Getting matched and…oh…more waiting.

It has been nearly 5 months since my last post. In a way, not much happened. I knew I had to wait to be matched with an egg donor and I had decided not to fret about a new career path or job for the duration of summer. I had little to do but enjoy the warmer months, my new freedom to rest, travel, catch up on my favourite hobbies. And so I did.

After travelling to the US, spending nearly a month in my beloved nest in France and planning my next trip to Japan, the news finally came. They found me an egg donor.

One of the many things I have learnt since trying to conceive is to never get overly excited. I have had to deal with so many heartbreaks and setbacks along the way that I will keep my rational and sceptic hat firmly on, until I can finally hold my baby in my arms. Of course, hearing about a suitable donor was certainly a relief as waiting had tested my patience and sanity but I must admit I still don’t feel as excited as I thought I would do.

Mainly because getting matched doesn’t mean you are finally starting your treatments. Instead, 3 or 4 months of idle “preparation” follow. You are not in charge of anything: you don’t book appointments, you can’t do anything for the donor, genetic tests results take weeks to come back, you don’t speak with the clinic, you just hope that people in charge are organised and get things done swiftly. But do they?

See, I am a super organised person, I get things done on time, I plan, I think, I act and having everything out of my hands is really stressful. I am supposed to get weekly calls and I don’t. I am told an appointment is about to be booked and 2 weeks later, it still isn’t. I would rather deal with the clinic directly but instead another team of coordinators are planning everything. I would really appreciate that the mundane was dealt with efficiently. We are trying to make a baby here!

I contacted my coordinators a few days ago, to voice my frustration and within 2 hours, my 2 initial appointments at the clinic were scheduled. This will be within the next 6 weeks, which is still dragging but at least I felt I made some progress. Why wasn’t this done without me complaining? 2 months have already passed and nothing happened at all.

When I was waiting to get matched with a donor, I was honestly convinced that there will be little information on the profile that would prevent me from accepting the donor straight away. I never hoped or wished to get a perfect match to my physical traits or character. The amount of information you are given is so limited in the UK anyway that it is impossible to figure out how much you have in common, and I am not too concerned about those issues. I just wanted a have an overall nice feeling about that person who has so generously offered to help me.

And I did have an overall nice feeling about that lady. Apart from the colour of her eyes, her physical description appeared to correspond mine. The little info she shared, gave me an impression of a really honest, hard working, generous and kind person, which was such a blessing. Yet, what prevented me from agreeing straight away was her age: 35 years old.

In the UK, the legal age limit is 36 to donate eggs. It is her first donation and the youngest of her 3 kids is 6. When you use donor eggs you hope that the donor will be able to produce a decent number of eggs. For we all know too well that so many things can prevent eggs to become viable embryos to transfer. Therefore, having a decent number of oocytes at the outset gives you better odds. I was assured her AMH level was very good but I had no access to any other information or that AMH level itself and it is so very hard when you are about to make such a big decision. I have no guarantee the treatment will yield a decent number of eggs. Age isn’t everything of course but so many egg donors are in their twenties, it is a bit of a setback when yours is not as young.

So I focused on the positive aspects of the situation:

∙ she wouldn’t have been through the initial selection if her stats were not quite optimum.

∙ It is not an exact science and every woman is different. A 25 years old could get less eggs or of worse quality.

∙ It is her first donation, so one can assume she hasn’t had to stimulate her ovaries before and still has a good number of eggs available.

∙ There is no guarantee that, should I decline to use this donor, another one better suited would come along. I would have no idea and no way to agree to this one retrospectively. Choosing a sperm donor, although not easy, was a much more serene experience for that very reason: I had a few choices.

So, I took a few days to think it through and I said yes and I have no regrets or second thoughts for those are totally pointless when you have no idea of what would have been if you made another choice. I am so grateful to that lady that it aches not being able to thank her in person. Although a part of me feel a bit ungrateful and unfair to have hesitated (after all I am 10 years older than her, not exactly in the best place to argue she is perhaps “too old” for this), it is also important to understand the difficulty of making such a decision. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, and again, I never expected to get a donor totally matching me but I find the lack of information unfair.

And yes, again, I think the rules of anonymity should be relaxed, whilst well explained to the donors. I realise less people would do it but current donors do it knowing fully well that kids could contact them later in life so perhaps they would understand that parents at the time of choosing a donor would want more data and perhaps a choice as well. It is after all what happens with sperm donors.

I very often think about my donor, I hope she is doing well and is happy. I heard recently that down the line I will be able to write her a letter to express my gratitude and I am so glad this is a possibility. She is changing my life, yet a letter is the only thing she will have from me for a long while. Women rock.

I am still not pregnant or close to be but sometimes I catch myself thinking “do this now before you get pregnant.” and planning a bit ahead, which had not happened to me for the last year or so. Not working also means I spend more time at home and I am certainly nesting and making sure everything is “ready”. I certainly am.


Work, IVF and I

I have wanted to write this post for a while because let’s face it, work and IVF have both paced my life and my sanity (or lack of) for the last few years. And as I was gathering my thoughts to relate my experience, I lost my job! Oh the irony.

It’s ok…it really is. I have worked in the Financial industry for 21 years now (yep, it still shocks me to say it) and in only 2 firms, which is pretty good, given all the turmoil and crisis that the industry has suffered in that time. 

I was expecting my job to be made redundant at some point in the coming months and dare I say it? I was serenely waiting for it to happen. A massive regulatory blow, the uncertainty of Brexit and the challenges global economies face, have strained most investment banks. So give or take 1 year, I was expecting a bunch of us to go. It was my turn a month ago, and more will follow. It is a cyclical industry with high turnover so nobody expects to spend their whole career in one place, until retirement. And to be honest, I don’t wish that to anyone.

