to start a family. We had the simple problem of not having sperm and without someone being a sperm donor we wouldn’t even have a chance of starting a family, which is why reciprocating the donation was important to us from the very beginning. We booked to go to one of their open days in December; we initially went just to see what we could find out and see how we felt about the place.
Luckily for us, the clinic was only a 20-minute drive, which turned out to be incredibly convenient when it came to attending the various different appointments later on. It was also reassuring knowing that the clinic was just down the road in case we needed anything during our treatment. At this point we didn’t look into other clinics or arrange to go and see anywhere else, we were using this visit as an information-gathering trip and to see how we felt about it all.
In the end, this was the only open day we went to. After the day we felt that we didn’t need to look any further as we’d found exactly what we were looking for. Before going on the open day we researched and compared numerous clinics, their key differences in prices, sperm, donors and success rates. But you get a feeling when you go to Herts & Essex, you feel comfortable and welcomed and everyone is willing to help and talk to you. This feeling became a key factor as we progressed during our IVF journey, as without feeling comfortable you will never push for results or ask the questions that niggle away at the back of your mind.
When we arrived for the open day we immediately felt comfortable, we weren’t the token ‘lesbian couple’, and we were treated just like any other person who needed help to have a baby. Despite there being heterosexual and same-sex couples on the day, it was nice to draw comfort from the fact that everyone in the room needed help starting a family. For whatever reason everyone was there, every person in that room had the same end-goal just requiring different levels of help along the way. For us, knowing that we needed donor sperm made it slightly easier, but when you’re given all the information on the day it becomes very clear that actually there is a great deal more to fertility than just, in our case, the ‘sperm’. The open day was slightly overwhelming because there are many different treatment options such as IVF, IUI and ICSI, but treatment can and does depend on your personal requirements, choice or how much intervention you will require. Trying to work out the difference between the options and what option would be the best for us was impossible to start off with. We’d never heard of anything other than IVF before attending the open day, but we were soon educated about what other options were available. But amazingly we should never have worried about what was right for us, the best option FOR US presented itself to us at a later stage.
Knowing that we needed donor sperm made it slightly easier, but when you’re given all the information on the day it becomes very clear that actually there is a great deal more to fertility than just, in our case, the ‘sperm’. The open day was slightly overwhelming because there are many different treatment options such as IVF, IUI and ICSI, but treatment can and does depend on your personal requirements, choice or how much intervention you will require. Trying to work out the difference between the options and what option would be the best for us was impossible to start off with. We’d never heard of anything other than IVF, but we were soon educated about what other options were available. But amazingly we should never have worried about what was right for us, the best option FOR US presented itself at a later stage.
During the open day, we were both offered the chance to have an AMH test done, as part of a full consultation package offer. This test essentially tells you how fertile you are or, specifically for us, what our egg reserves were like. We also booked the consultation to return ten days later to receive the results of our AMH test. I personally found this incredibly interesting as my partner and I were the same age, 30 at the time, but our results showed that we had completely different levels of fertility. Mine was within the ‘normal’ potential range, whereas my partners were considered ‘high’. The consultation is also where we were told what the best options were for us. We discussed ICSI as being the most potentially successful route for us, along with the recommendation that we used my partner’s eggs due to her high level of fertility.
This appointment was not only a massive step forward for us in terms of a plan of action as to how to start our family, it was where we were also presented with several things that we had to discuss. Who was going to carry the baby? Whose eggs were we going to use? Were we willing to egg share? Was this definitely the right clinic for us? These were enormous life-changing decisions that would not only influence our lives but also potentially other people’s lives as well.
