Clare share's her and her husband's journey to conceiving their two sons through double donation.
We slid into donor conception without really thinking about it. Our story begins in a hospital in Boston. I was in my late twenties and prepped and ready for an egg retrieval procedure. We were waiting for the results of an operation my husband had just had to see if we could retrieve sperm cells that could be used to fertilize my eggs. Unfortunately we received the news that it wasn’t possible, and, because we hadn’t even thought of using donor sperm at that point, my cycle was cancelled and I never went through with the egg retrieval.
After a year or so, we decided that we’d continue to try to have a family with sperm donation, but we didn’t think about it very deeply or even discuss what that might mean for us. And we were never at any point offered any counselling. Because we were living in the US we were arranging this on a do-it-yourself basis and started shopping around the sperm banks in America and going through the very strange process of matching and selecting a donor. At this point, I was a normal healthy 30 year old and there was no reason to suppose that we wouldn’t be able to have a child quite easily with my own eggs using IUI or IVF.
After a period of many years and many procedures involving several six clinics in four countries and two continents, along with life events and international relocations, it was 12 years before we eventually had our first son. I was then 42 years old. Although I had a couple of rounds of IVF previously with my own eggs, by that point I had very low ovarian reserve and very little chance of it succeeding.
I remember the day I found out that my final round of IVF with my own eggs failed. It was a round where I produced a single egg and, although the clinic said that it was a good quality one, of course the probability of success was small to vanishing. I was at work when I got the call from the clinic and I went to meet my husband for lunch to tell him the news. We sat in the car and I sobbed as I told him that I couldn’t keep running into the same wall over and over again. Because that’s what each failed cycle felt like - running into a brick wall. And because the clinics advise you to stay positive, I ran into that wall at full pelt every time.
But I also knew that there was a door in the wall. It was small and shrinking with each passing year, but still big enough for me to squeeze through. We knew about egg donation from the current clinic we were using, whose care was excellent and who did offer counselling although we didn’t take it up. As we had been used to the idea of sperm donation for many years anyway it didn’t seem like a huge leap to go for double donation. We agreed to try it and headed off to Valencia for the embryo transfer.
And it worked first time! We had cracked it! This was how to succeed at having a child. After 12 years of failure, it’s hard to describe what it felt like to get the call from the nurse saying that I was pregnant. And how I enjoyed that pregnancy! Not even the nausea and fatigue could get me down. How charming those antenatal classes were, sitting around with the other expectant mothers, being normal and pregnant just like them. Even the institutional setting and the awful fruit squash they served couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for them.
And then our wonderful son was born, and he was fabulous. And we were busy, busy, busy. There were breastfeeding clinics and baby groups and exercise classes and swimming and so many things to go to and do with other mothers and babies. Our son was donor conceived and we would definitely tell him about it while he was still young, but in a little while.
After 18 months we decided we would like him to have a sibling. Having siblings ourselves, and having recently been through family bereavements, we knew the value of there being someone in the world who knows what it’s like to grow up in the same family as yourself. We had 3 frozen embryos left from our cycle to conceive him and set in motion the process of frozen embryo transfers. We also knew that we couldn’t put off telling him any longer. So we joined DCN at the same time as initiating a new cycle and finally began the journey to dealing with our infertility and the implications of how we’d chosen to have a family.
We were forced to deal with the emotional impact of our infertility because that first frozen embryo transfer cycle failed and it was a massive shock. I thought I’d found the failsafe way to have a child. After all, the first time it had worked, so why not this time? Previously, when a cycle failed, I would cry for a day and then immediately get back to the business of figuring out how and when I’d try again. When I had no child, I couldn’t afford to grieve each cycle because there was no way that I could allow myself to imagine that I might never have a child.
This time it was different, the sadness of the failed cycle lingered on day after day, into weeks and even a couple of months. And I realized that I wasn’t just mourning that cycle, but was mourning every failed cycle I’d ever had. All the pain of the twelve years it had taken to have my son. Because now that I had a son, now that I was a mother, I was finally in a safe enough place to do that.
And at the same time I began reading the material from DCN and thinking about the fact that there would always be these other people in my son’s life. Facing up to the implications of using anonymous donors and what that might mean for him and how we could help him with that. Reading other people’s feelings, thoughts and experiences that mirrored my own. Hearing from egg donors and donor conceived adults and seeing their points of view. All of things that we should have done before we conceived, but we didn’t because somehow we couldn’t.
That was an interesting year, because the remaining two embryo transfer cycles also failed. A quote I read that has stayed with me is that donor conception cures childlessness but doesn’t cure infertility. That was really driven home during that year. After the last failure we asked ourselves whether it was important that he have a genetic sibling, or a sibling at all. And as a result we went for a whole new cycle with new donors which was successful first time again. As a result, we now have two boys, with two different sets of donors, who both look completely different. Interestingly though, our first one looks like me and the second son like his father!
And of course we will be doing everything we can to ensure that they are comfortable with themselves and their place in the world. Being part of DCN is vital for that and I’m so grateful to them and their resources that help me to help my sons. We already have their wonderful Our Story book which my oldest son knows quite well. And going back to Valencia another 4 times has given us lots of opportunities to discuss why I’m going and explain that that is how we have built our family. At this time with a new baby being introduced, my son seems more interested than ever in hearing about himself and so this is a great time to chat about how he was conceived and how much we love him. We look forward to the journey ahead as they both grow and develop their own characters, and will be there for them to navigate their own, unique, way in the world.