But I am not here to talk about the challenges the Financial sector faces but rather to relate what challenges that industry has inflected on me, as a woman, an IVF-er.

Let me tell you, that was not a walk in the park. 

There is no ideal scenario but having gone through more IVF treatments than I can recall, I have a fairly good idea of what would have been a good situation to be in: 

Working is essential for me, I like to be challenged and active and I don’t really envision a life of idleness. I don’t think that staying at home whilst having IVF would have been good for me (too much time to think and stress on my own). However, I would have benefited greatly from flexibility and support in my job to serenely go through my infertility journey. Being able to take a bit of time off without being questioned or judged and communicate with management without fearing for my future would have helped me considerably.

Instead I had a demanding job, working non-stop for 11 hours a day, on an open plan desk, with no flexibility, unable to work from home, no part-time possible and in a 95% male dominated environment. Luckily for me, I was very senior in my role which I guess, gave me a bit of leeway, but looking back: did it really?

Sadly, most women will have the same experience as I did, regardless of the job they do or the industry they are part of. My case isn’t isolated but I feel it is important to relate our individual experiences. The more we share, the more awareness we raise.

I was planning to tell my management, (once I get pregnant) about all the hurdles I had faced, to raise awareness, to open their eyes to all those anti-women behaviours. Technically, they are supposed to support and help if you experience health issues and I think IVF treatments are considered as health issues (or if not, they bloody should be). However, infertility comes with ramifications that management are uneasy with: prospective absences, maternity leaves, the assumption that you might want to quit your job to raise your kid, etc. That means you are immediately discounted as a risk to the business, not an employee they want to support. I hate the hypocrisy of most HR departments when they pretend to help whilst following a more cynical agenda. I am no fool and know exactly how they react to such news. So obviously I couldn’t say anything about my treatments at the time, without risking missing promotions, or being paid less than my male counterparts.

When I started my treatments, I was lucky enough to be able to have appointments with my consultant after my day job. When it came to egg collections, egg transfers or the couple of surgeries I had, I managed to squeeze them all in, inconspicuously, as either they happened on weekends, or I told work I had health issues to take care of. 

I was obviously crossing my fingers big time for the treatments to be successful so that these absences wouldn’t last. 

But hey, I am still writing this 4 years later so, hope only got me so far…

As I changed clinics, the appointments became more frequent and during work hours, to culminate with daily and sometimes twice daily trips to my clinic in the last year or so.

I have to admit that I often lied to doctors and nurses, telling them I was going back home, in a taxi, to relax after an egg collection with a general anaesthetic. In fact, I was taking the tube and running back to work to finish my day. 

I have always been aware of the potential overload of work my absences could create (even if we are talking about 2 hours away at most) and having a high professional consciousness, I always did my best not to impact my colleagues. I have strained my body and my mental health and I think this is really unfair.

Never in those years have I felt I was a risk for my job or that I lost control or that my treatments would impact my performance. All I wanted was to be able to attend my appointments without feeling guilt.

On top of dealing with the management expectations and the necessities of my daily job, I found it excruciatingly difficult to pretend I was ok in those moments when your world seems to be falling apart but you have to keep a brave face because you can’t say anything. 

Since the beginning of my treatments, I have learnt to be content with a couple of viable eggs. Low AMH, my age, poor response to the stimulation were always going to lower my odds of success. 

Even when they collected 5 eggs once and the nurse was all super positive and cheery, I knew that I would be extremely lucky if 2 of them were viable and good enough to transfer later on.  

Getting the call from the embryologist, the day after collection has always been the worst moment for me. Even writing this now, I feel a knot in my chest. As soon as my phone rang, I would immediately go into a panic, unable to breath properly, my heart pounding into my chest, barely able to state my name and my date of birth to my interlocutor, whilst trying to analyse what they were going to say by the tone of their voice. 

More often that not, those phone calls happened when sitting at my desk at work. More often than not, the news was terrible to hear. Sometimes, I had no fertilisation at all, or the chances of the only embryo who got that far, were very slim. You hang up and you have to pretend that nothing happened, ignoring that all the hopes you cherished since the beginning of the cycle, have not just vanished in the matter of seconds. You get on with it and you try not to cry in front of your colleagues, even if the only thing you want to do then is scream your guts out.

My experience is far from being unique. It is perhaps a bit challenging as I always worked in a male dominated job. I always wondered if one of those guys at work was going through the same hardships with their partner, (1 in 8 right?). I wish sometimes we could spot each other in the crowd! 

But see, even if a man was experiencing the IVF gruesome challenges with his partner, he was still able to come to work every day and not physically feel ill or indisposed because of an egg collection. He would have been able to talk about it at work if he wanted to because there wouldn’t be any impact on his career. He would probably get sympathy and his colleagues would understand if he needed to go to a clinic for an appointment or if he needed some time off after a bad outcome or a difficult procedure.

Well, women can’t generally have any of that and I hate double standards. This is not an advocacy against men of course, as I know for a fact that going through IVF is extremely difficult for them. All I am saying is that work environments generally fail to cater for women’s special circumstances and needs by not giving them the chance to serenely talk about their treatments and by putting them at risk of being penalised.

It would probably help if more women could get the top managerial jobs but as we know, this is still far from being the case and it is particularly true in banks for example. It also saddens me that I won’t be able to be an advocate for more women’s rights in my firm which crucially needs more senior women to speak out and my experience could have been helpful to other employees.

I am currently waiting for an egg donor. Losing my job at this particular time isn’t great as what do I do if I land another job in the coming weeks?

