My journey deals with an aspect of fertility and a way of having a baby that some hopeful mothers-to-be might be fearful of, and that is egg or oocyte donation. I never anticipated it for myself, no one really does when they set out to have a baby.
I knew that trying to have a baby at 41 was not exactly ideal. I had asked my GP at 35 how long I could leave it and she said, ‘don’t wait longer than five years’. When in actual fact, truth be told it was already getting dicey at 35, but I had only just met my husband. He was 28 and working at the box office of a club in the Tenderloin neighbourhood of San Francisco, and not exactly ready to start a family. Neither was I, and in the past, I had been vocal about not really knowing if I ever wanted kids. My last relationship had lasted nine years, and I definitely knew I didn’t want kids with my ex at the time.
By the time I had passed 40 and now living in NYC working long hours as a creative director for a beauty brand, we knew it was now or never, so we started trying for a baby. I found out I was pregnant on a family trip to London towards the end of 2014 and around 10 weeks later, discovered I’d had a missed miscarriage after the sonographer found no heartbeat.
I decided to deal with the miscarriage at home but suffered complications and an infection that lead to a D&C, which I now know I should have done in the first place. Around nine or 10 months later, I got pregnant again but this one ended as soon as it began and after a trip to emergency, I was diagnosed with an early ectopic pregnancy and told not to try again for at least three months.
After the ectopic pregnancy we started to think that this might never happen. I was thankful I still had my fallopian tubes intact (they can be removed when an ectopic pregnancy is further advanced) but knew that this was likely going to be a long process. At my follow up appointment with my obstetrician-gynaecologist she said that in order to have testing done on a foetus after a miscarriage, you had to have had three for it to be considered a potential issue.
Down but not completely out, we started trying again and by late 2015, we were back in my hometown of Perth, Australia. I found out I was pregnant again. We were now in the care of a specialist and considering my age and history I was considered ‘high risk’. I felt well taken care of and quietly confident that this was going to be the one. However, at my second scan around 9-10 weeks, the same words I heard from the sonographer in New York were repeated to us in that darkened room… ‘I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat’. After my D&C tests were done and it was determined the foetus had Trisomy 16, a change in the chromosomes in which there are 3 copies of chromosome 16 rather than two. It’s a fairly common cause for miscarriage. This was a hard blow to deal with right before Christmas Eve, but we soldiered on and spent Christmas Day watching my cousin’s toddlers tear open their presents and secretly wishing to be anywhere else but around small children.
Seeing pregnant women and hearing about friends getting pregnant easily was like a little stab in the heart and it was easy to think ‘why me?’ – but I’ve always been quite resilient and my mum kept us going with positive support and I basically decided I was going to keep going until I knew I couldn’t go on any further (or until I was told there was no chance).
After some months of healing from the whole miscarriage fog, we decided to see a fertility specialist and get stuck into IVF. I knew my age was against me but thought IVF would somehow be the magic bullet and find my healthy eggs hidden in the deep recesses of my aging follicles, but after three rounds and no viable embryos to transfer, the doctor told us our best bet was to find an egg donor – which in Australia, with its stringent rules surrounding egg donation, was going to be tough.
After I had done some research regarding egg donation in Australia, I definitely felt defeated – it was slim to zero chance of finding someone and not having women in my circle that I could ask meant we were going to have search overseas. I found an agency in the USA.
IVF is quite the rollercoaster; there’s anticipation, stress, excitement and then in my case the deflation and the disappointment. In my case I didn’t suffer during the stimulation – I was on high levels of hormones but aside from the hassle of twice daily (sometimes three) injections, I got through each of our three rounds (with my own eggs) without too much trouble. I had what is called ‘diminished ovarian reserve’ – so my chances of yielding a decent batch of quality eggs during a retrieval were slim – so three rounds was enough to make the decision that we needed an egg donor if we were ever going to get pregnant.