Luckily, we had previously discussed these questions, but not to the point where we had to make a decision in order to move forward. We had already decided that I was going to carry the baby, this was the best option for us in terms of work and it was something that took a very long time to decide. With two women it’s incredibly hard trying to decide who is going to carry, as it’s something we both wanted to do and we both wanted to do it first time round. However, this is when the topic of eggs became incredibly important. Yes, it was recommended that we use my partner’s eggs due to her high fertility, but the reason we actually used her eggs through partner donation was that it meant we were both involved. If we were successful she would be the biological mother, and I would be the birth mother. I was very honest at the time and said that I would have found it very difficult if my partner carried the baby and we used her eggs first time round. Yes, the child would be mine, but I wouldn’t have felt very involved in the whole process and I was scared I wouldn’t bond with our child if we were successful.
Then we discussed egg sharing. For us, this was a really easy decision to make. Actually, this was easier than most of the other decisions because we were going to need someone who had donated sperm so that we could start a family. So we knew that the very least we could do is egg share so that someone else could be offered the opportunity to start a family as well.
Fertility treatment isn’t spoken about in general conversation, a lot of the time it’s brushed under the carpet and people are embarrassed that they can’t naturally conceive a baby. We both felt that through egg sharing those people who were struggling to conceive or perhaps couldn’t at all, could be given everything they had wished for and dreamed of. Also, it was important to know that it didn’t affect our own chances, as sharing is only possible if a specific number of eggs are produced, enough for two women’s treatment. If not, then we keep the eggs that are produced for our own treatment, we saw this as a win-win either way, with the most likely outcome being that another woman is helped. We really wanted to help another couple achieve their dream of a family, but an extra help when it comes to egg sharing with Herts & Essex is that the drugs and procedures are free for the sharer; we still had to pay for my drugs and procedures. But everything my partner took or had done during our time was all taken care of because she shared. The advice and support we were given, together with the different options available was carefully explained until they were sure we understood. Everything we encountered confirmed that Herts & Essex was the right place for us. We had all of the information we needed from them, we felt comfortable and we had a clear route forward with people listening to what WE wanted and how we wanted to do things.
So that was it, the initial big decisions had been made. We were going to egg share, use my partner’s eggs and I was going to carry. This was, however, just the start of decisions, and big ones at that, but it was also exciting thinking we were starting the journey to potentially having a baby.
Even though we had made the decisions together and I was 100% happy with the way we had decided to do things. This didn’t stop me having niggling worries about a few things, such as what rights would I have as a parent to a non-biological child? Would I bond with any child I carried in the same way as I would if they were biologically mine? Luckily, I didn’t have to worry for very long about any question because the clinic was always happy to explain everything, no matter how many times we asked.
We did have to fill in a great deal of paperwork; a large amount of it was to do with the egg sharing option. Because we were egg sharing and also doing a partner-to-partner donation there were lots of important decisions to fully understand and make. Things like; how many families did my partner want to potentially create with her eggs? What would we do with any embryos that had been created but weren’t used? How long did we want to keep any embryos? These are just a few of the questions, but they were important and they clarified things for me. Because we were doing a partner-to-partner donation my partner still had to ‘donate’ her eggs, which means that once she had signed the donation form they legally became mine. This meant that if we were successful I would legally be seen as the mother. Obviously, we were going to be joint parents, which we both acknowledged by signing the paperwork in reference to any embryos that may be created. Also, when it came to registering the birth of our child, we would both be named on the birth certificate, me as the ‘mother’ and my partner as the ‘other parent’. This really did put my mind at ease over the question about my equal right to any children that we may have.
As the chosen carrier I had a CMV blood test, this was more important than I initially thought. My understanding of it was that it was to see whether any virus has been activated and whether I then had an active virus or not. Ideally, you don’t want to be carrying an active virus, as treatment can’t start until it’s inactive because of any complications it can cause during pregnancy. It turned out that I had an active virus and this delayed the start of our treatment slightly.