I had a very promising interview days after losing my job and part of me would have loved to say that I want to commit 100% to that opportunity but telling them that “hopefully” within a year I will announce I am pregnant. As most banks pretend and claim they want more women among their ranks, they should say “Sure, we will work around that, thanks for telling us”. Sadly that would not be the outcome and again, if I want to land that job, I will have to stay quiet.

To be fair, I am not sure I want to stay in the industry, I am currently contemplating ideas to change careers whilst enjoying the summer (and also trying not to be too restless waiting for my egg donor). Not for 1 second have I felt bad about losing my job. I like change and I think this is the universe kicking me in the butt to look at other opportunities. And who knows, maybe this is the perfect opportunity to get pregnant without all the stress that a job brings.

Hello summer, I am ready for you.

Meet the girouette

These past few weeks, I have been helplessly witnessing a side of me I didn’t know: someone who hesitates, changes her mind and constantly rehashes options to consider. In French, we have an expression for it: une girouette (to behave like a weathervane). As I said before, I make up my mind very quickly even in tough and stressful times so my constant ambivalence made that phase so weird to navigate. Should I call it quit if I am so hesitant? Usually a sign for me that I should properly abandon the whole idea I am working on. Yet, I am still here, facing the storm, and more determined than ever.

Well a verdict has been reached, ladies and gentlemen. I am glad to announce that the weathervane has now stopped making constant U-turns. La girouette stands still facing the horizon.

I have to admit that circumstances and anonymity quandaries have made obvious a somehow still confusing situation so perhaps the choice was made for me and you know what? I am fine with that. I was always prepared to have to compromise. The resolution I got to is perhaps not perfect, but nothing ever is. I am relieved that this compromise will only affect me and less so my future child. I am going to have to be extremely patient so let’s hope the waiting doesn’t get me bonkers.

Looking back, I think choosing egg donation was easier than electing the country and the different legislations that come with it because I saw it as another chance. It is heartbreaking undeniably. It is a mourning process and one needs time to digest but in my case, I think I came to terms with it more easily than I thought. I had reached such a point of exhaustion with constant treatments failures that it was another door opening in front of me and I saw it as a natural evolution towards my ultimate goal. I think, perhaps because I refuse to abandon my wish to become a parent, then you have to do what you have to do. For some people, it may be adoption, I chose egg donation. And I am excited about it.

You may recall that my options were the UK (via the agency Altrui), Spain and Greece. All three have been my number 1 option at some point. Drawing a “pros” & “cons” grid never once helped as all arguments were different and didn’t exclude each other out! Excel spreadsheets are sometimes way over rated in my view.

The strongest advantage of Altrui was the non-anonymity of the egg donor. I figured that I would lay the foundation and make it easier for my future child should they want to meet the egg donor…or not.

I had a call with a lovely lady from the agency who explained the whole process really well. She assured me that a donor would be found most likely within 2-3 months. Which to me, at that stage, sounded reasonable. Digging further though, I would have to be very lucky for the whole process to start in 3-4 months from now. Some donors amazingly go through the process of egg donation several times to help others. Being matched with a returning lady massively reduces the duration of the process. Indeed, a new donor, once she has understood, and accepted the process in principles, gets matched with a recipient (so we hope that this takes no longer than 2-3 months). If the recipient accepts, a few tests then get done. The genetic tests results however take 6-8 weeks to come back.

So, if I was to be matched with a first-time donor, the whole process of preparation would take 6 months. Providing of course that the tests come back all clear and that the donor doesn’t withdraw.

Waiting another 6 months is so stressful for me at this stage. I have put my future (and still hypothetical) child first in the last 4 years, putting my body through the physical strain and my mind through so much stress that at this point, time is also of the essence as I just turned 45.

Altrui is also adding £3,000 to the bill, but had the advantage to be done without travelling abroad. (although I wouldn’t have minded a few days in warmer lands, as an IVF tourist.)

A few days later, I had an appointment with IVI London to investigate the Spanish route in an attempt to perhaps trade the non-anonymity with a speedier process. The appointment went really well and everything was discussed thoroughly until the doctor said that, as I would have to go to Spain for the treatment, the clinic would not accept my sperm donor as he is considered to be non-anonymous by the Spanish regulator. I would be matched with an egg & a sperm donors who both have similar physical traits to me.

I can understand that being matched physically with an egg donor is a thing although after all, shouldn’t it be my choice? Does it really matter if my child looks like me or not? It doesn’t matter to me so is it just to comply with our society’s stereotypes that children should always look like their parents? But why also have a sperm donor matching me? When we find a partner, I don’t think we choose them because they look like us, right? I certainly never think that way. So, I gathered at that time that the Spanish law was probably not the double-donation-candidate’s best friend. Perhaps it works with some people and I totally respect that but not so for me, muchas gracias.

Moreover, I have put so much care into choosing a sperm donor, trying to find someone I had a connection with and quite frankly the physical traits were actually last on my list of criteria when I chose him. So why losing this now?

I was disappointed after my appointment as I really liked the clinic and the staff, they were really helpful but I had to move on. I immediately gathered that I may face the same problems with the clinic in Greece where the anonymity rules are pretty similar to Spain’s.

However, tens of emails followed back and fro with Spain and Greece. Cryos Denmark who have my precious sperm in storage, assured me right from the start that it wouldn’t be possible to use my donor, yet the clinics came back several times saying: “hold on, let us double check, let us speak to Cryos directly”. Thanks guys, I really appreciate that you tried to help, I am grateful but luckily I am also immune against the false hopes that this situation created. this lady has had tons of setbacks. No offence, but she needs to move on.

Also, the “you will have to choose another anonymous sperm donor” sentence is indeed a fact should I consider Spain or Greece, but guys your objective is to get me pregnant, I get that. My objective is to raise a child into a happy adult. We have slightly different targets so not just any sperm will do.

