I first discovered I was likely to need an egg donor to fulfil my dream of becoming a Mum at the age of 28, following a shock diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Failure. This was a life-changing moment marking the start of an incredible rollercoaster of emotions over the following 2 years and beyond. Over this time, we tried 5 cycles of IVF with my own eggs using both stimulated and natural cycle methods. Only one cycle resulted in a pregnancy which devastatingly ended in a missed miscarriage. Following these cycles, 18 months from diagnosis, we decided to take a leap of faith and try donor eggs abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. We were incredibly fortunate to fall pregnant on our first attempt using an egg donor – with 5 great quality embryos in total, one was transferred to me and 37 weeks later our beautiful girl, Mila, came into the world in July 2016. The following year we returned to try for a sibling and with two embryos being transferred this time we found out I was pregnant with twins – Mila is now big sister to Eska and Lena, who arrived in February 2018. Today, I’m an incredibly grateful Mum to three gorgeous girls under the age of three and I wouldn’t change them, or how I came to have them, for the world.
It sounds relatively straight forward when I condense our story down into one paragraph, doesn’t it? It really wasn’t! I can honestly say that infertility, as well as the prospect of early menopause, was the most difficult, lonely, life-altering experience. It’s because of this I now want to help others who are facing the same questions, doubts and fears that I once did.
I began sharing our story in November 2018, initially to raise awareness of infertility, IVF and donor conception through my blog ‘DefiningMum’. Through the power of social media, I have been astounded by the overwhelmingly positive response from those who have found comfort in seeing the reality of life as a mum after making such a huge decision.
My main aim behind DefiningMum was to show that being a parent is not solely defined by genetics - over the past few years I’ve learnt there’s so much more to being a mum than DNA. By speaking openly, my hope is that both IVF and donor conception will become much more open and accepted ways of starting a family and, as my girls reach their teenage years, I hope they are able to feel that their conception isn’t in any way a ‘taboo’ or something to be hidden.
I’ve found that sharing through social media is a great way to help change perceptions, encourage understanding and give hope to others who are embarking on this journey. I’m most active on Instagram, a platform where people can be as open or private as they like (with the option of anonymous accounts) whilst following and connecting with others who can help and support them. The community is truly inspirational, providing an opportunity to share and learn whilst being able to retain a level of privacy about fertility struggles within your usual social media network.
It’s through these connections I’ve discovered that, not only do people want to hear about the success stories, they also want to hear about what to expect when it comes to the emotions and fears that are inevitably part of this huge decision-making process. Accepting the loss of not being able to have a genetic child involves grief, which needs to be acknowledged and understood as a perfectly normal feeling when faced with this decision. It was only when I started my DefiningMum account and connected with Jana Rupnow that I realised what I had experienced was compounded grief. After this, I suddenly felt my feelings were validated and I began to understand that the grief was real and that it was okay to struggle emotionally.
I first listened to Jana speak on The Fertility Podcast, after which I reached out to her through Instagram. Jana is a fertility counsellor in the US with both personal and professional experience of infertility, donor conception and adoption. She is the author of an incredibly useful book – ‘Three Makes Baby’ - which I would encourage anyone considering donation to read. Jana and I recently collaborated to record a series of ‘InstaLive’ videos where, using my personal experience and Jana’s professional skills, we discussed different topics such as ‘grief and making the decision’ and ‘parental attachment and bonding’ as part of a live conversation led by questions our followers had posed. These conversations can still be found on my IGTV channel through my Instagram account.
I’m learning that even beyond becoming a mum through donation there are still challenging emotions and fears to face. As I gratefully face the typical challenges of parenthood I am learning that some of these will inevitably be more complex than a ‘conventional’ family. It’s been a journey in itself just sharing my story on a wider scale, personally I’ve faced many questions that I had previously pushed to the back of my mind, mainly about what the girls’ reactions might be when they learn of their conception. It’s by sharing my thoughts and feelings that I’ve started to become more confident in how I am going to handle these challenges in the future.
As part of DefiningMum, I’m keen to not only discuss the perspective of the donor parent but also explore different perspectives of donor conception, an incredibly important viewpoint being that of the donor conceived child. Ally recently shared her story on the Donor Conception Network website after launching her ‘Half Of Me’ podcast, where she shares her journey after discovering as an adult that she was conceived via sperm donation. Ally and I are collaborating with Jana at the end of May to create a podcast episode that explores the parent and child perspectives, which can seem poles apart but in many ways are actually a real mirror of emotions. My hope is that by opening up these conversations I can prepare myself and others for supporting and understanding their children in the future when they come to learn about their story.
I’d love for you to come and follow me in my journey of discovery, understanding and personal learning as I reflect on my past experiences and navigate my way through parenthood. You can find my blog at www.definingmum.com and follow me on Instagram @definingmum. I also have a Facebook page ‘Defining Mum’ and will be launching on Twitter soon. I’m a big supporter of DCN’s mission and believe that it is so important to encourage openness and sharing with this very important topic.
Written by Becky in 2019.