At this stage, our personal characteristics were taken; height, weight, hair and eye colour, nationality, skin tone etc. This information is passed onto the lab; a crucial team in the whole IVF process as they are the people that oversee finding a sperm donor and managing the eggs and embryos. The lab told us we needed to think carefully about the sperm donor; of course, being in a same-sex female relationship it’s not something that we normally think about. There are various options when it comes to finding sperm. We could choose to use a known-donor – someone we know personally who was willing to donate for our treatment. Herts & Essex offer an in-house sperm bank, or we could use external sperm banks if we couldn’t find somebody with the characteristics that we wanted. There are of course other methods of getting sperm; you can even buy it online (what can’t you get online these days?). The online option was never one we were going to choose as it’s just too risky. Firstly, it could be sent from anyone, anywhere and at any time. There is no way of confirming it’s been medically screened, so you could be causing problems not only for yourself but also any potential baby. There was the option of using someone we know as a donor. We already knew that we didn’t want to co-parent with a donor but we did get plenty of offers. We found it quite funny that the only thing we needed to start a family was suddenly being offered to us from a large number of the men in our lives. As flattering as it was, we knew it wasn’t the right option for us. We felt that having a donor we knew could possibly complicate things in the future, and we didn’t want to jeopardise any of our relationships with the men that offered to be a sperm donor for us.
We spoke to the clinic and they asked us to think about and list some of the main characteristics that we required from a sperm donor. We found that this list ended up being very similar to the characteristics that we had given about ourselves; extras that we were able to include were the level of education, occupation and interests. The lab team told us that the more specific we were in our donor requirements the longer it could take to find the right donor for us. So, being very specific about eye and hair colour and not allowing for a bit of variation could slow things down. However, even though Herts & Essex have an in-house sperm bank, if they are unable to find a suitable donor for us they are able to look at the characteristics of sperm held at other sperm banks.
In reality, the characteristics of our donor were easier to finalise than we first thought – we ended up with a combination of both my partner’s characteristics and mine. However, there were certain things that we didn’t specify such as eye colour. Of course, it depends on your own personal choices but for us, eye colour was not the most important thing when we looked at the big picture; did we want to wait longer for a donor that met an exacting list of requirements? Or do we want to get things moving? We choose to get things moving.
We did tell our families and close friends that we were starting the process of IVF; we found it extremely important to be surrounded by people we could talk to throughout the whole process. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster as you want it so badly to work but realistically (and you have to be realistic) it may take a few goes in order to work.
It was during the sperm selection process that we found that people’s views and opinions started to surface. We learnt that people will always have their own thoughts about the whole process and unless they are positive thoughts you do have to learn to stay strong and ignore them. Unfortunately, there are still some small-minded people who think voicing their opinion about IVF is needed. It was only at the sperm selection stage that we received a negative opinion during the entire process; otherwise, everyone was SO supportive and very interested. The negative comment was such a shame because it was so utterly inappropriate. It was suggested that instead of choosing a donor (which is what we’ve always known we wanted to do) we should save our money and time and just go and sleep with someone. This was so negative on so many levels: firstly, we are a lesbian couple so sleeping with a random man was not at the top of our list … surprisingly! Secondly, when talking about how we created our much-wanted child, we most definitely didn’t want that option to be the way. Thirdly, the suggestion raises so many issues; medically, parentally and legally, to name just a few.
You might be shocked to find out that this was not the option we chose! Instead, we opted to use a regulated sperm bank with medically screened and vetted sperm donors. So, after handing over our characteristic requirements to the lab, we sat back to wait. Not only were we waiting for me to have an inactive CMV result but also for the lab to come up with a selection of suitable donors.
Two months after our initial visit to their open day we received our first sample of three suitable donors that met our listed characteristics. All three were completely different and it was at this point that it all became very real. The person we eventually chose would potentially help us get closer to the dream of having a baby. When we got the email we both felt a real mix of emotions; very exciting, scary, daunting and also incredibly nervous. Rather than deciding together, we both read the email separately and formed our own opinion about the donors. We had already decided that if we both couldn’t decide on a donor from the first impressions then they weren’t the right donor for us. We felt it wouldn’t be fair if we both didn’t automatically choose the same person … that any child should be made with all parties involved in agreement about everything.