Yes, dear sperm donor, I don’t want to let go of you.

At this point, I don’t want to appear hypocritical. I definitely considered using an anonymous egg donor and I totally respect that choice. In fact, if I had a partner, I would have chosen that route, definitely to speed up the process. As explained before, I don’t think an anonymous egg donor does it less generously than an identifiable one. But all decisions have to feel right and having 2 completely anonymous donors for me is too much. It is my choice and I had to go with what feels right.

I will write a post later on my views about anonymity. I really think the countries where the donors are completely anonymous will have to adapt to the world’s new tools. It already looks fairly easy to find a donor via DNA testing websites. So how difficult will it be in 18 years from now? I think laws have to be revised.

But in the meantime, I registered with Altrui, sending them £3,000, a silly picture of my face and all my hopes that finding a donor will be as quick as possible.

May I rant a little?

As much as I am comfortable with becoming a single mother to a child born thanks to double donation (that is a mouth full I know!), I find it particularly interesting and sometimes irritating to see how opinionated some people can be about those specific life choices, even if they are not directly confronted with infertility issues themselves. A lack of awareness about the heartbreaks many couples and single ladies go through to achieve parenthood is to blame most of the time. But sometimes it is just a complete lack of empathy, ignorance or pure intolerance.

I will be the first to admit that, before I started treatments, I knew little about the many obstacles and hurdles one finds on the path to parenthood using IVF/IUI or surrogacy. Sadly, one has to go through them to truly understand what it entails. Luckily, medical progress in the field is widely praised for the hope it gives but the public can still be more hesitant and/or more judgemental about what lies beyond the need of heterosexual couples trying to conceive together, whether we talk about egg/sperm donation, surrogacy, same-sex couples or single people’s choices etc.

One of the first and most commonly asked questions when you start your journey, regardless of your personal and medical situation: “Why don’t you adopt?” and I know that many of us just want to answer ” why don’t/didn’t you, if it is that obvious?” !

Adoption is great, it gives hope and a loving home to many children so it is amazing in its own right. However, assuming that this is the miracle solution for all barren women or childless households is a bit restrictive and insensitive. We all have our own agenda and idea of what we want to achieve in life and adoption isn’t and shouldn’t be this “fits-all” miracle solution.

I can only offer my view and my own experience but I am sure it will resonate with others. First of all, as mentioned in my first post, I think adoption is an extremely honorable act and one that can fit many families. There are many obstacles and it is not for the fainthearted either. But like everything: it has to feel right.

The second IVF consultant I saw was the first to suggest I do look seriously at the adoption process. Very interestingly, she was also very prompt to warn me that being single, I would be at the back end of the waiting list, that I wouldn’t be matched with a baby but an older kid and that I should be prepared to welcome an ill or disabled child. She also advised me against telling the agency that I had gone through infertility treatments as it would alter my chances of success.

I assume she was trying to help but somehow she didn’t really manage to sell adoption to me! I even doubt she wanted to, to be fair. Thing is, she wouldn’t have been able to persuade me one way or another. I already knew this was not for me at that point in time. Not because I rejected adoption by default but rather because I had carefully thought about my options and their implications and I had made up my mind. It doesn’t mean it will never be an option for me. I think we continually evolve and adapt in life and the paths we take are the results of our past experiences. It might be that, down the line, if I fail to have a child of my own or if I want a sibling for the child I hope to have, adoption will feel right. But only I can get to that point.

I was perhaps not even half way through my infertility journey when we had that conversation. Yet, my sensitivity was already really high, battered by a few failures already and mounting doubts that I would be successful. The mere fact of facing the adoption agencies’ scrutiny into my life was an unbearable prospect. I totally understand and agree that they need to thoroughly investigate potential candidates to adoption but when you are already in a vulnerable situation, it is not something I would personally respond well to. (I imagined all the questions about me being single, my long hours at work, my dual nationality status…). It is one thing to be physically unable to procreate but adding a layer of administrative examination was too much for me.

I also can’t repress my wish to experience pregnancy. At the very start of my journey, I was reluctant about donor eggs (why would I go through the risks of pregnancy when the baby wouldn’t be more related to me than an adopted child?). But the fact of the matter is, that self questioning was totally futile because deep down I knew I always wanted to experience pregnancy, to give birth and build that so very special bond. Going through fertility treatments only reinforced my strong will that this was my battle and I will fight it with all my might. So egg donation is I hope my salvation since I failed with my own eggs.

Anybody in that situation will know that we question our decisions to the point of exhaustion. Each step brings a lot of interrogations, adjustments and revisions of the “Perfect plan”. Of course, using egg donation raises the question to know if we’d feel upset about not sharing DNA with our child. I certainly pondered at length and I think it is necessary to face this question head on. But to this day, I haven’t yet heard someone saying they didn’t feel 100% the parent of that baby from the moment it started growing in their womb. I doubt many would dare asking adopting parents if they love their kids less than if they were related to them, yet many do mention this eventuality when hearing about your choice of using egg or sperm donation and I think that for others to allude to it, is very insensitive when you are in the middle of the process.

The other fairly common opinion is that being a solo mother by choice is a selfish act, that we don’t think about the “poor” child who will grow without a father. Having grown myself in a “traditional” family with a father and a mother, who have, to this day, been married for nearly 58 years, perhaps I can’t truly grasp what it is like to be a fatherless child. But I also know that one doesn’t necessarily choose their parents to be their mentors or their role models. Experience tells me that we get influenced by a vast array of people and as long as a child is loved and exposed to people from different horizons, of both sexes, she/he will not be deprived of love and attention.

