It never really occurred to me that it would be difficult to have a baby. Getting pregnant is just one of those things women can do, right? I assumed my body would work like it was supposed to.
We’d been trying for a baby for around three years when my husband and I thought maybe we should see if something was wrong. We’d told ourselves it wasn’t our main focus, but
So, off we went to see a fertility specialist – and discovered that although I was 33 years old, my reproductive system wasn’t. In fact, I was told, my hormone levels were more like those of a 48-year-old.
To start with, we decided to try intrauterine insemination (IUI). I had shots and took medication to stimulate my follicles, but they didn’t help – only a few ever grew. After around five attempts I had a laparoscopy to see what was going on, and discovered I had endometriosis. I also had a low ovarian reserve, which means my eggs were fewer in number and/or lower in quality than you’d expect for someone my age. Ok, so IUI wasn’t the answer. We decided to push ahead and prepare for IVF.
More injections, more medication, and after a few months we found I had two mature follicles. Usually, nobody would consider IVF with just two eggs but as we knew, we had less to work with than most. This was the best we’d had so far so we had to try. The look on my husband’s face told me all I needed to know when I woke up after the harvesting. One egg was actually black – officially rotten.
It’s hard for those who haven’t suffered fertility issues to understand, I know, but at that moment it felt as though part of me had died. It had, in a way. I wouldn’t be able to pass on my genes, my DNA, to a new generation. People will tell you there are other options, you can still be a mother, but right then all I felt was grief. I mourned the loss of my eggs, the children I’d never have, the death of my dreams.
Our doctor suggested we think about looking for an egg donor. I don’t know if I’d had some inner sense of what might happen when we tried IVF, but I’d already started doing some research. I’d learned that donor eggs would give us a good chance of a successful pregnancy.
I wasn’t ok with accepting that I’d never conceive a baby, but I was desperate to be a mom. Time was ticking by. And I’d still get to experience carrying our child, giving birth, breastfeeding. I would be its biological mother. Whatever it took, I was there for it. I didn’t care what I had to go through or how much money it cost. It would be worth it in the end.
Our doctor told us there was a 90% chance of success by using an egg donor to get pregnant. The statistics are such that you don’t really consider it won’t work.
You choose a young woman with plenty of healthy eggs, and you’re pretty much good to go whenever you want. The donor we picked looked just like me and had a similar family history. It felt as though she was our perfect match – even our doctor said so.
We didn’t meet her, but our doctor made sure we were kept informed about what was happening so we didn’t feel too disconnected from the process. Our donor was taking her medication, getting her injections, attending appointments. As the day for her egg retrieval drew nearer, we couldn’t help but feel excited. Then, 24 hours before it was scheduled, the axe fell.
“I’m so sorry, Victoria,” said our doctor on the telephone. “Your donor really is like you. Even her eggs are like yours.” We learned our donor had lost more than half of her follicles overnight and only four had matured. That wasn’t enough. Our hopes were dashed once more.
This time, though, I wasn’t just crying for myself and the baby that would never be. I was crying for that poor girl who, at 28 years old, was suddenly facing the reality of her own fertility. My heart truly ached for her and I wished I knew who she was so I could reach out and try to help her through her pain.
All I could do, though, was focus on our own situation. And the first thing we decided to do was take a break. We’d avoided vacations for years so that we’d always be local for necessary procedures and appointments. We’d channelled all our energies into having a family and everything else had taken a back seat.
So deep was our desire to have a baby, we’d forgotten how to enjoy life and simply being together. It was time to raise our heads and remember there was a whole world out there, filled with joy and opportunity. We agreed to take a year off and travel, to rediscover what we’d been missing.
Making that decision was like lifting my head above the clouds. I’d been immersed in grief and obsessed with finding a solution to my infertility. I’d tried yoga, writing and therapy. I drank far too much and cried even more. I’m not a religious person, but I still created a shrine in my closet where I’d go to pray – who to, I didn’t know.
The endless medical appointments, the prodding and probing, the procedures, pills and needles – they’d become a way of life. We had so much stress in our lives, both financially and in our marriage, but we were so used to shouldering it, it was just how things were. I was sad and angry, and that had come to feel like my natural state.
Choosing to move on made me realise it wasn’t. No, what had happened wasn’t fair. I would always be heartbroken at not being a mother. But you know what? I was damned if I would be a victim all my life. I had come through it all so far, and I would continue to do so. If this was the worst thing that happened to me, then I was luckier than many other people.
I had a lot to be grateful for, not least my wonderful husband. Even though he longed to be a father, he chose me. Even though he suffered too, he always had my back. In spite of everything, we were stronger than ever, and I loved him even more deeply for being such an amazing person. Life might be a little different than we’d planned, but it would still be good. And then, we got our miracle.
After stepping away from it all for a long time, we found a new doctor and a new donor. Florence Viola was born in July 2018, on our ninth wedding anniversary, and she is the daughter we were meant to have. If I’d got pregnant naturally, if our previous donor had worked out, we wouldn’t have her.
Almost a year on, we are enjoying parenthood more than we could ever have expected. Florence is the brightest sunshine after the darkest storm. I never knew I could love someone this much! I think about how we got here and how I would do it all over again if it led me to her. I feel grateful that I get to look her in the eyes and tell her how hard we fought to get her – how wanted she was.
I tell her all the time: “No-one will ever love you as much as mama does.” That’s my promise. It’s literally impossible for anyone to love her like I do, I’m sure of it. We don’t need to share DNA for our love to exist. She knows I’m her mother, and our bond is fierce.
I grew her in my belly. I nursed her, nurtured her. I’m raising her, I’m the one to catch her when she falls, I wipe her tears. Mine is the first face she sees looking down at her in her crib when she needs comfort. I am her mama, and I’m the happiest mama in the world.