So, after reading the profiles, we both said out loud the number of the donor we preferred, and we said it at the same time. Luckily we both chose number two! He fitted the profile of the person we wanted and we agreed that he was the donor for us. It was very emotional coming to the decision, and we both had a little cry at this point because it was such a big leap to take – we really felt we had found THE person. After making our decision we needed to tell the clinic – we did this straight away so that we didn’t overthink our decision. We also asked a few of our non-judgmental friends which donor they would have chosen for us. This was just for fun and definitely wouldn’t have changed our mind regardless of what they said. But all of our friends chose donor number two as well – they agreed that the donor really was a mix of who we both are.
In between our initial consultation visit and choosing our sperm donor we had implications counselling with a registered and independent counsellor. Fertility treatment regulations in the UK require that you have counselling, not only because we were receiving a donation, but also because my partner was going to egg share and therefore become an egg donor. Coming to terms with starting a family is quite different for a same-sex couple because we always know that we will need the help of a donor in order to start our family. As a gay couple, it’s obviously something we had to get our heads around a very long time ago, but we had also made the decision to donate so the implications of becoming a donor needed to be talked through and fully understood. There is no limit as to how many counselling sessions you need; we only needed one session. When the counsellor is satisfied that you have talked through all the implications you are signed off and can progress with your treatment. During our counselling session we were spoken to about our family, our lifestyle, how we felt about receiving a donation, how we felt about egg sharing, did we have men in our lives and what our relationship was like. The main body of the session was focused on receiving a donation and egg sharing, and how this would influence our lives, both now and in the future.
In terms of receiving a donation, I think the most important thing we took away from our counselling was to ensure that, if successful, we use the correct terminology when talking with our child. We learnt to ensure that we didn’t use the words ‘daddy’ or ‘father’ as this indicates a parental responsibility, we would need to focus on how we needed a ‘donor’ to help us become a family. We also discussed how we both felt about egg sharing. For us, the reason we wanted to egg share was to make a difference for someone else. We wanted to help at least one person try and have a family, and if they were successful then it would be life-changing for them. After all, we were asking for someone to help to change our lives, so we wanted to do the same.
So, we had been signed off by the counsellor and had chosen our sperm donor, now we only had to wait for treatment to begin. It’s the waiting that can be the hard part. Honestly, it was frustrating that things didn’t storm forward and start straight away like we wanted them to. But, as they say, the best things in life are most definitely worth waiting for, and there is a great deal of planning when it comes to fertility treatment. It’s easy to forget that whilst all of this had been happening to us, the clinic had been working hard to find a recipient suitable for my partner’s eggs. So, finally, there were three women that had to be coordinated in order for the final treatment to go ahead.
Apart from all the planning and coordinating, there is also a great deal of treatment involved, drugs to take, and scans and tests to have before any treatment cycle can start. This is when the hard work and commitment on all sides really starts. You really have to stick together like glue and support each other.
We had to tell the clinic the first day of our next period. Who knew that one day we would be pleased to get them! This was really important, it meant we could be given the dates for when our treatment cycle would officially start. It also meant that as soon as we got our period we would start taking the pill. We had to continue to take the pill each day until our Treatment Information Appointment (TIA). It’s at this appointment, with a nurse, that all the appointment dates are made and lots of information about your individual cycle is provided. There will be small variations for every couple, but we started off learning about our tests and procedures. My partner had a scan to check everything was ok with her ovaries and uterus … most scans we had were internal, so you need to get used to that straight away!
Then it was my turn; I had blood screening tests for HIV, hepatitis, etc. My partner had previously had these tests done as part of the donor screening process; mine were done due to becoming a recipient. I also had a SIS (Saline Infusion Sonography) and pipelle procedure. After reading the information sheet on this I thought I was totally prepared for what was to come but I was quite wrong. For me this was the most uncomfortable procedure during the treatment; this could be because I have a retroverted uterus or also because I’m a complete wimp. The pipelle itself was fine; it’s a procedure where the womb lining is scratched, the research and thinking behind this is to try and improve the chance of embryo implantation. It’s the SIS that’s not much fun. A small balloon is inserted via a catheter into your uterus and filled with a saline solution. This gives the consultants a good view to check everything is ok. I did find this very uncomfortable but it doesn’t last long and once it’s done you don’t need it done again. I also had my one and only injection of Prostap, which goes into your bum. This injection shuts down your hormones and puts your body into a mini-menopausal state.