I know we all have different opinions on the subject and none is more valid than the other. I personally see the traditional family as we know it as just one alternative. All set ups are strong as long as they are based on love and care for the child. I embrace not only the single mother option but I am also extremely grateful that science allows me to become a parent using donors’ generous gifts. I do not force anyone to agree with me but I also don’t necessarily want others to tell me what I should do or not do for me and my future family.

It saddens me immensely for example that my own country, France, is still so retrograde on the subject under the guise of protecting children. I wonder why the advocates of that view are not more proactive at protecting already born children being molested or vulnerable sometimes even in their own family before arguing about a woman trying to conceive on her own. I am not in the mood to let those people pass a judgement on what I should do with my uterus if they are able to turn a blind eye in front of dysfunctional families in order to preserve the traditional family set up. It only pushes women to go abroad to fulfill their dreams anyway.

I often hear myself or other IVF-ers minimising the impact the treatments has on us “there is worse, at least I am not ill. Some people are fighting cancer etc etc.” I am convinced now that we should not try to find a worse situation to compare it with. Infertility is tough in its own right. And illness is a different battle altogether, and a very tough one of course. Comparing levels of despair is just totally pointless and senseless. I am very grateful to the people who just get it, who admit your situation sucks and salute your strength. That, I think, is what “we” want to hear. People with empathy, who just realise that we are in a tough spot and that we are not asking for messages of false hope or toxic positivity. We are well aware of our chances of success and the troubles we go through. Ultimately it would be nice that people understand people’s history and respect their goal. Perhaps see that the “it was not meant to be” message is outdated thanks to science and we can make pretty good parents too. Let us show you.

New Year musings

No, I didn’t hibernate or woke up after hitting the snooze button too many times. I am just not an adept of January resolutions. I usually reflect on life when my very own new year begins.

So, 3 days after my birthday, I don’t feel particularly older or wiser. Of course, it is only a number and in my head I am probably blissfully still 10 years behind, but I am also painfully aware of the time ticking, together with most women trying to conceive in their 40s.

I never got pregnant before so there is no guarantee that I would have been able to conceive earlier but my low ovarian reserve is normal for my age, my immune system results are slightly off but totally manageable and even if I have a history of fibroid, they were never too much of an issue. My infertility is most likely – and unsurprisingly – due to my age.

Thing is, I didn’t wait by choice, I rather wrongly assumed I needed to create a family with a man. In addition, when it comes to the “career vs family” quandary, it never occurred to me that I should choose one vs the other.

I made a choice to focus on my career because if I undertake something, I focus on doing it well or I don’t do it at all. My career started to pick up and I did pretty well. But, had I met a man I wanted to start a family with, I would have done it whilst pursuing my career simultaneously if that was right for me at the time. Never did I decide to dedicate my life to work, nor would I be able to stop working if I had a child.

I am also very grateful to have a job that pays me well. It allowed me to afford expensive IVF treatments (I am of course too old to go via the NHS) and I know I am very lucky as many couples or single ladies can only afford one or very few attempts and it is heart breaking.

My own oblivion about my love life has therefore been my main problem. Like many women I thought I still had a bit of time. I wanted to be in a serious relationship. I thought it would happen as I spent most of my twenties with a guy, so it was only a matter of time for me to meet someone else, or so I thought.

Except, I didn’t. I am the one left on the shelf, gathering dust. What is wrong with me? Well many things I guess; for starters, I work long hours which doesn’t help socialising, I am not pretty, I don’t play the dating apps game (I have tried though), so there are plenty of women out there grabbing the opportunities (sorry for that dubious image) who are in a better position.

But the real mistake I made was to necessarily associate motherhood to being in a relationship. Yes I still think I would have loved to have kids with the man I loved but it is not a requirement. I totally respect the fact that it is paramount for most ladies out there to have a family with the man they love. But as I mentioned in a previous post, I am super confident and happy to raise a child on my own. I know it will be difficult and that I won’t grow an extra pair of arms overnight to help with the work load but I am genuinely super excited about it.

I also have to cut myself some slack as 10-15 years ago, information about the risks of infertility, egg freezing procedures, awareness about treatments, alternative parenting choices etc was not as widespread as it is now. It was available of course but I am really happy this has become more part of the norm: a new array of possibilities and life choices. I am truly very impressed by ladies out there making the decision in their 20s or 30s to become a single mother by choice. I think this is amazingly brave and bursts of self confidence but for women of my generation, this was not a conversation we necessarily had with ourselves or friends when the moment was right. We were still waiting for Mister Right. Blame “Sex and the City”?

Well I mainly blame myself. At least, to a certain extent.
I honestly dearly wish I’d taken the single mother path years ago. Because, quite frankly, I think that has always resonated positively with me, it goes hand in hand with my wish to be independent, and not to rely on others. I should have asked myself the right questions sooner. But, even if I haven’t accomplished much in my personal life in the last decade (no children, no serious lasting relationship, no life changing decisions), don’t get me wrong, I have a very good, busy life, full of interests, hobbies and I am surrounded by great family and friends. Nothing to complain about.

As I blow more candles, I recognise that I can take important decisions in seconds (even when buying a house), I have a high octane and stressful job and I am not afraid of taking risks. Milestones in my personal life, however, are like maturing wines, gaining value and richness as more time goes by. And if I didn’t grasp earlier that I could have a child on my own, well I am fully ready and eager now.

so here goes, post birthday musings. Happy new year to me.

Am I being selfish?

Although I greatly appreciate not to have my life paced by scans, daily or twice-daily blood tests, 4-hour drip sessions and the constant stress that a new cycle brings, I find the current period that I am in, very unsettling. Perhaps precisely because nothing is happening, I feel in limbo.

