Karen, 40 one of The Fertility Circle co-founders shares her journey and discusses the experiences that led to using double donation IVF to build her family.
In my twenties and early thirties whilst many of my friends were starting to have families I just wasn’t in the same place. But by the time I was 34 I felt more ready and after a few months I did get pregnant naturally. Amazing, right? Well that’s what I thought, especially as I’d had what I thought was my period yet despite that up two weeks later was still getting positive test results. Turns out I was actually having an early miscarriage. This was the start of a painful and familiar pattern.
Although the first miscarriage hit me hard, I did take from it some positives. I was able to get pregnant naturally, we’d only been trying for a short time and I know a lot of people that are unfortunate enough to have a miscarriage can go on to have successful pregnancies. I picked myself up by going full steam into fertility mode. I researched how to naturally improve fertility. I found a wonderfully supportive fertility Acupuncturist, I tried meditating, I did fertility detoxes, yoga, you name it I probably tired it.
After months of giving it our all nothing was happening. Feeling frustrated I decided we should have some tests done to find out if there were any obvious issues. What then followed was a long year of tests and appointments. Patronisingly three different doctors gave me the “you’re young, you have plenty of time, it will happen” speech. For both myself and my partner basic testing suggested everything was normal. Why wasn’t it working then?!
We moved onto fertility treatment starting with two rounds of IUI. The first didn’t work and the second was a chemical pregnancy. Then came the IVF rollercoaster!
Our first IVF cycle started well when I had 18 eggs collected but sadly by day 3 all we were left with were two poor quality embryos. The clinic transferred both embryos but didn’t give us much hope. I spent the two week wait devastated that it had all gone wrong but was shocked when I did get a positive result! Sadly, the excitement was short lived and I miscarried before 5 weeks. That cycle was a massive whirlwind of emotions, hope, fear, crushing disappointment then the same all over again. As tough as it was though my dream of having a family kept me going, I was determined not to give up.
IVF no.2 was worse. By day three all embryos were highly fragmented so there was nothing viable to transfer. At this point it was indicated that I might have an egg quality issue and further semen analysis for my partner shower high rates of DNA fragmentation as well as raised sperm aneuploidy levels. All of these things could have been contributing to our lack of success.
At this point with no definite answers it was all still very much trial and error. Our options were:
1) to try my eggs with donor sperm,
2) my partners sperm with donor eggs or
3) double donation of both eggs and sperm or embryo donation.
We faced some very tough and emotional decisions but opted to try things in that order.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we’d have to make these decisions but I still wanted to move forward and was grateful we had options to try. We selected a sperm donor after viewing hundreds of online profiles. I felt so much pressure to make the right choice for both us as parents and for our future child whose genetics we were choosing. We eventually found someone that had characteristics and attributes that resonated with us. As difficult as it was to come to terms with all of this it felt like we were a step closer.
Sadly, IVF with my eggs and donor sperm produced similar results again with highly fragmented embryos and a missed miscarriage at 9 weeks which was just heart breaking. Having used donor sperm this time the result confirmed my egg quality issue and going forward egg donation would give us our best chances of success.
The wait for an egg donor was long and painful, however we were eventually matched with a wonderful donor via an agency in the UK. Our donor gave us the greatest gift anyone could give and we will be forever thankful to her. After such a long wait to find the egg donor we made the decision to proceed with both donors. We had reached our limit of experimenting and couldn’t face further disappointment. We were desperate.
Using double donors resulted in 6 great quality blastocysts. We’d never had results like this so it finally felt like things were looking up. I had one transferred and the rest were frozen. Again, I became pregnant and this time we thought the outcome would surely be different. It wasn’t. I miscarried at 6 weeks. I was beyond devastated. I started to think that as well as my known egg issue that perhaps my body just wasn’t up to the job.
I was a complete mess emotionally and physically and felt I couldn’t take much more. Unable to consider treatment again until I’d healed I was forced to take a break for a few months. As frustrating as this was I can now see I needed that time to recover. Feeling broken I spoke to my GP who referred me to a local miscarriage support charity where I had counselling. I’d really recommend counselling to anyone that’s struggling. I was given such valuable support and advice including some coping strategies which I still use from time to time.
5 months later I was ready to try again so we had a frozen embryo transferred which finally led to success!!!!!
What a journey with so many bumps in the road but I’d do it all again if I had to. I’m incredibly fortunate that my wish finally came true and grateful to our wonderful donors who helped make this possible. Donor conception is not for everyone and it’s certainly not a decision that can be made lightly. We spent a lot of time thinking about it, working through our feelings and grieving the loss of our fertility as well as the chance to parent a genetic child. I can’t describe the desperation I felt to have a family and to have the chance to hold a baby in my arms. For us this route was our best chance to have a family so we could move on from our struggle with infertility and looking back I can honestly say it’s the best decision I have ever made. For me there is so much more to parenting than shared DNA, of course our genetics are an important part of who we are but they are just one part. Genes don’t make a family, love does.
From my experiences I know just how soul destroying and isolating infertility can be. The fertility world can be a lonely place and a minefield to navigate. I am now passionate about providing help and support to others that may be struggling. Along with my friend Abi, who has also been on a fertility journey we have created The Fertility Circle. This is somewhere you can come to access support, information and connect to community of people that understand.
Connect with us:
Instagram and Facebook @fertilitycircle
Check out our website www.thefertilitycircle.com