In Australia, egg donation is only allowed if it’s purely altruistic – no money can be exchanged – so without any family or friends that were of childbearing age and that I felt I could even ask such a favour of, we looked to the US and to an egg donor company in Arizona. If we had not been in the financial position to pay for overseas eggs (I was paid out of my last role in NYC when the company was purchased) then this would have been the end of our journey – so I feel so fortunate to have been able to seek help elsewhere.
I won’t lie and say it didn’t get me down and there will be days where I look back on my miscarriages and get teary, because no matter what week you were at when you have a miscarriage, to you, it was still a baby, and you feel a deep loss for what will never be.
Living alone in NYC without the support of my family was tough. I also didn’t want the CEO of the company I worked for to know I was trying for a baby, as I knew they’d stress about finding someone to cover me when I took maternity leave. I told them I had the flu. I went back to work as if nothing had happened, and it was a very lonely time. It almost felt like it didn’t happen at all because we couldn’t really share our grief. My family in Australia were so concerned for us that my mum flew to New York and stayed with us for a few weeks which was a godsend.
“ There is no question he is mine. I carried him. I have the crooked Nike swoosh for a scar on my stomach to prove that and when it comes time for us to have the conversation about how he was born, I will proudly share with him that we moved heaven and earth to get him, and a very special lady helped us out. ”
Once we started the egg donation process, I almost felt a relief knowing that these eggs were at least 20 years younger than my eggs. It gave me a fresh sense of hope that this time, it was going to work. My husband and I spent a lot of time looking at the donors and it was a weird concept, looking for someone based on a few photos and brief bio. We fought quite a bit over potential donors and I recall yelling at one point ‘you’re not going on a date with her!’ In the end we both agreed on our chosen donor 100% and she had enough physical characteristics similar to us both that I felt the baby would look like ‘ours’.
The whole process probably took around four months from the time of signing up, selecting our donor, and having the drugs to prepare my uterus and then finally the implantation. I was freelancing as a creative consultant in Melbourne by this time (we had to move to be closer to the clinic handling our embryos in Sydney). I will never forget getting the call from the fertility clinic nurse to tell me I was pregnant. I was walking to the tram and had to duck into a laneway and steady myself, tears streaming down my face.
It was hard to believe it had worked the first time, we only got three fertilized embryos out of the seven eggs we received so it was still a gamble.
After the call from the fertility nurse, I called my husband (my mum was staying with us, so he had me on speaker and all I heard was her screams of joy in the background. I was very open with everyone in my family and my circle of friends that we were doing an egg donor round this time, and we had nothing but support.
I thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant. I was one of those people that didn’t have morning sickness, only a mild nausea and some food aversions. I loved having my little bump with me wherever I went. I told my husband it was like every day was my birthday, with this little surprise keeping me company. I am not one for attention but being pregnant certainly made me feel special.
When the day came to say hello to our baby (we were having a boy, I had been adamant I was having a girl!) he came early (our planned C-section was not for another week or so). My water broke around 1am in bed and I had the baby at 11.10am the next morning.
Fast forward to 2021 and Kit is almost three. He is obsessed with shapes, colours and Play Doh. I don’t really find myself thinking about the donor and whether he looks like me or not (although Epigenetics has proven that our body contributes to what characteristics an egg donor baby ends up with, whether it’s the donor’s eye colour or the father’s). He has my hair colour and curls which neither his dad nor the donor share. I just look at him and feel so grateful and thankful I was able to finally have a child. There is no question he is mine. I carried him. I have the crooked Nike swoosh for a scar on my stomach to prove that and when it comes time for us to have the conversation about how he was born, I will proudly share with him that we moved heaven and earth to get him, and a very special lady helped us out.
The one thing I have learnt through this journey is to be open minded, hold on to hope and know that there are many ways to parent – giving birth doesn’t just make you a parent, it’s how you nurture and care for that baby, no matter how they came into your life.
Motherhood has taught me that I’m stronger than I thought. It has also shown me that perseverance and determination are characteristics I didn’t know I had until I was put to the test.
Genea can point you in the right direction if you are considering a sperm or egg donor, surrogate or becoming a donor yourself.