I feel hesitant which isn’t like me at all and that is probably the most uncomfortable aspect of it all. I still have to choose the clinic, the country and the doctors to help me getting where I want to be. Said like that, it sounds like I haven’t got any clue about what I am doing.

Worry not, though, as I am not completely in the dark. I have done some homework and, given what I already know and the options that I have already short listed, I am confident making a choice is down to 3 key elements:

How do I know as much as I can about the donor?

How many eggs the clinic guarantee me on a cycle?

How quickly can I hope to get matched with a donor?

I know that my choice will also be dictated by my ability to adapt and to compromise along the way.

I am very impatient because it will be the first time that the odds are that “high” for me. Stats for egg donation success have ranged from 25 to 75% among the different options I am considering at present, depending on the clinics and sources of information. I know this is a really big range and I have learnt to dampen every pessimistic expectation even further when it comes to my own treatments. I am aware that the 75% chance of success advertised is probably for women much younger than me. I can’t get my hopes up but it is still better than the 1-10% chance that I have been credited with since the beginning.

Recently, I could feel the frustration rising; at clinics not coming back to me, at doctors not responding to texts or emails. Moreover, I also get reminded regularly that this is not a miracle solution, that it likely won’t work on the first try and it might not even work at all. I am trying to keep calm but I must admit it is driving me crazy.

Getting as much information as I can get about the egg donor basically means going the UK route, you get matched with a donor and get all her eggs, but with a delay of up to 1 year (and technically no guarantee of a match). If I agree to the potentially long waiting, this is a win win situation. Waiting is killing me though (a feeling IVF-ers know only too well) and this is a big ask for me and my sanity. so the UK scores 2-1

Now, I must be very honest here and admit that there is a part of me, albeit a small voice, that is quite reluctant about the fact that the generous lady who will help me today, might not be just the generous giver of an egg, but could be contacted by my child. I know…I know… I was banging on about openness and honesty saying I wanted as much info as possible but I can’t ignore that little voice, even if I still don’t know how to respond to it.

As I explained before, knowing as much as I could about the sperm donor was paramount. I didn’t choose a donor because, for example, I was in a relationship with another woman who would occupy the second parent seat, or if my male partner had fertility issues of his own. I assume (and only assume) that for people in that situation, there is less need to “hit it off” with a male donor. I chose that option as I failed to be a in serious relationship with a man at that time in my life. Knowing that I could feel some chemistry with a donor was coming as close as I could to the situation I would have been in, had I met my life partner.

For the egg donor, I feel a bit different as I will be the mother, there is no void to fill, that seat is occupied, the job will be done by myself, nurturing and allowing the embryo to grow will be done by my body. All I need is an oocyte to become the mother for my child.

Somehow it makes a difference. Therefore I am almost comfortable with the anonymity of the donor. Am I being selfish? Is it the fear of feeling a stranger in the process? Probably, but in order to move forward, I have to go through that thought process.

I also recognise that the generous egg donor out there might not want to be known by my family. Women who donate eggs anonymously don’t do it less generously than a woman who agrees to face a child in 18 years from now. They follow the same altruistic process, go through the tests and the heavy treatments. And yes, women in Europe get a bit more money for their efforts and quite frankly, I think this is totally justified. In fact, I think most of the money a treatment currently costs should go to the donor, and not the clinics. Organs donors save lives, egg and sperm donors make life possible dedicating time, effort and physical discomfort (well I don’t think there is discomfort for sperm donors, but there certainly is for egg donors!)

Spain and Greece have the advantage of having much shorter leading times for patients to be matched. There is no shortage of donors and assuming a fair amount of them are locals, I can fit right in with that crowd. I have dark brown hair, and look more Spanish or Greek than Scandinavian or British. In fact, if I could get a penny every time I am asked if I am (in decreasing order of frequency) Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Greek, Israeli, Turkish…(and even Albanian once) I would be minted. Perhaps I should work on cultivating the typical French accent a bit more to give people a clue.

During my IVF treatments, I worked with 4 different clinics in London, and many doctors. One of them is a Greek doctor who chose to start her own practice back in Greece last year. She thought that most clinics wrongly see IVF patients as just that: a patient receiving a medical treatment to get pregnant. She thinks that this is too reductive and doesn’t address the full range of difficulties one faces: a patient is also a person who needs a lot of emotional support, medical and practical advice, and perhaps extra help such as acupuncture, dieting and exercice tips or counselling. Whatever it might be. She said to me “A doctor has to consider the lady as a friend they want to help and not just a name on their consultation rota”. Amen Sister. Should I consider to go the Greek route, she will take care of me.

In Greece, the clinic she works with, guarantees 4-5 blastocysts (the stage an embryo is in 5 days after fertilisation). In Spain, one of the leading clinic in that field, doesn’t guarantee a number of eggs but speaking with a few ladies who have been in my situation, they had a few and most had some to freeze for subsequent treatments.

The downside of the European route is that I won’t know much about my donor as the matching is done by the clinics’ staff. Spain/Greece score 2-1.

Yep, that doesn’t help as both options score the same. I am still gathering information from different venues so I won’t be able to choose for sure in the coming days. Anyway, I am turning 45 on Saturday so why don’t I take a small break before steam is coming out of my ears, celebrate in style and come back next week, refreshed, older (wiser?) and I can assess the situation afresh then. See you on the other side.

How to choose the sperm donor? First, I ditched my doctor

I may be working on a little miracle right now but as I was taking my very first steps towards motherhood, I stumbled.

More than the fear, the indecision, the intimidating task ahead of me: a fertility doctor tripped me up.

You would think that fertility doctors, albeit honest and realistic about your prospects, should also be empathetic and caring. Think again.

