I met my partner, Mark, in my late 30s. We had both wanted children and, as I had had some issues and an ovary removed due to endometriosis, we started the process by getting ourselves checked out with our family GP and a naturopath that specialises in fertility. We discovered early that my partner and I had a reduced chance of conceiving naturally, which was very upsetting at the time.
It took some time to process, but we ended up following the advice we were given to try IVF. We then proceeded to go through three rounds of IVF over a very long and drawn-out four years. Although we had embryos, sadly, none survived and became viable pregnancies. This was absolutely devastating for us both. So much time, energy and hope had gone into the process (not to mention the huge cost).
I only spent a bit of time online during the fertility/IVF process, as I knew I had the tendency to go down a bit of a rabbit hole. Instead, I narrowed my searches to trustworthy sites and gave a New Zealand perspective like the Fertility NZ site. I used their forums at the time and their newsletters and the pamphlets available at the clinics were very valuable information for us. It helped to know that others out there were having similar experiences. It would have been amazing to have been part of the current online support groups; I'm part of them now and still, find them useful.
Due to my age (I was 41 at the time), we felt that the safest and most practical option was to stop and try a future without children. But to be honest, this was one of the hardest and darkest times of my life. I really struggled to find a way forward. My partner was also very disappointed. After trying to accept how things were for around six months, we went back to the clinic for some counselling, as we thought that the clinic counsellors would be the most experienced people to support us through this situation. I had started looking into adoption (which seemed impossible) and fostering, but it just seemed fraught with difficulties and complications. During our counselling session, we talked through everything and asked them about fostering/adoption. It was then that we had this amazing light bulb moment when we heard about embryo donation for the first time from our fantastic counsellor.
After the struggle of IVF and not becoming pregnant, I was so relieved to go into a process so clearly laid out at each step. Filling out forms and having meetings was much easier than an IVF round!
We chose embryo donation because, to us, it was a miraculous way to create a family. My age was no longer a factor in having a healthy baby (which was such a relief). The embryos already existed, so that step was completed, and we also knew that the donor family had been successful, so the odds were much better. From the first time we heard about it, it felt 100% like the right thing to do, but we still proceeded cautiously.
We registered with two clinics hoping to be matched with a family. Both counsellors were super supportive and amazing. They stepped us through each stage of the process. They were very compassionate and caring for both parties right throughout.
Meeting the couple for the first time was so nerve-wracking. The donor family and we had counsellors present. It was a bit like a blind date and a job interview times ten, but saying that as soon as we met them, we felt comfortable. Just like us, they had had their own fertility struggles, so we had that in common.
The Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART) process took a while as they only met several times during the year. It is a process, and I found it reassuring that everything worked out with clear steps. I especially like the approach that it should be an open arrangement where the child would know their donor family.
We started with a large number of embryos, but they were day one embryos, so they needed to be thawed and given the opportunity to develop to day five embryos. During this process, the number of embryos dropped significantly. The rollercoaster of infertility continued.
We were then really fortunate with a successful pregnancy on our first transfer. It was so nice to have a transfer without all the drugs and egg collection of our previous IVF rounds. We were very nervous and apprehensive, but I was confirmed pregnant at Christmas time. We were over the moon.
We are so incredibly fortunate to have an amazing donor family. It took us a little while to get to know each other. We were in touch in the very beginning via email and Facebook. We met a few more times while I was pregnant and met other members of their extended family.
Our son has an older sister and brother who, right from an early age, he absolutely loved playing with. We meet every two to three months for a catch-up or a birthday and stay in touch via Facebook with family events and photos. We even managed a holiday together at the beach before the lockdowns.
Our donor family is very much a part of our lives. I'd compare it to having in-laws. You're not related by blood, but you are very much family. They are definitely part of our extended family/whanau.
My son was around two when I explained embryo donation to him. He already knew the donor family, so I started by explaining how he had a brother and sister. He knew about mums and dads, so he was chuffed to hear that he also had a donor mum and a donor dad. I have tried different ways of explaining things to him, and like with most things, it needed to be the right time for him to listen and take it on board.
Right from the beginning, we have been really open with everyone about how our son came into our lives. We told family and friends and asked them to explain it to other family members as it was hard to repeat the same story many times. We were surprised by how often we had to explain the science behind everything. If you haven't been through IVF, there are things you don't know about. When we were involved in children's groups like, Playcentre and daycare, we always let them know. Partly we wanted it to be normal for our son and to help spread the word about the potential for embryo donation, as many people have never heard about it. My son is now six, and we are getting to the point where it will become his story if he wants to explain things to his peers.
We tried a few books. They didn't quite hit the mark, but they were a good starting point that helped us develop our own way of explaining things.
Fertility NZ has a virtual community called the Donor Conception & Surrogacy Network. This private Facebook group aims to provide mutual support and community between people considering donation and surrogacy, are in the process, or already have families created in these ways. There is sharing of experiences, ideas and tips. Often, people considering an option such as embryo donation find it highly valuable to talk to others who have already walked that path; and these are the connections and support that the Network exists to provide. Wynne is a mentor on the Donor Conception & Surrogacy Network page. If you are considering embryo donation or have any questions, please get in touch.