“I’m going to tell you something that is going to blow your mind”. I now know what it means to be haunted by something. Whenever I hear the words “blow your mind” I think back to that day in Dr V’s office.
After we got married at 24, we decided to wait a while before starting a family. We were still young and wanted to travel. If only we knew how precious those years on the biological clock were. Eventually at 27 we decided we might be ready but weren’t in any rush. I was very naïve and gullible.
I believed all the ridiculous things people say. “Relax, you’re thinking about it too much”. “If you go on holiday/move house/get a new job, pray harder, you will fall pregnant”. “Exercise”. “Don’t exercise”. We moved between countries and different jobs and it still didn’t help! After 11 months of not using contraception we were ecstatic to find out just before Christmas 2006 that I was pregnant. But sadly we lost the baby at 9 weeks. I sank into a deep depression after that. I thought maybe I did something wrong. I thought perhaps I wasn’t meant to be a mother. That maybe I wouldn’t be a good mother and so maybe it was better. Deep down I knew there was something wrong with my body. I always had a gut feeling. I wasted many hours and tears seeing doctors who thought they knew about fertility. They made me feel like I was just being silly and that nothing was wrong. “You don’t ovulate regularly. Just make sure you have intercourse every second day”. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It made me feel like we weren’t trying hard enough, maybe we were “doing it” wrong. I wasn’t tracking my (very irregular) cycles, taking my temperature each morning or any of the other things people do who are “actively” trying and I hadn’t heard at that point that you should seek help if you have been struggling to conceive for more than a year. And because I didn’t feel like we were consciously “trying” hard enough, I waited too long to get that help.
Eventually we found our way to a fertility clinic. While waiting for the initial test results I thought that perhaps they would tell me I’d need to use Clomid that I had heard helped so many friends of friends fall pregnant. Worst case scenario I thought we’d have to do IVF. Assisted reproduction was a whole new, strange world to me. Something that happens to other people. A news headline you glance over in a newspaper. On 9 December 2009 Dr V called and asked us to please come and see him the next day. I knew then something was really wrong. I got some numbers out of him on the phone. I googled it. I sank down onto my knees and started sobbing. Please no. Please God don’t do this to me. Thankfully I was working at home. I hoped that I misunderstood what I had read and decided not to share what I saw with my husband. We went to see Dr V the next day and he walked into his office with his quiet, serious way and those words: “I’m going to tell you something that is going to blow your mind”.
What I had read was true. I was 32 years old, but I had no eggs left. Premature Ovarian Failure it’s called. Diminished Ovarian Reserve is another name for it. The only chance I had of conceiving was using donor eggs. This is a point most couples eventually get to when they have run out of options with the woman’s own eggs. Or perhaps women who found their partner much later in life. I would be going into menopause early. It was a massive shock to us. I asked questions between sobs. Dr V had to draw pictures for me many times as I struggled with the denial of this condition. I couldn’t understand how this could be possible. Was it something I did? Was I being punished by God for something? But no, I couldn’t think of anything I could have done that could possibly warrant this punishment and pain. Rapists, paedophiles and murderers get to have children. Even flies have babies!
I had to go through a mourning process and lots of therapy to come to terms with the idea of using another woman’s eggs and of my potential child not having my DNA. Would I be able to bond with this child? Would they one day reject me as not being their “real mom”? I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I wasn’t a real woman. I offered to help my husband find a better, proper wife. He wasn’t impressed with that suggestion at all.
We looked for a donor who looked like me. Who had my hair colour and eye colour. Someone we felt a connection with. I armed myself with information and made learning everything I could about this condition and process my new mission in life. I embraced it. We jumped in and then… that first cycle didn’t work. And neither did the next 5 that we did in the following 3 years with different donors. It started mattering less and less to me what the donors looked like. I just wanted it to work.
I always hated it when people said that it would “happen in God’s time”. If someone would just tell me when that time would be then I could get on with my life until that time arrived. And I started hating the word ‘just’. ‘Just’ adopt, ‘just’ use a surrogate, ‘just’ relax.
At the beginning of 2014 we decided we’d do one more cycle at our fertility clinic and then decide whether to try a cycle at a different clinic (one of those things that seemed to eventually do the trick for others) or give up on our dream of parenthood. We had really reached the end of our tether. I had no more energy left. The depression was literally killing me. That last cycle we did things a little differently. We decided to spend the two week wait for the results on holiday at the coast with our dogs rather than trying to stay busy at work. I like to joke that I went on holiday and came back pregnant like everyone said I should do. Throwing caution to the wind, five days after our transfer I even flew back up to Johannesburg and back to the coast in one day to go to my grandmother’s funeral. I also like to think that the pressure on the plane made the embryo stick.
So, yes, eventually on our seventh IVF using donor eggs we got pregnant and today we have the most adorable, feisty, talkative, gorgeous 3 year old daughter. And you know what, it doesn’t matter one iota to me that she doesn’t have my DNA. DNA isn’t what makes a family. I like something my mother said one day after my daughter was born. If any of those other 6 cycles had worked, we wouldn’t have had her. Yes, we might have had someone else, but not her and I cannot imagine my life without her. It now feels like we were meant to be together. Infertility and fertility treatment is no walk in the park and it costs a fortune, but in the end the journey was worth every cent we spent and every tear we shed. I would forever be grateful to our donor, whoever she is and wherever she is, for the enormous gift she has given us. She didn’t just give us an egg. She gave us a lifetime of memories and firsts. First birthday, first tooth, first laugh, first steps, first words, first “I love you, mommy”, first day of school, first three year old tantrum and all the other normal things that go with parenting.