I must admit I didn’t really know anyone who had issues with fertility back then. Or rather, let me correct that: I didn’t know anyone who were talking about their struggles. I followed the recommendation of someone who had had a positive outcome with that consultant. An initial appointment would allow me to step in the unknown, gather information and do the initial blood tests and exams.

When we talked about the sperm donor, the doctor didn’t suggest any browsing options; he was working with one of the leading banks in London and told me “there are plenty of nice men there”.

Well are there? How do I know? The information given to potential recipients is scarce in the UK. You get to know the ethnicity, height, colour of eyes and hair and a few unhelpful facts. To make things more difficult, you are scrolling through a very limited number of profiles (less than 10 in my case). I must admit I panicked about the whole process, not helped by the fact that the clinic were just as indifferent and just hammering home that I had to choose a donor ASAP.

It felt I was asked to choose someone pretty much randomly, in a hurry and without any identifying criteria that in real life would define a person for who they really are. I was just picking up a vial of sperm off the shelf.

Walking down the street, I found myself staring at guys, thinking that it could be this one, or that one? Would I actually go out with that person? Would I be attracted to him?

I took a break for a few months – which I deeply regret now – to regroup and see if perhaps, I wouldn’t meet Mr Right. (Yeah, right.) but then, I went back to see the same doctor, confortable with a single motherhood future that I was already imagining in vivid details and armed with my own findings and research about sperm banks.

He vaguely apologised for my experience at the clinic the first time around. It turned out a few patients had complained about the staff’s attitude there and he had ended their collaboration.

Well I ended our own collaboration too as our reunion was short and infuriating

When we discussed my treatment, he was plainly judgemental, old fashioned and brutal. He suggested that I should probably not try to become a mother on my own as it was unlikely I would find a boyfriend once I am a single mother. I should give up the whole process, try to meet someone whilst I am child-free and then when we are both ready a few years later, we can then try egg donation or adoption.

I left as soon as I could, shaken, angry about such mysoginy coming from a doctor who built his career on helping women become mothers. Why the derogatory comments about single mothers?

Fast forward a couple of weeks. Helped and supported by a positive and benevolent new consultant, I explored less arid avenues to find a donor. I spent 2 whole weekends skimming through hundreds of profiles. I rapidly preferred a European sperm bank as the gift is more altruistic. A lot of US profiles I had been looking at were students doing it for the money (I understand and don’t judge at all, in fact, top marks for those who honestly admitted to be pecuniarily motivated) but I wanted someone else for my “boyfriend-in-a-vial”.

Cryos Denmark allows you to see quite an extensive amount of information from physical and health characteristics, family background, to hobbies, character and even usually provides a recording of the man reading a letter that he has hand-written for the future child.

I often get the question: How did I choose that person? Well, like most decisions I take – my intuition did all the work.

Of course, the donor had to be UK-law compliant. Then I realised I tried to match my physical “strengths”. In my case no allergies, no asthma, a solid health, a strong metabolism and excellent vision were the first hurdle qualifiers. Some lifestyle choices were important: no smoker, no heavy drinker.

and then well, let’s get to know each other: his hobbies, his values…I needed to feel that we shared a few of those and that I had a feeling of meeting a nice person who I would like to have an interesting conversation with .

The physical characteristics were secondary but because I am short (1m58 or 5’2′), I decided to go for someone a bit taller (1m75 minimum) and fairly slim. The colour of eyes or hair didn’t really matter for me. So the only elements I had been given in the UK to decide were actually the least important! I totally understand that some people would only want to stick to specific physical traits but for me it was important to get to “know” the mystery man. I also couldn’t see myself explaining to my child that I just chose the first one available without careful consideration. Everything I can control and make right along this journey had to be carefully executed. Especially because I realised pretty quickly that most of it you can’t control and luck has to be on your side.

After a few twists and ponderations, I chose a real good match for me. This guy helped me for about 2 years. We failed together to make a baby but hey! it was me. Not you, dude, and from the bottom of my heart, again I thank you!

The reason why I had to give up that donor about a year ago was that the HFEA (the body regulating all the procedures in the UK) failed to realise this donor had helped too many families in the country (the limit is 10 families) and therefore I had to choose someone else, litterally just a couple of days before another egg collection. Exactly the kind of stress you need as you embark on your nth IVF attempt.

So back onto my quest to find a lovely donor but this time it was speed dating.

Luckily for me, I found another man who seemed really nice and ticked a lot of boxes and far from being a second choice, he is today, my (unknown) partner in crime.

It is important to say though that no matter the criteria you want to take into account; all these men share one of the most honorable traits of all: their generosity is second to none and it is by far, the first and most important message I want to give my future child about them: that man has made the most beautiful and generous gift to us.

Perhaps my initial misadventure was a blessing in disguise. It made me realise that as long as I am surrounded by the right team and I do the best of my ability at all times, all those trepidations and hurdles are just that: blips along the way that I just have to overcome and nobody can prevent me from reaching my goal.

The protagonists

So here we are, 2 donors and yours truly, trying to make a baby.

I am aware that this statement leaves a lot to imagination. It is a bit unsettling for me too.

So, let me introduce myself: I am now nearly 45 years old (I can’t quite believe this myself), a French woman who’s lived in London for the past 18 years. By my side, Hamish’s unwavering support bears special mention. He has witnessed my struggles and been an unconditional furry and cuddly support. Hamish is my cat.

Like many women out there, when deciding to start a family, I imagined myself doing it with a man I loved. But hey, my love life has not exactly been without drama and missed opportunities. The good thing is, however, that apparently it is never too late and that wonderful man can still show up at any time; Well…I am right here, mister.