The TIA appointment is also where you are given, and have the opportunity to discuss, your individual treatment plan; one treatment plan as a donor and one as a recipient. These plans clearly outline the dates for when drugs need to be taken, scans done, and for the estimated date of collection and transfer of eggs. Both plans were very detailed and the dates and timings of these procedures would help towards our success. This is when reality really hits home! We had started treatment! It was so exciting to finally be doing something that could end up in us getting pregnant. It felt like it had taken so long to get to this point – but it really hadn’t!
We were given an appointment for two weeks later to go in for further scans to check that my womb was ready to go, whereas my partners’ was to see if her ovaries were ready for stimulating. As a recipient, my treatment procedures were easy in comparison to my partners. In between the TIA and next set of scans I only had to stop taking the pill. My partner had to continue taking it for a further ten days and tell them when she next started her period, as this dictated whether or not the scan date was still ok.
After the scans, we were shown how to inject! My partner’s drug was called Gonal F and she had to inject herself once a day, which gradually increased to two injections; one of Gonal F and one of Cetrotide.
I was given Progynova, which I put under my tongue three times a day and aspirin once a day. I definitely got the better side of the bargain here! We were provided with everything we needed for the injections; a sharps box and all the drugs, needles and wipes. We did the first injection at the clinic, so when it came to the next one at home it’s fair to say there was some tension in the house. I got everything ready, filled the syringe, put on a needle and got rid of any air bubbles. We had been taught to pinch either side of the belly button and inject into the skin. It was very daunting for my partner so I offered to do it. It’s really hard to inject someone you love, and the first time I did it she ended up with a big bruise. But I learnt a lot the first time; take a deep breath, inject steadily and take out the needle quickly.
Being the one that did the injections really made me feel a part of the journey. I felt like we were sharing the whole experience. It didn’t stop it from being very hard to do but I loved all the planning, preparation and making sure the timing was right. But the bit just before inserting the needle into the skin was hard, but I knew that every time it needed to be done we were a little closer to having a baby. We had to go for scans to look at how the egg follicles were growing and developing. This would determine whether the drug dosage needed to be changed. I loved this scan; I found looking at the eggs developing incredible. As I’ve already mentioned, my partner had a high AMH level so the number of egg follicles she was producing was good and it seemed to take a good deal of time to count and measure them.
Four days after the first egg scan my partner had another one and this one was a big deal! This is the scan that determines whether the initial ‘egg collection’ day they’d given us could still go ahead and, for us, it needed to be changed. Even though she had produced a very large amount of egg follicles they weren’t quite big enough. So this meant a few more days of injections in order for them to be ready for collection. I’ll admit this was a bit disappointing as we were ready and very excited but we wanted the best chance of being successful and if that meant waiting a couple of days longer, then that’s what we had to do. The disappointment was very short-lived because in the overview of time what difference would a few days really make? At the same time, I also had another scan to check the lining of my womb and make sure it was thick enough to accommodate an embryo.
Two days later we had another scan to check the follicle size and were given the big thumbs up and our egg collection date was set. In relation to timings, this was just over four months since we went to the open day, so really things had moved fast.
It’s at this point that a lot happens in a really short space of time. Exactly 36 hours before egg collection we had to do the late night trigger injection. This is the very exciting last injection and basically gets the egg follicles ready for collection – we think of it as giving them their final squeaky polish before being taken out. Interestingly, this was the only injection where my partner felt any side effects; it made her feel a little bit ‘bloated and heavy’.
