If you had told me a couple of years ago, that our baby would be “made” in Russia, it’s likely I would have laughed at you. Not because I didn’t know that doing IVF abroad wasn’t an option, but as ever, you just don’t think it’s an option you need to consider… until you do.
I had never discounted it, but I felt that it was “easier” to have treatment in London, hop on the tube for 30 mins from my house, and revel in the convenience, particularly when I was working non- stop, and believe me, advertising production doesn’t stop for IVF ;) This worked for me, until it didn’t. After six rounds of unsuccessful IVF treatment in London, it was time to make a change. We are firm believers that if you keep putting the same things in, you get the same results, and it was time to change the variables. Obviously our treatments had been continually tweaked over the years, and that’s not taking anything away from our clinic, but it just felt we had come to that end of that road. With the options in front of us, it just felt like if we were going to consider different treatments/ options, then why not change it wholesale. It also made sense financially, even with travel and accommodation, as most clinics abroad do work out cheaper than their British counterparts. We never felt like the standards were compromised either, so it felt like a pragmatic choice, as well as an emotional one.
At the stage when we first went abroad to Spain, we were still using my eggs. We had looked at various tests that we hadn’t yet done, and having discovered that actually some of these originated in Spain, we thought why not just go straight to the source. Plus Valencia is bloody lovely, and any excuse to spend time wandering cobbled streets, basking in the winter sunshine on the beach, and using my Spanish was going to be a good thing. We also knew that by looking at this option, if my eggs weren’t up for the job, then we knew looking at donor eggs in Spain at the same clinic was also a consideration. All bases covered.
I viewed being away as a holiday if I’m honest, with some admin thrown in and some small procedures ;) I was lucky enough to spend over two weeks there, twice, and felt totally comfortable doing so. The change of environment was quite invigorating, the novelty of discovering a city exciting, living like a local was quite empowering! Finding a new routine, a new way of being in a clinic was refreshing, having been used to a familiar protocol for so long. I know this can be unsettling for some, but I saw it as an opportunity, as a way of finding new hope. Culturally of course there are differences, and even though I speak the language (enough to get by and feel comfortable), sometimes that “lost in translation” does happen, and consequently the manner in which things are said. But if you take that all with a pinch of salt, it really is a lovely way to change your mindset. I was never worried about the “safety” or “reputation” of the clinics we used. They were reputable, had good recommendations, both anecdotally and professionally, and felt like a misnomer that just because they were in a different country, that they might be inferior in some way! Or is that just island mentality ;)?!
Unfortunately our PGS testing in Spain didn’t yield the results we were hoping for, but what it did do was let us reassess where we were at and what we wanted our next steps to be. We could have gone ahead with donor treatment there, but when it came to actually making the final decision as to what that treatment might look like, we realised Spain didn’t offer what we wanted. So you take stock, you think about what it is that you want, and how you want to make that materialise.
I often get asked how I picked myself up after so many rounds of disappointment, and it’s a hard one to answer. Everybody is different, so it will change how you reconcile/ deal with each stage. I am generally a really positive person, as well as being pretty competitive, so I sort of refused to let all of this make me feel sad. I decided to try and take the positives out of every stage, and I just kept reminding myself that each step, was a step closer to hopefully making our family, whatever way that ended up being. There are no guarantees of course, but I knew I was doing everything in my power to try. If I’m honest, I think it also helped, that I never had any extreme, indeed any really, physical side effects with any of my treatments. I didn’t mind taking the drugs, I don’t mind a scan, and I think because of that it enabled me to just keep going, because I knew I could cope with it. All of which I then took into donor treatment and our ninth round.
Moving to donor egg treatment wasn’t an instant emotional decision process, although in the end it was fairly quick practical process (in the scheme of things), from the end of PGS testing to picking a donor in Russia. In my head this had been slowly happening for about a year, from around round 4 of treatment, as this was an option that had been broached then, and one that I thought might end up being our story. So, in my head I started to contemplate it, to understand how I might feel when this time came, which I inevitably thought it would. We had decided that if PGS testing came back abnormal, then it was our time to move on and find a different path, after 8 rounds with my eggs I felt we’d given it a bloody good go, and that I, especially, could find peace with that. We always wanted to exhaust the options before moving on, and we were lucky to be able to do that, but we also wanted to have a family, and time/ age did become factors. This timing is different for everyone. It’s not a matter of how many rounds you’ve had or what the results of those were, it’s not a competition to see who gave it the “best go”! It’s about what you want, your specific situation, and what you can process emotionally and financially.
Deciding on donor treatment isn’t easy, it involves a lot of complex emotions. The acceptance of the loss of your genetics; the thoughts of the effects of your decision on your future child (ren); the debate around known and anonymous donors; the profile of those donors; will I feel like the real mother? ; will I bond with my child?; how will we make this story theirs? etc….
Then consequently where you might want to make this happen brings a whole host of other factors - availability, waitlists, time, cost.
The way we narrowed down our options in terms of countries for donor treatment was to really think about what we wanted to know about our donor. How much did we want to know? Did we want to know nothing at all? Did we want the clinic to take control of that process? Did we want to? What are the legalities in that country concerning disclosure at certain ages and the access to the donor? All these thoughts float through your head. Only you can make those decisions, and that will be right for you, no one else. You don’t have to rationalise or “defend” your decisions to others, that is your right, and your decision at that time.
For us, we decided that actually now that this option was our reality, we wanted to know as much as possible, but still have an anonymous donor. We also wanted to be able to see pictures of our donor as a child and know a little more about her, her motivations, her background etc, and I wanted to feel that I had some affinity to that person, that I could see/ feel something in her that I recognised in myself.
This led us down two possible paths, in terms of countries, the USA and Russia. We investigated both, and decided on Russia. We’ve never been there, would never have considered it, but now it feels like it was the most natural thing in the world. I think because it’s so unfamiliar or unknown in comparison to the USA, it did feel strange to start with, but couldn’t be further from the truth now. There was no need to be nervous about what to expect. St Petersburg is a beautiful city, which we are now privileged to have been to, and have a connection to forever. Yes, it was bizarre not being able to read or understand anything at all, to be so unfamiliar with day to day things, but actually this made it all the more exciting and a special part of what I think is now a rather wonderful story for us all. In fact, Russia for us was the best experience as a patient throughout our journey.
So I sit here writing this, after 9 rounds of treatments, 36weeks pregnant with our long awaited for, and already much loved little boy! Something we have desperately wanted for so long (we’ve been trying for 7yrs), is now almost a “real” part of our lives! He just wouldn’t be here, if we hadn’t taken the path we had, made the often hard decisions we did, and trusted in our feelings.
I’ve always been lucky enough to travel to lots of places in my life and work, and this I didn’t see any differently really. I often joke that we are “experts” not only in IVF, but “international” IVF… good excuse as any to discover a city I think ;)