Anyway, I am very comfortable with the idea of being a single mother. I like my independence and taking decisions on my own isn’t a scary thought. I am fully aware that raising a child isn’t always easy but perhaps, given my struggles to become pregnant, I do not over-think about the future challenges. I am very much a there-are-no-problems-only-solutions-type of person in every circumstance, so let’s become pregnant first, I will deal with nannies and nappies later.

And talking about solutions: a sperm donor had to make an appearance in my life. I remember feeling overwhelmed when I first had to find that person, 3 years ago. I didn’t quite know where to start, what to look for and it felt weird and uncomfortable to choose someone so important – yet deemed to remain a mystery man in my own life – off what looked like a catalogue. You can guess I am not a big fan of Tinder.

Living in the UK means that no egg or sperm donor can stay anonymous 18 years after a child is born thanks to them, should the child wish to meet their biological genitor(s). This has been the case since 2005 and has caused a drop in donation in this country.

So, in order to have more choice and also more information, I decided to use a sperm bank abroad. And although I am still considering a few options for the egg donor – namely an egg donor bank in the UK or one in Greece – I know it is going to be trickier and longer to find a match. It might also mean that the child might not be able to get any information about the lady who donated her eggs if I choose the Greek route as anonymity is the rule in Europe.

I also do not have the option of using a known donor such as a family member or a friend. So, not only do I face the tough decision of finding a donor with little information available to relate to her, but I also risk to dent the most important pillar of this big adventure: full disclosure for my future child.

See, honesty has been paramount in my approach. I want my child to understand that the decision to bring her/him to the world hasn’t been a selfish need for love or a wish to comply with what society still expects a woman should experience at some point: motherhood. Ultimately, I think parenthood is about transmission and love. My child will not arrive in the world in the most conventional way indeed, yet, I strongly feel that far from being a burden, it could be an asset. That baby is deeply desired despite my physical limitations to procreate.

To get to where I am now, I have made a lot of sacrifices, I have tried my very best to the point of exhaustion and stuck to my rules of being honest and open. I know that ideally I would want to choose the egg donor as dutifully as the sperm donor, going through profiles. But this might not be possible without having to wait for a long time and I am not getting any younger. So perhaps, I have to make a compromise. I can’t control everything but I can adapt and turn every twist and hurdle into something positive.

My future child will be able to meet her/his biological father if they want to. The biological mother might stay a mystery woman. The beauty of this approach, though, is that my baby will never be anything short of a miracle as otherwise, what would be the chance of those 2 generous human beings to meet and have a child?

And if I feared at the outset of this journey that I would feel like a stranger in the process, well I am not. I am the one making this little miracle possible and I am very excited about that.

The golden egg

I always thought I would start telling my story when I actually managed to get pregnant.

I imagined myself serenely narrating the whole experience, looking back and remembering what made me hopeful, sad, angry or stressed, with a satisfied grin on my face, thinking this was not so bad in the end and that it was all worth it.

Well I am not pregnant (yet) and I still don’t have a big smile on my face.

Because, let’s face it, this has been bloody hard – devastating in fact.

And it still is.

I feel the urge to write now, as I am starting to mourn the fact that I will never get pregnant with my own eggs and as I embark onto a new chapter of trying to conceive using donor’s eggs.

Even though I have known since I started the whole process 3 years ago, that my chances of becoming pregnant were slim because of my age, I never felt like giving up. Call me stupid and stubborn if you like, this was never an option I considered.

Going through IVF is a gruelling experience for many people. We hear great stories from people for whom it turns out successful, we don’t quite hear from the people who have a hard time and experience repeated failures. The loneliness, the dashed hopes are excruciating so we generally keep to ourselves.

I certainly felt all of that, the loneliness being even more acute in my case as I am doing this as a single person.

There you have it: single, in my 40s and having to juggle long hours at work with unsuccessful IVF treatments. That pretty much summarises the last 3 years of my life – JOY.

I think it is fair to say that choosing donor’s eggs (when “technically” your body still produces eggs) isn’t your first choice. It wasn’t mine either. In fact, when that option was first suggested to me, I said no.

At that time, I had “only” been through 2 or 3 IVF cycles so I was still keen to keep trying. Another reservation was that I was already using donor’s sperm and I sensed that this would make me feel like a stranger in the process. It is a big step and I had not given it a serious thought, so focused that I was to run against the clock and have another go with my eggs as soon as possible and as many times as possible (feel free to add “masochist” to the “stupid and stubborn” above).

I was advised to “have a glass of wine and have a look at the adoption process”. Sounds like something everybody would be keen to do on a Friday night, right?

Adoption isn’t for me although I have the greatest respect for the people who go that route. In fact, I would probably consider it later but for now, I have a few things to settle with my uterus. More on adoption later I am sure.

Luckily for me I have always considered nurture to be stronger than nature. I believe that the environment in which a child grows is the most important. I am not denying the impact of nature at all, far from it but I think that love, education and the upbringing do more than the genes to forge one’s personality.

Of course physical characteristics and health are strongly dependent on our genes but I have also read about Epigenetics and like everyone would in my situation, I hope that indeed the pregnant mother can influence the development of a foetus, ever so slightly, by leading a healthy life.

So, as I stand facing the cruel truth of my low quality eggs, I ponder:

  • I perhaps have a chance to influence positively how a foetus is going to grow by providing a safe and healthy environment in my uterus
  • I would not have to go through the arduous experience of having my life scrutinised by the adoption agency (I feel a bit tender at this point, as you may have already guessed)
  • I will give my body a rest from all the treatments, injections, drips and daily blood tests
  • I could still experience being pregnant and bonding with the baby from the very beginning like any other pregnant lady and finally be a parent as I always wanted to be.

What’s not to like?

Well I am sure this won’t be an easy ride and it might not even work. But I have come this far, I am not quitting now.

Let the donor’s egg hunt begin.