The day after the late night trigger injection is when I started using Cyclogest. Now, I say ‘using’ instead of taking, as this is not taken orally! Instead, these introduce you to a whole new way of taking medication. Cyclogest can only be described as a white slippery bullet; they come individually wrapped and feel slightly greasy. There are two options for how to use them … vaginally or rectally! My partner found this highly amusing and was actually glad that she’d just had to have injections. I went for the rectal option, mainly because I was worried about them falling out if I used them vaginally?! This was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made in my life! The casing doesn’t get absorbed, so you could end up with an alarming amount of white greasy stuff coming out of you, and I know that if I had that coming out of my vagina I would not have been pleased. When I first had to pop them in I was a bit of a baby and felt slightly weird doing it, but when you’ve done it once it gets much easier.
So, the day after I started Cyclogest and 36 hours after the trigger injection came egg collection day. I can still remember absolutely everything about that day … it was amazing. We arrived for our appointment and my partner got into a gown and hairnet and waited in her bed until they were ready.
The nurses talk you through everything as often as you need, along with keeping us updated about when we would be going into the theatre. When she was taken through I was very apprehensive; wondering how many eggs they would collect because that would influence how many eggs we got and how many our recipient received. We already knew that my partner could definitely be a donor due to the high number of egg follicles she had produced. When egg collection was finished she was a bit groggy, she had a drink and an entire plateful of biscuits … which she was very pleased about.
She was in a bit of discomfort and was feeling a bit sore; it was an emotional time and she just wanted to go home, but of course, she couldn’t go straight away. This is when you find out that choosing the right clinic is so important. The nurses at Herts & Essex were out of this world. There were a few emotional tears, and some pain and grogginess but instead of being treated as just another patient the nurses gave her a cuddle and pep-talked to her about what a massive thing had just happened and how we were possibly one step closer to having our baby. They also made sure she had pain relief and explained that someone would be in shortly to speak to us about our eggs.
Being looked after in such a way once again confirmed that we had made the right choice. All of the nurses were incredibly busy, but they took the time to give us an extra cuddle, they took the time to reassure us, which changed everything about that day; we were so well looked after. Because you see the staff throughout your journey they invest themselves in you as well, and every one of them hopes that you will be successful. They also know how difficult it can be and how much of an emotional rollercoaster it is. We went home armed with information about how many eggs had been collected, how many we had and how many were going to the recipient. We were also given information about what to look out for in terms of side effects following egg collection and what signs could be potentially harmful. This included an emergency phone number for someone at the clinic just in case we needed to talk to anyone about anything after we had left.
We were given a card which included our patient number and individual bar code. This is the clinics IVF Electronic Witnessing Program which is a form of electronic security tagging. It protected our eggs and chosen sperm in the laboratory and made sure that nothing gets muddled up. The next stage was fertilisation of the eggs which meant that the next few days would decide when any resulting embryos would be transferred.
On Day 1, the lab called and we were told that all except one of our eggs had successfully fertilised and they were developing well.
The Day 2 phone call told us that unfortunately, we had lost another embryo as it hadn’t been developing as it should have been.
Day 3 arrived and we were both ready to drop everything and go to the clinic for egg transfer. But this wasn’t to be the case; our remaining embryos were developing so well that we would definitely be having a Day 5 transfer. Day 5 is the ultimate goal; it meant that the embryos had developed to the blastocyst stage and that our eggs had a really good chance of developing further once transferred.
There was no phone call on Day 4; which is usual when going for a Day 5 blastocyst transfer. The embryo is left alone to quietly get on with development while we held our breath and hoped that we had a strong embryo to transfer on Day 5.
Day 5 arrived and we went to the clinic for egg transfer. Stupid me forgot the IVF Witness card and I was in a panic that we wouldn’t be able to get everything done. However, once again I shouldn’t have underestimated the clinic; they just took it in their stride and gave us an already prepared backup identity card with the exact same details on it.
I’m sure transfer day is always a very special day but I also found the whole experience very funny and overwhelming. We arrived at the clinic, went through to get ready, and we were spoken to about our embryos. The embryos are graded 1-4 with 1 being the best grade and what we were ultimately striving for. We couldn’t have wished for the result we got on that day, we had nine grade 1 embryos and the lab had selected one of the best to use for the transfer. We had already discussed and chosen how many embryos we wanted transferring when we completed the paperwork. If they had been grade 2/3 embryos we would have opted for two to be transferred back, but because they were grade 1 we chose to transfer just one. Of course, we knew how many eggs had been collected and fertilised and how many we were then going to put back in, but even more important than that, we were given a picture of our actual embryo; it remains one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever seen.
Now, in order for a transfer to be successful, they need to be able to get a clear picture of my womb, which meant I needed a full bladder. I had gone slightly overboard with the amount of water I had drunk on the journey so as we were going into the treatment room I was absolutely desperate for a wee.
I lay down with my partner beside me all the time. The room was amazing; a window allows you to see directly into the lab and a TV screen displayed our embryo. It was incredible seeing our embryo up close and personal and thinking ‘that could be our baby’. They started scanning me and the consultant had to push quite heavily to get a clear picture to make sure the embryo was being transferred to the correct place. However, as I was already desperate for the loo I was worried that I would wet myself then and there on the bed. I genuinely believed I was going to wet myself so much that I tensed up and everyone had to keep telling me to relax. This just made things worse we both just started laughing and it took a lot of deep breaths to stop laughing and try to relax.
The syringe was inserted into the right place and our embryo was transferred, we were given a picture of the exact moment the embryo went in. That was overwhelming. How many people can say they saw the exact moment their potential child was placed in their womb? There were a few tears as we thought how this could be the very point that our baby starts growing inside me. So, that was it, there was nothing more to do except get dressed and go home. We were given an appointment for nine days later when we had to go back to the clinic and have a pregnancy test. In the meantime, I had to continue taking all of my medication, and my partner had to continue drinking lots of water to ensure no problems developed following her egg collection.
Nine days later I arrived at the clinic alone as my partner was unable to come due to work commitments. Another reason she didn’t come along with me was down to naivety, we knew the pregnancy test was done via a blood test and everyone knows that it takes days for results to arrive! So I was taken in for my blood test and then to my surprise, I was told to go and sit in reception until my results were ready. I almost fell off the chair when I was told that in 20 minutes time I would know if we were pregnant. I didn’t know what to do with myself, I couldn’t ring my partner and tell her she was missing out on finding out if we were pregnant. Instead, I sat there and quietly panicked on my own about the results. That was the longest 20 minutes of my life. When my name was called to go through I could barely walk. Going into the room I was barely breathing. I sat down and my results were gently slid across the desk to me with the announcement of ‘congratulations, you’re pregnant’. I immediately welled up with tears. Seconds later, after the news was announced, Gerian (the same nurse who hugged and cared for my partner after egg collection) came bursting into the room and wrapped me up in an enormous hug. This was exactly what I needed at this point; it was even more overwhelming having a member of staff show how much they cared about our success. She had heard the news and just had to come and say how happy she was for us. This highlighted to me, once again, how much the staff are invested in their patients’ treatment. We met different staff during our journey and every single one of them showed genuine happiness and joy during our treatment.
I was sent home to continue with my drug regimen and we only had to go back for our next appointment for a scan at six weeks. At home, I set about preparing how I was going to tell my partner the amazing news. That evening was life changing for both of us. Yes, there was no guarantee that we would carry to full-term but we had made it this far and managed to get pregnant. In the next six weeks, I wrote down when I had to take my medication, as I knew this was crucial to try and maintain the pregnancy. I’d like to say the six weeks were plain sailing but they weren’t. I had some slight bleeding that can be a side-effect of the drugs I was taking. This was a bit of a scare and I rang the clinic immediately. They reassured me and asked me if I could go straight in for a blood test. I got the result later that day to say all my levels looked good and they said to return two days later for another blood test to see if my levels had risen further. Thankfully they had which showed that the pregnancy was still progressing. They explained that it could have been that I had some implantation bleeding or perhaps a side-effect of the drugs. It was during those six weeks that I think I worried the most throughout the whole treatment. Oddly it wasn’t about losing the baby it was about the baby itself.
I had always known that either one of us was going to end up with a child that biologically wasn’t theirs. Being a lesbian couple we were always going to need some external input and so our child would only be half a genetic match to one of us. Here I was four months from when we started the whole process and I was pregnant with our baby, but I had no link to that child other than the fact that I was the one carrying it. I was so scared that I wasn’t going to feel connected to our baby when it was born; that I wouldn’t love it as much as I would a baby that was biologically related to me. How was I going to feel when the baby I was carrying would never look like me or my family? Naturally, I did go to the first scan with all of these thoughts running through my head, but then something magical happened. We saw our baby for the first time and I heard its heartbeat, I remember crying, as I couldn’t believe that we had seen our baby. As soon as I heard and saw this amazing sight all of my worries vanished, I couldn’t believe how bloody stupid I had been. I saw our baby and fell in love straight away, it was OUR baby, not just my partners. I was carrying our baby and I was so protective about the fate of our baby that if anyone ever said it wasn’t my baby as well I would have a great number of things to say to them. It didn’t matter at all whether I was carrying or not carrying, or genetically related or not. As soon as the scan started, I felt my life change forever, as did my partner. We had another scan two weeks later, and the amount the baby had changed in that short amount of time was incredible. Then that was it, we were signed off by the clinic and I was given a drug regimen to follow until week 17 of the pregnancy. By the end of those 17 weeks, pessaries were a breeze and I automatically took my drugs at the same time every day.
Then in the January, a year and a month after initially visiting the clinics Open Day, we welcomed our baby boy into our lives. He was late and took his time to arrive but, oh my God, he was worth the wait. All of the visits, the tears, the drugs, the hope, the wishing and dreaming had paid off. We had started our family and it was all down to the donation of someone else and of the incredible work done by the clinic. It could have potentially been a longer journey if we had needed a longer drug protocol or if it hadn’t worked the first time. But we count our lucky stars every day that our treatment did work and that we have our incredibly gorgeous son. We also have frozen embryos being lovingly cared for by the clinic. Honoured is what we feel when we think about our other embryos; honoured because we have so many, which gives us so many chances to add to our family. We will be using those embryos in the very near future as our son is the light of our lives and we can’t wait to have another child. Whenever I look at him I don’t ever think about a biological connection, I am his mummy as well. I grew and carried him, but he is the spitting image of my partner and I hope our other children will be as well.
To our donor we feel eternally grateful; he helped to give us what we have waited for. We can never thank him enough; a thank you just doesn’t seem to cover how much he has managed to change our lives. We have an utterly breath taking son who makes our lives so much richer, every single day. Along with that, we also have eight frozen embryos, which mean that we can expand our family when we are ready. All of this is more than we could have ever hoped and dreamed about. We also hope that there is another family out there with frozen embryos, who have been successful in having a baby, giving them the potential to expand their family all because my partner decided to egg share.
To anyone going through fertility treatment, or thinking about it, or perhaps you know someone that is or has been through it. My advice is to talk about it; people are so interested in the whole process and they want to find out more. Since we started having IVF we have had countless people, including strangers who have asked us questions. But always the first question out of their mouth is “Do you mind if I ask you a question about it?” Fertility treatment should be spoken about, it’s not something to be ashamed of, and a great deal of love, hope and wishing go into making an IVF baby. It’s hard work and can be upsetting and hard to get through, but for those people who are successful, the end result is worth everything. Sharing information about how you made your child is key; no one should be embarrassed about asking for help. As I’m sure we were all told as children, or even tell our own children “if you need help, just ask”. Fertility treatment is magical and informative and can change not only the lives of the people involved but also the lives of others around them.
Finally, in the words of the very clinic that helped to change our lives “Everyone deserves the chance to become a parent. All that matters is that your baby is healthy and loved.”